By Hussam Ayloush
June 15, 2006
After the suicides of three Muslim detainees at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, questions continue to be raised about the necessity of a facility originally designated to hold the worst of the world's deadliest terrorists.
These suicides were desperate acts committed by prisoners who saw neither an end to nor a reason for their incarceration. They must have known that in Islam, committing suicide is a major sin. So what would drive these detainees to such desperate acts?
There are nearly 30,000 suicides each year in our nation. According to research data with the Institute of Medicine, 90 percent of these suicides were associated with a mental illness, in particular, depression. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have documented that depression runs rampant among prisoners at the Guantanamo camp, resulting in an increase in attempted suicides and hunger strikes.
Many people in the Muslim world were outraged when U.S. Navy and State Department officials labeled the suicides a "good PR move." Later realizing the negative impact of these statements, the State Department took a step back.
In the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, some 750 men belonging to 40 different nationalities were captured and imprisoned at the Cuban base. Some of the men were picked up in Afghanistan, while others were sold to American military by those looking to make money. A number of those detained were as young as 12 to 14 years old.
Desperate and depressed, many detainees tried to commit suicide by staging hunger strikes, but guards kept them alive through force-feeding, a practice criticized by the international medical community. They had been detained for years without ever being told what their crime was, or without being shown the inside of a courtroom.
In his 2002 State of the Union address, President George W. Bush described the prisoners as "terrorists who once occupied Afghanistan now occupy cells at Guantanamo Bay."
That same year, Vice President Dick Cheney told the American public that these were hardened terrorists, capable of the most heinous crimes. "These are the worst of a very bad lot. They are very dangerous. They are devoted to killing millions of Americans, innocent Americans, if they can, and they are perfectly prepared to die in the effort. And they need to be detained, treated very cautiously, so that our people are not at risk," he said.
But a report by a professor of Seton Hall University School of Law, who represents two Guantanamo prisoners, shows the kind of threat these men really posed.
According to the report, of the 517 detainees studied, only 8 percent were al-Qaeda fighters. Also, 55 percent of the prisoners had not committed any hostile acts against the U.S. or its allies. Just five percent were captured by the U.S. forces, while the rest were sold to the U.S. by Pakistani authorities, Afghanistan Northern Alliance and bounty hunters.
Reports of abuse and inhumane treatment at Guantanamo continue. A United Nations report earlier this year mentioned shackling prisoners, stripping them, covering them with hoods and blindfolds, using dogs and subjecting detainees to harsh temperatures, and stated that such abuses violated international law banning torture. Last month, a U.N. committee said the prison violated the 1984 Convention Against Torture. The U.N., key U.S. allies such as Britain and Germany, as well as U.S. Senator John McCain and others have questioned Gitmo's tactics and called for its closure.
To this day, most detainees are denied lawyers, a right to a fair trial or visitation from family members. We are told we are fighting this war to protect freedom and rule of law, yet we fail to implement those same principles at Guantanamo Bay.
It would be difficult to fathom the idea of another country taking in hundreds of American prisoners, accuse them of a crime, and then never grant them a fair trial, or any trial for that matter.
Those guilty of real crimes should be tried and punished. But those who are innocent must be released. It is time to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison camp and end this dark chapter in our modern history.
- Hussam Ayloush
- Hussam has been a lifelong human rights activist who is passionate about promoting democratic societies, in the US and worldwide, in which all people, including immigrants, workers, minorities, and the poor enjoy freedom, justice, economic justice, respect, and equality. Mr. Ayloush frequently lectures on Islam, media relations, civil rights, hate crimes and international affairs. He has consistently appeared in local, national, and international media. Full biography at: http://hussamayloush.blogspot.com/2006/08/biography-of-hussam-ayloush.html