Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Tuesday, January 20th, 2015.


The Gulag Guantanamo

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Obama Administration

I can remember when Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a darling of the American Right. His books, especially The Gulag Archipelago, were cited time and time again as proof of the moral superiority of the West — America especially — over the wicked Soviet Union. The Soviets silenced critics by shipping them off to forced labor camps with no right to a fair hearing, and we didn’t do that, did we?

Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay since 2002. A manuscript account of his captivity was released today, although not before being heavily redacted by the U.S. government. You can read it online at the Guardian. There’s an abridged version at Spiegel. The manuscript may not rise to the literary quality of Solzhenitsyn’s work, but I’d say it permanently relieves the U.S. of any assumption of moral superiority over the Soviets.

If it’s ever published in book form, the ruling in favor of his habeas petition needs to be an appendix. The judgment ends with these words:

The question, upon which the government had the burden of proof, was whether, at the time of his capture, Salahi was a “part of” al-Qaida. On the record before me, I cannot find that he was. The petition for writ of habeas corpus is granted. Salahi must be released from custody. It is SO ORDERED.

That was in 2010. The government appealed. Slahi remains in Guantanamo.

Slahi is a former mujahideen and al Qaeda member who claimed to have severed ties with al Qaeda in 1992. However, he is also a cousin and former brother-in-law of Mahfouz Ould al-Walid, a guy with direct connections to Osama bin Laden. On a couple of occasions he gave money to al-Walid. He is accused of conspiring with members of the “Hamburg Cell,” although according to some accounts all he may have done is let Ramzi bin al-Shibh stay overnight in his house in Germany once in 1999. Late in 1999 he moved to Montreal, where he was a member of the same mosque as Ahmed Ressam. His association with known jihadists got him on the radar, so to speak. He returned to his native Mauritania in 2000, but on the way home he was detained by FBI agents who believed him to be involved in the Millennium Plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport. After three weeks he was released. In November 2001 he was subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and has been in American custody ever since.

Joe Nocera writes,

What was he accused of? Slahi asked this question of his captors often and was never given a straight answer. This, of course, is part of the problem with Guantánamo, a prison where being formally charged with a crime is a luxury, not a requirement. His efforts to tell the truth — that he had no involvement in any acts of terrorism — only angered his interrogators. “Looks like a dog, walks like a dog, smells like a dog, barks like a dog, must be a dog,” one interrogator used to say. That was the best his captors could do to explain why he was there. Yet the military was so sure he was a key Al Qaeda player that he was subjected to “special interrogation” techniques that had been signed off by the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, himself.

“Special interrogation techniques,” of course, is a euphemism for torture. The sections of the book that describe his torture make for harrowing reading. Slahi was so sleep-deprived that he eventually started to hallucinate. Chained to the ground, he was forced to “stand” in positions that were extremely painful. Interrogators went at him in shifts — 24 hours a day. Sometimes during interrogations, female interrogators rubbed their breasts over his body and fondled him.

Yes, Slahi made confessions under torture, which he has recanted.

While it’s always possible Slahi was more directly involved with terrorism than his public record suggests, it appears he is a victim of zealotry on the part of U.S. national security. Rumsfeld, Cheney, and no doubt the Boy Wonder president wanted all the evildoers rounded up and punished, and those charged with carrying out these wishes don’t seem to have been terribly picky about who they nabbed to fill their quotas.

American conservatives, including former POW Sen. John McCain, continue to insist that the men detained in Guantanamo must stay there, because they are dangerous. It’s more like some people are trying to keep their own moral cowardice out of sight.

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I’m not going to live blog the SOTU tonight, but feel free to comment here if you like.

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