FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

All They Will Call You is Detainee

by Lawrence McGuire

Some of the terms used by America to describe the prisoners, such as “battlefield detainees”, have no legal meaning, the Red Cross says. (Kim Sengupta The Independent, U.K., Jan. 14, 2002)

How does the song go? ‘You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane, all they will call you will be.’

Ah, the importance of words and names in the scheme of things.

We need a word for this odor. It’s not exactly fascism (though Hitler certainly knew how to dehumanize his enemies), and of course it’s not State Communism (though Stalin certainly knew the value of ‘legal’ show trials), but it’s starting to smell similar to both. Because, judging from the aromas wafting over the news wires, it sure seems like cold blooded judicial murder is coming to Guantanamo Bay.

First I read that there were Afghan prisoners in chains with bags over their heads:

The photograph [in the New York Times] clearly showed that the prisoners suspected of belonging to al-Qaeda had their arms pinioned behind them and had bags over their heads, secured with metallic tape. (Terry Jones, The Observer, U.K., Jan. 6, 2002)

Then I learned these prisoners were being flown from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay, in Cuba, by the U.S. military. This treatment of prisoners is considered torture by the Geneva Convention. Apparently the Pentagon got worried about the photos because a few days later:

Pentagon officials ordered several news organizations not to transmit pictures of the hooded detainees boarding planes. (Jim Lobe, OneWorld.net Jan.11, 2002)

Next I learn that the prisoners were also forcibly shaved, head and beard, (a deliberate desecration of their religious beliefs). Perhaps this is the reason for both the bag over the head and the Pentagon’s fear of photographs? What does a malnourished human being with a shaved head shackled in chains remind you of?

However, not to worry. The International Red Cross would apparently be in charge of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay:

There the prisoners will be isolated in individual open-air fenced cells with metal roofs. They will sleep on mats under halogen floodlights. They could get wet from rain, but officials say they will be treated humanely. The Red Cross and other organizations will monitor conditions (Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, U.K., Jan. 11, 2002)

But then I read that this same organization had not even seen the prisoners in Afghanistan, and that they were unable to get any straight information from the U.S. Government:

However, attempts by the ICRC [Red Cross] to get Washington to spell out the exact status of its Afghan prisoners has resulted in a variety of often contradictory responses from different departments in the administration, according to diplomatic sources.The Independent has learnt, though, that the ICRC has not been able to get access to the prisoners in Bagram and Mazar-i-Sharif, and has discovered that about 360 being held in Kandahar are being kept in unsheltered stockades in the bitterly cold winter, without any privacy. These conditions would breach the Geneva Convention. (Kim Sengupta, the Independent, UK, Jan. 14, 2002)

So, if the Red Cross knows little about what is happening to the prisoners in Afghanistan, how much will they know in Guantanamo Bay? And why Guantanamo Bay in the first place? It sure seems like a long distance from Afghanistan.

Then clarity clicked like a lock snapping shut. I read that Guantanamo Bay is a very special place. It’s a place where international and national law does not apply:

The prisoners are sent to the Guantanamo base in part because it is not on U.S. territory which would automatically provide detainees with certain basic constitutional rights. At the same time, base operations at Guantanamo Bay are not affected by an agreement with the host government that also might provide detainees with more rights. (Jim Lobe, OneWorld.net, Jan. 11, 2002)

Because they are being held outside US sovereign territory, they are also denied the rights to a jury trial in independent courts afforded to “ordinary” criminals by the constitution. Washington has indicated that they will be tried by military tribunals. (Paul Kelso, Jan. 14, 2002, The Guardian, UK)

No international law, because you are called a detainee, not a prisoner of war. No law from a ‘host government’ because Cuba is not voluntarily hosting a U.S. military base. No domestic constitutional law because you are not on U.S. territory. No law.what does that mean?

Now we can meditate on the implications of the Patriot Act passed last fall, which allows for military tribunals and subsequent execution for ‘terrorism’.

Let’s imagine these prisoners (and we’ll have to imagine them because we will probably never see them or hear much about them). Let’s give one of them a name, Ali the Dishwasher, for example.

Ali perhaps comes from Saudi Arabia. He was recruited by his government as a soldier to go to Afghanistan and fight the Soviet Union. The C.I.A. paid for his flight and training and expenses. After the Soviets withdrew Ali started getting his paycheck from the Pakistan secret police, to encourage him to stay in Afghanistan and support the Taleban. Because Ali was a soldier, recruited as a soldier and trained as a soldier, he, like all soldiers, just followed orders. They ordered him to wash dishes (I’m sure even terrorist training camps need dishwashers).

He sent money home every month to his family in Saudi Arabia. He was a hero back in his hometown, just like American soldiers are heroes back in their hometowns. The folks back home didn’t realize that he was just a dishwasher in a training camp.

The Americans start bombing Afghanistan and Ali goes with his fellow soldiers, dodging bombs, fighting here and there, finally getting captured.

Now, maybe Ali the Dishwasher also killed men in battle. A lot of soldiers do that. Maybe he even killed civilians, a lot of soldiers do that also (American pilots, for example, killed around 5,000 civilians recently in Afghanistan). But he is still a soldier. Why, even Ronald Reagan called Ali a freedom fighter. And Sylvester Stallone dedicated ‘Rambo 3’ to him and his fellow mujadeen.

But the U.S. authorities don’t call him a captured soldier, a prisoner of war, because that would give him some theoretical rights. They humiliate him by shaving his head and beard, put a bag over his head, put him in chains, ‘sedate’ him with some kind of drug, and fly him to Guantanamo Bay.

Then what? He’ll be tried by a U.S. military tribunal, without any of the legal rules for due process. What kind of evidence will prove his innocence? Will he even have a lawyer? Will he be able to call witnesses from Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia, or the C.I.A. offices in Langley, Virginia?

I doubt it.

He’s found guilty, with no possibility of appeal. His name changes from detainee to convicted terrorist. Then, as an example to the world, and perhaps to the cheers of a deluded American populace, he’s executed.

How does the song go? ‘You won’t have a name when you ride the big airplane, all they will call you will be detainee’.

Ali the Dishwasher: Freedom Fighter, Mujahdeen, Soldier, Unlawful Combattant, Detainee, Terrorist. Guilty. Executed.

Lawrence McGuire is a novelist who lives in France. His latest most recent book is The Great American Wagon Road. He can be reached at: blmcguire@hotmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 30, 2016
Russell Mokhiber
Matt Funiciello and the Giant Sucking Sound Coming Off Lake Champlain
Mike Whitney
Three Cheers for Kaepernick: Is Sitting During the National Anthem an Acceptable Form of Protest?
Alice Bach
Sorrow and Grace in Palestine
Richard Moser
Transformative Movement Culture and the Inside/Outside Strategy: Do We Want to Win the Argument or Build the Movement?
Nozomi Hayase
Pathology, Incorporated: the Facade of American Democracy
David Swanson
Fredric Jameson’s War Machine
Jan Oberg
How Did the West Survive a Much Stronger Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact?
Linda Gunter
The Racism of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima Bombings
Dmitry Kovalevich
In Ukraine: Independence From the People
Omar Kassem
Turkey Breaks Out in Jarablus as Fear and Loathing Grip Europe
George Wuerthner
A Birthday Gift to the National Parks: the Maine Woods National Monument
Logan Glitterbomb
Indigenous Property Rights and the Dakota Access Pipeline
National Lawyers Guild
Solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against Dakota Access Pipeline
Paul Messersmith-Glavin
100 in Anarchist Years
August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
Binoy Kampmark
Banning Burkinis: the Politics of Beachwear
Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail