Guantanamo Bay atrocities will hurt U.S. most in the end

Amy KnopNarbutis

In mid-August of 2003, nearly two dozen prisoners of Camp Delta attempted to strangle themselves to death with their clothing and other items found in their cells. This violent mass protest was a desperate attempt to draw attention to the unjust and inhumane practices occurring in Camp Delta. Camp Delta, a naval based located in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, holds about 550 men of varying nationalities who have been deemed “enemy combatants” of the United States by suspect legal processes. Many of the detainees have been held in Guantánamo Bay for more than four years. Denied access to legal counsel and, until this past summer, denied the right to challenge indefinite detention without charge, these prisoners are suffering in what U.S. government officials have called the “legal equivalent of outer space.” Camp Delta is located on Cuban soil, so the

Bush administration, in an egregious violation of international law, has claimed that because the prisoners were captured and held on foreign soil, they have no claim to basic civil rights.

Until the June 2004 Supreme Court decision, which ruled that the military must have a lawful hearing before charging prisoners, the Bush Administration had indefinitely held detainees under the title “enemy combatant” without providing one shred of evidence that they had ever engaged in combat or acts of terrorism. The Bush Administration responded by creating the Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT), a panel of three military officers who confirm or reject each prisoner’s status as an “enemy combatant.” This is not the sort of “competent tribunal” required by the Third Geneva Convention, which created international laws requiring that prisoners of war receive just individual hearings.

This past Monday (Jan. 31), U.S. District Judge Joyce Hens Green ruled that these military tribunals are illegal. The detainees are not represented by lawyers, have few legal rights and are tortured or abused during interrogations, being pressured to confess to crimes they may not have committed.

The Bush Administration is setting a dangerous precedent by claiming that basic human rights, such as protection against arbitrary arrest and torture, are open to personal interpretation.

The actions of Bush’s Administration have created an atmosphere of international distrust and disrespect that could prove dangerous to Americans. As long as we deprive our foreign prisoners of legal rights, we give other countries the right to do the same to American prisoners. Several retired military officials have warned that the precedent set in Guantánamo will hurt America in the long run by encouraging other countries to ignore laws concerning prisoners of war and “thereby put the lives of American prisoners at risk.”

Not only are the detainees of Camp Delta illegally held, but they are also subject to inhumane conditions.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has publicly stated that the severe conditions of imprisonment have caused many of the detainees to decline in health. Abdullah Tabarak, who was transferred from Camp Delta in August, suffers from insomnia and continuous nightmares as a result of the beatings, forcible injections and solitary confinement he suffered in Guantánamo.

Other prisoners told Amnesty International about torture techniques involving short shackling, extreme temperatures, and sleep deprivation so extreme that it caused blood to flow out of the nose and ears of the prisoners. One prisoner from the United Kingdom, Moazzam Begg, was held in isolation for 600 days.

Internationally, this situation has caused much controversy. Many have charged the United States with hypocrisy for imposing democratic ideals upon other countries while ignoring these principles at home.

In the words of Judge Green, “Although this nation unquestionably must take strong action under the leadership of the commander in chief to protect itself against enormous and unprecedented threats, that necessity cannot negate the existence of the most basic fundamental rights for which the people of this country have fought and died for well over 200 years.”