The Guantanamo Legacy
As I write this letter I am sitting at my desk in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, at the office maintained for defense attorneys who represent men held at the Joint Task Force Detention Facility here. In a short time I will be on my way to visit my client, who has been detained there for over 10 years. In 18 months I have only seen him once, but that’s another story.
The issues relating to Guantanamo are many, and often too complex to interest the average person. But some are quite simple and worthy of mention. I therefore take this opportunity to comment not only on an article that recently appeared in the Advocate (“The Legal Hell of Gitmo,” June 21, 2012), but also on some other Guantanamo issues with which your readers may be unfamiliar.
News bulletin: Earlier today we learned that one previously convicted prisoner, Ibrahim al Qosi, and possibly five others had been released, among only a handful of detainees to be sprung in almost four years. At least that’s some good news.
Now for the bad news. Guantanamo remains a strange and sinister place. The climate is tropical, yet the beaches are barren and lonely. Decrepit buildings dot the post. Ruins of the old Camp X-Ray remain on the outskirts, barbed wire still ringing the deserted grounds. In the newer camps, detainees and their military minders go by numbers rather than names. An aura of detachment and dehumanization permeates the air.
In the 10 miserable years since Guantanamo became the twenty-first-century version of Devil’s Island, around 800 persons have been held there, ranging from teenagers to old men. As of today, only 163 remain incarcerated, including roughly 80 who are cleared for release. As the Advocate piece states, “… the [U.S.] government has admitted that 92 percent of the people detained at Guantanamo during the prison’s 10 years in operation had no connection with al Qaeda.” In fact, the vast majority of those released—and those still held to this day—were, quite simply, in the wrong place at the wrong time, victims of a cruel bounty hunt perpetrated by the U.S. and its agents during the initial phases of the global War on Terror.
Some people have actually remarked to me, “What do they (the detainees) have to complain about? They have three meals a day and a better life than back in their home countries.” I suppose these folks think that Guantanamo is some Club Med-like facility where it’s always summertime, and the living is easy. Many are under the misapprehension that Guantanamo only holds “the worst of the worst,” and that anyone held there deserves to be locked up… or worse. Yet nothing could be further from the truth.
While a handful of so-called “high-value detainees” are under charges for some pretty serious offenses, it should also be noted that less than a dozen men have faced formal legal proceedings in the years since the Military Commissions were established.
And what of the others, the forgotten dozens who have been ripped from their families and lives, who now dwell in Guantanamo’s legal twilight zone? Why then, you should wonder, do so many remain if they have been cleared for release? Why aren’t more being repatriated? What about habeas corpus; shouldn’t that be an option? That brings us back to Boumediene, wherein the majority [of Supreme Court justices] found that the constitutionally guaranteed right of habeas corpus review applies to those held in Guantanamo and to anyone designated an enemy combatant on that territory. But incredibly, in its decision of June 11 the Supreme Court seems to have shunned its own prior case law by refusing to grant certiorari to a lower court ruling which effectively overturned Boumediene.
Plainly stated, the essence of the legal paradigm shift since the Boumediene decision is that our courts are now more concerned with political justifications for sustaining the Guantanamo operation than with actual justice for the detainees. And concerning Judge Brown’s snide take on the “…airy suppositions.. [that] have… fundamentally altered the calculus of war”: at least two of the suppositions are now casualties of war. They apparently include the quaint presumption of innocence and the notion that it’s better to let 10 guilty men go free than to incarcerate one innocent man. This is the real “systemic cost of defending detention decisions.”
It has been previously remarked that we have entered an Orwellian era in which war is peace, good is evil, and war criminals (e.g. those affiliated with the previous administration) go free, while innocent men are detained. Where will it all end? If one is prepared to assert that the Constitution doesn’t apply to those in Guantanamo, how soon before the rest of us are impacted? Our cherished legal principles are being turned upside down if we presume guilt until proof of innocence, and deem it better to hold 10 innocent men in detention than risk one guilty man going free.
These matters will not be limited to the bedraggled souls now detained in an offshore prison. They will soon impact the civil liberties we all hold dear; the evil lies dormant in the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which would permit U.S. citizens to be indefinitely detained, with no legal recourse, under mere suspicion of “material support to terrorism.” What if we allow Congress to pass a law that strips someone of his citizenship merely upon suspicion of material support to terrorism? Will that allow the courts to deny him Constitutional protection?
Lt. Col. Lorraine Barlett
Judge Advocate General Corps
Office of the Chief Defense Counsel
Office of Military Commissions
ACA Not Busting Budget
The health care law [the Affordable Care Act] is expensive. But it is not breaking the budget. Military spending is breaking the budget. Canada, Great Britain and France are not participating in foreign wars because to do so, they would have to cut into domestic programs. If their governments do that, they will be out.
For many, the affordable health plan is all that they will have. The question is if those who depend on it will actually vote to support it.
Of all the things wrong in the United States, the right wing is picking on people’s health insurance. Romney cannot repeal the law, only Congress can do that. Federal law requires that hospitals treat people. The hospitals also want this law. They have uncollectible bills. In some cases they are going to court to take people’s assets, including their homes. The hospital does not want your house, it just wants to meet its expenses.
What is not mentioned is that in Canada there is less red tape. For instance, when we were visiting Montreal, our daughter came down with pink eye. In the U.S., the ointment is a prescription item. In a strange city, that means waiting all night in the emergency room. In Quebec, it is an over-the-counter item. The pharmacists told us that if she was not better in the morning, we needed to see a doctor. We were one of the 99 percent of the cases that got better in the morning. We spent about 15 minutes and $4.50 Canadian. In the U.S., it would have been at least $100 ( doctor visit, etc.). But the right wingers never mention that.
A recent cartoon in the Valley Advocate [The Optimist, June 28, 2012] shows a young man receiving communion from a Catholic priest, and expressing (via thought balloons) some extremely vulgar reactions. It’s often said that anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice, and this cartoon might be taken as a case in point.
What’s interesting, though, is that the scene is capable of being read quite differently. Here is a young man, his mind flooded with the crudest imaginable ideas about the sacrament he is (inexplicably) asking to receive, while the priest stands before him, dignified and serene, not sizing up the recipient but simply presenting the gift. Viewing the cartoon this way, one can only feel sorry for the young man who cannot appreciate the beauty and power of the sacrament J.R.R. Tolkien called “the one great thing to love on earth.” I can’t be sure that was the artist’s intention, but I hope that will be its effect on your readers.
Professor of World Religions
It seems that the only acceptable discrimination is against Catholicism. Your cartoon is offensive to me, my God and my religion. A public apology is in order.