Owei Lakemfa

August 19, 2016

Guantanamo: Ode to impunity

Guantanamo: Ode to impunity

Guantanamo bay

By Owei Lakemfa
They usually die young; the prophets of their generation. Patrice Lumumba in Congo; Franz Fanon, Algeria; Ernesto Che Guavera, Cuba; Thomas Sankara in Bourkina Faso and Bob Marley of Jamaica. Some live long like Fidel Castro who on August 13, clocked 90, decorated with medals of an unprecedented 600 attempts on his life by the United States. But why will a civilized country set out so many times to kill the President of another country?

It is actually a medical condition I diagnose as the Trump Syndrome: that acute mental state in which a country sets out in a quixotic fashion to recreate the world in its own image. In that state of mind, it has the urge to eliminate all those it assumes are standing in its way to achieve what it hallucinates, as its divine mission.

Fidel survived those attempts for over 50 years and has lived to see his  hitherto isolated country become the magnetic power of Latin America. He has also lived long enough to see the Americans restore diplomatic relations with Cuba after a five-decade break, and his country transform into   a medical super power.

Perhaps one regret he will have is the non-fulfillment of his life ambition of seeing a beautiful part of his beloved country, the Guantanamo Bay, freed from American occupation. The Americans had occupied this 120-kilometre square of land and water since it invaded Cuba in 1898 during the American-Spanish war. It had gone on to ‘lease’ it in 1903 for $2,000 annually, an amount it increased in 1934 to $4,000.  For 57 years now, Cuba has asked the United States to vacate its territory but the super power insists on being Cuba’s tenant on the bay; it is like an ape seizing a couple’s daughter and insisting on being their son-in-law.

Coincidentally, Guantanamo Bay, so much defiled and desecrated by America, has been much in the news this week. The out-going Obama administration decided to transfer from its dungeons in Guantanamo, 15 men America had held illegally under sub-human conditions and without charge, for some 14 years. The men are part of the 779 men seized or abducted- Americans called it extraordinary rendition–across the world in   bizzare acts of lawlessness, and dumped in Guantanamo.

America had opened the detention hole in Guantanamo on January 11, 2002 allegedly to keep the alleged ‘worst of the worst’ non-American terrorists. As it turned out, many of the detainees are victims of poor American intelligence. A number were poor farmers and fishermen or travellers who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The choice of Guantanamo Bay was to keep the detainees outside the American legal system and even human jurisdiction. America strives to give the impression that the detention centre is in some extraterrestrial space where human rights and human laws are not applicable.

Although the detainees are alleged to be fighters and therefore, qualified for Prisoner-of-War, POW, status under the Geneva Conventions which requires them to be treated humanely, they have been treated worse than animals.   To justify this, the United States changed their nomenclature   from POWs to “illegal combatants” or “enemy combatants”.

Some of them have been used as guinea pigs in medical experiments, especially under a programme called the Behavioral Science Consultation Team, BSCT(or BISCUIT).   One of the experiments is how long a human being can withstand cold before freezing to death. Other means of torture applied on them include forced drugging, forcing victims to bark like dogs, slamming their heads on concrete walls, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, starvation and  water boarding. Pepper spray was so constantly used that a detainee, Omar Deghayes, went blind. Sexual degradation including anal penetration, sometimes with objects, forcing detainees to remain naked or wearing women cloths including brassieres, was also applied.

For some of the victims, death was a better alternative to torture, so they managed to take their lives. In August 2003 alone, 23 of them attempted suicide. By May 2011, six had committed suicide.   In 2006, the United Nations managed to find its voice by asking that the detention centre be shut-down, but America, behaving as a law to itself has so far, ignored the world body.

However, President   George Walker Bush whose administration opened the detention centre, freed, returned to their countries   or transferred to a third country, 532 of the detainees. President Barack Obama rode to the White House promising   to   close the inhuman centre. On January 22, 2009,   two days after his inauguration as the 44th President of the United States, Obama issued an Executive Order directing that the centre be shut-down within one year and that: “No individual currently detained at Guantánamo shall be held in the custody or under the effective control of any officer, employee, or other agent of the United  States Government, or at a facility owned, operated, or controlled by a department or agency of the United  States, except in conformity with all applicable laws governing the conditions of such confinement, including Common Article  3 of the Geneva Conventions.”

But   this Order has not been obeyed, and in the almost eight years of his reign, he has only managed to transfer 186 of the victims out of Guantanamo, leaving 61 detainees. This matter is a bizarre case where America, having no basis, or sufficient evidence to   charge the victims to court, yet refuses to release them.   Six of the men  had been cleared for   transfer since 2010. The latest to be transfered were a dozen Yemenis and three Afghans to the United Arab Emirate, UAE. It is not clear what faith awaits them in that country or for how much longer they will be illegally held. There have been transfers to worse areas such as the April 2016 transfer of nine Yemenis to Saudi Arabia, a country that has invaded Yemen to prop up one of the fighting sides, and which uses torture and mass executions as legitimate   state weapons.

With the possibility of a Trump victory at the American Presidential polls, the Obama administration is in a race against time to close the inhuman and illegal detention centre.   Donald Trump is promising, not just to keep the centre open, but also to load it with “some bad dudes”, including Americans.

After 14   years,   America which should in fact pay huge compensation to the victims, has no basis to keep the centre running. It, in fact,   owes humanity a duty not just to close the illegal centre, but also   ensure that its victims, including those transferred to other countries, are freed. Also in line with international rules, it should vacate the   Guantanamo Bay it has occupied for 118 years now. Humanity cannot hope for a peaceful world if might is right.