I am a progressive. I voted for Obama. I believe in justice and human rights. I worked at Guantanamo.
I know I am going to probably be attacked on here for everything I'm about to say. I'm sure that my commitments and beliefs will be derided as hypocrisy. Still, I feel like I should say a few things.
I would only ask this: before you write a response condemning me, please remember, I am a witness. I am someone who was there. I am not operating off of third-hand information. I cannot control what I have seen and heard and experienced. I can only tell you what it is.
There are, of course, limits on what I can say. I cannot speak about specific detainees, or about anything identified people may have said or done. There are both legal reasons and privacy reasons for this, that is, the privacy of the detainees.
I want to start off with one of the complaints on this site, that people will not vote for Obama because he has not shut down Gitmo. Again, from someone who was there, this is a very misinformed position and the reality on the ground needs to be clearly explained.
Gitmo, when it was first created, was a nightmare. Training was abysmal, facilities were terrible, and there were hundreds of people there who should never have been taken from their countries. The US has much to be ashamed of there, both in terms of how it was started and how it was handled. It was a consequence of a sudden war, with hundreds of people scooped up, and no place to put them.
This is why Gitmo has been relentlessly drained of people. It has been an endless progression of people being sent out, either to return to their home countries or elsewhere if return presents them with danger.
So now, we get to Obama. What they have confronted is a horrible reality: many, many of the people who remain there are bad, dangerous guys. They openly talk about their desire to slaughter Americans, not because of their captivity but because of their belief that their faith calls for it. And there are the HVD's - high value detainees -- who were discussed by Bush in his August, 2006 speech. Those guys are never going anywhere, particularly since they are always so eager to proclaim their guilt.
As for the other bad ones -- I must be careful here. It is far from unusual that these people have been convicted or face criminal charges back home. However, home is often a place that commits torture, particularly of people like this. The other side of it is places that have a track record of letting even convicted terrorists go in a matter of months, largely because the governments are sympathetic to the extremist cause.
I know the response will be that there is no difference between the torture overseas and the torture at Gitmo. I don't know how to convey this more strongly: There is no torture at Gitmo. No waterboarding, nothing. There was a horrible instance of abuse that occurred with one detainee early in the process, and that resulted in all new training. I am not excusing it. I am just saying, it is not so simple to send someone back to another country when there is strong reason to believe they will be subjected to electric shock, rape, etc.
So, Obama is wrestling with this: These people have to go somewhere. We can't drop them off in Chicago, we can't send them to a place where they will be harmed, we can't go place them back on the battlefield. And we can't put them somewhere where we know they will be immediately released, even when they have been convicted overseas of a crime.
Gitmo is a place. Nothing more. What is done at Gitmo is what matters. You could move them all to another place, Alcatraz or whatever, but it would still be just a place. What would be done?
Here is what is happening at Gitmo. Things have changed dramatically on the ground. There is clearly a much stronger effort to find resolutions to these situations, to find places that are appropriate for these people. As you may know, there were some that could not go anywhere, who did nothing wrong. They now live in the Bahamas. Similar efforts are made for others who should not be there, but that number is now very small.
Gitmo will not be closed so much as it will be wound down. I had no sense that it was being wound down during the Bush years, no matter how many times Bush said he was. There is no doubt now that Obama is winding it down. He is doing the right thing.
I could go on for awhile more on a bunch of different issues, but for now I'll stop here unless people suggest they want to hear more.
Otherwise, I would ask one thing: Those of you who say you are not going to vote for Obama because he has not shut down Gitmo must realize, it is like saying Obama has not immediately cured my cancer. The cure cannot be immediate, without being either reckless or indifferent to human life. What matters is, is the tumor receding? And the answer to that is absolutely yes.
If you say you will not vote for Obama because he has not done something immediately that must take time, please know what you are doing. The Republicans don't fret about Gitmo. They love it. It makes them feel tough. And if they get back in power, the cancer will no longer be in remission. It will metastasize.
update: I have been trying to respond to comments where I can on this, but it has gotten to be too much. So I will give answers to the most frequent comments:
- Who am I or why should we believe you are who your portray yourself to be?
I am not comfortable giving more details about who I am, which in and of itself should tell you something. If I had no real connection to Gitmo, I could just make something up and no one here would know.
Second, I know I cannot persuade those who dont want to believe that I am who I say I am. Again, that's fine. I am not trying to tell anyone what to think. I am just adding some more information into your thought processes. If you don't believe me, then give my words the "maybe might be true, but I doubt it,'' standard. If you do believe me, then it's "this is interesting additional information.'' I am providing an ingredient for the stew, not a whole dinner.
- "But I know horrible things happen at Gitmo"
As I acknowledged, Gitmo was horrible in its establishment and operated terribly in its early years. They put an absolute imbecile in charge of the place, someone who wasn't even regular military. He loved the intelligence cowboys, and tried to make a bunch of kids into spies/interrogators. And the result was predictable: horrible. Anything that happened in that era is likely to be horrible.
Which is the problem. Whenever people cite these events, they talk about the early years. The FBI documents are from the early years. Most of the other things that have been cited here are too. I am not justifying what Gitmo was -- it was a horror. I am talking about what Gitmo is, and what it has been for a number of years and how it has changed under Obama.
- I am campaigning for Obama/justifying him/how dare i tell anyone how to vote!
Again, I am not telling anyone how to do anything. I am conveying information. Now, yes, does that give me the ability to tell you the difference between the way things were under Bush and the way things are now? Of course. That is part of what I have seen.
As for my campaigning for Obama. I don't know. Maybe I am. As I said down below, you might not believe this, but I care a lot for the detainees. They are not abstractions to me. They are real people. I know their faces, I know their names, I know their smiles and their tears. I have seen them at their best and at their worst. And I know that they have been dealt with far better in the past year than ever before.
So, yes, I believe Obama should be supported on this. I know he is trying to work out the mess that was dropped in his lap. I also know that if this is turned back to the Republicans as some sort of progressive punishment, that these people I know will be far worse for it.
- Closing gitmo is easy.
No. It's not.
- Shift them to federal court
There is a lot about this I can't go through. But please know, no one would be more pleased than the people directly involved in all of this if that could happen. And in fact, that is one of the things that has been evolving. Although, once again, it is very hard. And that is because of the mess that Bush created.
UPDATE NUNBER 2
Some of the comments here have been very perplexing. People talking about how all of my information is wrong, how I am some propagandist, etc. None of this makes sense.
What have I said?
1. Gitmo was a horror
2. From 2002-2005, there was significant abuse and degrading treatment which would violate geneva. People miss that when they only talk about torture. There was torture, but the other violations were much more common.
3. Things began to change in 2006 (probably because of the Hamdan decision)
4. Things have gotten better since Obama came to office.
5. detainees have been drained out for years and Obama is continuing to do that, but it is hard.
(here is an easy example: yemen link
What exactly am I saying that is so propagandistic? Is it so hard to believe that Gitmo today is not Gitmo of five years ago, that closing it down is hard, and that the Obama administration is making changes in the way things happen down there?
There is something I need to clarify, because a number of people have been confused by what I said. As I mention below, I have not been precise enough, or maybe too precise.
When I said there has been one instance of torture, some have taken that to mean something I was not saying. As I have said many times, Gitmo was horrific in its early years, for Geneva violations of all sorts. There is a distinction between torture and degrading/inhumane treatment. Both are violations of Article 3. When people say "torture" it takes everyone down a path of arguing what the term means.
While some people (not the ones here) might disagree with me, I consider what happened to al Qahtani to be torture. So that was what I was referring to when I said one case.
I should have been much clearer -- there was a far broader brush of inhumane and abusive treatment. These also violate Article Three. When you make it clear that you are not talking about a defined act, but a violation of international law with very broad meanings involving abusive and illegal treatment, this debate is much easier to hold.
So, I should have said one instance of torture (in my opinion) and large numbers of instances of degrading/inhumane and abusive treatment. Those do not happen now. But that does not excuse what did happen. And by providing the extended definition does not minimize it. (the extended definition is in fact what Alberto Mora used.)
Finally, one thing on here surprises me. I did not know what an HR tip jar meant. Now I do, and I find it pretty shocking that people would declare no one should read this because the information I am providing does not conform with what all other people say. I cannot quite understand how someone could have so much certainty about a place they have never been that they should proclaim that no one should be allowed to consider these comments. That sounds very "fox news" to me.