Personal Stories Emerge from Guantanamo

Gitmo detaineeLike most moral Americans, I’ve long had concerns about the “detainees” that our military are holding in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Any Conservative who is reading this most certainly suffered some pain just now from their eyes rolling back into their head. This is a natural reaction for someone who knows nothing about the real world, but lives his or her life steeped in black and white ideology with no possibility of shades of grey. These are the people who can’t tell you which ocean is off of the East Coast, but will presume to tell you all about terrorists and what they’re trying to do to the United States.

Before I go any farther, let’s make one thing clear. I hate terrorists. I despise them. Any mongrel dog who will kill innocent people to make a political point is an inhuman animal that should be dealt a swift death. The problem comes in when you try to determine who is and who is not a terrorist.

Most Americans assume that every detainee being held in Guantanamo is a terrorist. After all, they wouldn’t be there if they hadn’t done something, right? This view is popular among Conservative Republicans, whose worldview is absolute authoritatian and precludes any possibility of wrong-doing by the party in power. Suggesting such a thing in a authoritarian culture in itself raises questions about one’s patriotism. Oddly enough, the effect is that by exercising your freedom of speech you are undermining democracy and, by extension, freedom of speech.

But I’m getting far from my original point. The main issue here are these detainees. Who are they? Where are they from? Are we to believe that the United States military is so efficient that they can round up people from small villages, in large sweeps intended to catch possible al-Qaida or Taliban operatives, and somehow determine who among these detainees are collateral damage and who are really persons of interest?

Well, the Conservatives would like us to believe that. The Bush Administration believes it with all their heart.

“They’re bomb-makers,” Vice President Dick Cheney said recently in regard to the detainees in Guantanamo. “They’re facilitators of terror. They’re members of al-Qaida and the Taliban. If you let them out, they’ll go back to trying to kill Americans.”

I’m sorry. I absolutely believe that this statement is true in regard to some of the people who were rounded up in these huge sweeps of certain areas. But to say that this is the case of each and every person being held there is ludicrous. Then again, the Republicans are not known for their reverence for fact, truth or even morality. There is no right or wrong. There is simply “us vs. them.”

My primary problem with Chaney’s statement, and the general attitude supporting it (which is shared by most Conservatives), is that it’s simply the demonization of a group of people. In the absence of any sort of proof of wrong-doing on the part of many of the people in Guantanamo, the Conservatives simply dub them “evil-doers” and detain them indefinitely without charging them with any crimes or affording them any access to legal counsel or the eventual finality of a trial.

This sounds like something Manuel Noriega would have done in Panama. It sounds like something Saddam Hussein would have done in Iraq. Why do the Conservatives have such a hard time understanding why some Americans would have a problem with that? We’re supposed to be the good guys. We’re supposed to be the shining beacon of freedom and all that’s good in the world. If we will not extend the ideals of that freedom and respect for basic human dignity and, by God, right and wrong, why could we possibly expect to suddenly reserve those same rights for our own citizens in foreign lands?

In summation, I do not believe that every person being held in Guantanamo is an innocent victim who never raised a hand against the United States. However, it is very clear that Dick Cheney’s assertion that “they’re (all) bomb-makers,” is laughable. To the Conservatives simply being sympathetic to al-Qaida is the same as blowing up a bus full of children. Does this mean that, if someone has a photograph of Osama bin Laden in their home, they can be held accountable for the crimes of Osama bin Laden?

Using this same logic, an Iraqi cook who prepares a meal for American soldiers in Iraq is a supporter of the American invasion of Iraq, and could therefore logically be detained as an American sympathizer by Muslim extremists. They would just be using the same logic we are using.

In the real world (where Conservatives fear to venture) this hypothetical cook is simply a man who is trying to get by as best as he can, dealing with the situation he has found himself in. It doesn’t much matter who is in charge or whether the man standing on the street corner with the automatic weapon is a Taliban or American soldier. His family still has to eat. They still have to have a roof over their heads.

Most of the Conservatives I know would shout bloody murder if al-Qaida operatives detained this cook from an American held sector and held him prisoner for an indefinite amount of time, with no possiblity of release, without ever telling him what crimes he is accused of committing. It would anger Conservatives that this man’s basic human rights were thrown out the window simply because al-Qaida deemed him an American sympathizer, a facilitator of their enemy, and therefore an enemy himself.

But the very same thing is perfectly okay if it’s done by the American military in regard to Muslims. I’m sorry folks. You can’t have it both ways. This brings us right back to the main point of contention for Muslims in the Middle East where the United States is concerned. America talks out of both sides of its mouth. That’s not what I was taught to believe that America was all about.

Most uninformed Americans assume that the detainees in Guantanamo were enemy combatants who were captured on the field of battle. They believe this because most Americans don’t understand the nature of this conflict. They think in terms of standing armies fighting on a battlefield in World War II. Or of house to house combat in villages in Vietnam. They simply don’t understand that al-Qaida has no standing army, and that the Taliban in Afghanistan conscripted men into service against their will.

For the American military, and the Conservatives especially, it’s enough to live in an area where al-Qaida operates, and it doesn’t matter if you served the Taliban at gunpoint. It’s enough that you served the Taliban. You raghead! Now get in that cell, take off your clothes, and climb up on top of that pile of naked men. We’re gonna take some pictures.

Here are some background stories of some of the detainees in Guantanamo. These Details are from transcripts of “enemy combatant” hearings involving Guantanamo detainees:

Abdulaziz Sayer, a Kuwaiti who studied at the Imam Mohamed Bin Saud Islamic University, has a degree in Islamic law. He met a man while worshipping in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, who said Sayer should go to Afghanistan to teach the Quran. He entered Afghanistan through Iran in October 2001 and did charity work. His name was found on a computer after coalition forces raided a house, but he denied belonging to al-Qaida or the Taliban.

Jamal Alawi was accused of working for Al-Wafa, a charity with links to al-Qaida, but he said he only bought medicine for it. The United States also said he was the director of a charity considered to have al-Qaida connections. He denied being a director but said he was a representative who knew nothing about any al-Qaida links.

Arkin Mahmud, a Chinese Muslim Uighur who traveled to Afghanistan in August 2001, was captured by the Northern Alliance as a suspected Taliban fighter. He was at the Mazar-e-Shariff prison in November 2001 when CIA officer Johnny “Mike” Spann was killed. He said he went to Afghanistan to look for his brothers. “If I am guilty they should come up with my punishment,” he told the tribunal. “Otherwise, do something faster to finish my case.”

Boudella al Hajj, an Algerian clergyman, worked with orphans in Bosnia-Herzegovina for a humanitarian organization and the Bosnian army. He is accused of being in contact with known al-Qaida member Abu Zubaydah and belonging to an Algerian militant group, all of which he denied.

Habib Noor, a resident of Lalmai, Afghanistan, with family in Saudi Arabia, is accused of owning a compound that attackers fled to after ambushing U.S. special forces and Afghan military forces. He insisted he was unaware of the incident that day, which he spent as a vendor in the Lalmai village bazaar in Khost province.

Believe it or not, I take all of these statements with a grain of salt. I don’t believe that everyone is totally innocent anymore than I believe that anyone can be totally evil. But that’s not the issue here. Simply put, if we cannot prove that these people have done anything, and have not been able to dig up any wrong-doing on their part after having them in custody for years, we should either release them or charge them with a crime.

Americans would be outraged if American citizens were being detained indefinitely by a foreign government. My age-old paradigm holds here. Just change around the names of the players, and you’ll know all you need to know. Want to know if a black man is a racist and hates white people? Put his exact words in the mouth of a white person in regard to black people and then ask if it sounds like racism. That holds here. If it would be wrong for a foreign government to detain American citizens indefinitely without access to counsel, trial or even being charged with a crime, how can it be right for us to do the same?

Some of the less informed might read this and call me an enemy sympathizer. It’s fine with me if some people are that stupid. If I identify at all with any of these people, it might be because I still remember the 2000 Presidential election, when Republican operatives rallied in Florida and pretended to be local residents, and chanted slogans about the Democrats trying to steal the election.

I still remember the 2004 Presidential election when Conservatives would shout insults at my wife in the parking lot at the Lowe’s store because we had a bumper sticker for a Democratic candidate on our car.

I remember Conservatives trying to shout me down and intimidate me simply because I tried to hold a simple, personal conversation with another Democratic sympathizer in a public place.

I remember Republican goon squads being dispatched to polling places to challenge people’s right to vote and intimidate others into staying away altogether. I remember Republicans preventing voting machines from being dispatched to areas where the vote might not favor them.

I suppose I’m particularly sensitive to any abuses of human rights committed by the United States because it’s not so far fetched that I might find myself in that same situation some day. The Conservatives already love to smear non-Republicans with the label of being “un-American,” “terrorist sympathizer” and so on. We already have our very own American Taliban in the form of Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Falwell, working through the Republican Party to establish an authoritatian, de-facto theocracy.

You tell me. It is so far fetched to imagine that when these people’s infiltration of the United States Government is completed, people such as I, American citizens, could see ourselves arrested on American soil without ever being charged of a crime, deported to some foreign country where I would be subject to torture, stripped of my human and civil rights, and denied access to counsel or even the right to a trial?

If this seems far fetched to you, consider this. It’s already happened to American citizens. All they have to do is label you a terrorist sympathizer. Ask José Padilla.

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