Twenty-five is the number of detainees left in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, out of the original 800 sent there by the Bush administration. This means that over 95 percent of the supposed worst of the worst were in fact innocent. Hence, it’s no wonder that in the mind of any objective person, the legacy of Camp Delta will be a disgraceful one characterized by torture and unjustified incarceration.
It’s also no wonder that true to his promise, President Obama has ordered a halt in proceedings of the special military tribunals set up by the previous administration. This initial step will hopefully culminate in the eventual closing of the camp itself. Yet it’s the manner through which the new administration goes about closing the camp that will show whether they closed it because they believed the conditions there were inhuman and the pretexts unjust, or because the camp has become too much of a political burden.
They must ensure that there isn’t any continued imprisonment of the detainees in other prisons, whether military or civilian, without giving them fair and public trials. Furthermore, the defendants must have the right to know the evidence against them, even if the CIA and the military believe it should remain classified. It is ludicrous to expect civilians to go into witness protection but still testify and not expect intelligence operatives to endure the same risk in order to ensure that those who pose a threat to the American public remain behind bars. Also, the lawyers of those held captive in Guantanamo should no longer be required to prove the innocence of their clients. Instead, the position of the court should be the assumption of innocence until guilt is proven.
They must also put a stop to the policy of pretending that those who were held at Guantanamo for years without charge and then released don’t exist. They must receive appropriate reparations and apologies for the unjust pain and suffering they endured. A clear example of one of these people is Sami al Haj, a cameraman for Al-Jazeera who was held in Guantanamo Bay without charge for six years. He was released last year and dropped off in Sudan in miserable health without even an apology.
Also, the testimonies of those released from the prison camp must be heard and action taken to punish those responsible for the suffering they endured. They must not be told the suffering they endured was justified because of mere suspicion or because of the extraordinary circumstances of the “post-9/11 world.”
And the administration shouldn’t stop there. Related policies such as rendition — where suspects are handed off to countries like Morocco, Jordan and Syria to be tortured using methods American interrogators are still not allowed to use — need to stop. Those who were victims should receive formal and full apologies and appropriate reparations. And for those who are skeptical of the validity of the claim that the U.S. government would do such a thing to innocent people, I present the example of Maher Arar.
He is a Canadian citizen who was rendered to Syria by the U.S. and regularly tortured for almost a year. After his release to Canada he was publicly cleared by the Canadian government of any wrongdoing and received a $10.5 million settlement and a formal apology from the Canadian Prime Minister Steven Harper. Yet even after he was cleared by both the Canadian and Syrian governments, the previous administration still maintained him and his family on the terror watch list and the Bush White House still refused to apologize or admit any wrongdoing.
Yet in the midst of the pain and suffering, there still remains a glimmer of hope that this legacy will not be the only deciding factor in how the United States is viewed abroad. I, for one, will never forget the answer ex-Guantanamo prisoner Juma Mohammed Al Dossary gave when asked of his memories of the camp. He said that though his detention was filled with suffering caused by severe sleep deprivation and prolonged exposure to frigid cold and hunger, the moment which stuck out in his mind the most was when, during one of the numerous periods of sleep deprivation, an American guard approached him at night and gave him some cookies and a warm drink. When he thanked him, the soldier said he wasn’t after praise, but he hoped instead that Al Dossary would keep in mind that not all Americans approve of what he’s going through and that most of them would stand against it if they knew.
Indeed it is the good nature of the majority of the American people that enables an incoming president to boldly promise to close an institution so closely tied to the post-9/11 war efforts a mere seven years after the tragic events themselves. Yet one can’t help but wonder how much earlier it would have been closed had the American people been adequately informed of the magnitude of the atrocities committed there, in their name.
Ammar Al-Marzouqi ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in computer science.