Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Feinstein Introduces Bill to Close Gitmo in One Year

Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) has introduced a bill to close the detention center at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base. The closure would be slated for one year after the passage of the bill -- a long time if you are a detainee being held in solitary confinement, or otherwise.

A recent Amnesty International report, quoted by Turkana in a diary over at Daily Kos on this issue, describes the current conditions for those imprisoned at "Gitmo":

The isolated prisoners are now spending 22 hours alone in a windowless cell with no natural light or fresh air. They exercise alone, often at night and can go for days without seeing daylight. Inmates have their meals alone in their cells, which are constantly lit, and they are observed 24 hours a day.

Senator Feinstein has previously supported both the Patriot Act and the incarceration of "war on terror" detainees at Guantanamo Bay. (Her bill says nothing about other U.S.-run prisons abroad that hold similar "enemy combatants", and also are similarly tarred with reports of torture.)

In her website statement, she declares:

“Guantanamo Bay has become a lightning rod for international condemnation.... This has greatly damaged the nation’s credibility around the world. Rather than make the United States safer, the image projected by this facility puts us at greater risk. The time has come to close it down.”

“I want to be clear. I am absolutely opposed to releasing any terrorists, Taliban fighters or anyone else held at Guantanamo who is committed to harming the United States.

“At the same time, we must recognize the sustained damage this facility is doing to our international standing. We are better served by closing this facility and transferring the detainees elsewhere.”

Feinstein's language, oddly, shows greater concern for the image of the United States than for the human beings broken by coercive interrogation, isolation, sensory deprivation, beatings, and other forms of torture. Her bill would call for a transfer of detainees to U.S. courts to be charged with crimes, or turned over to an international tribunal, or returned to their own or a third country, with "guarantees" of no torture if returned.

As an example of the kind of pressure being exerted upon the politicians of this country around the torture issue, Feinstein's bill represents a victory, albeit only one step in a long and arduous process. It may be the best bill that can be expected at this time out of this Congress. George W. Bush will be hard pressed to veto this bill, but sabotage it or veto it he will.

Or, will he go ahead and let Gitmo close, as a damage control operation, transferring the prisoners elsewhere in his gulag? It will be a symbolic defeat. But hell, they can handle symbolic defeats. They don't challenge the raw naked power of the military state.

I nevertheless cannot help but feel heartened by Feinstein's bill. Her website contains a detailed timeline that discusses the torture that has taken place at Guantanamo at the hands of U.S. agencies. I don't know of any other Congressional website that does that. Here's a sampling:

November 30, 2004: The New York Times reported that the International Committee of the Red Cross charged, in confidential reports to the United States government, that the American military had intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion "tantamount to torture" on Guantanamo Bay detainees. The report said detainees were forced to endure "humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions." The story also revealed that a January 2003 confidential report by the International Committee of the Red Cross raised questions whether “psychological torture” had taken place at Guantanamo Bay.

December 21, 2004: The Washington Post reported that FBI agents, in memos spanning a two-year period, witnessed a variety of abuses at Guantanamo Bay. The newspaper reported that one FBI agent, on August 2, 2004, wrote: "On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18 to 24 hours or more." In once case, the agent continued, "the detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night."

June 2005: An official Department of Defense report by Air Force Lieutenant General Randall Schmidt, launched in response to the FBI concerns, found three instances of “degrading and abusive treatment” in violation of Department of Defense guidelines. These included the use of dogs in interrogations, extended period of solitary confinement and sleep deprivation. The report concluded that these acts did not constitute torture or inhumane treatment, and that some of the abuses alleged to have been witnessed by the FBI could not be corroborated.

If you feel so inclined, call Sen. Feinstein's office and give her your support, and maybe you'll want to add that the legislation doesn't go far enough. Tell her you want the restoration of habeas corpus and the outlawing of all forms of psychological torture, and that you want those who authorized the torture held accountable. Tell her you want an end to secret renditions and the closing of the black prisons. Who knows? She may be inclined to listen (though I wouldn't hold my breath).

Washington, DC - (202) 224-3841
San Francisco - (415) 393-0707
Los Angeles - (310) 914-7300
San Diego - (619) 231-9712
Fresno - (559) 485-7430

(tip of the hat to Turkana)

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