Gitmo - America's Legal Black Hole

Friday, January 11 was the 11th anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba in which hundreds of Muslims, mostly unrelated to any terrorist activities, continue to be holed up without any rights. The prison symbolizes what is wrong with America's so-called war on terror and its total disregard for human rights of those prisoners who are subjected to the worst forms of torture, coercion and abuse known to mankind in the 21st century. 

What is of particular concern is the fact that many of these prisoners are not even charged on anything. Is not 11 years too long a period to charge them or let them go free? But President Obama who had taught constitutional law at the prestigious Chicago University for 12 years had no moral qualms in denying these prisoners such fundamental rights. In an ongoing legal black hole, these prisoners are being used as guinea pigs for medical and psychological experimentation. If Hitler and his Nazi war criminals were alive, they surely would have been proud of such displays under George W. Bush and Barack Obama!

As the investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert Andy Worthington has recently noted in his website, at Guantanamo, the US authorities manufactured a rationale for holding these men and boys - calling them "the worst of the worst," and disguising the fact that the majority of them were sold to the US military for substantial bounty payments by their Afghan and Pakistani allies. According to Worthington, "They did this through the extraction of false statements in which pliant prisoners - whether tortured or otherwise abused, or bribed or pushed until they could take the pressure no longer - made false statements about their fellow prisoners, and/or themselves, which continue to be regarded as something resembling evidence by all three branches of the US government, even though the closest analogy for what this information is in reality can be found in the false statements uttered by the victims of the witch hunts in the 17th century."

Unable to cope with inhuman torture, three of these unfortunate prisoners whom the Obama administration had abandoned allegedly committed suicide. Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni with mental health problems, was one such victim who was repeatedly cleared for release, but never released by the Obama administration. Adnan, however, was not the only victim of such unbearable cruelty. Eighty six of the remaining 166 prisoners were cleared for release three years ago by an interagency Guantanamo Review Task Force established by President Obama to review the cases of all the prisoners, and even though around half of them were previously cleared for release, between 2004 and 2007, by military review boards established by President George W. Bush.

One of the lucky ones to have been released after more than six years was Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj, the only journalist held at Guantanamo. He was arrested in Pakistan in December of 2001 while traveling to Afghanistan on a work assignment. Held without charge, al-Hajj was repeatedly tortured, hooded, attacked by dogs and hung from a ceiling. He was prevented from sleeping for days. Interrogators questioned him over 100 times about whether Al Jazeera was a front for al-Qaeda. In January 2007, he began a hunger strike that lasted 438 days until his release in May 2008.

In a recent interview with Amy Goodman of the Democracy Now, al-Hajj shared his prison life -- how he and other fellow prisoners were tortured inhumanly. In contrast to government claims, he saw firsthand the flushing of the Qur'an in the toilet and stepping on it by Gitmo prison guards and interrogators. 

Four years ago President Obama, soon after getting elected the first time, vowed to close Guantanamo. As if to mock that vow, recently, after getting elected for the second term, and 11 years after Gitmo opened, Obama has signed the National Defense Authorization Act, barring the use of federal funds to transfer detainees from the notorious prison to the U.S. soil, even for a criminal trial. It also includes restrictions on the executive branch's authority to transfer detainees to a foreign country. 

As sadly noted by Baher Azmy, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, more people under the Obama administration have died in recent years than have been charged or tried criminally. President Obama has offered no realistic prospects for taking either practical steps to release individual people who should be released or ending this really odious paradigm of indefinite detention.

None of these developments should surprise anyone knowing that Obama has nominated counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan to head the CIA. Lest we forget, Brennan had publicly supported the CIA's policies of so-called "enhanced interrogation techniques" and extraordinary rendition. As CIA Director George Tenet's chief of staff and then the CIA's Deputy Executive Director during the Bush Jr. presidency, he played a key role in corrupting the CIA's analysis directorate into fabricating fraudulent intelligence to "justify" war on Iraq. He is known to twist facts to serve his purpose. 

Given the recent sorry history of CIA directors participating in what amount to propaganda and disinformation campaigns aimed as much at the American people as any foreign enemy, the nomination of a drone-enthusiast like Brennan for the position of the CIA director should be a wake-up call for anyone still believing that Obama is sincere in closing the Gitmo and/or stopping the drone attacks in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere where more innocent children have died from Obama's drone attacks than those killed in American schools, college and university campuses by deranged juveniles or other criminals. As noted by Simon Jenkins in a Guardian article the greatest threat to world peace is not from nuclear weapons and their possible proliferation, but from drones and their certain proliferation. Nor should anyone forget that Gitmo and drone attacks recruit more angry juveniles to the cause of al-Qaeda than anything else. Yemeni writer Ibrahim Mothana protested in the New York Times of the carnage drones are wreaking on the politics of his country, erasing "years of progress and trust-building with tribes". Yemenis now face al-Qaeda recruiters waving pictures of drone-butchered women and children in their faces. Frustrated at Obama's policy, Jimmy Carter has lamented, "America's violation of international human rights abets our enemies and alienates our friends".

Sadly, sitting inside the Oval Office, President Obama has forgotten his promises made before the election of 2008, and is behaving like an arrogant snob who imagines that he is above international law and can continue committing horrendous crimes that kill innocent human beings and deny rights to those imprisoned without any charges. That is the grim reality of our time!


Dr Habib Siddiqui has authored 10 books. His latest book - Devotional Stories - is now available from A.S. Noordeen, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

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