November 17, 2005

Losing Face: An Update On Guantanamo


I doubt one could find a better image to symbolize the legal and political netherworld we’ve created at Gitmo.  And, with the news this week of the existence of secret American detention centers scattered throughout the world (link), the metaphor only get richer.  (The false note, of course, is that the prisoner is white, and wearing Western garb.  Clever move, though, for the military to kick off the parade through Guantanamo’s kangaroo court with an Aussie.)

This is a courtroom illustration of David Hicks (the "Australian Taliban") who is one of the first Gitmo prisoners to face a military trial in Cuba.  Although the drawing is from 2004, it was circulated on Tuesday after a District Judge  shut down the proceedings pending a Supreme Court ruling (only a year off, mind you) on the legality of such tribunals.

So, as the world’s beacon of justice, where do we currently stand regarding Bush’s elect detainees?  Well, if you could assign roles to the figures above, you could say it was the judicial branch with a grip on one arm of the prisoner, with the legislative branch trying to lead him away with the other.

More specifically though, there seems to be three groups of players
involved. There is the Pentagon/White House, the Congress, and the
Supremes. Here’s how I understand the story line: Early this week,
Rummy’s legions were set to drop the gavel on Hicks and a group of
others. That’s before they got shut down. That seemed to leave the
Supremes with the last say — but not before conservative Senators took
control on Tuesday by virtue of an amendment to a Defense spending
bill. That resulted in a plan which eliminated all rights of the
detainees to due process in U.S. courts. No longer asleep on the job,
however, Democrats forced a compromise which tweaked the legislation to
add back some limited rights. (…I won’t even start with how McCain’s
anti-torture amendment plays in to all this.)

So, as it stands now, we’re left with a political and
jurisdictional tug-of-war along with some primarily right wing
legislation which, according to a WAPO editorial,
still leaves ambiguous the terms under which detainees are held; what
rights they possess as "enemy combatants"; as well as what particulars
should govern military trials.

Meanwhile, back in Cuba, the situation at Gitmo seems
to be rapidly deteriorating. Among the more notable events: there is a
controversy going on over medical professionals assisting in
interrogations (link); one prisoner just attempted suicide for the ninth time (link);
about 35 of the approximately 500 prisoners are on a hunger strike
(although that number has been estimated by some sources to be as high
as 200) with 23 reported to be in the hospital, some prisoners being
force fed, and one near death (link); and the U.S. is resisting a deadline to allow U.N. inspectors full access to the detainees (link).

… Believe me, it’s a lot easier to talk about the pictures.

(By the way, motivated by this image and the
insightful comments and discussion contributed day-in and day-out by
The BAG’s thoughtful readership, I was inspired to propose a special
lapel pin in honor of the father of America’s rapidly growing world
wide political prison complex. You can view it

(image: AFP/POOL/File.  Guantanamo, Cuba. 2004.  Circulated November 15, 2005. Via YahooNews)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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