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Boardman writes: "Official US policy pretty much still supports everything that was done and continues to be done at Guantanamo."

US prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. (photo: unknown)
US prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. (photo: unknown)

Why Is Guantanamo Still Open?

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

27 January 13

Reader Supported News | Perspective


Innocent men still held, ten years after first prisoners arrived.

he Congress of the United States appropriates, and the president of the United States spends, more than $400,000 per day, seven days a week, to imprison people whom the government itself has deemed innocent. The US Court of Appeals has upheld the legality of this indefinite detention of the innocent, and the US Supreme Court has refused to review it.

The chance of ending this absurdity is just about zero.

That's not just because the $400,000-a-day facility is the Guantanamo prison camp, and it's not just because Congress would try to keep the president from closing the prison even if he wanted to, and it's not just because the president signed into law the NDAA that pretty much requires him to keep Guantanamo open - it's also because official US policy pretty much still supports everything that was done and continues to be done at Guantanamo.

Presently the Guantanamo prison holds 166 men, of whom 86 have been cleared by US authorities of any wrong-doing. The US declared these men innocent anywhere from five to eight years ago, but continues to hold them. Another 40 or so have so little evidence against them that the US can't charge them with anything.

There would be 87 cleared for release now, if Adnan Latif still counted. Latif, a Yemeni citizen, was cleared for release several times, starting in 2004. After 10 years, 7 months, and 25 days captivity, Latif died in Guantanamo on September 10, 2012. He had endured serious neurological problems ever since he suffered traumatic head injuries in a car accident in 1994. He was 36. The Navy has said he committed suicide. His death is under review by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Latif is survived by his wife and children, and by his parents. He was never charged with any offense, but he was kept in solitary confinement.

Instead of Jim Crow, We Have Muhammad Crow

"Yemenis are judged as guilty by nationality as the rationale for holding them," British journalist Andy Worthington said in front of the White House recently, referring to the president's policy of preventing any Yemeni from being re-patriated under any condition. He minced few words:

"Even though two thirds of the cleared men in Guantanamo are Yemenis, none of them are allowed to go home because of this [policy] ... This is an absolutely disgusting situation....

"The difference between the United States and a brutal dictatorship is that when a brutal dictatorship puts someone in prison and throws away the key and says, 'You're not having a trial, you're going to be held without charge or trial for the whole of your life, you're going to be detained indefinitely' - they just throw away the key.

"What they don't do is say, 'Hey, we've got a review process, we cleared you for release, but hey, guess what, we're not actually going to release you.'

"That makes the United States worse than the brutal dictatorships, who don't pretend that there is any form of justice."

Institutionalizing a Worse-Than-Brutal Dictatorship

On January 3rd, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2013 that, by statute, gives the US government a right that some consider unconstitutional: to imprison US citizens or anyone else, and to hold them indefinitely, on mere suspicion of even a remote possible connection to terrorist activity, as defined by the government. As reported on Democracy NOW! the same day:

"President Obama has signed a renewal of the controversial National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA. The law has drawn widespread criticism for last year's provision allowing the United States to detain suspects anywhere in the world without charge or trial. A group of journalists, activists and scholars - including Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky - have challenged the Obama administration over that statute in a case currently before a federal appeals court."

The government has appealed a federal court ruling in May 2012 that held that the relevant section of the 2012 NDAA was unconstitutional. The judge, a multi-millionaire and former partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore (an elite global law firm based in Manhattan), was appointed to the bench by President Obama in 2011. Her May 16th decision, ordering the government not to use the law, surprised Glenn Greenwald, who wrote:

"A federal district judge today, the newly-appointed Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York, issued an amazing ruling: one which preliminarily enjoins enforcement of the highly controversial indefinite provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act, enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last December. This afternoon's ruling came as part of a lawsuit brought by seven dissident plaintiffs - including Chris Hedges, Dan Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, and Birgitta Jonsdottir - alleging that the NDAA violates 'both their free speech and associational rights guaranteed by the First Amendment as well as due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.'"

The 2013 NDAA reaffirms the government's assertion of its right to imprison any one, any time, for as long as the government chooses. The NDAA also prohibits the president from spending any money to move prisoners from Guantanamo, while appropriating about $644 billion for other military activities. The president issued a signing statement expressing regret over some provisions but, unlike his 2012 election-year signing statement, he did not express any commitment to changing those provisions.

Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners Reviewed

In December 2012, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) convened a three day, multi-national meeting, at the request of the UN General Assembly, to consider revising international standards for the rights of prisoners. The UNODC has largely followed US drug policy at the expense of harm-reduction strategies and human rights, even though other UN agencies promote them.

The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (SMRs) were adopted in 1955 and have become the leading international standards for protecting prisoners' human rights, although they lack the force of law. As the preamble states,

"The following rules are not intended to describe in detail a model system of penal institutions. They seek only, on the basis of the general consensus of contemporary thought and the essential elements of the most adequate systems of today, to set out what is generally accepted as being good principle and practice in the treatment of prisoners and the management of institutions."

The meeting in Buenos Aires on December 11-13 was the first formal review of the rules since they were adopted more than fifty years ago, during which time the evolution of human rights law has included the Convention Against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Among the government and rights organizations taking part in the review, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) was among the most active in reporting the deliberations. That was partly because the ACLU was among those trying to limit the length of time prisoners were held in solitary, based on the assessment that solitary confinement is not only a basic torture method, but does permanent, serious damage to those held in solitary:

"Since the promulgation of the SMRs in 1955, a substantial body of research has demonstrated the harmful, and sometimes devastating, effects of solitary confinement on physical and mental health. These harmful effects are most starkly illustrated by the significantly higher rates of suicide among prisoners in solitary confinement than among those in the general prison population. While some groups, such as juveniles and persons with mental illness, are particularly vulnerable, the harmful effects of this practice are not limited to these populations."

The US Fails to Lead on Human Rights Issues

The ACLU's "Blog of Rights," while suspect of the US based on its initial lukewarm reaction, reported its approval of a US initiative to establish "an obligation by prison medical staff to report any case of suspected torture, excessive force, or other abuse of a prisoner." But when it came to solitary confinement, the ACLU blog was disappointed:

"Unfortunately, the US continues to defend the use of long-term solitary confinement. Several governments and NGOs endorsed a 15- or 30-day limit on solitary confinement, as well as an absolute ban on solitary for vulnerable groups like juveniles, pregnant women, and persons with mental illness.

"The US delegation rejected all of these proposals. To be fair, the US was not the only government resisting meaningful restrictions on solitary confinement, and the US proposal did contain some positive elements, such as a provision that visiting shall not be restricted for prisoners in solitary absent security justifications.

"But it's notable that the Chinese government endorsed without hesitation a 15-day limit to the use of solitary confinement."

The ACLU's disappointment grew as the meeting went on and the US opposed allowing legal counsel for prisoners facing disciplinary charges, and opposed even mentioning free health care provided to prisoners in other systems, and then,

"Most significantly, as the meeting was drawing to a close, the US suddenly insisted that the Draft Report be amended to state that none of the recommendations hammered out over the previous three days had actually been agreed to. Instead, the Draft Report now says only that "[t]he Expert Group identified for consideration the following issues and Rules for the revision of the Standard Minimum Rules."

"This unfortunate language would allow the US (or any other government) to later take the position that it didn't agree to anything in Buenos Aires, thus jeopardizing the progress made at that meeting."

ACLU suspicions were further raised when the US suggested that the group be discontinued and replaced with a group of government representatives only, thus shutting rights organizations like the ACLU out of the prisoners' rights process. Drawing what solace it could from the result, the ACLU blog noted that at least there was unanimity that the Standard Minimum Rules should be revised, and that the revisions should not weaken the rules.

A Decade Later, US Still Fails at Human Rights

On January 11, 2002, the world got its first view of the new normal in American justice - twenty chained men in orange jumpsuits with black bags over their heads arriving at the newly-designated prison in legal limbo at the US Naval Base on scenic Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The United States had declared that this US Naval Base was outside US legal jurisdiction and that prisoners there could be held indefinitely, with no right to counsel, no rights as a prisoner of war, no right to trial.

On January 11, 2013, Amnesty International organized a peaceful procession of about 200 demonstrators, about half of them leading in single file, wearing orange jump suits and black hoods, walking silently past the US Supreme Court and Congress, pausing briefly at the US Court of Appeals, before stopping in front of the White House to bear witness, kneeling beneath a banner saying "INAUGURATE JUSTICE CLOSE GUANTANAMO." Similar protests took place in other cities.

The next day, January 12th, about a hundred members of a coalition of Washington area peace groups gathered at the CIA in Langley, Virginia, to protest against the CIA's drone assassination program as well as its involvement in Guantanamo. When the demonstrators blocked one of the entrances to the CIA, security ignored them and closed that entrance.

The Washington Post ignored both of these demonstrations, but manage to find space to cover the birthday of the world's oldest gorilla, who lives in Ohio. ABC News didn't cover the protests on air, but with a nice sense of the absurd ABC online noted a Guantanamo protest in London (but not Washington). There were few exceptions to the mainstream media blackout, but the Denver Post was one and Iranian PressTV was another.

In 2008, candidate Obama confidently promised to close Guantanamo (repeatedly calling it the terrorists' top "recruitment tool"). In 2009, President Obama ordered Guantanamo Bay shut within a year, and made the promise again in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

"The USA's claim that it is a champion of human rights cannot survive the Guantanamo detentions, the military commission trials, or the absence of accountability and remedy for past abuses by US personnel, including the crimes under international law of torture and enforced disappearance," stated Rob Freer of Amnesty International. And, a recent poll found that 60 percent of young Americans have no moral objection to torture.

William Boardman runs Panther Productions.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner


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+24 # RMDC 2013-01-27 15:57
Good article. Guantanamo is a CIA operation. The CIA believes it is above all laws. In fact, it was created to break laws. Laws don't apply at Guantanamo. But the CIA runs perhaps hundreds of Guantanamos all over the world. This is waht the CIA does. Instead of closing Guantanamo, we need to kill the snake by cutting its head off. Close the CIA. If the CIA were closed 90% of the conflicts in the world would end.

Close the CIA. But the last president who mentioned breaking up the CIA was JFK and he ended up with a bullet in his head. Nixon also tried to gain control of the CIA and he was forced to resign. I guess it won't happen in American, the land of the free and the home of the brave. The CIA runs the place.
+15 # Rita Walpole Ague 2013-01-27 18:36
Absolutely agree with you, RMDC, good article, extremely educating and frightening.

Also, extremely frightening, is the lingo in a section of Article 21 in last year's National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which at first, Pres. Obama said he intended to veto. Then, very quietly on New Year's Eve, sign it this former Constitutional Law prof. pres. did, with the brightest of our bright, from all and no political parties and bents, aghast. Of course, little and no coverage in the 'mess media', while the Hedges, et. al. v. Obama et. al. initial hearing made front page headlines in the U.K.'s Guardian.

Now, with Pres. Obama's again this month signing the 2013 NDAA, which includes for a second time 'indefinite detention' approval. we should be even more frightened, insofar as this year's NDAA is still worse, due to its inclusion of shut down inability re. Guantanamo.

The hefty question looms even larger: Has Obama been bought off or scared off or both? Your mention of the CIA's evil ties to wannabe controllers/bre aker uppers of the CIA, Nixon and JFK, frightens me even more.

We are in such a huge, longtime coming mess. Scarey and evil as hell it is.
+6 # Virginia 2013-01-28 02:16
Ahhhh... C'mom guys - ya know they're keeping it open to have somewhere to hold and interrogate the bankers...
+1 # futhark 2013-01-28 09:19
Mr. Obama has repeatedly stated that his first duty is "to protect the American people". I think that he thinks he is doing this by keeping Guantanamo open, even though he vowed to close it 4 years ago, by supporting the expansion and perpetuation of the surveillance state apparatus, and by continuing the assassination by drone program.

We need to keep reminding him and each other that his first duty is to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Perhaps if he understood his job description he would begin to perform accordingly.
+8 # Allen 23 2013-01-27 22:40
The CIA does not run the place. They are simply one of the thuggish groups used by big business to maintain The Empire.

Laws have nothing to do with this, the examples are countless. Laws will be configured and decided to appease the owners.

If you think closing the CIA is a salvation you are sorely mistaken, that would merely be a band-aid.

What you are suggesting is like saying getting rid of the Pinkerton's will rid us of the Rockefeller's.
+15 # ghostperson 2013-01-27 22:59
Someone described it as the fourth Bush administration.

An independent commission is needed to review the case of each detainee.

An independent commission is needed to recommend indictments on Wall Street.

An independent commission is needed to study use of law enforcement agencies to target 1st amendment protected protestors.

When I say independent I do not mean politically appointed. No one with skin in the game should have any role in selecting commissioners.

Won't happen but it should.
+4 # Trueblue Democrat 2013-01-28 07:29
[quote name="ghostpers on"]Someone described it as the fourth Bush administration.

+5 # Steve in Kaaawa, Hawaii 2013-01-27 23:02
This is an excellent article that I am considering using in my ENG 100 class in a community college in Hawaii.
+3 # cwbystache 2013-01-28 07:07
Clues to the "why" of Guantanamo still being open can be found in James Bradley's, "The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War", Bradley being the author, too, of "Flags of Our Fathers". He pulls together our dabblings in the Pacific and in the Caribbean into an enjoyable and head-shaking read though evidence and references have been out there and available to the curious the whole while. Lili'uokalani and Pearl Harbor, and the battleship Maine and Guantanamo must be seen as a piece, sadly!

Your students will be lucky to have you and if there is any place that will allow you to continue, it will be Hawai'i.
+5 # vgirl1 2013-01-27 23:52
Because no member of Congress would or does support moving the occupants to any (particularly their own) state in the Union, although some states welcomed the idea because of the jobs it meant.

How quickly the nation forgets the events of the country so very very quickly.

No wonder we are in so much trouble.

How can we expect we have learned anything from our past, when we can't seem to even have remembered yesterday.

Which is why as a nation we all too often find ourselves doomed to repeating the mistakes of the past.
+4 # James Marcus 2013-01-28 00:09
My opinion. This Buck stops at the Oval office.
Impeach. Prosecute ALL involved, before a World Court.
0 # rockieball 2013-01-29 13:30
Yes including Bush JR., Dick Cheney, RumsField oh hell the whole gang from that administration. Then put them in Gitmo and throw away the key.
+6 # FDRva 2013-01-28 01:49
Why is Gitmo still open?

I have a better question.

Why do 'progressives' think Barry Obama was ever a 'progressive?' Aside from his skin color?

Be careful how you answer.

President Obama claims the authority to kill American citizens without judicial oversight--in the name of winning Bush's 'war on terrorism.'

Obama's cousin Dick Cheney would be proud!

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