The Nation & Amnesty International USA – 2007-01-14 22:01:22
Gitmo Turns Five
Jonathan Hafetz / The Nation
WASHINGTON (January 11, 2007) — The first twenty prisoners arrived in hoods and shackles. American officials placed them in cages, surrounded by barbed wire, at Camp X-Ray at the US Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay. That was five years ago. More than 700 people have been detained at Guantanamo since.
Camp X-Ray’s 6-by-8-foot chain-link cages have been replaced by permanent high-security cells such as those in the new $37 million state-of-the-art prison facility known as Camp 6, which was designed to reduce contact among inmates. But the Administration’s detention policy — which is ultimately destructive to US interests and to its credibility as international peacekeeper — remains unchanged. In fact, in five years, the Administration’s detention policy and related practices like “extraordinary rendition” and outsourced torture have done more to reverse 200 years of democracy than any other government act in US history.
The solution, however, is not simply to close Guantanamo, as some have proposed, but to reflect on how far off constitutional course our practices — and the warped policies on which they are based — have veered, and to establish a rights-respecting national security policy for the future.
Let’s start by stating the obvious: Guantanamo is not just a prison. It is an entirely new kind of penal institution that perfectly embodies the Administration’s new paradigm for a never-ending, ubiquitous “war on terror.”
At Guantanamo, individuals are held indefinitely as “enemy combatants,” a term that conjures images of captured enemy soldiers. In fact, the government’s own data shows that the majority of prisoners at Guantanamo never took up arms against the United States or engaged in hostile conduct toward this country. The cells at Guantanamo are full of civilians, many of whom were seized in places like Bosnia and Gambia, thousands of miles from any battlefield.
This new prison is also founded on the contradictory — and legally specious — idea that the government can detain “enemy combatants” while denying them the protections guaranteed to enemy soldiers during wartime.
The White House’s decision in February 2002 to abandon the 1949 Geneva Conventions — scrupulously followed by every other American President — stripped detainees of all protections. Before long, the “gloves came off,” as a former CIA official put it, leading to the abusive interrogations documented in FBI files. These abuses soon migrated to Iraq, as officials “Gitmo-ized” detention operations at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere.
Illegal detentions at Guantanamo have been made possible by the Administration’s deliberate effort to avoid court review. A secret memo drafted by top Justice Department lawyers days before the first prisoners arrived at Guantanamo concluded that the detentions would not be subject to federal jurisdiction because Cuba technically retained “ultimate sovereignty” over the US naval base.
The Supreme Court correctly rejected this argument in Rasul v. Bush in 2004, ruling that Guantanamo detainees had the right to file habeas corpus petitions in district court. The Administration, however, has continued to block review of its detentions, supplanting court hearings with sham military “status review tribunals” that deny prisoners a chance to see the allegations against them or present evidence of their own innocence.
Guantanamo should not be viewed in isolation but as part of a larger regime fundamentally at odds with American law and values. The detention system at GuantÃ¡namo operates according to the same fundamental principles that led to Jose Padilla’s three-and-a-half-year imprisonment, without charge, in a South Carolina naval brig under conditions so horrific that Padilla may no longer be competent to stand trial.
This facility is the product of the same detention policy that animates a network of secret CIA-run prisons, or “black sites,” across the globe. These prisons have employed barbaric techniques like waterboarding, during which prisoners endure facsimile drownings, and cold cells, in which prisoners are forced to stand naked in fifty-degree cells while repeatedly doused with freezing water. It is hard to imagine anything more un-American.
The Republican-led Congress did nothing to curtail the abuses. In September 2006, lawmakers caved in to the Administration by repealing habeas corpus, the single greatest safeguard of individual liberty in our legal system. In the government’s view, this new legislation expands Guantanamo’s regime of unreviewable military detention to the mainland United States, where any of the nation’s millions of law-abiding immigrants can now be secretly imprisoned on presidential say-so.
Now the 110th Congress has indicated a desire to restore habeas corpus and hold hearings on the Administration’s post-9/11 detention policies. Insuring accountability is a key first step toward meaningful reform.
As they seek to repair the damage and recast the future, America’s leaders should look beyond the last five years at Guantanamo and remember the commitment to justice that made this country great for more than two centuries. The question is not whether America should imprison terrorists. It is whether America will treat all accused persons consistently with its Constitution and values.
Shut Down Gitmo
Larry Cox / Amnesty International USA
America’s commitment to human rights and justice is being held prisoner at Guantánamo Bay. <Take action today to end the abomination.
Five years ago, the U.S. began detaining people at Guantánamo Bay without charges . . . without trial . . . without legal recourse . . . and without hope. The interrogation regime there led to many allegations of torture and ill-treatment. These abuses continue despite widespread domestic and international outrage. Help put a stop to these abuses.
The government wants us to think that all people held at Guantánamo Bay are known terrorists.
Unfortunately, it’s not true. The detainees at Guantánamo Bay are only suspects, innocent until proven guilty, some as young as 15 when they were detained. They have been held for years in conditions that are isolating, harsh, inhuman and cruel.
Every day that the Guantánamo Bay detention facilities remain open is another day when the United States of America broadcasts to the world its utter lack of respect for the most basic human rights principles.
Why are human rights important anyway? Because human rights, values championed by the U.S. for decades, make way for a peaceful and secure world. Because without human rights, no one is safe. Respecting the innate human dignity of every human across the world is our only hope for a prosperous and peaceful society. When we respect each others’ rights, we secure our own.
What can you do? Join Amnesty International and speak out against Guantánamo Bay and the policies behind it. Tell the President to shut down Guantánamo Bay. Tell him that the America you believe in leads the world on human rights.
Please act today. Take a stand for human rights.
Larry Cox is the Executive Director of Amnesty International USA
Call for the Closure of Guantanamo Online Action Center
For the past five years, the United States has held hundreds of men from over 45 countries in Guantanamo Bay. Not a single person has been convicted of a crime, and three men died of apparent suicides. Today marks five years since the US first transferred men to indefinite and arbitrary detention. Five years of lawlessness is enough – demand that the detention facilities at Guantanamo be closed. Click here.
I urge you to take all necessary steps to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Over the past five years, the US has detained over 700 men from over 45 nations in Guantanamo. Despite numerous allegations of torture and ill-treatment, international condemnation, three deaths in custody, several unfavorable court decisions, and not a single conviction of a detainee for any crime, your administration has responded by building more permanent facilities.
No amount of permanent structures will make the detentions at Guantanamo lawful – it is time to shut it down.
Guantanamo has come to symbolize US human rights violations committed in the name of the “war on terror.” People currently in Guantanamo have been subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Some have been subjected to unfair trial proceedings. Some have been rendered to third countries that torture. Still others have been disappeared into secret CIA prisons.
By continuing to insist that the United States has the right to detain people indefinitely without access to courts and outside the rule of law, you have placed the United States squarely on the wrong side of history and in defiance of international law.
The America I believe in would close Guantanamo and lead the world on human rights. Five years of lawlessness is too long. All those detained in Guantanamo should be charged immediately and given a fair trial, or released unconditionally and not sent anywhere where they would face torture or other human rights abuses. It is time to bring America back into the community of nations as a country that upholds human rights and the rule of law.