Saturday, July 27, 2013

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

suspicious individual
...OK, really just one day of the summer -- last Wednesday, July 24, to be specific.  Joined friends from Witness Against Torture, World Can't Wait, Code Pink, National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Amnesty International, and Veterans for Peace in holding a vigil outside the Dirksen Senate building and then went inside to attend the "Hearing on Closing Guantanamo: The National Security, Fiscal, and Human Rights Implications," convened by Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL). I also met and spoke briefly with activist Ray McGovern.

The following persons gave testimony during the hearing:

Army General Paul Eaton (ret)
Brigadier General Stephen Xenakis (ret)
Frank Gaffney, Founder and president of the Center for Security Policy
Navy Lt. Joshua Fryday
Elisa Massimino, President and CEO, Human Rights First
Two invited members of the House of Representatives, Adam Smith (D-WA) and Mike Pompeo (R-KS)
Senators Durbin, Dianne Feinstein, Patrick Leahy, and Ted Cruz also gave extended remarks.

The video is now available for your viewing pleasure on the C-SPAN website:

Some highlights:

In his opening statement, Sen. Durbin reminded those attending of former Sec. of Defense Rumsfeld's approval of the use of torture, and he quoted Justice Sandra Day O'Connor who wrote that "a state of war is not a blank check for the president."  The main thrust of his argument was that detainees can be safely held at supermax facilities in the U.S., from which no one has ever escaped.  In fact, according to the senator, nearly 500 terrorists have been tried in the U.S. and are currently being held under supermax conditions. Unfortunately, in emphasizing the airtight security of these prisons, Mr. Durbin gave the impression that all Gitmo detainees are actually guilty of some crime. To the contrary, 86 of them have been cleared for release long ago by the Combatant Status Review Tribunals and need to be returned to their own homelands or resettled in a third-party country. As a matter of fact, I do not remember any mention of the fact that the vast majority of detainees were captured far from the battlefield after being betrayed for a hefty ransom proffered by our government. 

Finally, I must confess to being less than delighted with the senator's reassurances that we'll take care of any detainees who dare to resume hostilities against the U.S. (uh, how can one "resume" an action that one never began?) by clobbering them with a drone.  A truly comforting thought on many levels...

Gen. Eaton reminded the committee of the "Gitmoization" of Abu Ghraib and stated that there is "no national security reason to keep Guantánamo open."

The most riveting statements were made by Brig. Gen. Xenakis, a practicing psychiatrist who has examined at least 50 of the detainees over the years. He unequivocally condemned force-feeding the hunger strikers, deploring the fact that military medical personnel are placed in an "untenable position," as force-feeding is in blatant violation of medical ethics and international human rights standards. He called for "independent doctors and nurses" to be brought in to care for the detainees.

Frank Gaffney made the breathtaking generalization that Guantánamo must never be closed because the detainees are all dedicated to the "doctrine of Sharia" and therefore "believe it's their duty to destroy us." He also cautioned that detainees, if transferred to supermax facilities on the mainland, will start to "proselytize" in the U.S. prisons.  Mr. Gaffney has obviously never read any of the Combatant Status Review Tribunal transcripts and seems to have a spotty understanding of Islam, to say the least.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein had the clearest appreciation of why some detainees are on hunger strike. She explained that a hunger strike is a form of protest, not attempted suicide, and reinforced the stance that force-feeding violates "international norms and medical ethics."  She also reminded those present that locking prisoners away indefinitely without trial is "not the American way" and "makes a myth out of our legal system."  Not to mention the revelation that it costs $2.7 million per year to keep each detainee at Guantánamo.  One can only hope that fiscal concerns will convince those not moved by ethical or constitutional considerations.

Finally, I can only conclude that Rep. Mike Pompeo and Sen. Feinstein, who have both toured Guantánamo, must have visited two different places.  Sen. Feinstein was lucid enough to see that "everything down there is so deceiving," including the shiny new courtroom with no trials scheduled, and came away convinced that Gitmo "falsifies our principles." Congressman Pompeo, on the other hand, made the following edifying statements:

"There are no human rights violations occurring at Guantanamo Bay."

The hunger strike currently in progress is "a political stunt orchestrated or encouraged at least in part by counsel for the detainees."

There is "no question of the constitutionality of Guantanamo."

In short, the arguments to close Gitmo rested on universal human rights considerations and the rule of law, while those who maintained that the prison is essential to our national security appealed to naked fear.  As Sen Leahy put it, "We are the most powerful nation on earth. Why are we afraid to use our justice system?"

  Good question.
Thanks to Witness Against Torture for the photo of the suspicious, jumpsuit-clad individual.

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