[Pnews] Guantanamo Bay is America's enduring shame

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sat Mar 6 18:35:17 EST 2021

Bay is America's enduring shame
Dr Ramzy Baroud - March 5, 2021

On 12 February, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked
by a reporter whether the new Joe Biden administration intends to shut down
the notorious Guantanamo Bay Prison by the end of the US president's first
term in office. Her non-committal answer was, "That's certainly our goal
and our intention."

Psaki may have sounded reassuring that the untold suffering experienced by
hundreds of men in this American gulag — many of whom were surely innocent
— would finally be coming to an end. However, considering the history of
Guantanamo and the trail of broken promises by the Barack Obama
administration, the latest "goal and intention" is hardly encouraging.

Compare the new language with that of Obama's impassioned diatribes about
humanity, justice and American values, which he utilised whenever he spoke
of Guantanamo. "Gitmo has become a symbol around the world for an America
that flouts the rule of law," Obama said
in a speech at the National Defence University in May 2013.

Enamoured with his every word, Obama's audience applauded enthusiastically,
but when he delivered that particular speech, he was serving his second
term in office. He had already had ample time and opportunity to shut down
the prison which operates
with no international monitoring and entirely outside the realms of
international and US laws.

Obama is likely to be remembered for his words, not his actions. Not only
did he fail to shut down the prison which was erected
<https://www.britannica.com/topic/Guantanamo-Bay-detention-camp> by his
predecessor, George W. Bush, in 2002, but the Guantanamo industry also
continued to thrive during his time in the White House. For example, in his
speech, Obama made reference to the high cost of "a hundred and fifty
million dollars each year to imprison 166 people." According to
the *New Yorker* in 2016, Guantanamo's budget had grown to "$445 million"
while Obama was in office.

Yet, as the budget grew by leaps and bounds, the number of Guantanamo
prisoners dwindled. There are now just 40 prisoners
in the massive edifice of metal, concrete and barbed wire built within a US
naval base at the eastern tip of Cuba on land 'leased
<https://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/dip_cuba002.asp>' by the US in

It is easy to conclude that the US government keeps the prison open only to
avoid international accountability and, arguably, to extract information by
torture, an act that is inconsistent with American law. But this cannot be
right. The wars against Afghanistan and Iraq were illegal
under international law, but that didn't stop the US and its allies from
savagely invading
humiliating and torturing entire populations with no regard whatsoever to
legal or moral arguments.

Protesters demanded the closure of the detention centre at the US Naval
Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on its 16th anniversary on 11 December 2017
[Safvan Allahverdi/Anadolu Agency]

Moreover, Guantanamo is merely one of many American-run prisons and
detention centres operating around the world according to the most ruthless
tactics and no rule book. The tragedy of Abu Ghraib, a US military
detention centre in Baghdad, only became famous when direct evidence of the
degrading and incredibly violent conduct that was taking place within its
walls was produced
<https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/05/10/torture-at-abu-ghraib> and
publicised. Furthermore, many US officials and members of Congress at the
time used the Abu Ghraib scandal in 2004 as an opportunity to whitewash and
rebrand American crimes elsewhere and to present the misconduct within the
prison as if it was an isolated incident involving "a few bad apples".

This argument was made
by George W Bush. It was more or less the same logic utilised by Obama when
he championed the closure of Guantanamo. Indeed, both presidents insisted
that neither Abu Ghraib nor Guantanamo should be made out to represent what
America is really all about.

"Is this who we are?" asked
Obama passionately as he made the case for the closure of Guantanamo,
speaking as if he was a human rights advocate rather than the
Commander-in-Chief with the authority to shut down the entire facility
immediately. The truth is that the Abu Ghraib tortures were not "a few bad
apples" and Guantanamo is, indeed, a microcosm of exactly what the US is,
or has become.

>From Bagram in Afghanistan, to Abu Ghraib in Iraq, to Guantanamo Bay in
Cuba, to the many "floating prisons" — news of which was leaked
by US media in 2014 — the US government continues to make a mockery of
international and humanitarian laws. Many American officials who genuinely
advocate the closure of Guantanamo refuse to acknowledge that the prison is
a symbol of their country's intransigence, and refuse to accept that, like
any other country in the world, it is accountable to international law.

This lack of accountability has exceeded the US government's insistence on
"acting alone" and launching wars without international mandates. One US
administration after another has also made it clear that, under no
circumstances, would they allow
American citizens accused of war crimes to be investigated, let alone stand
trial, before the International Criminal Court (ICC). The message here is
that even America's "few bad apples" can potentially walk free, regardless
of the heinousness of their crimes.

Just months after the Trump administration imposed
punitive sanctions on ICC judges for having the audacity to look into
possible investigations of US crimes in Afghanistan, it freed the convicted
criminals who carried out horrific crimes in Iraq. On 22 December, Trump
four American mercenaries from the private military company Blackwater.
These convicted murderers were involved in the killing
of 14 civilians, including two children, in Baghdad in 2007.

What became known as the "Nisour Square massacre" was another example of
whitewashing, as government officials and mainstream media insisted that
the massacre was an isolated episode, even while expressing outrage at the
unlawful killing. The fact that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, mostly
civilians, were killed as a result of the US invasion seems irrelevant in
America's skewed logic as it pursues its never-ending "war on terror".

Whether Biden fulfils his promise to shut down Guantanamo or not, little
will change if the US remains committed in its contempt for international
law and to its undeserved view of itself as a country that exists above the
universal rights of everyone else.

That said, Guantanamo on its own is a crime against humanity and there can
never be any rational explanation or justification for holding hundreds of
people indefinitely, without trial, without due process, without
international observers and without ever seeing their families and loved
ones. The explanation often offered by the pro-Guantanamo pundits is that
the prison inmates are dangerous men. If that was indeed the case, why were
these supposed criminals not allowed to have their day in court?

Protesters demanded the closure of the detention centre at the US Naval
Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on its 16th anniversary on 11 December 2017
[Safvan Allahverdi/Anadolu Agency]

According to a report by Amnesty International published
<https://www.amnesty.org.uk/guantanamo-bay-human-rights> in May last year,
of the 779 men who were taken to the prison, "only seven have been
convicted". Worse, five of them were convicted "as a result of pre-trial
agreements under which they pleaded guilty, in return for the possibility
of release from the base." According to the rights group, such a trial by
military commission "did not meet fair trial standards".

In other words, Guantanamo is — and has always been — a fraudulent
operation with no real inclination to hold criminals and terrorists to
account and prevent further crimes. Guantanamo is an industry, and a
lucrative one. In many ways, it is similar to the American prison military
complex, ironically dubbed the "criminal justice system". Referring to the
unjust "justice system", Human Rights Watch derided
<https://www.hrw.org/united-states/criminal-justice> the US for having "the
largest reported prison population in the world".

"The (US) criminal justice system — from policing and prosecution, through
to punishment — is plagued with injustices like racial disparities,
excessively harsh sentencing and drug and immigration policies that
improperly emphasise criminalisation," stated
<https://www.hrw.org/united-states/criminal-justice> HRW on its website.

The above can also be considered an answer to Obama's rhetorical question,
"Is this who we are?" Yes sir, Mr President, this is precisely who you are.

While offering the world's most miserable detention conditions to hundreds
of potentially innocent men, Guantanamo also offers career opportunities,
military perks and honours, and a seemingly endless budget for a small army
to guard only a few shackled, gaunt-looking men in a foreign land.

Even if Biden is able to overcome pressure from the military, the CIA and
Congress and succeeds in shutting Guantanamo down, justice will still be
absent, not only because of the numerous lives that are forever shattered,
but also because America still refuses to learn from its mistakes.
Guantanamo Bay Prison is indeed America's enduring shame.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not
necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.
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