US to its Humans Rights Violations Victims: “Shut up and take what you’re given!”

by Joe Scarry

Cliff Sloan

I just got done watching the News Hour segment on the December releases of 9 detainees from Guantanamo, and I came away with the nagging feeling that I’ve heard this before.

The very presentable, placid, diplomatic, earnest Cliff Sloan — special State Department envoy working on the closure of Guantanamo — was on the show and was a paragon of hope and change.  “A new era is possible,” said Sloan.  Let’s just keep looking forward, and not look back, he said.

* He said he is “absolutely convinced” that “we are going to close Guantanamo,” though he refused absolutely to predict when that might happen.* He deftly side-stepped the question about the process, invoking the mantra of “subject to appropriate security and humane treatment.”

* 155 men remain in detention, 76 of whom were long ago cleared for immediate release. Sloan also deftly sidestepped the observation that only eight — eight? — eight! — of the men at Guantanamo have ever been charged with a crime.

Cliff Sloan was so . . . reasonable.

Gee, I thought, one could continue to point out all the unjust things about this situation, but what would be the point?  We’re just lucky these guys — at least some of these guys — are finally being released.

(Where have I heard this before?)

“Take what you’re offered. If you make a fuss you’ll just piss them off. They’re in complete control. We can’t make them do anything.”

(Where have I heard this before?)

The China Syndrome 

John Kamm

And then it came to me: this reminds me of the ’80s, when I was deeply involved in China trade, and the issue of Chinese dissidents and political prisoners was a constant concern.  There was a man named John Kamm who said, in effect, look, if we apply ourselves to getting individual political prisoners released, we can make progress; someone just needs to go to Beijing and talk to the authorities the way they want to be talked to. Kamm had a remarkable track record of getting people released.

However, there was always something troubling about this approach — namely, it completely ignored the need for systemic reform. In fact, it played right into the desire of the government to put its embarrassments as far away as possible, with minimum fuss.

The U.S. approach to the victims of its own human rights violations is remarkably similar to the way China does it:  “Shut up and take what you’re given!”

Is this really the way we rectify our mistakes?

These releases couldn’t be better timed to deflect the annual protests that will occur next week to underline the twelfth (!) anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center. The obvious rebuttal to protesters is, “Hey, we’re making progress! . . . We are going to close Guantanamo . . . humane treatment . . . Let’s just keep looking forward, and not look back . . . . ”

But do these releases really mean? Even if this current approach were to succeed in bringing about the release of everyone at Guantanamo (see note), it would not have begun to address the wrong that has been committed.

Therefore, following the example of the very articulate, very “on-message” Mr. Sloan, I volunteer the following talking points for advocates of rule of law, human rights, and civil liberties in the days ahead:

* RELEASES? Yes, we acknowledge that the releases of Guantanamo detainees are happening; though this is not fast enough nor fully just.* SURVIVORS, NOT VICTIMS. The detainees of Guantanamo now enter history similar to others who have been subjected to torture, disappearance, and detention by illegitimate regimes:  we recognize them as “survivors” not “victims,” and we continue to advocate for justice and healing for them.

* FULL JUSTICE AND HEALING.  Full justice and healing goes beyond just “release.”  It includes at least 5 components:

– release
– restoration of civil rights
– recuperation and treatment
– review (legal remedies against perpetrators of illegal detention and torture)
– re-entry:  the ultimate conclusion must be that these people are able to re-enter the U.S. with full rights (which will only happen when the US recognizes that it is WE that have harmed THEM, and not the other way around).  THEY are vital to OUR need to fix our corrupted legal system — as trial witnesses, as speakers, as activists.

In a sentence:

For Guantanamo Survivors: 
More Than Just Release . . . JUSTICE!

Note: I expect this pattern to continue for the next two years.  (At 4 detainees a month, at the end of 24 months, the Obama administration could conceivably have released 96 detainees.)  Every “batch” will probably be more complicated than the last … and every release probably carries the risk of some kind of political attack that will make the process freeze right up.  So we could easily find ourselves soon in a position where quite a few — dozens? —  have been released … but it also seems possible that he will never hit 50 … and almost certainly never 100. (Return to text)

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