But I also want other mothers and family members to get their wishes, too.
I'm thinking of nearly 200 men whom the US is currently imprisoning at
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, most for more than 8 years. The US is also holding more
than 600 men and women in Bagram prison, Afghanistan, with even fewer rights and
privileges than their Guantanamo counterparts, and an unknown number held in
secret prisons around the world. No family members, friends, or journalists have
ever been allowed to visit or interview any of these men and women in US
custody, and their detentions have been devastating for their families in other
ways. For example, Tina Foster, executive director of the International Justice
Network, who has filed cases on behalf of some of the Bagram prisoners
without being permitted to meet any of them, reports that many of the Bagram
prisoners' children have literally been starving to death while their families'
only breadwinners, their fathers, have been in US military custody.
Back to Guantanamo. Its inmates have been as young as 12 and as old as 93.
Many of the men have lost parents and other family members while in captivity,
and like their Bagram counterparts, sometimes the absence of the family's
breadwinner was the cause of death. For example, the youngest child of
Guantanamo captive Adel Hamad, born while her father was imprisoned, died
because her family could not pay for the medical care she needed. Ironically,
her father was working as a hospital administrator at the time of his
Some parents lost loved ones who died in the prison by suicide or other
cause. Still other parents hold on to hope that they will see their loved ones
held at Guantanamo before they die. Many of the prisoners' families had to wait
months or years just to receive any news of their loved ones--whether they were
dead or alive and, if alive, where they were.
Unlike the three American hikers who wandered into Iran and are held in that
country according to its laws, the men held at Guantanamo never wandered into
the US and were sent to Guantanamo, Bagram or secret prisons with a goal of
skirting US and international laws--working on the "dark side," as former Vice
President Dick Cheney called it. Most Guantanamo detainees have been cleared for
transfer, some for many years, and only a handful have ever been charged for any
crime, let alone international terrorism. Their wrongful capture and lengthy
imprisonment were the result of a series of blunders. For example,
- The vast majority were sold to the US military for promised
bounties of about $5,000 per head--a fortune to poor villagers in Afghanistan
and Pakistan, who sold charity workers, visiting doctors, travelers, refugees,
and even neighbors and relatives against whom they held grudges, to collect
- The competent battlefield tribunals that the Geneva Conventions require,
which are meant to distinguish combatants from innocent bystanders, never took
- When interrogators weren't getting useful intelligence from detainees,
most often because the people they were interrogating had no terrorism
connections, they adopted so called "enhanced interrogation" methods, labelled
"tantamount to torture" by a Red Cross official, which produced false
confessions and false accusations that were then used to justify continuing to
hold many of the detainees.
- The Bush administration and Congress prevented the prisoners'
challenges under the writ of habeas corpus for more than six years, until the
Supreme Court upheld that right in 2008.
The habeas petitions of prisoners already held for more than eight years are
finally working their way through the US District Court in Washington, DC. So
far, the judges have ordered the government to release 35 of the 48 men whose
cases they have reviewed, ruling that the government hasn't enough evidence to
meet the low evidentiary hurdle required to justify their continued detention.
More than 10 of the 35 men ordered released are still at Guantanamo.
The majority of Americans is certain that everyone the US government has ever
held as a terrorist at Guantanamo, Bagram or elsewhere is in fact a terrorist,
no questions asked, and wants them held indefinitely--far away from them. Many
of them hide their fear with bravado, labeling anyone who supplies information
that conflicts with their understanding as fools and denying the prisoners any
right to be charged and tried or released.
I ask them to consider, if for no other reason than the safety of Americans,
whether they will judge the Iranian government on how they treat three American
hikers and their families. Surely the world judges the US government on how it
treats its foreign terrorism suspects and their families.