Guantanamo has become a recruiting tool for our enemies. The legal framework behind Guantanamo has failed completely, resulting in only one conviction. President Bush’s own Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, wants to close it. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, wants to close it. The first step to reclaiming America’s standing in the world has to be closing this facility. As president, Barack Obama will close the detention facility at Guantanamo. He will reject the Military Commissions Act, which allowed the U.S. to circumvent Geneva Conventions in the handling of detainees. He will develop a fair and thorough process based on the Uniform Code of Military Justice to distinguish between those prisoners who should be prosecuted for their crimes, those who can’t be prosecuted but who can be held in a manner consistent with the laws of war, and those who should be released or transferred to their home countries. (source– PDF)
That’s the campaign trail rhetoric from Candidate Obama. I liked the stance of Candidate Obama on this issue, it’s a shame that President Obama sees things so differently. Well, not completely– President Obama signed this executive order January 22, 2009 which ordered, among other things, that:
Sec. 3. Closure of Detention Facilities at Guantánamo. The detention facilities at Guantánamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than 1 year from the date of this order. If any individuals covered by this order remain in detention at Guantánamo at the time of closure of those detention facilities, they shall be returned to their home country, released, transferred to a third country, or transferred to another United States detention facility in a manner consistent with law and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States.
So he’s a little more than a year late (and counting) on the closure, but to be fair, he’s dealing with a recalcitrant Congress. Call me an idealist if you want, but it really bugs me when candidates for the highest office in the land make promises that they can’t keep. Anyway, let’s give him a pass on the whole “closing Guantánamo” issue, and just look at what he can control.
Candidate Obama: “He [President Obama] will reject the Military Commissions Act, which allowed the U.S. to circumvent Geneva Conventions in the handling of detainees.”
2011 Obama: “The Obama administration is preparing to increase the use of military commissions to prosecute Guantánamo detainees…”
My, that’s quite the shift– from “reject the Military Commissions Act”, to “increase the use of military commissions”. 180 degrees, really.
And now, we have the case of Ibrahim al Qosi, who pled guilty to providing material support for terrorism based on a plea deal which would have seen him serve two years in Guantánamo. The military jury sentenced him to 14 years. Who knows how long he will actually be imprisoned, but the word “indefinitely” comes to mind. From the Miami Herald:
He is now segregated in a cellblock of the prison camps here reserved for war criminals.
“Decisions regarding Mr. al Qosi’s status after he serves his punitive confinement will be made by the detention authorities at that time,” Army Lt. Col. Tanya Bradsher said.
She called the sentence due to expire July 7, 2012 “being punished for past acts.” After that, he could still be subject to “detention under the law of war” as “a belligerent during an armed conflict.”
Gul, a father of 18 children, had been kept in a cage by the U.S. for more than 9 years — since late 2001 when he was abducted in Afghanistan —
without ever having been charged with a crime…. This episode illustrates that the U.S. Government’s detention policy — still — amounts to imposing life sentences on people without bothering to prove they did anything wrong… had Gul survived, the Obama administration would have sought to keep him imprisoned indefinitely without any pretense of charging him with a crime — neither in a military commission nor a real court. Instead, they would have simply continued the Bush/Cheney policy of imprisoning him indefinitely without any charges.
Greenwald also notes that Gul was awarded a habeas petition hearing nearly a year ago, and the judge simply failed to issue a ruling on the matter. Greenwald then trenchantly points out that “justice delayed is justice denied.”
I think that most Americans are under the assumption that these are dangerous terrorists, confined in order to stop them from committing heinous acts of terrorism. Presumably, that would justify whatever sort of inhumane and degrading treatment we could devise. What should be clear by now, though, is that the vast majority of those detained are innocent. Not innocent as in “insufficient evidence to convict”, but as in truly innocent— pawns caught up in a larger game of the Global War on Terror™.
Not all the deaths in Guantánamo due to natural causes– we tortured approximately 100 detainees to death, and portrayed the murder of other detainees as suicides (see here and here also).
In December last year, a report from Seton Hall Law has shocking (and under-reported) allegations of pharmacological experimentation on detainees:
According to the report, the U.S. military routinely administered mefloquine, a controversial malaria treatment, at five times the standard prophylactic dose. Mefloquine, even at the standard dose, is known to cause adverse side effects such as paranoia, hallucinations, aggression, psychotic behavior, memory impairment, convulsions, suicidal ideation and possibly suicide.
The prophylactic dose of mefloquine is 250 mg. On arrival at Guantánamo, as a matter of standard operating procedure, detainees received 1250 mg of mefloquine. The larger dose of mefloquine was administered without taking a patient history of any kind….
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports, and the U.S. military concedes, that malaria is not a threat in Guantánamo. For that reason, U.S. military personnel and contractors are not prescribed any prophylactic anti-malarial medication.
“Mefloquine was administered to detainees contrary to medical protocol or purpose,” commented Professor Mark P. Denbeaux, Director of the Seton Hall Law Center for Policy and Research. “The record reveals no medical justification for mefloquine in this manner or at these doses. On this record there appears to be only three possible reasons for drugging these men: gross malpractice, human experimentation or ‘enhanced interrogation.’ At best it represents monumental incompetence. At worst, it’s torture.” …
Professor Stephen Soldz, Director of the Center for Research, Evaluation, and Program Development, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis and President of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, added, “For years there has been an almost complete lack of transparency regarding medical practices and procedures at Guantánamo. The military has failed to provide credible explanations for its procedures. Detainees and their attorneys have been denied access to their own medical records, an egregious ethical violation. All health providers should join the call for Guantánamo to respect fundamental rules regulating medical ethics everywhere.”
This echoes the report from June last year by Physicians for Human Rights which asserts that it has evidence that the Bush administration conducted “illegal and unethical human experimentation and research” on detainees. Dr. Scott Allen, the lead physician for the report, opined that
Ultimately this will not help keep America safer, either. You have to factor in all the costs. It’s not clear at all that it worked the way they wanted it to work. And at the same time, the fact that we’ve been revealed now to be hypocrites about our own values cannot help us in the global struggle for the moral high ground.
I’m not sure anything can help us in the struggle for the moral high-ground anymore.