Didn't recognize you without your jumpsuit
The French called it an embarrassment. Archbishop Desmond Tutu called it disgraceful. And the UN released an extensive report, backed by the EU, calling for its closure. It is Guantanamo Bay, the notorious US prison[*] facility set up in the Cuban outpost for housing 500 "enemy combatants," a term that itself illustrates the legal sleight of hand used to bypass the rules of conventional warfare.
For four years, the US has relied on the undefined status of the base to create conditions which could not be verified or challenged by anyone, leaving a string of subjective arguments as the only response to those concerned about fair trials or the Geneva Convention. "We have several hundred terrorists," said US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. "Bad people, people who if they went back out on the field would try to kill Americans." Despite this line of reasoning, many Guantanamo prisoners never even saw battle, according to a recent review of US government documents.
According to the Seton Hall University report, 55 percent of detainees were not accused of committing hostile acts against the US or UK, 16 percent were Taliban fighters, and only 8 percent were characterised as Al Qaeda fighters.
Many of the 250 detainees released (without any clarification of their detention) have confirmed these statistics (some in a new film, The Road to Guantanamo). Still, the US government and military remained doggedly insistent that the detention is legal.
"The vast majority of the people who are in Guantanamo are being held under the typical laws of war," said US State Department legal adviser John Bellinger (apparently forgetting the typical public trials mandated). Even America's junior coalition partner hiccuped, with Tony Blair calling Guantanamo an "anomaly" after a government minister implied that Blair agreed that it should be shut down. In fact, authorities did shut down the open-air "Camp X-Ray" part of the base that allowed provocative pictures of orange-jumpsuited prisoners (mirrored in numerous hostage videos from Iraq), in favour of an enclosed prison facility with near total seclusion for the remaining detainees.
White House Press Secretary commented that the UN drafting team refused to even visit the base (though he failed to mention that this was because the detainees couldn't be interviewed). "One of the detainees was able to provide key information relating to the London bombings," added a senior US military official at Guantanamo (On behalf of London, thanks for the advance warning). Despite the diplomatic protests and threadbare rationales, it seems unsure how much pressure would still be required to cause the US to throw in the towel.
The latest pictures from the original Abu Ghraib scandal released last week may offer an insight. "We felt that it was an invasion of the [Abu Ghraib] detainees themselves to have these photographs come out," said Bellinger, adding that it could also "fan the flames around the world and cause potentially further violence." Publicity beats morality every time. (More here)
*US prison camp at Guantanamo is an 'illegal' outpost on Cuban land.
[A picture of Guantanamo I took when I visited Cuba in Jan. 06]