Sunday, May 08, 2005

Guantanamo Bay: Justice delayed is justice denied

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post called Guantanamo Bay: the Decline of American Ideals.

Last week's Time magazine has a very interesting article about a book from Erik Saar called Inside the Wire, a first-person account of the conditions inside the Camp Delta prison in Guantanamo Bay, where Saar served as a military translator for six months.

Here is an excerpt from the Time article:

A doctor was kneeling next to the detainee, and Adam went and knelt next to him. I heard them telling the captive, a Bahraini named Halim, that he was going to be all right. On the ground outside the shower I noticed a pool of dark red blood; the detainee had apparently cut his wrists with a razor. Sitting on the cellblock steps was a trembling National Guardsman, a kid of no more than 19, trying to calm his nerves with a cigarette.

An MP summoned me over to the shower. There was another puddle of blood, with more smeared on the wall. I realized that the blood on the wall was writing. The senior officer asked me to translate. "Sir, it reads: 'I committed suicide because of the brutality of my oppressors,'" I said. The young soldier cowering on the steps had been tasked with monitoring the detainee. When he heard me, he looked horrified. I could see he was blaming himself for the carnage, and I walked over to him. "This wasn't your fault," I said.

Saar goes on to talk about how there have been a large number of suicide attempts by detainees in Guantanamo Bay, many of which were categorized by the military as "manipulative self-injurious behavior" or "self-harm incidents", including one type called "hanging gestures". Hanging gestures??? Ahh... "newspeak", fresh out of the book 1984. George Orwell would be so proud. Next, you'll hear about how the guards are helping prisoners to lose weight on the trendy "Hunger Strike Diet Plan".

Let's think about this for a minute: how desperate does a man really need to be to take his own life, to throw away his entire future on Earth for nothing? That man would need to feel like he is living through hell on Earth, with no prospects for ever leaving this man-made hell.

I had mixed feelings reading this article. On one side, it is easy to feel a sense of vindication, knowing that some of the miscreants who perpetrated 9/11 are rotting in this place. No punishment is too severe for those bastards. On the other hand, it is troubling to think that some of the people who have been swept up into this pit may not be so deserving. Some of the people in Guantanamo Bay did nothing wrong except fighting for the wrong side in a war, and some may have not even done that. Over the past two years, a number of people have been taken from Guantamamo Bay and handed over to their home countries, only to be released without charge. How many more innocent people were swept up with the guilty, and are still rotting their lives away in the hell of Guantanamo Bay?

The American justice system was built on the premise that it is better to let a hundred guilty men go free than to wrongfully convict one innocent man. However, in the war on terror, the focus on protecting Americans from terrorists seems to have flipped this principle on its head: that it is better to imprison a hundred innocent men than to wrongfully release one guilty man.

What is needed to set this right is speedy trials for those men who are imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, to divide the innocent from the guilty. Let the guilty ones rot in jail, but let the innocent ones go back to their families. Many of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay have been imprisoned for nearly four years, without trial, without seeing their loved ones, and without any indication of when they may have their day in court. Dragging this process out does nothing but to delay freedom for innocent men, and jeopardize the government's case for convicting guilty men as witnesses' memories fade. It is time to get this justice process moving for prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.