(MintPress) – Hundreds participated in demonstrations across the U.S. Friday calling for Washington to close the Guantanamo Bay prison on the 11th anniversary of the illegal facility’s opening. With 167 detainees remaining in the extrajudicial facility, human rights advocates are pushing President Obama to make good on one of his key campaign promises, to close a “sad chapter in American history” by repatriating innocent detainees or holding transparent, constitutional trials for those guilty of crimes against the U.S.
Guantanamo Bay prison remains a blight to the already poor human rights record of the U.S. Critics charge that the torture of 779 prisoners since 2002, held without charge or trial, will only embolden terrorist groups seeking to harm the U.S.
The fight to close Guantanamo
Amnesty International has previously labelled the the prison a “human rights scandal” joining a bevy of human rights organizations calling for Guantanamo to be closed immediately. Protests took place Friday outside the White House as well as in Chicago, Dallas, London, Los Angeles and Miami.
“Amnesty is calling for Obama to close Guantanamo. It has been over a decade of human rights violations. Our campaign has been going on for years pressing the government to resolve the cases by either trying the prisoners or releasing them,” said Amnesty spokesperson Zeke Johnson in a recent MintPress News statement.
“We are pressing all three branches of the government because they have committed human rights violations in the so called ‘global war on terror,’” added Johnson the director of Amnesty’s International Security with Human Rights Campaign.
Protesters wearing hoods and orange jumpsuits resembling Guantanamo prison garb reportedly walked through the streets of Washington, D.C., passing key government buildings, including the FBI building, to protest the continued torture at Guantanamo.
Previous demonstrations against the prison have drawn large numbers of demonstrators representing what Johnson describes as a broad coalition of “Occupy protesters, 9/11 survivors, former military members and people of all faiths.”
“The United States has an operation that can only be described as a medieval torture chamber. It’s in violation of Geneva Convention, and in violation of the U.S. constitution. It violates legal principles such as trial by jury that goes back thousands of years,” anthropologist Dr. Mark Mason said in a recent statement.
CodePink, a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement, also led protests in Washington, joining Amnesty and others calling for an immediate end to illegal torture and imprisonment at Guantanamo by closing the facility known commonly as “Gitmo.”
President Barack Obama, once an outspoken critic of the prison has become increasingly supportive of Gitmo in recent years. Earlier this month, President Obama signed the $633 billion defense bill for 2013, effectively blocking the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison and contradicting previous campaign promises made in 2008. The issue was a top priority for the former senator, promising to close the prison within one year of entering the White House.
The camp was opened in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks during the Bush administration as a means to supposedly contain the world’s most dangerous terrorists threatening U.S. national security. Those detained were described as “the worst of a very bad lot” by Vice President Dick Cheney. “They are very dangerous. They are devoted to killing millions of Americans, innocent Americans, if they can, and they are perfectly prepared to die in the effort.”
While some, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammad and several others, have been directly tied to the Sept. 11 attacks that killed thousands of Americans, the majority have been held without formal evidence or charge linking them to any terrorist activities.
The Guantanamo files released by WikiLeaks released in 2011 show that U.S. officials acknowledged that many prisoners did not belong at the facility and should be freed.
In fact, among the more than 779 individuals who have passed through the camp have been several elderly men suffering from dementia and children as young as 14. Mohammed Sadiq, an 89-year-old Afghan man suffering from acute dementia and prostate cancer, was among those cleared for released after months of interrogation during his illegal imprisonment in 2002.
After interrogating Sadiq, U.S. officials concluded that he was “not affiliated with al-Qaida, not a Taliban leader and possessed, no further intelligence value to the United States.” He was repatriated to Afghanistan after four months.
Similarly, 70-year-old Haji Faiz Mohammed, also suffering from senile dementia, was sent to Guantanamo from Afghanistan, interrogated and then released after officials stated, “There is no reason on the record for the detainee being transferred to Guantanamo Bay detention facility.”
Untold numbers of prisoners transferred out of Guantanamo have suffered like Sadiq and Mohammed, random victims of the U.S.-led “global war on terror.”
Since 2002, more than 500 prisoners have been repatriated or sent to one of 37 countries agreeing to accept released prisoners in controversial transfers where detainees do not hold citizenship.
“In theory, people can be held forever. Basically the government is saying is that human rights can be violated at will. That is unacceptable,” added Johnson.
Torture at Gitmo
Widespread torture, both physical and mental, have been recorded by rights organizations largely through the testimony of released prisoners. Waterboarding, a tactic simulating the sensation of drowning, was used repeatedly on detainees, a form of “enhanced interrogation” supported by the Bush administration.
Moazzam Begg, a British national, recalls being kidnapped from his home in front of his family. Begg was detained in Pakistan alleged to have provided material support for terrorist operations. “I know that in my case and in the case of many others, I wouldn’t have gone to Guantanamo had it not been for my own government,” said Begg in a public statement.
In a 2004 letter, Begg said his conditions of imprisonment were “torturous.” Although the Pentagon still maintains that Begg is guilty of organizing terrorist operations in Pakistan, he was released without charge in 2005. The former prisoner now lives in the U.K.
One case illuminating the use of torture was the detention and transportation of Mohammed Nechla, a Bosnian national taken into custody in 2001 for allegedly plotting an attack against a U.S. embassy.
In his harrowing two day trip from Bosnia to Guantanamo, Nechla along with five other Bosnian detainees were transported with sensory deprivation goggles on their eyes, surgical-type masks on their mouths and headphone-type coverings over their ears.
After spending hours sitting on the ground in sub-freezing temperatures, Nechla and the others were forced onto a plane. The pain from Nechla’s wrist restraints was
excruciating because they were so tight; he was reportedly crying and screaming, “My hands, my hands!” He began to feel numbness in his hands and arms, according to a 2006 report by the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Nechla reports that upon his arrival at Guantanamo, he and other detainees were forced to sit outdoors in the scorching sun for hours without water while guards hurled insults. Soldiers reportedly punched detainees around their head and shoulders.
Writs of habeas corpus, extending basic constitutional legal rights to prisoners, have been filed on behalf of prisoners in the past 11 years. However, these requests have been largely ignored by U.S. courts. Despite Washington’s insistence on trying prisoners by military tribunals, detentions still violate the basic tenets of international law forbidding the use of torture.
Guantanamo: Fodder for terror and anti-Americanism
Critics also charge that the prison has been used as a propaganda tool for al-Qaida and other terrorists groups highlighting U.S. torture as reason for continuing attacks against the U.S.
Closing the prison should not be seen as capitulation to terrorists’ demands — rather it should be seen as a way to undermine terrorist propaganda while improving the image of the U.S. worldwide.
Even Barack Obama once supported this notion, saying in 2009, “The existence of Guantanamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.”
Experts contend that while Obama has not done enough to shutter Guantanamo, Congress is also to blame for consistently blocking efforts to bring detainees to the U.S. for trial.
David Cole, a professor at Georgetown University school of Law, wrote last year, “Congress has barred Obama from transferring any detainees to the United States, not even to stand trial in a criminal court, and has put onerous conditions on their being transferred to any other country.”
He adds, “These measures have effectively frozen in place one of the most counterproductive aspects of our national security policy – and given Al Qaeda just what it wants.”