U.N.: U.S. Must 'Make Full Reparation For The Injuries Caused' by Gitmo

"Without accountability, there is no moving forward on Guantánamo," said a U.N. special rapporteur, shouting a truth into the void of U.S. foreign policy.

U.N.: U.S. Must 'Make Full Reparation For The Injuries Caused' by Gitmo
Guantanamo prisoners blindfolded with ears and mouths covered. Jan., 2002. Via the U.S. Navy.

Edited by Sam Thielman

I HAD A DEATH IN THE FAMILY, so I couldn't attend Monday's press conference at the United Nations with Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the U.N. special rapporteur who conducted what they call a "technical visit" to Guantanamo this year. But Ní Aoláin's report, released Monday, speaks for itself in detailing what Guantanamo continues to be. More subtly—but still plainly—it highlights how closing Guantanamo is just the beginning when it comes to ending the legacy of Guantanamo.

Ní Aoláin's bottom line is that even though only 30 people remain in cages at Guantanamo, out of 780 people once held there, abuse at Guantanamo is ongoing. She has nice things to say about the Biden administration's commitment to the rule of law, as manifested by the very low bar of allowing her access to Guantanamo. That's throat clearing ahead of this: "[S]everal U.S. Government procedures establish a structural deprivation and non-fulfilment of rights necessary for a humane and dignified existence and constitute at a minimum, cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment across all detention practices at Guantánamo Bay."

Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment is the language of the U.N. Convention Against Torture, to which the United States is a party (although with caveats asserting Washington's discretionary adherence). It is a very deliberate finding released on a very deliberate day, as Monday was the U.N. day commemorating victims of torture. All that is consistent with Ní Aoláin's unflinching earlier finding, from April, that the experience of several detainees at Guantanamo "may constitute crimes against humanity."

Note as well that she's saying this is a "structural" feature of Guantanamo, and a continuing one. It's not a deviation experienced by this-or-that detainee or a regrettable mistake of the past. This is Guantanamo 2023.

GUANTANAMO IS A COVER-UP, Ní Aoláin writes between the lines. Consistent with her earlier reports, she suspects that "the continued internment of certain detainees follows from the unwillingness of the authorities to face the consequences of the torture and other ill-treatment to which the detainees were subjected and not from any ongoing threat they are believed to pose." The Periodic Review Board, upon which most detainees' hopes for freedom depends, "lacks the most basic procedural safeguards," vindicating FOREVER WARS' 2021 assessment that the board is bullshit. "[T]he fact that 16 men have been cleared yet remain trapped in the Guantánamo detention facility is indicative of the Periodic Review Board process’ disconnect from any actual release and the arbitrariness of the cleared men’s ongoing detention," she writes.

Ní Aoláin pokes holes in several typical U.S. government talking points voiced by the U.S. military across administrations. Among them are frequent claims that health care for detainees is both excellent and equivalent to what U.S. servicemembers receive.In reality, she notes, troops can be medevaced off of Cuba for specialized care, while a Guantanamo detainee gets whatever the military happens to have on the island. And the people who determine that care are all Defense Department employees, something Ní Aoláin, building uponher January report into Guantanamo health care, considers an inherent conflict of interest. In total,medical and psychological care at Guantanamo "fails to take into account the totality of the health needs of detainees."

That's particularly and unsurprisingly acute for Guantanamo's many torture survivors:

She also finds that specialist care and facilities are not adequate to meet the complex and urgent mental and physical health issues of detainees, including permanent disabilities, traumatic brain injuries, chronic pain including headaches and chest, stomach, back, rectal, and joint pains, gastrointestinal and urinary issues, complex and untreated post-traumatic stress disorder, and other current physical and psychological manifestations of torture and rendition after 9/11, as well as the cumulative and intersectional harms arising from continued detention, deep psychological distress, deprivation of physical, social, and emotional support from family and community while living in a detention environment without trial for some and without charge for others for 21 years, hunger striking and force-feeding, self-harm and suicidal ideation, and accelerated aging.

While the U.S. claims to train Guantanamo guards in human rights law, Ní Aoláin's team writes in a footnote that "several personnel with whom she met were unable to recall whether any human rights training was provided or recall with any specificity when such training was completed or its contents." That's just one indicator of a detention infrastructure that, in the helpful language of a summary document, entails

near-constant surveillance, forced cell extractions, undue use of restraints, and other arbitrary, non-human rights compliant operating procedures stemming from inadequate training; structural healthcare deficiencies; inadequate access to family, including the failure to facilitate meaningful communication; and arbitrary detention characterized by sustained fair trial violations.

One detainee, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a "non-high-value detainee" convicted in the military commissions, "is being held in isolation, raising serious concerns of solitary confinement in contravention of international law." Even after men leave Guantanamo through the transfer process, "the vast majority of detainees continue to experience sustained human rights violations" in their new countries. In that, Guantanamo certainly displays the legacy of U.S. mass incarceration that has grown up alongside it.

Arbitrariness still defines detainees' access to counsel—15 years after the Supreme Court recognized detainees' right to challenge their detention—as a "hierarchy of counsel access" has developed that privileges access for the small minority of detainees with active cases before the military tribunals. That hierarchy, however, does not provide for adequate legal access:

Of particular concern to the SR [special rapporteur] are multiple reported instances whereby military commissions counsel with longstanding attorney-client relationships with detainees, including detainees who have previously testified as witnesses in ongoing cases and/or been named in witness lists by the prosecution or otherwise appointed for purposes of ongoing plea negotiations, were denied both virtual and in-person access to their clients, including on the basis that their clients did not have an “active case or controversy” before the military commissions, a policy that is currently under revision.

In a deft touch, Ní Aoláin's report begins by recognizing the very real pain and right to redress of 9/11 family members—several of whom, in my experience, are entirely fine with Guantanamo being as bad as it is, though certainly not all. She also acknowledges that treatment at Guantanamo has improved from the early years, just not sufficiently. In one of the most poignant lines in Ní Aoláin's report, she observes that "in the absence of adequate psychiatric care, the detainees themselves are a significant source of support to one another including for their mental health issues," something I've heard from numerous Guantanamo survivors over the years.

AS MENTIONED, Monday marked the annual U.N. commemoration of torture survivors. The White House, with neither shame nor irony, sent out a statement from President Biden hailing the occasion. "I reaffirm the United States’ opposition to all forms of inhumane treatment and our commitment to eliminating torture and assisting torture survivors as they heal and in their quests for justice," Biden said, before pointing to torture performed by U.S. adversaries like Russia, Syria and North Korea.

Ní Aoláin, meanwhile, reminded the U.S. of the "structural" abuses it continues to perform while assuring the world that it is the global guarantor of human rights. "[T]he U.S. Government is under a continuing obligation to complete thorough, independent, and effective investigations into alleged violations, sanction those responsible, provide appropriate redress and reparation to all victims and adopt effective guarantees of non-repetition, such as legislative, administrative, judicial, and other measures to prevent and punish such violations going forward," her team writes.

Using the most inflammatory word in American discourse, the one that nails American Exceptionalism to the wall, Ní Aoláin declared that the U.S. must "make full reparation for the injuries caused, and offer appropriate guarantees of non-repetition for violations committed post-9/11." She repeats variations on the word reparations 14 times in her report.

The U.S. government will never acknowledge owing anything beyond the bare minimum to the men at Guantanamo, least of all criminal prosecutions for their torturers. But Ní Aoláin's report is a reminder that the obligation remains, much as it does for other legacies of American atrocity—legacies that inform the ongoing atrocities at Guantanamo Bay.

MAJID KHAN, a survivor of the CIA black sites and Guantanamo Bay who was released in February after 20 years in cages, issued the following statement during the international day of commemoration of torture victims:

"I was a victim of US torture by the CIA. I survived and have forgiven my torturers, and I am moving on with my life in Belize. But I still wait for an apology, medical care, and other compensation. I appreciate all the support that Belize has provided me, but responsibility lies with the US. It would mean a lot to me. I also ask other countries to follow the example of Belize and offer safe refuge to other Guantanamo detainees approved for transfer, including men such as Guled Duran who was never charged with any wrongdoing. It is time to close Guantanamo.”

MISOGYNY RUNS THROUGHOUT EVERY FORM OF REACTIONARY VIOLENCE, a point I don't think I sufficiently highlighted in REIGN OF TERROR, and one directly addressed in this New Lines piece about how reactionary Christians and reactionary Muslims are finding common cause in the so-called manosphere. "While these groups have historically been at loggerheads, the overlaps in their values are also clear in their opposition to feminism and the antisemitism that is rife in both communities," write Rasha al-Aqeedi and Lydia Wilson.

What is new is the rapport between Western anti-establishment, anti-mainstream, often Christian groups and traditional Muslims. Western groups find in Muslim communities what they believe is a prototype for a social contract free of wokeism and women’s liberation: Only two genders exist, masculinity is cherished and femininity means aspiring to be the ideal housewife, with little to no ambition beyond motherhood. In return, these traditional Muslims receive the vindication and legitimacy they have long sought. After decades of being shunned as the problematic “other” and stereotyped as backward, uncivilized cavemen or terrorists, or both, Muslims not only have a seat at the table but are also viewed as having the solution to many maladies of society.

This is no way out of the War on Terror, only a way to shift its focus onto other vulnerable people. As long as the structures of the War on Terror remain, they will ensnare more people, including their original targets. The manosphere offers no workable tips for getting off a watchlist.

MY FORMER DAILY BEAST COLLEAGUES Swin Suebsaeng and Adam Rawnsley (who's also my former WIRED colleague) report for Rolling Stone that Trump-era Department of Homeland Security senior official Miles "Anonymous" Taylor writes in a forthcoming book that Stephen Miller wanted drone strikes on a migrant boat headed for the United States. Miller says he never said it; the former Coast Guard commandant he allegedly said it to doesn't recall it; Taylor stands by it.

THIS SEEMS LIKE A GOOD PLACE to point out that The Nib's webstore is selling 30 "special deluxe edition" copies of Maia Kobabe's Gender Queer: A Memoir, the graphic novel recognized as the most banned book in the United States in 2022. Once I finish writing this newsletter, however, the store will have 29 in stock. Act now.

FINALLY, THE 40-SOMETHING DADS WHO PRODUCE THIS NEWSLETTER cheer the recovery of Steely Dan's "The Second Arrangement" from 1979, a song legendarily thought to have been lost forever after an engineer accidentally erased the tape. This is a bumper time for Steely Dan recovery, as we recently got a video uploaded of a blistering 1973 live performance of "Show Biz Kids," which is a top-two* Dan track. I was raised on Steely Dan thanks to my father and so these songs are burned into my brain, withstanding the boring cyclical awful/genius reappraisals we're doomed to relive. They're forever associated with my childhood, a time before I could understand how bleak or biting Steely Dan is. One day my daughters will be writing this sort of thing about Shit Present.

*OK, if you insist:

10. "Brooklyn Owes The Charmer Under Me"
9. "Kings"
8. "Kid Charlemagne"
7. "With A Gun"
6. "Do It Again"
5. "Bodhisattva"
4. "My Old School"
3. "Deacon Blues," which I feel compelled to point out features drums from Bernard 'Pretty' Purdie, one of the greatest drummers to have ever lived
2. "Show Biz Kids"
1. "Dirty Work."

I regret that Gaucho doesn't make the cut, but neither do "Midnite Cruiser," "Razor Boy," "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," "Any Major Dude Will Tell You," or "The Royal Scam," and all of those are rippers. I just can't devote my day to a definitive ranking of Steely Dan songs. "Reelin' In The Years," however, is bad and should not rate.

[I cut the fat differently and like Gaucho more:

10. “My Old School”
9. “Peg”
8. “Hey Nineteen”
7. “Deacon Blues”
6. “Any Major Dude Will Tell You”
5. “Do It Again”
4. “Dirty Work”
3. “Show Biz Kids”
2. “Babylon Sisters”
1. “Kings.”

"Reelin’ In The Years" is indeed kinda lame—Sam.]