Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In the Name of Giuseppe

The use of the detention camp located at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba for "foreign combatants" seized in Afghanistan and elsewhere beginning in 2002 was calculated not only to contravene U.S. law but, it was hoped, to neutralize all potential criticism. Its existence is thanks largely to semantics - to the use of terms like foreign combatant, which is supposed to eliminate the consideration of people captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere as prisoners of war, which would make their treatment subject to - in a civilized country - the binding restrictions of the Geneva Conventions. The presence of the prisoners on foreign soil, at a military outpost in Cuba, is further proof of the circumvention of U.S. and international laws.

In 1974, cities in England were hit by a series of unprecedentedly vicious bomb attacks carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. So vicious that they provoked an unprecedented reaction from the British government. The Prevention of Terrorism Act made it possible for law enforcement to arrest individuals without warrants or reasonable suspicion and to detain them for up to 48 hours without being charged and without legal protection. The initial period of detention could be extended to five additional days by the British Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins. Two sets of people who became known as the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven were detained under the act, coerced to confess to involvement in the IRA bombings, and imprisoned. None of them was involved in any of the bombings. In 1989, members the Guildford Four, who had been given life sentences, were released when their cases were appealed and their sentences overturned. In 1991, the verdicts against the Maguire Seven were similarly repealed, even though they had already served out their sentences. One of the Maguire Seven was Giuseppe Conlon, whose only crime was that he was the father of Gerry Conlon, one of the Guildford Four, and that he had come from Belfast to help his son through his trial, died in prison in 1980. When Gerry Conlon was released, he vowed to clear his father's name of the charges against him. In 2005, British Prime Minister Tony Blair apologized to eleven people, including Giuseppe and Gerry Conlon, and, recognizing the stigma that still attaches to them for their false imprisonment, urged that "They deserve to be completely and publicly exonerated."(1)

It is not the existence of Gitmo, as it is called by people who cannot pronounce Guantánamo, as a detention center for foreign combatants on the island of Cuba that is most troubling to me. It is the guidelines, if any, for the capture, transportation, and imprisonment of the detainees at Guantánamo Bay that have to be scrutinized, reformed and/or repealed. Those guidelines were evidently so ambiguous and so broad as to allow the capture of several totally innocent people who were not engaged or even interested in any jihads, who just happened to be Muslim and in the wrong place at the wrong time.(2) As they are released in small numbers, and they are at last given a chance to tell their stories, it should contribute to the mark of shame against an administration that abused its power in too hasty and overzealous policies, in the manipulation of public opinion, and in the circumvention of completely acceptable and functioning and fair laws. One of the first acts that Barack Obama ordered on becoming president, on 22 January 2009, was the closure of the Guantánamo detention camp for foreign combatants. A year later, it remains open and operating.

(1) A report on the apology can be found here.
(2) "A few certain cases of egregious error have surfaced. And others present wrenching conflicts between fairness, justice, and security interests," wrote Benjamin Wittes in his article. Although he doubted that there were very many innocents among the detainees, he concluded that their release, along with some who were a probable threat to U.S. interests, was inevitable.


Anonymous said...

Would you release 100 detainees from Gitmo if you knew that some of them would be suicide bombers in Baghdad or Kabul or Karachi a month later?

Dan Harper said...

"Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?" Abraham talked the Lord down from fifty to just ten, and the Lord agreed, "I will not destroy it for ten's sake." As it happened, not one righteous was found there. But that was Sodom and Gomorrah.