Guantanamo Bay Camp: The War on Terror, Torture and Injustice
America’s post 9/11 “war on terror” has proven to have detrimental impacts both domestically and internationally, including the government’s increased use of surveillance on the American people, the militarization of American police forces, and endless innocent deaths throughout the Middle East. Perhaps one of the most controversial products of the war on terror is the establishment of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp in January 2002. The camp was made to detain, interrogate and prosecute dangerous persons for war crimes. Directly before the camp opened, the U.S Office of Legal Counsel told the Bush Administration that administration at Guantanamo Bay was outside of American legal jurisdiction, and therefore detainees at the camp did not have the right to the typical American rights — such as the right to due process, access to an attorney, protection from cruel and unusual punishment, the right to a speedy trial, the right to a jury, and the most fundamental right to be charged with a crime and have the opportunity to defend yourself against the accusation. Guantanamo Bay camp exemplifies the most blatant, fundamental failures of the American government to maintain commitment to the values of the constitution, and I will use the recent ‘torture report’ released by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) to demonstrate the human right’s violations prevalent at the camp.
George W. Bush coined the term “war on terror” days after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001, marking the beginning of the global effort to combat terrorist organizations, specifically those from Muslim countries associated with extremist Islamic terrorism. On September 14th, 2001, the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (AUMF) was made law, which authorized the president to allow the United States Armed Forces to take all necessary force against the nations, organizations or people determined responsible in any way for 9/11. Basically, it allowed the United States to legally use military force against any person, organization or nation that might possibly be responsible or involved with 9/11. This kind of vague jurisdiction has had astronomically detrimental effects in The Middle East, specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, with an estimated 500,000 Iraqi deaths during the Iraq War and 21,000 Afghan deaths (not counting the deaths the Taliban is responsible for). The War on Terror has destabilized numerous governments and cost the United States trillions of dollars. Domestically, the United States has witnessed the militarization of the police force, which includes the introduction and increased use of riot gear, military tanks, and more lethal weapons. These were initially intended to “protect and serve” American communities from potential terrorist threats, yet they have been used again and again against American people in situations where they are entirely unnecessary and their only function is to evoke fear upon the public. This includes events like the recent protests in Baltimore, Maryland and Ferguson, Missouri, and where the nation speculated military tanks on city streets and lines of officers with shields, helmets, huge guns; prepared to fight back against their own people.
Despite how the war on terror has been conducted within American borders, the rhetoric surrounding the word terror — in the forms of terrorism or terrorist — immediately reminds one of the 9/11 attacks. Since, obviously, American’s and the rest of the world condemn the attacks and believe those responsible should be held accountable, they blindly follow the “war on terror” without fully considering its implications. And since those responsible are believed to be Islamic extremists, there has been a surge of discrimination and racism towards Muslims in America, even though the over one billion Muslim’s in the world obviously to not represent, are not associated with, or agree with the actions of extremists. The combination of the blind support of the war on terror and widespread “Islamiphobia” allowed the ruthless conditions of Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp to be wrongly justified, overlooked, and even supported by some Americans. Still, it is opposed by many, and in 2006 the United Nation’s unsuccessfully requested for the camps closure, and the Obama Administration has been working to shut down the camp and transfer the detainees to be held and tried. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, congress has, and will continue to, slow down and try to stop the closing of the camp.
The scathing CIA torture report released in the end of 2014 revealed shocking, brutal conditions and torture methods used at the camp, which garnered serious public backlash and debate. There had been previous leaks of CIA reports, many from WikiLeaks, but none of them revealed such inhumane activity and caused as much criticism. I will not be able to go into detail of every awful aspect of the report, but I will outline several cases and procedures that are particularly cruel. Detainees who would allegedly refuse to eat were rectally fed by CIA officers, a tactic that establishes “total control” of the prisoner, even though there is no “documented medical necessity.” Regardless, the CIA has defended the practice stating it is a “well acknowledged medical technique,” even though it is known to cause health issues such as chronic hemorrhoids and anal fissures.
Another tactic commonly used is sleep deprivation. This is a common form of torture and is known to have extreme health effects if carried out for too long. The report explains:
Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads. At least five detainees experienced disturbing hallucinations during prolonged sleep deprivation and, in at least two of those cases, the CIA nonetheless continued the sleep deprivation. (CCR Report)
Further, one detainee was faced with “ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation,” but was then released because “he was likely not the person he was believed to be.” Similarly, another detainee was kept awake for 56 hours and was released because the CIA realized he was not “involved in…current plans or activities against US personnel or facilities.” The longest reported case of sleep deprivation involved detainee Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a suspected 9/11 organizer, who was subjected to 7.5 days, mostly in standing position. Sleep deprivation is “an especially insidious form of torture because it attacks the deep biological functions at the core of a person’s mental and physical health” and can also result with death if carried out for too long. Also, whatever state the body is in at the beginning of deprivation will only get worse without sleep: “Whatever bodily damage they have suffered will not heal as fast. Whatever pain they are feeling will get worse. Whatever new bodily damage threatens them will be harder to defend against.” Considering the treatment of the prisoners in the camp, one can presume that the detainees are subject to sleep deprivation while in extremely poor physical condition, and endure inhumane levels of physical and psychological pain. One may argue that these methods are necessary in retrieving information that may protect American lives. However, one of the first symptoms of sleep deprivation is difficulty concentrating, reading, speaking and making judgments, rendering sleep deprivation an ineffective, cruel and unnecessary method that the CIA should have trouble honestly defending.
Beyond physical forms of torture, the CIA utilized forms of psychological torture. Detainees were frequently threatened that if they failed to give information, their family members would be harmed. This “’include[s] threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee and a threat to ‘cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.’” Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the same prisoner who endured the 7.5 day sleep deprivation, was told his mother was going to be brought to the camp and raped in front of him, and the officers hung a picture of his son in his cell in order to, “[heighten] his imagination concerning where they are, who has them, [and] what is in store for them,” CIA officials said.” These threats demonstrate the complete vacancy of basic morality on behalf of the CIA. And since they fail to produce legitimate confessions, they are purposeless and shameful.
Along with the physical and psychological torture the detainees endure, they are also not afforded basic legal rights. Majority of detainees are not charged with a crime, so they never have the opportunity for trial where they should be lawfully proven guilty or innocent. This results in a population of detainees who are innocent and are being wrongly accused. Even though the Supreme Court case Boumediene v. Bush (2008) ruled that the Guantanamo detainees were entitled to the protection of the constitution, prisoners continue to be held without due process or reasonable suspicion of guilt. The combination of innocent detainees with nothing to hide and intense torture methods results with false confessions and is entirely counterproductive.
The War on Terror has become a way for the American government to justify acting against the values of the constitution. The Bill of Rights clearly states the rights of the accused and how a trial should be lawfully conducted. America lives by these rules, they are the law of the land, the supreme law. Yet, the War on Terror has demonstrated the government’s willingness to only abide by the constitution when it suits them. The brutal torture and inhumane conditions at Guantanamo Bay exemplify the American government’s ability to betray the democratic values the country was founded upon, ironically, in the name of the American people.
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