Guantanamo: Twelve Years of Torture, Illegality, and Shame

A litany of physical injuries, psychological deterioration, and illnesses caused by the conditions of the last 12 years are fully documented and are an indictment of all those responsible at every level of US government and military…

Twelve years have passed since the US government of President George Bush made the dramatic decision to ignore half a century of international law, abrogate the Geneva Conventions and bring us to a place today where 164 men who have never been tried and 84 of whom have been cleared for release, are still in Guantanamo Bay prison.

The horror of the place cannot truly be conveyed in words. Fifteen men are being daily force fed, in contravention of medical ethics. The current hunger strike has lasted since February and at one time involved two thirds of the prisoners. Men became skin and bones, according to their lawyers, one of who has an on-going court case to get an independent doctor into the prison to assess his failing client. Violence is a daily norm with invasive body searches and manhandling of prisoners in and out of cells by special teams of heavy soldiers in body armour. Solitary confinement for many has lasted months or years. A litany of physical injuries, psychological deterioration, and illnesses caused by the conditions of the last 12 years are fully documented and are an indictment of all those responsible at every level of US government and military.

Guantanamo is the symbol of the new normality imposed on our world since that reckless Bush-era phrase was coined — the war on terror. The notorious Abu Ghraib photographs of US abuse in Iraq in 2004 had their origins in the personnel and practices authorized by the Bush White House in Bagram, Kandahar and Guantanamo.

Key elements of US practice: prisoners held indefinitely and without charge or trial; the Geneva Conventions ignored; torture and abuse widespread; the judiciary politicized; are a step backwards for civilization as they encourage every other country similarly to normalize abuse of human beings. The results are visible daily in Palestine, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, for instance. And the killing of civilians by US drones in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia is part of the pattern where civilians are treated as if they are combatants.

There is however a lawyer-led fight-back in the US against all this, which is significant and in marked contrast to the apathy or vindictiveness of politicians who have not studied the issue and accept the unacceptable status quo. Over these nearly 12 years hundreds of US lawyers, as well as many elsewhere too, have worked tirelessly to get due process for Guantanamo prisoners, first under the Bush administration and then under President Obama, but have been knocked back again and again by appeals from the government lawyers over cases won. Back in 2004 the US Supreme Court gave the prisoners the right to habeas corpus hearings in US courts. A handful prevailed in the district court and the government did not appeal, instead sending the men home. But no district court decision in favour of a prisoner survived review by the higher court.

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