Democratic Senator Dick Durbin has compared interrogation practices at the infamous U.S. Guantanamo Bay detention camp with those used by the Nazis more than half a century ago.
"If I did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime — Pol Pot or others — that had no concern for human beings," he said recently.
"More than 1700 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq and our country’s standing in the world community has been badly damaged by the prison abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo," he added.
During Guantanamo’s nearly four years of operation since the Sept. 11 attacks, more than 100 detainees have died — the current prison population is about 600. Amnesty International has warned that "ill-treatment, religious humiliation and arbitrary detention [are] seeping from the facility," and has condemned the Bush administration’s decision to expand it.
Within the past year, both the New England Journal of Medicine and the British medical journal Lancet have condemned the unethical complicity of medical staff at the facility; in particular, reported the New England Journal of Medicine, allowing patient records to be used as "part of a strategy that employs extreme stress, combined with behaviour-shaping rewards, to extract actionable intelligence from resistant captives."
Of course, the Pentagon has always maintained that its policy is to keep intelligence-gathering and patient care separate, but the "seeping" evidence as reported by Amnesty and other human rights NGOs calls that official truth into serious question.
Meanwhile, Washington’s spin doctors have been busy feeding the media with arguments as to why the detainees at Guantanamo Bay are not exactly prisoners of war. The reason? Because the U.S. is not currently at war with any country — another semantic mockery of the truth!.
"There was no war fought between legal sovereign countries," Jay Farrar, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, reportedly said. "What we’re dealing with is stateless, non-sovereign terrorist organizations that cannot be classified by the world’s legal systems."
Thrown in with these so-called "stateless, non-sovereign terrorist(s)" is Canada’s only confirmed detainee in Guantanamo Bay, 18-year-old Omar Khadr.
His lawyer recently filed documents in a Canadian court which included psychiatric assessments that warn the teenager is at high risk for suicide.
As far back as January 2002, Mary Robinson, then U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights, called on the United States to treat the prisoners in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. "If the captives are denied their legal rights as prisoners of war," she said, "we risk the values that we sought to preserve."
The Geneva Conventions state that prisoners captured in warfare should not be interrogated or tortured and should eventually be repatriated without being subjected to trials by military tribunals. Yet the U.S. government is contemplating using military tribunals to try the Guantanamo detainees.
Both the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Amnesty International have argued that the U.S. administration is trying to legitimize the use of illegal military tribunals. Military trials can be conducted in secret and requirements for evidence are usually looser than in civilian courts. This practice further intensifies the "fear-and-anxiety" approach that human rights observers say the Pentagon favours in dealing with Guantanamo detainees.
Yet in defiance of international pressure, George W. Bush gave a contract to expand the detention facility — worth US$30 million — to a subsidiary of the controversial oil giant Halliburton, once headed by Vice-President Dick Cheney.
Revelations of torture, mistreatment and recently, the desecration of copies of the Holy Qur’an, to "soften" detainees’ resistance have sparked global outrage.
But the U.S. continues to ignore international pressure to close the Cuba-based facility. This is because most of the detainees come from countries that do not want them or care about them. These countries would rather have the U.S. "deal" with their discarded human beings.
So unless the American public can speak out more loudly than Washington’s propaganda machine and shame the administration into closing Guantanamo, George W. Bush and his war lieutenant Donald Rumsfeld will keep on telling Americans, with a straight face, that this horrible facility is needed.
Instead of spewing Washington’s current gospel of exploitation and militaristic convenience, the U.S. needs to practice what its founding principles preach — if the soul of this nation is to be saved.