On June 29, the US Supreme Court ruled that special military commissions employed to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay are illegal.
In response President George Bush has suggested that he may ask Congress to rewrite the law.
In the meantime, prisoners who would, in the past, have been transferred to Guantanamo are now being held in other offshore detention centres, where there is no legal scrutiny.
Neither Guantanamo nor its satellites came up last week when Bush met with Canadian Prime Minister “Steve” Harper.
The two chums discussed cross-border security and softwood lumber, and enjoyed a mutual back-patting session, but kept away from thornier issues such as illegal and inhumane detention, starvation, torture and murder.
Conditions at Camp Delta, the Guantanamo detention centre, have driven men to suicide.
Prisoners who have been detained there for years and finally released without charge or explanation describe shocking acts of torture and brutality. But from all accounts there are far worse places in the scattered international gulag that houses America’s political prisoners.
The light of publicity having been shone on Guantanamo’s dark record, US policy is now to keep detainees in more remote and secretive prisons in places, like Afghanistan and Iraq, or to farm them out in ever-greater numbers to client torture states such as Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
As one CIA agent told England’s Guardian newspaper, “If you want a good interrogation, you send someone to Jordan. If you want them to be killed, you send them to Egypt or Syria. Either way, the US cannot be blamed as it is not doing the heavy work.”
Last year Guardian correspondents Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark travelled to Afghanistan to investigate stories about a network of US prisons around the country.
They spoke with Dr Rafiullah Bidar, regional director of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, who told them, “Many thousands of people have been rounded up and detained (by the US) …No one is charged. No one is identified. No international monitors are allowed … People who have been arrested say they’ve been brutalized — the tactics used are beyond belief.”
A network of secret prisons crisscrosses Afghanistan, and heaven help anyone who gets in the way of prisoner convoys travelling between them.
Levy and Scott-Clark spoke with Said Sardar, a young Afghan policeman who made the mistake of trying to stop a covert American prisoner transport at a police checkpoint.
“Inside were men dressed like Arabs, but they were Western men,” he said. “They had prisoners in the car.” He fired a warning shot.
“The Western men returned fire and, within minutes, two US attack helicopters hovered above us.
“They fired three rockets at the police station. One screamed past me. I saw its fiery tail and blacked out.”
Sardar lost a leg. Five of his mates were killed, and four hospitalized. There have been at least two similar incidents, resulting in at least nine other deaths.
In addition to the secretive “collection centre” at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan is home to more than 20 American-run jails where prisoners report having been beaten, hung up in chains, sexually humiliated, threatened with dogs, starved, and tied up for hours in excruciating ‘stress positions’ on the concrete floor.
Men have been hung up and beaten to death, have died of hypothermia from lying naked on cold concrete, or have simply disappeared without explanation.
In a period of 18 months, the Afghan Human Rights Commission logged 800 complaints of human rights abuses by US troops.
This kind of treatment is evil enough when perpetrated upon the guilty, but the War on Terror casts a broad net, and many are the innocents who have languished, suffered, and died in its clutch. Canada’s participation in that war makes us a part of that net, and responsible for its catch, and yet we can find no greater business for our leaders to discuss than softwood lumber?
What has become of this country?
Not only are we complicit in this vast, growing crime against humanity, as a nation we are grown numb to it.
When Harper and Bush failed even to discuss the fact that they are now partners in a grotesque and infamous scheme of illegal detention and torture, where was the outrage? Why is Canada not howling?
A time will come when catch phrases like “9-11” or “War on Terror” will not be accepted as excuses for war crimes. Some day the cross-border convenience of the North American middle class and the speed and profitability with which Canada is able to sell off its forests to America will not seem like large issues beside this vile international trade in torture and death.
When that day comes and we look back on these brutal times with shame, how many Canadians will be able to say they raised a voice in rage against the crimes committed in our name?
Al Pope won the 2002 Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.