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Obama´s Election Promise: what to do with Guantanamo Prison?



Guantanamo Prison: High Value Detainees- Maximum Security Cells

Guantanamo Prison: High Value Detainees- Maximum Security Cells

A year ago, President Barack Obama said he would close the Guantánamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, which has been used to lock up all those involved in terrorists acts after 9/11. We now know some of the prisoners detained there had nothing to do with terrorist groups or acts like Murat Kurnaz. In the case of Moazzam Begg, who according to information had trained in Al Qaeda camps, nothing was ever proved to convict him. Nevertheless, others incarcerated did commit horrendous atrocities. One of them is Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 2001 attacks.

I visited Guantánamo Bay in 2007, during one of its most controversial years. A few months before my visit, a couple of detainees had committed suicide, others had tried to kill themselves and where under 24 hour watch and a group of inmates had attacked soldiers. Human rights organizations where denouncing systematic abuses on the prisoners as well as the most unimaginable torture techniques, to force them to talk.

I was part of a group of 7 foreign correspondents that were allowed to visit the jail after months of waiting and sending all of our personal information for background checks.

High Security Detention Cell in Guantanamo

High Security Detention Cell in Guantanamo

Our chaperones, and I say chaperones because we couldn´t leave our rooms without their permission, less walk around by ourselves, where really great with us, but they were careful with their words and on guard, every minute. They escorted us everywhere and even knew who we had said hello to, or had exchanged a couple of words with.  We weren´t allowed to talk to anyone who was not an official spokes person. As a journalist you want to get a scope of what’s happening from all the sources possible, not just the ones assigned to us, but it was impossible, so we all found it extremely difficult to write a balanced and objective story when we only had access to one side of the truth.

As soon as you get to the detention camp, you can feel something is not quite right. There is a dense atmosphere and you can feel tension. Soldiers would not talk; instead they would communicate just by looking at each other so we couldn’t tell what they were thinking or going to do. The answer to our questions sounded as if they where scripted and when we asked something that might compromise them, they would just reply, “I am not at liberty to discuss that”, or “I am not aware of that information”. So everything was left to our imagination or to speculation.

Gitmo´s Regular Prison Cells

Gitmo´s Regular Prison Cells

In Guantánamo they show you what they want to show you and, although none of us agreed with that policy, we had to  accept that some of the limitations we had, had to do with national security concerns, and also because they had something to hide from the press. I was upset that they had permitted us to come and that at the end of the day; they chose what we saw and who we could talk to. They denied torture and any other mistreatments while foreign governments, human rights organizations and even the Red Cross, said the opposite. As a journalist you have to search for the truth but in Guantánamo you didn´t have access to it. They should you there truth.

Our trip was meant to be a way of doing public relations with the press after all the bad publicity the jail had gotten. But we didn´t buy all the attention and nice treatment.

After what I saw and what I talked to with lawyers representing some detainees, I think Guantánamo has to be closed.

Corridors inside the Detention Center in Guantanamo

Corridors inside the Detention Center in Guantanamo

It has not made the US a safer country; we are still under constant threat of terrorist acts.

Remember,  Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in December of 2009? Then a couple of months after 9/11 we had the shoe bomb incident and in 2006 a man was accused of organizing plot against to bomb the NYC train tunnels. A year later German authorities dismantled a terrorist cell trying to plot against US military installations in that country. Most important, let’s not forget that the alleged terrorists imprisoned in Guantánamo have not given us the information needed to capture Osama Bin Laden and terminate Al Qaeda. On the contrary there has been resurgence in armed groups that support Al Qaeda, not only in the Middle East but also parts of Northern Africa. There was a very good piece on this on the cover of  The New York Times not long ago.

 I could not agree better with Former Secretary of State, Collin Powell, words: I think Guantanamo has cost us a lot over the years in terms of our standing in the world and the way in which despots have hidden behind what we have at Guantanamo to justify their own positions.

This is the point of view of a 4 star army general, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,  a soldier that was in charge of the Gulf War and served under the Bush administration which created the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Guantánamo has severely damaged the image of the United States abroad. I think we ought to remove this incentive that exists in the presence of Guantanamo to encourage people and to give radicals an opportunity to say, ‘You see? This is what America is all about. They’re all about torture and detention centers, says Powell.

Everywhere I go, people criticize the United States because of Guantánamo. Nobody has anything good to say about. If it has resolved anything or been of any use, please tell me. I want to know!. On the contrary, men that were detained there and later set free obviously because they had no evidence to prove them terrorists, have now taken arms against the United States! So Guantánamo hasn’t gotten rid of terrorists, it’s been a pretext to take arms against the United States.

Malena Marchan Contributor of Bloggers of The Americas

Malena Marchan Contributor of Bloggers of The Americas

Khalid Sheik Mohammed should not be tried in Manhattan, because of security concerns. I also agree with Powell that his trial should be done in a military base under tight security measures.

The United States as well as many other countries will be haunted by terrorism for many years to come. During the Cold War the constant threat was another world war, today its terrorism and it will be a constant threat no matter who’s in power or what they do. What we have to do is adopt measures that do not give radical groups a pretext to act against the West and Guantánamo has been an incentive for this.

Obama, what happened? You said you were going to close Gitmo. Do it now! Please don´t “run for the hills”.

5 Responses to Obama´s Election Promise: what to do with Guantanamo Prison?

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    April 28, 2010 at 7:16 pm

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  5. aarp

    March 14, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    These left wing progressives running the white house and Pelosi have stuffed the country up, $14,000,000,000,000 is the US debt,Do you think theres any return to glory for America???? It is not possible when our politicians (from both parties) are only motivated by getting reelected???? Just to blame Bush on the other hand is just as dumb but certainly plausible! Today we are still treading water, the next time the market bottoms, we will all know what a real depression feels like.