'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, January 13, 2006

"If they had wanted to be tried in a civil law system, they should've attacked France." 

As Amnesty International reports on new claims of torture at Guantanamo Bay, ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner writes about what it's like to actually be there. Wizner, along with other human rights monitors, was allowed to visit Guantanamo Bay to observe the proceedings of the Guantanamo Military Commissions which reconvened on Wednesday, and has written four posts about the experience on the ACLU's blog ... Pretty fascinating, here're the links along with some excerpts:

1.) Greetings from Guantanamo ... Wizner discusses the surreal experience of traveling to Guantanamo Bay and reveals the prices of drinks at "The Clipper Club":

I'll write more about these two cases, and about some of the ACLU's broader concerns about the Commission system, tomorrow. Meanwhile, the "Clipper Club" serves Buds for $2, Red Stripes for $3, and shots of Jack Daniels in a plastic cup for $2.50. After a day of being told "no" in eight different ways -- from the terse, to the avuncular, to the analogous (Colonel: "You want to see that? I want to have dinner with J. Lo. It's not gonna happen." BW: "Don't sell yourself short.") -- I've got a thirst. And I've got a wallet full of singles.

2.) A Day of (Relative) Openness ... Wizner corners one of the commision prosecutors and we learn that Gitmo has a Starbucks:

Yesterday, we pestered anyone who would listen to us to arrange meetings with the Commission prosecutors and personnel, and we were given to believe that we were about as likely to get a meeting with the tooth fairy. So, when we serendipitously bumped into some of those prosecutors this morning in the parking lot outside the base's Starbucks hut, we concealed our surprise and struck up a conversation.

I asked one of the prosecutors -- who flinched theatrically when I told him I was an ACLU lawyer -- why it wouldn't have been preferable to try these detainees under an existing legal system, rather than inventing a new one on the fly. "If they had wanted to be tried in a civil law system," he intoned, "they should've attacked France."

3.) The Words of the Accused documents actually seeing Guantanamo inmates on trial:

Back in August of 2004, al Bahlul had requested to be represented by Yemeni counsel, and he asked Brownback the status of that request. Brownback stated that the rules would not permit it, and wondered whether al Bahlul still wished to represent himself. Al Bahlul responded that he wished to read a statement. After warning al Bahlul that he might interrupt a statement that he regarded as self-incriminating, Brownback allowed al Bahlul to speak.

What followed was a manifesto of sorts. Al Bahlul announced that he wished to read nine points regarding the "causes and circumstances" of the decision he was about to make. Some offered critiques of the Guantanamo justice system ("Because of discrimination based on nationality . . . . The British detainees were not subjected to military trials, because Britain refused to allow its citizens, even Muslims, to be tried"; because of "the secret evidence issue"); others were harder to follow. "I know I'm detained," he said, "and they will carry out their laws as they wish. I know there will be a day of judgment before God. Therefore I say to the judge -- do as you will. You will rule in this world, and God will provide justice."

Al Bahlul then declared: "With these nine causes, I am boycotting all sessions, even if I am forced to be present." He lifted the paper that he had been scribbling on. "I will raise this paper, and this word is 'boycott.' I am boycotting every session. This boycott is the result of circumstances that I believe, and it doesn't matter if you believe them." Then, in English, he repeated the word "boycott" three times.

4.) Impressions of Guantanamo. Final thoughts:

In addition to the mess halls and fast food chains (McDonald's, Subway), the base has some of its own restaurants and bars. There was excitement in the air at the Windjammer when we arrived for "Taco Tuesday," and I confess I paid more attention to my plate than to the representative of the Canadian government whom we were dining with. We never made it to the Jerk House, the Jamaican restaurant, nor to the Tiki Bar -- which, despite our protests, is off limits to us. (Maybe next time . . . .) We did have dinner at the Bay View, Guantanamo's most elegant restaurant, where a player piano sits in the lobby, tinkling out Elton John favorites and waiting for someone more insightful than I am to explain how it's a metaphor for this whole place. I'm not equal to the task.

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