Thursday, January 11, 2007

American Injustice System

Today, January 11, 2007, marks the fifth anniversary since prisoners first arrived at Guantanamo Bay. Over 400 individuals remain in the prison, held without trial and without charges. Thanks to the unconstitutional and un-American piece of legislation called the Military Commissions Act, passed this fall by Congress, President Bush has the authority to hold these people indefinitely.

Today the ACLU of PA joined with Brandywine Peace Community in a vigil outside of the federal courthouse to recognize this anniversary and to demand that Guantanamo be shut down and that the prisoners being held there be released or tried. (This event was part of the International Day to Shut Down Guantanamo.)

At the event Chris Huber, a lawyer at Pepper Hamilton and an ACLU-Greater Philadelphia Chapter board member, gave a moving personal account about one of his two Guantanamo clients. Here are his comments:

We know there are hundreds of prisoners in Guantanamo, none of whom has had a fair hearing, the first of whom arrived five years ago. Let me take a few minutes to tell you about one prisoner at Guantanamo, a prisoner I happen to know because I represent him.

He is a Palestinian who has been in Guantanamo since June 14, 2002

Like many, if not most, of the prisoners at Guantanamo, he was not captured on a battlefield. Instead, he was sold to the Northern Alliance by villagers for a bounty.

The Northern Alliance turned him over to the United States and he was sent to the prison at Bagram and then Knadahar. After about six months, he was sent to Guantanamo. The government has never claimed that he ever used a gun or fought against the United States.

When he was being held by the Northern Alliance, during interrogations, he was beaten with a chain that was wrapped in a hose. During these interrogations, the interrogator did not write anything down.

Once he was turned over to the Americans, one strangled him several times – almost to the point of death. At Guantanamo, the interrogations and mistreatment continued. For 1½ months, they moved him from one cell to another every couple of hours so he could not sleep. They chained him to the floor with no chair in a squatting position and made him stay there for hours. They poured cold water over him and blasted cold air conditioning into his cell. He still has medical problems from this treatment.

During this period, one of his interrogators used the nickname “Torture.” I think this tells us all exactly what the government meant to be doing to the prisoners.

There are two stories about him that show his intelligence and his ability to keep thinking clearly even in the face of these harsh conditions.

First, the government asked him to take a lie detector test. He said he would take one, and answer any questions they wanted to ask, if they met one condition. He first wanted to be hooked up to the lie detector and he would give the interrogator ten questions to ask him. Only he would know the correct answer to these questions – he would not tell the interrogator the answers. Then, the interrogator would give him the result of the lie detector on his answers to these ten questions. If it accurately reflected whether he was telling the truth or lying, he would take the lie detector test the interrogator wanted to give him.

The interrogator refused this proposal.

Finally, he knew no English at all when he arrived at Guantanamo. Yet through his interactions with the guards and the interrogators and using only an Arabic/English dictionary, he was able to teach himself rudimentary English. Unfortunately, the army decided that allowing the prisoners to have Arabic/English dictionaries was "dangerous" and so took it away. The army now has an affirmative policy that it does not want the prisoners to learn English.

Sara in Philly


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