Sunday, January 24, 2016

From Roger Fitch and our Friends Down Under at Justinian

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Columbus arrives in Puerto Grande
There's a harbour in southeast Cuba so capacious that when Christopher Columbus anchored his fleet there in 1494, he named it Puerto Grande.  
When British admiral Edward Vernon visited in 1741 during the War of Jenkins' Ear, he renamed it Cumberland Harbour. Accompanying Vernon was a naval surgeon, Tobias Smollett, who afterwards wrote up his travels in The Adventures of Roderick Random. 
The bay was a haven for pirates, long before the buccaneers Bush - père and fils - started stuffing it with prisoners and hostages: Haitian asylum seekers; men from real or rhetorical wars; even actual pirates, e.g. Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Ahmed al-Darbi, both now facing military courts for acts of violence on the high seas (usually defined as piracy) having nothing to do with war, and in one crime alleged, nothing to do with the country holding and charging them. 
Guantánamo Bay now hosts an extrajudicial internment camp entering its 15th year. In notoriety, it outstrips Devil's Island, and it has held hundreds of Dreyfuses. SinceBoumediene (2008), not one of their cases - civil or military - has gone to the supreme court, regardless of merit or the injustice presented. 
Many have reflected on the sordid history of this unnecessary military blunder, e.g. the Al Jazeera journalist Sami al Hajj, held at Gitmo for six years, apparently to intimidate his employer and pry into its affairs. 
Al Jazeera  has not been silenced, and as the Pentagon in January expatriated ten Guantanameros in one go, AJ published a "where are they now" story on past, botched repatriations and reckless refoulements.  
Only the Canadian Omar Khadr seems to be receiving the rehabilitation so many deserve after their ordeal.  
Rolling Stone had a story, "America's shame", and the Miami Herald reported on the six remaining internees (now reduced to five) from the original 20 of January 11, 2002, that included David Hicks.
Almost on cue, the Pentagon released Fayiz al-Kandari, the last of the petitioners from the supreme court's landmark 2004 decision, Rasul-Al Odah, a joint appeal by two British men, joined by the Australians Hicks and Habib, and twelve Kuwaitis. 
US Navy at Guantanamo Bay
That's a long time for a supreme court case to play out, but al-Kandari was clearly a man the Pentagon wanted to keep, despite the Kuwaiti government having sought his release for years. Indeed, the military seems to have vindictively prolonged the detention of certain inmates, while frustrating the closing of the prison itself through dilatory manoeuvres.  
The Pentagon's blanket denial of prison-of-war status meanwhile continues. It began with George Bush's initial suspension of the Third Geneva Convention, but as this column has frequently noted, only Congress can derogate from a ratified treaty.
Bush's extralegal rupture of GIII was swiftly followed by his pre-emptive declaration that all Taliban soldiers detained in Afghanistan were unentitled to prisoner of war status, a nonsense Barack Obama has left undisturbed. 
One wonders why Mr Obama has spent seven years digging George Bush's Gitmo hole ever deeper.  
It would have been easy for the new president to announce, on taking office, that there would be Article Five hearings (see most recent previous post) for all prisoners then held at Gitmo. That would have allowed the US to accord GIII prisoner-of-war status to those who were entitled to it; repatriate or expatriate those wrongly held; and continue to hold - until the end of hostilities - those rightly detained.  
Those exonerated could be more easily returned, and reintegrated into society. 
The Pentagon, however, has never admitted the innocence of any prisoner released, let alone helped or compensated him. Diabolically, each is merely "no longer an enemy combatant", who's found to be "no longer a threat".  
Such a policy change of restoring the pre-Bush rule of law, of course, would have involved admitting the previous government had made mistakes - indeed, had committed grave violations of the Geneva Conventions. 
It would also have meant conceding the war in Afghanistan was an International Armed Conflict, where GIII applied throughout. That's something the Pentagon could never allow, for the military is now inured to the impunity they receive under the looser Common Article Three standards for treatment of prisoners in a Non-International Armed Conflict.  
It's worth remembering that according to studies, only five percent of prisoners sent to Guantanamo were captured by Americans on a battlefield. The rest were either unvetted Northern Alliance prisoners; men abducted elsewhere (as far away as Bosnia, Thailand and the Gambia); or all too often, men bought with $5000 bounties paid to needy Afghans and venal Pakistanis.


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