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The continuing shame of Guantánamo

Unfinished business

Thirty-nine suspects remain in the United States’ prison on Guantánamo Bay, or “GITMO” as it’s commonly known. And nobody can reasonably predict when, if ever, they will be freed. Or be afforded a trial with any measure of due process.

In 2008, the Supreme Court, in Boumediene v. Bush, held that the GITMO prisoners’ access to federal court was not only a statutory right, but that the prisoners also had the right in federal court to bring a writ of habeas corpus. But it left open the question of what rights, by filing such a writ, did they actually have? Did they, most critically, have the right to “due process of law” in their trials?

That question was answered, and answered in the negative, in the case of Al Hela v. Trump, a case out of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, where most GITMO cases are decided. It ruled that GITMO prisoners have no right to due process. Period. And, of course, there is no reason to think today’s Supreme Court will overturn that decision.

Once a front-page story, the US prison on Guantánamo Bay is seldom in the news these days or, apparently, on the minds of the American people. It should be. The history and ongoing operation of GITMO exposes the lie behind our claim to be a nation governed by the rule of law. Condemned by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and many other such groups, it is a permanent stain on the character of the American people.

GITMO began taking in suspected enemy combatants from al-Qaeda in 2002. At the height of its operation, close to 800 “suspects” from many different Muslim nations were held there, under tortuous conditions, without any due process of law. The youngest was 13 years old! In fact, 21 of the detainees were children. Dozens of detainees were subjected to barbaric forms of torture.

Many committed suicide. Over 500 were convicted in sham federal court trials, and others in illegitimate military tribunals. Many, if not most suspects, clearly bore no responsibility for combat operations in the Muslim nations where we were waging war, and, in some cases, are still waging war.

I feel the same way about this shameful chapter of American history as does Linda Greenhouse, the brilliant NPR reporter on the rulings of the Supreme Court. Greenhouse wrote: “I’ve come to think of Guantánamo, born in fear and sustained through political cynicism and public indifference, as a mirror of ourselves during these opening decades of the current century, trapped no less than our 39 remaining ‘forever’ prisoners with no obvious end to their imprisonment.”

And I would add, as well, that there is no obvious end to the US imperialism carried out by both US capitalist parties when in power, and who are both responsible for the shame of GITMO. And in recent days the Congress and courts have poured more acid into the moral wounds in the operation of GITMO, by further restricting the rights of the detainees.

As recent disclosures have revealed, right from the start the supposedly confidential conversations between lawyers and detainees were in violation of a most basic principle of due process, listened to by the very US government officials who were prosecuting the detainees.

GITMO is, of course, a consequence of our wars in the Middle East; wars for those countries’ oil, and for geopolitical gain. Over the many years of these wars, US presidents have repeatedly claimed we are not at war with Islam.

Well, tell that to the families of the millions of dead and wounded Muslims our bombing and invasion of Iraq caused; tell it to the thousands of Muslims forbidden to enter America through travel bans; tell it to the countless numbers of Muslim citizens and residents of America who’ve been discriminated against at work or in public; tell it to the Muslim children attacked on their way to school and called “terrorists;” tell it to the Muslim worshipers whose mosques have been infiltrated by government agents.

All US governing administrations love to preach about their concerns for human rights abroad. They even have the audacity to claim they invade other countries to bring human rights and democracy to those countries.

Many Americans, including some liberals, supported the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, seeing it as an opportunity to bring democracy and human rights to those countries. That was an obvious lie. They were invaded only for geopolitical advantage and for the rich resources those countries contain.

Then, too, American history is filled with countless examples of our elitist and racist nation looking down on the cultures of the countries we invade, as we all the while falsely proclaim our desire to bring human rights to those countries.

It is because the men and children held in Guantánamo were and are Muslim and people of color, seen to be of an inferior culture to the white, Western culture of America, that has allowed America to continue holding those still in Guantánamo under tortuous and brutal conditions, with no end in sight to their imprisonment … or to our immorality and shame.

I urge all who read this to contact their congressional representatives, demanding freedom for all those still being held at GITMO; and demanding that our government return them to their country of origin, or to any other suitable country who will take them. And demanding, as well, that GITMO be permanently closed.

Only by keeping the American people aware of this shameful story, and then mobilizing ourselves to bring sufficient pressure on our government to finally close GITMO, will we have gone some distance toward lessening this grossly immoral and political blight on this nation, and on ourselves as citizens of this nation.

Jim Lafferty is Executive Director Emeritus of the National Lawyers Guild in LA, and host of The Lawyers Guild Show on LA’s Pacifica Radio station, KPFK.

This article first appeared in the LA Progressive. It is reprinted from Freedom Socialist, April-May 2022.

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