On Monday, I was delighted to be interviewed for Swiss National Television (SF), for a ten-minute feature, “Geheimakte Guantánamo,” on the main channel, SF1. The program followed an announcement that the Swiss government was entertaining the possibility of rehousing up to four cleared prisoners in Guantánamo, who cannot be repatriated because of fears that they will face torture in their home countries, and that representatives of the government had recently visited Guantánamo to review the cases of the four men — apparently, two Uighurs, an Uzbek and a Palestinian.
You’ll need to understand German to follow the interview — and the rest of the program, for that matter — but I was pleased that I had been asked to explain how prisoners had ended up in Guantánamo without anyone really knowing who they were — because the majority were handed over by the Americans’ Afghan or Pakistani allies, at a time when bounty payments for “al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects” were widespread, and also because, once they ended up in US custody, they were never adequately screened to ascertain whether or not they were combatants.
I also had the opportunity to explain how much of the supposed “evidence” against the prisoners was extracted from other prisoners, or from the prisoners themselves, under dubious circumstances (involving, on the one hand, coercion or torture, and, on the other, bribery; in other words, “confessions” in exchange for better living conditions), and to emphasize how these untrustworthy circumstances — and the equally unreliable “mosaics” of evidence built up by the intelligence services — have failed to persuade judges in 30 of the 37 habeas corpus petitions that have so far been ruled upon in US District Courts (as I explained at length in a series of articles here, here and here, with updates here and here).
As a result, although I was not asked for specific details of the men in question, I am aware that there should be no obstacle to any country in Europe (or elsewhere) accepting the Uighurs (as the Bush administration spectacularly dropped all charges against them last year), nor, more importantly, that there should be any obstacle to any country accepting other cleared prisoners either, as they were approved for transfer by military review boards during the Bush administration, have had their habeas corpus petitions approved by the US courts, or have recently been approved for release by the Obama administration’s interagency Guantánamo Task Force, established on President Obama’s second day in office.
The fact that doubts may remain about some of these men (and in Switzerland, as elsewhere, it seems that discussions regarding rehousing prisoners are largely split along conservative/liberal lines) is less to do with the quality of the “evidence” against them, and more to do with the fact that President Obama has not sufficiently acknowledged the chronic failures of the Bush administration’s detention policies in the “War on Terror” (allowing his opponents to take the initiative and pass legislation preventing any prisoners from being resettled in the United States), and, perhaps, that visiting Guantánamo to review military case files is not the best way to receive a balanced picture of the prisoners. In the case of the Uighurs, moreover, the situation is further complicated by fears that accepting any of the men will cause a diplomatic rift with the People’s Republic of China.
My conclusion, which I am happy to repeat if it is of any use at all, is that the taint of Guantánamo is — with the exception of the few dozen prisoners regarded as having a genuine involvement with terrorism — an almost intolerable burden on those who need new homes after being held for nearly eight years, mostly without charge or trial, in a prison that is both widely and accurately regarded as a stain on all notions of justice. Only in Guantánamo could doubts still remain about men whose release has been ordered by US courts or recommended by a military review board or an interagency Task Force.
To help bring the abomination that is Guantánamo to an end, countries in Europe need to ignore the hype, and to be reassured that the US government has no intention of releasing prisoners who might pose a threat to anyone. They might also, in private, ask President Obama to speak out more, to make this clear, and also to help them explain to their own citizens why they are being asked to clean up the mess left by the Bush administration, while the US itself refuses to do the same.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, and if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
Hmmm, herewith two items ripped from today’s Internet headlines:
Palau agrees to take 12 Uighurs from Guantanamo: U.S.
Palau creates world’s first shark sanctuary
I hope it’s just my paranoia, but I can’t help but think “there’s more than ONE way to preventively detain a captive”.
Hope you don’t mind this bit of mordant humor. Best wishes, and thanks for your outstanding reporting.
Thanks, Little Brother, for the dose of mordant humor. Sometimes it’s the only way to get through all this …
And thanks also for the supportive words. Always much appreciated.
There are islands in the Pacific which will be submerged in a few years when the caps melt away. Perhaps we could build a prison on one of these sunny beaches and since Cheney and Rumsfeld are so sure they know how to handle evil people, we should make them the warden and guard of this prison. Then we dump the few bad guys as well as the previous administration onto the island, continue doing damn little but talk about climate change, and eventually we’ll look around and voila! No evil men, no island. Problem solved. No moral issues to disturb our sleep and no more Cheney to really piss me off every time he opens his fascist lying mouth, the murdering baby killer. sigh. I do so wish that SOB was in prison pleading for his life, I really do, and it bothers me that I am so inclined toward violence just because they murdered several thousand innocent women, children, old folks, pets etc etc. and used my tax dollars, which should be going toward restoring my son to some semblance of consciousness. There isn’t enough money to give him therapies to try to heal his brain injury, but there’s enough money to send bombs to Israel, Iraq and Pakistan, causing more brain injuries, more crying parents. It’s beyond “not right”, there needs to be a better word for this sort of crime.
Good to hear from you, as ever, and thanks for both the visceral response to Cheney — and his “fascist lying mouth” (love it!) — and the very heartfelt explanation of how screwed up our world is when war trumps everything, and care and concern for others are marginalized or crushed completely.
[…] to reports in the Swiss media, the government representatives concluded that, of the four men they investigated, two Uighurs were […]
[…] Guantánamo, I briefed a Swiss journalist on the background to the Guantánamo stories, noting, in a description that is not out of place a year and a half later, “how prisoners had ended up in Guantánamo without anyone really knowing who they were […]
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: