The Federal Inquisition

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

Guantánamo:
What the World Should Know

By Michael
Ratner and Ellen Ray
Chelsea
Green Publishing Company
184 pages

We
have by now all seen much of this material before, but reading it
all in one piece, told by human voices in this book-length interview,
is not easy to take. Guantánamo: What the World Should
Know becomes a heart-stopper once you cross the line and realize
that you could be any of these victims.

Michael
Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, is co-counsel
in Rasul v. Bush, the historic case of Guantánamo detainees
now before the U.S. Supreme Court. His interviewer, Ellen Ray, is
President of the Institute for Media Analysis, and a widely published
author and editor on U.S. intelligence and international politics.

It’s
hard to say which is more disgusting, the descriptions of the torture
or the bone-chilling analyses of how the president of the United
States gave himself the powers of an absolute military dictator.
Under Military Order No. 1, which the president issued without congressional
authority on November 13, 2001, George W. Bush has ordered people
captured or detained from all over the world, flown to Guantánamo
and tortured in a lawless zone where, the White House asserts, prisoners
have no rights of any kind at all and can be kept forever at his
pleasure. Despite the at-best marginal intervention of the American
courts so far, there is no civilian judicial review, no due process
of any kind.

While
any military force will routinely violate the civil rights of anyone
who gets in its way, Ratner’s descriptions of how victims wound
up in Guantánamo reveal wanton cruelty and callousness that
will nauseate any sane human being.

Ratner
writes: “A lot of the people picked up by warlords of the Northern
Alliance were kept in metal shipping containers, so tightly packed
that they had to ball themselves up, and the heat was unbearable.
According to some detainees who were held in the containers and
eventually released from Guantánamo, only a small number,
thirty to fifty people in a container filled with three to four
hundred people survived. And some of those released said that the
Americans were in on this, that the Americans were shining lights
on the containers. The people inside were suffocating, so the Northern
Alliance soldiers shot holes into the containers, killing some of
the prisoners inside.”

Some
prisoners were captured in battle; many others were picked up in
random sweeps for no reason at all except being in the wrong place
at the wrong time. As usual in these kinds of operations, some were
turned in as a result of petty revenge or as an excuse to steal
their property. When asked in court to explain the criteria for
detention, the government had no answer. There were no criteria,
it appears. “The government even made the ridiculous argument before
the Supreme Court that the prisoners get to tell their side of the
story, by being interrogated,” Ratner reports.

Ratner
notes that 134 of the 147 prisoners later released from Guantánamo
were guilty of absolutely nothing. Only thirteen were sent on to
jail. He believes it is possible that a substantial majority of
the Guantánamo prisoners had nothing to do with any kind
of terrorism. One prisoner released after a year claimed he was
somewhere between ninety and one hundred years old, according to
Ratner. Old, frail and incontinent, he wept constantly, shackled
to a walker.

So
what did the authorities get from those who survived? We will never
know, but we can guess from at least one incident in this book.
Ratner reports that the Guantánamo interrogators showed some
of his clients videotapes supposedly depicting them with Osama bin
Laden. At first they denied being in the videos, but they confessed
after prolonged interrogation under harsh conditions. Yet British
intelligence proved to the American government that the men were
actually in the United Kingdom when the tapes were made.

If
many of these people who died in custody or were tortured had committed
no crime, there is no doubt that they were all victims of crime,
whether guilty or not. Despite White House arguments to the contrary,
torture is a crime under international and United States law.

Under
United Nations Convention Against Torture, an international treaty
that almost every country in the world, including the United States,
has ratified, torture is an international crime. The United States
has made it a crime even if it occurs abroad.

“The
Convention Against Torture also establishes what is called universal
jurisdiction for cases of torture,” Ratner explains. “So, for example,
if an American citizen engaged in torture anywhere in the world
and was later found in France, let’s say, that person could be arrested
in France and either tried for torture there or extradited to the
place of the torture for trial. To the extent U.S. officials were
or are involved in torture in Guantánamo or elsewhere, they
should be careful about the countries in which they travel.”

He
continues, “In addition, torture committed by U.S. soldiers or private
contractors acting under U.S. authority is a violation of federal
law, punishable by the death penalty if the death of a prisoner
results from the torture. Even if one argues that al Qaeda suspects
are not governed by the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against
Torture and other human rights treaties ratified by the United States
prohibit torture as well as other cruel, inhuman, and degrading
treatment.

“The
convention is crystal clear: under no circumstances can you torture
people, whatever you call them, whether illegal combatants, enemy
combatants, murderers, killers. You cannot torture anybody ever;
it’s an absolute prohibition.”

While
many well-meaning people on both left and right profess to be shocked
by the stories that continue to pour out of Guantánamo, Abu
Ghraib and other detention centers, they usually fail to understand
that these atrocities are well-rooted in American culture.

Perhaps
the only real difference is that the White House argues more forcefully
than usual that no court can forbid it to arbitrarily detain and
torture anyone it designates an unlawful enemy combatant, a definition
that it has applied not only to foreigners but also to American
citizens. We have seen how the drug exception to the Constitution
has nullified basic American rights such as freedom from illegal
search and seizure. But the war on drugs was merely a test run.
Some rights remained intact. Now comes the permanent war against
terrorism in which all human rights are annihilated.

Rasul
v. Bush could be a legal turning point, but it remains to be seen
whether or not the White House will respect any inconvenient court
decision, no matter how high the bench. Michael Ratner and Ellen
Ray could be merely eloquent early witnesses to the inevitable future.
Thus ends democracy in the United States. The most hope that one
can express is a question mark. Thus ends democracy in the United
States?

January
28, 2005

Jules
Siegel’s [send him
mail
] writings have been published in Playboy, Best
American Short Stories, and many other publications. He served
with the 4th Military Intelligence Detachment, U. S. Army, Korea,
1955–56.

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare
  • LRC Blog

  • LRC Podcasts