Ten Years of Gitmo- A Decade of Injustice
Image: Troy Page/truthout
January 11, 2012 marks ten years since the opening of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and although in 2009, President Obama announced its closure within the year, it still remains open. As you read this, 171 broken men sit within the walls of the prison. These are not men who have been found guilty in a court, or men who have been provided access to a fair trial- the majority have never been charged with a crime and have even been cleared for release. Those who have been charged, face an internationally condemned and forever tainted military commissions system that will never afford justice.
These men, imprisoned without any hope of release, have all been subjected to conditions and treatment that the UN Committee Against Torture has said amounts to torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment- some have holes in their legs from the electric shocks as a reminder. Some of them have never met or kissed their children. It has been ten years since they were able to hug their wives and family members. Some were detained as minors and have never known a day of freedom as a young adult. The reality is that even if these men are eventually physically freed, their minds will never be, and they will have to live with the scars and stigma Guantanamo has left them for the rest of their lives.
Whilst this nightmarish prison seems far removed from Australia, the disregard for human rights, the rule of law and basic human dignity is as much a stain on Australia as it is on the United States. The Howard government allowed Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks to be abducted and unlawfully held, without access to due process for many years; despite the UK and other European countries removing their citizens and preventing them from being subjected to an unfair military commissions process.
Both Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks were subjected to brutal treatment including beatings, threats, psychological torture techniques, stress positions, mock executions, sleep deprivation, sexual assaults and humiliation and prolonged solitary confinement over the years- all breaches of the international Convention Against Torture; a convention to which Australia is a party.
Instead of investigating and remedying this as other governments have done, the Gillard government continues to deny the Australian people transparency and access to information that clarifies what the Howard government knew about their treatment. In the UK, all former Guantanamo Bay detainees have been compensated and the UK government is holding investigations into their own officials to find out what happened to its citizens and the extent of government complicity. In comparison, the Gillard government continues to breach its international human rights obligations and fails to acknowledge that the two Australians were tortured in Guantanamo.
If Mamdouh Habib and David Hicks were treated legally and humanely as the Gillard Government claims, then there should be no reason why an independent and open investigation should not be held. There are photos of the two Australians that were taken during their detention that are still hidden away from public eyes- one can only assume why.
To disregard human rights and the rule of law not only degrades our international standing, but puts all Australian citizens at risk of having their basic human rights jeopardised. More importantly, to only defend the rights of those who we think are ‘deserving’, destroys our humanity.
Australia does not have federal human rights protections- we are the only Western country that is lacking these important legal safeguards. If we disregard what happened to these two Australians, we are sending a strong message to the Australian government that it is acceptable to ignore the human rights of Australian citizens when it is politically convenient, and we allow those who were complicit in torture and unlawful imprisonment to walk away unaccountable for their illegal activities.
Ten years on, whilst it all seems too horrible to imagine, and much too hard for us as individuals to do anything about, we must remain hopeful and diligent. We have to hold onto hope because there are many people who have been detained over the past decade who continue to be denied a voice and access to justice. We have to take a stand against torture and defend human rights, not only for the men who have been detained for a decade in Guantanamo and other prisons around the world, but also for our own humanity.
I will end this post with part of a poem written by Mr Kabir, a missionary from Jordan, who was detained because he was wearing a Casio watch that the US military believed was favoured by al-Qaeda. The poem was smuggled out of Guantanamo by his lawyer.
Is it true?
“..is it true that one day we’ll leave Guantanamo Bay?
Is it true that one day we’ll go back to our homes?
I sail in my dreams, I am dreaming of home…..
To be with my children, each one a part of me;
To be with my wife and the ones that I love;
To be with my parents, my world’s tenderest hearts.
I dream to be home, to be free from this cage.”
1. Write a letter to the PM and Attorney General that asks them to fulfil their international obligations and open an independent and public investigation into David Hicks and Mamdouh Habib’s detention.
2. Sign Amnesty International USA’s global petition that calls on President Obama to follow through on his promise to close Guantanamo Bay