Release of Six Detainees After Twelve Years Highlights the Historic Evil of Guantánamo
By Glenn Greenwald. This article was first published on First Look.
The U.S. military overnight transferred six Guantánamo detainees to Uruguay. All of them had been imprisoned since 2002 – more than 12 years. None has ever been charged with a crime, let alone convicted of any wrongdoing. They had all been cleared for release years ago by the Pentagon itself, but nonetheless remained in cages until today.
Among the released detainees is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Lebanese-born Syrian national and father of four who was seized by the Pakistani police and turned over to the U.S. in 2002 for what was reportedly a large bounty. He was cleared for release in 2009 – five years ago – and has repeatedly gone on hunger strikes inside the camp to protest his treatment. At the age of 43, he has become physically debilitated. As the human rights group Reprieve detailed:
As a result of the conditions inside the prison and the callous treatment he has received, Mr Dhiab’s health has now deteriorated to such an extent that he is confined to a wheelchair. Recent revelations revealed that Mr. Dhiab is being denied access to his wheelchair, meaning he is brutally dragged from his cell and force-fed against his will every day.
As the great Miami Herald Guantánamo reporter Carol Rosenberg notes, there are – six years after Obama was elected on a pledge to close the camp – still 136 detainees there, with 67 of them cleared for release (Democrats’ claims that Obama is largely blameless are false and misleading in the extreme, as are claims that no country will accept detainees). In a just-posted article, Rosenberg notes that the release of these six men, all in their 30s and 40s, was underway for a full year, but it “sat on [Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s] desk for months, awaiting his signature, while intelligence analysts evaluated it.”
For all the years of propagandistic assertions that the detainees are dangerous “terrorists,” almost none has been charged with any crime by a government that has repeatedly (and with disgraceful ease) convicted people on terrorism allegations. They have just been kept in cages, indefinitely, in the middle of an ocean, thousands of miles from their homes. Nine detainees have died at the camp: several allegedly by suicide, others from illness. One of the detainees kept at the camp (released in 2008) was an Al Jazeera photojournalist, Sami Al-Haj, who was encaged for six years with no charges or trial and with almost no U.S. media notice (even as the U.S. media endlessly denounces the detention of U.S. journalists by other governments).
One significant reason these six detainees were released today is because Uruguay’s President, Jose Mujica, publicly shamed the U.S. into doing so. He wrote an open letter to Obama last week, posted on his presidential website, urging their release on humanitarian grounds, writing: “We have offered our hospitality for human beings who suffered an atrocious kidnapping in Guantánamo.” Mujica himself is a “former 14-year political prisoner who spent much of his captivity in solitary confinement for his guerrilla activities with the Tupamaro revolutionary movement.”
Just as the Obama administration suppressed photos showing U.S. torture and is now attempting to delay if not outright prevent release of the U.S. Senate’s torture report, Obama officials have repeatedly sought to suppress the videos showing the horrors of force-feeding at Guantanámo. It was the family of Dhiab, the Lebanese-Syrian detainee released today, which relentlessly pursued a legal and public campaign to obtain those videos to show the brutality of this treatment. As Reprieve described:
After mounting a prominent legal challenge against his treatment, lawyers from Reprieve were able to view the video tapes of Mr. Dhiab being force fed. Whilst their content is currently classified “Secret” and therefore cannot be disclosed to the public, Cori Crider, Strategic Director for Reprieve and counsel for Mr. Dhiab, said that she had ‘trouble sleeping’ after viewing the harrowing tapes. In June 2014, 16 news organisations, including Reuters and the New York Times, intervened in Dhiab v Obama to seek access to the videos on First Amendment grounds [DISCLOSURE: First Look Media, which publishes The Intercept, was one of the organizations bringing that suit].
In October, a federal judge ordered the videos released, but just last week, the Justice Department announced it was appealing the ruling. The rationale from The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ for suppressing evidence of U.S. government crimes, brutality and savagery is always the same: transparency will “adversely affect security conditions in Afghanistan and Iraq” by enraging people around the world. Not engaging in such behavior is never an option. The only priority is preventing its disclosure.
In a gut-wrenching July essay at The Huffington Post, Dhiab’s wife, Umm Wa’el, recounted the suffering she and her family have endured as a result of her husband’s 12-year, due-process-free imprisonment in the middle of the Caribbean Sea:
More than a decade has passed since Abu Wa’el was taken from us in the night. I had just given birth to our fourth child; our other children were just toddlers. My husband is a kind man and a superb cook. I miss the dishes he learned to prepare in his father’s restaurant. He is guilty of no crime, has never been charged, and was told by President Obama five years ago that he would be released from Guantanamo. . . .
In the past, I wouldn’t have expected this kind of secrecy of America. But over the past few months, I’ve seen it repeatedly. First, the government fought to prevent our lawyers from seeing the force-feeding videos. Now they forbid our lawyers from even discussing their content with other security-cleared lawyers in secret. Then they opposed the request from 16 of their country’s most reputed media groups for access to the material. They are doing their best to make sure that what has happened — is happening — to my husband never sees the light of day. . . .
America was shocked by the images from Abu Ghraib. These films from Guantanamo threaten to do the same. The American people should be given the chance to see them, and to decide whether they accept what is being done daily to my husband. I am certain that if they are given the chance, they will see the reality: the simple desperation of an innocent man, held without charge or trial, using the only means at his disposal to get back to his wife and children.
That is a scenario that has repeated itself over and over for the last 13 years – not just at Guantanámo but other American due-process-free hellholes at Bagram (which the Obama DOJ vehemently defended) and Abu Ghraib, as well as aboard floating lawless ships and CIA black sites. None of this has remotely deterred the U.S. and its uber-national media commentators from continuing to lecture the world on the necessity of due process and fair judicial proceedings (just as Tony Blair’s lucrative subservience to dictators doesn’t prevent him from lecturing the world on the need for democracy).
But all of this has increasingly caused the world to stop taking seriously anything American officials have to say on such matters (to the extent anyone took it seriously before). As well they should. The historic evils and shameful actions of the U.S. government during the Endless War on Terror are manifold. Keeping people in cages for more than a decade and counting in the middle of the sea, far from their families, without a shred of due process or hope for release, is near the top of that list.
Photos: Bush’s picture replaced by Obama’s at Guantánamo, 2009 (Brennan Linsley-Pool/Getty Images); camp watch tower (John Moore/Getty Images); U.S. Naval Office showing feeding tubes and Ensure (John Moore/Getty Images)