Guantanamo

by Chris Bertram on October 6, 2003

I tuned into the BBC’s Panorama last night, which consisted of an investigation into Camp Delta at Guantanamo and also the conditions under which detainees are held in Afghanistan itself. Whilst Panorama can be a sensationalist programme with a definite agenda, the specific allegations made can’t easily be wished away or dismissed as biased or malicious. Many of these are familiar to people, but I was sufficiently engaged by the broadcast to want to rehearse them here. I’m going from my memory of the programme, so I may have missed some details. The points raised included:

That numbers of people have been detained in Guantanamo after being denounced by their enemies and business rivals as a means of settling petty scores. (When the baselessness of the charges against them became clear, they were simply dumped back in Afghanistan to pick up their lives as best they could.)

That people have been arrested and handed over to the US in other sovereign states (Pakistan, the Gambia, and Bosnia) and have been denied habeas corpus and other remedies available in the legal systems of those countries.
That those detained in Guantanamo have no clear legal status and are denied access to the legal remedies available either in international law or US law. This as a result of the fact that the US will not recognize them as POWs and uses the fact that Guantanamo is in Cuba (though wholly under US control) to deny them access to the US courts.
That the prospect of trials under US military procedure with right of appeal only to the President of the US (who has already publicly declared the detainees to be “bad people”) is a breach of the human rights of the detainees and of natural justice. (And some of the trials under these flawed procedures may issue in the death penalty.)
That conditions in Camp Delta, confined to cages, punished for talking to one another, subject to lights all night long, and without news or the prospect of have cases determined in the foreseeable future, places intolerable stresses on the inmates. This may amount to torture, legally speaking. There have been over 30 suicide attempts in Guantanamo.
Children as young as 13 are held in Guantanamo.
That if Camp Delta is bad, detention in Afghanistan is worse, that detainees there may not get access to the Red Cross at all, that there have been deaths certified as “homicide” by US military doctors and that those deaths do not appear to be being vigorously investigated.

Representatives of the US government who appeared on the programme defended these methods and procedures on the basis that the United States needs to defend itself against international terrorism. So it does. But it is manifestly obvious that the ways in which these detentions fall short of what is required by international law and by the human rights of the detainees cannot be justified by the right of self defence. For example, to give these people proper access to legal representation, to try them according to procedures that meet minimal standards or fairness and to give them the expectation that all of this would happen within a reasonable timescale would hardly threaten the national security of the US or of any other country involved in the Afghan coalition.

Both liberals and libertarians affirm a universality of basic rights: rights pertain to humans as such. Many of people who think of themselves as liberal or libertarian supported the war in Afghanistan partly in the name of that universalism. One of the consequences of that universalism has to be that we also champion the human rights of our enemies, and of those who seek to destroy us. That said, numbers of those in Guantanamo may not be our
enemies at all, just the victims of vengeful neighbours who coveted their shop, their house or their farm.

{ 10 comments }

1

Jon 10.06.03 at 5:56 pm

Thanks for the important reminder that this utter disgrace is on-going, with the apparent intent that it be permanent.

I have what may be a terribly naive question, but here goes. US courts have found that they do not have jurisdiction, since Guantanamo is not US territory. Isn’t the clear implication that Cuban courts do have jurisdiction? I’m not suggesting that they could be effective, of course. But has a US court dared to make such a declaration?

2

Barry 10.06.03 at 6:21 pm

I’m sure that US law regards Guantanamo as US territory, where convenient. I have heard nothing that says that the decision to pretend that US law doesn’t apply
in Guantanamo has been used other than to justify the detentions.

3

Albert Ross 10.06.03 at 7:00 pm

“That if Camp Delta is bad, detention in Afghanistan is worse, that detainees there may not get access to the Red Cross at all, that there have been deaths certified as “homicide” by US military doctors and that those deaths do not appear to be being vigorously investigated.”

That is something that I wonder about: Is what is going on at Guantanamo misdirection designed to deflect attention away from the places where serious abuse is taking place?

4

Zizka 10.06.03 at 7:01 pm

Contempt for any sort of due process seems to be a guiding principle for Bush-Ashcroft. Guantanamo is a special case, but internally the administration is bad too.

I’m becoming a stuck record, but I don’t think that anyone fully realizes how bad this administration really is. Ashcroft is very in-your-face — he barely even bothers to mouth the pieties.

5

Thomas 10.07.03 at 2:46 am

zizka–I know Ashcroft is a fantastical figure on the left, but he really doesn’t have anything to do with these detentions. If you don’t like these, talk to Don Rumsfeld.

6

Zizka 10.07.03 at 6:06 am

Thomas — thank you for your wisdom. Note my phrase “Bush-Ashcroft”. Bush is in charge of the whole operation. Ashcroft is in charge of the domestic operation. By naming Ashcroft, I was widening the scope of my statement, while still including the Guantanamo detentions. But it was very nice of you to inform the simple folk at CT that Ashcroft is not in charge of Guantanamo.

For a number of very good reasons, Ashcroft is despised and feared by anyone with a concern for civil liberties. Policy questions aside, the guy is loony.

7

Thorley Winston 10.07.03 at 5:32 pm

Actually the “loony” designation is more appropriately applied to anyone who says that they either despise or fear Attorney General Ashcroft. That some have tried to blame him for things which he had no control over (such as the Guantanamo detentions) only affirms the depths of the ignorance of the Ashcroft haters.

8

Zizka 10.07.03 at 10:35 pm

Thorley — remember, you should always, always try for some value-added! People who just vent ultimately become objects of pity.

What you say does not apply to me, as I clearly explained. “Bush-Ashcroft” is what I said, generalizing the case. I didn’t go into the details of my reasons for fearing and despising Ashcroft, and you didn’t give me any reasons not to. Neener-neener.

9

Thorley Winston 10.07.03 at 10:41 pm

Thorley — remember, you should always, always try for some value-added! People who just vent ultimately become objects of pity.

Oh, so that’s what you were trying for.

What you say does not apply to me, as I clearly explained. “Bush-Ashcroft” is what I said, generalizing the case. I didn’t go into the details of my reasons for fearing and despising Ashcroft, and you didn’t give me any reasons not to. Neener-neener.

Thank you for proving my point.

10

Zizka 10.08.03 at 6:12 pm

You had a point?

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