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Shutting Down Guantanamo
Posted on Apr 24, 2007
Scheer: I was just reading a press release from the ACLU and they were talking about closing it down. Also, this week, I believe Sen. Jim Webb said he thought all of Guantanamo should be shut down. Obviously, you guys are probably for that, you want at least some kind of fair trial, but do you think that’ll play in Washington? Jim Webb saying that? Do you think he’ll get some action done or do you think Washington’s just going to look the other way like they have for a while?
Musa: I certainly don’t speak for Washington politicians. But I would also point out that it’s not just Jim Webb but Secretary of Defense Robert Gates who said that he thought it should shut down. The fact is that during the time we were down in Guantanamo observing the plea agreement that was reached and the military commission for David Hicks, Secretary Gates was up here testifying to Congress that he didn’t think that any trial in Guantanamo was going to have the appearance or legitimacy of a fair trial because people were going to have the perception even partially by just being down there that it was unfair, and that he thought people should be moved up here and tried here. I think what’s significant about that is, about two years ago now, Amnesty International did come out and say quite publicly that we thought that Guantanamo should be closed. And at the time, very few people were saying that. At this point, the secretary of defense is saying that, and I think that shows some significant movement. It doesn’t mean it’s done, and it doesn’t mean it’ll be easily done.
And I think the biggest problem we have is the simple fact that the United States has created this untenable situation where they picked a place they thought was sort of beyond the law and that they could operate beyond the law. And then for various reasons they found out they couldn’t, whether it’s because the Supreme Court said that—it’s that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions complying. You have to comply with that or other laws that have been passed. And now they’ve got a lot of people down there, again, some of which maybe should’ve never been there, that they don’t have anything to do with. Maybe their countries won’t take them back, maybe they can’t send them back to their countries, but they have no way to send the population that’s effective or safe. They don’t want to keep them there and they don’t want to take them here. In that sense, if they don’t bring people here and they don’t close the prison, then you’re talking about the United States being a country which will literally hold people till they die, in an isolated penal colony on a tip of occupied Cuba. And that should be offensive to anybody.
Scheer: Now how many of these people there ... ? We’ve heard so many stories about charges and you’ve talked about bounty hunters and I heard a few years ago that warlords we were hired in Afghanistan were actually giving people they were just having problems with and not even Taliban. How many of these guys in there are innocent? Do you think there are more innocent people than guilty people? And what about these confessions that have just kind of come out with where they’re basically confessing to anything? What do you make of the whole situation?
Square, Site wide
Musa: The one thing I’ll say upfront is that we don’t take—we don’t know who’s guilty, who’s innocent, who’s this or who’s that. That’s exactly the problem with having taken away habeas for people in Guantanamo. I think part of the misperception is the idea that if you let people in Guantanamo come to court to challenge their detention, that it was a get-out-of-jail-free card and that it would open the gates and terrorists would then flood the world and attack America. The reality of the situation is that in order to know that, you need habeas. You need them to be able to come before an independent court and say, and basically challenge the government and say, “Why are you holding me?” And if the government has the evidence to say this person’s a serious criminal, we need to try them, this person’s a terrorist and if we don’t put them away they’re going to do something else. ...” In that sense we would know. At this point we don’t know.
The problem is what we do know, by the Pentagon’s own transcripts, is that a large number of the people in Guantanamo were sold for bounties with fliers saying things. And people have found these fliers that you could have enough money to take care of your family, your tribe, your community, for the rest of your life. They were offering $5,000 a person, which I think is a good chunk of change here in the United States, but in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, this is a ton of money for some of these folks. And so, is it hard to see that there’s an incentive to round people up and say, “Hey, this guy’s al-Qaida. This guy’s Taliban. Here you go, take him”? I think that’s what we do know, is the way the people were detained and brought to Guantanamo was faulty to begin with, and there wasn’t good reviews in the beginning. And it is true that at this point they have people they detained, specially chose, that were “very high-value detainees,” as they call them, who we alleged to have committed very serious crimes. None of those guys were transferred to the island until September.
So it’s been this perception that they took all the really bad people there. The reality is that a lot of folks who were there at the beginning said there was no good process and they just took a bunch of people there, some who were as young as 13 when they got to the island, some who were so old that the people at the base at the time called them “old as dirt.” And that’s a quote. So at this point it really does call into question the entire detention regime, and then just saying everyone was really bad doesn’t fix that. So I can’t tell you that there’re this many people who are innocent and this many people who are guilty. What I can tell you is that the way they brought people there never gave them a chance to make that determination and never gave them a chance to properly classify people. And that does call into question who’s down there and why they’re there in the first place.
Scheer: And then to get on to rights. Do you think that habeas corpus, especially in international situations and the Geneva Conventions, do you think it’s dead? Do you think the Military Commissions Act killed all of this, or is there any kind of hope that in the international media we’ll ever get (1) our respect back or (2) these people’s rights back so they have fair trials and POWs are treated respectfully? Do you think it’s dead and won’t come back, or do you have hope?
Musa: I always have hope. I think sometimes there’s this perception that just because Congress passed a bill, that it’s all done and everybody goes home. The fact of the matter is, even though the president may not have acted this way the past few years, we do have a system of checks and balances. Yes, Congress can pass laws, but then again the courts can find those laws to be unconstitutional, or Congress can pass different laws and amend old laws, and there’s certainly a strong movement right now in Congress to repeal that provision that stripped habeas away. And so I don’t think that any of the acts that the U.S. has taken are irreversible. I just think it’s really critical that they start working to reverse them. And we’ve seen some. I’ve mentioned one with the McCain amendment, which affirms that cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment is not in fact legal overseas, which was the U.S.‘s position that it may be prohibited in the U.S., but if we’re outside of the U.S. it’s legal. We’ve also seen the Supreme Court saying that parts of the Geneva Conventions do apply to these detentions. So they’re not in fact lawless detentions. We see also a new Army field manual that makes it very clear that many of the tactics that once were personally approved by Donald Rumsfeld are absolutely prohibited for any U.S. soldier and for anybody who is interrogating people in a U.S. DOD facility. So we’ve seen progress, and I don’t think anything’s irreversible. I just think that now is the time for people to really push to reverse some things, and I think habeas is one of the more critical.
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