Guantanamo Prison's True Secret: 'House of Cards' of Evidence Based Only on Testimony of Tortured Prisoners
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British journalist Andy Worthington, the author of "The Guantanamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison," has been documenting the array of human rights abuses at Guantanamo for over six years now, after he personally became angry that the US government would not say who they were holding at Guantanamo. Worthington was recently a guest speaker alongside investigative journalist Jason Leopold at the UC Hastings College of Law, in San Francisco on January 13, 2012, hosted by the college's chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. The event, entitled "Ten Years of Guantanamo," was held amidst protests around the world calling for the prison to be immediately shut.
Leopold, who has also written extensively about Guantanamo for Truthout, queried Worthington about a range of issues surrounding Guantanamo and the so-called "war on terror." While exchanging stories of false imprisonment and torture, both journalists expressed a profound moral outrage, openly supporting a global coalition of human rights activists' call to shut the prison down, and, at a minimum, to release prisoners already cleared for release. Most of the conversation examined the reasons why the prison has not yet been closed, and then how, with these reasons in mind, activists can best strategize their organizing tactics for targeting lawmakers and building public support for closure.
While strategizing about ways to gain public support for shutting Guantanamo down, both Leopold and Worthington converged on the need to expose the extreme fearmongering perpetrated by US leadership in order to justify the human rights nightmare created by the war on terror. Looking specifically at the rhetorical strategies used to advocate for the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Worthington commented that elected officials are either "scared and [therefore are] disgraceful cowards or they're scaremongers, and I think most of them are scaremongers. They're playing the fear card. It's an insult to you ... we face such grave economic problems at the moment, that to have these idiots obsessing only about a terrorism threat that they conjured up, is a disgrace."
A central focus of Worthington and Leopold's discussion was the Obama administration's role in keeping Guantanamo open, despite the Executive Order that he issued on his second day of office calling for it to be closed. Leopold asserted, "There seems to be a certain segment that really does want to protect President Obama, not casting blame on him and shifting it onto Congress."
Worthington agreed that President Obama shares as much responsibility as Congress, arguing that as soon as Obama issued the Executive Order to shut down Guantanamo, prisoners should have been released.
"There had been 65 prisoners still held, who had been cleared for release by military review boards under the Bush administration. When Obama came into office, he could have released some of those guys easily. But he did nothing," said Worthington, adding that "it means nothing" to tell a prisoner that "we want to release you," but can't do it because of the political environment. "It makes such a mockery of any concepts of justice and the law," Worthington declared.
The Mainstream Media and Guantanamo's "True Secret"
Together, Leopold and Worthington dissected mainstream media coverage around the tenth anniversary, arguing that coverage was superficial, with no real follow-up after the initial January 11 anniversary. Worthington told of an experience at a press conference earlier in the week, where a US journalist suggested that perhaps President Obama has not shut Guantanamo down because of some "dark secrets" that cannot be made public for legitimate reasons of national security.
Worthington recounted telling this journalist that the truth is "much more mundane" than "some huge national security secret.... It's about cruelty, incompetence, embarrassment ... issues where senior officials and senior lawyers are responsible for things that might rise to the level of war crimes. But above all, it's about the torture, abuse, coercion and bribery that was in Guantanamo. There was a 'house of cards' of evidence built out of nothing except the testimony of prisoners and their fellow prisoners, who were abused or persuaded in other ways to produce what masquerades as the evidence. That's the true secret."