Guantanamo on 60 Minutes
Reviewing recent books on the U.S. shadow prison system at Guantanamo Bay, Raymond Bonner concludes:
There are still hundreds of prisoners held without charge at Guantánamo, and it will in all likelihood be left to the new administration to deal with them. Until it does so, the United States will maintain its reputation as a country that has flouted the basic principles of justice and set a deplorable example for the world.
A new 60 Minutes story details one detainee’s claims about his treatment:
“They used to beat me when my head is underwater. They beat me into my stomach and everything,” he says.
Kurnaz says the Americans used a device to shock him with electricity that made his body go numb. And he says he was hoisted up on chains suspended by his arms from the ceiling of an aircraft hangar for five days.
“Every five or six hours they came and pulled me back down. And the doctor came to watch if I can still survive [or] not. He looked into my eyes. He checked my heart. And when he said okay, then they pulled me back up,” Kurnaz says.
“The point of the doctor’s visit was not to treat you. It was to see if you could take another six hours hanging from the ceiling?” Pelley asks. “Right,” Kurnaz says.
My Seton Hall colleague Baher Azmy represented Kurnaz; you can watch him on the 60 Minutes clip here starting at 8:50 in.
And here’s a transcript:
[Azmy] dug into the case and found that the military seemed to have invented some of the charges. Military prosecutors said one of Kurnaz’s friends was a suicide bomber, but the friend turned up alive and well in Germany.
“How could they have gotten that so wrong? I mean, you’re either a suicide bomber or you’re not. There’s no in between,” Pelley remarks.
“This goes to the utter preposterousness of the government’s legal process that they established in Guantanamo, this tribunal system that was supposed to differentiate from enemy combatant and civilian. So in order to justify that he was an enemy combatant, they simply made up an allegation about someone he was associated with,” Azmy says.
But far worse than the false charges was the secret government file that Azmy uncovered.
Six months after Kurnaz reached Guantanamo, U.S. military intelligence had written, “criminal investigation task force has no definite link [or] evidence of detainee having an association with al Qaeda or making any specific threat toward the U.S.”
At the same time, German intelligence agents wrote their government, saying, “USA considers Murat Kurnaz’s innocence to be proven. He is to be released in approximately six to eight weeks.”
But Azmy says Kurnaz was kept at Guantanamo Bay for three and a half years after this memo was written in 2002.
They kept him, Kurnaz says, by inventing new charges. In a makeshift courthouse, Kurnaz claims that a military judge charged that Kurnaz had been picked up near Osama bin Laden’s hideout in Afghanistan while fighting for the Taliban. Ironic, since it was the U.S. that flew him to Afghanistan to begin with.
“Have you ever in your legal career run across anything like this?” Pelley asks Baher Azmy.
“In my legal career, no,” Azmy says. “But in Guantanamo, no detainee has ever been able to genuinely present evidence before a neutral judge. And so as absurd as Murat Kurnaz’s case is, I assure you there are many, many dozens just as tenuous.”
And a U.S. federal judge agreed. She ruled the Guantanamo military tribunals violated the prisoners’ right to a defense, and she singled out Kurnaz’s case as an example.
Though Kurnaz’s book “An Innocent Man in Guantanamo: Five Years of My Life” details his story, the Administration “still considers him to be an unlawful enemy combatant.” Denying the accused any semblance of due process makes it quite easy to stick to one’s guns. Perhaps the most depressing aspect of Kurnaz’s story is that it was a German diplomatic intervention–by Chancellor Angela Merkel–that ultimately freed him. Nothing in the American legal system appears capable of stopping the executive branch from holding someone a prisoner without evidence for years.