Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Gitmo Watch

Start with a "detention center" where "detainees" can't be told either that they have legal counsel, or that they are being represented in court:

The Yemeni captive who killed himself at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, had an attorney arranging to visit him in August, but did not know it when he committed suicide.

One of the Saudis, Mani Shaman al Utaybi, 30, had been approved for transfer to a jail back home, but also had never been told he was cleared to depart the U.S. detention center.

As the Pentagon was silent Thursday on the repatriation of the bodies of the three men from the island prison, their lawyers questioned whether their isolation and lack of knowledge about their status contributed to their deaths.

The three men hanged themselves in Camp 1 with nooses made from shredded bedsheets and towels on Saturday in what the military called a choreographed group suicide. Rear Adm. Harry Harris Jr., the camps' commander, described it as an act of "asymmetrical warfare."

But attorneys for the men_who the military initially said had no lawyers_say that had the detainees known of legal efforts on their behalf, they might be alive today.

"As far as we know he (Ali Abdullah Ahmed) did not know he had an attorney. We certainly never got through to him to advise him of that fact," said Dave Engelhardt of Washington, D.C., who had filed a habeas corpus petition for Ahmed, the 29- or 30-year-old Yemeni.

"Perhaps he would have not have committed suicide if he had known the facts of his representation of counsel and the progress that is being made in the American courts for the detainees."

In Yemen, Ahmed's father told the Associated Press did not believe his son, as a Muslim, would have committed suicide.
Notice how this story has slowly unravelled. From "publicity stunt" to "asymmetrical warfare" to " they had no legal counsel;" and the article points out that now the base is shut down to visits from either reporters or legal counsel for detainees, at the behest of Rumsfeld himself. One can only imagine what kind of pressure he was feeling to issue that order. The last quoted sentence also raises an entirely separate question. When considered in the light of what we know about deliberate attempts to denigrate the faith of the detainees, perhaps we succeeded better than we intended.

So what are we doing in Gitmo? That's part two: don't tell anyone, and don't let anyone know:

Rumsfeld's gatekeepers have long made clear that they view outside scrutiny of the detention operations as a danger to the Bush administration's secretive and often criticized campaign to indefinitely detain "enemy combatants." But this time, their actions seemed counterproductive because booting out the Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald and Charlotte (N.C.) Observer only provoked fresh demands to learn what the government is hiding.

What little we learn often comes to light by accident, through casual slips-of-the-lips by military doctors, lawyers and jailers innocently oblivious of their superiors' preference for spin. A battery of questions to the prison hospital commander — who for security reasons can't be identified — elicited that prisoners are force-fed through a nasal-gastric tube if they refuse to eat for three days and that 1,000 pills a day are dispensed to treat detainee ailments, anxiety and depression.

Those details became relevant when two prisoners attempted suicide May 18 by consuming hoarded prescription medications. Likewise, we understood why a hunger strike early this month began with 89 prisoners but swiftly fell off to a few defiant handfuls with the onset of painful and undignified force-feeding. During an interview last month with the new detention center commander, Rear Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., we queried him on plans for handling detainee deaths — a theoretical exercise until two Saudis and a Yemeni hung themselves June 10.

I've been to Guantanamo six times. It was during my first visit in January 2005 that I learned how expressions of polite interest in minute details can elicit some of the most startling revelations. As Naval Hospital commander Capt. John Edmundson showed off the 48-bed prison annex, for instance, I asked, apropos of nothing, if the facility had ever been at or near capacity.

"Only during the mass-hanging incident," the Navy doctor replied, provoking audible gasps and horrified expressions among the public affairs minders and op-sec — operational security — watchdogs in the entourage, none of whom were particularly pleased with the disclosure that 23 prisoners had attempted simultaneously to hang themselves with torn bed sheets in late 2003.

It is the opportunity to shed light into the dark corners of the antiterrorism campaign that inspires us to surmount the obstacles and obfuscations. And it is the thwarting of that mission with moves like our expulsion that make us all the more determined to question, probe and illuminate the actions of our government being waged in the country's name.
Sunlight, as we learned in Texas with our legislature, is antiseptic: it destroys corrupt governmental practices. Which is why Rumsfeld & Co. are creatures of the dark. In the darkness, of course, they are only hiding from themselves, and the inevitable:

"There is nothing covered up which will not be made known. Therefore everything you have said in the dark will be heard in broad daylight, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be shouted from the housetops."--Luke 12:2-3

An interview with Carol Williams is available here.

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