Friday, January 11, 2008

"Cleared for transfer"

Last evening I attended Christopher J. Huber's presentation at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. The event was co-sponsored by Amnesty International (Eastern PA Chapter), National Lawyers Guild (Philadelphia Chapter), Brandywine Peace Community, The Liberty Center for Survivors of Torture, and the American Friends Service Committee (Pennsylvania Program).

Mr. Huber is a pro bono attorney attempting to represent two of the Guantánamo prisoners. I say "attempting to represent," because the government tries in every ways to make the task difficult. For instance, Mr. Huber is trying to get refugee status for one of his clients. The USCIS application requires a photo but, as Mr. Huber is not permitted to take a photo of his client, the application was returned. When he tried to explain the need for a photo to the Guantánamo authorities, he was told that they "did not believe" that such a requirement existed.

Mr. Huber was permitted to take photo of Camp 6, also called Camp Delta , where the prisoners were transferred later in 2002, after Camp X-ray, with its barnyard-like outdoor cells, was closed down. A desolate, windowless building, Camp Delta contains a group recreation room. However, group recreation never takes place. Prisoners are held in isolation under maximum security conditions and are entitled to 1 hour of solitary outdoor "recreation" per day. That time could occur after dark at, say, 11pm, if that's when the prisoner's hour comes up in the rotation. Mr. Huber pointed out that, in contrast to these inhumane conditions, US mobsters convicted of murder are housed in maximum security facilities with windows and TVs, where they are permitted visits by their attorneys and family members.

I learned another newspeak term last evening, when Mr. Huber explained that many of the Camp Delta prisoners have already been cleared for transfer, some for as long as 2 years now. The expression cleared for transfer claims its place on the list of obfuscations just under enhanced interrogation methods for torture, and manipulative, self-injurious behavior for attempted suicide. A prisoner who is cleared for transfer has actually been exonerated of all accusations by the Guantánamo authorities and can now be set free. Of course, if the prisoner were listed as cleared for release, the government might have to explain why he had been held for over 5 years if he wasn't guilty of anything...and perhaps even why he was ever detained in the first place.

While some of the prisoners who have been officially cleared must seek asylum because they may face further detention and even torture in their home countries, Mr. Huber stated that most of them could be repatriated if the US would simply ask their countries to take them back. Right now another catch-22 is festering between the US and Yemen. While some Yemeni citizens have been cleared for transfer back to their country, the US is requiring that Yemen first sign a declaration that it will not torture them. Torture is already illegal in Yemen, and that nation is balking at the demand to sign such a document ... particularly after the treatment of its citizens while in US custody.

During the question and answer period, I asked Mr. Huber about the 80 prisoners who will stand trial before military commissions some time this year, according to news reports (such as this one in the Philadelphia Inquirer, shamelessly entitled "Mission: Fairness"). Mr. Huber responded that the number 80 is greatly inflated, as only a few of the prisoners actually face serious charges. He added that the transfer of Abu Zubayda and the other "high value" prisoners to Guantánamo at the end of 2006 (after their alleged detention in black holes elsewhere) was an attempt on the part of the administration to legitimize Guantánamo by depositing there a handful of persons who may really be serious criminals.

An insightful member of the audience remarked that even when the last prisoner has left Guantánamo --and Mr. Huber noted that the current administration really has an interest in doing this-- our country will still not be free from the infamy of torture. Mr. Huber agreed, saying that no one in Congress seems willing to take on the other egregious abuses, such as extraordinary rendition.

Ma io aggiungo di piú, ch'egli è un voler confondere tutt'i rapporti l'esigere che un uomo sia nello stesso tempo accusatore ed accusato, che il dolore divenga il crociuolo della verità, quasi che il criterio di essa risieda nei muscoli e nelle fibre di un miserabile.

But I would argue further that it is a miscarriage of all legitimate procedures to force a man to be both accuser and accused and to turn pain into some sort of crucible of truth, as though truth were a thing to be extracted from the depths of a tortured prisoner's muscle and fiber.
Cesare Beccaria, "On Torture," 1764

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