For the first time since the release of the Senate’s infamous torture report, a flurry of developments on Guantánamo reveal the enduring obstacles to real movement on closing the travesty that even the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff calls “a psychological scar on our national values.”
On Monday, an already-drawn-out pre-trial hearing for five men accused of conspiring in the 9/11 attacks suddenly went into abrupt recess after detainees said they recognized a courtroom translator as a former CIA worker at one of its black sites. The halt in the proceedings was only one glitch among many facing Guantánamo trials – from mounting backlogs to unwieldy travel to and from Cuba to the FBI’s reported attempted infiltration of defense counsel – recently revealed to be costing US taxpayers at least a whopping $7,600 per minute, or $2,294,117 per day. Though the tribunals only met 34 days last year, they cost over $78 million. That’s in addition to the cost of continuing to hold 122 men at Gitmo for an estimated $3.5 million per detainee.
For many, those insane financial costs pale before the even more egregious moral and legal ones. A Senate hearing on a bill that would effectively block the executive branch’s ability to transfer or release those currently still held featured much talk of threats, terrorism and national security. Lacking in the discussion, some noted, was any mention of the human cost of holding so many men under such brutal conditions for so long – up to 13 years – who have never been found guilty of or even charged with a crime – and about half of whom were cleared years ago by the same government that imprisoned them in the first place.
Enter freshman wacko winger Sen. Tom Cotton, who was actually elected. Cotton seemed to stun military officials with his bizarre, pretzel-logic that because terrorism pre-dated Gitmo, how could Gitmo possibly inspire yet more terrorism and anger at the U.S., as opponents often argue. The astute Cotton also seems to have missed the possible connection between the orange jumpsuits worn by ISIS terrorists and prisoners at Guantánamo. Showing a startling level of acumen and empathy, he went on to declare, “In my opinion the only problem with Guantánamo Bay is there are too many empty beds and cells there right now…As far as I’m concerned, every last one of them can rot in Hell, but as long as they don’t do that they can rot in Guantánamo Bay.”
Some reported the room seemed “oddly quiet” after he spoke those “28 words of hate.” Later, lawyers for some of the detainees noted that Cotton in his “reflexive hatred” of their clients didn’t seem to get that Guantánamo is, in fact, the same as hell for them. The lawyer for Tariq Ba Odah noted his client arrived at Gitmo in 2002, was on hunger strike for eight years, and has since then been subjected to solitary confinement, violent cell extractions and daily forced feedings through his nose, all without ever being charged with a crime, tried, or allowed to know the length of his sentence. “The anguish this uncertainty produces is hellish indeed,” he notes.
In 2010, Tariq Ba Odah was unanimously cleared for release by all six relevant federal agencies, which over time have likewise cleared for transfer or release at least 54 other men still held. One is Fahd Ghazy, who arrived there at 17. In the video below, his family tells of their grief, despair and abiding hope they will one day see him again. There are at least 120 more stories from Guantánamo. Sen. (sic) Cotton should try listening to them.
Written originally for Common Dreams.