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Obama lays out plan to finally close Guantanamo Bay

Six years after missing his self-imposed deadline to shut the United States detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, President Obama revived his push to shutter the prison on Tuesday, submitting to Congress a plan to move the facility’s remaining detainees. The administration’s plan lays out three steps for handling the 91 detainees who remain at the prison.

Those in favor or torture should read Guantánamo Diary and imagine themselves in place of its author

According to a study by the Pew Research Center a few years back, only about 24% of all Americans think that the authorities should never engage in torture, no matter the circumstances. That means that three out of four people think that torture is sometimes allowable. Every Republican candidate has come out in favor of torture as part of their warmongering, except Ted Cruz who, while pretending to be adamantly against torture, defines these acts of brutality against fellow human beings in such a way as to permit an extraordinary number of procedures that virtually everyone else would consider to be torture.

Most legitimate research demonstrates that torture does not work in extracting information from enemy personnel, but as with climate change and the minimum wage, those who support torture have purchased their own research that purports to show that torture works.

But as Guantánamo Diary graphically and brutally shows, the issue of our essential morality trumps any concerns for national security that sadists and the uninformed might invoke as a cause for torture.  Guantánamo Diary is the memoir of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a highly educated Mauritanian who ended up being tortured for months on end at GITMO despite our intelligence services having not one iota of evidence that he ever engaged in terrorism or helped terrorist organizations.

At the age of 19, Slahi went to Afghanistan for a few months to help Islamic guerillas fight against the communist government that the United States also opposed at that time. He later lived and worked in Germany and Canada before returning to Mauritania. After the 9/11 attacks, the United States arranged for the Mauritanian government to detain Slahi and then render him to Jordan, where he was tortured, and then sent to GITMO for more torture. At Guantánamo Slahi was subjected to isolation, temperature extremes, beatings, sleep deprivation and sexual humiliation. One time, his American captors—representing you, me and every other citizen of the United States—blindfolded him and took him out to sea for a mock execution. As long as he denied accusations that he recruited suicide bombers for Al Qaida, his captors ratcheted up the pain.  

After torturers used beatings and a forced diet of water to keep him awake for weeks, during which time he was interrogated and suffered other tortures on a daily basis, he finally confessed to crimes he did not commit and for which there was no shred of supporting evidence, circumstantial or otherwise. Prosecutors later refused to prosecute Slahi in 2003 because the government’s case depended solely on his false confessions, which were inadmissible under both U.S and international law because they had come under torture.  In 2010, a federal judge ordered Slahi released, but an appeals court overruled and Slahi is still held at GITMO, although no longer being tortured.

Slahi’s descriptions of what his captors did to him are not for the light of heart. His words bring to life the excruciating pain that torture produces in a more evocative, immediate way than any movie or TV depiction of torture I have seen. His descriptions are so grievously harrowing, perhaps because I knew what Slahi suffered was real and that the torture inflicted on Arnold or Bruce Willis in movies is fake. Page after page describes hour after hour of beatings, sexual degradation, marathon interrogations and exposure to extreme cold or heat. Because we experience these physical torments through the eyes of an individual who is both a fine writer and legitimately religious, we also suffer the mental anguish felt by someone who is innocent of all charges.

Before allowing publication, the U.S. government blanked out much of Guantánamo Diary. Eight full pages in a row are blanked out at the height of the GITMO torture regime. Looking at page after page of thick black lines running horizontally from one edge of the paper to the other filled me with panic and fear, as my imagination provided all the punches, kicks, slaps, nakedness, ice cubes, blaring music, Billy clubs and excrement that the redaction concealed.

The basic argument of Guantánamo Diary is that “evil is as evil does.” Slahi’s experience in the U.S. torture gulag has caused him to consider the United States a force for evil, and not a bastion of freedom.  Reading the memoir filled me with the shame of someone who has committed mortal sins that she-he knows are wrong. I didn’t commit the sins, but I felt the guilt, because it was my country. It’s no wonder that our use of torture embarrassed the country in front of the world and sent a lot of young idealistic Muslims into the arms of ISIS.

Slahi’s story exemplifies why torture doesn’t work. People get so confused and so fearful of additional torment that they begin to lie and admit to acts they didn’t really commit. It also shows that it takes a certain brutal and barbaric turn of mind to engage in torture. It makes me wonder if Dick Cheney ever witnessed the infliction of waterboarding or beatings on an individual or if his sadism is only symbolic, consisting of words and images in his mind. Or did he—or his less intellectual president—believe the sanitized versions of torture we see in our violent entertainments? Senator John McCain did not, but then again he went through the real deal in Vietnam.

It is unfortunate that the Obama Administration decided to sweep our torture history under the rug, saying that no one would be prosecuted for planning or implementing the torture regime that took hold of GITMO, Abu Ghraib, Bagram and dozens of other U.S. military facilities across the globe. Of course, prosecution would have meant sending President George W. Bush, Vice President Cheney and a few dozen other government officials to jail for breaking U.S. and international laws.

Word to Ted Cruz: Read Guantánamo Diary.

Word to Donald Trump: Read Guantánamo Diary.

Word to anyone who thinks we should have the right to inflict agonizing pan on others: Read Guantánamo Diary.

If after reading this poignant but depressing memoir, you still believe in torture, then consider yourself outside the human race.

The White House is finally planning to close Guantanamo Bay prison camp 

More than six years after President Barack Obama signed an executive order requiring the Guantanamo Bay detention facility be closed within 12 months, the White House said Wednesday it is “in the final stages of drafting a plan to safely and responsibly close” the controversial military prison. And not a moment too soon.

Two things:
1. Look into who is making money off maintaining Guantanamo and you’ll find a military contractor = GOP special interest.
2. Where do Republicans think these detainees are going? Some country club low security prison? They are going to max facilities like Leavenworth in the middle of Kansas. Get a grip.

Obama and Bush: How Do the Presidents Compare on Guantánamo Bay?

In the early days of Barack Obama’s presidency, the Democrat was cast as a cool, compassionate saviour; a constitutional lawyer who would cut through the darkness surrounding Guantánamo Bay and bring an end to America’s shame. George W. Bush had proclaimed he had the power to indefinitely detain suspected terrorists captured after 9/11 without charge or trial. Obama though suggested that Bush’s detention policies and executive power grab were unlawful. He vowed to reverse them. Bush saidestablishing Guantánamo was “necessary,” but acknowledged toward the last days of his term that it became a “propaganda tool” aiding Al Qaeda’s recruitment drive, at one point agreeing that it needed to be shut down. But that was something he never achieved. Much like Obama. 

So, when it comes to Guantánamo, what actually sets Obama apart from Bush?

To begin with, Obama lived up to what was expected of him. He signed an executive order—one of his first acts as president—and promised to close Guantánamo Bay within a year of taking office, in 2009. More than five years on, Guantánamo remains open and detainees within the facility see Obama as a Jimmy Carter figure, a man who promised much but delivered more of the same. The White House says its failure to close Gitmo is down to fierce bickering and legislative constraints imposed by Congress on the transfer of detainees. It’s a story they’ve been repeating for five years.

The facts tell a different tale. Obama has shown little interest in tackling the Guantánamo problem since he suffered a bipartisan backlash in the first year of his presidency over his attempts to close the prison and resettle a handful of detainees in Northern Virginia. Obama continues to say he is committed to closing Guantánamo but lawyers who represent the detainees say the president’s actions have not matched his rhetoric.

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The former Guantanamo Bay detainee was attacked at Edmonton Institution just after 8 p.m. on June 14 2013

He was struck in the face the moment he stepped out onto a range.

Khadr pressed his jail cell alarm for help and reported the attack to guards right away.

The guards then escorted Khadr and his alleged attacker, Kenneth Ratte, to segregation units. Khadr was not seriously injured, according to staff at the prison.

The Toronto-born Khadr, 26, was transferred to Canada last September to serve out the remainder of an eight-year sentence handed down by U.S. military commission for war crimes he pleaded guilty to committing as a 15-year-old in Afghanistan.

He spent several months in Millhaven penitentiary west of Kingston before being transferred to Edmonton in May.

At the time, his lawyer, Dennis Edney, said someone had taken a contract out on Khadr’s life.

Edney told Postmedia News that he hoped the transfer would give Khadr “…an opportunity for a fresh start, and hopefully this will be a first step on the road to freedom..”

Khadr had asked to be jailed at Edmonton Institution when he was first transferred to Canada. A group of volunteers from Edmonton helped Khadr with his studies while he was imprisoned in Cuba.

Banned Books of Guantánamo: Crime and Punishment

Reza Aslan is an author and creative writing professor at UC Riverside. His most recent book is Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

If I were running an illegal detention center in a distant no man’s land where prisoners could be held indefinitely and without trial, and where torture and deprivation are common tools of interrogation, I, too, would not want detainees to read Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece Crime and Punishment.

The book follows the slow mental breakdown of an impoverished university student in St. Petersburg named Raskolnikov, after he murders a crooked pawnbroker and her unwitting half-sister. Overcome by guilt for his actions, and spurred by the love of a shy prostitute named Sonya, Raskolnikov eventually confesses to the crime and accepts his punishment. Although imprisoned in Siberia, Dostoyevsky makes it clear that Raskolnikov’s redemption comes not from the legal punishment he endures, but rather from his awakened desire to atone for his actions and be forgiven for them by society.   

On the surface this appears to be an appropriate lesson for the fearsome terrorists who are now languishing, seemingly for eternity, in the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay. The story of a criminal wracked by guilt who surrenders to the authorities in order to atone for his crime is one that I would assume the guards at Gitmo would be happy for detainees to read.

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