American ideals and the politics of expedience …

President Barack Obama delivered his inaugural address immediately after his oath-taking which was heart-warming and which inspired hope for the passive voices. He repudiated the policies of his successors in so far as these relate to human rights abuses in the name of national security. To read his words literally, Mr. Obama blamed no one other than the country itself, critiquing “our collective failure to make hard choices” and a willingness to suspend national ideals “for expedience’s sake” — a clear reference to the cascade of decisions ranging from interrogation policies to wiretapping to the invasion of Iraq.

He has now spent a little more than half of his presidential term of office. Has anything changed since his inaugural speech?

The Guantánamo files and related reports published by Guardian make chilling revelations as to how the national ideals were willingly compromised for the sake of expedience. These files reveal the often fragile physical and mental condition of Guantánamo’s oldest and youngest residents, who have included an 89-year-old man and boys as young as 14. In 2002 Guantánamo prisoners were described as “the worst of a very bad lot” by Dick Cheney, US vice-president. “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.”

According to the report, the internal files on some prisoners paint a very different picture. A 2002 assessment of Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner, Mohammed Sadiq, who was then 89, revealed dementia, depression and sickness. “His current medical issues include major depressive disorder, senile dementia and osteoarthritis, for which he receives prescribed treatment.” The Afghan national was also being assessed for prostate cancer.

Another elderly and unsuitable prisoner was found to have senile dementia on arrival at Guantánamo. Haji Faiz Mohammed, then 70, was flown to the base in 2002 after being swept up in a raid by US troops in Afghanistan. “There is no reason on the record for detainee being transferred to Guantánamo Bay detention facility,” his assessment says. The files shed light on the way mere children were shipped to the cages in Cuba. Naqib Ullah, who was about 14 when captured in 2003, spent a year interned at Guantánamo. Naqib’s file reveals he had been abducted by armed men as they passed through his village, mistreated and conscripted to fight for the Taliban. He told his captors that as US forces approached their camp most fighters fled the base, leaving a few behind to fight. Naqib was found holding a gun, the file states, but the weapon had not been fired.

Interrogation techniques taught to Guantánamo Bay staff made it extremely difficult for detainees to demonstrate their innocence. Camp staff were told any Muslim travelling to Afghanistan after 9/11 was likely to be there “to support Osama bin Laden through direct hostilities against the US forces” and that any other stated reasons were “total fabrications”. A highly classified briefing document suggested detainees who claimed to be in Afghanistan for charitable or educational reasons had been coached by terrorists to tell these stories. Answering questions slowly or confusingly, or challenging the interrogators, were further evidence of insurgent training.

The 778 detainees at Guantánamo Bay were regularly interrogated by US forces, often at weekly intervals for periods of months or years. The briefing is dated 4 August 2004 and entitled Assessment of Afghanistan Travels and Islamic Duties as they Pertain to Interrogation. It acknowledges that Muslims routinely travel the world to provide religious education and support charitable giving, but warns insurgents have been trained to use these traditions as cover.

“Travel to Afghanistan for charity reasons or to teach or study Islam,” the document warns, “is a known al-Qaida/extremist cover story without credence.  Many of the detainees have developed their cover stories around mainstream Islam and the charity and goodwill of those Muslims to lend a benign appearance to their travel to Afghanistan.”

For further details, visit: the Guantánamo files

Related story:

National ideals sacrificed for political expedience….

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