Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Guantanamo Bay prison is a monument to failure

Shaker Aamer, a Saudi national who married a British citizen and was a resident of the UK, was set to be released Saturday after 13 years of unlawful detention at Guantanamo Bay.  Mr. Aamer has a wife and four children, the youngest of whom he has never seen.  Mr. Aamer, now 46, was working with a charity Afghanistan when he was kidnapped by bounty hunters and handed over to the Americans in 2001.

Mr. Aamer's release was delayed, once again, because of a "fact-finding" visit to Guantanamo by three Republican Senators, prompting his lawyer to state, "Shaker is being held for purely logistical and political reasons now, which is dreadful. They have had 30 days to prepare for his release – it only took 28 days after 9/11 to start a war in Afghanistan."

During the invasion of Afghanistan, U.S. intelligence agents let it be known that they would pay anywhere from $3,000 to $25,000 for al Qaeda or Taliban fighters handed over to them. "Get wealth and power beyond your dreams," stated a typical flyer handed out by the U.S. in Afghanistan, introduced as evidence in a 2002 U.S. federal court filing on behalf of several Guantanamo prisoners. "You can receive millions of dollars helping the anti-Taliban forces. This is enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life."

Soon enough, the cells of Bagram and Guantanamo were overflowing with goatherds, cabdrivers, cooks and shopkeepers – all lethally dangerous according to the men who turned them over and collected the rewards.

"Do you have any theories about why the government and the Pakistani intel folks would sell you out and turn you over to the Americans?" a member of a military tribunal asked an Egyptian prisoner held in the Guantanamo prison.

In the declassified transcript, the prisoner appears incredulous. "Come on, man," he replied,
"you know what happened. In Pakistan you can buy people for $10. So what about $5,000?"

"So they sold you?" the tribunal member asked, as if the thought had never before occurred to him.


According to the Pentagon's own figures, 86 percent of the prisoners at Guantanamo were handed over by Afghan and Pakistani fighters or agents after the bounties were announced. As of December 2006, the Pentagon had released 360 prisoners from Guantanamo. The Associated Press was able to track down 245 of them; 205 had been freed or cleared of all charges when they returned to their home countries

– from Chapter 14, The Shock Doctrine:The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein, 2007

The Taguba report (the result of an investigation in the Guantanamo Bay prison abuses by a US Army Major General, Antonio Taguba) which was released in April 2004, concluded that 60% of the detainees at Abu Ghraib "were no longer deemed a threat and clearly met the requirements for release."

The revelations of abuses at Abu Ghraib (and Guantanamo) were never about US treatment of terrorists.  They are about how Americans have treated people against whom no evidence of terrorist activities can be demonstrated.

The logic used in both cases is "since we can't prove them not guilty of any crime, they must, therefore, be assumed guilty."

That is obviously contrary to a long-standing principle of American justice; codified as the supreme law of our land, but espoused in the US Declaration of Independence as the God-given rights of all men.  The presumption of innocence is a basic tenet of the American system of justice (a system of justice that Americans, hypocritically, claim they want to spread to the entire world).

What difference does it make now?  It makes all the difference. Because it means that Americans chose to violate (not the civil rights of others) but their own principles.  They crapped on their own Constitution.  And there's a price to pay for that failure of courage.  Because, if Americans can't uphold and defend their own values in a time of crisis; they have already lost the fight to preserve them. 

The Guantanamo Bay prison facility, and the men held there extra-judiciously, is a monument to that failure.