The following writing is an amicus brief for my Breaking the Law class. Credit should also be given to my other group members who contributed to the brief (Amanda Hodgson, Alex Hartman, Emma Heaton, Gurjeevan Gill, and McKenna Cuevas).
IDENTITY AND INTEREST OF AMICUS BRIEF
From Chicago to Guantanamo there has been a continuum of torture used on those residing within the carceral system. We are writing this brief to discuss the heinous and unjust treatment that prisoners within the detention center on Guantanamo Bay face when being held. We see that these actions have an effect that is more than just on the prisoners within Guantanamo. Instead, they have major implications on those in prisons all around the world, especially in the United States. The increasingly questionable constitutionality and ethical means of this form of information extraction beg the question of whether this strategy is viable both socially and economically. With the new administration coming, we feel that now more than ever is the best time to make strides towards reform for the rights of not only prisoners but the many innocent humans who see their own rights violated by excessive force every day.
SUMMARY OF ARGUMENT
We have brought to your attention three major concerns of ours that are applicable to Guantanamo Bay. Our first issue is that the existence of the detention center breaks Geneva Convention laws through the use of torture on prisoners of war. In article 13 of the Convention, it states “Any unlawful act or omission by the Detaining Power causing death or seriously endangering the health of a prisoner of war in its custody is prohibited, and will be regarded as a serious breach of the present Convention” (ICRC article 13). It has been proven that torture methods such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, and forced feeding have been used on Guantanamo prisoners, which severely puts their life at risk. While the use of torture is prohibited, it also provides no use in the court of law. By not only physically torturing someone but psychologically as well, all the information taken from that person becomes tainted. One example of this is Richard Zuley’s use of torture and unconventional interrogation of Mohamedou Ould Slahi; Spencer Ackerman quotes a judge looking at the case, saying: “I can understand Zuley’s motivation to get information out of Slahi, but he had to do it in a way that was legal and credible” (Ackerman).
Our second issue is that many people who are responsible for the violation of human rights have not been held accountable. By not enacting accountability, we are participating in an act that is as dangerous as terrorism. “Without real accountability for these crimes, those who commit abuses in the name of counterterrorism will point to the US mistreatment of detainees to deflect criticism of their own conduct” (Human Rights Watch, 5). We also believe that having those who have broken the law take accountability will help with the healing process with the victims. It also sets an example for those who either still are practicing or are considering the idea of torture as a weapon in detention centers; by showing that there are consequences, it might dissuade further use of it.
Finally, we have found that the exploitation of prisoners in Guantanamo is being carried over to the U.S. carceral system. In Spencer Ackerman’s expose about Richard Zuley, he brought to light the similarities between the torture techniques he used in both Chicago and in Guantanamo. For example, in both cases, he used eyebolts to shackle prisoners, which isn’t necessary in their cases. “Used responsibly, they prevent suspects from harming themselves or their interrogators. But law-enforcement veterans say their use in restraining detainees for hours and their use in interrogations is problematic” (Ackerman). Zuley would use eyebolts in both cases for long-term shackling, which is considered a form of torture. By shutting down Guantanamo, we would also be erasing extreme forms of torture that not only have been carried over to there but different ones that transfer back to being used on our own civilians.
With the new administration coming into office, we feel that now more than ever is a time to make the case for some of these desired carceral reforms. Mr. Trump has a very special responsibility to make appointments on the Supreme Court that will inevitably have effects on the interpretation of the Constitution for years to come. This honor, as well as the opportunity to make strides in humanizing the incarceration process that is seen in both Guantanamo and the United States prison system today, only further validates the need for this brief and the importance of empathy and consideration of all involved parties when making a decision. There are concerns with some of Mr. Trump’s rhetoric used in the election process, especially comments about plans to keep Guantanamo open and “load it up with some bad dudes” (FoxNews). Before making such rash choices, we feel that the President-Elect should examine the points being made as well as the different implications at stake if the utmost importance is not taken in regards to this situation.
The first outstanding point we would like to highlight for Mr. Trump is the fact that the practice of torture itself is unethical and a violation of both human rights and, as previously stated, the Geneva Convention itself. This notion is widely accepted by different world organizations such as the various UN committees to prevent the practice of torture, the US State Department, and numerous decisions from European Court of human rights (Human Rights Watch). With this widespread agreement that torture is clearly unethical, it is hard to imagine that such consistent usage in Guantanamo could be so prominent. The practice of holding prisoners that has been famously used in Guantanamo has been considered by many human rights groups to be inhumane in of itself (Amnesty International). If this practice is considered heinous, then the many different reported torture techniques used in Guantanamo, such as sexual abuse and humiliation as well as physical harm, are equally if not even more so extreme forms of torture.
We return to this violation of the Geneva Convention when considering the practices at Guantanamo. This inhumanity that is being carried out only continues to horrify when looking at some of the allegations that prisoners have made regarding the guards of the prison. These guards are indeed taking advantage of the loose leash they have with some of the biggest enemies of the state. Guantanamo prisoner Majid Khan made many different allegations against the inhumane practices that were being done to him there such as waterboarding, sexual assault from drunk guards, and being hung from rafters. A CIA insider informed a British news outlet that “they got medieval on his ass, and far more so than people realize” (World Socialist Web). This description, although a bit barbaric, accurately describes the heinous level of treatment that prisoners here face. The argument laid out by the Bush administration when enacting these practices were that it was a form of punishment and information extraction of the ‘worst of the worst’ in the world, however, this is not necessarily the case either. According to the Guardian, only about less than 4% of the prisoners within the confines of Guantanamo have been or will be convicted of a crime (Davis). That means that a good majority of those that are being held are being held without due process, without being convicted, and without the basic human rights and dignities that are laid out in the Geneva Convention as well as the United States Constitution.
The next point that we would like for Mr. Trump to understand is the implications that this treatment of prisoners has on other prisoners within the carceral system. The torture and hateful mentality towards those within Guantanamo has seen a spillover effect within the United States prison system. This leads to some of the same mistreatment that we give some of the proclaimed ‘biggest criminals in the world’ being dealt on citizens of the United States from police and other groups, and vice versa. The concrete connection takes the form of Richard Zuley, who brought the mistreatment he gave to those living in Chicago during times of unrest, and amplified it for the prisoners of Guantanamo when he became an interrogator there (Ackerman). The different reparations given to those in Chicago that were brutalized by police during these periods may have begun the discussion for better treatment of prisoners, however, there needs to be more of this consideration when thinking about the various people wrongly imprisoned and tortured in Guantanamo continuously every day.
This connection from Chicago to Guantanamo and back takes more than just the form of Richard Zuley. The macro concept of race, as exemplified by Jerica Arents in her article, and how that plays a role in the incarceration of many people has also shown to have similarities between the two. This is because much of the population of low-income areas of Chicago are populated by African American men, hence the ones most often being incarcerated and mistreated by police. Due to the preconceived notion from many within the police system that young black men are almost always guilty by identification and more than likely, if followed around long enough, a crime will be committed that takes one more criminal off the street (Arents). This mentality is extremely detrimental to promoting the economic and social welfare of those in low-income areas due to the clear initiative to put away these people before they even have a chance to make something of themselves. This constant witch hunt causes a cycle to begin of people being exploited due to their race and in turn leads to more people committing crimes due to the institutional racism preventing them from leading normal lives. Arents continues on this by connecting these young black men to the majority demographic in Guantanamo: Muslim men. Since the disasters of September 11th, 2001 there has been a noticeable increase in hateful rhetoric and fear towards not only Muslim men but the entire Islamic ideology itself. Therefore, when Guantanamo begin to detain and torture numerous Muslim men with little or no cause, it was clear what the motive was. This demographic essentially bore the burden of Bin Laden’s actions with persecution in the country that some of those detainees called home. The aftermath of seeing our own citizens be taken from their homes and tortured for something they did not do should be cause enough for Guantanamo to be at least closed for reexamination on the constitutionality of it, however, if nothing else the final point should convey the message.
The final substantive point that we would like to convey to Mr. Trump is the fact that the information collected by means of torture has been proven to not be viable, especially in a court of law. The whole means for the torture is to collect information and extract other knowledge forcibly, however, when this information is not viable, then what is the point for this torture other than just disdain and spite? We understand that the previous administrations have shown to skew the wording of legislation in order to protect the practice of torture, such as calling prisoners of war ‘enemy combatants’ in order to then put them out of the reach of the rights granted to POW’s by the Geneva convention and make this treatment technically legal (Puchner). However, with the proposed changes this would be something that would be directly addressed as well as pushed to be changed for this loophole in the classifications of prisoners is causing hundreds of people to be separated from their families and loved ones for the supposed best interest of the United States, although that interest is not clearly laid out. With referencing the treatment of Slahi by Zuley, it is shown that this means of information extraction is not credible nor should it be considered legal in the court of law.
The question of whether this information gained from torture is even accurate is another component that needs to be considered. PBS Newshour dove further into this by asking a former war crimes prosecutor and Guantanamo interrogator David Iglesias whether it was a good means of extracting intel. Iglesias responded “[…] in every case that the Senate committee looked at, the actual evidence used came from non-abusive tactics… I can tell you it’s radioactive” (PBS). He even goes as far as to say “Look, I can get someone to admit to being the second shooter in the JFK shooting if I use the right techniques, but that’s a worthless confession”. The point that Iglesias is trying to make is that with the use of torture, the government is able to get a confession for whatever crime they please based on the means and extent of the torturing process. This should automatically invalidate it, however, we still see the United States government use this as a method of extracting intel when it is difficult to differentiate what is actually true and what is just an answer to stop the pain for a short period. Instead, doing research and finding things out through legal means of investigation and interrogation may be a more humane and even accurate way to get this information. This, therefore, makes the government able to then try the prisoner in the court of law, where the testimony will hold up due to it being given on valid grounds.
For the reasons stated above, the unjust, immoral tortures and holdings of Guantanamo Bay should be diminished, and shall not be carried on throughout the Trump administration. This is to fix the implications in which Guantanamo has caused in prisons throughout the worlds. Since we have not seen any positive social or economic benefits from these methods; The innocent should be freed, the guilty should receive fair trials in court, and moved to standard jail facilities.
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