Five years ago today on January 11, 2002 Guantánamo opened its unfortunate doors to the men that our government claimed were "the worst of the worst." Many of us were still reeling from the attacks on the US the previous September and we really were not all that interested in what was going on at Guantánamo. I sadly mark myself in that category. Like many of us, I should have known better than to ignore what Bush was doing in our name. I should have been paying more attention. When you have a low-life like GW as your president, you must be constantly on your toes.
The road to Guantánamo started with the bounty flyers. Thousands upon thousands of flyers in various languages were dropped in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and who knows where else, offering huge bounties for "murderers and terrorists". Thousands of men were turned over to US forces by people hoping to obtain "wealth beyond your dreams." Pakistan, according to Musharraf, in his kiss-and-tell book, In the Line of Fire earned millions of dollars under this "program" by turning over stray Arab men to the US government. In Afghanistan many of the men who were turned over for the bounties were passed off from group to group, until they made their way to the Northern Alliance, and ultimately the US forces. (It makes me wonder if we paid multiple bounties for the same man, but I will leave that question for another day.) What is clear is that the US forces knew nothing about the men turned over to them except what the bounty hunters told them. No hearings or other attempts were made at the time to determine the validity of claims that these men were enemies to the US (as was done on the field in WWII). No evidence was collected for later hearings. These were just men turned over to US forces in return for money.
Many of these men were ultimately killed in the most brutal of ways: shot in metal shipping containers; beaten and tortured to death in the various holding tanks. We will never know the identities of the dead men, and surely we will never know if they were our enemy (or anyone's enemy for that matter, except perhaps of the person who turned them in for the bounty). The survivors were shipped off to various locations: Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo, and Bagram, to name a few. We know some of what happened to the men at these places. Others were sent to "secret" locations, and we can only imagine what happened to them in these places. Or can we? I guess it depends on how good your imagination is.
The men (and boys) that we shipped to Guantánamo primarily flew from Bagram air base in Afghanistan. The men had hoods placed over their heads; on top of the hoods blackened goggles were placed over their eyes, and contraptions over their ears to block out all sound. (If you saw the recent picture of José Padilla you will get the idea) They were laid side by side on the floor of planes face down. Their feet and arms were shackled to the floor. They could not move. Some remember being given shots of something in their arms just before takeoff that made them groggy and even more disoriented. They were kept in these positions for the duration of the flight to Guantánamo, more than 24 hours. There were obviously no arrangements made for using toilets. Eventually we would learn that certain countries helped the U.S. government in this monstrous scheme, either by letting these planes stop and refuel along the way, or by allowing the U.S. to set up ghost prisons in their countries.
The first men trickled in slowly, but by April 2002 there were more than 300 men and boys at Camp X Ray, Guantánamo. (The detainees included boys as young as 12 and men approaching 80 years of age, in fact one old man who was finally released late last year actually hobbled around with a walker and a detainee who was 14 years old when we rustled him up, remains at the base today). Camp X Ray was never your typical prison. In fact, to call Camp X Ray primitive would be too generous; it was barbaric. The cells were actually cages with a strip of concrete around the sand floor. The cages were open to the elements: be it sun, rain, cold, or the occasional hurricane. Here these men and boys were threatened and brutalized: interrogated night and day. They were never told what they were accused of doing, or who their accuser was. We, of course, now know why they were told nothing. To this day our military still does not know the answer to these questions for the vast majority of the men being held at Guantánamo.
Eventually Cheney's people built a new facility at Guantánamo: Camp Delta. Now the detainees have walls, a roof and barred windows. They have air conditioning and concrete floors. The air conditioning clearly works well, as the men are constantly freezing. They sit in their tiny cell for most, if not all, of the day. For those that know how to read, they are allowed to read some carefully chosen books. The others just sit. No one is allowed to learn English (I don't know what that is all about). To this day they have still not been charged and they have not been told what, if any, evidence there is against them. Over the course of these five years we have learned of the innocence of many of these men and the fact that our government has long known it. This has led our politicians to the desperate move of stripping these men of the ancient writ of habeas corpus which allows prisoners to petition the courts. At the same time these scoundrels were abolishing habeas corpus they have tried to immunize themselves and the other war criminals for their war crimes.... We will see about that!
So how will it end? I am afraid Guantánamo will end, "not with a bang but a whimper." At least that is how it seems to me right now. All in all, nearly 800 men and boys have been held at the base over these five years. Now they are trickling out of Guantánamo and the mainstream media barely covers the story. As of today, we are down to 395 men at the base. Slowly and quietly our country has been releasing these men to their homelands. If they cannot go back to their homeland, we quietly ship them off to the only country we could cajole into taking them, Albania (ouch). Almost every one of these men that has been released has been set free by their home countries after investigations (some investigations taking less than one hour). These men, scarred and brutalized, will spend the rest of their lives trying to live with the horrors we have inflicted on them.
My biggest hope is that this does not end in a whimper. I hope that we, as a country, regain our moral values and our sense of justice and that we rise up angry and scream to those who will listen that we will not allow ourselves to continue down this road. I hope that those who refuse to listen are forever removed from positions of trust. Lastly, I hope that those who participated in these crimes are tried and sentenced. But my hopes are dampened when I look around me and all I see are the hollow men, the stuffed men. It is then that I fear for our humanity.
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