Detaining Justice: A Guantánamo Tale

Almost a year ago, I wrote a piece in which I decried the rash and immoral acts perpetrated by the Bush administration since 9/11, ostensibly in the name of national security. Specifically, I took exception to the unjust and Kafkaesque detainment of alleged enemy combatants at the Guantánamo military prison. Despite some shift in the tide of public opinion (and political representation), this shameful symbol of all that has gone wrong with America these last few years remains open for business. The injustice persists. In today’s McClatchy Newspapers, Shashank Bengali reports on the unrelenting nightmare that one of the detainees, Sami al Hajj, has endured for more than half a decade now:

5 years later, cameraman still held at Guantanamo

He’s all but unknown in the United States, the country of his jailers, but in his homeland of Sudan, Sami al Hajj is a national hero. The president has spoken out about him, demonstrations have been held in his name, and a bakery in Khartoum has printed his picture on its packaging.

A 38-year-old cameraman for the Arabic news network al Jazeera, Hajj has been imprisoned as an “enemy combatantâ€? at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for five years, but never charged with any crime. He was arrested by Pakistani police in December 2001 while on his way to a news assignment in Afghanistan, but he’s denied having any links to terrorism.

The independent, Qatar-based network earned the wrath of top U.S. officials after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks for airing statements by Osama bin Laden. Hajj has been interrogated approximately 130 times, according to his attorneys, and nearly every question has been about whether the network or its journalists are connected to al Qaida or other terrorist groups.

Hajj had been with al Jazeera for only a few months at the time of his arrest, and he’s told military interrogators that he knows nothing about the network’s corporate structure or financing.

Family members describe him as a soft-spoken romantic who’d dreamed since boyhood of becoming a cameraman. Before he joined the network, he had a succession of low-level jobs with private companies in Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.

“People here know him to be so calm, so respectful. He’s not a terrorist at all,� said his younger brother, Asim al Hajj, 31, who lives in the family home in a working-class suburb of Khartoum, Sudan’s desert capital. “He is caught up in this because the United States government is against al Jazeera.�

Interrogators offered to secure Hajj’s release if he agreed to spy on al Jazeera, his attorneys say, but Hajj has refused.

Sudanese officials and international human rights and press freedom groups have demanded that Hajj be tried or released. Neither appears likely. Documents released by the military suggest why Hajj continues to be held: He’s alleged to have couriered money in the late 1990s to the Azerbaijan branch of al Haramayn, a Muslim charity that provided support to extremist groups, and to have once met an unnamed “senior al Qaida lieutenant.â€?

Hajj’s attorneys said both allegations, which surfaced in an August 2005 review board hearing, stemmed from his work as an assistant to the head of a soft-drink distribution company in Dubai. In the hearing, which he attended wearing the white uniform reserved for the most cooperative inmates, Hajj refused to respond in the absence of his attorneys, who are barred from such proceedings.

“With all due respect,� he said, reading a statement, “a mistake has been made because I have never been a member of any terrorist group, and I never took part in any terrorist or violent act.� [full text]

5 thoughts on “Detaining Justice: A Guantánamo Tale

  1. There is silliness and empty-headedness, no matter how honor-bound or humanist the intent. Just about all the jerks detained at GITMO were picked up on battlefields out of uniform or in other less than appropriate garb or in circumstances directly or indirectly aimed at hurting us. To deny this is to deny the reality of the intent of these hateful people and their ridiculous cult of death. To ascribe a morality that makes any sense is to deny any reality that makes sense. Pandering to these awful people or their supporters is to sign a pact with evil in a form as barbaric as the horrors of Hitler or Mao or Stalin; barbarism that denies the goodness of life and caring.

    Most if not virtually all are really bad guys. They are NOT included in any part of anything remotely Geneva-ish and are akin to the Nazis picked up on Long Island and on their way to hurt us. They, the Nazis landed on Long Island, were tried by military tribunal and executed.

    Reality is not always rational, it just is. Dealing with the reality of evil is frequently no less rational, but it must be done.

  2. My apologies, Mr Wolberg. But the contention that the prisoners at Gitmo are “the worst of the worst” has long since been shown to be untrue. It is on par with the claims that Saddam was involved in 9/11, or that he wouldn’t allow nuclear inspectors into Iraq.

    In fact, several dozen prisoner have been released from Gitmo. Part of the reason we hold on to many of those there is to prevent tales of their treatment from becoming known. And remember: if you would be outraged if it happened to Americans, it’s torture.

    And I have long since gotten tired of the WWII comparison. There is no comparison. We are not threatened by the military/industrial power of a modern state that can put millions of soldiers and a mechanized army into the field against us. Our enemies are small groups of rabid individuals who pose absolutely no threat to the existence of America as such.

    They were spectacularly lucky on 9/11; realistically, their best chance is to murder a few hundred people in sporadic, isolated incidents. A threat to our peaceful enjoyment of life, yes. A threat to our existence? No. Not unless we surrender to our fear and baser impulses and let them control our actions.

    The Madrid train bomb killed 200 people; the London bus bombing killed a few dozen. The London/Glasgow attempt killed no one. I don’t mean to make light of these attacks, but let’s not blow this out of proportion and cower in our bunkers, either.

    There is no military solution to terrorism. Look at Northern Ireland. The British stationed troops there for a decade, with little to show for it. Once the economic prospects for both parts of Ireland improved, the problem, insoluble to the army, melted away. Let’s learn something from that.

    If torture and military occupation actually worked, Algeria would still be part of France.

    So sure, let’s deal with the reality of evil. But let’s do it in a realistic fashion. One that may actually work.

  3. To ignore the past is to ignore the present and the future, and to “tire” of comparisons to World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, Hitler, Stalin. Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin, and any of the other misfits of history is to ignore the “reality” of the present. The “reality of the present” is the product of the past–a bit pedantic, but nevertheless true. By the way, the evil of Stalin and Mao far outlived the tiresome history of World War II. I have a friend, a respected scientist, who was ripped from her home by the Maoists in the 1960’s at the age of 14, and made to clean pig pens 1000 miles from her parents, who themselves were allowed to starve to death, because they were “intellectuals.”

    I am a bit dismayed if not concerned by the “lucky shot” suggestion for 9/11 and its aftermath and the suggestion that at most, the islamofascists might only kill a few hundred more of us. Here is certainly a rational for appreciating history and confronting evil. Was it a lucky shot on December 7, 1941 that hit Pearl Harbor. I suspect that Klaus does not know that the 9/11 lucky shot with just two jet fuel laden aircraft killed more Americans than the mighty power of Imperial Japan killed at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

    I would also suggest that it is the failure to confront evil as a lesson of the past that led to the Cambodian killing fields, the slaughters in Amon’s Uganda, the killings in Rwanda. Ignore evil and fact the guilt of non-action. And so it is with the current Islamofascist cult of death. It is the same evil writ in different cultutal clothes.

    The error of Klaus’s view of GITMO is the error of not allowing the past guide our world view. It is not by chance that one of those fine folks let go from GITMO just last week blew himself up in Pakistan I believe. It is interesting that some of those let go have been recaptured in the same areas of their original capture, trying to kill other folks.

    Finally, I suggest that a re-reading of the Geneva Conventions would be rewarding (and the Conventions aree the product of history!). The occupants of GITMO were acquired as battlefield or associated combatants. They are not entitled to any protections of the American Connstitution. That is fact. Whether it is hostory of not, matters little. I suggest we need to be more concerned about the evil cult of death that slaughters a Daniel Pearl or blows up a market place, or attempts to slaughter Americans, is of greater concern than the miserable souls held at GITMO.

  4. Mr Wolberg, please. It is because I do compare the past to the present that I realize that the danger we face is not at all equal to the dangers we have faced–and overcome–in the past.

    The past gives me the perspective to judge the present. I “tire” of the comparisons because they are simply not appropriate or accurate.

    Plus, at this late date, I’m a little surprised that you are willing to take the word of Bush & Co. about the detainees. Rumsfeld used to call them “the worst of the worst.” How can you still accept Rummy’s judgment on anything?

    And I find it interesting that you avoided the lessons of the French in Algeria, the British in India, and the British (again) in Northern Ireland. Those comparisons seem much more apt than WWII: the contest between and advanced state and an amorphous group, in which vastly superior military power and a certain lack of squeamishness about human rights proved, in the end, to be ineffective.

    As I said: they can kill us in groups, but they cannot threaten our nation–unless we surrender to them by giving in to the worst of our fears.

    And it’s precisely because I am concerned about the slaughter of Americans that I believe we are creating terrorists more quickly than we can ever kill or incarcerate them.

    So, even if you are technically correct to say those in Gitmo are not covered under the Geneva convention, if we insist on stooping to the level of our adversaries by torture and other crimes, then what exactly does America stand for? How can we uphold our precepts of justice and rule of law by violating them?

  5. History matters and accuracy matters more. The issue of the French in Algeria, although played out just after Klaus’ unpopular WW II, is the result of WW II and the growing nationalism that swept the old European colonies, in part because of the U.S./Anglo support of the new United Nations, to replace the failed League of Nations. It was the domination of aged European empires as well as the failure of the Ottoman Empire, and forced reparation nonsense, that led to the modern states of Iraq, Syria, Transjordan, etc. The loss of the Japanese Empire of its Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere, again the product of WW II, led to vacum in Indochina, the Brit’s loss of India, the independence of the Philippines, the creation of two Koreas, the partiton of Pakistan and the Kashmir issue, the French problems in Viet Nam and their loss of Empire, the independence of Israel, the creation of Jordan, were all the product of WW II. The IRA issue, however, and its horrors, was the result of the 16th Century upheaval in the Christian world mixed with the independence if the Ireland, an early 20th century issue. One can also point to Worl War II and its aftermath with the growth of nationalism, that led to the independence of so many African nations, as the direct result of WW II as well.

    There is no conflict regarding the treatment of terrorists and terror suspects at GITMO and the constitutional rights of Americans. The Constitution does not apply to foreign terror suspects and terrorists. There is no international treaty or obligation that is being violated in out treatment of these bad characters. I suggest that a review of forein treatment of prisoners in non-Western countries would be informative. I would also suggest that a similar review of even British and French institutional treatment would likely indicate that these terror suspects are better treated at GITMO than even domestic French prisoners in Grench jails. I also suggest that there is documentation that sufficient information has been acquired from these characters to make the system worthwhile. Finally, on this point, I note with interest that there has not been a favorable response from any U.S. governor to take these guys in any state prison if GITMO were shut down. I also suggest that there is nor very loud outcry from any Congressional delegation to remove the terrorists to their states. Not even Senator Robyrd, the king of pork (and the only modern and former KKK official to serve in the Senate) has tried to build a West Virginia prison to replace GITMO.

    We are in danger, and Klaus is simply underestimating the potential for evil. One “dirty” device in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, will kill tens of thousands of people in just an instant. An attack on a nuclear plant, here in the U.S. or in Japan, or Britain, would lead to immense harm. The release of massive quantities of chlorine gas in the subway system of New York would kill thousands in horrible fashion. The cult of death islamofascists believe they are doing the Prophet’s work–they are idiots and evil. But the harm they can do is inestimable if onlybecause modern, complex, democratic societies are vulnerable to an evil that has no price tag high enough to dissuade the evil doers of the cause, especially since they will receive a place in heaven. there is little rational about this evil.

    None of the GITMO issue or terror threat issue has anything to do with my utter dismay with the Bush administration. Except for a strong economy, there is no saving grace for this administration. It ranks overall perhaps just a tad better than the absolute worst administration in modern history, the Carter administration, but I expect that by the time the Bush cadre are out of office they may well win the “most awful Presidency” award. The horrid record of the Bush administration extends beyond the miserable handling of Iraq (30,000 casualites–dead and wounded–perhaps 3 divisions!). This issue is separate from facilities needed to manage and, yes, exploit the information available, the cult of death terrorists. To do lerss would be a gross error of judgement.

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