Guantanamo Voices

Obama Promises to Shut Gitmo & Secret Prisons
January 22, 2009, 7:37 pm
Filed under: gitmo policy | Tags: , ,

Yesterday Obama announced that he would call an end to the military tribunals in Guantanamo, but today came even bigger news: he issued executive orders to shut down Guantanamo within the year AND shut down the CIA’s entire secret prisons program.

Chris, Moazzam and other detainees have often expressed skepticism that Obama would actually follow through on his campaign promises about Guantanamo, but today’s news was a big step in the right direction.

The two discuss the news as they drive through Liverpool, England, to the night’s speaking gig at a university in town.

“He’s mentioned Guantanamo twice now and the fact that he’s calling for its closure within a year is fantastic,” says Begg. He thinks on it for a few moments. “But a year is a long time if you’re a prisoner. If you were told now, ‘You’ll be free in a year after you’ve been here for seven years’ – how do you feel about that? It’s good in a sense because at least you know how long you’ve got left.”
“You’ve got some finite limit,” adds Chris.
“I wonder if the guys inside know though?” I asked.
“Oh I’m sure they’ll find out,” says Moazzam.
“All it takes is one guard that can’t keep his mouth shut and the whole camp’ll know,” affirms Chris.

Chris’s roots in rural Libertarian Michigan and six years in the National Guard have reared him an absolute cycnic when it comes to government, however. He still feels much the same way he did on Obama’s inauguration day, when he sounded off about the politician in the lobby of a Sheffield hotel.

“I know I sound like a pessimist. I know Obama comes from this cool background and I know just him being in office means a whole lot, but seriously it’s going to take actual actions until I believe he’s done anything worthwhile. Politicians talking, it’s nothing new.”

Moazzam, Chris and Omar Deghayes instage in Sheffield

Moazzam, Chris and Omar Deghayes instage in Sheffield

Closing Guantanamo is a step, says Chris, but he believes it may be the easiest step of many Obama will need to take to right the wrongs of the last seven years. Chris starts ticking off the things Obama needs to do before Chris will consider him successful. “Complete withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, openly criticizing US detentions policy and issuing some kind of reparations or apology to those guys who were illegally detained, rebuilding our legal system so that things like this can’t happen again. This has proven the Supreme Court impotent, it’s proven Congress impotent, it’s pretty much given complete authority to the president and the president alone.”

Obama Vs. Guatanamo
January 20, 2009, 7:52 pm
Filed under: gitmo policy, Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

“I have as big of stake as anybody on the opposite side of the aisle in capturing terrorists and incapacitating them. I would gladly take up arms myself against any terrorist threat and to make sure my family is protected. But as a parent, I can also imagine the terror I would feel if one of my family members were rounded up in the middle of the night and sent to Guantanamo without even getting one chance to ask why they were being held and being able to prove their innocence.”

Barack Obama, Statement to Senate on Homeland Security Sept. 27, 2006

Moazzam’s phone has been ringing constantly today — everyone is calling to ask what he thinks about Obama. Will he actually change things? What should happen to the men in Guantanamo?

Moazzam is highly skeptical. As he explained to one reporter:

“Obama has said he would like to close Guantanamo. But Bush also said he would like to close Guantanamo. In the statement of another famous black American, “You don’t put a knife in man’s back nine inches deep, pull it back three inches and say that’s progress.” Obama has said he will close Guantanamo, but what about the secret detention sites? What about the whole secret detentions program? He hasn’t mentioned anything about that at all.”

On the way to Nottingham University, the minivan conversation turns to Obama. Chris Arendt and Obaid, the man responsible for routinely driving the van across the countryside at speeds exceeding 100 miles an hour, are as skeptical as Moazzam.

“I don’t think much will change at all,” says Chris, “With the economy and the war on terror, it’ll be impossible to get anything effective done.”

“I think they just gave him the job so that when everything goes wrong, they can blame it all on the black man,” chimes in Obaid, “That’s right! You heard it here first!”

GuantanamOBAMA Policy Roundup
January 19, 2009, 1:07 pm
Filed under: gitmo policy | Tags: , , ,

Oh my God. Barack Obama becomes America’s president in under 24 hours from now. Judging from the news coverage, the entire nation seems to be going batshit crazy in anticipation of his inauguration, but I’m more interested in what’s going to happen AFTER the big day — Obama promised to issue an executive order to close Gitmo on his first day in office, but there’s been a lot of discussion that the US is “stuck with Guantanamo.”

So what exactly will Obama have to do in order to close Guantanamo?

Reform Detention Policy:

Okay, first of all, big point: Guantanamo Bay is the best known prison established during the War on Terror, but it’s not the only one. The U.S. is also detaining suspected “enemy combatants” at prisons all over the world. People know about some of these detention centers (like ones in Bagram, Kandahar and Abu Ghraib) but the CIA also runs an unknown number of secret prisons. Since the people being imprisoned in those secret prisons aren’t acknowledged by the US military, they’re called “ghost detainees.” So according to groups like hte ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights, closing Guantanamo is only the tip of the iceberg. Obama must reform the U.S.’s overall detention policy and either close military prisons all over the world or go through due process for the detainees held there.

Address Use of Torture:

In a major break with the Bush administration’s defense of waterboarding, Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder publicly announced that waterboarding is a form of torture and should not be used by the US military. This means that in the coming year, Obama’s team will have to investigate the military’s use of this and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques. It’s not clear whether evidence gained from detainees under torture is admissible in court. One detainee who was waterboarded, Khalid Sheik Mohammed is being tried in January, so the courts will need to resolve that issue soon.

Review Cases of All Detainees

In the last three months, military courts have determined that nearly 10 percent of Guantanamo’s remaining population were not actually enemy combatants and should be released to freedom. These 24 men were part of a dwindling group of 245 detainees that Dick Cheney affirmed were definitely the “worst of the worst… now what’s left, that is the hardcore.” In order to get the detention system in working legally, Obama’s team will have to put all the men currently in US custody on trial.

Since former Guantanamo guard Chris Arendt ended his tour of duty at Guantanamo in 2004, about 500 of the detainees he guarded have been determined not to have been enemy combatants after all and released. “As things unravel, the job I was told to do becomes much more insidious every day. Every time a detainee is released without charges is proof that the United States was wrongfully imprisoning these people,” says Arendt, “It makes me feel sick in a really fundamental sense.”

Return Freed Detainees to Safe Places

A handful of the guys in Guantanamo have already been declared safe to release, but if they’re returned to their home countries, they’ll definitely be tortured. Specifically, seventeen men who were rebels in China before they wound up in Guantanamo will never be able to go home safely again. The U.S. needs to find places to resettle these wrongfully imprisoned men. This might mean pressuring European countries to grant asylum for ex-detainees — though the only country that has so far agreed to that idea is that bastion of democratic liberties, Albania.

Responding to Obama’s New Gitmo Plan

chris arendt jaralla al-marri al jazeeraChris and Jarallah hear the news about Obama’s Guantanamo policy change while they were signing the guestbook at Al Jazeera English, killing time in the television studio’s waiting room before their interview begins. Now that Chris had styled his mohawk and Jarallah had brushed his bushy beard, there was nothing to do but hang out and wait to be called on tv.  

And that’s a young woman with a headset poked her head in the door to tell them what she just heard over the wire: Obama announced that he wouldn’t be closing Guantanamo within 100 days as planned. He promises to issue an executive order on his first day in office to close the prison, but getting all the detainees out of there will take more than 100 days. For Chris and Jarallah, this immediately confirmed that Obama is just another promise-breaking politician.  Later, squeezed together in the back of a car racing toward a speaking event in Bristol, the American anarchist and former detainee tear Obama apart between each other.

“I saw the whole Obama campaign as like a car commercial, trying to sell me on a newer model of the same old shit,” says Chris.

“My hope, Obama promised, he can do something,” agrees Jarallah with his funny English syntax, “But my feeling is that he will not do what he can for the human beings.”

That night after the speaking event — which is standing room only in a Bristol activist center — a man from the crowd asks Jarallah to give a glimpse of what conditions for detainees might be like if Guantanamo is closed and the men hel;d there are moved to US soil. Jarallah’s brother, Ali, is the only “enemy combatant” imprisoned within the United States. He’s been held on a navy brig in South Carolina for seven years.

“He has been held in isolation for 14 months,” begins Jarallah, explaining that his brother has had trouble obtaining books and medical care and has been allowed to call his family only three times in seven years. Ali’s case is one of the complicated, unprecedented legal situations that Obama’s team will have to sort out. It seems that Ali was initially arrested (from his home in Illinois, where he was attending grad school) as a witness against his brother. But now Jaralla has been released and Ali is still imprisoned, still with no charges brought against him.

Obama recognized that these strange judicial situations might take a while to sort out, but said he is still committed to closing Guantanamo:

“It is more difficult than I think a lot of people realize — and we are going to get it done — but part of the challenge ….. is that you have a bunch of folks that have been detained, many of whom who may be very dangerous, who have not been put on trial or have not gone through some adjudication,” Obama said.

While some evidence against terrorism suspects may be tainted by the tactics used to obtain it, Obama said, that doesn’t change the fact there are “people who are intent on blowing us up.”