Thursday, June 11, 2009

Starvation, Suicide, Torture, Not Terrorism, Is the Legacy of Guantanamo

From almost the moment that Camp X-Ray opened, prisoners embarked on hunger strikes as the only means available to protest about the conditions of their detention: specifically, their day-to-day treatment, the treatment of the Koran, and the crushing uncertainty of their fate, as they remained imprisoned without charge and without trial, with the ever-present possibility that they would be held for the rest of their lives.
Andy Worthington has released the results of an important investigation he undertook on treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo, Guantanamo’s Hidden History: Shocking Statistics Of Starvation (his article introducing it is here).

Worthington shows how the ban on pictures of Guantanamo prisoners, many of them "from January 2002, when the prison opened, until February 2007, when these particular records came to an end, one in ten of the total population — 80 prisoners in total — weighed, at some point, less than 112 pounds (eight stone, or 50 kg), and 20 of these prisoners weighed less than 98 pounds (seven stone, or 44 kg)." Andy believes that if the world had clear evidence of the pain and suffering these men have endured by their illegal imprisonment and torture, the calls to shut down Gitmo would have prevailed long ago. -- It's hard to say, the world has become so brutalized, the American population so numbed. But I think Worthington makes a powerful point.

The report comes on the heels of the first death at the prison camp under President Obama's watch:
A military statement said 31-year-old Muhammad Ahmad Abdallah Salih, also known as Al Hanashi, "died of an apparent suicide" on Monday night, but did not say specifically how he died.

Human rights groups condemned the death and said it underlined the need to end the system of "indefinite detention" at the prison camp that opened in 2002 under the Bush administration to hold terrorism suspects after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States that killed 3,000 people.
Salih's death comes two years after the death of Saudi prisoner and another hunger-striker, Abdul Rahman al-Amri.

Salih's death coincides also with the retraction by the New York Times of their “1 In 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad, Pentagon Finds” article, which fueled the right-wing assertion that closing Guantanamo or freeing prisoners, even sending them to trial in the U.S., would somehow be like sending legions of terrorists to join anti-American jihad. Even though the recidivism rate from Guantanamo is something closer to 4% (not 14%), the Times didn't get around to setting the story straight until last week.

Of course the whole Pentagon study upon which the Times reporter relied is bogus. As Bill Van Auken noted the other day, that in an earlier, similar study by the Pentagon "eight of the 15 described as resuming terrorism were accused of nothing more than condemning their treatment at Guantánamo, an act that the Pentagon portrayed as terrorist propaganda."
Also included were five Uighurs -— ethnic Chinese Muslims -— who were released in 2006 after three years in Guantánamo and sent to a refugee camp in Albania. The Pentagon itself acknowledged that they had been improperly classified as "enemy combatants" and there is no evidence whatsoever that they engaged in terrorist activity either before or after their incarceration at Guantánamo. The reason they were included among those accused of carrying out "anti-coalition militant activity" is that one of them wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times urging the US Congress to protect habeas corpus.
Btw, the follow-up to the tragicomedy of the NY Times semi-retraction concers the Uighurs, with a report that Obama is paying the small South Seas island country Palau $200 million dollars to settle these stateless people. While the Uighurs settle on their putative St. Helena, I suppose the citizens of Peoria (symbolically speaking) can sleep better in their beds tonight.

Beyond this latest circus, the only image left from the U.S. experiment of opening a gulag at Guantanamo is one of tragedy and human misery. If Obama gets his way, it will be closed. But the show will only move even further off-shore, to Bagram prison in Afghanistan, or other foreign prisons, where now the U.S. says it will send more and more of its "War on Terror" prisoners -- just like "the good old days," as Alfred McCoy points out in an excellent article over at TomDispatch, "Confronting the CIA's Mind Maze":
In retrospect, it may become ever more apparent that the real aberration of the Bush years lay not in torture policies per se, but in the President's order that the CIA should operate its own torture prisons. The advantage of the bipartisan torture consensus of the Cold War era was, of course, that it did a remarkably good job most of the time of insulating Washington from the taint of torture, which was sometimes remarkably widely practiced.

There are already some clear signs of a policy shift in this direction in the Obama era. Since mid-2008, U.S. intelligence has captured a half-dozen al-Qaeda suspects and, instead of shipping them to Guantanamo or to CIA secret prisons, has had them interrogated by allied Middle Eastern intelligence agencies. Showing that this policy is again bipartisan, Obama's new CIA director Leon Panetta announced that the Agency would continue to engage in the rendition of terror suspects to allies like Libya, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia where we can, as he put it, "rely on diplomatic assurances of good treatment." Showing the quality of such treatment, Time magazine reported on May 24th that Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, who famously confessed under torture that Saddam Hussein had provided al-Qaeda with chemical weapons and later admitted his lie to Senate investigators, had committed "suicide" in a Libyan cell....

This time around, however, a long-distance torture policy may not provide the same insulation as in the past for Washington. Any retreat into torture by remote-control is, in fact, only likely to produce the next scandal that will do yet more damage to America's international standing.

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