"There's a bit of magic in everything, and some loss to even things out." -Lou Reed

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Throwing Away the Key

Imagine for a moment that your spouse, that you have known since grade school, who grew up in America just as you did, is traveling internationally for business. He or she leaves, kissing you goodbye, heading for the airport. You wait for him or her to call, and days pass as you try the cell, the hotel, then the airline. There is no answer on the cell, and the airline can only tell you that your spouse made it on one flight but not another. Days turn into weeks and you know nothing, hear nothing. This person that you have shared your life with has vanished.

This happened to more people than we will ever know. These people were targeted by arresting officers of the US military, and without any due process, were arrested and shipped off to Guantanamo Bay to be held prisoner.

There are some people that were imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay that no doubt deserved it. But some were picked up without true justification, without any true fact checking, and if they were released, it was only after years of languishing in a horrible prison without any legal representation or contact with their loved ones.

For those of you that don’t know, no one in Guantanamo Bay was allowed legal representation. That means no phone call, no lawyer, no right to refute the charges against them; which may or may not have been fully explained to them. And although recently there has been a push to do this, it is in my opinion, too little too late. If you aren't upset you should be. America is supposed to be the beacon of light in a world where human rights and freedoms can get lost in history and suppression. I am all for anyone who is a terrorist seeing the hard end of justice, but I am not, nor will I ever be for our country or any other country for that matter, being able to pick up any person without just cause or reason and cut them off from the world as has been done to these prisoners. If they are guilty, then by all means, let’s try them, convict them, and show the world that a fair and just country can also capture and punish those that deserve it, and keep our dignity intact all the while.

Obama made some serious promises about Guantanamo and closing it as soon as he came into office. I think there are now complications about how fast that can be done to make sure that the truly guilty are filtered out of the remaining population. I am holding him to this one, though. We have to erase this blot off of our history, not so we forget, but so it never, ever happens again.

Here are some basic questions and answers about Guantanamo, provided by NPR:

Q&A About Guantanamo Bay and the Detainees
Jackie Northam
NPR.org, June 23, 2005 ·

The United States military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has been holding prisoners from the invasion of Afghanistan and the war on terror since early 2002. The detainees, as they are most frequently called, are held in a legal limbo, with no clear future.
While some critics have called for the release of the prisoners, the U.S. government is upgrading the prison at Guantanamo with facilities that are more permanent in nature than the buildings used to this point.
NPR National Security Correspondent Jackie Northam answers questions about the situation as it now stands:
Q: How many people are being held prisoner at Guantanamo Bay?
At least 520, according to the Pentagon. But the military will not release an exact figure. Several Members of Congress have tried to find out the exact figure, but they haven't succeeded.

Q: Has anyone been released from the facility?
At its height, Guantanamo Bay held about 750 prisoners. The military has released more than 200 people from the camp -- most have been returned to their home countries. But the government says that as many as 12 people released from Guantanamo have returned to the battlefield to fight again against U.S. interests.

Q: Are new prisoners still being delivered there?
Yes, but it's slowed down to a trickle, only one or two prisoners at a time.

Q: Where did the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay come from?
According to the military, most were picked up in Afghanistan. The adminstration likes to use the term "captured on the battlefield." Their nationalities vary. Many come from countries such as Yemen, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia -- but there are some from Britain and Australia, too. The Pentagon says the detainees fought alongside the Taliban during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan or they have direct links to Al Qaeda. There have been repeated allegations that some of the prisoners were handed over to the U.S. by bounty hunters associated with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan -- a group which fought against the Taliban.

Q: Is that information reliable?
It's hard to be certain who the prisoners really are because the administration keeps much of the information about the detainees secret. Any information about who is being held at the prison camp has come out through documents that have been released through the Freedom of Information Act, by a small group of defense attornies, or through tribunals held at Guantanamo which are designed to determine whether a detainee is still considered a threat.

Q: How long have the prisoners been there?
Many, if not most, have been held there for more than three years. The U.S. started moving prisoners there in January, 2002. All but a few detainees have been held without any contact with the outside world, with no legal representation, no charges filed against them. At the beginning, they were interrogated fairly regularly. Some still are. But the Pentagon and military officials at Guantanamo have acknowledged that some of the prisoners aren't being interrogated now. They just sit in their cells day after day -- a sort of open-ended detentions.

Q: What are they charged with?
Only four detainees have been charged. Their trials -- which the Pentagon calls military commissions -- got underway in August 2004. But that process is stalled. An appeals judge said that the men had not been given proper due process. That decision came after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the detainees had the right to challenge their detentions in American courts. A decision by the military on what will happen next to the four men is still pending.

Q: Why are they being held at Guantanamo?
The federal government hoped it could escape jurisdiction of the courts if the prisoners were held outside of the United States. The Supreme Court case centered on a challenge to that assumption. The issue is still not settled.

Q: Has Guantanamo ever served as a prison camp before?
No. It was a sleeply little U.S. Navy port, of dwindling importance, until the American government decided to use it as a prison camp. Now, it has thousands of U.S. military personnel, as well as civilians from agencies such as the CIA. A new prison called Camp 5 is up and running. It is a hard- walled prison, unlike the chain-link cells that have been used for about three years. Another prison is about to go up, construction is finished on an intelligence headquarters at the base and ground has been broken for a new hospital for the prisoners, one which includes a psychiatric wing.

Q: Who runs the facility?
A joint task force, or JTF, is responsible for running Guantanamo. For the most part, the Army had the largest contingent of people, and many of those were reserves. Interrogations are conducted by both the military and officials from the FBI, the CIA and others.

Q: Who is allowed to see the people being held there?
The press has been allowed on the base. I've been there six times. But the military exercises extreme control. They let you see only what they want you to see. On any of the tours of the camp, we can see prisoners being held in the medium-security section of the camp. These are the most compliant detainees who have more freedom than the others. They're allowed more recreation time, they live in more of a dorm-type building. But we can't talk to them. Every interaction between the media and prisoners is scripted by the military. The same restrictions apply to politicians who go there to investigate the conditions at Guantanamo.

Q: What did you see?
I was once allowed to visit a maximum-security cellblock with prisoners in it. The animosity between the guards and prisoners was almost palpable. The prisoners were just laying around in what are, essentially, open-air cages. A tin roof covered the facility. In contrast, there is some beautiful scenery outside of the prison. Blue-green waters of the sea wash up on the shore.

Q: How are the prisoners treated?
Physically, their needs seem to be met. They're allowed some recreation. The military says it gives the detainees meals that are sensitive to their religious and cultural dietary needs. But the mental health of many detainees seems to be questionable. The International Committee of the Red Cross, which is the only aid agency allowed to visit the detainees, broke its silence and issued a statement saying that many prisoners are suffering mental deterioration. The open-ended detentions appeared to be the key problem. Dozens of the detainees have attempted suicide, although none has been successful.

Q: Where does the public's information about Guantanamo come from?
Mostly it comes from the U.S. government, and it has not been particularly open with supplying information. Most has to be pried out through things such as the Freedom of Information Act. Even then it took a court order to force the Pentagon, the FBI and the CIA to release documents. But, again, this is a very slow process. The CIA has yet to turn over one document. And there is some valuable information coming out in the documents that have been turned over, such as FBI e-mails that were released. The e-mails show FBI agents complaining about the harsh interrogation tactics used on detainees by the military, and questioned whether those tactics produced good intelligence.

Q: Critics have said the camp ought to be closed. Where might the prisoners would go if that happened?
No one knows. There are other far-flung military bases at place like Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean and Guam in the Pacific Ocean. That could make it even harder for journalists and Members of Congress to get out to keep an eye on what's happening.

photo courtesy of The Big Picture- boston.com

Q&A courtesy of NPR.org


Paula... December 26, 2008 at 7:07 AM  

WOW I didn't know they were'nt allowed legal representation - that is certainly a crime in itself. The government obviously believed they were above the law and could make their own rules!!!

David Hicks is one Aussie that was detained at Guantanamo Bay for quite a few years and only came home last year.

It all seems so barbaric in this day and age.


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