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Shutting Down Guantanamo

Posted on Apr 24, 2007
AP Photo / Mark Wilson, Pool

Close to 400 detainees remain at maximum-security prison Camp Delta at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.

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.

Click here for audio of this and other Truthdig interviews.


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.


Square, Site wide

Harris:  A guy like Dick Cheney would probably say, if he didn’t have to be politically correct, “You know what?  You’re damned right it’s a war on human rights.  We are at war with a country.  Why do we need to give them human rights?  Why do we need to respect their dignity?  They are prisoners of war.”  What would you say to that kind of argument?

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  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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By 1drees, December 4, 2007 at 4:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Shutting Down Guantanamo!”

Why so its doing so good all dissenters are there and i think its such a good scheme that it should be expanded to include all of mainland America too, and what about the extra jails made & furnished right after 9/11 do you guys want to waste them?

BTW glad to see Lefty is here and ANS AS USUAL is being told to shut up for utter sheer propaganda (AS USUAL)

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By The Angry Independent, May 14, 2007 at 4:38 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Gitmo may actually be expanding….

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By cann4ing, May 13, 2007 at 5:38 pm Link to this comment

Point Blank.  The information about the CIA/FBI agents did not come from the Seaton Hall study.  That information appeared in an independent piece by Jane Mayer appearing in “The New Yorker” last year entitled “The New Paradigm.”  The information was provided directly to Ms. Mayer by former White House and Justice Department lawyers.  I can’t see how furnishing that information to Ms. Mayer could possibly “further” their careers—not in a Bush administration were honesty amounts to a bad career move.

But you have evaded my central question.  I am asking you to assume that the Seton Hall study is indeed accurate.  “If” it is accurate, would you still support Guantanamo?  If so, I am truly interested in hearing why?

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By cann4ing, May 13, 2007 at 2:16 pm Link to this comment

I know it may come as somewhat of a surprise to some but Point Blank and I had a rapprochement of sorts elsewhere on this web site.  While he and I are at opposite ends of the political spectrum, I felt there was no alternative when another individual posted a comment referring to Point Blank as a “murdering scumbag.”  As a fellow Vietnam veteran, I had his back, just as I suspect in similar circumstances, he would have had mine.  (Perhaps it is difficult for those who don’t share our experience, but when your survival is dependent on efficient cooperation with your brothers-in-arms and the bullets start to fly, politics kind of lose their importance.)

With that, Point Blank, while I suspect I cannot persuade you to see my point of view, I would hope that I can get you to at least tone down the level of rhetoric.  I would appeal to the progressives on this site to do the same, so that, if we must disagree, we can do so in a more respectful tone.

I do have a question for Point Blank.  I know you have expressed your admiration for Guantanamo.  I know too, that you dismissed the Seton Hall study showing that the vast majority of detainees had never committed a hostile act and that only 8% were al Qaeda as “crapola.”  (You did not state a position about the FBI and CIA agents who returned from Guantanamo, reporting essentially the same thing to Alberto Gonzales and David Addington).

I would ask you to make a basic assumption—assume that the Seton Hall study is accurate.  Would that make any difference in your support for Guantanamo?  If not, I would greatly appreciate (sans expletives) for you to explain why it would not make a difference.

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By Verne Arnold, May 12, 2007 at 9:02 am Link to this comment

Yes, I agree.  This has been an especially “energetic” exchange between respondents. 
It is always interesting to note the lack of civility at times.
Degrees and other ego enhancing claims not withstanding; it is apparent one party loses it and resorts to expletives and the other party remains articulate with reason at the fore.
A good debate is always informative and interesting; to wit, “The Devil and Daniel Webster”, wonderful story.
A bully never wins!

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By Expat, May 12, 2007 at 7:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ouch!  Point Blank is losing it to emotion and expletives rather than reason and the art of debate…this is the rudest and meanest exchange I’ve seen on this website.
Did we miss our nappy?

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By Allan Scheer, May 9, 2007 at 6:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As is usually the case, and more so regarding this article , is that in my opinion the comments are more entertaining than the articles themselves.

I would add that in America, the people have the luxury of knowing everything that the media decides to put out there. It is just a shame that the rest of the world does not have that luxury. They see our “dirty laundry ” , but theirs stays under the bed.

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By cann4ing, May 6, 2007 at 9:01 pm Link to this comment

Tell me something, Point Blank, is insanity a prerequisite to an MS in psychology?  Your degree didn’t shake you of your military penchant for four-letter words.  By the way, I was eleven bravo; a grunt, not that this would make any difference to your warped mind.

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By cann4ing, May 6, 2007 at 3:25 pm Link to this comment

Re comment #68483 by Point Blank.  Like everything else you have to say, your “assumption” that I had “never served a day in the nation’s armed forces” is flat-out wrong.  I spent the better part of 1968 serving in a mechanized infantry unit (4th Infantry Division) in Vietnam’s Central Highlands.  Been there, done that.  When and where did you serve? 

In addition to a law degree, I hold both undergraduate and graduate degrees in political science.  From your writings, I assume that you probably did not get past high school.  I am certain that you do not have a clue as to the war crimes your fascist friends in the Bush administration have committed at Guantanamo, at Abu Ghraib and throughout a vast network of CIA-run secret prisons where torture has been the order of the day.  You certainly have no inkling of the fundamental principles of our Constitutional system, especially those little matters about innocent until proven guilty, the rights each “person” has against self-incrimination and to due process of law.  I stress the word “person” because the Constitution does not limit these rights to citizens.

I suspect that you are one of those brain-dead, chicken-hawk neocons who, never having had to experience the horror of war, is more than happy to hide behind the flag as he sends someone else off to die in a useless war.  If you really are that gung ho, go sign up and head off to Iraq.  Age or infirmity won’t matter.  The gang of criminal war profiteers within the White House and the military-industrial complex will accept any warm body to act as canon fodder.  The oil cartel and Halliburton will thank you, that is unless you get wounded and are foolish enough to expect them to pay taxes in order to see that your broken body is taken care of at Walter Reed.

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By cann4ing, May 6, 2007 at 9:08 am Link to this comment

In comment #68379, Point Blank tells us, “Why should we…give a damn just how those cowards are treated as ‘they’ do not give a damn how ‘they’ treat others.”  Perhaps “Point Blank” should re-title his handle, “Pointed Head with a Blank Spot for a Brain.”

If “they” refers to the detainees in Guantanamo, it may interest the Blank Spot for a Brain to know that, per a Seton Hall study, he is referring to a detainee population 55% of whom have never committed a hostile act and only 8% of which were allegedly connected to al-Qaeda.  The vast majority, 86%, were captured either by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance at a time when the U.S. was offering huge bounties for “suspected” terrorists.  As revealed by Jane Mayer in “The New Paradigm,” published in “The New Yorker,” David Addington (Cheney’s chief of staff and the principle architect of the torture memos and the Kafka-like military tribunals) and Alberto Gonzalez were well aware of this, for the JAG and CIA officers sent to Guantanamo to find out why no useful intelligence was being extracted returned, reporting that “more than half the detainees…didn’t belong there.”  Their pleas were callously ignored.  A perplexed administration official questioned the logic.  “How could you deny the possibility that one or more people locked up who shouldn’t be there?  There were old people, sick people—why do we want to keep them?”

The answer lies in the fact that the real purpose of Guantanamo was never to punish those we believe are a threat to this country.  Guantanamo exists because it embodies a living example of Addington’s concept of the “New Paradigm,” an extension of the “Unitary Executive” to the point of unlimited, dictatorial power.  As one administration lawyer, quoted by Mayer, noted:  “Torture isn’t important to Addington as a scientific matter, good or bad, or whether it works or not.  It’s about his philosophy of Presidential power.  He thinks that if the President wants torture he should get torture.  He always argued for ‘maximum flexibility.’”

In their efforts, Addington et al can always rely upon numbskulls like Point Blank who are incapable of distinguishing between a murderous follower of Osama bin Laden and a peaceful farmer.  To him there is no such distinction, only the ubiquitous “they.”

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By detectivediana, May 5, 2007 at 11:33 am Link to this comment

Close Guantanamo now. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, I recommend the documentary-film “Road to Guantanamo.” You’ll get a glimpse at what life is life in the detention camp.

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By nonsequitor, April 30, 2007 at 1:11 pm Link to this comment

#67290 by Point Blank on 4/30 at 11:29 am

‘Sick? You bet!’ very point.

well get it all out, you will feel much better for it, mind the 4000 word limit. smile

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By nonsequitor, April 30, 2007 at 11:56 am Link to this comment

#67236 by Point Blank on 4/30 at 5:31 am

you are one sick blank-point.

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By nonsequitor, April 29, 2007 at 11:33 pm Link to this comment

#66859 by Point Blank on 4/27 at 5:35 pm

to blank point:

Go to Iraq or Iran and try your “holier than thou” crapola and see how long you keep your head.

do you know this or are you just shooting blanks?

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By Jualt R Christos, April 29, 2007 at 10:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I applaud musician Patti Smith for her song Without Chains, which focuses on Murat Kurnaz, one of hundreds or more held without charges at Guantanamo.  While I can sympathize with our government’s desire to protect citizens from potential or actual terrorists, I think that the situations of these people should have been handled faster.  Some remain without charges, without representation, held indefinitely, incommunicado, some in solitary.  And while they are held in a military facility outside of the U.S. to “legally” be outside of rights afforded to U.S. citizens, I think that it is those rights which “we” were seeking to defend…  Unless we protest against this situation, then anyone at any time can be grabbed, and bundled off without charges, without communication, without representation, simply because of an alleged suspicion…  Now that to me could be a form of terrorism…

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By Hammo, April 28, 2007 at 10:09 am Link to this comment

There are much better ways to conduct intelligence gathering than kidnapping, torture, kangaroo courts and other approaches of the Bush-Cheney administration.

We may win the battle but lose the war in the international community, and within ourselves due to this kind of ethical corruption.

Thoughts on this in:

“Modern consciousness research, World War II lessons combine to win hearts and minds, war and peace”

American Chronicle

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By Michael Boldin, April 27, 2007 at 10:35 am Link to this comment

This administration and its supporters claims these people in Guantanamo don’t have rights -

They claim that THESE people are somehow less human that you and I are. Really a disgusting position, in my opinion!

The reality though, even though they make this claim, all people are born with the same inherent rights.

It’s the Constitution and Bill of Rights which makes this clear - and limits what the government can do (or try to take away) when dealing with people.

The Bill of Rights doesn’t apply to American people. It doesn’t apply to foreigners. It doesn’t apply to people at all.

It applies to the government. Period.

For more on this important issue, read the following:

“To Whom Does the Bill of Rights Apply?”

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By dale Headley, April 25, 2007 at 11:24 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Guantanamo is the blister on the pox that has invaded the American conscience and turned a justice-oriented society into a nationally chauvinistic bully for all the world to fear.

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By QuyTran, April 24, 2007 at 9:08 pm Link to this comment

If Dick Cheney is still saying that al-Quaida was connected to Iraq…so we can ask him that to whom he’s connected ? His answer is : Halliburton (huge)
benefits sharing without paying taxes !

The King is draft dodger. The Vice-King is taxes dodger. Both is the same !

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