Guantanamo Bay: Injustice Continued, Justice Denied
By Irfan Yusuf, February 19, 2006
The longer the detainees remain behind bars without charge, the less credible the case against them will seem to the outside world and to an independent impartial judiciary.
During a recent trip to Indonesia, I visited the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta. I was there as part of a delegation of young Australian Muslims, and our tour was sponsored by the Australia Indonesia Institute. Officials at the State Islamic University were keen to show me the "American Corner" of the university.
The American Corner is a public relations initiative of the United States Embassy. It consists of a largish classroom containing a range of books, magazines and other materials about America and American life in both English and Indonesian. Students are free to practise their English skills at a range of computer terminals equipped with special language teaching programs.
A special focus is placed on the status of America's large Muslim minority. Copies of the popular glossy American Muslim women's magazine Azizah were displayed in prominent view. The goal was clearly to provide Indonesians with a view of American interactions with Muslims different to what they were receiving from mainstream Indonesian media outlets.
Muslim disenchantment with Guantanamo Bay
Indonesian media are not known to be exceptionally anti-American, and nor do they go out of their way to tow the line of the pro-US Indonesian government of Susilo Banbang Yudhoyono.
The sheer range of ideas being broadcast by Indonesian radio and TV and being printed by the Indonesian press was a pleasant surprise to our delegation. The fact that the country's largest and best selling newspaper, Kompas, is owned and published by a private Catholic foundation hardly raises an eyebrow in this the world's largest Muslim country. In the post-Suharto era, freedom of the press runs rampant.
Yet Indonesians we spoke to from all walks of life and representing all 6 officially recognised faith communities were united in their condemnation of one American policy – the continued detainment without charge of some 500 terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay.
Despite its attempts at opening communication channels with Muslim communities across the world, the White House's refusal to come clean on the extent of torture and mistreatment of prisoners at Guanatanmo Bay is winning it no friends.
Unsurprisingly, I could find not a single copy of Yee's book or any book dealing with the prison facility at the American Corner.
The latest UN Report
And it isn't just people from Muslim-majority states who are finding America's Guantanamo policy difficult to fathom. Now, the United Nations has published a report calling for the US to close down the facility "without further delay". The report was prepared by five independent experts acting as monitors for the UN Human Rights Commission.
As expected, the US Administration has rejected the report's findings. The White House questioned the veracity of the report's claims, arguing that investigators did not accept an invitation to visit the facility.
But given the US's refusal to allow them unfettered access to inmates, it is little surprise UN investigators did not wish to be part of a highly censored and sanitised inspection.
Allegations of torture and violence against prisoners corroborate statements already given by British former detainees and by released Australian detainee Mamdouh Habib. In the case of Mr Habib, it is likely the torture and other allegations will be tested should he as expected bring proceedings against the Australian Government.
It isn't just the detainees
For Muslims across the world, concern over mistreatment of Guantanamo detainees is not limited to inmates. The recently-released book of former Guantanamo chaplain James Yee, entitled "For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism Under Fire", provides important clues on how the US Military and Administration allowed paranoia and sectarian prejudice to cloud its judgment in crucial matters affecting its administration of the facility.
Yee's dealings with both detainees and guards led him to believe that a large proportion of prisoners had little if any relation to terrorism. When he started making noises to this effect, Yee found himself the subject of officially spread innuendo and eventually trumped-up charges of spying. He was also accused of adultery and downloading pornography onto military computers.
Eventually, after 8 months of high profile detention and investigation, all charges against Yee were dropped without explanation. Yee was imprisoned at the order of Major General Geoffrey Miller, who later became embroiled in the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib Prison.
Reviewing Yee's book, Norman Abjorensen writes in the Sydney Morning Herald on February 4-5 2006 that it is difficult to read Yee's account "without a rising sense of anger and injustice". The book, Abjorensen continues, "brings into sharp focus the inhumane monstrosity that is Guantanamo Bay."
David Hicks and Australian governmental apathy
In Australia, there have only been limited calls from within the government for the release of the remaining Australian detainee David Hicks. Last November, government backbencher and former Veterans Affairs Minister Danna Vale called on the Prime Minister to use his influence in Washington to press President Bush for Hicks' release.
Of course, what makes Hicks' situation different to that of other detainees is that he has actually been charged. Mr Howard refused her request, stating he was committed to the Guantanamo Military Commission process. The PM also says he has received advice to the effect that even if Mr Hicks was returned to Australia, he could not be charged under Australian law.
The PM was reported on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) website on November 12 2005 as stating that "it was not a criminal offence at the time that the activity took place to train with Al Qaeda … We do not intend to pass retrospective criminal laws. That would represent a very significant regressive move and it would violate the basis of our criminal justice system."
Within a short time, the Howard government went onto pass some of the most draconian anti-terror laws that contained more retrospective elements than one could poke a stick at. I haven't read the new legislation in all its details, but it would be an interesting exercise to determine whether Hicks could be tried under present anti-terror laws.
Given the Australian government's lacklustre concern for the welfare of an Australian citizen, it seems Mr Hicks and his family can look forward to receiving more support from the United Nations than from their own government.
Hicks and the remaining prisoners have been in detention since 2002. The United States has had some 5 years to gather and present evidence against the detainees. The longer the detainees remain behind bars without charge, the less credible the case against them will seem to the outside world and to an independent impartial judiciary.
That, of course, presumes that the military tribunals established to try the prisoners are impartial. As we know, even lawyers appointed by the US Military to represent the detainees have openly states that the commissions are little more than kangaroo courts. The ultimate result will be a continuing and delayed injustice.
And as the UN Report so clearly illustrates, unless the facility is closed altogether, justice will ultimately be denied.
Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney industrial lawyer and occasional lecturer at the School of Politics & International Relations at Macquarie University. He is also a columnist for the Adelaide-based Australian Islamic Review. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org