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A New Year’s Plea to Close Guantánamo by a Clear-Sighted American

Andy Worthington

January 3, 2011

While I’m busy preparing articles for the 9th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo on January 11 (and preparing for my visit to the States, from January 6 to 12, to talk about Guantánamo in New York and Washington D.C.), I thought I’d cross-post a great American perspective on the prison’s continuing existence, which was published on Op-Ed News, and written by Barbara Quintilliano, who describes herself as an instructional librarian who lives in the Philadelphia, PA, area, works at a nearby university and is a member of the local Amnesty International USA chapter. I was particularly impressed by the way in which Barbara expressed her disgust with Guantánamo as an American, as shown in the following lines: "I take the abomination that is Guantánamo Bay detention camp personally. I’m tired of its acceptance as a national institution and fear that Americans have forgotten that there even was a time when we did not hold detainees in a Caribbean island fortress beyond the reach of our nation’s laws." Please note that Barbara also has a blog, Liberata’s Blog, which can be found here.

Guantánamo Mon Amour
Barbara Quintiliano, Op-Ed News, January 1, 2011

Remember the old adage about the best laid plans of mice and men? Or the one about the road to a certain fiery destination being paved with good intentions? Well, here is a stunning example furnished by our country’s recent history:

Executive Order of President Obama, January 22, 2009: "By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America the detention facilities at Guantánamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than 1 year from the date of this order."

CNN interview with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, December 26, 2010 (almost 2 years later): "It’s certainly not going to close in the next month. I think part of this depends on the Republicans’ willingness to work with the administration on this."

Notice that in the first excerpt the author unabashedly brandishes the power of the presidency, while in the second failure to achieve the goal is blamed by someone else on someone else. In other words, the leader of the free world sends his proxy to bemoan his powerlessness to defend the human and legal rights guaranteed by the Constitution because fear-mongering Republicans stand in his way.

Makes you wonder who’s really in charge here.

I take the abomination that is Guantánamo Bay detention camp personally. I’m tired of its acceptance as a national institution and fear that Americans have forgotten that there even was a time when we did not hold detainees in a Caribbean island fortress beyond the reach of our nation’s laws (even though the Supreme Court has ruled that habeas corpus rights under our Constitution do indeed reach as far as Gitmo). In case you too have forgotten, gentle reader, here’s a very brief recap of how Liberty’s lamp came to light the way to horror.

Not long after the Bush administration declared war on terror, Afghanis noticed that it was raining leaflets. The brochures dropped by the US military’s PsyOps promised $5,000, " enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life," for each al-Qaeda fighter delivered to Northern Alliance who then turned them over to our military. And boy, did we ever get our money’s worth. Almost 800 prisoners, most captured nowhere near a battlefield, were rounded up and sent to Guantánamo Bay. An executive order issued February 7, 2002 declared them all "unlawful enemy combatants," stripping them of their Geneva Convention rights. The infamous torture memo issued by Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee in August 2002 [and written by John Yoo] deprived detainees of their human rights as well and paved the way for that other national disgrace, Abu Ghraib.

Realizing that it had been duped (once again), the Bush administration began to release small groups of detainees, spiriting them away on planes under cover of darkness after subjecting them to torture — uh, I mean enhanced interrogation techniques — which included chaining prisoners to the ground in a fetal position and leaving them lying in their own excrement, forcing them to stand naked in the cold after being dowsed with ice water, and smearing them with what they believed to be menstrual blood. Nothing was too brutal for these men, the worst of the worst, according to Dick Cheney. After all, John Yoo had declared the President an absolute monarch in war time.

Since January 11, 2002, when the first prisoners landed at Gitmo shackled, blindfolded, and stacked one up against the other like so much bulk cargo, top Judge Advocates General have strenuously objected to interrogation methods used on them, and FBI personnel have filed reports describing the abuses they witnessed. Former interrogator Matthew Alexander found out first hand in Iraq that "our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda," and a Physicians for Human Rights case study has allowed some of the victims to tell their own heartbreaking stories. Courageous attorneys like H. Candace Gorman have fought for Gitmo prisoners’ habeas corpus rights and been vilified for doing so by Pentagon officials.

Yet revelations of atrocities keep coming. In 2006, three detainees supposedly hanged themselves, thus committing what Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris called "an act of asymmetrical warfare" against the US. However, those deaths have come to look suspiciously like homicides linked to "Camp No," a mysterious Gitmo compound from which screams have been heard. Even more recently, a Seton Hall Law School report has revealed the routine administration to detainees of high doses of the antimalarial drug mefloquine, causing paranoia, hallucinations, and other neuropsychological damage.

Fear mongers in the Congress have put up numerous roadblocks preventing the release of innocent detainees and the trial of others in American courts of law instead of before substandard military commissions. But it gets worse. Even President Obama is now considering an executive order prescribing the indefinite detention for some still detained at Guantánamo Bay. In other words, an executive order to undo the one he signed on his first full day in office. How much longer will we let Liberty’s lamp light the way to the loss of liberty?

On January 11 the citadel of shame will mark its ninth anniversary. Not only must Gitmo be closed, but detainees not charged with crimes must be released the others tried in a US court of law. Write or email the President and tell him you haven’t forgotten his historic executive order beginning ""By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America," and mandating that, "the detention facilities at Guantánamo for individuals covered by this order shall be closed as soon as practicable."

Demand that he make those words stick.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo" (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.



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