Close Guantanamo

by Jonathan Wallace

Guantanamo's sole reason for existence is to evade America's own rules of fairness and due process. It serves as a gross, highly visible worldwide symbol of our contempt for our own founding principles.

The reason why we selected our base in Cuba for a prisoner camp was so that we could argue that our own courts had no jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus petitions originating there. Then we went and swept up suspects in countries around the world, denying them status even as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, and transferred them to the complete legal and moral limbo that is Guantanamo.

The Red Cross found the U.S. military in Guantanamo had tortured prisoners through "humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions." Irene Khan, Secretary general of Amnesty International, recently wrote:

The fact is that US interrogation and detention policies and practices in the context of the "war on terror" have deliberately and systematically breached the absolute ban on torture and ill-treatment inscribed in international treaties. Donald Rumsfeld personally approved a December 2002 memorandum that permitted unlawful interrogation techniques including stress positions, prolonged isolation, stripping and the use of dogs at Guantánamo Bay.

As we slowly and grudgingly have started releasing them, it has become apparent that we have nothing specific on many of these men, who apparently were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Time and time again, after releasing inmates without bringing any charges against them, we have sent them to their home countries--including quite Western places like Australia and France--who have declared that they are unable to find any trace of any crime committed by them.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Guantanamo prisoners are entitled to some sort of day in court. Our executive's tenacious bureaucratic stupidity then gave them little show trials, without the slightest semblance of process, so that our government could claim those requirements had been satisfied. What we have here is the same stupid tenaciousness displayed by prosecutors vis a vis death row prisoners who have been established innocent by after-acquired evidence--fight like wildcats to keep them incarcerated rather than ever admit an error.

The administration's rhetoric about the Guantanamo prisoners is frighteningly oblivious to any dialog about guilt or due process. Vice president Cheney said: "They're very well treated down there. They're living in the tropics. They're well fed. They've got everything they could possibly want. There isn't any other nation in the world that would treat people who were determined to kill Americans the way we're treating these people.... If you let them out, they'll go back to trying to kill Americans."

Guantanamo has a triple symbolism to the nations of the world. First, it stands for American dishonesty: the drive which would lead us to end-run our own vaunted principles of justice in order to get at people who made us mad, or who looked like people who made us mad. Secondly, Guantanamo stands as a symbol of American cruelty applied to Islamic suspects around the world, in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere: people being shackled naked, "waterboarded", left in their own feces, beaten, and even killed in the pursuit of information, vengeance, and in a few cases, entertainment. Finally, Guantanamo stands for America's gross incompetence, our insensate and dull obliviousness to the realities on the ground, the kind of mindless bureaucracy that fights like a wildcat to continue holding a teenager who happened to be traveling in the wrong part of Afghanistan and about whom we know fuck-all else.

I am ashamed that my country, home of the increasingly disregarded Bill of Rights, is proud to present itself to the world as dishonest, cruel and stupid.