As most people know, the US runs an offshore Detention Camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Guantanamo, or GITMO, was established in 2002 so the Bush regime could house, interrogate, detain, render, and torture suspected “terrorists” and “persons of interest” captured in the so-called “War on Terror.”
Detainees at Guantanamo are explicitly denied the protections of The Geneva Conventions, which prohibit the use of torture, humiliation, and degrading treatment against “enemy combatants” (the US makes a convenient and legally hollow distinction between “terrorist” and “enemy combatant”). The Geneva Conventions also confer judicial protections on Prisoners of War, including the right to due process, habeas corpus, etc. Though Guantanamo has been used to interrogate and detain high value detainees (Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi Bin Al-Shiebh, etc), it has done so at the expense of International Law, the United Nations, and even Obama himself, who campaigned on the promise that he’d close Guantanamo.
Human Rights organizations have also unambiguously condemned Guantanamo. The International Committee of the Red Cross accused the US military of using “humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremeness, [and] use of forced positions.” They further argued that “the construction of such a system, whose stated purpose is the production of intelligence, cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture.” Amnesty International called it “The Gulag of our Times.” Yet Guantanamo persists, largely due to a very supportive and hawkish congress, and a poorly defined, eternal, Orwellian “War on Terror.” And conveniently, Guantanamo’s location prevents the US government from having to respect and enforce the constitution in its treatment of detainees.
One of the main criticisms of Guantanamo, the most prominent of countless offshore prisons and black sites where we render prisoners and detain them without any judicial protections, is that the presence of the prison (on Occupied Cuban territory) redoubles the perception that the US can defy international law with impunity. The argument goes like this. We routinely criticize barbaric regimes for “waging a war on civilization,” while we deploy barbaric practices that even repressive regimes consider extreme. If the US won’t provide so-called “terrorists” or “persons of interest” with judicial guarantees, and a description of what they’re charged for, how can we be sure that many Guantanamo detainees are even guilty? Why do we allow our government to selectively apply “innocent until proven guilty”? Doesn’t the existence of Guantanamo only inflame Anti American attitudes, and complicate our ability to prosecute people who commit actual acts of terrorism? Why haven’t American military or political officials been punished by other countries for waging aggressive wars, and violating international treaties? Will any US official be punished for Abu Graib, the prison in Iraq where US soldiers sexually humiliated and photographed detainees?
Now let’s go to The Nuremberg Trials (which I wrote about here). Between 1945 and 1946, the Allied Powers organized an International Military Tribunal to try, in a court of law, high officials of the Nazi Party for criminal conspiracy, aggressive war, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Some of the Nazi defendants–Goering, Ribbentrop, Hess, etc.– played pivotal roles in organizing, planning, and executing the deportation and subsequent murder of millions of Jews in concentration camps, launching wars of aggression against countries all throughout Europe, starving and killing millions of Russians, deporting most of Europe into forced labor camps, and subjecting Jews to a campaign of vicious Anti Semitism.
Why, then, did we decide, “to stay the hand of vengeance,” (in the words of the US Lead Prosecutor, Justice Jackson) and rely on criminal proceedings to determine the guilt or innocence of some of the most epic criminals of all time? Why would we give officials complicit in major war crimes the benefit of a trial, which includes the possibility that some Nazi officials would be proved innocent, or at least have their sentences commuted? Why didn’t we simply subject the defendants to “summary executions,” as Churchill recommended? Why did the Allied Powers refuse to torture Nazi officials for “intelligence gathering purposes,” instead relying on evidentiary procedures, discovery, and counsel?
Why have we sacrificed our moral and legal standing–embodied in the Nuremberg Trials–by launching a War on Terror that violates fundamental principles of International Law, and treats suspected terrorists worse than diabolically evil Nazi officials? Why did we grant rights to Nazi officials that we refuse to grant to Guantanamo detainees?
If, as MLK observed, “the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice,” doesn’t Guantanamo prove that the arc bends towards injustice?
How do we get back to Nuremberg?