There is a lot of babble on the radio these days, but every now and then there’s a signal that breaks through the white noise with astonishing clarity. That happened to me yesterday as I was in my car listening to the NPR weekly show This American Life.
This weekend’s show was about what’s really happening at the American extra-legal prison at Guantanamo Bay. The hour was filled with example after example of the outrageous violations of American and international law at Guantanamo Bay. Just one such example detailed in the show is the story of a prisoner hauled to Guantanamo Bay after he was handed over by people seeking to get paid a financial reward by the Americans. The Bush White House said he was the worst of the worst. They denied him any right to appeal his imprisonment. They said he was so bad that he didn’t deserve to be treated according to the Geneva Conventions. They said they had secret evidence against him that could not be revealed because it would threaten national security. While at Guantanamo Bay, he was tortured as part of his interrogations, but never gave any useful information.
So, what did this guy do that made him deserve this kind of treatment? Nothing, it turns out. When the pre-Roberts, pre-Alito Supreme Court forced George W. Bush to honor the basic legal standards set back in the days of the Magna Carta, and give this prisoner a habeas corpus hearing, the government accidentally declassified the so-called “secret evidence” against the prisoner. So what did that file of “secret evidence” contain? It had nothing but six statements from various governments around the world that the prisoner appeared to have no connection to Al Quaeda, and no involvement in terrorism.
But, in the kangaroo court hearings set up by the Bush Administration, prisoners aren’t allowed to see the evidence that is used to keep them in prison. And lawyers? Well, the Bush White House says that prisoners don’t need lawyers for these hearings. The Bush White House had an American military officer appointed to represent this prisoner instead. This military officer, the prosecution team, and the judge presiding over the hearing all saw the file of supposed “secret evidence”. They all saw that all the evidence cleared the prisoner of any suspicion of wrongdoing.
So what did they do? The officer appointed to represent the prisoner said nothing – not even to his client. The judge looked the other way. The prosecution team asked that the hearing declare the prisoner an unlawful enemy combatant. The judge put his rubber stamp on the request.
That prisoner is still being held prisoner in Guantanamo Bay.
That’s just one of the many stories of what’s really going on in Guatanamo Bay’s prisons that are detailed during the course of the radio show. If you care two figs about the survival of American democracy, listen to the broadcast. It isn’t easy to hear, but it is essential to listen.