Posts Tagged ‘ Constitutional Rights ’

Unhappy Anniversary, Guantanamo!

By Carlos Harrison for The Huffington Post

It’s been a troubled – some might say, tragic – 10 years for the detention camps at the Guantánamo Naval Base in Cuba. And as they slouch into their 11th year on January 11, there’s no end in sight.

“We say to ourselves, in sort of gallows humor: Guantánamo will close when the last detainee there dies of natural causes,” Jeremy Varon, an organizer with Witness Against Torture, told the Huffington Post on Wednesday.

Franz Kafka himself would have been hard-pressed to concoct a more bewildering and brutal contradictory reality. Allegations over the years have included sexual humiliation, waterboarding, and the use of dogs to scare detainees. Released detainees reported being locked in in sensory deprivation cells, beaten repeatedly, and forced to race while wearing leg shackles. If they fell, they were punished.

If it sounds like Abu Ghraib, it should. The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee found that intelligence teams transported the “aggressive” interrogation techniques perfected at Guantánamo to Afghanistan and Iraq.

The link between Cuba and the war zones, the New York Times reported, was Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, then the head of detention operations at Guantánamo. At his insistence, the Times wrote, the Defense Department sent training teams on 90-day tours in Iraq, showing the soldiers there the techniques utilized on the island. The timing, Amnesty International points out, happened to coincide with when the worst abuses occurred at Abu Ghraib.

Thanks to reports like those, the detention camps have become an international symbol of what democracy and justice are not. They’ve been plagued by suicide attempts by desperate detainees and condemned by the United Nations, human rights groups, even former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who called for the immediate closing of the camps in 2006.
“The value of holding prisoners there was unclear, but the price we were paying around the world for doing so was obvious,” Powell said.

The camps were created in 2002 as a deliberately “extraterritorial” place to extract information from captives in the “War on Terror.” By putting them at Guantanamo, the United States, meant to be beyond the jurisdiction of both the Geneva Conventions and U.S. courts.

That didn’t put them outside the range of public opinion. The camps sparked outrage on day one. Pictures flew around the world of shackled and handcuffed detainees on their knees on the ground with black hoods over their heads and mittens on their hands.

The indignation grew as the first 20 captives went into wire cages at Camp X-Ray, described by critics as “kennels.” Soon, though, the detainees were transferred to permanent cells, and Camp X-Ray was closed.

But the human rights complaints continued, even from some of America’s closest allies.
In 2006, speaking on BBC radio, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said:

“I am absolutely clear that the U.S. has no intention of maintaining a Gulag in Guantanamo Bay. They want to see the situation resolved and they would like it other than it is. However, that is the situation that they have.”

In all 779 detainees have been held in the camps. Eight have died there, including six suicides. One man died of colon cancer, another after an apparent heart attack.

And, in the 10 years since it opened, only six detainees have been convicted of war crimes.
The last 171 still there are caught at the conflicting conjunction where bureaucracy, politics, and military regulations collide – offering little chance, at least for the foreseeable future, of gaining their release.

Forty-six are classified as “indefinite detainees,” held without charges, but considered too dangerous to be released; 89 are eligible for release or transfer but in perpetual custody because there is no place to send them. Five more have been convicted of war crimes; and six face trial – perhaps this year – for the 9/11 attacks and the October 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing.
That makes Guantanamo, as Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald described it in a piece for Foreign Affairs, “arguably the most expensive prison camp on earth, with a staff of 1,850 U.S. troops and civilians managing a compound that contains 171 captives, at a cost of $800,000 a year per detainee.”

But even the budget conscious Congress resists closing the base. In fact, it has used its spending oversight powers to thwart the president’s efforts to do just that. It has used that authority to prevent the trial of detainees on U.S. soil and to block the purchase of a dedicated prison facility in Illinois to house transferred detainees.
And no one wants to risk having a released captive later become involved in an act of terrorism or insurgency, which happened with at least one-fourth of the 500 detainees set free under President George W. Bush.

So, the captives remain in Guantanamo. Until when no one knows.
As Marc Thiessen, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told CNN:

“We have the right to continue to hold them as long as al Qaeda is at war with us.”

Having the right, though, doesn’t make it right, said Geneve Mantri, government relations director for national security, Amnesty International.

Speaking to The Huffington Post on Wednesday, he said the 89 cleared for release by both the Bush administration and a review ordered by President Obama, “represent little or no threat.”

“This has always been sold as a question of the worst of the worst and the reality is that a large number of the people that have been picked up, I hate to say it are in the insignificant and rather pathetically sad story category,” he said.

“There is a minority of people (in the camps) that no one doubts are truly dangerous. That minority of people should be placed in front of a US court. Because we have the most efficient system, the fastest and cheapest and best system for looking at all the evidence. You produce it all in a court of law. Have a real defense — an internationally recognized defense. And then put them away forever.”

Mosque Near Ground Zero Divides Sept. 11 Relatives

By Samantha Gross for The Associated Press

Talat Hamdani traveled to Mecca to pray that her missing son, an EMT, was safe in the days after 9/11. She held out hope that his Muslim background had led to his detention as a suspect, considering it better than the alternative.

When part of his body was returned to her — his lower half shattered into 34 pieces — it was final proof he had indeed been killed when Islamic extremists brought down the World Trade Center. As Americans take sides over plans to build an Islamic cultural center and mosque blocks away, Hamdani says it feels personal.

“Why are we paying the price? Why are we being ostracized? Our loved ones died,” she said at her Lake Grove, N.Y., home. “America was founded on the grounds of religious freedom,” and opposition to the cultural center “is un-American. It’s unethical. And it is wrong.”

The thousands of relatives of the 2,976 victims have no single representative and no unified voice, even as another 9/11 anniversary approaches. The conflict is dividing a group that in many ways has never been united, with some saying the cultural center would reopen old wounds too close to hallowed ground and others saying that opposing it is tantamount to bigotry.
And some, like Vandna Jain, walk a middle ground.

“It is unfair to persecute the group, however, in turn, there should be some respect for the feelings of the people that are forever attached to this site due to their losses,” the New City, N.Y., resident, whose father, Yudh, died in the north tower, wrote in an e-mail. “I think people have a right to be upset about it, just as much as people have a right to build a mosque.” Jim Riches, a former New York Fire Department deputy chief whose son, Jimmy, was killed at the trade center, believes the dispute has nothing to do with religious freedom.

“We’re not telling them not to practice their religion. … It’s about location, location, location,” he said, asking why the mosque couldn’t be built farther away from the land that he still considers a cemetery. “It’s disrespectful. You wouldn’t put a Japanese cultural center at Pearl Harbor.”

Liza Murphy feels differently. Her brother, Charlie, died at ground zero, but she says she doesn’t lay claim to the sprawling, 16-acre site. “It’s a place where a terrible tragedy took place, but I don’t see what makes it sacred,” said the Brooklyn resident. “Nine years later, that now belongs to the public. And my brother and his death are private and belong to me.” Murphy says she has no objection to the planned mosque and wouldn’t want to judge one group of Muslims based on the actions of another.

But Peter Gadiel says he owes no apologies for singling one group out. Since his son, James, was killed at the trade center, Gadiel has argued publicly that all Muslims should share some collective guilt for what happened on 9/11.

“The fact is that Islam does not coexist well with other religions, and you can’t separate that from Islam,” the Kent, Conn., resident said, explaining his stand against the mosque. “If that sounds intolerant on my part, that’s too bad.” The families’ impassioned responses to the prospect of the mosque have influenced the public debate.

Gov. David Paterson has suggested moving the project further away from the trade center site out of respect for opponents’ feelings, while Mayor Michael Bloomberg came out in support of the mosque, calling it a test of the separation of church and state.
President Barack Obama has said he believes Muslims have the right to build the Islamic center as a matter of religious freedom, though he’s also said he won’t take a position on whether they should actually build it.

The imam leading plans for the center on Friday called extremism a security threat in both the West and the Muslim world. Feisal Abdul Rauf made his comments to Associated Press Television News in Bahrain during a Mideast tour funded by the U.S. State Department, but he wouldn’t discuss the uproar over the Islamic center.

Relatives of those slain on Sept. 11 have made their diverging voices heard on a number of issues over the years — from whether to try the suspects in a civilian court to the location of a proposed freedom museum at ground zero that is no longer planned for the site.

Charles Wolf, who lost his wife, Katherine, at the trade center, says emotions among family members are especially raw right now.
“This is anniversary season. It’s really, really hard,” the Manhattanite said. “Passions are up and this is bringing up a lot of hurt in people.”

He says he worries that any decision to respond to public pressure and move the mosque would be used by extremists to paint Americans as intolerant.

“The powers of evil were piloting those airplanes,” he said of the Sept. 11 attackers. Now, with the mosque dispute, “here is where we’re falling into the terrorists’ trap … trying to tear each other apart. Good people fighting other good people — does that sound like evil at work?”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 74 other followers

%d bloggers like this: