Thursday, November 1, 2007


A recent article on Al-Jazeera got me thinking about the forgotten prison in Cuba. Al-Jazeera reports that one of their cameramen, Sami al-Hajj, is near death at Guantanamo Bay. Al-Hajj was picked up by Pakistani authorities in 2001 crossing into Afghanistan and subsequently charged as an "enemy combatant" by the U.S. military and transfered to Guantanamo. As with most detainees, the evidence against this foreign reporter is extremely weak, made plain by the fact that he has still not been formally charged with anything, six years after being taken prisoner. For 247 days he has been on hunger strike in protest of his continued unlawful detention and mistreatment.During the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan many Afghanis were taken captive by the invaders. Some were fighting the Soviet invaders in the same way that insurgents today are fighting the American invaders. Others were simply caught up in the chaos and forced into brutal detention centers with little hope of ever going back to their families. They were held there without charge. But these were totalitarian Soviets holding them, a country lacking the norms of justice and human rights that western democracies took for granted. From the Soviets perspective, they were in Afghanistan to keep the order during a tumultuous period. They wanted nothing more then to create a thriving and functioning, albeit communist, state on their southern border. These "terrorists" were obstacles that had to be overcome. And then there were all the technicalities: If, in all the chaos that marked the Soviet presence in Afghanistan, a few innocents were taken prisoner, tortured and humiliated to determine their status, and then finally found to be innocent, what was to be done? Should the Soviets formally apologize and then release the prisoners back to their families so that they can spread the details of the horrors they experienced while imprisoned? No no, that would not do. So instead the innocents were just placed in legal limbo and indefinitely imprisoned, unable to see the evidence against them, unable to be even charged with a crime, but completely capable of being routinely humiliated and tortured.
Sound familiar? It does to me as well. It seems that perhaps the biggest reason why many of these prisoners in Guantanamo as well as in the sprawling Iraqi prisons administered by Americans - 60,000 prisoners and counting - are not released, even when all evidence against them is lacking, is that it would be: 1. A fucking embarrassment 2. A catalyst creating more anti-American sentiment 3. An acknowledgment of blatant war crimes.
As Americans we are, unfortunately, all culpable for what has happened here. It is completely unacceptable and it needs to stop. The problem is that as long as American citizens - and presidents and presidential candidates - are not bright enough to realize the implications, then we will continue to violate international law, leaving us with no moral superiority and little pity when we get our comeuppance.

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