Guantanamo: Ten Years Later

Tomorrow Guantanamo turns 10, and all over the country protestors plan to mark the day with calls to close the prison center. In particular, activists will travel from around the United States to Washington, DC, for a rally and human chain meant to stretch from the White House to the Capitol.

In the last 10 years, nearly 800 detainees have entered Guantanamo. Now roughly 600 have been released; and as of 2009, only 4% “returned to the battlefield,” according to the Pentagon’s numbers.

In all the madness that is our War on Terror, we seem to have lost that beautiful virtue called empathy.  I have read reports trying to prove Guantanamo is so humane that authorities provide ice cream, Skype calls, and La-Z-Boy chairs, but these damn terrorists still throw their feces.

What these reports don’t discuss are the numerous accounts of torture (verified by US officials), the pain of missing the first 7 years of your children’s lives, or the inability to get a job once you’ve returned to your homeland, innocent or not.

I don’t know about you, but if a foreign country took me from the United States without any charge and detained me indefinitely, then denied me access to visitors, attorneys, a trial, or even a chance to know evidence against me, I would be throwing my shit too, to say the least. And ice cream wouldn’t appease me, either.

What saddens me the most about this (maybe – so many things about it make me sad) is that a lot of the innocent detainees assumed at the beginning that they were safer in the hands of Americans than anywhere else. In America – they often report after they’ve been released – they believed they would get a fair trial and be quickly freed.

So it’s taken us 10 years or less to undo a reputation that took centuries to build through Civil Rights marching and Bill of Rights signing.

When President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2012, he effectively closed the door to closing the door on Guantanamo. Regardless of his campaign promises, we continue to detain prisoners there without trial.

To be clear, I don’t know or care how dangerous these suspects are – I really don’t. We’ve tried many a serial killer and unabomber through our system. The fact that even the really bad dudes deserve a fair trial is one of the foundational principles of our country.

We pay through every taxed dollar and vote at every election for this system of ours. Now we have the chance – the privilege – to fight for civil rights all over again, with the fury that gave us our reputation of being just and free.

(Photo by mike.benedetti)

3 Responses to “Guantanamo: Ten Years Later”
  1. Darrell says:

    When a nation is at war and enemy soldiers are captured on the battlefield, under international law and treaty agreements they are not to be afforded the same civil rights recognition and due process as a citizen criminal defendant. They are, however, entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention and are not to be tortured or held after hostilities cease etc. They are also entitled to be accounted for and reported on.
    If you take the position that they are not prisoners of war but criminal defendants then they must be afforded due process rights. It seems that now the USG seeks to have their cake and eat it too. They have invented some new form of legal non-existence.

    • JCM says:

      Yes I suppose it’s important to differentiate between the two groups (POW and US citizens), but as you know because of the NDAA that allows for the indefinite detainment of US citizens in military prisons without trial, apparently it’s no longer THAT important.

      We aren’t holding them after hostilities cease, just until we win the “war on terror” or, as Jon Stewart put it, when terror is no longer an option as a human emotion.

      I would have to argue that they should be criminal defendants, or at least be given certain similar rights, because a) many of them are/were innocent and not actually involved in any so-called war and 2) the war on terror may not end for decades, which is a smart way out of the problem of indefinite detention but is also a grave abuse of human rights for those who might be innocent.

  2. Leah Thomason Bromberg says:

    Susan Crile’s work, specifically her two series In Our Name and Abu Ghraib, really speaks to this issue. She delicately draws prisoners in the midst of large, intimidating guards or trapped in small confines. It reminds me how easily life and civil rights are lost in the midst of violence. Her work is on her website, and this is an interesting interview.

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