January 11 marked the sixth anniversary of the establishment
of the Guantanamo detention camp. Mere months after the start of the 2001
United States invasion of Afghanistan, a large cargo plane landed in a US
military base in Cuba's Guantanamo Bay, bringing in a group of hunchbacked,
orange-clad, blindfolded, "terrorist" suspects, apparently
representing the worst of the worst. They included children and aged men,
charity workers, journalists and people who were sold to the US military in
exchange for a large bounty.
The debate over this notorious prison has ever since been
marred by easy reductionism. The fact is that Guantanamo is neither a warranted
compound holding "bad people" -- as explained by the ever
straightforward President Bush -- nor is it a dark spot in the otherwise
luminous US record for respecting human rights, rules of war and international
treaties. If anything, Guantanamo is a mere extension of a long list of untold
violations practised by the Bush administration, which condenses the camp to
being a symbol of widespread policy predicated on nonchalantly undermining
The prison is arguably one of the worst mockeries of
international law, which was itself drafted partly by American legal experts.
Past US administrations may not have been devoted followers of the Geneva
Conventions, but neither have they ever discarded international treaties as
openly and as arrogantly as the current one. Former Attorney General Alberto
Gonzales, a personal friend of President Bush, mastered this art in a way that
allowed his bosses to adorn their gratuitous actions with the air of
legitimacy. Guantanamo was his ultimate masterpiece.
Hundreds of Guantanamo prisoners have subsequently been
released; some to the custody of their respective governments. Roughly 275
remain in the camp. Out of a total of about 1,000 only 10 have been charged.
The prisoners at Guantanamo are "among the most
dangerous, best trained vicious killers on the face of the earth,"
according to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. If that was the case,
why wasn't Rumsfeld prepared to try them in a court of law? After all his
self-assured judgment shows that he possessed more evidence than needed by any
court to convict and throw them into jail. But, of course, the subject of
evidence or lack thereof was irrelevant.
Neither habeas corpus, due process, nor any set of laws,
national or international, mattered much to an administration that prided
itself on its ability to transcend all of that. Of course, such disregard was
justified on the basis of national interests and a whole set of tired
pretences. Time, however, showed that Guantanamo, and the overriding militancy
it symbolised, has probably done more damage to US national interest than any
other event in US history.
In the early years, prisoners at Guantanamo were held in
open-air cages, with nothing but a mat and a bucket for a toilet. Anthony D
Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote in
Salon.com, "We now know that only a small percentage of the many hundreds
of men and boys who have been held at Guantanamo were captured on a battlefield
fighting against Americans; far more were sold into captivity by tribal
warlords for substantial bounties." Romero cites comments made by a former
Guantanamo commander for several years, Brigadier General Jay Hood. The
commander told the Wall Street Journal, "Sometimes, we just didn't get the
Moreover, both former Secretary of State Colin Powell and
current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for the shutting down of
Guantanamo, along with various international bodies and numerous rights groups
in the US and abroad. But the Bush administration still persists in maintaining
Guantanamo. The chances are if the Guantanamo prisoners were of any value in
Operation Enduring Freedom and in the so-called global war on terror, whatever
information some of them might have possessed has already been extracted,
violently or otherwise. Moreover, if overwhelming evidence against them was
indeed at hand, the Bush administration would have tried them long ago. Neither
scenario is convincing.
Leigh Sales, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, made the
dubious assessment that the "the problem is what to do with the prisoners
[if the detention camp is shutdown]. If they are moved to American jails, they
will have to be charged and tried under US law. Evidence gathered through
coercive interrogations will not be admissible in regular courts and so Bush
would risk watching the likes of Mohamed and Hambali walk free." Such
commentary, emulated by others, suggests that the underlying reason behind the
preservation of Guantanamo is, more or less, national interests.
However, Guantanamo is staying in business for the exact
same reason that the Iraq war rages on, and for similar reasons to why the Bush
administration's failing global policy persists. Shutting down Guantanamo would
be an admission of defeat, a declaration of failure, which is something that
the patrons of the empire cannot afford, at least not now.
September 11 was an opportune moment to turn a new doctrine
into reality, as outlined by the Project for the New American Century, a
desperate attempt to sustain an empire that is facing challenges. The tactics,
utilised almost immediately after the alleged terrorist attacks, pointed at a
foreign and military policy style designed to free itself from accountability
to anyone, including the American people, the United Nations and international
law. Guantanamo is a grotesque representation of that tactic -- and the failure
of that tactic.
Indeed, Guantanamo is a dark spot in US history and shall go
down in world history as a symbol of injustice and oppression. And it will
continue to be a jarring reminder of the inhumanity, the torture, and the
extreme violence associated with the Bush administration's so-called war on
Baroud is a Palestinian-American author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has
been published in numerous newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book
Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People�s
Press, London). Read more about him on his website: ramzybaroud.net.