What do Kim Davis and the Guantanamo detainees have in common? Most people would rightfully answer “literally nothing” to that question, yet presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee compared them in an interview last week.
Speaking to Fox News about his recent campaign on behalf of the county clerk refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses in Kentucky, Mr. Huckabee alleged that the Guantanamo detainees are receiving better religious accommodations than Ms. Davis. He described incredulously the “prayer mats” provided to the detainees and the “painted lines” in their cells pointing them to Mecca. It was almost as if Mr. Huckabee could not believe how pampered the Guantanamo detainees are to receive such benefits!
Brushing aside Ms. Davis and the media circus surrounding her decisions, it appears Mr. Huckabee – and, quite frankly, most of the American public – is in need of a few reminders about Guantanamo and its detainees.
It is ludicrous to suggest that the detainees are in any way treated too well. Instead, their very presence in the legal limbo that is Guantanamo means that their human rights are being violated. There seems to be some wide-reaching myth that if a man is in Guantanamo, it is necessarily because he participated in the attacks of September 11, or was picked up off a battlefield in the middle of causing harm to the United States, and has no rights. This is a very dangerous myth and must be corrected immediately.
There are actually many different types of individuals at Guantanamo. Several have long been cleared to be transferred out of Guantanamo through reviews conducted by US national security agencies, yet they are still languishing behind bars at Guantanamo. There are detainees who have been charged through the system of the military commissions, which Amnesty International has repeatedly criticized. Their trials are heavily delayed or corrupted through insufficient procedures. Then there are detainees who have neither been charged, nor have they yet been cleared for transfer.
None of these categories of detention are acceptable. There is no reason that those who have been cleared should still be locked up. A man named Shaker Aamer is in that category. The last British resident at Guantanamo, Mr. Aamer was first cleared by President Bush in 2007 and again under President Obama in 2009. Yet he’s still behind bars in Guantanamo. Why? That’s a good question. Unfortunately, no officials have provided a good answer for why Mr. Aamer or his fellow cleared detainees continue to languish in captivity.
The military commission prosecutions similarly fail to respect human rights or achieve justice. To be sure, all those responsible for the crimes against humanity committed on September 11, 2001 should be brought to justice. But Guantanamo and the military commissions haven’t – and can’t – provide that justice. The fourteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks recently passed, yet the 9/11 trials haven’t even started yet. The proceedings are paralyzed by inefficiency and pre-trial hearings keep getting canceled. This is an outrageous failure of justice. Those who lost loved ones in the attacks deserve to see such justice in their lifetime, but the military commission trials are unlikely to begin – much less conclude – for years to come. When they do take place, they will by design fail to meet international fair trial standards.
Mustafa al-Hawsawi is one of the detainees facing charges in the military commissions, and, like many others, is a torture survivor. He was captured in March 2003, was transferred to Guantanamo in September 2006, and was subjected to secret CIA detention and interrogation in between. He was subjected to cold “water dousing” in a manner that may have been “indistinguishable” from the torture technique known as “water-boarding.” The Senate report also found that he had been subjected to excessive force during rectal examination. He was later diagnosed with “chronic hemorrhoids, an anal fissure, and symptomatic rectal prolapse.” He continues to receive inadequate medical care for his condition, and faces the possibility of the death penalty without a fair trial although he maintains his innocence.
Perhaps the most disturbing situation at Guantanamo is the group of detainees who remain in Guantanamo indefinitely. The glacial pace of the clearance system has not yet made its way to these individuals, so they wait. What must life be like for this group? Hour by hour, day by day, year by year they plod through life inside the walls of Guantanamo, knowing they may die there.
For anyone like Mike Huckabee who believes the detainees are being treated too well because they get prayer mats, think again. The people in Guantanamo are just that – people. They are humans with inherent rights by virtue of their humanity. This includes the right to a fair trial and the right to be free from torture, enforced disappearances and indefinite detention. Guantanamo fails on all these counts.
Amnesty International USA continues to call upon the U.S. government to close the travesty that is Guantanamo. The government must either charge detainees and promptly prosecute them in federal court in compliance with international fair trial standards, or release them. For too long the U.S. government has practiced the policies of fear and abandoned its commitments to human rights in the name of security. But it is our rights which make us secure, and those rights should not die one more day in Guantanamo.
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