The Stain of Gitmo: "We Destroyed People's Lives."
Tomorrow on newsstands, we tell the story of Omar Khadr, who
is the youngest detainee at Guantanamo, the only Westerner, and a symbol of sorts. To some, he is exhibit A for all that is wrong with America's War on Terror. For others, he's an example of why the camp exists in the first place. For us, he's representative of the biggest problem President Obama faces in closing the detention facility within a year: what to do with those detainees left at the camp who have indisputable terrorist ties. Should they be tried in federal court, a new national court system, or sent to other countries for prosecution and detention?
Our story seeks to answer some of these questions and looks at the dangers some of the detainees still pose.
Mahvish Khan with Haji Nusrat after his release from Guantanamo
Courtesy of Mahvish Khan
It also briefly mentions the work of Mahvish Khan, a University
of Miami law school grad who worked as a translator at the camps. The daughter of Afghan refugees who re-settled in the U.S., Khan grew up speaking Pashto at home. She was also familiar with Afghan customs, making it easier for her to establish a rapport with detainees than it was for the lawyers she worked with.
As we relate in the story, Khan was surprised by what she first found at Gitmo. Nervous and a bit scared, she expected to meet hardened Al Qaeda foot soldiers. Instead, the first man she met was a pediatrician who had worked to establish democracy in Afghanistan. The second was an 80-year-old parapeligic.
"I felt totally duped and deceived and I realized at the heart of this big Guantanamo debate lies something much more fundamental than habeas corpus and due process," Khan says in this video. "This is about people's lives and we often don't hear about the Guantanamo detainees as individuals. It's one nameless faceless entity of foreigners who we are told are the worst of the worst and they've been stripped of their names and hidden because not knowing who they are makes their abuse much more palatable."
"And I believe that if Americans knew who really was at Guantanamo this base wouldn't still be opened."
Khan wrote a book about her experiences, titled My Guantanamo
Diary, and there's more from our conversation with her after the jump.
Khan says that most of the people she met at Guantanamo were there because they had been turned in through a bounty program sponsored by the Pentagon. As Khan relates in her book, the U.S. military dropped thousands of bounty leaflets offering up to $25,000 per Taliban or Al Qaeda member turned in. Considering that the average Afghan lives off 80 cents a day, this created a financial incentive to turn enemies in that had no affiliation with terrorist networks.
"I saw UN workers, people who had built girls schools, who had been persecuted by the Taliban, people who worked closely with and supported Karzai, as well as businessmen whose debtors fingered them, or ISI (the Pakistani intelligence service) involvement in selling people for bounty money," Khan told New Times in an email. "The fundamental flaw here is not that there was a bounty program, rather, that the United States military failed to investigate what locals with financial and other motivations were alleging about one another."
At the end of her first meeting with Haji Nusrat Khan, an 80-year-old parapelegic, the old man opened his arms and the two embraced. As they did so, he prayed for her.
"Here was a man who had nothing," Khan says. "No health. No freedom. He was kept in cage that I would not put my dog in, and yet he began to pray for me at Guantanamo."
"...When the fear, hysteria, and vilification of Muslims subsides, Guantnamao ... will be viewed as a sad stain on the history of our great nation. I wrote My Guantanamo Diary to be remembered in history. People will learn and read and understand how we destroyed so many peoples lives."
"It is important to remember that we have tried terror suspects countless times in US history. (World Trade Center bombing 1). We have a system of laws to deal with the protection of classified information. Going around the law, and denying human beings civil and human rights, and engaging in torture, makes America look like a lawless thug state."
"...Many of the Guantánamo detainees were taken from their families and homelands, many from their own beds at night, brought halfway around the world, tortured, and held in secret, without charge or trial. The Guantánamo cases raise lasting and fundamental questions about America's willingness to abide by its principles and adhere to the rule of law, especially when under threat."
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