Thursday, February 03, 2005
We have by now all seen much of this material before, but reading it all in one piece, told by human voices in this book-length interview, is not easy to take. "Guantánamo: What the World Should Know" (Chelsea Green) – by Michael Ratner and Ellen Ray – becomes a heart-stopper once you cross the line and realize that you could be any of these victims.
It's hard to say which is more disgusting, the descriptions of the torture or the bone-chilling analyses of how the president of the United States gave himself the powers of an absolute military dictator. Under Military Order No. 1, which the president issued without congressional authority on November 13, 2001, George W. Bush has ordered people captured or detained from all over the world, flown to Guantánamo and tortured in a lawless zone where, the White House asserts, prisoners have no rights of any kind at all and can be kept forever at his pleasure. Despite the at-best marginal intervention of the American courts so far, there is no civilian judicial review, no due process of any kind.
While any military force will routinely violate the civil rights of anyone who gets in its way, Ratner's descriptions of how victims wound up in Guantánamo reveal wanton cruelty and callousness that will nauseate any sane human being.
Ratner writes: "A lot of the people picked up by warlords of the Northern Alliance were kept in metal shipping containers, so tightly packed that they had to ball themselves up, and the heat was unbearable. According to some detainees who were held in the containers and eventually released from Guantánamo, only a small number, thirty to fifty people in a container filled with three to four hundred people survived. And some of those released said that the Americans were in on this, that the Americans were shining lights on the containers. The people inside were suffocating, so the Northern Alliance soldiers shot holes into the containers, killing some of the prisoners inside."
Some prisoners were captured in battle; many others were picked up in random sweeps for no reason at all except being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As usual in these kinds of operations, some were turned in as a result of petty revenge or as an excuse to steal their property. When asked in court to explain the criteria for detention, the government had no answer. There were no criteria, it appears. "The government even made the ridiculous argument before the Supreme Court that the prisoners get to tell their side of the story, by being interrogated," Ratner reports.
Ratner notes that 134 of the 147 prisoners later released from Guantánamo were guilty of absolutely nothing. Only thirteen were sent on to jail. He believes it is possible that a substantial majority of the Guantánamo prisoners had nothing to do with any kind of terrorism. One prisoner released after a year claimed he was somewhere between ninety and one hundred years old, according to Ratner. Old, frail and incontinent, he wept constantly, shackled to a walker.