Most people, including the vast majority of U.S. citizens are firmly opposed to human rights abuses including unlawful imprisonment and torture. Indeed, it was U.S. governments in the post-World War Two years that were foremost in developing and enhancing international laws and conventions, including the Geneva Conventions on War, the Nuremberg Principles, and the UN Convention Against Torture.
Guantanamo prison is a contradiction of all the best elements of “American values” and U.S. constitutional democracy. I got an insight into the damage that torture does when I worked for some time as manager of a torture care center in Dublin, dealing with individuals who survived torture by dictators in Iraq, Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
There are clear indications that the treatment of some prisoners at Guantanamo amounted to cruel and inhuman treatment if not torture, even if U.S. Government legal advisors claimed otherwise. Long-term imprisonment without trial or access to constitutional rights such as habeas corpus contravenes U.S. laws, and best human rights practices. This is why Guantanamo prison exists, attempting to place its inmates beyond the full protection of the U.S. justice system.
A recent report, “Decaying Guantánamo Defies Closing Plans” (New York Times, Sep 1), makes depressing reading. Not only is the prison camp itself decaying but so are its prisoners. 79 prisoners, considered to be low-level risks have been awaiting release for several years, but the U.S. Congress refuses to allow them be released in the U.S. and the U.S. Government has been unable to persuade other countries to take them. In addition, 70 higher risk prisoners should be transferred to prisons in the U.S. where they would be subject to U.S. constitutional laws including habeas corpus proceedings, but this is also blocked by Congress. Some prisoners have been in Guantanamo for over 12 years without trial.
The report by Charlie Savage refers to Guantanamo’s “decaying infrastructure and aging inmates” and cites the prison doctor that “20 to 25 prisoners have conditions … such as diabetes and high blood pressure. He expects other problems, like heart disease, strokes and cancer to arise in coming years.”
Two Uighur prisoners from Guantanamo were resettled in Ireland in 2009. As a humanitarian gesture Ireland, and other countries, should offer to resettle more prisoners from Guantanamo. This would be particularly appropriate in Ireland’s case given that the Irish Government facilitated the transfer of prisoners to Guantanamo by allowing CIA and U.S. military aircraft that were engaged in the so-called extraordinary rendition program to be refuelled at Shannon airport. Some prisoners on hunger strike are still being forced fed, and at least nine prisoners have died in Guantanamo, including six by suspected suicide.
The recent horrific murder of Irish American James Foley in Iraq or Syria, while dressed for propaganda purposes in a Guantanamo style orange jump-suit, is an example of the blowback type consequences that can result from democratic states behaving undemocratically, although this in no way justifies the horrific crimes being committed by extremists in the Middle East.
At the time of the Abu Ghraib controversy several U.S. military officers expressed grave concerns about the torture and abuse of enemy combatants and predicted that it could have consequences for captured U.S. soldiers.
President Obama must live up to his promise to close Guantanamo and thereby begin to restore the United States to its status as one of the leading protectors of human rights. Ireland and other countries should assist President Obama in this task by agreeing to take a quota of Guantanamo prisoners. Surely, if the U.S. President has authority to make war, then he also has a duty to make peace and protect human rights.
Dr Edward Horgan, Newtown, Castletroy, Limerick
* Edward Horgan is a human rights activist who served as an officer in the Irish Defence Forces and as a UN peacekeeper, and has worked extensively on democratization programs and election monitoring in post-conflict countries, including with The Carter Center. He is also part-time lecturer in international relations at the University of Limerick.