Monday, June 12, 2006

Gitmo Stunting

Hopeless, indefinite detention or a clever PR stunt?

After a week on the road and learning about quark stars, I have returned to the regularly scheduled and resolutely grim program. And what is the first charming bit of news to greet me upon return?

Via misneach comes word that US officials are claiming that the three Gitmo detainees who committed suicide were performing a PR stunt to "draw attention" to themselves.
A top US official has described the suicides of three detainees at the US base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as a "good PR move to draw attention".

Colleen Graffy told the BBC the deaths were part of a strategy and "a tactic to further the jihadi cause" ...
This statement says a lot more about Bush administration officials than it does about the suicidal detainees. The White House has already repudiated these remarks but the initial statement is still indicative of the administration's mindset. To the White House, everything, everything, is a public relations effort.

But even more audacious than this ludicrous statement was one that emanated from the unholy mouth of Rear Admiral Harry Harris, Guantanamo Bay Commandant, who claimed that the suicides were an act of war against the United States:
They have no regard for life, either ours or their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.
Not to be outshone by the good Admiral's grasp of the situation, Colonel Mike Bumgarner tells us that the Gitmo detainees have been waging a very clever media war from inside the prison:
The war is won in the media, and it takes a little more each time. The hunger strikes are dying out. They've used that silver bullet. They needed something else, something more dramatic....
Indeed, it doesn't get much more dramatic than stuffing rags in your own mouth to drown out the choking noises as you hang by the neck until dead.

If you can wrap your head around that logic, I hear the Pentagon is looking for a few good spokespeople. You've got be quick-witted, though, and be able to form likewise insane victimization positions on-the-fly:
Why, yes, we are holding these detainees through indefinite detention and against all international treaties and the US Constitution. Don't you see how that plays to their mad jihadi goals? Our imprsionment of them is really their own diabolical plot, ingeniously designed to make us look bad.
Now that we are well into Torture Awareness Month, it seems appropriate for a little recap of an actual PR stunt, beautifully executed as it was by the White House and presidential wannabe John McCain. It was a media ploy entirely designed to legitimize the existence of Guantanamo Bay and, at the same time, plump up the already puffy senator from Arizona.

We'll all recall the efforts of McCain last summer and fall to write in an "anti-torture" amendment to the defense spending bill that was then under discussion. This amendment was something that Bush was finally threatening to use his presidential veto power to defeat. Cheney had been adamant about the administration's need to be able to torture prisoners even as Bush and Condi Rice were blabbering about how the US "does not torture." These were strange and contradictory positions, to say the least.

Of course, McCain's position smacked of disingenuity, despite the mainstream media declaring that the White House had "backed down" on the amendment. McCain's amendment stated that detainee treatment would be consistent with the Army Field Manual. Recent reports that the Army Field Manual had expressly removed any consideration of Geneva Convention bans on prisoner "humiliation" were hardly surprising because back in December, the putative White House "back down" surfaced a mere two days after the Army Field Manual had been rewritten and classified. It didn't take much imagination to understand what the new, classified AFM might contain.

There were several moves in the works then that were guaranteed to render the McCain amendment moot. One was the amendment's deference to the then new and classified Army Field Manual. Another was the passage of the Graham-Levin amendment, an amendment that would strip Gitmo detainees of habeas corpus and, therefore, remove from them any ability to seek redress in US courts. Yet another was the fact that the US was conducting programs of extraordinary rendition, which provided a means of outsourcing any White House torture needs to countries willing to perform such tasks, thereby removing US agents from directly conducting such acts themselves, something that was also expressly forbidden by the McCain amendment; we don't torture ... but our friends do. Further rendering the McCain amendment worthless, the House and Senate also had passed a measure that would
enable the government to keep prisoners at Guantánamo Bay indefinitely on the basis of evidence obtained by coercive interrogations....
This flurry of amendments, resolutions and provisions were bound to result in one thing: no change in de facto policy as it was practiced at Gitmo. In fact, the Graham-Levin amendment was quickly employed when, in March of this year, Bush administration lawyers were able to successfully argue that Gitmo detainees could not fight claims of abuse in courts because ... they couldn't go to court:
In federal court yesterday and in legal filings, Justice Department lawyers contended that a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, cannot use legislation drafted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to challenge treatment that the detainee's lawyers described as "systematic torture."

Government lawyers have argued that another portion of that same law, the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, removes general access to U.S. courts for all Guantanamo Bay captives.


Justice Department lawyers argued that even if the [abusive] tactics were considered in violation of McCain's language, detainees at Guantanamo would have no recourse to challenge them in court.
That "other portion of that law" would be the Graham-Levin amendment, an amendment McCain quietly voted for. The Bush administration's position was as craven as it was expected and John McCain, stroked as he was then by the White House and the mainstream media, was the beneficiary of proudly trumpeting his "strong stance" on his "anti-torture' amendment. If ever we have seen a PR stunt, it has been the McCain amendment, a law brought forth designed to look serious about stopping torture but which was expected and is now known to provide absolutely no protection against the vile practice. It was an effort designed for the sole purpose of making John McCain look presidential while effectively doing nothing. Can we really be surprised that Gitmo detainees are trying -- and now succeeding -- to hang themselves?


Anonymous Anonymous said...


Dear Ms. Graffy:

I am writing to you to remark upon the incredibly ignorant statement you made regarding the three recent suicides at Gitmo. The lack of knowledge about the causes of suicide which you demonstrated in your profoundly stupid remarks leaves me breathless for the sheer lack of understanding of an issue which is the 11th leading cause of death among Americans. (Anderson RN, Smith BL. Deaths: leading causes for 2001. National Vital Statistics Report 2003;52(9):1-86.), not to mention what incarceration without hope of release for charges unknown must do to a person. How would you like to be locked up without any knowledge of charges against you, in a land not your own, without any sense whether or not you would ever leave alive? Perhaps you should try it.

Annual rates of suicide in this country are over 30,000 per year, more than 650,000 Americans are hospitalized each year following suicide attempts, and over 116,000 are treated in hospital emergency departments for same. Among US males, suicide is the 8th leading cause of death for all US men and males are four more times likely to die from suicide than females. And this is not even beginning to quote numbers related to female and teen deaths. But don't take it from me, Ms. Graffy, check out the website of one of your fellow-governmental agencies, the CDC--that's the Centers for Disease Control in case you had failed to note its existence-- . There you will see a tidy introduction to a subject in which you are woefully ignorant and which all your degrees have obviously not prepared you to understand or speak about.

I come from a family which, in the last one hundred years, has experienced over a dozen suicides in its ranks. So, yeh, I tend to be rather sensitive to the issue. We are what you would call patriotic Americans, as a whole, and have done more than our share to contribute to the life of the nation in ways very big and small. To see you liken suicide as an act of warfare against the US would be funny if it were not so cruel and unfeeling. But then, cruel and unfeeling is probably how you have risen to the position you presently enjoy at State.

Do us all a favor, Ms. Graffy, and shut your mouth about subjects for which you are woefully under-qualified and under-experienced to comment. Step outside of your fishbowl of an office and limited circle of acquaintances, take a drive sometime and see the world beyond the Beltway. Touch base with reality. You are in many ways as imprisoned as the people you are verbally abusing at Gitmo.

Very Truly Yours,
Robert Pell-deChame

5:38 PM  

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