And Now For Something Completely

Detainees at Camp X-Ray Original caption: Deta...
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This is a bit long, but I hope you’ll read through it anyway. Things like this have been going on too long, and if we don’t soon get a grip on who we are, we may not like who we become.

The Same

Apparently, we’re still basically saying that we don’t give a damn about the fact that we torture folks, even when we know that they have never done anything against us.

We are such a great nation.

There were 3 guys in Guantanamo. They all died on the same night in June 2006. The US government says they all committed suicide.

Supposedly, even though in isolation, with zero contact, they all decided to tie their hands behind their backs, then stuff wads of cloth very far down their throats, then put a mask on so they wouldn’t accidentally spit out the wads while they were choking, then climbed up on a wash basin in their cells, then put their heads through a noose made of more sheets than were issued to prisoners, then jumped off the sink, hanging themselves, simultaneously.

There are other accounts, however. From “The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle” published in Harpers Magazine (bold emphasis mine):

When I asked Talal Al-Zahrani what he thought had happened to his son, he was direct. “They snatched my seventeen-year-old son for a bounty payment,” he said. “They took him to Guantánamo and held him prisoner for five years. They tortured him. Then they killed him and returned him to me in a box, cut up.”

Al-Zahrani was a brigadier general in the Saudi police. He dismissed the Pentagon’s claims, as well as the investigation that supported them. Yasser, he said, was a young man who loved to play soccer and didn’t care for politics. The Pentagon claimed that Yasser’s frontline battle experience came from his having been a cook in a Taliban camp. Al-Zahrani said that this was preposterous: “A cook? Yasser couldn’t even make a sandwich!”

“Yasser wasn’t guilty of anything,” Al-Zahrani said. “He knew that. He firmly believed he would be heading home soon. Why would he commit suicide?” The evidence supports this argument. Hyperbolic U.S. government statements at the time of Yasser Al-Zahrani’s death masked the fact that his case had been reviewed and that he was, in fact, on a list of prisoners to be sent home. I had shown Al-Zahrani the letter that the government says was Yasser’s suicide note and asked him whether he recognized his son’s handwriting. He had never seen the note before, he answered, and no U.S. official had ever asked him about it. After studying the note carefully, he said, “This is a forgery.”

Also returned to Saudi Arabia was the body of Mani Al-Utaybi. Orphaned in his youth, Mani grew up in his uncle’s home in the small town of Dawadmi. I spoke to one of the many cousins who shared that home, Faris Al-Utaybi. Mani, said Faris, had gone to Baluchistan—a rural, tribal area that straddles Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan—to do humanitarian work, and someone there had sold him to the Americans for $5,000. He said that Mani was a peaceful man who would harm no one. Indeed, U.S. authorities had decided to release Al-Utaybi and return him to Saudi Arabia. When he died, he was just a few weeks shy of his transfer.

Salah Al-Salami was seized in March 2002, when Pakistani authorities raided a residence in Karachi believed to have been used as a safe house by Abu Zubaydah and took into custody all who were living there at the time. A Yemeni, Al-Salami had quit his job and moved to Pakistan with only $400 in his pocket. The U.S. suspicions against him rested almost entirely on the fact that he had taken lodgings, with other students, in a boarding house that terrorists might at one point have used. There was no direct evidence linking him either to Al Qaeda or to the Taliban. On August 22, 2008, the Washington Post quoted from a previously secret review of his case: “There is no credible information to suggest [Al-Salami] received terrorist related training or is a member of the Al Qaeda network.” All that stood in the way of Al-Salami’s release from Guantánamo were difficult diplomatic relations between the United States and Yemen.

Law and Legacy

Two of the families opened legal proceedings against the United States. This week, Judge Ellen Huvelle dismissed the lawsuit because of the Military Commissions Act of 2006. In short, her answer to the families was “So sorry! My hands are tied. Besides it’s obvious they were guilty because the military said so. Nothing we can do here!”

Apparently, the Bush administration’s legacy is still with us. And with this decision, it becomes a part of the Obama legacy. If things like are allowed to stand, it becomes the legacy of all of us.

Read this, from Harpers again. You’ll see that the esteemed judge made at least one blatantly false statement:


In the lawsuit, the families of Yasser Al-Zahrani and Salah Ali Abdullah Ahmed Al-Salami sought damages under the Alien Tort Claims Act, arguing that the two prisoners had been wrongfully imprisoned, tortured, and subjected to cruel, unusual, and inhuman punishment. In dismissing the suit, Judge Huvelle did not parse the claims brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the families of the deceased prisoners. Rather, she concluded that Congress had stripped the court of jurisdiction to hear and resolve such cases when it enacted the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Pete Yost of the Associated Press reports:

The judge said the two detainees were properly determined by the U.S. military to be enemy combatants. Citing an appeals court decision, Huvelle said judicial involvement in the “delicate area” of how detainees are treated could undermine military and diplomatic efforts by the U.S. government on the terrorism front.

Al-Zahrani, 22 years old when he died, was captured in Afghanistan in late 2001 and he was 17 years old when he was transferred to Guantanamo in 2002, according to the suit by the men’s families. Al-Salami was arrested by local forces in Pakistan in March 2002.

Judge Huvelle’s conclusion that the detainees were “properly determined” to be “enemy combatants” runs contrary to the evidence. Both men were turned over to U.S. forces for bounty payments, and a thorough investigation of their cases by American military intelligence concluded that there was no meaningful evidence to link either man to either Al Qaeda or the Taliban. Al-Zahrani had been placed on a list to be released back to Saudi Arabia, immediately behind Mani Al-Utaybi, who also died under still unexplained circumstances on June 9, 2006, at approximately the same time as Al-Zahrani and Al-Salami, according to pathologists.

The decision to dismiss the cases follows from a Bush Administration effort to block judicial examination of any case involving the death or mistreatment of prisoners at Guantánamo, which was incorporated in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 as one of the last measures adopted by the G.O.P.-controlled Congress following elections that delivered control to the Democrats. Although President Obama, as an Illinois senator, voted against the act and joined in calls for its repeal, his administration has yet to take steps to overturn it. The measure, as applied by Judge Huvelle, placed the United States in breach of its obligations under the Convention Against Torture. Article 14 of the Convention provides:

Each State Party shall ensure in its legal system that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible. In the event of the death of the victim as a result of an act of torture, his dependents shall be entitled to compensation.


Both men were turned over for bounty payments? Extraordinary Rendition, indeed.

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 doesn’t supersede any treaty we’ve entered into with another nation. New laws are supposed to take into account any provisions of all treaties currently enforced. Laws which do not cannot be passed without a repudiation of the treaty.

And even if the intent of the law in question was to keep the civilian justice system from invading the military justice system, which is apparently what it was trying to do, these guys had been determined non-combatants, not the enemy.

For the judge to blatantly lie about that as an excuse to get out of hearing a difficult case says much about our judicial system, and much about us.