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By Jill A. Bolstridge

Wednesday, February 24, 2010. 

After years of ongoing torture, sexual degradation, forced drugging, and religious persecution, the world is finally on the verge of seeing a close to the infamous prison in Guantanamo Bay. Whether or not legitimate investigations into the controversial dealings and operations of the camp will take place remains to be seen, but just the fact that the prison is shutting down is enough to make millions of US citizens breathe a sigh of relief and feel as though their president is living up to his campaign promises.

Yet why stop at Guantanamo? Why are we not shutting down all of these US-operated detention camps? At Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, it is said that the conditions are far worse than those in Guantanamo. In 2005, 15 US soldiers were tried for torture and abuse in relation to the high profile homocides of Habibullah and Diliwar, two unarmed civilian Afghani prisoners who were chained to the ceiling and beaten to death at the camp.

And those were just the cases fortunate enough to be documented. Daily abuses of a similar kind take place within this notorious camp. According to a multitude of reports from inside the camp, the prisoners are housed in cages of wire mesh and live in filthy, cramped, and unsanitary conditions. During a 2002 interview with PBS, Chris Hogan, a former interrogator at the camp, stated:

"In my tenure, the prison population lived in an abandoned Soviet warehouse. The warehouse had a cement floor and it was a huge square-footage area. On the floor of that, what must have been some sort of an airplane hangar, six prison cages were erected, which were divided by concertina wire.”

Not only are the living conditions worse and the tortures allegedly more severe, but prisoners at Bagram have even fewer legal rights than those captives held in Guantanamo Bay. In 2007, The New Republic’s Eliza Griswold wrote:

“Prisoners don't even have the limited access to lawyers available to prisoners in Guantánamo. Nor do they have the right to Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which Guantánamo detainees won in the 2004 Supreme Court ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Instead, if a combat commander chooses, he can convene an Enemy Combatant Review Board (ECRB), at which the detainee has no right to a personal advocate, no chance to speak in his own defense, and no opportunity to review the evidence against him. The detainee isn't even allowed to attend. And, thanks to such limited access to justice, many former detainees say they have no idea why they were either detained or released.”

Since 2002, the US Administration has virtually ignored complaints from the International Committee of the Red Cross and Amnesty International and has managed to successfully dodge investigations of these camps by the United Nations. Allegations of horrific and inhumane interrogation tactics, torture, and sexual abuse have poured out from survivors of the camps, yet little has been done to investigate these claims. What’s worse is that these accounts are the few and far between that we actually hear about.

A 2006 New York Times article by Eric Schmitt and Carolyn Marshall detailed the accounts of civilian torture at the hands of US Special Operations officers at Camp Nama, 45 miles north of Baghdad. And dozens of unnamed and undocumented camps continue to operate throughout Iraq and Afghanistan. A 2005 Washington Post article by Dana Priest confirmed the existence of a number of secret CIA prison camps throughout Eastern Europe. In that article, Priest stated:

“The secret detention system was conceived in the chaotic and anxious first months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, when the working assumption was that a second strike was imminent. Since then, the arrangement has been increasingly debated within the CIA, where considerable concern lingers about the legality, morality and practicality of holding even unrepentant terrorists in such isolation and secrecy, perhaps for the duration of their lives.”

So for every story that manages to break, such as the 2004 Abu Ghraib scandal, there are thousands of other stories that remain untold. In 2007, the BBC estimated that there were at least 50,000 Iraqis being illegally detained in such camps. Numbers are thought to have sharply increased since that time, although, due to the secrecy involved, these numbers are impossible to confirm.

In the cases of all of these detention centers, almost all of the prisoners are being held without trial and without any of the rights stipulated in the Geneva Convention, a crime allowed to continue based on a symantics-based loophole invented by the Bush Administration which qualifies these captives as “enemy combatants,” rather than “prisoners of war.” And according to recent Red Cross reports, up to 90% of these prisoners were arrested “by mistake.”

So with the plethora of injustices being suffered at the hands of US intelligence around the globe, why has Guantanamo been selected as the singular point of liberation?

The reality is that the media spotlight on Guantanamo Bay in the past five years has steadily increased until it has become a scream too loud to ignore. Remember the old adage, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”? The international community has pointed a scathing finger at the US government and, by extension, President Obama, as operations at Guantanamo Bay have continued throughout his first year in office. The high profile of its detainees and the notoriety this camp has gained have made its shutdown a task nearly impossible to prolong any further.

Consequently, the level of international moral outrage surrounding the camp at Guantanamo Bay has put a pressure on Obama so great that action simply has to be taken. Yet if Barack were truly a man of moral principle, he would apply these recent actions to all of the US-operated detention camps around the globe, rather than simply focusing on the one isolated case that the media has graced with its spotlight.

Today, images of the Jewish Holocaust haunt us. Nations around the world have Holocaust Museums dedicated toward the suffering of the Jewish people. Countless books have been published and thousands of documentaries have been produced on the subject. Hollywood has sunken its teeth into the Holocaust, with films such as Schindler’s List, Life Is Beautiful, The Devil’s Arithmetic, The Reader, The Boy In the Striped Pajamas, and a plethora of others chilling movie goers around the globe for decades. Books such as The Diary of Anne Frank and Elie Wiesel’s Night are a regular and essential part of school curricula in nations around the world. Always these lessons are taught with the premise of “never forget” and “making sure history will never repeat itself.” Over and over the question is asked: “How could this have happened?”

But apparently, we have forgotten. History is currently repeating itself. How could this have happened? The same way in which it is happening today. The illegal detainment, false imprisonment, and torture of thousands occurs on a daily basis at the hands of US aggression. How much longer will it be before these prisoners’ stories become best-selling autobiographies? How much more time need pass before Hollywood capitalizes on these stories and movie audiences are chilled to the bone by images of these “enemy combatants” in prisons not too dissimilar from those of Nazi concentration camps we have all come to be horrified by?

Only swift and decisive action by the current US administration can put an end to these atrocities. Much like with the Jewish Holocaust, history will not be kind to the perpetrators of such action. It may soon come to pass that the US’s own military personnel will await the same fate as those Nazi concentration camp and SS officers who stood trial after the liberation in 1945. Only time will tell.


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