FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Guantanamo Prisoners, Justice or Revenge?

by Terry Waite

I can recognise the conditions that prisoners are being kept in at the US camp at Guantanamo Bay because I have been there. Not to Cuba’s Camp X-Ray, but to the darkened cell in Beirut that I occupied for five years. I was chained to a wall by my hands and feet; beaten on the soles of my feet with cable; denied all my human rights, and contact with my family for five years, and given no access to the outside world. Because I was kept in very similar conditions, I am appalled at the way we – countries that call ourselves civilised – are treating these captives. Is this justice or revenge?

I was determined that my five years in captivity would not break me, and they didn’t. But I cannot say that it was easy. The hardest thing for a prisoner in those conditions is the uncertainty. You don’t know what will happen to you next: you have no rights, no one to speak to, no one to advise you, no one to fall back on. You only have your own resources. These men, who may or may not be guilty, will be experiencing that sense of isolation and dislocation.

For four years I was kept in solitary confinement and had no companionship at all. I was always blindfolded, or had to wear a blindfold when someone came into the room. I never saw another human being. The initial effect is eerie, but eventually you become accustomed to it. You learn to live from within. But that’s tough, and no one should be forced to attempt it.

I had a diet very similar to that being given to these men – bread, cream cheese, rice, beans. I was adequately fed, but not luxuriously, and I lost a lot of weight. The greatest difficulty was never having any exercise in the whole period. I had to get what exercise I could while chained to the wall. I had five minutes a day to go to the bathroom; for the rest of the time I had to use a bottle. The conditions were inhuman, but all the time I had to assert my humanity. What I experienced makes me all the more determined when I say that prisoners of whatever description must be treated humanely and justly. I would stand up for the rights of the alleged terrorist and of any other individual facing serious charges. I am not soft on terrorism – I have had too many dealings with it to be so – but I am passionate that we must observe standards of justice. I fear that unless firm action is taken to institute just and fair procedures, the long-term results for the US will be catastrophic. Terrorism is not ultimately defeated by the force of arms; you have to deal with the root causes and ask what makes people act in such extreme ways.

It alarms me greatly that the prisoners’ status seems to have been determined almost exclusively by the US president and his advisers. Their status should be determined by an independent tribunal. The US seems to be making up the rules as it goes along. First, it said that the appalling acts of terrorism in New York and Washington were acts of war; now it is saying that these captives are not in fact prisoners of war, that they are unlawful combatants. An independent tribunal should establish precisely what they are.

If the US is making up the rules, it will have no moral authority should other countries try, convict and perhaps execute American and European suspects. There will be no moral grounds on which we can stand if we allow this to continue. Americans tell me that they have little patience with international tribunals – they take a long time, and often come up with a different result from that which was hoped. But that is no argument. It doesn’t matter how long it takes – justice must be seen to be done, and be done impartially.

I was appalled when I heard a prominent American suggest that in certain circumstances the limited use of torture might be justified. That is a dreadful statement to come from a civilised nation. Torture can never be justified, and must be clearly condemned. When it comes to trial, these men are entitled to basic defence rights and ought to be tried under the auspices of the UN. It is vital that we uphold standards of international law for the protection of the innocent, and for the protection of American or European subjects who may find themselves in difficult circumstances in the future. For once, morality and pragmatism go hand in hand.

Terry Waite is the former special envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was held captive by terrorists in Beirut from 1987 to 1991.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 23, 2016
Diana Johnstone
Hillary and the Glass Ceilings Illusion
Bill Quigley
Race and Class Gap Widening: Katrina Pain Index 2016 by the Numbers
Ted Rall
Trump vs. Clinton: It’s All About the Debates
Eoin Higgins
Will Progressive Democrats Ever Support a Third Party Candidate?
Kenneth J. Saltman
Wall Street’s Latest Public Sector Rip-Off: Five Myths About Pay for Success
Binoy Kampmark
Labouring Hours: Sweden’s Six-Hour Working Day
John Feffer
The Globalization of Trump
Gwendolyn Mink – Felicia Kornbluh
Time to End “Welfare as We Know It”
Medea Benjamin
Congress Must Take Action to Block Weapon Sales to Saudi Arabia
Halyna Mokrushyna
Political Writer, Daughter of Ukrainian Dissident, Detained and Charged in Ukraine
Manuel E. Yepe
Tourism and Religion Go Hand-in-Hand in the Caribbean
ED ADELMAN
Belted by Trump
Thomas Knapp
War: The Islamic State and Western Politicians Against the Rest of Us
Nauman Sadiq
Shifting Alliances: Turkey, Russia and the Kurds
Rivera Sun
Active Peace: Restoring Relationships While Making Change
August 22, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary Clinton: The Anti-Woman ‘Feminist’
Robert Hunziker
Arctic Death Rattle
Norman Solomon
Clinton’s Transition Team: a Corporate Presidency Foretold
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Hubris: Only Tell the Rich for $5000 a Minute!
Russell Mokhiber
Save the Patients, Cut Off the Dick!
Steven M. Druker
The Deceptions of the GE Food Venture
Elliot Sperber
Clean, Green, Class War: Bill McKibben’s Shortsighted ‘War on Climate Change’
Binoy Kampmark
Claims of Exoneration: The Case of Slobodan Milošević
Walter Brasch
The Contradictions of Donald Trump
Michael Donnelly
Body Shaming Trump: Statue of Limitations
Weekend Edition
August 19, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Hillary and the War Party
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Prime Time Green
Andrew Levine
Hillary Goes With the Flow
Dave Lindorff
New York Times Shames Itself by Attacking Wikileaks’ Assange
Gary Leupp
Could a Russian-Led Coalition Defeat Hillary’s War Plans?
Conn Hallinan
Dangerous Seas: China and the USA
Joshua Frank
Richard Holbrooke and the Obama Doctrine
Margaret Kimberley
Liberal Hate for the Green Party
John Davis
Lost Peoples of the Lake
Alex Richardson-Price
The Fight for a Six Hour Workday
John Wight
Why Palestine Matters, Even on the Pitch
Brian Cloughley
Hillary Clinton’s War Policy
Patrick Cockburn
A Battle to the Death in Syria
David Rosen
The Great Fear: Miscegenation, Race “Pollution” and the 2016 Election
Ben Debney
Worthy and Unworthy Victims of Child Abuse
David Barouh
Liberal Myths: Would Al Gore Have Invaded Iraq?
Graham Peebles
Democratic Revolution Sweeps Ethiopia
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
How Parasitic Finance Capital Has Turned Iran’s Economy Into a Case of Casino Capitalism
David Swanson
The Unbearable Awesomeness of the U.S. Military
Robert Fantina
The Olympics: Nationalism at its Worst
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail