On Guantanamo Prison Camp’s Fifth Birthday, New Pressure to Shut It Down

by Aaron Glantz

An international delegation arrived in Cuba this week to call for the closure of the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay. The protest is part of the January 11 International Day to Shut Down Guantanamo, during which many groups in the United States and abroad are expected to rally thousands of human rights activists.

January 11 is the 5-year anniversary of the first prisoners being sent to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp.

“From the beginning this was a prison that was set up without any kind of due process,” Medea Benjamin of the women-for-peace group Code Pink told OneWorld from Havana. “People in prison have no access to see their family members. It took a long time for them to even have lawyers and those lawyers don’t even have access to their clients.”

“Most of them have no charges against them, and none of them have had a fair trial,” Benjamin added.

The 12-person delegation organized by Code Pink also includes U.S. “peace mom” Cindy Sheehan whose son was killed in the war in Iraq; Adele Welty whose firefighter son was killed on 9/11; retired U.S. colonel and diplomat Ann Wright who resigned over the invasion of Iraq; and legal director of the U.S. Center for Constitutional Rights Bill Goodman who has taken the cases of Guantanamo detainees to the U.S. Supreme Court.

On Thursday, the group will walk to the gates of the Guantanamo prison from the Cuban side. They had petitioned for access to the prison itself but were denied.

Protests are also planned outside the U.S. military’s Southern Command in Miami, outside the Capitol in Washington, DC, and at international capitol buildings worldwide.

The London-based rights group Amnesty International will also be rallying activists around the world Thursday, while New York-based Human Rights Watch is asking its supporters to contact their congressional representatives and local newspapers.

Jen Daskal, the Washington lobbyist for Human Rights Watch, told OneWorld that activists are pushing the newly formed Democratic-led Congress to restore the right of habeas corpus to Guantanamo detainees. President Bush stripped so-called “unlawful enemy combatants” of that right last year when he signed the Military Commissions Act.

“Habeas is one of the oldest and most important checks on arbitrary executive power,” she said. “It dates back to the days of the early English kings. At that time it assured that the king couldn’t just throw somebody in the dungeon without having an independent review of their detention.”

“By passing a law saying that these detainees could not access the courts,” Daskal said, “Congress essentially cut off one of the most important checks for keeping the government accountable.”

Daskal is optimistic the new Congress will pass a bill restoring habeas corpus rights this year. The Republican and Democratic leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee have already introduced a bill to reinstate the right. Last year a similar measure failed by only two votes.

“It’s a high priority for the Democrats and for many Republicans,” she said. “There’s a growing awareness that stripping detainees of the right to challenge their detention is bad policy.”

Five years after the first prisoners arrived at Guantanamo, not a single inmate has been convicted of any criminal charge. Hundreds have been released without charge or any form of compensation for the many years they were detained at the prison camp.

Joshua Colangelo-Bryan, a lawyer whose firm represents Guantanamo detainees from Bahrain, told OneWorld that clients he thought might have a connection to terrorism have been released, while those who appear to be guilty of nothing remain in custody.

One client, Jum’ah Mohammed Abdul Latif al-Dossari, was seized in Pakistan in December 2001 and has been in American custody ever since.

When he was first brought into American custody on a U.S. base in Afghanistan, Colangelo-Bryan wrote, “Mr. al-Dossari and other detainees were put in a row on the ground in a tent. U.S. Marines urinated on the detainees and put cigarettes out on them….A U.S. soldier pushed Mr. al-Dossari’s head into the ground violently and other soldiers walked on him.”

On his way to the interrogation room, the lawyer said, al-Dossari “was made to walk barefoot over barbed wire and his head was pushed to the ground on broken glass.”

Inside the interrogation room al-Dossari was allegedly electrically shocked, spat upon, and doused over the head with a very hot liquid.

Five years later, al-Dossari remains incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay. He has never been charged with any crime.

The U.S. military has told his lawyers that al-Dossari is being held for being in Tora Bora, where U.S. forces allegedly had trapped Osama bin Laden in the fall of 2001, a charge that perplexes the Bahrainian’s American lawyer.

“I don’t know what that means,” attorney Colangelo-Bryan told OneWorld. “It doesn’t tell me when he was supposedly at Tora Bora. It doesn’t say what if anything he supposedly did there. It doesn’t say with whom–if anyone–he was there. It’s wholly lacking in the sort of detail that would be necessary to find that someone is an enemy combatant, even under the government’s definition of that term.”

Colangelo-Bryan told OneWorld that none of his clients have been interrogated for over a year.

In the meantime, al-Dossari has reportedly become suicidal and the military has placed him in solitary confinement. The only other prisoner he is allowed to see, Colangelo-Bryan said, is an exercise partner who has shown signs of severe mental illness.

Al-Dossari is one of hundreds of prisoners currently held in isolation at Guantanamo Bay.

“We’re talking about a group of people who have not been charged with crimes, who will likely never be charged with crimes and for whom no individualized determination has been made that they need to be kept in isolation,” Colangelo-Bryan noted. “To hold hundreds of people indiscriminately in isolation perhaps for the rest of their lives without charging them with any crime is not justice.”


Filed in: Advocacy, Media Coverage, Rule of Law: Guantanamo and Civil Liberties

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