December 14, 2008
Gitmo inmates: US doublethink
14 December 2008 Editorial
Like a runaway tank, the Bush presidency has left a trail of wreckage in its wake, which the world hopes the Obama administration is set on cleaning up. One major mess is the Guantanamo Bay detention center and its remaining 250 inmates. While the Bush team is pressing ahead with the contentious military trial of five self-confessed terrorists led by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, it is busy trying to offload to any country that will take them many other detainees which it now says pose no threat.
In an extraordinary example of Bush doublethink, the Americans say they cannot return detainees who are Chinese, Libyan, Russian, Tunisian or Uzbek nationals because they might face persecution or death if they are sent back home. These men were all grabbed in Afghanistan or in CIA “Extreme Rendition” operations around the world because they came under Washington’s legislative fiction that they were “illegal combatants”. The White House thus imagined that its could sidestep its obligations under the Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war. But seven long years of detention without charge has of itself been a form of persecution. Worse, many, if not all, of the detainees have faced tortures such as waterboarding, in an attempt to extract confessions from them. So appalling has been the treatment of these men, dozens have attempted to commit suicide and three have succeeded.
The key grounds on which Washington kept the detainees under lock and key outside of the US civil judicial process was its allegation they were all dangerous terrorists. Only 60 of the prisoners have been or are due to go before military tribunals. The remainder, the authorities have said cannot be prosecuted because of lack of evidence but they should remain under lock and key indefinitely because they are dangerous!
Now these dangerous “terrorists” who cannot be returned to their home countries such as China, because they would be put on trial there, are being off-loaded to any country that will be prepared to offer them asylum. Until yesterday, only Albania had been prepared to take a handful of ethnic Uighur Chinese, almost certainly in return for a US financial sweetener. Now Portugal has said that it will take some of the detainees and has urged other EU states to do likewise. Pressure from Washington is building up on Europeans to help President-elect Obama the more easily close down Guantanamo Bay as soon as possible, as he has promised.
But most EU states, not least Spain and the UK which have had direct and bloody experience of Al-Qaeda terrorism are extremely reluctant to give asylum to men who only a short while ago were branded by the US as simply too dangerous to be allowed to go free. Washington is, therefore, hoist with its own petard. The only way it might hope to persuade other countries to accept Guantanamo detainees would be to admit that they had never been the deadly terrorists Washington claimed they were and therefore confess to a terrible lie.