It's hard to think of a better symbol of the abuses of the Bush administration than the prison at Guantanámo Bay, Cuba. It was put in Cuba so the administration could claim that American law didn't apply there. It was meant to be a loophole in the Constitution and the American concept of justice. "Cuban sovereignty over Guantanámo exists only in the abstract," wrote human rights lawyer Joanne Mariner for FindLaw.com. "Yet it is, for the U.S. government, a convenient legal fiction. In the current litigation over the fate of the hundreds of detainees held on Guantanámo, the government's position is premised on the fact that Guantanámo is technically foreign soil. Because Guantanámo is part of Cuba, argues the government, it is beyond the reach of American courts."
Of course, this was a ridiculous argument -- the prisoners are inarguably in US custody, not Cuban -- and it was eventually shot down by the courts. Prisoners at Guantanámo Bay had the right to habeas corpus restored, with the right to trial. So, the administration decided the wisest thing to do would be to drag their feet. In June, I ran the math and figured out that, at the rate the trials were going, the last Gitmo detainee could expect to see the inside of a courtroom about 583 years from now. The phrase "justice delayed is justice denied" is usually meant less literally.
Many of the detainees at Guantanámo were innocent, swept up in a bounty program that required no proof of anything. People would be captured by locals and basically sold to the US. Some were terrorists, but some were just neighbors someone had a problem with, street criminals, political rivals, or complete strangers kidnapped and turned in for the bounty. As a result, innocent people were exposed to terrorist ideology and radicalized. In the end, Gitmo is creating terrorists and terrorist sympathizers.
Mohammed Naim Farouq was a thug in the lawless Zormat district of eastern Afghanistan. He ran a kidnapping and extortion racket, and he controlled his turf with a band of gunmen who rode around in trucks with AK-47 rifles.
U.S. troops detained him in 2002, although he had no clear ties to the Taliban or al Qaida. By the time Farouq was released from Guantanamo the next year, however — after more than 12 months of what he described as abuse and humiliation at the hands of American soldiers — he'd made connections to high-level militants.
In fact, he'd become a Taliban leader. When the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency released a stack of 20 "most wanted" playing cards in 2006 identifying militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan — with Osama bin Laden at the top — Farouq was 16 cards into the deck.
And each day these people are kept in our tropical concentration camp, the more likely it is that they'll become terrorists themselves -- or at least terrorist sympathizers.
Those who manage to get through the process and secure their release are finding they might as well be terrorists. Once they get home, they often aren't welcomed.
Former Guantanámo prisoners released after years of detention without charge went home to find themselves stigmatized and shunned, viewed either as terrorists or U.S. spies, according to a report released on Wednesday.
The report by human rights advocates urged U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to form an independent, nonpartisan commission with subpoena powers to investigate the treatment of U.S. detainees in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Guantanámo Bay U.S. Navy base in Cuba.
"We cannot sweep this dark chapter in our nation's history under the rug by simply closing the Guantanámo prison camp," said study co-author Eric Stover, director of the University of California at Berkeley's Human Rights Center.
"The new administration must investigate what went wrong and who should be held accountable," Stover told Reuters. Worse, those who are accepted back into their communities are suffering from the experience of being unjustly imprisoned. The report looked at 62 released prisoners and found that "two-thirds of the former captives said they had psychological and emotional problems" and "only six had regular jobs." Employers are reluctant to hire people who've been released from Gitmo.
"It doesn't matter that they cleared my name by releasing me. We still have this big hat on our heads that we were terrorists," said one, now living in Albania.
"Among the 55 freed captives who discussed their interrogations, 31 said they were abusive and 24 said they had no problems," Reuters reports. "The majority held 'distinctly negative views of the United States' but many said that was directed at the U.S. government, not the American people." In the end, we may be creating more problems than we're solving. One third say they were sold to the US in the bounty program.
Barack Obama plans to close Guantanámo Bay. Under Obama, the military tribunals would be abandoned and prisoners would be able have their day in an actual court. But some say that doesn't go far enough.
In a press release, the American Civil Liberties Union said, "In addition to ordering the closure of Guantánamo, the ACLU calls on President-elect Obama to sign Day One executive orders banning the use of torture and abuse and ending the practice of extraordinary rendition." A ban on torture and abuse should be redundant, but the Bush administration has dragged us to a dark, dark place where it's necessary.
Investigations into the offense to justice that is the Guantanámo Bay camp should also begin. And those investigations should go as far -- and as high -- into the Bush administration as is necessary. War crimes have been committed and war criminals should answer for them.
These investigations should be thorough. Unlike the Bush administration, an Obama administration should give a damn whether or not they've got the right guys.