Guantanamo Bay: More than Just a Few Good Men

24 May 2007

During the past year, it was called the “Gulag of Our Times” by Amnesty International. United States Senator Richard Durbin agreed, but added the comparisons of Nazi Germany and the regime of the Cambodian mass murderer, Pol Pot. (Durbin, Richard). United Nation’s Secretary General Kofi Annan, former President Jimmy Carter, Democratic Senator Joe Biden, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and the New York Times have called for it to be closed. This is not a prison run by the Serbs in the Balkans, nor a sleazy jail somewhere in Central America. We are referring to the United States Detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, commonly referred to as Gitmo.It is imperative that American policy on the war on terror not be directed by global organizations such as the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross. The United States course of action for Gitmo should only be stipulated by the executive and legislative branches of the United States. The facility at Guantanamo Bay was created to detain and interrogate al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters on our war on terror. It is a vital piece to our success in that effort. A determination to shutdown Gitmo would weaken America’s security. It would also play into the hands of our enemies and provide a propaganda triumph for Osama bin Laden and his followers. Furthermore, Gitmo has been severely criticized in the media for its harsh and “illegal” treatment of the detainees. The truth is that the detainees are treated humanely and legal in accordance with the 1949 Geneva Convention (McCarthy, Andrew). Amnesty International, the media, the ICRC, and all the rest of the people who are so concerned about these suspected terrorists, need to understand this is not a band of poorly behaved Cub Scouts, but rather the most vile, debased and evil creatures that the world has to offer. The concern should be for our protection, not theirs.One of the more popular untruths regarding Gitmo is that they are being illegally and indefinitely detained in defiance of the Geneva Convention and “settled” international law. The threat that militant Islam poses today was not envisioned by the framers of Hague Convention, the Geneva Convention and the United Nations Convention Against Torture. The intentions of these compacts are to foster the humane treatment of captured combatants, to limit civilian casualties during armed conflict and to standardize the laws of war. Andrew C. McCarthy a former federal prosecutor in a July 14th, 2004 article in Commentary Magazine exclaims:

The Third Geneva Convention affords specific protections to prisoners of war: that is, lawful or privileged combatants who have been captured while taking part in hostilities. POW status is generally limited to two categories: members of the armed forces of nations that are parties to the conflict, and members of militias and organized resistance movements that belong to a nation that is a party to the conflict, provided they fulfill other conditions such as being part of a formal chain of command, wearing uniforms, etc.). (Crawford, Michael)

The al-Qaeda members do not qualify for POW status as they clearly do not meet the prerequisites set forth in both the Hague and Geneva Conventions. They do not belong to a nation-state, they do not have recognizable uniforms, and they do not have a formal chain of command. The al-Qaeda members purposefully, routinely and indiscriminately target the innocent civilian population around the world. The Bush administration is correct in not affording these suspected terrorists the privileged and honorable status that is accorded to Prisoners of War. They have been deemed illegal combatants and as such, they are not entitled to all the protections that are outlined in the Geneva Convention for POW’s (Fleischer, Ari).

There have been approximately 750 detainees held at Guantanamo (Coughlin, Con). There have been outcries around the world denouncing the indefinite timetable that we have been incarcerating these individuals. However, it is important to note that almost one third have already been released to their native countries. It is stupefying to believe that we should have a set date on when we plan on setting any detainee free. The Geneva Convention states that even POW’s do not have to be freed until all hostilities cease. The reason for this is clear. Captives who are released before the end of armed conflict are likely to rejoin the battle, therefore extending the war. For instance, about a dozen of those released from Gitmo, have either been killed or recaptured in our war on terror (Deroy, Murdock). However, the International Committee of the Red Cross have asserted that conditions at the Guantanamo Bay detention center are “tantamount to torture” stating that indefinite detention is stressful. Furthermore, it is quite obvious the ICRC has lost any semblance of its principles of neutrality, with its numerous and unwarranted anti-American positions. The ICRC has also promulgated the abstraction that the United States is in violation of International Law by not granting the same rights and privileges to the terrorists as we would to a prisoners of war. They specifically point to Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention which was added June 8th, 1977. The ICRC is correct that Protocol 1 does grant protections to non-state militias, which arguably categorize al-Qaeda members. The only problem with this line of reasoning is that the United States declined to be a signatory to Protocol 1. Even though many of our European allies and most notably England have signed onto Protocol 1, the fact remains America did not, and are not bound to its requirements (McCarthy, Andrew). Many on the left have tried to argue that the law has become customary or settled and the U.S. should abide by it. Again, America should not subjugate itself to positions taken by supra-national organizations or non governmental organizations (NGO’s) whether they lean to the left or right politically. The United States Senate took the appropriate action in not ratifying Protocol 1 of the Geneva Convention.

The war on terror is unlike any war our country has faced in our history. We are fighting an unseen enemy-an enemy that can be found in all parts of the globe. This shadowy enemy has no conscience and undoubtedly would kill thousands (they already have) or perhaps millions of our countrymen if they could acquire the weapons or the methodology to achieve their evil goals. This makes our acquisition of intelligence extremely crucial in thwarting their efforts. Intelligence gathering comes in many forms; It could be from spies on the ground, satellite intercepts, reconnaissance photos and interrogation. Once again, the media and many on the left will jump at attacking America in one of our best avenues to defeating al-Qaeda’s attempts at destruction. It seems that they outstrip us of our abilities to properly conduct intelligence procurement. The distortions and exaggerations continue on a daily basis, only to assist the enemy. The recent publicizing of classified activities of the National Security Agency’s wiretapping without warrants could have only helped al-Qaeda and hurt our efforts. This is true whether you believe the actions taken were either legal or not. One of the more practicable attributes of Gitmo is our adeptness at extracting valuable information during interrogation sessions with the detainees. Expectedly, this has now caught the scrutiny and ire of the world community and many on the left in this country who immediately pounce on this opportunity to cry “torture and abuse” at Gitmo. We realize that we are imperfect and that abuses have occurred. For instance, the notorious abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison are well documented and have hurt our image abroad. The actions taken by American service personnel at Abu Ghraib were wrong and many have been severely punished, including the commanding officer of the prison. What many Americans do not realize is that the military had started investigations and disciplinary measures well before the abuses were known to the public. In fact, the Pentagon did issue a press release concerning Abu Ghraib abuses in January 2004, almost four months before the huge outcry took place (Department of Defense Statement on Seymour Hersh Book). How many other countries would have issued a press release documenting potential abuses by its military? Probably none, except us. It is important to understand I am not advocating torture. The United States is a signatory to the 1984 United Nations Convention Against Torture, which includes all in captivity whether they are legal or illegal combatants (McCarthy, Andrew). There is also a question to the veracity of the intelligence received by torture. However, there is a huge difference between what is torture versus what are aggressive interrogation techniques-which have proved very useful in attaining valuable intelligence. Nonetheless, the clamor regarding the use of torture at Gitmo is heard in many circles. From the media to the United States Senate to the dinner tables of America, the discussion of torture committed by American military personnel has taken place. The following excerpt was copied from the Human Rights Watch website:

The interrogation techniques used by U.S. personnel on detainees at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba remain shrouded in mystery. While U.S. policy is that the detainees be treated “humanely,” the Department of Defense has never revealed publicly how the detainees have been interrogated. Journalists who have visited Guantanamo have not been permitted to talk to detainees, and less than three dozen of the 147 detainees who have been released thus far—none of them “high value” detainees—have commented publicly on their treatment. (Interrogation Techniques of Guantanamo Detainees)

For instance, the most perfunctory of readers will be horrified by the secrecy shown by the DOD, and inevitably come to the conclusion that the suspected terrorists are being brutally tortured. However, further introspection should reveal the obvious. Why would the Department of Defense reveal the nature of its interrogation program? This is exactly what our enemies would prefer! They could then use that information and incorporate them into their “playbook” on how to respond to the different coercive tactics that we would employ. Why should journalists have unfettered access to these nefarious individuals? The al-Qaeda captives are well schooled to cry torture every chance they get. A June 29, 2005 article by Donna Miles in the American Forces Press Service, exemplifies this point. An al-Qaeda follower who is apprehended should avoid revealing information at all costs, and should claim mistreatment and torture during their incarceration. This coaching is directly from an official al-Qaeda training pamphlet. According to Miles, officials at Guantanamo Bay state that it is obvious that the detainees are well trained with those policies (Miles, Donna). The journalists would just be spewing their propaganda to the delight of the bin Ladens and al Zarqawis of this world. Regardless, of the complaint regarding the mystery of our interrogation techniques, Human Rights Watch did manage to have a compilation of our methods listed on their site. It is not specified how they obtained this information. I will list a few of the techniques being used. (Interrogation Techniques of Guantanamo Detainees)

  • Yelling at detainees
  • Continually repeating of same questions
  • Staring at detainee to encourage discomfort
  • Use of stress positions (must be approved by the Secretary of Defense)
  • Sensory deprivation (must be approved by the Secretary of Defense)
  • Prolonged interrogations e.g. 20 hours (must be approved by the Secretary of Defense)
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Grabbing, Poking (must be approved by the Secretary of Defense)

While forging ahead with the assumption that this list is fairly accurate, it seems a bit on the mild side, especially for potential terrorists that might be planning unfathomable deadly attacks on our citizens or our soldiers. This register of interrogation certainly falls short of any reasonable definition of what might be considered torture. It certainly falls short of kidnappings, indiscriminate bombings and beheadings of innocent civilians, all of which are in play for al-Qaeda. By what our media churns out, one would be lead to believe that Gitmo interrogators mimic Jack Bauer, the central character of the television show “24”. Bauer, who portrays a U.S. counter terrorism agent, uses all means he deems necessary to obtain information, regardless if it is considered torture or not. Jack Bauer’s world is the fantasy land of Hollywood. We live in the real world where American policy is set by the Secretary of Defense and the President to treat all prisoners humanely. Those who do not follow those rules face punishment, which may include imprisonment. There have been thirty two reported incidents of abuse during interrogations at Gitmo. Ten soldiers have been disciplined for not upholding the proper standards of conduct, although in a majority of those situations, the soldier stated that they had been antagonized by the detainee. The military has conducted over 24,000 interrogations and only a small fraction has resulted in a legitimate finding of abuse. There are currently over 10,000 troops stationed at Guantanamo Bay (Hutchison, Harold).

The charges involving the mishandling of the Koran have been the most incendiary. An article in Newsweek magazine incriminated an American serviceman of flushing a Koran down a toilet. The disclosure of this event came from a May 9th, 2005 Newsweek article written by investigative reporter Michael Isikoff. The publication of this Koran abuse sparked riots in many Muslim countries throughout the world. The resulting violence during these anti-American protests left sixteen people dead and scores more injured. The story was later proved false. Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker issued an apology on May 15th, 2005. However, the damage was done, and people lost their lives (Kurtz, Howard). In all probability, the article further endangered U.S and coalition forces. In a May 26th, 2005 pentagon press briefing Brigadier General Jay Hood reported that there were thirteen allegations of Koran abuse, five were deemed credible, of which two were most likely accidental. Just to point out a frame of reference, mishandling could be construed as U.S. Muslim personnel using only one hand or not donning gloves when touching the Koran. Military police are barred from touching the Koran, and if the Koran needs to be moved, there are a set of stringent rules, which must be obeyed. Any infraction of these rules would be considered non-compliance and hence abuse of the Koran. This is not exactly on the same scope as flying a jetliner into a building. The interesting piece here is that Korans are provided for all Gitmo detainees. To put things in context, when Bibles are destroyed in Saudi Arabia, and Torah’s are burned in Turkey or Tunisia, there is hardly a word of it in the mainstream media. The Department of Defense has no other directives other than that for the Koran on the proper care of holy books from other religions. Nevertheless, the Koran certainly deserves respect, and the Pentagon has gone to great lengths to educate their troops on its proper handling (Wright, Robin).

One of the major sticking points for the American left is the lack of due process for the Gitmo detainees. This really borders on the ludicrous because there is no provision in the law of war that would force a detaining power from charging enemy combatants with crimes or provide them with legal counsel. They have no rights to challenge their imprisonment in the courts. The detaining power does reserve the right to try detainees with military tribunals. The Geneva Conventions clearly recognize this element. It also has precedent in this country and numerous other nations. The Geneva Convention also does not provide the above rights to individuals who have attained POW status-and in past wars Prisoners of War have not been granted these rights (White House Press Secretary). In spite of the fact that there is no requirement to give due process to the Gitmo captives, the Department of Defense has created review tribunals and review boards for the detainees. The Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) and the Administration Review Board (ARB) are provided for the illegal combatants to afford their case an opportunity for review. (White House Press Secretary).

Highlights of Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT):

  • A one-time administrative review for each detainee
  • Allows each detainee to be heard in front of a panel of three neutral U.S military officers.
  • Unclassified portions are open to media and ICRC observation

Highlights of Administrative Review Board (ARB):

  • Annual DOD administrative review to determine each detainees status
  • Outcome based on threat assessment and intelligence value of each detainee
  • Unclassified portions are open to media and ICRC observation

(Processes for Guantanamo Bay Detainees)

Jameel Jaffa, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) staff attorney has severely criticized the Combatant Status Review Tribunal in late 2004 as not providing proper due process. He did admit that the CSRT was working as it was intended. At that time the CSRT had reviewed approximately 200 detainee’s cases, but only recommended one for release (Jaffer, Jameel). Maybe it was the results Mr. Jaffa did not approve of. It is apparent that many individuals, such as Jemeel Jaffa, would prefer to grant these detainees the same rights that American citizens enjoy, with the full protection of the law. It appears that a good percentage of the liberal left would just as well try these global terrorists as if they were shop lifters or tax cheats. And as fighters in a cause eager and willing to target civilian populations, the detainees certainly cannot be treated as mere criminals. This would bottleneck our legal system and make a mockery of our country. The recent trial of Zaccarias Moussoaui exemplifies this point. Moussoaui used the courtroom as his stage to rant on and on, and spew his hateful message to the world. Imagine five hundred of these trials or perhaps five thousand, as our war on terror drags on. This would most likely be the result. The terrorists also know that in American courts the prosecution would need to divulge information that could harm our national security. The liberal media establishment, along with its supra-national partners has admonished the Bush administration on its failure to impart due process for the captives, yet not a whimper could be heard from them about the potentially devastating effect it will have on our national security or our justice system.

Detainees at the Guantanamo Bay detention center receive excellent healthcare. An article by Kathleen T. Rehm in American Forces Press Service provides a glimpse into the exact type of care the Gitmo inmates are eligible for. They can access the identical medical care available to American service personnel. Medical service members have helped detainees recover from substantial battlefield wounds. The twenty eight bed medical center comes with a rehabilitation area, dental clinic, pharmacy, radiology department, and an operating room. Complicated procedures and operations are performed at the Guantanamo Bay naval hospital, which also has an intensive care unit (Rehm, Kathleen). Rehm quotes Capt. Barry Barendse, the deputy command surgeon for JTF Guantanamo. He stated “The standard of care here is the best possible standard of care they [the detainees] could get,” Barendse explained that Navy medical personnel take great pride on the quality of care they provide to the detainees and that humane treatment is “second nature” for the medical staff. Healthcare personnel are continually subjected to abuse and threats of physical harm to themselves and their loved ones by their “patients”. According to Captain Barendse, medical personnel have been warned by the detainees that “”they would kill them if they had the chance and go after the rest of their family if they could.” And still, the standard of care never wavers, he said. Artificial limbs, cancer operations and immunizations are just some examples of the types of care that has been administered (Rehm, Kathleen). It can be accurately stated that in many instances the medical treatment the suspected terrorists have received at Gitmo would not have been available to them in their native lands.

As far as the culinary delights are concerned, the detainees eat the same food as the troops. However, they only receive culturally appropriate meals. This may explain the disparity in the food rotation. U.S. service personnel are on a five week rotation, while the illegal combatants must settle for a two week rotation. Each day they are prepared two hot meals and one meal ready to eat (MRE). Some of the menu examples include orange-glazed chicken, crepes, rice pilaf and peas and mushrooms. A menu review board has been formed. It convenes every three months to confer on nutritional policy concerning the detainees. The review board consists of the commander and logistics officer of the Joint Detention Operations Group, the Joint Task Fore Guantanamo food service officer, a nutritionist, a preventive medicine specialist, and the contract galley manager (Rehm, Kathleen). We have all heard about the “freshmen 15” for college students. Now there is the “Gitmo 13”. Inmates who have been released on average have had a weight gain of thirteen pounds if they have been incarcerated for longer than fourteen months. I am not suggesting that Gitmo is the equivalent of Le Cirque, but it certainly must be on par with what they were eating in the caves and mountains of Afghanistan.

After the initial interrogation and vetting process, the captives are put into one of three categories. It is based on their willingness to accept and abide by the rules of their incarceration. The majority are put into the “compliant” category. The “compliant” are housed in air-conditioned, steel-framed cells, in the vast network of five prison camps that make up Camp Delta, which replaced Camp X-Ray. Each cell has an arrow pointing in the direction of Mecca to enable them to conduct their daily prayer rituals (Coughlin, Con). An interesting note is that many news organizations continue to use old photos of Camp X-Ray, which was only intended as a temporary shelter; Camp X-Ray was closed in April, 2002 (Hutchison, Harold). The second category of captives is still considered “compliant” enjoy most of the same privileges as the first category, with the exception being that they live in communal groups rather than individual cells. Both groups are allowed two hours of exercise daily. However, the third category is the non-compliant detainees. They represent only a small minority of the inmate population at Gitmo. The American military has deemed them to be the greatest threat. For instance, most of these detainees are intractable followers of Osama bin Laden. These al-Qaeda fighters refuse to adhere to the rules of their imprisonment. They believe it is a calling from Allah, to kill or maim the “infidel” Americans. The prison guards are routinely attacked. The guards are also subjected to have feces and urine tossed at them (Coughlin, Con). **It is almost inhuman to think that they would not retaliate. It is a true testament to our men and women in uniform, that there have been so few cases of abuse by our military.

The civil libertarian groups, human rights organizations, partisan politicians and others based in this country and abroad need a reality check. The time and effort spent on bashing America for abuses at the Guantanamo Bay Detention facility is reminiscent of a modern day witch hunt. I do not mind overseers or watchdog groups because they serve an important and necessary role. But when objectivity gets thrown to the wolves, and outrageous statements go unchallenged by a bias media, it effectually renders these groups useless and even dangerous. To compare Gitmo to Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Gulags are inexcusable, and an affront to the members of our military, all who freely volunteered to serve our nation. Another thing that it does, perhaps unwittingly, is it tends to trivialize those horrific atrocities by drawing a parallel to Gitmo. Worst of all, it flames the fanatical passions in militant Islamic sects across the world, putting our national security at further risk. The detainees at Guantanamo are being held according to the 1949 Geneva Convention. They are not being tortured. Some measure of due process has been put in place, even though we are not required to do so under any treaty that has been ratified by the United States. The suspected terrorists receive three meals a day and have healthcare (for free) that exceeds what is available to many Americans, and most certainly better than what they had in their home countries. We are at war with an evil enemy, who will stop at nothing to achieve their misguided aims. The killing of innocents is an everyday occurrence for our terrorist enemies. The bombings of buses, trains and crowded markets have become an accepted practice of warfare for them. They seek nothing less than to tear down our way of life, our freedoms and our religions. Anyone who does not submit to their brand of extremist Islam is considered an infidel. Our society is not without blemishes, and Gitmo is reflective of our society. However, Gitmo will continue to evolve, improve and perfect its operations, just as our society has over the past two hundred and thirty years.

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Rehm, Kathleen. “Task Force Tends to Detainees’ Dietary Needs During Ramadan.” 21 Oct 2005. 15 Apr. 2006 «a href=”” target=”_blank”></a>>.

“The Legal Basis for Detaining al-Qaeda and Taliban combatants.” White House Press Release. 16 Apr. 2006 «a href=”” target=”_blank”></a>>.