Tomorrow marks the 10th anniversary of the first detainees being brought to Guantánamo Bay in the Bush administration’s “war on terror.” Amnesty International is organizing a day of action to call for the detention center’s closing. Actions are taking place in Washington D.C. and throughout Europe. The Washington Post reports that detainees currently held in Guantánamo are planning 3 days of peaceful demonstrations beginning today.
As part of their awareness campaign around their day of action, Amnesty’s USA branch produced a video called “Happy World Travel” using satire to call attention to Islamophobia and racial profiling that have emerged in the United States post 9-11.
The video shows a young man of Arab descent going into a travel agency to book a vacation which turns out to be a covert questioning center for a U.S. government agency (possibly the Department of Homeland Security). The travel agents eventually gather enough “evidence” of the would-be vacationer’s terrorist leanings to hood and bind him, and ship him off to Guantánamo Bay. Watch the video:
The detention center has been the subject of many parodies and comedy routines in the U.S. over the last decade. For example, the feature-length film “Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo” and a puppet character called Gitmo (who looks a lot like the popular Sesame Street character Elmo) makes reoccurring appearances on the fake news program “The Daily Show.” However, human rights groups and activists are not making light of the length of time it has taken to close it. Amnesty International’s Secretariat just released this video calling Guantánamo existence the cause of “a decade of damage to human rights.”
Human Rights Watch says the indefinite detention of hundreds of detainees “does enormous damage to the rule of law both in the U.S. and abroad.” You can read their full coverage of Guantanamo Bay here. And, this weekend The New York Times published a first-person account of a former detainee which he describes as a “nightmare.” One can get a sense of what Mr. Boumediene experienced from his written account as well as from this short video taken by the BBC last September which shows the exterior and some interior shots of the detention center.
The day of action tomorrow is aimed at encouraging President Obama to make good on his campaign promise to close Guantánamo, and to either try those who have been formally charged or to release those who have been deemed no threat. The President’s office responded to the calls for action (quote from The Washington Post article mentioned above):
White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday that President Obama remains committed to closing the facility at Guantanamo. “We all are aware of the obstacles to getting that done as quickly as the president wanted to get it done, what they were, and the fact that they continued to persist,” said Carney. “But the president’s commitment hasn’t changed at all.”
However, the President’s recent signing of the National Defense Authorization Act allows for presidential authority to eliminate due process for anyone arrested on suspicion of terrorism, including American citizens. Though President Obama signed the bill with reservations stating he would not detain American citizens indefinitely, the bill is a setback for the rule of law.
Indefinite detention on American soil is not the only concern to human rights groups. HRW estimates that 3,000 people are being held in Afghanistan and that they “have not been afforded the basic rights that even captured enemy fighters are due in a civil war, such as being informed by a judge of the basis for their detention or allowed access to counsel.”
Additionally, the alleged use of torture in questioning of terror suspects and the use of extraordinary rendition – a practice whereby a suspected terrorist is taken to a site not on U.S. soil and interrogated – have been widely denounced by activists. Rendition was the subject of a video produced by WITNESS along with a dozen other organizations (including HRW, Amnesty, Reprieve, and the ACLU). “Outlawed: Extraordinary Rendition in the War on Terror” calls on the U.S. government to end the practice of rendition and adhere to due process.
With such a dismal record of adherence to the rule of law over the last decade by our government, perhaps humor is the only way to push forward. Here is the most recent appearance of the character Gitmoon “The Daily Show” which laments President Obama’s signing of the NDAA and the indefinite detention of people at Guantánamo.