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(DV) Whitney: Guantanamo -- The New-World Icon







Guantanamo: The New-World Icon
by Mike Whitney
June 23, 2005

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Most of the inmates “have never eaten better…have never been treated better…courtesy of the American taxpayer.”

-- Duncan Hunter, chairman of the US House Armed Services Committee, defending allegations of mistreatment at Guantanamo Bay.

We can add a new chapter to the Bush Administration’s war on free speech as it was revealed yesterday that an Al Jazeera cameraman has been in custody for three years at Guantanamo Bay. Al-Hajj, a Sudanese national, was arrested in Afghanistan in 2001 and has remained in prison without being charged for four years.

Is this what Rumsfeld breezily refers to as the “worst of the worst”? If so, independent journalists around the world should take note.

The report of Al-Haj’s unlawful detention comes on the heels of a growing furor over eyewitness accounts of torture at Gitmo and an outcry from human rights groups (and members of Congress) to close down the facility.

Amnesty International, who referred to the prison as “the gulag of our times,” has again been vindicated in its claims by these new charges that Al-Haj “has suffered extreme physical, sexual and religious abuse,” charges that are consistent with other reports that the US is practicing “systematic” abuse of detainees.

Attorney Clive Stafford-Smith, who visited clients at Guantanamo two weeks ago, said, “Sami Al-Hajj had been beaten by his interrogators…. He has been beaten. He had a huge scar on his face when I saw him.” (Al Jazeera)

“He is completely innocent,” said Stafford-Smith. “He is about as much of a terrorist as my granddad. The only reason he has been treated like he has is because he is an Aljazeera journalist. The Americans have tried to make him an informant with the goal of getting him to say that Aljazeera is linked to al-Qaida.”

Stafford-Smith’s claims seem more credible given the open hostility of the Bush Administration, and particularly Donald Rumsfeld, towards Al Jazeera. Rumsfeld ordered the bombing of Al Jazeera’s news facilities in Kabul and Baghdad (even though the US military had been given the facilities’ coordinates by Al Jazeera). In the siege of Baghdad an F-16 launched a direct hit on the Al Jazeera station, killing veteran journalist Tariq Ayoub, even though there was no indication of fighting in the area. Many consider the attack to be a “premeditated” act of murder.

Rumsfeld continued his attack on Al Jazeera last week with a rambling harangue completely divorced from the facts. At a security conference in Singapore he said, “if anyone lived in the Middle East and watched a network like the Aljazeera day after day after day, even if he was an American, he would start waking up and asking what's wrong.” “But America is not wrong. It's the people who are going on television chopping off people's heads, that is wrong,” he said.

In fact, Al Jazeera has never broadcast images of hostages being beheaded. The video of Nick Berg’s execution appeared on an independent web site. But, by now, we know that the facts are of little concern to Rumsfeld; what he wants is uniformity of opinion and a narrative that reflects the positive aspects of America’s aggression in Iraq. To that end, he has enlisted the support of America’s “embedded” journalists and intentionally targets anyone who veers from the accepted storyline. (Presently, at least 8 journalists are being detained by the US in Iraq, some of whom, apparently, have stories and footage of Rumsfeld’s Dresden-type destruction of Falluja)

Guantanamo’s Apologists

In the last week Donald Rumsfeld and VP Dick Cheney have defended Guantanamo publicly claiming it’s an indispensable part of the war on terror. General Richard Meyers went as far to say that it was a “model facility”; an appraisal that is strikingly at odds with the reports of torture and the mistreatment of prisoners. Right-wing columnist Charles Krauthammer, a dependable source for absurd commentary, noted that treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo was “remarkably humane and tolerant.” (This from a pundit whose anti-Arab sentiments have deep roots and a long history) Neither Cheney, Rumsfeld, Meyers nor Krauthammer addressed the numerous accounts of prisoners “chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more.” (FBI report, quoted in Dissident Voice, January 11, 2005)

Never the less, the debate over Guantanamo is not about to disappear anytime soon. Even supporters of the war in Iraq, like Tom Friedman and Senator Joe Biden, understand that the prison has been a public relations nightmare that has emboldened America’s enemies and put American soldiers at greater risk.

In a June 21 article in the New York Times, Anthony Lewis chronicles some of the incidents of cruelty at Guantanamo and notes the violations to the Geneva Conventions which prohibit “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment.” He also refers the less frequently mentioned United Nations Convention against Torture which requires the US to “prevent in any territory under its jurisdiction…. cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.” The Bush Administration has painstakingly constructed legal arguments that refute the applicability of both conventions, strongly suggesting that they are willfully engaged in war crimes.

To fully appreciate the depravity of the Bush claque, we only need to visit the Rush Limbaugh web site, where the drug-addicted spokesman for the administration is currently hawking T-shirts (orange: “I got my free Koran and Prayer Rug at G’itmo”) and baseball caps (orange: “Camp G’itmo”) in an public relations scheme to trivialize the horrors of systematic torture of detainees in US custody. Limbaugh has always been at the forefront of apologists for the abuse of prisoners. During the Abu Ghraib scandal he defended the conduct of the military by saying that “they were just blowing off steam.” Perhaps, Limbaugh finds something uplifting about being “sodomized with a chemical light” or having “electrodes attached to his penis to simulate electric torture,” it’s impossible to know. But, for most sane people, these are conspicuous acts of barbarism for which the perpetrators must be held accountable.

Plan Gitmo

Despite widespread condemnation, the Bush Administration will never abandon the Guantanamo concentration camp. As Amnesty International’s Curt Goering puts it, the administration “plans to memorialize in bricks and mortar its decision to operate outside of the law.” This is precisely the case. Guantanamo is emblematic of a militarized world stripped of humanity or justice. It looms as the salient icon of the new world order.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at:

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