Who is Ultimately Responsible?

The recent news of three deaths in Guantanamo has once again drawn attention to the prison facility and its role in the ‘War on Terror.’ A number of articles published in several different newspapers explore from different angles the causes and effects of these deaths. Ultimately, they raise the questions: what caused the death of these men and who is responsible?

In an article in the Washington Post (Family of Guantanamo Detainee Doubts He Took His Own Life), the family of one of the deceased Saudi detainees questions the likelihood of their son committing suicide. The family doubts the US military’s claim that he committed suicide, suggesting he was beaten to death. His sister gives no credence to the suicide allegations protesting, “He had memorized the Koran by heart. He was a strong believer. How could he take his own life and spend eternity in hell?”

The family is now insisting on an independent autopsy to determine the cause of death. In the absence of a full, independent, and transparent autopsy, it is understandable that family members would question whether the man really did commit suicide or if he was murdered.

As a former detainee describes in a New York Times op-ed piece (Detainees in Despair), it is possible that the despair and hopelessness is so strong in Guantanamo that even the most devout may lose hope in this life. Mourad Benchellali, a French national, describes how he ended up in Guantanamo and what he experienced there. He describes the military’s manipulation of hope as just another tactic to get the detainees to break. Although he admits that some of the detainees were filled with hatred, he writes, “the huge majority of the faces I remember—the ones that haunt my nights—are of desperation, suffering, incomprehension turned into silent madness.”

Whether the three men died due to suicide or foul play, the United States’ military must take responsibility for creating an environment in which prisoners are mistreated and manipulated into deep despair. However, the immediate response from the military is disheartening. As described in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post (A Prison We Need to Escape), the military’s claim that the suicide was “asymmetric warfare” and “a good PR move” underscores the underlying problems of Guantanamo. David Ignatius argues that both the prisoners and the United States military personnel are dehumanized when justice is prevented. He calls this the “Guantanamo syndrome” and calls on the America to remember: “The prisoners aren’t all the same, except in one sense: They are human beings and, as such, they have basic human rights.”

An article in the Chicago Tribune (Detainees’ Lawyers Hit Notification Delay) explores the rights of the detainees and why it took the military three days to inform the detainees’ lawyers of their deaths. As the article indicates, the difficulty in identifying lawyers and detainees “is an indication of the Department of Defense’s inability to know exactly who is at Guantanamo.” The article, again, highlights the lack of justice which sends Guantanamo detainees into a tailspin of despair.

To answer the questions posed at the beginning, the men died in custody of the U.S. military and, therefore, it must be held responsible in some way. Whether the men were murdered, as the family of one of the men suggests, or committed suicide, as the military claims, the United States has created an environment in Guantanamo where there is no accountability or justice—a situation that leads to torture, mistreatment and eventually death. The only reasonable solution is for the United States military to answer Mourad Benchellali’s plea, “Judge us for whatever we’ve done!”

Sarah Swick

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