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May/June 2011
Vol. 36, No. 3

 

Torture: Bin Laden and Guantanamo

When the news broke that Osama bin Laden had been killed, many U.S. newscasters sounded jubilant and thousands of people celebrated. Others, like Kathy Kelly, who has visited Afghanistan and Iraq regularly for the past 15 years, and Matt Daloisio, who co-coordinates the Witness Against Torture Campaign, were much, much more sober.

Kelly and Daloisio pointed to 10 years of aerial bombardments, night raids, death squads, assassinations and drone attacks, hundreds of thousands of civilians killed, more than 6,000 U.S. soldiers killed, trillions of dollars wasted, tens of thousands of men, women and children detained and imprisoned in the "war on terror" and the fact that torture became an accepted component of U.S. foreign policy.

In late 2001, as the war in Afghanistan intensified, religious leaders, including Maryknoll leadership, issued a statement on A Different Pathway to Peace and Security. They wrote: "Justice demands that perpetrators of terror be held to account, but a vicious crime that took the lives of thousands of people from dozens of countries should be prosecuted under international law, not avenged by war. ... The investigation, pursuit and prosecution of suspected terrorists and their supporters should be accomplished in a manner completely cooperative with the family of nations and making full use of international law enforcement mechanisms. The accused should be brought to justice in an international tribunal established to deal with terrorism."

Claims that "enhanced interrogation" techniques used on Abu Faraj al-Libbi, a senior al-Qaeda operative, helped lead Obama officials to the courier who connected bin Laden to the outside world have been discredited by high level officials, including Deputy National Security Advisor John Brennan, who said, "There was no one critical bit of information provided by either a detainee or somebody else … {S]ome very, very good people ... have been following bin Laden for many, many years [and] have been very persistent. They have pulled on every thread. And as a result of that diligence and their analytic capabilities, they were able to track this and continue to build a body of evidence that suggested, circumstantially, that [he] was at that compound."

In response to bin Laden's death, Human Rights First said, "[L]ike many criminals before him, [he] used terror ... to get the United States to abandon its principles. ... With bin Laden's demise, the United States should ensure that his goal is definitively rejected. The strength of our country lies in its belief in the inherent dignity of all people and respect for universal human rights. We are strongest when we live up to these beliefs."

In April, the website Wikileaks provided previously classified military documents to news outlets in the U.S. and Europe which give new information about the hundreds of men who have been held prisoner at the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

The files show that only 220 of the 779 men detained at Guantanamo Bay at some point are a threat to the U.S. About 150 Afghans and Pakistanis – who held positions such as drivers, farmers and chefs -- were innocent but held in the detention facility for years, some for intelligence purposes.

Today, 172 inmates remain in the detention facility. While President Obama promised to try the detainees in civilian courts and close the prison when he issued his executive order halting torture in 2009, the prison remains open. In April the administration re-started military tribunals in Guantanamo Bay after a two-year freeze.

In a statement after the papers' release, the Center for Constitutional Rights noted, "The broad picture these documents paint is not of men 'too dangerous to release' but of a government attempting to justify its mistakes and detaining, interrogating and abusing men – as well as teenage boys and men old enough to be suffering from dementia – for years based on bad evidence, hearsay from self interested jailhouse informers and sheer incompetence."

Witness Against Torture (WAT) and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), anti-torture groups with whom the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns works, each issued statements about the newly-leaked documents. WAT continues to advocate for prison closure, release of those cleared, fair U.S. trials for the remaining prisoners and a comprehensive inquiry against all those who carried out torture at Guantanamo Bay.

"Will we take an honest look at the mistakes we made and move forward with a plan to ensure that they are not repeated?" asked NRCAT Executive Director Richard Killmer. "Or will we continue to try to cover up the past and allow the ... leaked documents to continue to demonstrate the immorality of our treatment of post 9/11 detainees?"

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