Unforgettable place names emerge from the jumble of Middle Eastern geography, confusing most Americans: Fallujah, Abu Ghraib, Haditha, Ramadi. And now, Mahmudiya, where in March a squad of American soldiers raped and killed a young woman while slaughtering her family.
The litany of war crimes we collectively commit grows each day that we continue to occupy the Middle East and beyond, but one place name stands out as particularly repellant to the people of the world: the interrogation complex at Guantanamo Bay. The International Red Cross reports that the conditions at Gitmo are "tantamount to torture." Gitmo is not just an attack upon the bodies and minds of its inmates; its very existence assaults the foundation of our fledgling democracy.
The common law of habeas corpus originated in 12th-century England in opposition to the autocratic reign of King Henry II. It is incorporated in the U.S. Constitution. It requires that no man, woman or institution of state may indefinitely hold a prisoner in detention without bringing him or her before a court of law to be officially charged with a crime, or released. On Sept. 18, 2001, George W. Bush nullified nearly 1,000 years of civil rights-based jurisprudence by arrogating unto himself the kingly power to indefinitely detain anyone, including American citizens.
The Center for Constitutional Rights, based in New York City, has filed a battery of lawsuits to overturn Bush's usurpation of power and to restore due process of law. Since 2002, the Center has been at the forefront of defending the human rights of the Guantanamo prisoners, who have mounted numerous hunger strikes to protest their illegal incarceration. According to Center attorneys, Bush is defying a June 2004 Supreme Court ruling that allows the 460 prisoners of Gitmo to challenge their detentions in federal court.
The detainees, reports the Center, seek "fair trials, freedom from religious abuses, an end to physical and psychological abuses, adequate food and shelter and access to clean water." Those are basic requirements of the Geneva Conventions, which Bush has declared do not apply to his prisoners of war. (Last week, the Bush administration reaffirmed its intention to deny due process of law to these prisoners.)
Last month, U.S. Army general Barry McCaffrey, a professor at the U.S. Military Academy, made an overnight inspection of Guantanamo. On June 28, he released a memo praising the operation, but calling for partial dismantling of the prison. The mainstream media barely mentioned the memo, except for parroting McCaffrey's patently untrue observation, "There is zero abuse going on in that camp. It is a world-class operation."
McCaffrey claims that Gitmo prisoners are currently treated firmly, but humanely. He says that, previous tortures and current forced feedings aside, Gitmo's medical care is now on par with that received by American university students, federal prisoners and Boy Scouts at jamborees. (Yep, he said that!) He says that 10 percent of the detainees "are extremely dangerous, trained and clever."
Their terrorist training manual, he opines, tells them to make up stories about being tortured and mistreated, to use habeas corpus legal visits to send hidden messages to other inmates and "to collect intelligence during detention." He makes the unsubstantiated statement that previously released detainees have subsequently "taken up arms to kill Americans."
McCaffrey says that Gitmo prisoners use defense lawyers to spread their terrorist message and further plots to kill Americans. As an example: "Three detainees succeeded in simultaneous suicide while under very close supervision on June 10, 2006. This was an extremely professional, widely coordinated and carefully planned and detailed act of political information warfare. Very courageous. Very effective."
The McCaffrey memo epitomizes the mendacity of the Bush administration, which blames everybody but Mad George for the unrelenting disasters of his domestic policies and foreign wars. Casting the situation as a PR problem, McCaffrey notes: "During the first 18 months of the war on terror, there were widespread, systematic abuses of detainees under U.S. control in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. Some were murdered and hundreds were tortured.
"Much of the international community views the Guantanamo Detention Center as a place of shame and routine violation of human rights. . . . There is now no possible political support for Guantanamo going forward."
McCaffrey wants Bush to "dump" most of his prisoners--anywhere but stateside. And he wants to keep Gitmo open: "The great value of the platform of Guantanamo was that it was a military space in which no Federal District Court had primary jurisdiction. For that reason alone, Gitmo has over the past 45 years been the location of choice for . . . secret operations.
"It was the perfect deal. No more."