What’s It Gonna Take for America to Shut Down the Prisons at Guantanamo?


Flickr Photo by Damon Lynch| This is a picture from an Amnesty International "Close Gitmo" demonstration outside the US Embassy at Grosvenor Square in London on January 11, 2008. It had been six years since the U.S. authorities first transported ‘war on terror’ detainees to Guantanamo

When we consider the indignity and inhumane treatment that detainees at Guantanamo have experienced and the torture and abuse which has surely inflamed Islamists who fill the ranks of al-Qaeda-like networks, what is our nation’s collective reaction? How do we respond? Does the thought of Guantanamo even matter to us?

Do the thoughts of detainees at Guantanamo being subjected to acts that we Americans would probably think could only occur to victims of crimes depicted in Law & Order:SVU or CSI affect anyone? Have we any empathy for those who have not been afforded a trial, or, if innocent, not been released?

Eight years ago, the first detainees arrived at Guantanamo Bay. They arrived dressed in "turquoise blue face masks, orange ski caps and fluorescent orange jumpsuits, their hands in manacles." They were not considered prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention.

Over the course of the past eight years, there have been countless reports of abuse and violations of the law. Guantanamo has provided Americans with an example of the behavior and operations of American forces at other prison sites all over the world that should be far from acceptable.

Days after being inaugurated, Obama issued three executive orders that banned the use of enhanced interrogation techniques (Cheney’s euphemism for torture), pledged to close Guantanamo, and began a review of all pending cases at Guantanamo.

This press event could be considered a publicity stunt that was designed to stave off angry human rights, civil rights, and/or civil liberties advocates who had been ramping up pressure on Obama throughout his presidential campaign so that he would make a promise to close Guantanamo once he got into office. Fortunately, those angry groups did not let up. On top of right wing hysteria and Cheney’s national security speaking tour, the groups forced Obama to further explain how he would take action on Guantanamo in a press event in May 2009.

During the event, Obama declared, "instead of bringing terrorists to justice, efforts at prosecution met setbacks, cases lingered on, and in 2006 the Supreme Court invalidated the entire system." He also stated, "Guantanamo set back the moral authority that is America’s strongest currency in the world."

Obama further explained:

"Instead of building a durable framework for the struggle against al Qaeda that drew upon our deeply held values and traditions, our government was defending positions that undermined the rule of law. Indeed, part of the rationale for establishing Guantanamo in the first place was the misplaced notion that a prison there would be beyond the law – a proposition that the Supreme Court soundly rejected. Meanwhile, instead of serving as a tool to counter-terrorism, Guantanamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.

So the record is clear: rather than keep us safer, the prison at Guantanamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies. It sets back the willingness of our allies to work with us in fighting an enemy that operates in scores of countries. By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it. That is why I argued that it should be closed throughout my campaign. And that is why I ordered it closed within one year."

But, once he took on this issue, it became clear that he would not seek to mold consensus or work to alleviate the disinformed fears of Americans who are afraid of the "terrorists" being held at Guantanamo. It became clear he would not consistently challenge conventional wisdom that Guantanamo was making our country safer (even though he said something along this line in his speech on national security).

Democrats and Obama allowed the issue of health care reform to subjugate the urgency to close Guantanamo. They allowed fears of releasing detainees who might go back home and engage in violence against America dominate the conversation. And, they allowed the idea of transporting detainees out of Guantanamo to a facility somewhere in the U.S. to become a not in my backyard ordeal for representatives, senators, and their respective constituents while at the same time exhibiting a disappointing willingness to use indefinite detention or preventive detention to address issues posed by Guantanamo detainees.

Now, it seems highly unlikely that Obama will be closing the Guantanamo facility anytime soon. Even as news seeps out that what had been thought to be suicides at Guantanamo were probably homicides, the media has collectively allowed the election of Republican Scott Brown to the seat in Massachusetts that Ted Kennedy once held to be more significant than news of possible murder at Guantanamo.

Even if detainees are moved to a facility in Thompson, IL and a Gitmo-North prison is effectively established, Guantanamo Bay will likely remain open. Haitians who flee the devastation from a 7.0 earthquake and hope to get to America will be captured at sea and "housed" at Guantanamo. So, the facility will continue to act as a camp for containing human beings that America does not want to get in the way.

The best chance wrongfully detained human beings at Guantanamo have for escaping the Kafkaesque trial process they face as "terror suspects" lies in the hands of those who hear the stories of detainees who have been held at Guantanamo and shudder and then act.

For example, published recently in The Guardian is the story of British resident Omar Deghayes who was imprisoned in Guantanamo and subjected to brutal torture, which resulted in the loss of sight in one eye.

Deghayes chose to protest along with other prisoners a form of humiliation he and others were being subjected—a form of humiliation that "involved being forced to take off their trousers and walk round in their pants." A group of guards noted the protest and entered the cell to punish him. He was held down and bound with chains.

"I didn’t realise what was going on until the guy had pushed his fingers inside my eyes and I could feel the coldness of his fingers. Then I realised he was trying to gouge out my eyes," Deghayes says. He wanted to scream in agony, but was determined not to give his torturers the satisfaction. Then the officer standing over him instructed the eye-stabber to push harder. "When he pulled his hands out, I remember I couldn’t see anything I’d lost sight completely in both eyes." Deghayes was dumped in a cell, fluid streaming from his eyes."

Deghayes was released two years ago (which indicates that he never posed any threat to America or Americans at all). And, the fact that Barack Obama has not closed the facility, even though 12 months ago he pledged to close it, haunts him. The horrifying and terrifying thought of what might be happening to 200 other detainees at Guantanamo troubles him greatly.

Today, January 21, 2010, is a Day of Action to #CloseGitmo. For those who desire to see justice and accountability and for those who have suffered brutality at the hands of guards at Guantanamo, the ACLU, Amnesty International, and many other organizations like World Can’t Wait and Witness Against Torture will be flooding Twitter with messages about Guantanamo, torture, habeas corpus rights, etc.

Facebook statuses will be donated and social networking sites will be dominated with discussion concerning the need to close Guantanamo.

Actions will also take place in D.C. Veterans affiliated with will likely be there to lend their support to the need to shut down the prison facilities at Guantanamo.

For the laws that continue to be broken even though Obama pledged to ensure policies and practice were no longer in violation of domestic or international law…

For the lives that have been destroyed as a result of being held at Guantanamo without charge, trial, or, if innocent, any prospect of release…

And, for the promises that have not been kept by the Obama Administration, this virtual and non-virtual Day of Action is a response to the lip service that Obama has paid human rights advocates and concerned citizens. It is a demand for concrete action now, action which those who have been held at Guantanamo and those who are being held at Guantanamo deserve.

For information which may help you formulate a blog posting or diary that could lend support to discussions during this Day of Action, visit the ACLU’s website, Close Gitmo. Also, check out reports and information posted on Amnesty USA’s page on Guantanamo.

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