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Shutting Down Guantanamo
Posted on Apr 24, 2007
Jumana Musa, advocacy director for domestic human rights and international justice at Amnesty International, speaks with Truthdig about the war on human rights, why conditions at Guantanamo have only gotten worse and why she has hope for the future.
James Harris: This is Truthdig. James Harris here with Josh Scheer. On the phone: special guest Jumana Musa, advocacy director for domestic human rights and international justice at Amnesty International. As you work on this case as we get deeper and deeper into this war, perhaps exploring the idea of going to countries like Iran, perhaps Pakistan, furthering efforts in Afghanistan, what do you think is the most profound effect of the war on terror on human rights?
Jumana Musa: I think it’s kind of what you just said, which is, what started as allegedly a war on terror targeting some very specific groups who are alleged to have taken responsibility for some really serious acts has become in many ways a war on human rights and a war on the law, whether it’s U.S. law or international law. Even as you introduced it, you were talking about as we go from here ... a war in Iraq, a war in Iran ... from our perspective, we don’t see that as a war on terrorism; we see that as a war between nations. I just want to back it up some that way. I think it’s gotten so easy to use the term war on terror that for a lot of folks it doesn’t have any meaning any more or we don’t know what its meaning is. And so I’d like to bring it back to what it is we’re talking about.
There is an alleged war on terror that’s supposed to be dealing with some very specific issues but at the same time there’s the government’s interpretation of the war on terror which spans the globe in all places at all times, meaning that, rather than use what’s usually in place when there is a war, which is a human rights framework which says people have certain rights, that they want to use the law-of-war framework that says we can kill anyone anywhere, we can detain anybody anywhere because we’ve determined that even though it’s a law-of-war framework, people don’t actually have the protections of the law of war, so we can detain them for as long as we want however we want. And having gone down that road, it’s really become a war on human rights, and I think that’s where we get concerned. Not the idea that the U.S. is actually legitimately going after people who have plotted and planned attacks that amount to crimes against humanity, but the fact that they’ve just sort of taken the show on the road and said it applies to everywhere anytime, to anyone we say. And that’s where you end up with the problem.
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Musa: The first thing I would say is that Dick Cheney is still saying that al-Qaida was connected to Iraq even though numerous reports have said otherwise. The other part of it is this: The U.S. has said they are not prisoners of war. And, in fact, they don’t have rights. And they haven’t said that we’re at war with a country. They’re at war with groups and ideas, which is much more dangerous. We’re not saying, “We’re at war with Iran,” or “We’re at war with Iraq,” or “We are at war with this single nation.” They said, “We’re at war on terrorism, and that war will not be over until there’s no group of global reach that could commit a terrorist attack affecting the U.S. or U.S. targets.” Which basically means we’re in a forever war for all times and we cannot be bound in any way in the way we operate in that war. And if you look where that’s brought us, that’s brought us a couple of decisions from the Supreme Court that say, “Well, not exactly. You can’t really operate outside of any laws.” It’s brought us some serious rebukes from U.N. committees that look at our treaty obligations and how we comply with them. It’s got us some serious rebukes from Congress and even a Republican-led Congress that says, “Just because we might be at war or we might be fighting terrorists, that doesn’t mean that you get to throw all the rules out the window and commit cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and interrogate people through these abusive means.
The fact is that someone like Dick Cheney might want to say that, but the rest of civil society understands why that’s a bad idea. And what we’ve seen more than anything is that the people who really understand it’s a bad idea is the folks who have been in the military, who are high-level in the military, who have advised us against this track from the very beginning. Because what they’ve said is, if we do that, we lose our order, we lose face overseas, we lose the principles we’ve always been bound by. And so you have soldiers who—for a long time they didn’t have any clarity on the rules because they threw the rulebook out the window. You have places like Guantanamo where now they have people who probably should’ve never been there. They can’t get rid of them, they don’t know where to put them. You have CIA agents getting indicted in European nations for kidnapping people off the streets, and that doesn’t bring us to a place that makes us feel safe and secure. It doesn’t bring us to a place where we’re saying, clearly this is working while we’re sharing information with our allies. Our allies are indicting us. And so, I think it’s not a question of, “Why should we?” but “Is this getting us anywhere?” And what we’ve seen so far is, it isn’t.
Josh Scheer: It was Lindsey Graham, I think, the Republican [from South Carolina], who said that the reason he voted against the Military Commissions Act was because this could be used against our own soldiers and you take away the [unintelligible] and there’s no rules. But besides that, you just came back from Guantanamo, I was told by you guys, and I want to talk about specifically Guantanamo Bay and what’s happening there. Can you just give us a brief ... what’s happening there right now, for our listeners?
Musa: Sure, and I welcome them to go to our website, which is www.amnestyusa.org. We have some recent reports that talk about what’s going on there, but at this point there’s just under 400 people who are being held in Guantanamo. The government’s position is they can hold them indefinitely, until the end of the war on terror, which, as I said, may never end for generations. There’s also folks there who are scheduled for release that they can’t release because they can’t send them to their home countries and they can’t find another country to take them. There’s people there who may be facing charges in a system that won’t provide a fair trial for many reasons, including the fact that it allows evidence obtained through coercion or cruel, inhuman, degrading human treatment which would never see the inside of a court, U.S. court, or a court-martial. And it’s really situations now where the majority of people are living in a supermax facility, some even more serious than supermax facilities here in the U.S., living under standards that don’t even meet the standards of what a prison is supposed to be in the U.S.
And while some people say, “Well, who cares? ... They’re bad people,” the fact is, they’re living in isolation and conditions of indefinite and arbitrary detention, and these are folks who’ve never been sentenced to anything. So when you put that all together, the fact that people were picked up from lots of different places, not really necessarily just on the battlefield fighting the war, but turned over for bounties and picked up in places like Bosnia and Gambia where there was no conflict going on, brought to Guantanamo, don’t actually have a sentence, so they don’t know—I’m here for the rest of my life, I’m here for five years, I’m here for two more months ... no certainty for their future.
They’re also in a place where there’s not only uncertainty for their future but their situation has been getting worse. And when I say that, I know the government has said we’ve built new, modern facilities. They have air conditioning, they’re better than where they were staying before. ... The problem with that notion is, maybe in physical structure, maybe it’s a solid structure that has air conditioning, but at this point a lot of these folks got moved even from Camp Four, which was less modern, perhaps, but you could eat communally, you could play sports and exercise communally, you could talk to people, you could see people, you could see natural sunlight. All of that is absent in Camp Six and Camp Five, which are like supermax facilities. People are in cells all day by themselves, without seeing natural sunlight, without being able to talk to people. And these things wear on people both physically and psychologically. So from our perspective, the situation in Guantanamo has gotten more serious than it was even a year ago.
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