According to Horton, who secures the on-the-record observations of Guantanamo prison guard Joe Hickman, the three men may have been killed at a Gitmo black site referred to by Horton as “Camp No.” The prisoners appear not to have died by hanging, but were suffocated with cloth. The three men, Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, were all cleared for release, which calls into question the notion that they were hardened terrorists ready to die for their cause. Their bodies were returned to their families with their throats missing–which makes corroborating the conclusions of the military pathologists who concluded the deaths were suicides impossible. One military official, Army Colonel Michael Bumgarner, was suspended after he inadvertently revealed to the press that the prisoners were found with cloth stuffed in their mouths–a detail that had been left out of the official report of the “hanging.”
Horton’s story is a case study in how a lawless system breaks down: The three men were captured through the haphazard practice of the U.S. offering bounties for terrorists–but why go through the dangerous work of capturing an actual terrorist when some harmless foreigner will do? In Horton’s account, there were marks on the men’s bodies that suggests they been tortured prior to their deaths — which suggests the three were undergoing “enhanced interrogations.” But of course, since they don’t seem to have actually been terrorists or connected to al-Qaeda, there was nothing to learn. The government’s disregard for basic human rights standards led to deaths that needed to be justified publicly and then illegally covered up, because it’s still necessary to make it appear as though we are living in a society of laws that doesn’t allow people to get away with the murder of prisoners in American custody.
While the evidence is damning, it is still not one hundred percet certain that these deaths were anything but suicides, as reported. Regardless, what is certain is that over 100 detainees have died in US custody, and many of those deaths were from the effects of severe beatings, stress positions and other state-sanctioned techniques. As Greenwald notes:
The interrogation and detention regime implemented by the US resulted in the deaths of over 100 detainees in US custody — at least [see “Command’s Responsibility,” a Human Rights First report from 2006, PDF]. While some of those deaths were the result of “rogue” interrogators and agents, many were caused by the methods authorized at the highest levels of the Bush White House, including extreme stress positions, hypothermia, sleep deprivation and others. Aside from the fact that they cause immense pain, that’s one reason we’ve always considered those tactics to be “torture” when used by others — because they inflict serious harm, and can even kill people. Those arguing against investigations and prosecutions — that we “Look to the Future, not the Past” — are thus literally advocating that numerous people get away with murder.
When a policy permitting the extreme physical abuse of detainees leads to several deaths as a direct result of the abuse inflicted, it is beyond Orwellian to refer to the methods employed as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Any abuse sufficient to kill the party being interrogated can safely be called by its proper name: torture, plain and simple.
Unfortunately for the health of our nation’s legal institutions, when policymakers – such as those in the Obama administration - have made even the most incremental of attempts to walk back certain portions of the Bush administration’s lawless torture and detention regime, GOP leaders such as Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney and others accuse those policymakers of caring more about “protecting the rights of terrorists…than protecting the lives of Americans.”
But that characterization represents a fundamental betrayal of the principles of due process and the rule of law as envisioned by the founding fathers. Further, the problem with the arguments about the treatment of “terrorists” and the rights granted to “terrorists” is that the issue is really about what rights are afforded to terrorist suspects, and how terrorist suspects are treated in detention and interrogation.
The modern Republican Party would assume your guilt until you prove your innocence. Except you don’t actually get to prove your innocence. Because you’re guilty. And in the meantime, you can and should be tortured. Because you haven’t proved your innocence yet.
That is, to put it bluntly, un-American. America was founded on the notion of granting the accused due process rights and exempting the accused from certain punishments until guilt is proven (and other punishments even for the guilty). This notion, revolutionary at the time, represented a major break from the unchecked police power afforded monarchs and other absolute rulers that preceded the founding of our nation. And yet the Senator-elect from Massachussetts of all places describes these foundational notions as “new rights” – allegedly concocted by the Obama administration ex nihilo. You’d think a representative from a State that played such a pivotal role in the founding of this country would have a better grasp of just how old these rights really are.
These rights were valued by the founders for good reason. Due process is absolutely crucial to the effort to separate the guilty from the innocent, to provide those accused with recourse to correct errors in the application of executive power. Without it, the innocent will suffer en masse, and injustice will reign in cruel fashion.
That is not a hypothetical contention. Such rampant injustice has flowed from the perverse legal doctrine enshrined by the Bush administration, and perpetuated in many ways by an overly timid Obama administration. As the Horton piece illustrates, the three “suicide” cases involved innocent people swept up in an overly broad, and poorly conceived, system of bribery, bounty hunter and wide net. And it wasn’t just those three. In fact, most detainees that ended up at Guantanamo were innocent of the listed crimes, and who knows what the ratios have been at places like Bagram and the many black sites around the globe.
Despite this, the GOP would argue that to uphold the ideals in the Constitution with respect to the rights of so many inncents accused would be to give special treatment to the guilty, and to disregard the safety of our citizens. You know, there have been legal systems that have placed such a high value on the lives of its citizens at the expense of the rights of the accused throughout the history of the world. Some persist today. You would find such “caring” regimes in places like the former USSR and Mussolini’s Italy, or modern day China, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Iran and Cuba.
Are those models really worth emulating? Do the notions of criminal justice espoused by those regimes really evince a concern for the well-being of the repsective citizenry that is superior to ours when we insist on due process for all accused?
The modern Republican Party might argue that the circumvention of due process, habeas corpus and the rule of law in general only applies to terrorist suspects. But why should that be the case? If we are willing to treat suspected terrorists a certain way, why not those suspected of mass murder? Or rapits? Or child molestors? Or drug dealers? I’d love to watch a politician try to defend, against the charges of a demagogue, the consistency of a position that allows for the treatment of terror suspects one way, but rapists another.
Good luck with that.
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