Four members of Witness Against Torture were found guilty in a jury trial at D.C. Superior Court on January 5, 2012. The jury brought back guilty verdicts in the cases of defendants Brian Hynes of the Bronx, NY, Mike Levinson of White Plains, NY, Judith Kelly of Arlington, Virginia, and Carmen Trotta of New York City, NY. Josie Setzler of Fremont, Ohio was acquitted mid-trial after the prosecution’s witnesses failed to identify her.
The demonstrators were charged with one count of disorderly and disruptive conduct on Capitol grounds. The charges stemmed from protests against a Defense Appropriations Bill—a precursor to the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA)—that took place in the citizen’s gallery at the House of Representatives on June 23, 2011. The protests were in response to provisions in the bill that make it essentially impossible to close the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and that legalize indefinite detention.
Prior to the start of the trial, the Prosecutor Brandon Long asked District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Gerald Fisher to disallow any statements regarding Guantánamo into the courtroom fearing that mentioning the detention center and the torture that occurred there “could possibly inflame the jury”. Judge Fisher readily agreed, saying, “Speaking about Guantánamo is inappropriate for the purposes of this trial.” Carmen Trotta responded that it was vital for him to mention Guantánamo Bay because “due process everywhere is being threatened and we have the privilege of due process here, right now.” The judge rejected Trotta’s argument, saying, he “does not want an improper politicization of the defendants’ charge.”
When I was down in Guantánamo a few months ago, a veteran German journalist let it slip that she didn’t much care for the place. “This,” she confided in me, and many of the other journalists there as well, “is the worst place I have ever visited in my entirecareer.”
It’s not hard to see why my superlative-loving friend felt this way: we were covering the case of Omar Khadr, a 15-year-old Canadian captured after a firefight with U.S. forces outside Kabul in July 2002, tortured and interrogated for a few months at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, then transported to Guantánamo. He just reached a plea agreement that will avoid a trial before a military commission at Gitmo for five “war crimes.” Four of them, freshly invented for the occasion, are not recognized as war crimes in any other court on the planet. (Khadr pled guilty to all charges and will get at least one year more at Gitmo — in solitary — then perhaps be transferred to Canada for a remaining seven years.)
Aside from Khadr and about 130 other prisoners who may one day see a trial, Guantánamo also holds 47 more War on Terror prisoners who are expected to be “detained” indefinitely without being tried at all. This was one of the radical policies of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney that is now cheerfully defended by the human rights grandees in Barack Obama’s State Department.
Gitmo and all other places without habeas corpus rights are indeed dismal places — and there is certainly something disgusting about the first conviction of a child soldier since World War II. All the same, I couldn’t help but wonder if my vehement Kollegin had ever visited a homegrown federal prison like the one in Terre Haute, Indiana (whose maximum security wing was copied down to the smallest detail at Gitmo’s Camp 5), or even your run-of-the-mill overcrowded state lock-up, the kind you pass on the highway without even noticing that you’ve done so, or one of the crumbling youth detention facilities in New York State which, as we lawyers who have represented youth offenders know, are hellish.
Omar Khadr, the only Canadian citizen in Guantánamo, was seized in Afghanistan on July 27, 2002, when he was just 15 years old. On September 19 he turned 24, and has grown, physically, into a man during the eight years and two months he has spent in US custody, first at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, and, since October 2002, at Guantánamo. At heart, however, he remains a child, whose youth has been stolen from him by the US authorities responsible for detaining him, and by the Canadian government, which has refused to demand his return.
In order to reveal something about the salience of incoherence in today’s world, let’s examine this recent event:
On May 21st, the Appeals Court for the District of Columbia ruled that detainees at Bagram do not have the right to habeas corpus; that is, the right to challenge their detention; that is, the same right that was extended to Guantanamo detainees in two separate Supreme Court rulings, Rasul (2004) and Boumediene (2008). The Bagram decision was based on reasoning that because the prison is located in Afghanistan – a zone of active combat – the precedent in Boumediene, concerning Guantanamo Bay, cannot be applied. Additionally, the Court ruled that while the United States, in maintaining full and complete control over Guantanamo Bay for over a century, was constitutionally required to provide detainees with the right to challenge their detention, the status of Bagram was a different case because the U.S. does not intend to maintain control over Bagram with any “permanence.” At first, the logic of the court, which is grounded in Supreme Court precedent, ‘may’ sound compelling to the reader, but this is where things get sticky…..
I spent Martin Luther King, Jr’s birthday in Washington, D.C. as part of the Witness Against Torture fast, which campaigns to end all forms of torture and has worked steadily for an end to indefinite detention of people imprisoned in Guantanamo, Bagram, and other secret sites where the U.S. has held and tortured prisoners. We’re on day 9 of a twelve day fast to shut down Guantanamo, end torture, and build justice.
The community gathered for the fast has grown over the past week. This means, however, that as more people sleep on the floor of St. Stephen’s church, there is a rising cacophony of snoring. Our good friend, Fr. Bill Pickard, suggested trying to hear the snores as an orchestra, when I told him I’d slept fitfully last night.
There is a young boy in Mir Ali, a town in North Waziristan, in Pakistan, who also lies awake at night, unable to sleep. Israr Khan Dawar is 17 years old. He told an AP reporter, on January 14th, that he and his family and friends had gotten used to the drones. But now, at night, the sound grows louder and the drones are flying closer, so he and his family realize they could be a target. He braces himself in fear of an attack.
The BBC recently arranged a meeting between Brandon Neely, a former Guantanamo Bay guard, and two former Guantanamo detainees, Shafiq Rasul and Ruhal Ahmed. Both Rasul and Ahmed were released from Guantanamo in 2004 after being detained there for two years. Back then, Ahmed, Rasul and Neely were all 22 years old.
Neely served as an officer at Guantanamo for 6 months before leaving to serve in Iraq. Having quit the army in 2005, Neely admits that it was only after he left the military that he began questioning the government’s claim that prisoners at Guantanamo constituted the “worst of the worst”.
The decision to meet came about as a result of Facebook, which Neely used in order to get in contact with Rasul and Ahmed early last year. Upon receiving a message of apology from Neely, Ahmed explains: “At first I couldn’t believe it. Getting a message from an ex-guard saying that what happened to us in Guantanamo was wrong was surprising more than anything.”
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) has an action alert on the New York Times‘ Pentagon Propaganda, detailing its misleading report on Guantánamo and terrorism. This comes as the same paper last year published David Barstow’s revelations about the Pentagon’s hidden hand in “news” coverage to generate pro-war propaganda and favourable coverage for the Bush administration, for which he has won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. (See also this interview on Democracy Now earlier this month). The NYT continues to try to have it both ways: (selectively) exposing propaganda as well as exercising it as an extension of the US military and political establishment. FAIR does well to keep the scrutiny turned right up:
While former Vice President Dick Cheney has been front and center in the media debate over the current White House’s national security policies, he’s not the only one trying to challenge the White House’s message. The New York Times published a front-page article (5/21/09) that bolstered the notion that former Guantánamo prisoners “return” to terrorist activity.
The remarkably credulous Times story, under the headline “1 in 7 Freed Detainees Rejoins Fight, Report Finds,” was based on a Pentagon report leaked to the paper before its release yesterday evening. The article emphasized the notion that former prisoners “returned to terrorism or militant activity”–without adequately explaining the definition of either term, or examining whether those former detainees were ever “terrorists” in the first place.