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Tuesday, 08 September 2009 03:19

40 Pound Rats, Injustice by the Ton, and the Tortured Continuation of Guantanamo

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BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

One of the realities of new progressive journalism is that some writers play it safe; they stay on the side of D.C. insider acceptability, so that they can still be television pundits and be on panels and get invited to parties in D.C.,  New York and LA. And, of course, so that they can get paid for their work by corporate mainstream journalism who know that they won't upset the entrenched powers. In short, they know how to play the game and advance their careers and incomes.

Then there are writers such as Naomi Wolf, who we championed when she wrote the bold warning about fascism and its tipping point in America -- "The End of America: A Letter of Warning To A Young Patriot." (She also narrates a compelling documentary version of The End of America.) Wolf is appalled by how close we have come to fascism and pulled the fire alarm.

As a person who advised Al Gore and heralded a new wave of feminism, Wolf is no radical. Instead, like BuzzFlash, she is a truth-seeker.

No doubt, she could have become a guest at the White House and a regular on the D.C./NYC pundit circuit, if she had kept her progressive criticisms inside of a certain acceptable boundary that doesn't threaten the status quo.

But Wolf calls it as she sees it, with passion and conviction.

As a result, she recently visited Guantanamo and penned a devastating portrait of a system of injustice that continues under President Obama.  It was so politically radioactive that it ended up being published in a UK newspaper, not here in America.

Mark Karlin, Editor and Publisher of BuzzFlash, recently interviewed Wolf about her Guantanamo visit and the implications of the "detention center's" continued existence.

BUZZFLASH: In a July 25 article in the UK Times, you wrote a lengthy account of a recent trip to Guantanamo as it exists under President Obama. It sounds positively and grotesquely Kafkaesque. The entire Guantanamo nightmare sounds like one big Catch-22. It’s almost impossible to establish any evidence because of everything that is classified, and a prisoner has no access to the media to explain what is happening, how he was captured, etc. 

WOLF: That is absolutely correct. What is incredible to witness when you are actually there is that it is even more Kafkaesque than we have been led to believe.

I was introduced to Captain Dan Bauer, who is the head of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT’s) – these are the procedures that most all of the detainees have been subjected to; only a small handful have had the better-known Military Tribunals. All of the Guantanamo press material, direct assertions to the press and apparently to Congress as well, etc – for seven years – assert clearly that detainees in the CSRT process have access to witnesses to testify in their behalf `whenever reasonable.’

Well, to my amazement, I have in on the record from Captain Bauer that he cannot confirm that a single witness appeared before the CSRT in seven years from outside the prison system itself. Witnesses, who were tortured, have been brought in in shackles from inside the system – many cases have been confirmed of prisoners being tormented in order to get them to turn against – bear false witness against – other prisoners. But since so many of these men were swept up as refugees from the Afghan fighting, trying to flee with their families across the Khyber Pass – or so many were turned in – totally innocent men – by warlords or by neighbors because of US bounties up to five thousand dollars – you can imagine how important a witness would be to prove that, no, the identity of this person is wrong.

I have checked this conclusion subsequently with Joe DellaVedova of the Pentagon, and Lt Commander Brooke DeWalt, Guantanamo spokesman, asking them to correct me if I have this wrong, and they have not done so. No witnesses were ever brought in from outside the system.

Please, ask BuzzFlash readers to get this information to Congress. Congress has been lied to, as has the US media. I spoke to lawyers for the detainees who would explain that they tried to call witnesses as prominent and credible as the Afghan foreign minister – not hard to locate – and the answer from the CSRT was, `Oh he’s unavailable.’ By the way, you could have video testimony as well – you don’t even need to bring the person in – but they have not done so. (The contractors at the military tribunals told me they had never seen the video testimony system there in use either).

If these guys are guilty – why not have witnesses as claimed? What is the brass at Guantanamo afraid of? If everything is so kosher – why not give these guys lawyers? My suspicion is that the whole machine is set up to keep innocent people in prison and to mistreat them – so that the lucrative `war on terror’ can continue unabated. It is also true now that most of the men in Guantanamo have been tortured, and their bodies are crime scenes. So the US has `classified’ everything they would say – about their own torture. Even their lawyers can’t tell reporters what happened to them. The real reason to classify the very torture of these men is to keep their torturers from being exposed.

Chillingly, the CSRT personnel seemed not to have noticed when we were in the trailer that serves as the setting for the CSRT review that someone had put towels over the security cameras.

BUZZFLASH: Can you talk more about the suicide that occurred just shortly before you arrived? It appears to have just been, well, covered up.

WOLF: Thank you for your work, Mark, in calling attention to the deaths – probable murders, many of them – in custody of a number of detainees. Almost no one else in the media – certainly no one in the mainstream press – is doing so, and this is one important reason for all your readers to support you, emotionally but also with the biggest checks they can write. We need to underwrite our own real journalism these days, taking responsibility, and not just complain about the gaps in MSM reporting.

This may well be one such suspicious death: Mohamed al-Hanashi `committed suicide’ according to the press release from the Guantanamo press office, when I was there the first week of June. Here is my reporting on this very suspicious death of a man who was not suicidal – and who was the detainees’ representative – so knew all the things that had been done to them. [Link to `What Happened to Mohamed al-Hanashi?’] Again, please ask your readers to send this to their representatives, to ask the Pentagon: What Happened to Mohammed Al-Hanashi?

BUZZFLASH: Getting back to Guantanamo Bush and Guantanamo Obama. Has there been any change that you can detect?

WOLF: Well, technically, they are not engaging in the torture of the Rumsfeld memo era – though the twenty-something men still on hunger strike are effectively being tortured by brutal force-feeding in restraint chairs. (I go into detail in the piece about how easy it is to kill someone without any fingerprints through force-feeding).

But in some key ways things are worse: it is worse to have claimed to be on track to close it down – while building it up and keeping these detainees from proper oversight by the Red Cross and not letting their lawyers represent them properly; it is worse to claim the high road but not let reporters speak to the detainees or get any real information – say, about this death in custody. The hypocrisy is a different kind of `worse.’ Worst of all is that Obama did something Bush did not even dare to try – he has put forth the notion of a formal category of 'preventive detention' – not even trying to obey the law or due process. Keeping people forever without trial, without charges, without their day in court. Remember that anything he can do to these men – he can do, eventually, to any of us. Any of us can still be called an `enemy combatant’ by the President on his say-so alone. And 'preventive detention' powers mean that any of us sooner or later could be held without trial.

A former Guantanamo guard, for instance, who has spoken out about the detainees’ treatment was just detained by US officials – in the UK this week.

BUZZFLASH: Here it is 8 years after 9/11 and no one appears able to sort out what Guantanamo really is other than a horrifying detention center that houses a majority of people who probably weren’t terrorists when they came to Guantanamo, but might be now because of the abuse, conditions, and overall horrific treatment.

WOLF: You know, if you hear the stories of these people, you would know how false even that view of the prisoners is likely to be. Most of these people, as I mentioned above, are absolutely ordinary men who have never been involved in anything remotely hostile to the US – who got swept up in Afghanistan or Pakistan when the US was buying random hostages, essentially, for money. The press materials say these men were taken `on the battlefield.’ Overwhelmingly this is just bullshit, pardon my language. Most were refugees, as I mentioned, from the fighting, trying to get AWAY fro the battlefield. Again: if these guys are so bad – try them! That is how a Republic works. We tried the worst criminals in history, in the Nuremberg trials, rather than keeping them forever without trial; we knew it was in our national security interest to let the whole world see the working of the American rule of law.

BUZZFLASH: Obama is a Constitutional lawyer. How can he tolerate the continuation of the Constitutional and physical abomination of Guantanamo?

WOLF: People should not make the mistake of assuming that the US president is that powerful It is no longer a situation in which one man’s wishes or imperatives has that much weight.

He may personally object to this perversion of the rule of law: but he is not really running this show. Guantanamo is about 60% contractors to a casual observer, and in the interactions I saw, the contractors seemed to be ordering around the military, rather than the other way around. You can’t get good data on how many billions contractors make from the `war on terror’ and from Guantanamo itself but it is a vast amount of money and those special interests do not want this profitable shredding of the Constitution – let alone this `war without end’ – to stop. Contractors’ influence in our national and foreign policy is, I believe, the single greatest danger facing us: as I noted in my London Times piece, the military has a built-in incentive, at a certain point, against free-for-all escalation _- they actually go to war and get hurt and die.

Contractors? No disincentive. What was striking to me and made me angry on behalf of our uniformed men and women is that contractors live in lush, gated-community villa dwellings there – very permanent neighborhoods – while our military men and women live in awful little (temporary) soulless trailers.

Guantanamo is a giant cash cow milked by contractors and the men and women in uniform seem to be doing the bidding of those interests, much to their own cost. By the way, though the military men and women there had to at least give the impression of trying to answer my (or any reporters’) questions, the contractors had complete contempt for the reportorial process, had no obligation even to give their names, and cannot be held accountable for anything in any way. That is why it is so scary that contractors are involved in interrogation or rendition –or who are working in the psych wards, as psychologists, doctors etc – they are totally unaccountable to anyone.

BUZZFLASH: In your account, it almost seemed like you were being escorted through a Universal Studio set for some horror film, except for the street filled with McDonalds and the like, Main Street America in Guantanamo for the Americans. You barely crossed paths with a prisoner.

WOLF: That is for a good reason. Many of the prisoners speak English. From accounts by their lawyers and a new book by a translator, "My Guantanamo Diary," many of them have moving, poignant personal stories and their innocence is strongly indicated by the richness and specificity of their accounts of their lives and others’ confirmation of these accounts.

So what would happen if the US let the press actually speak directly to these men and listen to them, rather than herding us past them as if they were animals in a zoo?

The way we were brought to look at them through a cage – but forbidden to walk up and speak to them, human to human – made me think strongly about American slavery. It is really the same situation: a whole nation, a whole set of institutions, is invested in denying these people their humanity – their voices – their rights – their access to justice. The more we suppress the worse our long-term karma. I think that is true on a personal level and on a national level. That is why I feel that, like slavery, each of us who is not screaming and yelling about men imprisoned without trial in our names – voiceless – each of us not doing so is actively colluding in something as evil as slavery. By the way, most prisoners in detention in the US are entitled to speak to the press or to whomever they wish. 

I am also ashamed of my fellow reporters – that so few of us have pushed to speak directly to the prisoners. I am ashamed that in the UK, where I just vacationed, many more interviews of released detainees have been published. It gives a completely different picture of who is in there to hear someone who got out actually speak. The absence of such interviews here lets this myth – of their darkness, their probable evil – rule uncontested.

BUZZFLASH: From your account, the military personnel appeared, in general, politically polite if not particularly forthcoming. What is the public relations game being played by the Pentagon in taking journalists on a tour of Guantanamo?

WOLF: You know, the Nazis has a `show concentration camp’ that had window boxes with flowers in it, and an orchestra. They took reporters there.

Everyone would admit that there might be a few inmates who were "terrorists" around 9/11, but they are suspected to be the vast minority. Is Guantanamo our version of the Gulag?

The simple answer is yes. The Gulag housed a few prisoners who may have had designs against the Soviet State (as any sane person would have, by 1937) but the overwhelming majority were there for comparable reasons – ordinary citizens, turned in by neighbors – out of fear and self-protection, rather than for money, but kept there by the same absence of due process, same kangaroo courts, same lack of transparency. That is why I am obsessed with keeping al-Hanashi’s name before the public – once the state can 'disappear' someone in custody into a black hole, no one is safe.

BUZZFLASH: Were the 40-pound rats you came across in prisoner cells symbolic of the grim, rancid legal farce and violation of the Geneva Convention that is Guantanamo?

WOLF: Well said, Mark, and I would have to agree. They are apt symbols of the corruption I witnessed there, in Obama’s Guantanamo.

BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW

Read 1105 times Last modified on Tuesday, 08 September 2009 05:53