Guantánamo: nine years and counting

Call me an inveterate numerologist, but with the date on the palindromic 11/1/11 I think it’s only right to take stock of the situation at Guantánamo in numerical fashion. First off, and most obviously, today is – almost unbelievably – the ninth “anniversary" of this whole saga. Yes, it’s a miserable milestone and here are nine reflections on it. (1) That “anniversary”. Nine years of Guantánamo. It’s staggering. Nine years of orange jumpsuits, Donald Rumsfeld’s “known unknowns”, the whole Cuban legal black hole and all of the misery and confusion associated with it. Obama has called it a “misguided experiment” and it is certainly that, and more.  (2) Speaking of Obama, it’s almost two years since the then newly-inaugurated President Obama promised on 22 January 2009 to close Guantánamo within a year. He’s now nearly one whole year overdue.  (3) There are still 173 detainees at the camp. None of them has a trial scheduled.  (4) There are increasing signs that the US plans to hold approximately 50 detainees indefinitely, without charge. See Bianca Jagger’s Huffington Post reflection on this and how Obama has fallen from grace after promising to sort out Guantánamo. (5) Only one Guantánamo detainee has ever been given a civilian trial. This was Ahmed Ghailani, who was found guilty in November of conspiracy to destroy US property with explosives; he faces a minimum of 20 years in prison when he’s sentenced on 25 January. The obvious question: if they can do it for Ghailani, why can't all the detainees get civilian trials (or be released)? (6) Nine UK nationals (Feroz Abbasi, Ruhal Ahmed, Moazzam Begg, Richard Belmar, Tarek Dergoul, Asif Iqbal, Martin Mubanga, Shafiq Rasul and Jamal Udeen) and five UK residents (Jamil el-Banna, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohamed, Bisher al-Rawi and Abdenour Samuer) have been freed from Guantánamo. None of them was ever brought to trial. Between them they spent approximately 40 years behind bars at GITMO. Since their return to the UK none has been charged with a terrorist offence. (7) There is one UK resident still held at Guantánamo. This is Shaker Aamer. Around 6,000 people took part in Amnesty’s recent push (for him to be given a fair trial or released back to his family in Britain) for Shaker in November. For the second wave the new target is Hillary Clinton, so numbers are needed once again to help achieve resolution in his case. Please take action for him here. (8) Nine again. Next month Shaker Aamer will have been at Guantánamo a full nine years (in other words he’s been there since nearly the beginning). Think about it. Nine years without being charged or brought to trial. And this is the United States of America in the 21st century. It really does beggar belief.

(9) Later this year, on 11/9/11 (also a palindrome!), it will be 10 years since the horror of the suicide plane attacks on New York and Washington. The other day I heard a media commentator make the interesting point that many in the US military frontline are now actually too young to properly remember it (ie a 19- or 20-year-old private in the US army will have been a nine- or ten-year-old, not really mature enough to comprehend the news). This may even, thought the commentator, mean that troops in the field would be less gung-ho; maybe there would be less mistreatment of prisoners and so on. Either way the key point, as Bianca Jagger emphasises, is still unchanged: the attacks were serious crimes that require a steadfast law-enforcement effort to bring people to justice. Not the botched business of Guantánamo. That’s it. Nine observations on this unhappy ninth anniversary. Will I be writing another post like this one on the 10th “anniversary” next year? Let’s hope not.

PS: I’m allowing myself a tenth point!: a repeat plug for Amnesty’s action for Shaker Aamer. Please take action for him if you haven’t done already.

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