Guantanamo’s Birthday from Cuba

Fernando Ravsberg

Correspondents covering the arrival of the first prisoners to Guantanamo. Photo: Raquel Perez

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 10 — A statement from Amnesty International reminds us that the Guantanamo prison is marking a birthday in January 2012. It was exactly a decade ago that the first prisoners of the “war on terror” were sent there.

From the mountains of Cuba, a group of foreign correspondents watched the maneuvers of that landing. Viewed from the lens of our cameras, the detainees seemed very small, moving in chains among their enormous military guards.

No one knew for sure what would be the fate of those men who we saw disembarking from the aircraft.

They were “enemy combatants,” a new race devoid of the basic rights we other human beings enjoy. Without proof, they can be captured, kidnapped, illegally transported, tortured and detained without ever being legally tried.

Their legal classification was determined under the same president who legalized the use of torture. This was a policy that candidate Obama promised to change, thus receiving the support of the majority of Americans and the international community.

When he assumed the presidency, he told the world that what he would do in the fight against terrorism would be different:  “We’ll do it in a way that is consistent with our values and our ideals.”

On January 22, 2009, on his second day in the White House, Obama issued an executive order that ordered the closing of the prison camp at Guantanamo within a year. Other orders signed that day by the new president made torture illegal, along with the entire CIA program that allowed the retention of secret prisons, where individuals suspected of terrorism were held for years and without judicial oversight.

Notwithstanding, time passed and Obama’s orders were not carried out. Moreover, the president has just signed a law that gives total freedom to the US government to detain suspects indefinitely, regardless of whether they’re foreigners or US citizens.

What’s curious is that Obama claims he disagrees with key aspects of the law. As he stated, “I signed it despite having serious reservations with certain provisions that regulate the detention, interrogation, and prosecution of suspected terrorists.”

Secret Pentagon cables revealed by Wikileaks confirmed that 60 percent of those arrested were taken to Guantanamo without conclusive evidence against them. It was enough for them to be considered a “probable” threat to the US, even “maybe” a threat or sometimes even if they were “unlikely” to be a threat.

A total of 779 prisoners of 40 nationalities have passed through that prison. At least a dozen of them were children and eight of the detainees died – six of them by suicide.

Among the other cases of those held at Guantanamo as “enemy combatants” was an 89-year-old man with dementia and depression whose only crime was to have had a satellite phone in his house. Another man had a cousin in the Jihad and a third was held there for having taken transit routes used by the Taliban.

However almost no one was able to prove their innocence because only 1 percent of the 700 people who passed through the prison camp were tried, according to the cables from the Pentagon.

At a conference in Spain, a colleague with a major media outlet in Madrid told us that he cared more about the life of one Cuban than 100 blacks. But according to the universal declaration of human rights, these are for everyone – including Africans, Indigenous peoples, Asians and Arabs.

They are also for those who think differently, for those acting outside the law and even for those using extreme violence against innocent civilians. Everyone should have the right to just treatment, a fair trial and a real defense.

However, it seems that we foreign correspondents who had hoped to return to the mountains to witness the departure of the last prisoners from the US military base will have to wait.

What’s more, with the new law that President Obama signed recently we’ll have to get ready to see, in the not too distant future, Afghans sharing their cells in Guantanamo with US citizens.

An authorized translation by Havana Times (from the Spanish original) published by Cartas Desde Cuba.