Immediately after the invasion of Afghanistan in early 2002, the US established a Military Detention Camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in an effort to not have to apply the Geneva Convention rules to the members of the Al Qaida and Taliban that they were beginning to capture by the dozens. The Bush admin argued that the rules of war did not apply to terrorists held captive in US military prisons and therefore prisoners could be held indefinitely without due process and advanced interrogation techniques (aka torture) could be carried out if needed.
Guantanamo Bay was chosen since it was not considered sovereign US territory. The US Administration lawyers made the case that for any detainee at Guantanamo, the normal American judicial processes did not apply and these suckers could be held indefinitely without trials and treated in any way that their captors pleased. With a two-century long history of slavery, America had honed the treat-them-as-we-please thing into a fine art.
But in the end Bush lost and the US Supreme Court sided with the various defense counsel and human rights organisations, ruling that the US judicial system did have oversight over Guantanamo Bay. This was a positive development and suddenly there was hope that a process of trials would begin, but everything sort of came to a halt. The liberal left came alive. Top-notch defense lawyers, who normally charge thousands of dollars an hour, appeared and went to work pro-bono, for the detainees. Since there were very few precedents to terrorism prosecutions, the whole process got bogged down in a legal quagmire.
At it’s peak (2002) Guantanamo housed 780 prisoners. Then during George W. Bush’s second term, as he watched the world lose respect for America over the barbarism he had triggered, he released around 500 prisoners. Soon after that, as international condemnation continued unabated, Bush seemed to wake up to the reality. Some say it was his father, George H W, a much saner and highly respected ex-President, who changed his son’s mind.
George Dubya began trying to empty the camp, realizing by then what a shitty idea it had all been and gradually side-lining those in in his administration who had thought it all up. His satanic VP, Dick Cheney, up until then his trusted Yoda and chief architect of the torture machine – black sites and rendition – found his sorry ass not being invited to the situation room as often as before.
Actual military tribunals sat for the first time ever and defense lawyers began deposing before a judge who, along with his staff, had to be flown in from the US to Guantanamo in plane-loads for every hearing, a cost to the American taxpayers that has run into hundreds of millions – and counting.
All the while, unwitting, unknowing and grotesquely dumb, the American taxpayers kept pushing Bush’s approval ratings through the roof, believing in their beer-crazed redneck pea-brains that he was being a ‘strong’ leader. Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, ass—les, everyone cheered this sorry schmuck of a President on.
The prisoners who were brought to the trials were not permitted to speak and to that end a military officer was put in charge of the microphones that went dead every time a detainee opened his mouth and attempted to say something in open court. Journalists present were told that this was being done ‘so they wouldn’t be able to pass on secret coded messages to their leaders back home, when they spoke.’
When Obama took office in 2008, he attempted to reform the trials process so that they could be concluded speedily but he has failed so far, not because of any lethargy on the part of the prosecution but due to the repeated attempts by the now multitudes of defense counsel who have continued to block progress by filing petition after petition and tying the court in knots.
Most legal experts believe that, instead of creating a military detention camp, if the defendants had been given a jury trial in a regular federal Court under the US Justice system’s existing criminal and terrorism statutes, at least the hard-core bad guys among them would have been tried, convicted, sentenced to death and probably even executed by now.
Presently, the only trial that is still running is the main one, against the half-dozen men (including Pakistani mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad) who were originally charged with planning 9/11. The trial is still stuck in pre-trial hearings, even after the passage of 14 years. In some ways, the delays are also not entirely the defense counsels’ fault. Most of what constitutes admissible evidence has no precedence, this being the first trial of its kind, in US history.
As of today, of the original 780 detainees at Guantanamo, 91 still remain, the rest having already been shipped off to the most unlikely recipient countries, after the US struck the most unlikely deals with them…. ‘pssst! Take five detainees and we’ll open a Cayman Islands account for ya…’. Some of these countries are difficult to even pinpoint on the world atlas – Kazakhstan, Palau, Uruguay, Bermuda, Slovakia, Albania, Mauritania, Georgia, Ghana, Tajikistan, Maldives and Chad. The less unfortunate among the detainees have been repatriated by force to their home nations where they have almost certainly been tortured and executed – Saudi, Pakistan, Russia, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Iraq. Around 7% of all the released dudes have gone back to terrorism.
Of the remaining 91 prisoners, 56 are adjudged by the Americans to be really hard-core and not suitable for release under any circumstances. The remaining 35 are a motley crowd of Afghans, Pakistanis, Syrians, Tunisians, Palestinians, Saudis and Moroccans against who there is little or no evidence of any wrong doing, other than being at the wrong place at the wrong time. They have been waiting the last few years for the US to find a country willing to accept them. Even with the usual enticements, it is getting harder to find recipient suckers.
Meanwhile, right-wing nationalism is blossoming all over, creating a paranoid Islamophobia and turning away even politicians in other countries who want to do the right thing by taking in those detainees that are now cleared for release. In the present atmosphere, that would be political suicide.
And the prisoners who are left….after 14 years, even their Allah has tired of them, for he no longer hears their cries for death and deliverance.
(to be continued…)