Thursday, November 03, 2005

Guantanamo Bay

This story has really got me going today. The whole Guantanamo situation is out of control. george has decided that he can arbitrarily separate people from the rights guaranteed to them under not only the Geneva Convention, but also from the very rights that the founders of our country fought so hard for. Why do we have those whole "inalienable rights" and "due process" hang-ups in our legal system? Because once upon a time, a person in power became tyrannical, locking people up without being charged, torturing some, killing others. Many were never told of their crimes. As it was over 200 years ago, so it is again today. This scenario, which our country was (in part) founded to fight against, is now a big part of what we represent to the rest of the world. George has decided that if he can call people "enemy combatants" for some reason (and sometimes those reasons are just made up - but I'll get to that later), then he has the right to take away their dignity as a human being. Innocent until proven guilty? Not if the all powerful george and his cronies think that you might be guilty. Then it's all up to you to prove your innocence. So what has sparked my indignation today? This story reports that Rumsfeld, that embodiment of human kindness, has denied UN Human Rights investigators access to the Gitmo detainees. Wasn't there a pretty powerful guy somewhere over in the Middle East who tried to deny access to UN investigators? Well, let's stay on target with the current story, shall we?
"[Rumsfeld] told a Pentagon news conference that prisoners at the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, were staging a hunger strike that began in early August as a successful ploy to attract media attention."
Why are they on a hunger strike? Maybe because they feel they have the right to be told why they're being held in a prison camp? Because they feel they have the right to face their prosecutors, but no one is allowed to hear their side of the story? Even Saddam Hussein is being given the dignity of a trial. Many of these people aren't even given a lawyer to speak with, much less the hope that they'll be able to defend themselves in court.
"The three U.N. investigators, including one who focuses on torture, said Monday they would turn down an invitation extended by the Pentagon Friday to visit Guantánamo unless they were permitted to interview the detainees. The invitation came nearly four years after the visits were first requested."
'Ahh... 'I hear some people thinking. 'They were given the opportunity to visit the detainees, and they turned it down. This is just another try at making the administration look bad when they're really cooperating.' Cooperating my ass. They can go look at the people from a distance. I'm sure that everything would be neat and tidy before the UN arrives with their cameras. The government is simply afraid of what the enemy combatants would have to say about what's been going on in Cuba since they arrived. What possible reason could they have for keeping the UN away? Are they afraid that one of the people in Gitmo is going to sway a UN representative to help him escape? That the UN is secretly in league with Al Qaeda , and that they are on a mission to get the entire camp off of the island? That the UN spy is going to slip a hand grenade to a detainee in the course of an interview? Of course the UN Investigators turned down the offer - it wasn't an invitation, it was an insult. And did anyone else notice that we've been telling the UN "no" for four years? Well, to be fair, I guess we've probably just been ignoring their phone calls, not actually telling them no. And here's another gem from the inner workings of Rumsfeld's brain:
"Asked about the motivation of the hunger strikers, Rumsfeld said, "Well, I suppose that what they're trying to do is to capture press attention, obviously, and they've succeeded.""
But why, Rummy dear, do they feel they need media attention? If everything is as rosy as you say they are in that camp, then why are there people on a hunger strike? Why won't you let the UN ask these people why they're on a hunger strike? Why won't you tell these people (some of whom, to be fair, probably are guilty of something - but don't they deserve to face their accusers?) how long they'll be shut out of the world? Ok, I promised a bit on someone who was kept on made-up charges.

"My cell was 8ft by 6ft, the same size as the detainees' cages at Guantanamo. Barely a week ago I had received a glowing evaluation for my work as the US army's Muslim chaplain among the "Gitmo" prisoners. Now I was the one in chains. "I knew why I had been arrested: it was because I am a Muslim. I was just the latest victim of the hostility born the moment when the planes flew into the twin towers and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. My real "crime" had been that I had tried to ensure that the suspected Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters detained in the Gitmo cages were given every opportunity to practise their religion freely, one of the most fundamental of American ideals. I had monitored the atrocious treatment meted out by the guards. And I had come to suspect that my appointment as the prisoners' chaplain was simply a piece of political theatre. When reporters came to Guantanamo on the media tour, everyone had always wanted to talk to the Muslim chaplain. I had told them the things that the command expected me to say. We give the detainees a Koran. We announce the prayer five times a day. We serve halal food. Everything I said had been true. But it certainly wasn't the full story."

There are several more pages to this story, detailing James Yee's experiences in Guantanamo. It's one of the most heartbreaking stories I've ever read. It's also one of the saddest. No matter how much I criticize our government and our administration, I've always had a belief that the system will work in the end, that people are basically good people and will see the error of their ways. This story made me doubt that.

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