Thursday, August 23, 2007

Five Myths About Guantanamo Bay

Guantanamo - Five Years Later: It's Time for Justice
Five Myths About Guantanamo Bay

MYTH: The detainees at Guantanamo are the “worst of the worst."
Fact: Few of the men sent to Guantanamo are the high-ranking al Qaeda or Taliban members the US government alleges them to be. Hundreds were not even involved in the conflict, but rather sold to the US by bounty hunters or turned over by rival clan members trying to settle a vendetta, while high level al Qaeda operatives with the money to buy their freedom got away. According to Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1999 until 2004, no more than 10 percent of those brought to Guantanamo Bay were considered high-value detainees.

MYTH: All the Guantanamo detainees are combatants who fought against the United States.
FACT: Many of them were not picked up on or anywhere near the battlefield. Detainees were taken into custody from 14 different countries, including Gambia, Bosnia, and Thailand. About half were taken into custody in Pakistan – and, as noted above, the thousands of dollars offered by the US to bounty hunters encouraged false arrests. According to US military records, the US has not even accused the majority of them of fighting US or coalition forces.

MYTH: All the Guantanamo detainees will be prosecuted.
FACT: Of the nearly 400 men still being held at Guantanamo (another 300 have been repatriated or released), only 10 have been charged with a crime. None have been convicted. The Bush administration now claims that it plans to bring charges against a total of 70 detainees under the military commissions approved by Congress this fall. This still leaves more than 300 detainees at Guantanamo who have never – and will never – be prosecuted. They are simply being held indefinitely without charge or trial. Most of the detainees have filed habeas corpus petitions in federal courts asking that a judge review the legality of their detention. Pressured by President Bush, Congress enacted legislation that bars the courts from hearing their habeas claims – or any other claim regarding their treatment. Absent a new law out of the new Congress or a decision by the Supreme Court that the denial of habeas is unconstitutional, the detainees could spend the rest of their lives behind bars, without trial or any independent review of the legality of their detention.

MYTH: All of the Guantanamo detainees have had fair hearings where they could contest their detention.
Fact: None of the detainees has been given a fair or impartial hearing to determine whether his detention is justified. The Bush administration claims that the summary hearings that have taken place before three military officers are a sufficient substitute for independent judicial review. The officers conducting these hearings have relied on secret, classified evidence that was presumed to be genuine and accurate but was never shown to the detainee. This put detainees in the impossible situation of rebutting evidence that they had never even seen and subjecting them to decisions made on the basis of untested evidence. In many cases the detainee was never even told what specific activities he was accused of doing that would supposedly make him an “enemy combatant.” Detainees were not allowed lawyers and in most cases were not able to produce any witnesses or evidence apart from their own statements.

MYTH: All of the Guantanamo detainees have been treated humanely.
FACT: Pentagon superiors, including then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, provided Guantanamo interrogators broad authority to use interrogation techniques that ranged from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment to outright torture. The practices included prolonged forced standing, extended sleep deprivation, painful stress positions, exposure to extreme heat and cold, and use of snarling dogs. One memo from an FBI officer who visited Guantanamo described detainees as being “chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water ... Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more.“ The military has since repudiated the use of such abusive interrogation techniques in a newly issued Army Field Manual.

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