Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

No Prison is Pleasant | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Fair trials may exist, but there are no reputable prisons as all wardens share the belief that jails are hotels with inadequate service.

Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba was built as a temporary hotel yet prisoners seem to be enjoying their stay in the beautiful sunny island. US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld even told the television cameras, in a roofless cell, how pleasant the place was, “neither hot nor cold.”

This could be well true, in the case of a holidaymaker or a government official on a day visit, but much less likely for a prisoner confined to his cell. What has the US government done wrong when it took prisoners from the losing camp, same as any other victor?

In fact, a number of mistakes have been committed on the road to Guantanamo . The US administration has purposefully refrained from granting prisoner of war status to the captives as the Taliban and al Qaeda aren’t recognized countries. It has also ensured they are not held in prison on US territory, instead sending them to a neighbouring Cuban island, so no judge can try them or set them free.

It has become obvious that Camp Delta is now a prison for the American government and not one it administers. No one has explained why the prisoners were flown from Afghanistan were most were arrested, at a time when the prisons of Kabul , inherited from the Communists and the Taliban, would’ve gladly allowed brutal practices. As long as the Afghan government is also under the thumbs of the US military, it will not call for an investigation. In Iraq , ex- dictator Saddam Hussein and his associates, who are more important than Aghan prisoners, continue to languish in jail under US supervision.

Guantanamo can be best understood by referring to George Bush Jnr’s policy of challenging international law that categorize prisoners of war and sets the rules for their treatment. This is to the detriment of the US laws which realizes the respect of international laws and conventions protects the country rather than hurting its enemies. As such, non compliance with international agreements harms the world’s only superpower. For their part, the vanquished who don’t recognize any laws and regulations have nothing to lose and no interests to protect. The US authorities mistakenly decided to not try the captives, therefore stripping an act of war from any legitimacy.

Some regard Guantanamo as a scandalous jail. I believe it exists to send a political message, more than to imprison and interrogate. Washington could have legally detained and tried all the men. It could have even held them captives in third world prisons or even sent them back to their respective countries whose governments would’ve treated them similarly. In the developing world, there are no camera phones and no guards that leak information to the media; prisoners usually die of sudden heart failure. Yet, the US government has chosen to keep its detainees in a foreign jail and hold itself captive with a lingering negative image in the eyes of the international media and the world.