- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006

All the reports I’ve seen on the suicides-by-hanging of the inmates at Guantanamo called the deceased “detainees.” But in the actual last years of their lives, they were prisoners — some for more than four years — without charges and entirely cut off from their families. No longer can the Pentagon take pride that no life has been lost at Guantanamo.

Now, three prisoners, using nooses made of sheets and clothing, have committed suicide in their cells. An official at the prison said their deaths were “an act of warfare”; they wanted to be martyrs in the further service of the terrorists to whom they owe their fealty. But, said the military, their remains are nonetheless being treated “with the utmost respect,” and a cultural adviser was helping the military so Muslims around the world would not be offended.

The three dead men, like many of their fellow prisoners, from time to time were on a hunger strike, having recently been forcibly fed — locked into a metal chair while a tube was inserted through the nose into the stomach. Physicians for Human Rights have vainly asked that these “brutal and inhumane force-feeding tactics” be stopped.

And in March, as Reuters reported on June 6, shortly before the suicides, “in the British medical journal, the Lancet, 263 doctors from seven countries called on the United States to stop force-feeding detainees and using restraint chairs.” The doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists at Guantanamo Bay have not protested.

(Note the immutable use of the milder sounding “detainee.”) The president’s reaction to the suicides was: “We would like to end the Guantanamo,” but “there are some that, if put out on the streets, would create grave harm to American citizens and other citizens of the world. And therefore, I believe they ought to be tried in courts here in the United States.” But this is the president who signed into law the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 that strips Guantanamo inmates of any right to habeas corpus petitions to American courts about their conditions of confinement. This law began as the cruel invention of South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, and it nullified so far as these prisoners are concerned the amendment by Sen. John McCain, which rather bizarrely is in the same law.

Presidential candidate McCain has studiously remained silent on this exclusion of Guantanamo prisoners from his much celebrated effort to end cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of our prisoners. Said one of the grateful guards during a forced feeding, “We can do what we want now because you can’t go to court anymore.” As for the president’s warning of the dangerousness of the Guantanamo inmates, military spokesman at the Southern Command in Miami reminded the world that the “detainees” are the enemy and they’re being held because “They have expressed a commitment to kill Americans and our friends if released.” He said, “These are not common criminals, they are enemy combatants being detained because they have waged war against our nation …” However, in an analysis of these inmates ? called “the worst of the worst” by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ? law professors at the Seton Hall School of Law have rebutted this characterization through profiles of 517 of the prisoners, based entirely on Department of Defense data. According to this Seton Hall Law School “Report on Guantanamo Detainees” (which I first cited in March of this year), the evidence the government relied on to hold these prisoners indefinitely revealed that “55 percent are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or coalition allies [and] only 8 percent… were characterized as al Qaeda fighters.” Moreover, “Only 5 percent of the detainees were captured by United States forces …86 percent …were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance (in Afghanistan) and were turned over to the United States at a time at which the United States offered large bounties for capture of suspected enemies to Afghanistan warlords.” The Seton Hall examination of the government’s records ended with, “The detainees have been afforded no meaningful opportunities to test the government’s evidence against them” as the days, nights, months and years mount with no hope of their ever having hope. (The very small number of prisoners who have appeared before military commissions there are not allowed nor are their lawyers allowed to see the key evidence against them.) Would not even so stalwart a person as Rumsfeld not be desperate after being caged year after year in what lawyers for these prisoners have called “a legal black hole”? As for the three prisoners who finally succeeded ? as many others have tried ? to commit suicide, did they intend to be martyrs? Or did they believe, instead, that this was their only way to get out of Guantanamo before dying there of “natural causes.”

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of many books, including “The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance” (Seven Stories Press, 2003).Copyright 2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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