On January 11, 2007, the first detainees from Afghanistan arrived at the prison in the US Naval Base, Guantanamo, Cuba. In the succeeding five years, Guantanamo has symbolized to the world the Bush administration’s abandonment of international and domestic law and the development of a policy of inhumane treatment and the use of torture in military and CIA operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and in an unknown number of secret prisons.
Over 775 detainees have been held in Guantanamo since January 11, 2002. After five years, no Guantanamo detainee has been convicted of a criminal offense. According to an American Forces Information Service News article dated October 17, 2006, “Bush Says Military Commissions Act Will Bring Justice”, the majority of the detainees held in Guantanamo will not face military commissions. “Only detainees who will be charged with law-of war violations and other grave offenses, about 75 detainees, officials estimated, will be subject to the commissions.”
So what has happened to the other 700 detainees during these five years, those that will not be prosecuted by military commissions?
Finally, after over two years of detention, between August 2004 and March 2005, Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT), composed of three US military officers, reviewed the cases of 558 detainees. However, the detainees had no access to lawyers or to secret evidence used by the CSRT. The CSRT could use coerced evidence. The CSRT’s judged 520 detainees to be “enemy combatants.”
What is an enemy combatant? The general definition of an enemy combatant is “a person engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners during an armed conflict.” But as September 5, 2006, DOD directive on the Detainee Program added another sentence to the definition of unlawful combatant: “For the purposes of the war on terrorism, the term Unlawful Enemy Combatant is defined to include, but is not limited to, an individual who is or was part of or supporting Taliban or al Qaeda forces or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States of its coalition partners.”
According to Amnesty International, in an analysis of 500 detainees, a remarkably low number, only 5 percent, or about 25 detainees, were captured by US forces; 86 percent, or about 430 detainees, were arrested by Pakistani forces or the Afghan Northern Alliance and turned over to US custody, often for a reward of thousands of dollars. The other 9 percent are not discussed in the Amnesty report. Many were sold to the United States to even scores or just for the money. Anyone living in Afghanistan, young or old, was fair game for selling to US forces. The oldest detainee shipped to Guantanamo was 75 and the youngest 10.
It is an understatement to say that the majority of those sent to Guantanamo were sent due to poor interrogation and investigation by US forces and the CIA during their detention in Afghanistan. Once at Guantanamo, they remained for years because of pressure for interrogation “results” from the civilian political leadership at the Department of Defense, Central Intelligence Agency and the White House.
As of December 18, 2006 almost half, about 379 of the 775 detainees, have been released after years in prison and sent home without being charged with a crime or being told why they were detained. About 396 detainees from 35 countries are still held at Guantanamo, including the 14 detainees that were transferred there in September, 2006 after being held incommunicado in secret CIA prisons for up to 4 and one-half years. (When President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act (MCA) into law, he said the MCA authorizes the CIA secret prison program to continue and that the 14 cannot reveal to their lawyers or the International Committee of the Red Cross the location of the detention facilities, conditions of confinement and interrogation techniques.)
16 detainees from Saudi Arabia were released on December 14, 2006 after King Abdullah summoned Vice-President Cheney to Saudi Arabia and took him to the woodshed over the plight of Sunnis if the United States withdraws from Iraq. Another 75 Saudis remain in Guantanamo. More detainees were released on December 17 according to a Department of Defense news release with the same date: 7 detainees were transferred to Afghanistan, 6 detainees returned to Yemen, 3 to Kazakhstan, one to Libya and one to Bangladesh, resulting in 34 detainees released in three days. The news release said that 114 detainees have been released in 2006 and 85 detainees whom the US government has determined are eligible for transfer or release are still held at Guantanamo.
17 detainees were under 18 years old when they were taken to Guantanamo. The youngest detainees were 10, 12 and 13 when they were “captured.” At the end of 2006, four of juveniles still are detained and now have spent one-fourth of their lives in Guantanamo. There was a fifth, but he was one of three detainees who committed suicide in June 2006. Over 40 detainees have attempted suicide and up to 200 detainees have staged hunger strikes to protest the conditions of detention.
Incredibly, at the end of five years of being in the world’s human rights doghouse, the US Congress in October, 2006, again trusted and complied with President Bush’s wishes and passed the Military Commissions Act (MCA). The MCA denies detainees habeas corpus (the right challenge the lawfulness or conditions of detention), denies the presumption of innocence, denies the right to trial within a reasonable time, denies the right to a lawyer of choice and denies the right to challenge and present evidence. The MCA allows the admission of evidence coerced by cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
While co-authoring memos on torture, Presidential legal advisor, now Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales in January, 2002, advised President Bush that a benefit of not applying the Geneva Conventions to detainees coming from Afghanistan and imprisoning the detainees outside the United States would be to make more difficult prosecution of US personnel under the US War Crimes Act. The administration’s “gloves off” attitude toward interrogations resulted in inhumane treatment in Bagram, Kandahar and other prisons in Afghanistan and later in Guantanamo. That abusive environment led to painful incidents at Abu Ghraib, Iraq as Guantanamo prison commander Major General Geoffrey Miller went to Iraq to teach more aggressive interrogation techniques to the interrogators. Gonzalez continued to make prosecution difficult of US personnel involved in prisoner abuse under the War Crimes Act by convincing the US Congress through the Military Commissions Act to provide a free-pass for criminal acts dealing with detainees committed before December 31, 2005.
As a retired US Army Colonel with 29 years of service on active duty and in the US Army Reserves, and as a US diplomat for 16 years, I firmly believe that there must be accountability and responsibility for criminal actions that we know have occurred, whether the perpetrators are in the Pentagon, CIA, Justice or the White House. Speaking as a military officer, our military is not served well by escaping responsibility for criminal acts. Our military soldiers and officers are taught what is legal behavior and what is not. I would think the same distinction also is taught to CIA personnel. When the Bush administration and the Congress retroactively protects those who knowing commit criminal acts, they undermine the “order and discipline” of the military and of the CIA and ultimately undercut the foundations of our rule of law.
I firmly believe that to regain some respect in the international community, for the sake of our national spirit and soul, and for the integrity of the US military, the prison in Guantanamo must be closed and the US military must be removed from adjudicating “enemy combatants” cases. Instead, I believe the federal courts must administer the laws of the United States against persons charged with “terrorist” crimes, as the courts have done in the past. For the United States to ever hope to salvage some modicum of its stature in the area of human rights, the legal process for those accused of criminal, terrorist acts must be transparent and fair. The “Guantanamo process” is neither. I call on the new Congress to acknowledge the capabilities and history of our civilian legal system, abolish the Military Commissions Act, designate the federal courts to hear the cases and close Guantanamo.
On January 11, 2007, the fifth year that detainees from Afghanistan have been in Guantanamo, organizations all over the world will call for Guantanamo to be closed. For the sake of our integrity and conscience, each one of us must take action: organize vigils, show the movie “The Road to Guantanamo”or have readings of “Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom” (www.bordc.org).
Act on January 11 to end torture, stop violations of international law and CLOSE GUANTANAMO! (Check www.witnesstorture.org for events.)
Colonel (Retired) Ann Wright spent 29 years in the Army and Army Reserves and 16 years as a US diplomat serving in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned from the US Department of State in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq.