[Ppnews] Who's Running Guantánamo?

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Wed Feb 11 17:34:41 EST 2009


February 11, 2009

First Signs of Dissent From Pentagon

Who's Running Guantánamo?


On January 20, the answer to that question seemed 
obvious. In his 
speech, with George W. Bush standing just behind 
him, President Obama pointedly pledged to “reject 
as false the choice between our safety and our 
ideals” -- a clear indication that, as he 
promised in a 
in August 2007, he would dismantle the 
extra-legal aberrations of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror”:

When I am President, America will reject torture 
without exception. America is the country that 
stood against that kind of behavior, and we will 
do so again 
 As President, I will close 
Guantánamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, 
and adhere to the Geneva Conventions 
 We will 
again set an example to the world that the law is 
not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary.

The next day, President Obama 
the military judges at Guantánamo to call a halt 
for four months to all proceedings in the 
Military Commissions at Guantánamo (the terror 
trials conceived by 
Cheney and his close advisers in November 2001), 
to give the new administration time to review the 
system and to decide how best to progress with possible prosecutions.

The day after, he 
his first executive orders, stating that 
Guantánamo would be closed within a year, 
upholding the absolute ban on torture, ordering 
the CIA to close all secret prisons, establishing 
an immediate review of the cases of the remaining 
242 prisoners in Guantánamo, and requiring 
defense secretary Robert Gates to ensure, within 
30 days, that the conditions at Guantánamo conformed to the Geneva Conventions.

At first, everything seemed to be going well. Two 
judges immediately halted pre-trial hearings in 
the cases of the Canadian 
Khadr and the 
co-defendants accused of involvement in the 9/11 
attacks, and the President even secured an extra 
PR victory when 
Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed architect of 
9/11, who had been seeking 
swift trial and martyrdom in the discredited 
Commission system, 
his dissatisfaction to the judge. “We should 
continue so we don't go backward, we go forward,” he said.

The first sign of dissent from the Pentagon

However, on January 29, the Commissions’ recently 
appointed chief judge, Army Col. James M. Pohl, 
provided the first challenge to the President’s 
plans, when he 
to suspend the arraignment of the Saudi Prisoner 
Rahim al-Nashiri, scheduled for February 9, 
stating that “he found the prosecutors’ 
arguments, including the assertion that the Obama 
administration needed time to review its options, 
to ‘be an unpersuasive basis to delay the arraignment.’”

Suddenly, urgent questions were raised about who 
was running Guantánamo, as it transpired that, 
although Barack Obama could request what he 
wanted, the Commissions, as Col. Pohl pointed 
out, had been mandated when “Congress passed the 
Military Commissions Act, which remains in 
effect.” He added, “The Commission is bound by 
the law as it currently exists, not as it may change in the future.”

Moreover, the only official empowered to call off 
al-Nashiri’s arraignment was 
Crawford, the Commissions’ Convening Authority, 
who retains her position as the senior Pentagon 
official overseeing the trials, even though she 
is a protégée of former Vice President Dick 
Cheney, and a close friend of Cheney’s Chief of 
Staff, David Addington, the two individuals who, 
more than any others, established the “arbitrary 
justice” that Barack Obama pledged to bring to an end.

After a few fraught days, Crawford was 
prevailed upon to call off the arraignment, which 
she did on February 5, dismissing the charges 
without prejudice (meaning that they can be 
reinstated at a later date). She refused to 
comment on her decision, and in fact has only 
spoken out publicly on one occasion since being 
appointed in February 2007, when she admitted, in 
the week before Obama’s inauguration, that the 
treatment to which Saudi prisoner Mohammed 
al-Qahtani was subjected 
to torture. Instead, a Pentagon spokesman stepped 
forward to state, “It was her decision, but it 
reflects the fact that the President has issued 
an executive order which mandates that the 
Military Commissions be halted, pending the 
outcome of several reviews of our operations down at Guantánamo.”

This was hardly sufficient to assuage doubts 
about why a Cheney protégée was still in charge 
of the Commissions, and these doubts were 
amplified when the Associated Press announced 
that two more Bush political appointees -- Sandra 
Hodgkinson, the former deputy assistant defense 
secretary for detainee affairs, and special 
assistant Tara Jones -- had been moved to civil 
service jobs within the Pentagon. Hodgkinson had 
spent several years defending the Bush 
administration’s detention policies, and Jones, 
as the AP explained, worked for a Pentagon public 
affairs program “aimed at persuading military 
analysts to generate favorable news coverage on 
the war in Iraq, conditions at Guantánamo and 
other efforts to combat terrorism,” which was 
“shut down amid fierce Capitol Hill criticism and 
investigations into whether it violated Pentagon 
ethics and Federal Communications Commission policy.”

The mass hunger strike

However, while Col. Pohl’s dissent and the 
continuing presence of Susan Crawford raise 
serious doubts about the Pentagon’s ability -- or 
willingness -- to embrace President Obama’s 
post-Bush world, the most troubling developments 
are at Guantánamo itself. Although Robert Gates, 
the only senior Bush administration official 
specifically retained by Obama, has shown a 
willingness to adjust to the new conditions 
(which is, presumably, what encouraged Obama to 
retain him in the first place), it seems unlikely 
that, even with the best will in the world, he 
can address the problems currently plaguing 
Guantánamo in the remaining twelve days of the 
time allotted to him to review the conditions at the prison.

A month ago -- inspired, in particular, by the 
anniversary of the prison’s opening, and by the 
change of administration -- at least 42 prisoners 
at Guantánamo embarked on a hunger strike. 
According to guidelines laid down by medical 
practitioners, force-feeding mentally competent 
prisoners who embark on a hunger strike is 
prohibited, but at Guantánamo this obligation has 
never carried any weight. Force-feeding has been 
part of the regime throughout its history, and 
was vigorously embraced in January 2006, in 
response to an intense and long-running mass 
hunger strike, when a number of special restraint 
chairs were brought to Guantánamo, which were used to “break” the strike.

As I 
last week, the force-feeding, which involves 
strapping prisoners into the chairs using 16 
separate straps and forcing a tube through their 
nose and into their stomach twice a day, is 
clearly a world away from the humane treatment 
required by the Geneva Conventions, as are the 
“forced cell extractions” used to take unwilling prisoners to be force-fed.

Now, however, Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley, the 
military defense attorney for the British 
Mohamed (whose “extraordinary rendition” and 
torture set off a 
scandal last week), has reported that conditions 
inside the prison have deteriorated still 
further. In an article in Sunday’s 
Lt. Col. Bradley, who indicated that her client 
was “dying in his Guantánamo cell,” reported on a 
visit to the prison last week, and stated,

At least 50 people are on hunger strike, with 20 
on the critical list, according to Binyam. The 
JTF [Joint Task Force] are not commenting because 
they do not want the public to know what is going 
on. Binyam has witnessed people being forcibly 
extracted from their cell. Swat teams in police 
gear come in and take the person out; if they 
resist, they are force-fed and then beaten. 
Binyam has seen this and has not witnessed this 
before. Guantánamo Bay is in the grip of a mass 
hunger strike and the numbers are growing; things are worsening.

It is so bad that there are not enough chairs to 
strap them down and force-feed them for a two- or 
three-hour period to digest food through a 
feeding tube. Because there are not enough chairs 
the guards are having to force-feed them in 
shifts. After Binyam saw a nearby inmate being 
beaten it scared him and he decided he was not 
going to resist. He thought, “I don't want to be 
beat, injured or killed.” Given his health 
situation, one good blow could be fatal.

Lt. Col. Bradley added that Mohamed’s account of 
the “savage beating” endured by a fellow prisoner 
was the “first account [she had] personally 
received of a detainee being physically assaulted at Guantánamo.”

And yet, although Lt. Col. Bradley’s account 
indicates that the crisis in Guantánamo is such 
that ongoing discussions about implementing the 
Geneva Conventions should be replaced by urgent 
intervention to address the prisoners’ complaints 
(and alleviating the chronic isolation in which 
most of the prisoners are held would be a start), 
the conditions in Guantánamo have been met with a 
resolute silence from the Pentagon and the White House.

Will it really take another death in Guantánamo 
-- the sixth -- to provoke an immediate response?

Andy Worthington is a British historian, and the 
author of 
Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 
Detainees in America's Illegal Prison' (published 
by Pluto Press). Visit his website at: 
He can be reached at: 
<mailto:andy at andyworthington.co.uk>andy at andyworthington.co.uk

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