Obama, Guantanamo, Torture

Guantanamo torture
Guantanamo inmates

Obama, Guantanamo, torture. Three words guaranteed to start an argument when used individually. Together, they’re like a 50-megaton nuclear warhead. On January 22, 2009 President Obama vowed to close Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp “within the year”. As of May 2013, “Gitmo” is still operational. 166 men still detained without charge or trial. Most of them have been there for over ten years.

Ironically, the sign on the gate concludes with the motto of the Joint Task Force Guantánamo (JTF-GTMO). This reads: “Honor Bound To Defend Freedom”.

“Hanging’s too good for them.”

Those who defend the camp say that supporters of al-Qaeda and the Taliban do not warrant the “civilised” treatment afforded to prisoners of war by the Geneva Convention. Hitler’s concentration camp guards and torturers had this protection. As did the  Serbians who killed and raped in the name of ethnic cleansing.

This unique US Naval base on the edge of Castro’s Cuba became a caged prison camp for suspected terrorists because President George W Bush believed it was beyond Federal Law. Inmates were tortured and interrogated without interference. Several judicial battles since have concluded that he was wrong and Gitmo does indeed lie within the jurisdiction of the United States Judicial system. This was before the more right-wing (and government-appointed) Supreme Court stepped in with decisions blocking releases and imposing restrictions on what evidence could be presented.

But would John Wayne approve?

The existence of the camps at Guantánamo Bay is a travesty of everything civilised people hold dear. Every John Wayne movie and classic American adventure features strong men fighting for a “decent society”. Surely the essence of this is somewhere where human beings are not be imprisoned without charge or trial? And certainly not tortured, sexually and religiously humiliated or force-fed.

No one says that convicted terrorists should be able to wander free. But why can’t they be treated like other major criminals? And dealt with by just, lawful means. Even the most heinous murderer and terrorist is still a human being who should be treated as such. President Obama said over four years ago:

Instead of serving as a tool to counter terrorism, Guantánamo became a symbol that helped al-Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantánamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.

That’s as true today as it was then: maybe more so. Human Rights campaigners Amnesty International are just one independent organisation who call for the closure of Guantánamo. Others include the European Union, United Nations and the International Red Cross.

Torture At Guantánamo


The authorities have tortured inmates at Guantánamo. Of that, there is no doubt. After all, wasn’t that the original reason for its location on foreign soil?  Numerous accounts exist of beatings, water-boarding and intimidation by dogs. Sleep deprivation. Men forced to soil themselves, smeared with fake menstrual blood and sexually taunted.

Then there’s the suspected existence of Camp No. Sometimes called Camp Seven. A secret detention and interrogation facility at which (according to testimony from former Marine guards), the three men who supposedly “committed suicide” in 2006, actually met their end. Suicide bombings aside, it is highly unlikely that devout Moslems would take their own lives, even when treated in such abominable ways. “And do not kill yourselves, surely God is most Merciful to you.” – Qur’an, Sura 4(An-Nisa), ayat 29

Human Rights vs. Human Wrongs

In 2006, British judge Mr Justice Collins declared during a court hearing over the refusal by Tony Blair’s UK government to request the release of three British residents held at Guantánamo Bay:

“America’s idea of what is torture is not the same as ours and does not appear to coincide with that of most civilised nations.”

As on the end of March 2013, 166 detainees remain. Of these, 86 have cleared for release but will not be for set free for the foreseeable future. One of the men still detained is Shawali Khan, an uneducated Afghan farmer. According to an article by Chicago human rights lawyer Len Goodman on the closeguantanamo.org website, in 2002 Khan was forced to move to Kandahar after a severe drought ruined his crops. He set up as a shopkeeper. Then came 9/11.

Captured by the Warlords

In November of 2002, Khan was captured by Afghan warlords and sold to the Americans. At this time, the Americans were paying bounties of about $10,000 to Afghans who turned in al-Qaeda fighters. No actual evidence or corroboration was required.

Khan was subsequently sent to Gitmo based on the word of a single informant that he was an al-Qaeda fighter. The fact that Kandahar in 2002 was considered “Taliban Central” and had no known al-Qaeda presence was overlooked or ignored by American intelligence officials who were eager to fill empty cages at Gitmo.

In the spring of 2010, the courts finally granted Khan a habeas corpus hearing. It was his eighth year of captivity. The government called no witnesses but merely introduced “intelligence reports” which indicated that an unidentified Afghan informant had told an unidentified American intelligence officer that Khan was an al-Qaeda-linked insurgent.

President Obama And Guantánamo Bay Detention Camps

There is also no doubt that many of the detained men were innocent. In an affidavit for a 2010 US court case, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a former aide to US Secretary of State Colin Powell, spilled some beans. He said US leaders were aware that many of the detainees were innocent. They included President George W Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The detentions were because of “political expedience”.

So why hasn’t Obama closed the facility as he has promised on several occasions? In 2008, remember, he called Guantánamo a “sad chapter in American history”. It’s complicated. Obama faces several obstacles. The Wikipedia Guantanamo Bay page contains a more detailed scenario.

The first main obstacle to closure back in 2009 appears to have been the legal problem that ongoing human rights abuse legal actions that were still pending. Quite a few states and regional bodies nixed the idea of any suspected terrorists arriving in their neighbourhoods. Under the US political climate, Obama seems keener on transferring prisoners to other facilities in the USA than implementing a closure and blanket release.

Problems, problems and more problems…

Then more bizarre elements prevented the shutting down of Gitmo. When Obama was finally able to sign off a move to a new site in Illinois, for example. The lawyer for a group of Yemeni detainees objected because the area was “too bleak”. This type of to-ing and fro-ing continued until November 2012. The United States Senate derailed any possible move. They voted 54–41 to prevent detainees being transferred to facilities in the United States.

According to Red Cross spokesman Simon Schorno, the US Congress is the main obstacle to closing Guantánamo Bay prison camp. A significant factor appears to be the misinformed and yet rabid anti-Islamic stance of much of the American media.

Guantanamo Torture: Force Feeding

On May 1st, 2013, at least 130 of the 166 Guantánamo inmates were hunger-striking. Medical personnel arrived at the base to force-feed them. Here (from the UK Guardian newspaper website) is a video:

Citizens should not be imprisoned without charge or trial. Nor should they be tortured. The American Constitution clearly sets out these basic rights. Whether they apply to citizens of foreign countries, kidnapped on the word of an unknown informer, appears open to debate. Obama, Guantanamo, Torture. The words remain linked.