Ten years of shame

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners at Guantanamo, brought there on military transport planes, shackled hand-to-waist, waist-to-ankles, their ankles bolted on the airplane floor, their ears and eyes goggled and their heads hooded. Glenn Greenwald describes how over that period, the principles of justice have been steadily subverted, first by Bush/Cheney and now by Obama, resulting in nightmarish treatment of people becoming routine.

It is worth reading the accounts of two of the people who were detained for long periods in Guantanamo.

One of them is Lakhdar Boumediene, a humanitarian aid worker for the Red Crescent society, who was held without trial for seven years. He says that “During that time my daughters grew up without me. They were toddlers when I was imprisoned, and were never allowed to visit or speak to me by phone. Most of their letters were returned as “undeliverable,” and the few that I received were so thoroughly and thoughtlessly censored that their messages of love and support were lost.”

The fact that the United States had made a mistake was clear from the beginning. Bosnia’s highest court investigated the American claim, found that there was no evidence against me and ordered my release. But instead, the moment I was released American agents seized me and the five others. We were tied up like animals and flown to Guantánamo, the American naval base in Cuba. I arrived on Jan. 20, 2002.

I still had faith in American justice. I believed my captors would quickly realize their mistake and let me go. But when I would not give the interrogators the answers they wanted — how could I, when I had done nothing wrong? — they became more and more brutal. I was kept awake for many days straight. I was forced to remain in painful positions for hours at a time. These are things I do not want to write about; I want only to forget.

It was his case that was heard by the Supreme Court in 2008 that ruled that he had a constitutional right to challenge his detention in court, and five months later a judge ruled that he be released.

Murat Kurnaz, a German of Turkish descent, also gives his account. While on a visit to Pakistan, he was handed over by the police to US authorities after the US launched a wide campaign that promised the poor people in that region that if they handed over Taliban or al Qaeda suspects, they would receive in exchange “enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life.” Make an offer like that to desperately poor people, and a few of them will be unscrupulous enough to hand over innocent people for the reward.

His description of the cruel treatment he suffered should make us all ashamed that our government created and allowed such things to happen.

During their interrogations, they dunked my head under water and punched me in the stomach; they don’t call this waterboarding but it amounts to the same thing. I was sure I would drown.

At one point, I was chained to the ceiling of a building and hung by my hands for days. A doctor sometimes checked if I was O.K.; then I would be strung up again. The pain was unbearable.

After about two months in Kandahar, I was transferred to Guantánamo. There were more beatings, endless solitary confinement, freezing temperatures and extreme heat, days of forced sleeplessness. The interrogations continued always with the same questions. I told my story over and over — my name, my family, why I was in Pakistan. Nothing I said satisfied them. I realized my interrogators were not interested in the truth.

Despite all this, I looked for ways to feel human. I have always loved animals. I started hiding a piece of bread from my meals and feeding the iguanas that came to the fence. When officials discovered this, I was punished with 30 days in isolation and darkness.

Kurnaz soon realized that his pleas of innocence were wasted because his interrogators were simply not interested. They simply wanted to inflict pain and suffering on those that they had already decided were guilty. After five years of such treatment, he was released because of pressure from the German government.

As a result of the infamous National Defense Authorization Act that was signed into law on New Year’s eve, coupled with the earlier Military Commissions Act of 2006 and the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, the fate of those two people is something that could potentially await all of us.

History will look back on what we did at Guantanamo and wonder how we could have let the system of justice become so perverted.


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