The U.S. is holding hundreds of innocent people at its detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Military authorities at Guantanamo have decided to tighten the screws on detainees because it has been determined that the U.S. has been too kind and accommodating to them.
If you find those two sentences jarring and contradictory, you’re not alone, yet both were leading news items in today’s newspapers. The first appeared in a page one story in of the Philadelphia Inquirer by Associated Press reporter Andrew O. Selsky, which said most of the detainees are innocent of any crime. The second was a page one story in the New York Times by reporter Tim Golden, who reported on a harsh crackdown on Guantanamo detainees, including removal of common eating privileges, inmate soccer games, and incentives for good behavior by prisoners.
Selsky, who traced what happened to 245 of some 360 Guantanamo detainees released by the U.S., found that 205 of them, upon arriving in their countries of origin, were immediately released, after their home governments determined that they were, after all, not dangerous terrorists. According to Selsky, all 83 Afghan captives sent back to Afghanistan were freed after the government there determined that most had simply been turned over to American forces because of “tribal or personal rivalries” and to collect ransoms being offered by US forces.
Pakistan released 67 of 70 Pakistani captives returned to that country after it was determined they too were “innocent.”
All 29 detainees repatriated to Britain, Spain, Germany, Russia, Australia, Turkey, Denmark, Bahrain and the Maldives, were freed within hours of being sent home by the U.S., which had delivered them bound hand and food as “dangerous terrorists.”
Selsky’s report is a damning indictment of the U.S. operation at Guantanamo, and makes a joke of U.S. claims that the people it is holding indefinitely and without trial on the naval base there are the “worst of the worst,” and are, in the words of Pentagon officials, “among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the Earth.” Golden, meanwhile, reports that these remaining prisoners face much harsher conditions in the future than they have been enduring to date. In recent months, the prisoners had been benefiting from a program of incentives that gave them steady improvements in living conditions in return for good behavior. Now three quarters of them are being moved to maximum-security cells.
Rear Admiral Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of the compound, told Golden that in his view all the captives are dangerous. He is quoted as saying, “They’re all terrorists; they’re all enemy combatants,” and concluding, “I don’t think there is such a thing as a medium-security terrorist.”
Golden notes dryly, without comment, that 100 of those 420 prisoners still subject to Adm. Harris’s tender mercies have actually been cleared by the military for transfer or release, but are being held while the State Department tries to arr’nge for their repatriation, and that shortly after Harris’s comment, 15 detainees were sent back to Saudi Arabia, where the government immediately released them to their families.
So what the hell is going on here?
One hint is provided by looking at the abusive treatment of Jose Padilla, the so-called “dirty bomber” that the U.S. held without charge in solitary confinement at a military brig in South Carolina for three and a half years before conceding that it had no evidence to charge him with any major crime (he’s now facing a charge of providing money to a charity that may have links to Al Qaeda, but even that case appears weak). During his base confinement, Padilla was kept in a dark cell, unable to contact a lawyer or family member. When he was removed for a trip to the dentist, he was fitted with soundproof earmuffs and his eyes were covered by blackout goggles, rendering him entirely sensory deprived. Though he was completely docile and posed no threat, he was shackled hand and foot as well, despite the presence of four guards armed with M-16 weapons. Padilla, an American citizen by birth, is now said to have lost his mind and is unable to even understand why he is in captivity.
It seems clear from Padilla’s over-the-top abusive treatment, and the increasingly harsh treatment that is being applied to captives at Guantanamo, that the Pentagon and the Bush administration are not genuinely trying to protect America from anything, but have simply devolved into a bunch of deliberate, pathological sadists, who are desperately trying to break and destroy several hundred people who never should have been captured in the first place.
The goal may be to try and get these men to break and admit to manufactured charges that could retroactively justify their illegal detainment. Thanks to the military tribunal bill that the outgoing Republican Congress, with the help of treacherous and cowardly Democrats, passed as one of their final wretched actions, they could then be executed, or just held incommunicado until death or dementia renders them no longer threats to the administration’s reputation.
Whatever the government’s motives for this ongoing horror, Americans need to wake up and recognize that Guantanamo and the so-called “War on Terror” have made America–and every one of us Americans–guilty of the most obscene of war crimes.
There will inevitably come a day of reckoning–a day when we will all be called to account for our collective crime.
Let us at least be able to say then that we spoke out against what is being done in our name.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Lindorff’s new book is “The Case for Impeachment“,
co-authored by Barbara Olshansky.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org