Gitmo prisoners: Exceptional justice from the exceptional US

John Wight
John Wight has written for a variety of newspapers and websites, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal.
Gitmo prisoners: Exceptional justice from the exceptional US
Shaker Aamer is a Saudi citizen with UK legal resident status – married to a British citizen with four British children. He has been held in captivity by the Americans at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba for 12 years.

In that time he has never been charged with any crime and has been cleared twice for release, with the stipulation that he be sent back to Saudi Arabia and not the UK. His legal team have refused to accept this condition, claiming that he will face torture in Saudi Arabia. In the week in which five ranking members of the Taliban were released from Guantanamo in exchange for US Army Sergeant Bowe Berghadi, held prisoner in Afghanistan for five years, we are entitled to ponder what qualifies as justice in Washington?

Many of us still recall the fanfare with which President Barack Obama pledged to close the US detention facility at Guantanamo Bay at the start of his first term as president in January 2009. Yet over five years on the facility still holds captive 78 human beings who, like Shaker Aamer, have been held for 12 years or more and who have been cleared for release. Those 78 make up just over half the 149 detainees that are still being held at Guantanamo.

Though commentators are now speculating that the release of five Taliban militants paves the way for the eventual release of the last remaining detainees at the facility, its existence as an extralegal US detention facility on the island of Cuba has already exposed the existence of the most profound hypocrisy and cruelty at the heart of the US establishment. If any other country in the world operated such a facility outside its own borders, the United States would be first in line to denounce it, demand its closure, and hold the government concerned to account under international law - on the basis that its detainees are being held there in a state of legal limbo, denied both the rights enshrined in the US Constitution, due to the fact they are being held outside the US itself, or the rights of prisoners of war enshrined in the Geneva Convention.

The scandal that is Guantanamo Bay compels us to explore the wider issue of US exceptionalism and its negative global impact. When we do, perhaps the most damning indictment is the size of the US military budget, which currently stands at $640 billion. This is more than the total amount spent on defense by the next eight nations combined, which comes to $607 billion.

Such a gargantuan sum funds over 1000 US military installations and bases across the globe, including Guantanamo, and the deployment of US military personnel in 130 nations. It amounts to staggering evidence of the reach of US imperialism, and also an indication of Washington’s insecurity when it comes to the rest of the world. Military power as a bulwark of economic, cultural, and geopolitical reach describes weakness rather than strength.

A protestor holds up a sign calling for the release of Shaker Aamer from the Guantanamo prison during a demonstration in central London, on January 11, 2010. (AFP Photo/Leon Neal)

Guantanamo began life as a detention facility under the Bush administration in January 2002, four months after the atrocity of 9/11, with the first detainees arriving thereafter. It came under the rubric of the War on Terror that was declared by President Bush and was revealed to consist of the torture of prisoners, both at Guantanamo and at various other detention facilities around the world, and the extraordinary rendition of prisoners to third countries, where they were held in a state of incommunicado and also suffered tortured.

Investigative journalist, Naomi Klein, exposed the widespread use of torture against detainees during this period in her bestselling book The Shock Doctrine (Allen Lane 2007). She writes: “Unknown numbers of prisoners have disappeared into the network of so-called black sites around the world, or been shipped by US agents to foreign-run jails through extraordinary rendition. Prisoners who have emerged from these nightmares testify to having faced the full arsenal of Cameron-style shock tactics.”

The ‘Cameron-style shock tactics’ to which Klein refers are mind control methods pioneered by a Scottish-born Canadian psychiatrist – who later became a US citizen - Dr Ewen Cameron, during research he conducted at McGill University Montreal in the 1950s, which included experiments on human subjects. What Cameron invented was electroshock therapy, initially designed to treat mental illness but later discredited as dangerous and harmful to patients. The CIA, however, developed Cameron’s methods throughout the fifties and into the sixties, in conjunction with the doctor, as a way to break down the resistance of prisoners during interrogation. Among the methods developed were sensory deprivation, input overload, and most controversially of all, water boarding, which simulates drowning.

These are the torture methods that have been routinely employed by the CIA and other US military personnel on prisoners over the past decade at facilities like Guantanamo Bay in Cuba and Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

Interestingly, as we return to the prisoner swap that has seen five Guantanamo detainees released in exchange for Sergeant Bowe Berghadi, President Obama has come in for heavy criticism in the US for releasing men still considered a threat to the security of US military personnel in Afghanistan and elsewhere. As for Sergeant Berghadi, initial celebrations over his release have given way to accusations that he is a deserter, with calls for his conduct to be investigated by the same US military that worked to get him home. The episode looks to have rebounded on the Obama administration negatively, shining a harsh light on a president who appears increasingly embattled as he struggles to deal with the limits of the aforesaid US exceptionalism when it comes to Syria and Ukraine.

Any moral authority claimed by Washington when it comes to both of these conflicts is a product of delusion. In truth the United States in 2014 has no moral authority anywhere. On the contrary, its recent record when it comes to detention without charge or trial, torture, military intervention, and the violation of national sovereignty as and where it suits its geopolitical interests, reveals it to be an out of control juggernaut and a threat to global peace, security, and stability.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.