�Injustice anywhere is a threat to
justice everywhere.� --Martin Luther King Jr.
International has embarked on a campaign to
close Guantanamo detention facilities, adding an important voice to the rising
demands to end the Guantanamo disgrace.
For years, Amercians have been reluctant to criticize the
Bush administration�s efforts to keep the detention of terrorism suspects
outside the purview of both American and International law. However, with the
disturbing revelations of abuse and violation of detainees� human rights, and
with recent reports of the ways several unsuspecting bystanders ended up in the
ranks of Guantanamo detainees, anyone who cares about justice and the rule of
law must join the call to close the infamous facilities, and end the moral and
legal excesses committed under the veil of secrecy, and in the name of
promoting freedom and the rule of law.
The Gunatanamo detention facilities
represent a sad and painful moment in US international conduct, as it runs
contrary to the American founding principles and the self-pride of many
Americans who see their country as the guardian of democracy and human rights.
This moment of infamy was born out of arrogance, exaggerated fears,
self-delusion, zealotry, and disregard to American and International law. In
prosecuting the �Global War on Terrorism,� the Bush administration has
committed several serious mistakes that undermined the world standing of the
United States as a leading advocate for human rights. None of these, however,
rivals the negative impact caused by the Guantanamo detention facilities.
The anger over the treatment of
Guantanamo detainees reached a new height in November 2006, when German
attorney Wolfgang Kaleck filed a war crime complaint
with the German Federal Attorney General against 14 high ranking officials and
advisors in the Bush administration. The list included Alberto Gonzales, Donald
Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Stephen Cambone, Ricardo Sanchez, and Geoffrey Miller. The
complaint cited complicity in torture and other crimes against humanity at Abu
Ghraib in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Mr. Kaleck acted on behalf of 11
victims of torture and other human rights abuses, as well as about 30 human
rights activists and organizations who are co-plaintiffs. The co-plaintiffs to
the war crimes prosecution include 1980 Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo P�rez
Esquivel (Argentine), 2002 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mart�n Almada (Paraguay)
and Theo van Boven, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture.
Alberto Gonzales, former US attorney
general, and Donald Rumsfeld, former US secretary of defense, were particularly
implicated in the making of Guantanamo�s disgrace, as the former led the
efforts to authorize torture, while the latter introduced the �extended
interrogation techniques� to US military manuals. So was Geoffrey Miller,
Guantanamo detention facilities commander, who was evidently responsible for
setting up procedures in both Guantanamo and Abu Graib that led to the
revelation of the appalling practices of degradation and torture.
Up until 2002, Guantanamo Bay Naval
Base was used to house Cuban and Haitian refugees intercepted on the high seas
on their way to the United States. On June 8, 1993, United States District
Court Judge Sterling Johnson, Jr., declared the holding of the refugees who
fled Haiti unconstitutional, and the last Haitian migrants departed in late
1995. In 2002, the US military designated the camp a military prisons for
The legal status of the detainees and
their treatment came under criticism from the outset. The criticism was
initially sporadic and focused on the designation of prisoners as �illegal
enemy combatant� and the open cage-like cells were the prisoners were kept. The
international criticism prompted the US military to build better facilities.
The Bush administration, however, rejected calls to treat prisoners under the
Geneva Convention rules.
A series of abuses that were made
public in the last five years mobilized international public opinion, and led
to increased demand by American political leaders to close it. Human rights
organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amenity International, have
repeatedly called for opening up the Guantanamo detention facilities for
outside inspection. Other humanitarian organizations, including the Red Cross
and the United Nations, have raised serious concerns about the conditions in
the facilities. Members of Congress have also voiced their concerns about both
interrogation procedures and the negative impact the camp has had on the US's
moral standing in the world. Charges of mistreatment of prisoners included
degradation, physical and mental abuse, torture, violation of religious rights,
and desecration of the Qur�an that led to worldwide Muslim outrage.
Calls for closing Guantanamo can now be
heard even from once strong supporters of the Bush administration�s War on
Terror. Thomas Friedman declared, in a recent New York Times� opinion piece,
that he �will not vote for any candidate who is not committed to dismantling
Guant�namo Bay and replacing it with a free field hospital for poor
Cubans." Friedman, like many other Americans troubled by the way the �War
on Terror� has often used to further narrow political and ideological agendas,
has come slowly to realize that the policies adopted to fight terrorism are
strengthening the hands of alleged terrorists and extremists and weakening
civil rights at home and undermining US standing in the world.
The outrage over Guantanamo is a clear
rejection of the attempts to sidestep established legal and constitutional
requirements, and to violate basic human rights. Guantanamo detainees have been
deprived of their due process of law, required by the Fifth Amendment of the US
Constitution, and by International Law, which states that anyone who is
deprived of liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to review by a
court of law to decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention.
Donald Rumsfeld approved, in 2002, a
list of 16 harsh interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo, most of which
were general and allowed for interpretation by interrogators. Many of the
techniques involving humiliation were part of a standard "futility"
or "ego down" approach, but some have permitted acts that generally
considered blatant acts of torture, including �water-boarding,� a technique of
simulated drowning. Sadly, US Vice President Dick Cheney opnely endorsed the use of
water-boarding for interrogation of terrorist suspects, even though the
technique makes a person feel that his death is imminent. In responding to a
radio interviewer, from North Dakota station WDAY, who asked whether water
boarding was a "no-brainer" if the information it yielded would save
American lives, Cheney replied, "It's a no-brainer for me." The
promotion of �extended techniques of interrogation� by high ranking members of
the Bush administration prompted Congress to pass a bill outlawing torture. Senator
John McCain referred to water-boarding as �an extreme measure� and led the
congressional endeavor to outlaw it.
Many of the conditions in Guantanamo
are in violation of the Geneva Convention, which governs treatment of enemy
combatants. Article 17 of the Convention states that �no physical or mental
torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war
to secure from them information of any kind whatever.� The Bush administration
denied the Geneva Convention applies to Guantanamo detainees, but the US
Supreme Court disagreed, insisting that the humane treatment requirements apply
to all detainees in the "War on Terror."
Although alleged al Qaida members are
imprisoned in Guantanamo, many detainees were picked from locations in
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, and other countries in very mysterious
circumstances, and without any clear connection to alleged terrorist groups.
The New York Times reported, in June 2004, that not many more than two dozens
of the around 750 detainees were closely linked to "al Qaida" and
that only very limited information could have been gotten from questioning
them. An Associated Press report claims that some detainees were turned over to
the US in return for cash bounties. Amnesty International documented the case of Omar Deghayes, a
Libyan living in the U.K. as a refugee, who decided in 2001 to travel to
Malaysia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan to look for work. In Afghanistan, he was
married and had a son. After September 11th, he moved his family to Pakistan.
They planned to return to the U.K. but he was arrested in Lahore, Pakistan in
April 2002, for a bounty of $5000.
The New York Times reported in November
2004 that the International Committee of the Red Cross accused, in a confidential
report issued in July 2004, the U.S. military of using "humiliating acts,
solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions"
against prisoners. The Red Cross inspectors concluded that "the
construction of such a system, whose stated purpose is the production of
intelligence, cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel,
unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture." The United States
government has reportedly rejected the Red Cross findings.
The US government denial was, however,
unconvincing given the contradictory statements by key members of the Bush team
in charge of implementing the �War on Terror� policies. One of the key figures
in the Guantanamo controversy is Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who commanded the
detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and later helped set up U.S. operations at
Abu Ghraib. The Washington Post reported
in its July 14, 2005, edition that Gen. Miller was accused by investigators
looking into the interrogation of Guantanamo detainees of failing his duties
and was recommended for reprimand. Miller would have been the highest-ranking
officer to face discipline for detainee abuses, but Gen. Bantz Craddock, head
of the U.S. Southern Command, declined to follow the recommendation.
Miller traveled to Iraq in September
2003 to assist in the setting up of Abu Ghraib's prison, and he later sent in
"Tiger Teams" of Guantanamo interrogators and analysts as advisers
and trainers. Within weeks of his departure from Abu Ghraib, military attack
dogs were being used in interrogations, and naked detainees were humiliated and
abused by military police working the night shift.
Colonel Thomas Pappas, head of the
military intelligence brigade at Abu Ghraib, claimed that it was Miller's idea
to use attack dogs to intimidate prisoners. He insisted that the same tactics
were used at Camp X-Ray in Guantanamo. Several of the photos taken at Abu
Ghraib showed terrified and naked detainees surrounded by dogs. Photos also
showed that one of the detainees was even bitten by a dog.
Miller initially denied charges against
him, and testified in May 2006 at the courts martial of the Abu Ghraib dog
handlers that his instructions on the use of dogs had been misunderstood.
Miller testified that he instructed that dogs should be used "only for
custody and control of detainees." Miller's testimony was directly
contradicted by the commander of Abu Ghraib's Military Police detachment, Col.
This was not the only incident of
Miller�s statements being contradicted by his colleagues, as he reversed himself
on several other occasions. In July 2005 �discrepancies emerged between
Miller's May 2004 testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, and sworn
statements he made three months later.� Miller told the Senate Armed Services
Committee that he had only filed a report on a recent visit to Abu Ghraib, and
did not talk to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or his top aides about the
fact-finding trip. But in a recorded statement to attorneys three months later,
Miller said he gave two of Rumsfeld's most senior aides -- then Deputy Defense
Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary for Intelligence Steve Cambone -- a
briefing on his visit and his subsequent recommendations.
Similarly, Major James Yee, the Muslim
chaplain who spent one year in Guantanamo, and was responsible for developing
the manual for safeguarding the religious rights of the Muslim detainees,
charged in his memoir, For
God and Country: Religion and Patriotism Under Fire, that Miller routinely
incited the guards to hate the detainees. He was arrested on Miller�s orders
and accused of treason. However, after spending several months in solitary
confinement and suffering sensory deprivation, all charges against him were
dropped on March 19, 2004. Miller appealed to
secrecy as the ground for not providing any evidence against Maj. Yee,
"citing national security concerns that would arise from the release of
Guantanamo has been a knee-jerk
reaction to a horrific tragedy allegedly committed by misguided terrorists full
of anger and vengeance. We already know that a large number of the detainees
where arrested because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and were
kept in custody because of zealotry and disregard of the rules of national and
international law. The detainees were kept for years under extreme conditions
of deprivation of basic human rights and dignity, even though the majority of
them have not been charged with crimes, and many were eventually let go because
of the lack of evidence after spending many years of abuse, degradation, and
mistreatment. It is about time that the rest of these detainees are given their
day in a court of law, like any person accused of crime. Doing that is not only
important for the sake of justice, but also for the sake of ending acts of
gross excess, human pain, and international disgrace.
Louay Safi is the
executive director of ISNA Leadership Development Center (ILDC),
Plainfield, Indiana. He serves on the board of several leading Muslim
organizations, including the Center for the
Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), the Islamic Horizons, and the Association of Muslim Social Scientists (AMSS). He also
serves on the steering committee of the Muslim-Christian
Initiative on the Nuclear Weapons Danger.