Pain at Guantanamo and Paralysis in Government

Although I reported last week about an important court case
in favor of Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo,
there was little in the way of progress, during the first 115 days of
the Obama administration, for the men who are still held, despite the
president's pledge to close the prison within a year.

Although I reported last week about an important court case
in favor of Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantanamo,
there was little in the way of progress, during the first 115 days of
the Obama administration, for the men who are still held, despite the
president's pledge to close the prison within a year. Just one
prisoner, Binyam Mohamed, had been released, out of the 241 prisoners still in Guantanamo, but that, it was clear, was simply because his well-chronicled torture
in Morocco and Afghanistan had become a persistent irritant to both the
British and American governments in courtrooms on both sides of the

It was, therefore, no surprise that, as Tim Reid reported for London's Times
on Friday, after a recent visit to the prison, the mood of many of the
prisoners is angry, despairing, and suicidal. Reid explained how one
prisoner's face "appeared at the narrow cell window, eyes dark and
raging," and how, with "his arms gesticulating wildly, he made violent
slashing motions across his wrists, pounded the side of his head, and
jammed imaginary feeding tubes up his nose."

"Alpha-3," he kept mouthing as he
tried to tell us that the inmate in Alpha-3 cell was suicidal and on
hunger strike. Then he began to place family pictures up against the
glass, including two little boys staring at the camera clutching a
fluffy toy deer. Soon another face appeared at another cell window - he
covered his face with the Koran and disappeared from view - and
another, screaming: "What is freedom? Ask them, what is freedom?"

Reid went on to explain that, on the
night of the presidential election, "a celebratory chant of 'Obama!
Obama! Obama!' spread through the jail," as the prisoners learned that
he had won, and that when, on his second day in office, he issued his executive order
stating that he would close Guantanamo, "detainees were excited,
shouting at guards: 'Have you heard? We're getting out of here!'

Now, however, as lawyers for the
prisoners explained, "All the excitement of January has gone," and "a
joke is making the rounds among the detainees, told with gallows humor:
'At least Bush released people.'"

Obama finally releases a second prisoner

As Reid's article was published,
there was, at least, good news for one prisoner in Guantanamo, Lakhdar
Boumediene. A 43-year old Algerian, and a former resident of Bosnia,
Boumediene will always be known for the case named after him, Boumediene v. Bush,
which led, last June, to the Supreme Court ruling for the second time -
after setbacks imposed, unconstitutionally, by Congress - that the
prisoners at Guantanamo had habeas corpus rights; in other words, the
right, six years and five months after Guantanamo opened, to challenge
the basis of their detention in a court of law.

In November, this led to another
significant victory for Lakhdar Boumediene, when the judge in his
habeas case, Bush appointee Richard Leon, demolished the government's
case against him - and against four of the five other men seized with
him in Bosnia in January 2002 in connection with a non-existent plot to
blow up the U.S. embassy in Sarajevo - and ordered their release (as I
explained in a detailed article at the time, "After 7 Years, Judge Orders Release of Guantanamo Kidnap Victims").

However, although three of the men - Mustafa Ait Idr, Hadj Boudella, and Mohammed Nechla - were released soon afterwards,
to be reunited with their families in Bosnia, Boumediene and the other
man, Sabir Lahmar, remained in Guantanamo, apparently because neither
man had Bosnian citizenship.

The limbo in which Boumediene found
himself was finally resolved when, in a gesture of support for the
Obama administration, the French government agreed to accept him. After
his kidnapping in Bosnia, Boumediene's wife and two children returned
to Algeria, but he was accepted by the French government because he has
relatives in the south of France. On May 6, when a French foreign
ministry spokesman stated
that Boumediene had been "cleared of all charges relative to
participation in eventual terrorist activities," the government also
announced that, as well as accepting Boumediene, it was prepared to
offer residency to his wife and children.

Rob Kirsch, one of Boumediene's lawyers, who explained
that he had been meeting with French officials for the last two months,
and that a French diplomat had spoken to Boumediene by phone in recent
weeks, declared, "The French have just taken an amazing leadership role
here. [They] have looked at a real humanitarian disaster and have taken
steps to address it."

Kirsch also explained that, on
Wednesday, when he and a French diplomat arrived at Guantanamo to sort
out the documentation required for Boumediene's arrival in France, his
client, who had been on a hunger strike for 18 months, tried to eat
some French food that he had requested, but was unable to cope with it,
and, instead, symbolically broke his hunger strike by eating rice and
beans, bought from a restaurant on the naval base.

However, while Boumediene's release
is another tiny step towards the closure of Guantanamo, it will do
little to reassure those still held that their bleak joke about the
Obama administration's inability to release prisoners has any less

Paralysis in government

Boumediene leaves behind not just
Sabir Lahmar, for whom no third country has been found that is willing
to accept him, but also the 20 other prisoners cleared for release by
the U.S. courts: Mohammed El-Gharani,
a Saudi resident and Chadian national, who was just 14 years old when
he was seized in a random raid on a mosque in Pakistan, two Yemenis
(Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, whose case was comprehensively demolished two
weeks ago, and Yasim Basardah,
whose release was ordered six weeks ago), and, most controversially of
all, 17 Uighurs, Muslims from China's oppressed Xinjiang province.

In October, after an appeals court
had dealt the first major blow to a specific Guantanamo case, ruling
that the government's supposed evidence against one of the Uighurs, Huzaifa Parhat, was akin to a nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll, author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland,Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered
the Uighurs to be released into the United States, because their
continued detention was unconstitutional, because it was unsafe to
return them to China, and because no other country had been found that
was prepared to accept them.

Shamefully, this ruling was appealed by the government,
and the appeal was upheld by two particular judges, A. Raymond Randolph
and Karen LeCraft Henderson. Judge Randolph, in particular, has a long
history of backing up Bush administration "war on terror" detention
policies in cases that were finally overturned by the Supreme Court,
and, as a result, a Supreme Court ruling may well be required yet again
to deliver both justice and freedom to the Uighurs.

Nevertheless, it is profoundly
disappointing that the Obama administration did nothing to counter its
predecessor's abysmal disregard for the Uighurs' unacceptable plight
when the case was finally decided in February, and it is no less troubling that, ever since, despite tentatively proposing
that the government may be required to accept at least some of the
Uighurs into the U.S. to encourage other countries to accept prisoners
cleared for release who, like the Uighurs, cannot be repatriated, both
President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have failed to turn
their words into actions.

In this, moreover, their apparent
paralysis reflects their failure to act on behalf of any of the other
prisoners at Guantanamo who believed, last November, that change they
could believe in was about to be delivered at Guantanamo. I have
recently written two articles
examining the new administration's general failure to comprehensively
overturn the Bush administration's policies of detention and
interrogation in the "war on terror," and to hold those responsible to
account, in which I expressed dismay that the government is
entertaining plans to legitimize the policy of "preventive detention,"
in the cases of 50 to 100 prisoners, that is at the heart of
Guantanamo's unjust existence.

In addition, although the government
has not yet made public the fine print of its decision to reintroduce a
sanitized version of the military commissions, the system of "terror trials" conceived by former Vice President Dick Cheney
and his chief of staff David Addington, I note that reports anticipate
that they will apply to less than 20 of the prisoners - those,
presumably, who were actually involved
in the terrorist attacks on the United States that were supposed to
justify Guantanamo's existence, and not the teenagers, like Omar Khadr and Mohamed Jawad, the irrelevant one simple reason.
In the absence of any knowledge about them when they first came into
U.S. custody (because they were mostly bought from the U.S. military's
Afghan and Pakistani allies, because the military was prohibited from
screening them in Afghanistan to ascertain whether they were combatants
or civilians, and because the Bush administration equated Taliban foot
soldiers with al-Qaeda terrorists) the cases against them are, for the
most part, built on web of lies produced by prisoners who were
tortured, coerced, or bribed into making false confessions, and on a
"mosaic" of intelligence that is based on second- or third-hand
hearsay, guilt by association, and unsupportable suppositions.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

© 2023 Future of Freedom Foundation