America’s Bizarro Take on Guantánamo: Punish the Victims, Reward the Criminals

           A country that loudly and repeatedly expresses what it purports to be its principles, yet cavalierly ignores them on a whim, rightly earns the contempt of its own citizens and those of other nations, especially when the hypocritical government of that nation criticizes others for failing to adhere to their pompously proclaimed rules-based international order.

            Guantánamo Bay concentration camp epitomizes this phenomenon.

            Now in its third decade of operation under four presidents, Gitmo still houses 30 men. None of them has ever been charged in a court of law. Indeed, none of them ever will. It is a bedrock principle of American jurisprudence that we are all, citizens and non-citizens alike, presumed innocent until proven guilty. Which makes all 30 prisoners, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, as innocent as a newborn child as far as the law is concerned.

            For whatever it’s worth, the Pentagon itself says it has no evidence that half of these people committed a crime. They are all cleared for release, but the U.S. refuses to admit them and no other country has issued an invitation.

            These 30 innocent men and the 750 others who have cycled through and subsequently been released were kidnapped (after having been sold for a bounty in many cases), deprived of their constitutional right to a speedy trial and their right to legal counsel, tortured in order to deprive them of their right not to incriminate themselves, prohibited from receiving visits from family members and blocked from using a telephone. Unsurprisingly, the Red Cross has determined that these innocent men are “experiencing the symptoms of accelerated aging worsened by the cumulative effect of their experiences and years spent in detention.”

            According to The New York Times: “Lawyers for some of the prisoners, particularly those who spent years in harsh, secret CIA custody before Guantánamo, have said detainees have brain damage and disorders from blows and sleep deprivation, damaged gastrointestinal systems from rectal abuse and issues possibly linked to prolonged shackling and other confinement.”

            Linger on that: damaged gastrointestinal systems from rectal abuse. Nice rules-based international order you got there, Uncle Sam.

            Though he hasn’t made it a priority, President Biden would like to close Guantánamo. Toward that end, the military has talked to lawyers for some detainees. “Settlement talks are underway at the U.S. military court in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, that would allow alleged 9/11 architect Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants to plead guilty, avoid the death penalty, and serve life in prison—although some of them may try to negotiate lesser sentences,” NPR reported a year ago. There’s been no word since.

            This is an obscenity. A law-abiding society doesn’t negotiate a reduced sentence for innocent men. Innocent men are released. Innocent men released after having been mistreated are compensated financially and otherwise for having been abused and deprived of their rights.

            The Gitmo 30 should be released and brought to the United States if their home countries don’t want them or it’s dangerous for them to go back. They and the 750 former detainees should be housed, given healthcare and treatment for mental trauma, jobs if they want them, as well as generous financial compensation. The federal standard for compensating the wrongfully imprisoned is $50,000 per year of incarceration plus an additional amount for time spent on death row. Conditions at Guantánamo demand more.

            We do, however, need to punish those at Guantánamo—not the prisoners, who are innocent victims, but the guards and commanding officers. Anyone who has served at Guantánamo concentration camp is guilty of kidnapping, punishable by up to 20 years in prison under federal law. If two or more people conspire to commit kidnapping, which is plainly the case here, they face life imprisonment.

Everyone involved in keeping innocent people confined at Guantánamo should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This includes the last four presidents of the United States, generals, and others in the chain of command down to the guards, as well as lawyers like John Yoo, who authored convoluted legal opinions justifying kidnapping and torture. Let’s not forget the CIA agent-torturers who gleefully carried out “enhanced interrogation techniques” as well as their superior officers. Hey Democrats! Really want to get rid of Donald Trump? Here’s your chance.

Writing an essay like this annoys me. Calling for justice for the wronged and accountability for the evildoers, and pointing out that people are innocent until proven guilty, is kindergarten editorial commentary that takes away time and energy I ought to be devoting to complex policy issues. These concepts are so simple and self-evident that there should be no more need to express them than to announce in a newspaper that the sun will rise in the east tomorrow morning.

Yet I have to do it. No one else is talking about Gitmo. The American people don’t think, much less care, about what’s being done in their name and at their expense. Reality has been turned inside-out so thoroughly that seemingly otherwise sane journalists don’t see anything strange about America having its very own concentration camp, where 30 innocent people are trying to negotiate life imprisonment instead of execution, while those who actually committed crimes have suffered no punishment whatsoever. One torturer was subsequently appointed to run the CIA and is now a big-deal lawyer, while another is a top contender for the U.S. presidency!

The U.S. keeps talking about human rights—in other countries. People might start to pay attention if it closed Guantánamo, released its victims and prosecuted its employees.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, co-hosts the left-vs-right DMZ America podcast with fellow cartoonist Scott Stantis and co-hosts “The Final Countdown” radio show Mon-Fri 10 am – 12 noon ET. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)


  • alex_the_tired
    May 3, 2023 7:33 PM

    I will say (and then send it off to the Gitmo Bay that is “waiting for approval”) that I agree with almost everything Ted’s mentioned. However, a legal fiction was committed by the Cheney administration to keep the Gitmo prisoners from accessing constitutionally guaranteed protections IF they were on “U.S.” soil. Because they’re on a military base outside of the U.S., they are in a pocket universe where the constitution does not apply. Nor do the Geneva Conventions as they are not members of a foreign military during a time of declared war.

    What is being done is an atrocity. If they’re guilty, then let’s give them a fair trial, and, if they’re proven guilty, we can hang ’em all. Or lock them up forever. And if they aren’t, we can start trying to answer why we kept innocent men in prison for decades.

    I would think Germany, if no one else, you know, because of the war (whatever you do, don’t mention the war!), would be against concentration camps by now and offer admission to these men. Just to take a moral stance against arbitrary perpetual incarceration without trial.

    What have we become? I suppose we’ve become what we always had the potential to become.

  • As I understand it, the prisoners can’t be tried because they have been tortured. Whatever info they might have is inadmissible. They say all politics is local. Closing the base is political suicide. You become set up for attacks. “Soft on terrorism!” Not just the president, but their whole party.
    In addition, there are layers of people in the military and intelligence areas that would go crazy. And that could be dangerous.
    They call that permanent group of professional military and intelligence people who are dedicated to policy “the blob.” they owe their existence to constantly presenting a boogeyman for the country to fear. Terrorists, now China.
    Joking now, we could fill some of the empty cells with some of our “country club” white collar criminals.

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