Cry Havoc Part 1

Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war


[Part 1 of Two]

The obsession to have the Guantanamo detention facility closed continues. To that effect, an online petition addressed to our President and Congress reads:

I support closing the Guantanamo detention facility and urge you to get the job done today.

The US government is obligated under international law to respect, protect and fulfill human rights. Each Guantanamo detainee must either be charged and fairly tried in federal court, or be released to countries that will respect their human rights.

Instead of justice for the September 11 attacks, Guantanamo has given the world torture, indefinite detention and unfair trials.

It is well past time to change course and close the detention facility.

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? Well, suppose we check with The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) according to which the 1929, 1949, and 1977 Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols collectively state:

(bold italics are quotations from the ICRC)

The status of POW only applies in international armed conflict.

Question: To exactly which nations are religious fighters affiliated?

[The prisoners’] detention is not a form of punishment, but only aims to prevent further participation in the [international] conflict. The prisoners must be released and repatriated after the end of hostilities. [underline mine]

Question: How can the release of prisoners be factored into a religious war that has no borders, freelance leaders, freelance fighters, and is very much still in progress?

Each interned person must be released as soon as the reasons which necessitated his/her internment no longer exist.

The war continues. The reasons for internment are as necessary now as they ever were, if not more so.

Respect for the religious preference of the detainees is an essential aspect of detainee operations…accordingly the detention facility must not be such as to unjustifiably hinder the observance of religious rights…Certain limitations may be necessary due to security concerns; however a good faith balance should be struck between the detainees’ obligations to comply with the disciplinary rules and procedures and the detaining power’s obligation to afford the detainees the ability to meet their religious obligations and exercise their religious practices. [underline mine]

Those words were written by gentlemen and ladies for gentlemen and ladies. But prisons are not known for the gentility of their wardens or of their inmates. A ‘good faith balance’ is incompatible with the mistrust that characterizes prison settings. That stifling atmosphere must be particularly true of the Guantanamo prison population where the fog of war is especially thick.

Media reports of life there are profoundly contradictory. The Internet is packed with text and videos posted from a plethora of sources, including the Pentagon. Sifting through dozens of articles, I visualized two very different prisons: one is a paradise, safe, legal, transparent, and humane; the other is a nightmare, dangerous, illegal, lawless, opaque, and inhumane.

Whatever the case might be, the prison facility itself is neither a paradise nor a nightmare: Yet, in the wake of claims that its prisoners are tortured, millions of people abroad and in the United States avidly call for its closure.

I am not qualified to untangle the legal complications of captured freelance fighters or (more definitively) religious terrorists who are designated as ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ but—to paraphrase Shakespeare—I know that torture, called by any other name, is torture and smells as sour. I also know that inhumanity may be practiced behind walls and locked doors whether a prison is located on a tropical island or in Washington, DC. That’s why there are international Prisoner of War agreements.

Humane or inhumane practices are functions of people, not buildings. The Guantanamo issue is not one of real estate, it’s all about politics. Its decade-long dilemma is basically rooted in the consequences of recidivism (20%) and the unequivocal facts that a) even the most vociferous protesters don’t want the prisoners moved to a prison anywhere near the protester’s home town, b) neither do virtually all appropriate third country nations want the prisoners within their domain, and c) a number of prisoners are genuinely terrified of being repatriated because torture or death awaits them in their home town.

Keeping as firmly as I can within the bounds of uncontroversial facts, I will submit an article, Part 2 of Two for Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war in two weeks, wherein I’ve limited most of my commentary to the very disturbing issue of forced-feeding at Guantanamo Prison.

(to be continued)

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