The National Catholic Review
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Since January 2002, when the prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, was established, more of its 779 detainees have died in custody (nine) than have been convicted (seven) in civilian court or by military commissions. Six of the detainees reportedly committed suicide. The most recent death occurred last month. Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a 36-year-old citizen of Yemen, was found unconscious in his cell and could not be revived. After nearly 4,000 days in Guantánamo, he was finally “released”—in a casket.

Mr. Latif’s is a tragic story. At age 18 he suffered a serious head injury in a car accident in Yemen. In later testimony, he explained that he traveled to Jordan, and then Pakistan, for treatment. In late 2001 he was arrested by Pakistani authorities, accused of fighting for the Taliban and transferred to U.S. custody.

Mr. Latif was one of the first detainees to arrive in Guantánamo. As early as 2004, and multiple times thereafter, the U.S. military determined that Mr. Latif was “not known to have participated in combatant/terrorist training” and cleared him for transfer to Yemen. In 2010 Mr. Latif finally received a hearing in federal court. Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. examined the government’s evidence, found it uncorroborated and “not sufficiently reliable,” and he ruled Mr. Latif’s detention “not lawful.” The appellate court, however, decided 2 to 1 in the government’s favor, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

It is another cruelty that Mr. Latif languished in Guantánamo simply because of where he was born. In January 2010 President Obama placed a moratorium on all detainee transfers to Yemen regardless of individual situations. The indefinite nature of his detention weighed heavily on Mr. Latif. In fragile physical condition and poor mental health, he attempted suicide at least once and often communicated his despair through poetry and letters. The detainee “who is able to die,” he wrote, “will be able to achieve happiness for himself….”

The Letter to the Hebrews implores the Christian community to “be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment” (13:3). This call to awareness, empathy and solidarity invites us to listen with open hearts and minds to the stories of prisoners like Adnan Latif and to recognize our complicity in their suffering. For some the complicity is active; it involves demonizing prisoners or legislating out of fear, not fairness. For most Americans the complicity is characterized by indifference.

As concerned parties await autopsy results for Mr. Latif, the Obama administration is busy defending a controversial provision in the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. The provision grants broad executive authority to use indefinite military detention without charges or trials for terrorism suspects. Last month Judge Katherine B. Forrest issued a permanent injunction against the provision, ruling that it unlawfully expanded executive detention authority, failed to shield U.S. citizens from indefinite military detention and failed to specify adequately what counts as prohibited activity. In response, the Obama administration immediately requested, and won, a stay.

These legal disputes, however, can dangerously obscure a more fundamental question: Is it ever morally acceptable to detain a person, citizen or not, possibly for the rest of his life, without charges or a trial? Consider the Golden Rule. If a foreign government detained you, or a loved one, what would you expect as due process? Detailed charges? A presumption of innocence? Humane interrogation, skilled legal representation, access to evidence, ability to call witnesses, fair courtroom procedures, an independent judicial authority, a public trial within a reasonable amount of time and, if you are not charged or convicted, the freedom to return home to family? Some might argue that “terrorists” forfeit these rights. But this presumes guilt. No detaining authority, whether foreign or American, should have unchecked power over a person’s liberty.

The United States failed to treat Adnan Latif in accord with the Golden Rule. His only relief from Guantánamo was death itself. The Obama administration has no plan to prosecute or release 48 detainees in Guantánamo and hundreds more in Afghanistan. These men face the prospect that they will be “released” in the same tragic manner as Mr. Latif. In Guantánamo, 85 other detainees, already approved for release or transfer, remain in custody.

What has sustained this perversion of justice? As a nation, we have failed to acknowledge and repent of our sins. The problem is both political and spiritual. Leaving persons detained for an indefinite period of time is an inhumane practice that results in hopelessness, despair and sometimes, tragically, death. Human dignity requires that the United States reject this practice and firmly renew its commitment to basic fairness for all.

Comments

Jamie Mayerfeld | 10/16/2012 - 2:44am
Most of the detainees were not captured on any battlefield. We know that many of the detainees are innocent. See for example http://ccrjustice.org/files/report_FacesOfGuantanamo.pdf
Vincent Gaitley | 10/15/2012 - 11:59pm
Sure.  Innocents all over those battlefields captured by bored soldiers offering Afgani fighters free trips to Cuba.  Makes perfect sense.  Whatever word one can use about Gitmo and the detainees, "innocent" isn't one of them.  So why hasn't Obama closed the place?  Why are trials starting now? What would Gitmos's opponents use to replace it?  Bash Bush, get elected, then so the same.  The president and his people never talk about this issue, again, for a reason.  There is no better solution identified so far.  
Jamie Mayerfeld | 10/15/2012 - 8:08pm
Almost all of the detainees transferred to other countries have been released upon transfer or shortly after transfer. Only a small minority of transferred detainees are alleged to have engaged in terrorism or violence directed against the United States (and it's possible in some of these cases that their terrorist activity or hostility to the US was caused by their captivity in Guantanamo rather than predating it). U.S. officials knew that many or most of the GTMO detainees were there by mistake. An early internal CIA analysis determined that more than half of the detainees didn't belong there (Seymour Hersh, Chain of Command, p. 2). Early on, Major General Michael Dunlavey thought that one-third of the then 600 detainees were there by mistake, and he later raised that estimate to one half (Jane Mayer, The Dark Side, p, 184). An FBI counter-terrorist expert estimated that "there were no more than fifty detainees worth holding in Guantanamo" (Mayer, Dark Side, p. 187). Publicly, Rumsfeld described the detainees as "the worst of the worst," but in private he wrote that "we need to stop populating Guantanamo Bay ("GTMO") with low-level enemy combatants." Larry Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell under the Bush Administration, testified under oath in 2010 that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld knew in 2002 that most of the Guantanamo detainees were innocent.  


Vincent Gaitley | 10/15/2012 - 1:10am
Mr Mayerfield:  Most of the detainees who have been released were put into the custody of foreign governments, not let out completely. The US has negotiated new custodial arrangements for these men, some with Arab allies, some with NATO allies, and others with unnamed cooperative governments looking to gain favor with us (plus cash). Some have escaped and returned to terrorism, predictably.  Some of those have killed again, including injuring Americans and our allies.  And some of these prisoners were turned over to us by foreign governments throwing out their human war trash.  Some are completely free and up to mischief, no doubt.  None are Catholic converts or students in Jesuit schools or readers of America.  So don't fool yourself into thinking these men were innocents harvested in some new American horror.

 They were bad men in a bad place doing bad things to others.  

The politcal pressure brought to bear on the US due to propaganda and hand-wringing has been enormous.  This too has interfered with the course of justice.

 
Jamie Mayerfeld | 10/14/2012 - 8:40pm
Mr Gaitley: You say that the detainees who were arrested and held in Guantanamo are battlefield captured terrorists. But it has become clear from numerous sources that most of the 779 individuals sent to Guantanamo were not involved in terrorism or combat against the United States.  Over three-quarters of them have been released. US government officials recommended Adnan Latif for release three times. The district court judge ordered his release in 2010, finding the government had not established his involvement with the Taliban or Al Qaeda. The release order was suspended on appeal by a 2-1 vote on the dubious basis that a government intelligence report alleging Latif's involvement with the Taliban must be presumed to be true, notwithstanding serious doubts concerning its reliability.
Vincent Gaitley | 10/14/2012 - 12:51pm
In the last paragraph of the editorial America says, "As a nation, we have failed to acknowledge and repent of our sins."  What sins?  And what sins can a nation commit?  Will the United States be judged before God as an individual sinner?  Will God question each of us saying, "You were an American, your nation sinned?"  Really?  I missed that in the Baltimore Catechism.  

Nations don't sin, they don't have souls, they don't repent.  Individuals sin and may or not repent.  America knows better. 
James Murrray | 10/13/2012 - 4:34pm
While logically sound the appeals court did reverse for a reason.  A discussion of that would have been in order.  There is a little more to this story than given.  Overall, however, when it comes to questions of law and morals it gets rather merky.  I mean - is anyone aware of any 'rights' that, well, a Pope for instance, must uphold?  Is there any vehicle to force a Pope to comply with that right?  Who was it, JP2nd, who ordered Father Drinan (sp?) to resign as a properly elected U.S. Representative since he did not like religious involved in politics?  Personal rights?  What rights are there in the Church and what is the enforcement arm to obtain compliance?  Any critique of civil law needs followed with discussion of church law.  In many ways, civil law is way ahead of ecclastical law, demonstrated by the administrative malpractice committed by bishops who formed, what civil law calls 'co-conspiracy', of shielding clergy abusing children; yet, somehow the bishops never saw what they were doing as illegal as they showed more interest in protecting their corporation's reputation over the faithful.  That's why the bishops lose these child abuse cases:  criminal co-conspirators are just as guilty as the criminals.  And I have yet to see a bishop resign whe as a group they mis-characterize this as a 'clergy abuse crisis.'   I mean the above discussion only as an example of how thick our hierarchy is understanding any law.  That's why I chafe when hearing of Papal pronouncements for human rights:  all well and good and correct but the situation is still a, well, dictator calling for others to change.  Harsh but accurate.
john ryan | 10/13/2012 - 12:49pm
What were the arguments presented to the court that stayed the injunction by Judge Forrest?  Our justice system supports Mr. Latifs case but terrorists are not p.o.w,s in the normal case. They are not the German,Japanese,Italian,North Korean or Chinese soldiers shipped home/transferred after WW2 and Korea.These men went home and returned to productive society for the most part but terrorists dont see things that way. Terrorists have no right to claim that status and we have no obligation to place them in that catergory with it,s "Geneva Convention" status and legal protections so where do terrorists fit? Civil court demands the type of evidence that is not available in a fire fight or even in a raid on "known" terrorist locations. Again,what legal case/arguments have we come up with after 11 years?  Mr. Latif may have been guilty as hell or fell into a black hole of ticking off "good" Pakistanis from "bad" Pakistanis but the U.S. public/our justice system needs some cogent definitions from our government no matter who is in the White House. A "tactical" argument that to keep the issue confused for the immediate future is desirable is dead wrong when weighed against the "strategic" argument presented by our constitution
Vincent Gaitley | 10/13/2012 - 2:22am
Oh, I almost forgot.  The use of drones to attack enemies violates no provisions of any of the Geneva Conventions.  Drones are merely a new delivery system, controlled remotely, and actually limit much damage.  That they kill nearby civilians is not actually a violation, unless the targeting is deliberate.  And it is not.  
Get used to it.  War will become more automated in the coming years, putting fewer soldiers at risk.  These aerial assasinations are cheaper, effective, and politically savvy.  Sending abroad 300,000 soldiers to fight is logistically hard and politically difficult.  Welcome to War in the age of Apple, Microsoft, Intel, and ten dozen firms you've never heard of.  The technology that enables this blog, flies a drone; the voice you hear on your iPhone is just a billion bits of oblivion coming to kill you softly. Frankly I blame Gutenberg.  I prefer books and smoke signals and horses, but you know, we humans move and communicate but do not improve.  Not really. 
Vincent Gaitley | 10/13/2012 - 2:06am
Well, one of Sister Krommer's remarks needs clarification.  While we are at war, the war is not illegal, nor is it illegal because it is undeclared.  The US Constitution empowers the Congress to declare war, but does not require a declaration in order to defend the nation.  In other words Congress has the power but not the obligation to make a declaration. Nevertheless Congress authorized both the counter attack on Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq. Since the Korean War such authorizations have been utilized by both parties effectively to engage the nation in conflicts short and long.  Congress has without fail on a bipartisan basis voted to fund the wars all these years.  All this adds up to the same net result: a declaration of war under American law, whether it is called that is immaterial.  

The US needs no vote in the UN to defend itself at anytime.  Regarding Iraq, what so many liberals fail to remember is that the first Iraq War (or Gulf War) was voted upon in the US, and the UN.  Those resolutions were still in effect when the US invaded in 2003.  Indeed, President Clinton used those resolutions to enforce the terms of the conditional surrender e.g. the "no fly zone" among others.  One of those provisions was a prohibition against stockpiling or developing certain weapons.  The US invaded on the fear that this was violated.  Leading up to the invasion the UN voted several resolutions condemning Irag's behavior.  Since Bill Clinton, the public policy of the US was to remove S Hussein from power.  Clinton did nothing; Bush acted.  Perhaps imprudently, but the invasion was not a sneak attack.  The whole world knew we were coming, only Hussein didn't believe it.  
Tough.  I have no tears for him or his fate or his regime.  He should have been removed in 1991, and that is the real tragedy for the Iraqi people and us.

Meanwhile, Mr. Kusterer, you deserve an answer. I support no wars, but I see then with clear eyes and no sentiment.  Other bad actors in sympathy refers to the club of killers including but not limited to: the Muslim Brotherhood, Palestiinian Authority, Hesbollah, Hamas, etc.  You know these lovable misunderstood theologians of Islam, just fun guys and gals all.  I don't see the war ending soon.  We may remove troops but we have huge forward bases in the Middle East in Bahrain, Qatar, and S. Arabia, and other places nearby.  Nearly 500 years lapsed between the Muslim victory at Manzikert (in current Turkey) and the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. So don't sell them short.

The Arabs who boycotted the United Nation decisions to convert the British Mandate in Palestine to Israel blundered, and have pained the whole world since but of course, they backed Hitler too.   Iran fell to the terrorists who hold it in 1978.  The war or as you write, "war" will be with us as long as all these people have knives in their hearts and false ideologies in their heads.    
Stephen Kusterer | 10/12/2012 - 7:38pm
Vincent, you seem very supportive of this war, the longest one - and still counting - in U.S. history.  You describe our adversaries as "... Afganistan's rebel Taliban, Al Queada, and other bad actors in sympathy."  Given this vague definition "other bad actors in sympathy" - I'm curious if, and if so under what conditions, you see this "war" ending.
9039203 | 10/12/2012 - 6:52pm
As someone who directed an international Humanitarian Law organization with consultative status at the UN, and as a Catholic, I support  law and the right of persons taken prisoner to defend themselves in a court of law.  Those who say we are at war are correct.. by definition an illegal war, undeclared.   We have the largest military budget of any country on this planet.  The use of drones is a significant violation of the Laws of War (Geneva Conventions).  The killing of innocent people is still the killing of innocent people.  Calling it collateral damage is rather cold, don't you think!  Randomily "picking up" people in an area of conflict is totally unjust.  Putting people in prison for life without proof of charges is a gross miscarriage of justice.  Annette Lee has the picture.  Such behavior on the part of the United States does nothing to enhance respect for this country.  It is a wound on the world, and on us.  It needs to change.  The Center for Constitutional Rights has had their hands full trying to apply the law.  I regret to say that politics and power have replaced the fair application of law in many cases.  The case of Mr. Latif is well known.  He was treated with impunity.  Thank you to America's editors for this excellent article.
George Farahat | 10/12/2012 - 6:33pm
I fail to understand why some detainees are kept in spite of evidence to the contrary. I thought the law of the U.S. gives a criminal the benefit of the doubt unless proven guilty. If they are not guilty they should not be imprisoned. However, I must see the government's argument for detaining them in order to judge whether they represent a real threat to society or whether this is a politically-motivated decision. 
michael baland | 10/12/2012 - 4:31pm
I guess the prisoners should count themselves as lucky. At least Obama didn't have them murdered in drone strikes.
Vincent Gaitley | 10/12/2012 - 2:30pm
Oh dear, more responses unhinged from the door of reality.  Yes, we are at war. After 9/11 the United States Congress authorized the continuing use of armed force against any and all enemies involved in the attack; the United States called upon NATO for military assistance for an ally under attack; the British government also authorized the use of force; French, Italian, German and other NATO allies responded in force to this military threat, and each has suffered casualties in the conflict.  Badger Bush/Cheney, despise Tony Blair if you like, but NATO cannot respond merely at a US president's whim.  Even Mr. Obama concedes we are at war.  Thus combatants captured are prisoners of war, some of whom are unlawful because they aren't part of a legitimate uniformed armed force-they are terrorists, or outlaws.  

The problem with being an outlaw is you lose the protection of the law. The distinctions aren't mine, they are the legal forms of the Geneva Conventions (plural).

We are not in some struggle with beliefs, per se, we are at war with Afganistan's rebel Taliban, Al Queada, and other bad actors in sympathy.  Notably, we are not at war with all Arab or Islamic states, in fact, we receive a great deal of material support from them and always have.  Our beliefs are and always have been different from Islam, so would any of this have happened absent 9/11?  I don't believe so.  War is different, and the consequences are not always predictible.  I certainly don't like everything that has happened these 10 years or more.  But I want to win, prevail, or succeed to the degree that my fellow countrymen are safe and the terrorists are weakened or destroyed and dismayed from further attacks.  That is surely a fair goal. 

Detained POWs are not put on trial for the very reason that they are not criminals in the usual sense, and norms of criminal trials do not apply.  To be caught armed on a battlefield by an opposing force is proof enough of your purpose.  Nothing else need be proved.  

Now, is it really useful to detain such people? That is a different matter, but I give the benefit of the doubt during the conflict.  When peace breaks out, flowers bloom in the souls of the deluded terrorists, then we should let the other killers go.  
The remarks from Mr. Firestone regarding what I know about prisons are unworthy of response except that the prisoners there do not die from starvation or disease or summary execution, indeed, they are fed, clothed, cared for far above the standard found around the world.  That two or three prisoners were waterboarded ten years ago is a shame, but not dispositive.  Plus, Mr. Obama promised to close the place and hasn't-for a reason.   

I think America is worth defending, and if it is at the sufference of these men at Gitmo, well, they are alive and kept.  That's better than so many Americans who had their heads actually cut off.  Or the little girl shot in the head days ago in Pakistan for wanting an education.   
Frank Huber | 10/12/2012 - 12:34pm
I am dismayed by Mr. Gaitley's comments. I do not see us being at "war" but rather engaged in an ongoing and possibly unending struggle between beliefs. The tensions between these belief systems are enormously emotional and require responses formed through intelligent, critical inquiry rather than emotional reactions. This is difficult as it requires time, focus and an ongoing commitment to discovery. Our more human side may prefer quick and dismissive actions so we can pursue less demanding interests.
Timothy Ross | 10/12/2012 - 11:42am
Unfortunately Mr. Gaitly's letter is utterl nonsence.  In many, if not most, including the case in this article, the detainees were "picked up" for absolutely no reason what-so-ever, as been demonstrated time and again. There is no proof many of them did ANYTHING, and in fact there IS proof many of those picked up could NOT have done anything. "They are battlefield captured terrorists" is utter nonsense. Some were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, as has been demonstrated by the attorneys and trials held so far , and documents filed by the attorneys, and in the many cases of those released so far. We are NOT at war. Congress has never declared war. Bush/Cheney used the catch-phrase as a euphemistic justification to start doing anything they wanted, whenever they wasted, without due process. There is no false distinction between "lawful" and "unlawful" soldier. AN "unlawful soldier", is simply "my enemy", or someone who fights for something I do not agree with. If we can drop bombs from drones, and kill innocent babies, and their families, WITH NO DUE process, not even knowing who we are killing, for sure, then we are in no position to be preaching to others what is, or is not "illegal warfare". We, (just as the Catholic Church, post sex scandals), have lost ALL moral authority secondary to our OWN actions. There is no declared war, thus there are no "prisoners of war, and as has been demonstrated, our forces picked up NON-COMBATANTS.  Talk about "perversions of truth" !! They ARE held "on a whim". To declare otherwise is simply to deny the truth. How in blases does Gaitley know abut "European" prison conditions ? Has HE been a prisoner there ? When and what for, was he imprisoned ? The very idea that Gitmno (even if true), is justified because it may be slightly or marginally better than a prison elsewhere, in a 3rd world country, and not subject to an objective humane 2012 standard HERE, is simply moral relativism at it's worst.
What in God's name has the Vatican butler's case got to do with this ? AT least he got a trial in a reasonable length of time. The fact that what turned out to be, (exposed AT TRIAL), internal Vatican squabbles perfectly DISPROVES Gaitley's entire premise. STOP THE KILLING OF INNOCENT BABIES. STOP THE DRONE STRIKES NOW. 
Annette Lee | 10/12/2012 - 10:53am
Lord, help us! How can any human being (let alone any nation) support or fail to correct such inhumanity? If the story is true, there is no justification. If, on the other hand, Mr. Gaitley is right, and Adnan Latif should have been considered a POW, then most of the other assertions in the editorial are nullified. Isn't it possible that the truth exists somewhere between these extremes? In any case, I doubt that Jesus would condone the treatment of this prisoner received at the hand of the United States of America.
Vincent Gaitley | 10/12/2012 - 10:30am
Tsk-tsk, America.  The detainees weren't arrested and held for littering.  They are battlefield captured terrorists, and unlawful soldiers at that.  Calling them soldiers only dignifies their illegal warfare too.  These are de facto if not de jure Prisoners of War, and it is long accepted as lawful to hold these POWs for the duration of hostilities.  I have no sympathy, empathy, and certainly no solidarity with them.

Moreover, to claim that this is a perversion of justice from which we as a nation are unrepentant (and sinful) is itself a perversion of truth.  We are at war.  I don't like it, who does? But these men are held accordingly, and not on a whim.  It would be immoral, sinful, and stupid to release these men so that they can fight again to kill our men and women, and our envoys.  

Life at Gitmo is lonely, I'm sure, but it beats any European prison, any Middle Eastern prison, all South American prison.  

Your editorial doesn't mention once that we are at war, and that is a serious journalistic breach of the legal circumstances surrounding their capture and detention.  

A better question for your paper might be to ask, what in the world was the Vatican thinking when it put a butler on trial for telling the truth?   
SEAN KENNELLY | 10/12/2012 - 10:25am
I agree that our policy is morally wrong and that as belivers in God we ought to be demanding an end to detention without trial. We are so ready to condemn others when we ourselves are engaged in similar evil actions. When will we wake up? How often do I hear "God bless America" whereas we should be praying "God forgive America".

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