Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Guantanamo delenda est

Guantanamo must be closed, and its prisoners either released or given a fair trial in the United States under US law. That is the recommendation of an investigation conducted by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Why? Apart from general principles of justice and a respect for human rights, the UN has three reasons. Firstly, the US has failed to adequately determine whether those it is holding are in fact "enemy combatants" - or whether they are merely taxi drivers. Secondly, it is detaining people primarily for the purpose of interrogation rather than preventing them from taking up arms, in violation of international law. And thirdly, the techniques used to conduct those interrogations, and the some of the conditions of detention, "must be assessed as amounting to torture". These are strong words - but entirely justified.

The conditions the investigators object to include the force-feeding of detainees on hunger strike (torture in the guise of "medical treatment"), excessive violence during prisoner transfers, and interrogation techniques such as

prolonged solitary confinement, exposure to extreme temperatures, noise and light; forced shaving and other techniques that exploit religious beliefs or cause intimidation and humiliation

Many would pooh-pooh this treatment as torture. I suggest they read the following account from an FBI agent [PDF] (released under the US FOIA) of those techniques in action:

On a couple of occassions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food, or water. Most times they had urinated or defacated on themselves, and had been left there for 18 - 24 hours or more. On one occassion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. When I asked MP's what was going on, I was told that interrogators from the day prior had ordered this treatment, and the detainee was not to be moved. On another occassion, the A/C had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room probably well over 100 degrees [Fahrenheit = 38o C]. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his own hair out throughout the night...

(Original spelling mistakes replicated to the best of my ability)

The purpose of this treatment is to inflict severe physical and mental pain and suffering in an effort to force the detainee to cooperate - and that is the very definition of torture in international law. No, it's not amateur dentistry, or violent beatings, or electrodes to the genitals - for a start, it leaves no marks (which I suspect is part of the point) - but it is still torture, and it cannot be justified even by the "war on terror". As Article 2 of the Convention Against Torture states,

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political in stability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

The US signed up to that when they ratified the CAT in 1994. Is it too much to expect them to keep their word?

Guantanamo violates international law. It is a site for some of the worst abuses of human rights by a western country in living memory. It is a stain on the conscience of the world. And there is only one solution to this: Guantanamo delenda est. Guantanamo must be closed.


"Ah," says the Administration, "but Guantanamo Ergo Sum."

Posted by Lyndon : 2/15/2006 10:48:00 AM

I don't know if the conclusion has to be that Guantanamo has to be closed.

1. It should not be run by the US, for obvious reasons.

2. That said, I'm unimpressed with the rather insouciant attitude that Gitmo opponents are taking to the prisoners there. There may not be enough evidence to charge them but that does not mean that it would be just jolly to be out there teaming up with the Taliban again.

3. Where would they go if released? If they were sent back to any Middle Eastern country then might this not turn out to be "rendition"?

4. I suggest turning the place over to the UN. There are actually some difficult issues to be faced and the international community as a whole has to step up to the plate rather than let the US be the fall guy.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/16/2006 02:09:00 PM

There are actually some difficult issues to be faced

Indeed. Such as whether we fundamentally abrogate our commitment to justice and allow indefinite detention on suspicion, or whether we remain committed to the standards which make life livable.

You clearly favour the former. Equally clearly, you've never considered that it could be applied to you or anyone you care about.

If these people are terrorists, they should be charged. The US has protocols to deal with the use of classified evidence in court, and has successfully prosecuted terrorists in open court in the past. They should use them. If they don't have the evidence, then they either need to do their fucking jobs and collect it, or release people. That's what a commitment to justice means.

As for release, as the detaining power, the US has an obligation under the Convention Against Torture not to render people where they face a possibility of torture or cruel and unusual punishment. The obvious solution in these cases, where the detainee has been declared to not be an enemy combatant (as in the case of the Uighurs) is to allow them to apply for refugee status. Unfortunately, the US refuses to permit this.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/16/2006 02:33:00 PM

I also note that you show a touching faith in the ability of the US to detain the right people - and one that is entirely unjustified by the evidence.

Most of these people are innocent of anything the US accuses them of. They were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, or turned over by bounty hunters for money. And if the US had a proper judicial process, rather than their laughable "Comabatant Status Review Hearings", this would be recognised and they would be released. Unfortunately, the US doesn't seem to care who it caught up in its dragnet...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/16/2006 02:37:00 PM

i'm not going to get into a debate with you over the US, i did start off with point no.1 which suggests I may infact be agreeing with some of your views Idiot.

But there are some not so straight forward issues and i would be quite happy for the UN to take control of the place. Then the internaitonal community as whole would have to wrestle with what to do with those who are dangerous but who may have to be let go. (that's not to deny that there are some there who are innocent and no danger).

Posted by Anonymous : 2/16/2006 03:21:00 PM