U.S. Hypocrisy and the Malaysian Guantánamo


"It’s Malaysia’s Guantanamo," the woman told me. I was visiting Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last week, to talk to an activist from a local human rights group. The group, SUARAM, has been leading a fierce campaign to abolish Malaysia’s Internal Security Act (ISA), a law under which more than 70 men are currently held in preventive detention.

Some of the men are suspected of belonging to Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant Islamist group responsible for terrorist bombings in Bali and elsewhere. Others are accused of common crimes like forgery. What they have in common–and what links them to detainees at Guantanamo–is that they are being held in long-term detention without charge or trial.

In a different era–back in the pre-Guantanamo, pre-"war on terror" days–the Clinton Administration would occasionally criticize Malaysia’s reliance on the ISA. Now such concerns have largely been forgotten. What counts, for the U.S. government, is that Malaysia is a reliable ally in fighting terrorism.

Just hours ago the U.S. ambassador to Malaysia lauded the two countries’ "shared cooperation" on counterterrorism. "We have been impressed and gratified that Malaysia wants a leadership role in this arena," he said.

First Give a Fair Trial to the Detainees at Guantanamo …

On the rare occasion that U.S. officials venture to look critically at Malaysia’s detention policies, the local authorities have a ready response: Guantanamo.

Last December, the Malaysian government arrested and detained five Hindu rights activists under the ISA, in a blatant attempt to intimidate the activists from pressing claims of racial discrimination. The U.S. State Department responded critically to the detentions, though it did not condemn them directly.

Without mentioning the Internal Security Act, or even referring explicitly to the question of detention without trial, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack expressed concern for the legal rights of the detainees. It was the U.S. government’s expectation, he said, that the detainees "would be provided the full protections under Malaysian law, that they would be given due process, that they would be accorded all the rights accorded to any other citizen, and that this [would] be done in a speedy and transparent manner."

The Malaysians’ reply was swift. "Can they [the United States] first of all give a fair trial to the detainees in Guantanamo Bay?" asked Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak. "We’ll only respond if they do so."

Guantanamo and Kamunting

While their purported concern for detainees at Guantanamo was opportunistic, at best, the Malaysian authorities have a point. No country has a perfect human rights record, and it would be folly to insist that only countries with outstanding records have the moral standing necessary to point out others’ shortcomings. Still, it is not easy for the U.S. government–as it fights to prevent detainees at Guantanamo from challenging their imprisonment in court–to give convincing lessons to Malaysia on these issues.

Guantanamo holds nearly four times the number of prisoners as Malaysia’s Kamunting Detention Center, the prison in which the country’s ISA detainees are held. While a few ISA detainees have been held for up to six years, more than 100 prisoners at Guantanamo have been held since early 2002.

Detainees in both places face secret evidence, an overall lack of due process, and, as a result, arbitrary detention. The problems–and even the justifications that the U.S. and Malaysian governments invoke to defend each system–are similar. It is no more convincing for the Malaysian authorities to call on the United States to close Guantanamo–as Malaysia’s Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi did in 2006–than it is for the United States to express concern about Malaysian detention practices.

A Malaysian at Guantanamo

Last year, Mohd Farik Bin Amin, one of two Malaysian detainees held at Guantanamo, was granted an administrative hearing. One of the questions he asked was whether the Malaysian government could demand his extradition.

It’s not much of a choice: indefinite detention at Guantanamo or indefinite detention under the ISA. Hopefully, in both countries, fairer options will soon emerge.

JOANNE MARINER is a human rights lawyer.


Weekend Edition
November 27-29, 2015
Gary Leupp
Ben Carson, Joseph in Egypt, and the Attack on Rational Thought
Pepe Escobar
Will Chess, Not Battleship, Be the Game of the Future in Eurasia?
Dave Lindorff
Gen. John Campbell, Commander in Afghanistan and Serial Liar
Karl Grossman
Our Solar Bonanza!
Ramzy Baroud
Forget ISIS: Humanity is at Stake
Elliot Murphy
Cameron’s Syrian Strategy
Gareth Porter
How Terror in Paris Calls for Revising US Syria Policy
Michael Perino
The Arc of Instability
Yves Engler
Justin Trudeau and Canada’s Mining Industry
Tom H. Hastings
ISIS and Changing the Game
John Halle
A Yale Education as a Tool of Power and Privilege
Norman Pollack
Syrian “Civil War”?: No, A Proxy War of Global Confrontation
Sheldon Richman
Let the Refugees In
Ron Jacobs
Rosa Luxembourg–From Street Organizer to Street Name
James A Haught
The Values of Jesus
Binoy Kampmark
British Austerity: Cutting One’s Own Backyard
Ed Rampell
45 Years: A Rumination on Aging
November 26, 2015
Ashley Nicole McCray – Lawrence Ware
Decolonizing the History of Thanksgiving
Joseph Grosso
The Enduring Tragedy: Guatemala’s Bloody Farce
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
Imperial Myths: the Enduring Lie of the US’s Origin
Ralph Nader
The Joys of Solitude: a Thanksgiving!

Joseph G. Ramsey
Something to be Thankful For: Struggles, Seeds…and Surprises
Dan Glazebrook
Turkey Shoot: the Rage of the Impotent in Syria
Andrew Stewart
The Odious President Wilson
Colin Todhunter
Corporate Parasites And Economic Plunder: We Need A Genuine Green Revolution
Rajesh Makwana
Ten Billion Reasons to Demand System Change
Joyce Nelson
Turkey Moved the Border!
Richard Baum
Hillary Clinton’s Meager Proposal to Help Holders of Student Debt
Sam Husseini
A Thanksgiving Day Prayer
November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey