Four years ago, the president was assured by his lawyers in the Justice and Defense departments that, as commander in chief, he had the ultimate power to determine which of our captives in the war on terrorism are “enemy combatants”—and to imprison many of them indefinitely at Guantánamo.
Then, after the Abu Ghraib photographs went around the world (recently, even more repellent pictures from that prison have been internationally distributed), Gitmo became a recruiting tool for our enemies, while causing increasing disquiet among our allies.
On February 16, a British high court judge, Sir Andrew Collins, emphasized: “America’s idea of what is torture is not the same as ours and does not appear to coincide with that of most civilized nations.”
He was referring to a February 15 report by five independent U.N. special rapporteurs on torture that Guantánamo be closed and its prisoners be tried or released.
What has newly inflamed human rights critics of Guantánamo’s treatment of its prisoners—whom Donald Rumsfeld has described as “terrorists” and “the worst of the worst” of the suspected terrorists we have captured—are confirmed reports of the force-feeding of desperate prisoners, held for four years with no end in sight. At one point, 130 had refused food, but that number is now down to four because of the methods used to prevent one or more of the resisters from dying, thereby further shaming the United States.
As described to me by Tom Wilner, a Washington-based attorney for a number of the prisoners, and further detailed in the following February 9 National Public Radio account by Neil Koslowe, another attorney for a detainee there, the hunger strikers are tied down to a metal restraint chair as officers “force open their mouths and then they shove down their mouths through thick tubes in their noses nutritional supplements mixed with milk of magnesia and other ingredients. Removal of the tubes is often violent. The prisoners get nauseous, they vomit. They defecate over themselves. They urinate over themselves.”
This goes on for hours a day, and screaming doesn’t make it stop.
Responding to this vivid account of what the president has often called the “humane treatment” of prisoners at Gitmo, White House press secretary Scott McClellan brushed aside rising condemnations of the brutal force-feeding:
“We know that these are dangerous terrorists being kept at Guantánamo Bay. They are people determined to harm innocent civilians.”
But who actually are these “bad guys,” as the president refers to them? Soon, we may find out all their names for the first time. Federal judge Jed Rakoff of New York’s Southern District has ordered the Pentagon—following an Associated Press lawsuit—to release uncensored transcripts of the sham hearings the prisoners have had to determine whether they will end their lives at Gitmo or be given more than the current fake “due process” at these hearings. The Pentagon has agreed to the order.
Already, however, we now know much more about how “dangerous” they really are because of a stunning, heavily documented investigation by the Seton Hall (New Jersey) School of Law. Titled “Report on Guantánamo Detainees,” it profiles 517 of the prisoners at Gitmo entirely based on “analysis of Department of Defense data.” (Emphasis added.) The lead authors are Mark Denbeaux, a professor at the law school and counsel to two of the prisoners, and his son Joshua Denbeaux.
The data “are based on written determination the Government has produced for detainees it has designated as enemy combatants,” and contain “the evidence upon which the Government relied on in making its decision that these detainees were (indeed) enemy combatants.” (Emphasis added.)
Now dig this about “the worst of the worst” of the “bad guys” intent on killing Americans:
There are now about 490 prisoners at Gitmo, and “55 percent of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or coalition allies.
“Only 8 percent of the detainees were characterized as Al Qaeda fighters. Of the remaining detainees, 40 percent have no definitive connection with Al Qaeda at all and 18 percent have no definitive affiliation with either Al Qaeda or the Taliban.
“Only 5 percent of the detainees were captured by United States forces. [A total of] 86 percent of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over to United States custody. This 86 percent of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were turned over to the United States at a time at which the United States offered large bounties for capture of suspected enemies.” (Emphasis added.)
The Northern Alliance included Afghan warlords—not noted, to say the least, for their concern for any due process in rounding up “suspects” or the quality of the “evidence,” if any, connecting their captives with terrorism. But these warlords were attracted by the generous sums the U.S. gave them for these suspects—many of whom were then warehoused at Gitmo.
The Seton Hall Law School report concludes with just two sentences—exposing the Bush administration’s cold fraudulence in imprisoning these “enemy combatants” at Gitmo in the name of our national security and in total violation of due process, the basis of American rule of law, along with violating international treaties, including the Geneva Conventions on civilized treatment of prisoners:
“The detainees have been afforded no meaningful opportunities to test the Government’s evidence against them. They remain incarcerated.”
In a lead editorial on February 17, the British <>Financial Times<> said of the Abu Ghraib revelations, and this also applies to what has happened at Gitmo since: “There was no independent investigation and no real accountability: the two most visible privates in the photos were jailed, and a junior general was demoted.
“But responsibility lay—and lies—further up the chain of command, as far as Donald Rumsfeld . . . and officials such as Alberto Gonzales, now attorney general, who devised a framework for circumventing the Geneva Conventions. It is they who should be held to account.”
But not the commander in chief?