Saturday, July 20, 2013

John Grishom: "Gitmo, a sad perversion of American Justice"

US justice: Making friends around the world
by Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

The only way one can avoid being sickened and disgusted by the existence of the Guantanamo concentration camp in US occupied Cuba is if one ignores it; and that’s what the vast majority of Americans do.  For many years growing up in Britain I paid little attention to the terrorism of the British state in Northern Ireland as well. I couldn’t avoid the news completely so the hunger strikers, the B Specials, the sectarian killings the treatment of Catholics and what it meant, all came to me through the “official” state media.  With some help, I eventually broke out of my isolation and came to understand the history behind the occupation of Ireland’s six northern counties and the troubles and violence that was still occurring there.

After spending billions of dollars of US taxpayer money arming al Qaeda and the Islamic movement in Afghanistan, the employer/employee relationship between the Pentagon and the Taliban, the backward reactionary feudal warlords, was eventually severed by 1999. (Up until 1999 every Taliban official was on the payroll of the US government, treatment of women be damned.) *  After 911, the US offered its new allies, the ruthless Northern Alliance, bounties if they captured and handed over terrorists which they did with gusto.  People were then jailed, tortured, killed and eventually drugged, hooded and flown to the concentration camp at Guantanamo. As we shared with our readers recently, many Taliban that surrendered with the promise of amnesty were brutally murdered under the guidance of US military personnel.  The fate of three British tourists, rounded up by US allies is well documented in the movie Road to Guantanamo. For the US public, burdened with the most censored media and highly efficient state surveillance and propaganda machine, we have no clue who the people in Guantanamo really are.

The hunger strike at Guantanamo is continuing and some prisoners are considering the only path open to them, plead guilty to war crimes in the hope of getting some sort of trial.  That’s what 11-year resident, Sufiyan Barhoumi would like to do the Wall Street Journal reports this week.  The problem is that the Pentagon won’t charge him with anything.  One of the reasons is the legal wrangling that is going on around these detainees.  The main war US capitalism is engaged in is the “War on terror”, and “terror” not being a nation or having an army or state as it is actually a tactic, tends to complicate things.

The human beings in Guantanamo are not in America, I don’t mean physically, because Guantanamo is in occupied Cuba, but legally and other ways.  In the US under most circumstances, the justice system releases you if you are not charged with a crime after a certain time.  But not so in Guantanamo as the WSJ explains:

“Elsewhere in the American justice system, suspects go free unless prosecutors file charges. In Guantanamo, the opposite is true: Detainees who aren't charged and are presumed innocent under the Military Commissions Act of specific war crimes nevertheless face indefinite detention because the Pentagon has classified them as enemy combatants.”

“Enemy combatants” is a handy term and doesn’t fall from the sky by chance.  Language is important it seems. Being “enemy combatants” or, as we are finding out a “terrorist” strips you of rights society offers to the population as a whole or rights that soldiers have when nations enter conflict.  British colonialism refused to give the collective term “rebellion” to those who fought its occupation and theft of their land as this would give them legitimacy.  The Mau Mau were terrorists not freedom fighters, the same with Irish resistance to 500 years of British occupation. The difference is significant as convicting a Guantanamo inmate of war crimes means the thugs at the Pentagon must prove it to a military commission beyond a reasonable doubt.  But with enemy combatants, all that has to be shown is that a “preponderance of evidence”  or with as the WSJ explains “a 51% certainty”  the accused “belonged to a force associated with the Taliban or Al Qaeda”.  As I point out above you’d have to arrest the entire US Congress for that but the statute of limitation has expired on that one conveniently. What al Qaeda is if it is anything at all is a mystery as any resistance to US imperialism’s adventures are “alleged militants” “alleged insurgents” “terrorists” etc.  Friends of the Pentagon are always “rebels”.

So the methods and practices in Guantanamo are not new.  Domestically, they are used in US prisons daily.  For example, Guantanamo authorities are suggesting that they will file charges so concentration camp occupants can offer some sort of legal response and a chance of leaving the place if they testify against each other. In the present hunger strikes in California prisons this is one of the demands, stop forcing inmates to snitch on each other.  While it has been proven that not very useful information comes from torture as people will say anything to put an end to it, getting prisoners to turn anyone in for anything in order to improve their own conditions serves the authorities well, it divides the population, increases internecine gang and racial warfare and strengthens the forces of the state. This is why the struggle for prisoner’s rights must include the right to have independent unions that can represent their interests. In the case of the above mentioned Mr. Barhoumi, they want him to testify against a fellow inmate considered more important,

Being more important than Barhoumi this man was not sent straight to Guantanamo but first to a CIA torture center in Afghanistan where he was waterboarded 83 times according to the WSJ. As with inmates in the US gulag, the human character is very strong as is the hatred of organized state forces and people don’t give up others easily. It’s not a question of taking sides here but even those we oppose have to be respected at times for their principled commitment to what they believe rightly or wrongly is a just cause.  Mr. Barhoumi is “willing to work with this system and plead guilty because it’s his only alternative to indefinite detention” Capt. Justin Swick, his defense attorney tells the WSJ, but he refuses to win his freedom or possibility of it by testifying against others which is the US government’s condition to set the process in motion, “He won’t help convict someone else in a system he believes is illegitimate” says Swick.

There are some decent people in this world. Swick points out that Guantanamo authorities refused to allow John Grisham novels in to the camp as they’re “problematic”.  I’ve never read a Grisham novel so I’m not really sure what horrific dangers one could produce for US authorities or how they threaten the American way of life. But I am tempted to read Mr Grishom whose response to Guantanamo authorities concern about safety and inmate care was, “In response to all their humaneness is to ask where waterboarding fits in.” adding that “Gitmo is a sad perversion of American justice.”

Apparently, the thugs that run the place have backed off on the Grishom novels for MR. Bargoumi, perhaps as a response to the massive hunger strike that is occurring there.  Barhoumi is pleased but will wait till he’s off hunger strike before he reads them. 

The  US state apparatus combines coercion, manipulation, incarceration and the most brutal violence in its war on the workers and middle class. Guantanamo is nothing new, not the exception when it comes to the treatment of the incarcerated.Along with this, racism, sexism and blaming immigrants and foreigners for their crisis, are all tactics aimed at weakening the unity of the working class. People have an understanding that to confront this war machine is serious business and a daunting task; the lack of mass protests at the war being waged against workers in the US is not simply due to apathy. Although we have seen some resistance over the past period and tremendous support for the Occupy Movement as well as lots of isolated individual struggles around the environment,  racism, police brutality, housing etc. , I think there is still a strong feeling among the majority of the population that there’s not much we can do, so there’s a sort of numbing to it all and a “get on with my life” attitude hoping the tide will turn.  But more and more Americans are drawing the conclusion that the tide will not turn so this mood can rapidly change as US history shows and an overconfident US capitalist class can and will make some serious miscalculations that will hasten this process.

*See Michel Chossudovsky: War and Globalization 

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