Do as We Say, Not as We Do: The US Has Shown Profound Interest in the Treatment of Political Prisoners since American Service Men and Women Began Falling into Iraqi Hands. Yet Nobody in Washington Seems to Want to Discuss the Geneva Convention When It Comes the 650 "Detainees" Being Held in Cuba. (Guantanamo)

By Luxner, Larry | The Middle East, May 2003 | Go to article overview
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Do as We Say, Not as We Do: The US Has Shown Profound Interest in the Treatment of Political Prisoners since American Service Men and Women Began Falling into Iraqi Hands. Yet Nobody in Washington Seems to Want to Discuss the Geneva Convention When It Comes the 650 "Detainees" Being Held in Cuba. (Guantanamo)


Luxner, Larry, The Middle East


Welcome to Camp Delta," said US Army Col. Adolph McQueen, as he cheerfully greeted two reporters at the outer gates of the prison camp housing 650 unhappy captives of America's war on terrorism.

The bright blue waters of the Caribbean beckoned just beyond the prison's edge, yet once inside Camp Delta, the only colours around were tan, beige and the camouflage green of the guards' uniforms and M-16 rifles.

Occasionally, we would also glimpse a few bearded inmates in their orange jumpsuits and black prayer caps, being transported in handcuffs and leg irons from one place to another.

All 650 of these so-called "unlawful enemy combatants" are alleged to be members of the Taliban or Al Qaeda. Yet unlike PoWs, they do not have access to lawyers, nor have they been formally charged with any crime.

"We leave this block empty so we can refine our training techniques," explained McQueen, as he dispersed a group of 15 or 20 soldiers engaged in a top-secret training exercise.

McQueen proudly showed us a heavy metal mesh "detention unit" measuring 8ft long, 7ft wide and 8ft high. These units consist of a metal bed frame raised off the floor, a Turkish toilet and a stainless-steel sink--"lower to the ground to help accommodate foot-washing for Muslim prayer needs," according to a Camp Delta fact sheet.

An arrow indelibly stencilled on each bed points towards Mecca and records the exact distance to Islam's holiest city at 12,793km.

It's not clear how many of Camp Delta's inmates know they are at the US Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, since journalists may not interview detainees or even get close to them. But one thing is certain: unless they cooperate with their interrogators, these unlucky men will not be getting out of there anytime soon.

"Every detainee in this camp is a threat to the United States," declared Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, in an interview last month. "We have already exploited quite a bit of intelligence. We are in the business of looking for golden threads and links, and every day we get something new."

As the base long known as Gitmo marks its 100th anniversary this year, critics warn that it may become a permanent dumping ground for anyone the Bush administration wishes to permanently deprive of judicial review.

"The United States has devised a criminal jurisdiction whereby we can lease property anywhere in the world and create a Devil's Island where individuals have no access to the US court system to determine whether they're being held legally," charged Bill Butler, chairman emeritus of the International Commission of Jurists.

Human-rights attorney Michael Ramer, president of the Centre for Constitutional Rights in New York: added "From the US point of view, Guantanamo has a lot of advantages. It's close to the United States, so they can send personnel back and forth all the time. Unlike military bases in other countries, the US has complete jurisdiction. There are no other leases like that, and there is no access by reporters unless the government decides to let you in. Fourthly, nobody has any rights, so the military can do whatever it wants."

Both lawyers spoke at a 5 March seminar in Washington focusing on the future of Gitmo--the oldest overseas US Navy base in the world, and the only one in a communist country.

A lease agreement signed between the US and Cuban governments on 21 February 1903, established the legal basis for Gitmo's existence: In exchange for helping Cuba win its independence from Spain and an annual payment of $2,000--later raised to $4,085--Cuba granted the US 45sq miles of land at Guantanamo Bay for the Navy to use as a coaling and refuelling station for its ships.

Under the 1903 treaty, says Washington lawyer Robert Muse, who specialises in Cuba matters, "it was virtually a conveyance of national territory to the United States.

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Do as We Say, Not as We Do: The US Has Shown Profound Interest in the Treatment of Political Prisoners since American Service Men and Women Began Falling into Iraqi Hands. Yet Nobody in Washington Seems to Want to Discuss the Geneva Convention When It Comes the 650 "Detainees" Being Held in Cuba. (Guantanamo)
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