Benjamin Franklin’s famous trade-off between liberty and temporary safety – for those who deserve neither — stands itemized in human form in the Gitmo documents, in those many files full of misspellings, malapropisms and justifications, the dream-diary jottings of a superpower nightmare.
In the 14-year-old boy abducted and raped by the Taliban, held by the Americans for over a year.
In the 89-year-old senile man whose neighbour had a phone with numbers of suspected Taliban in it.
In the 70-year-old man, found sleeping at a mosque, for whom no reason could be found as to what he was doing at Guantanamo in the first place.
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In the Al Jazeera cameraman, released after six years, held purely because of the Bush Administration’s perverse hatred of the network.
In the inmate with a serious head injury, left, as his file makes clear, to reflexively undress himself and compulsively m-sturbate in public.
In the farmer who shared a name with a suspected terrorist, held over a year after the Americans realized their mistake.
In the sharecropper held because he had knowledge of mountain passes.
In Mamdouh Habib, his detention justified on the basis of such reasons as that he once had a cleaning contract with the Department of Defence.
The stories of men wasting years of their lives in Guantanamo, long after the Americans realized they were no threat, were not “enemy combatants”, should never have been picked up in the first place go on, and on, hundreds of them. These are not a few instances of human error. The US news outlet McClatchy, which for several years has been diligently investigating innocent detainees, provides some numbers today, including that at least 44 individuals were incarcerated despite having literally no connection to militant activity of any kind whatsoever.
The “worst of the worst”, the Bush Administration called them. It’s clear now, was clear, even in the early months after the war in Afghanistan, that many, perhaps most, of the men interned at Guantanamo, with no rights, without even the rights accorded prisoners of war despite the lazy “war on terror” slogans, shouldn’t have been there even under the Americans’ own bizarre logic, even as they were beaten and tortured.
What the hell sort of democracy does this? A 14-year-old kid, for pity’s sake, a victim of the most appalling and savage crime, punished further by the most powerful country on earth.
This is the film Brazil brought to vindictive life, a combination of bloodymindedness and monumental bureaucracy in which individuals were consumed for years at a time for no other reason than an officials’ error, a neighbour’s malice, a soldier’s laziness. It demonstrates not how hard-hearted a wrathful America was in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, but how incompetent and irrational it was in its blind fury.
On the weekend, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell used Twitter to complain about having to come in off his Easter break to deal with the documents. His bitching perfectly sums up the mindset behind Guantanamo, the laziness, the reflexive secrecy, the incapacity to comprehend how profoundly both the Bush and Obama Adminstrations – the latter having broken its promise to close the facility – have abandoned any sense of duty toward basic rights.
In response to the leaks, the US Department of Justice – still desperately trying to find a way to prosecute WikiLeaks, still demanding information of WikiLeaks supporters from Twitter, still unrepentant about its involvement in illegal plans to attack WikiLeaks and journalists linked to it – warned lawyers for former inmates that the files should still be treated as classified, as though they legally didn’t exist.
Kafkaesque? Franz could never have dreamed this stuff up.
This was a place that damaged all who entered it, inmate or guard. There were doctors that ignored their professional responsibilities and overlooked torture (evidence of which has emerged via non-WikiLeaks material). There were guards who were ashamed of what they had to do, and how they were lied to about the inmates they were dealing with. And it damaged, and damages still, the United States, revealing the profound hypocrisy of its rhetoric about freedom and human rights.
Still, the mentality behind Guantanamo lives on, in rude health, in many minds. What did Julie Bishop, shadow Foreign Minister and deputy Liberal leader, supposedly one of our senior politicians, find in the Gitmo documents? What, amid reports of innocent detainees, of the details of Al Qaeda’s flight as the Americans went into Afghanistan, of the “extreme duress” that an Australian citizen had been subjected to in Egypt while she was a minister in the Howard Government, did she notice?
She seized on the laughable reports that Al Qaeda had planted a nuclear bomb somewhere in Europe, which would only be detonated in the event Osama Bin Laden was captured and killed — proof, if nothing else, that Al Qaeda members have seen the same godawful Hollywood action movies the rest of us have.
Judging by the breathtaking incompetence revealed by the Gitmo files, that bomb will be sitting quietly for years to come.