Apr 27, 2011

The bureaucracy of Gitmo

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.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

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. 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.

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16 thoughts on “The bureaucracy of Gitmo

  1. Stevo the Working Twistie

    Only today one of the most incompetent arsehats in the Howard government’s conga-line of arsehats, Downer, was claiming that leaving Australian citizens to rot in that hell-hole was the right thing to do, because hey, David Hicks and Mamdou Habib were jolly nasty chaps, don’t you know. If that were any reason to cruelly and unusually punish someone, Mr Downer, you and all your former cabinet colleagues would be on remand at an international war crimes hearing.

  2. klewso

    “What price incompetence” – at any level?
    Another example of the real reason governments around the world despise Wikileaks – why so many want it tracked down and killed? It shows what they’ve been doing with all those taxes – what sort of value they’ve been wringing from them, and what the citizenry have been paying “public servants” for?
    The likes of “poor Geoff Morrell” having to give up a couple of days of one Easter – against what these people were forced?
    Is the ego and sense of self-importance of these “public officials” (including the elected) that immense that it dwarfs all other “reality”?
    It was only just over a week ago Peter (“Pass the Integrity”) Reith was being actively sought, as an “authority(?)”, by parts of our media, to adjudicate on “acceptable behaviour” in our armed forces – after what he did with “Children Overboard”!

  3. klewso

    With this sort of “(Wikileaks) fall-out”, maybe that “bomb” has gone off?
    How much “capital” have both sides made from their respective “maladministration”?

  4. Liz45

    I’ve read a few books written by people who were unjustly locked up in Gittmo, including Mamdouh Habib’s. I haven’t read David Hick’s book yet. There were the British (three or five?) and another one who was British but born in the Middle East – his father strived for several yrs before he was released. There’s been Canadians and Italians, kidnapped off the streets and sent to another torture jail in Europe somewhere. The British govt originally denied that these US planes had traveled over British airspace, but had to admit that they lied. These people sued their own governments for not coming to to their aid. There was a big scandal in Italy I think, where govt members resigned when it came out that they were complicit in these illegalities.

    Downer, Howard & Ruddock denied having any knowledge, that Habib had been taken to Egypt. A 4 Corners program clearly showed, that not only was he taken there, but the Australian Govt knew. Downer is a liar – so what’s new?(Remember AWB?)

    The US had nothing on Habib. It was only after they realised that he could give evidence against them, that they let him go – they didn’t charge him as they couldn’t pin anything on him. I believe him when he says, that while he was being tortured, there was at least one Australian in the room on at least one occasion – there were more than one! Anyone seeing the physical state he was in when he got off that plane would have to agree, at least, that he’d lost a dangerous amount of weight. They sent him to Egypt so they could torture him – at the same time deny, that the US torture detainees. He won his out of court settlement when he produced evidence that proved, that Australians were present during his humiliating, cruel and degrading torture sessions, both in Egypt and Gittmo. It’s also interesting to note, that the only time the US had him in ‘court’ was to give evidence against a US military person and the alleged homicide of a detainee. Habib saw the irony in this!

    Another interesting book to read is, ‘American Torture’ written by an american, Michael Otterman. It outlines US use of torture from after ww2 until the years that both Hicks and Habib were in Gittmo – a most enlightening read. That’s why the US carrying on about the violence now in the Middle East is nauseating. They were doing business with Libya, Egypt and Bahrain while they were tut-tutting over the violence. They’d put these countries and Yemen and others on the budget list for assistance with weapons etc. How many Saudi Arabian tankers used in Bahrain to kill peaceful protestors had a US ‘tag’ on them, or Egypt, Yemen or syria for that matter? Sickening!

  5. shepherdmarilyn

    I have read Hicks book and it was quite compelling. What was interesting was how the ranters in this country whined that he forgot to mention his non-existent terrorist training. It is a compelling but sickening read.

    But if you want torture, look no further than our refugee prisons.

    We have lawyers, pollies, media, doctors, “guards”, and others conspiriing to make life so miserable and prison so prolonged that people kill themselves.

    And we do nothing. Except to try and find ways to punish them more.

  6. Dee

    Well ABC radio did an interview with Stephen Hicks months ago.
    The interviewer was aggressive & rude.
    Following that interview they had a former soldier that was at Gitmo.
    He said he is part of an organisation that wants to unravel the horrible truth of Gitmo.
    He has some info regarding Hicks defence.
    What truly disturbed me was when the interviewer continually prodded about whether this former soldier had seen torture or not.
    After continueing for awhile, he said to the host, torture, and then said, which I cannot believe I heard & still cannot believe it, organ harvesting, etc…
    Surely, there must be something wrong with my hearing, but OH was sure that was what he heard too.

  7. zut alors

    The more the US boasts about its grand democracy the shallower it appears.

  8. Liz45

    @MARILYN – I know! I just feel ill with the current situation. We have a handful of people arriving here in comparison to other countries, and yet the response here is just horrific. I reckon Morrison gets uglier every time I see him – the type of ugliness that ‘glows’ from inside out! Abbott has it too! Doing push-ups on the grass outside Christmas Island – how gross!

    When will some journalist? ask Abbott or Morrison – if Howard was having such success ‘turning the boats around’, why spend $$$$millions building Christmas Island? Not one journalist?(not many in this country anyway) worth their salt has asked this – not one! If I hear them utter this one more time without intervention, I’ll ………..

    How many kids in detention centres now? 600? More? Just worse than awful! Pregnant women, elderly people?

  9. Frank Birchall

    Outstanding piece, Bernard — well done! The Hicks/Habib saga is a sickening example (but not a surprise) of the Howard government’s chronic grovelling to the US; and, sadly, it continues today under Gillard. And that disgusting blimp, Downer, has the hide to describe H/H as “shocking”. It’s a pity that Habib’s deed of settlement probably prevents him from suing his Lordship for defamation.

  10. Christine Johnson

    The image of John Howard clutching a souvenir Vuvuzela at Sydney Airport pretty much explains why he and George ‘W’ had a meeting of the minds. And why Howard placed such blind faith in the Bush administration’s military operations, even turning his back on the cold-blooded misery of Australian citizens caught up in the sickening Gitmo ‘games’. Yet, like a lost child he followed George ‘W’ through the plummeting credibility of US peace-keeping and intervention activities in Afghanistan, Europe and Somalia. He endorsed fake claims about weapons of mass destruction, cheered George’s bizarre landing on the deck of a war carrier to announce “the war against terror is over – but endless’ and ignored those obscene images of Abu Ghraib torture and abuse that fell on his and General Cosgrove’s desks. But amidst all the bungling and criminality Howard was chuffed to be involved. He beamed as Bush draped the US Medal of Freedom around his neck and tucked the US Kristol Award under his arm. An award described by US lawyer Stephen Kenny as ‘regrettable’ because “John Howard had been the leading ‘aider and abetter’ of President Bush in his serious breach of human rights in regard to the US military facility in Cuba”.
    Any wonder George W called Howard “a man of steel”. Cold, hard, unflinching qualities must have been mandatory when you knew you were complicit in the torture of fellow Australians by a so-called ally. In my view, the Howard regime terrorised Australians far more than anything Al-Qaeda wreaked on us.

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