Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Where Amnesty is Not Allowed

This year, the University of Puget Sound--my uni--moved up four spots to No. 1 on the top 25 list for small schools with 30 alumni currently serving as Peace Corps Volunteers. Since Peace Corps’ inception, 220 alumni of Puget Sound have joined the ranks. The Pacific Northwest region dominates the list with almost all of our large and small schools ranking in the top 25 lists of small, medium, or large schools. The University of Washington ranked No. 1 on the top 25 list for large schools, with 110 volunteers.

Unfortunately, there are places no Peace Corps volunteer will ever go any time soon. Cuba, for example, is off-limits to peace activists. But aside from barring volunteers in the Peace Corps, Cuba is also off-limits to the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International. How is it that Amnesty is allowed into Belarus, Sudan, Venezuela, Iran and Iraq, yet not Cuba? When Amnesty is denied access to North Korea, it is newsworthy for the American media. Yet it is not newsworthy for the same thing to happen in Cuba, where Amnesty human rights researchers and defenders have not been allowed since 1998, and which is also one of few countries which do not allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to its prisons. The UN's Special Rapporteur has been requesting a visit to Cuba for several years without a reply. Reporters Without Borders is restricted from access into Cuba, and Cuba's censorship policies forbid them from disseminating their work to Cubans. Foreign journalists are systematically deported if discovered. This country is a human rights black hole and none of the information from within is disseminated to the outside, unless by brave dissidents who risk being imprisoned indefinitely for their actions.

Cuba, while it may be an ally in the War on Terror in some sense, in fact, considers the US assumed ownership over the Guantanamo Bay illegal, since the conclusion of the treaty which established it, the Cuban-American Treaty, was procured by the threat of force. Cubans cite the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties to back up this moral claim, but the convention cited was conceived after the Cuban-American Treaty, thus making the argument useless in international law, (as spun by American legal theorists.)

At any rate, it is quite amazing that the United States, since 2002, has decided to use Guantanamo Bay, this nebulous legal place, as a prison for suspected terrorists. Since Afghanistan's invasion 775 detainees have been brought to Guantanamo, and approximately 420 have been released. Approximately 350 prisoners are still at Guantanamo today. Only about 80 are going to be tried for war crimes. The rest are simply being held indefinitely. The prisoners usually come into Guantanamo from secret CIA prisons elsewhere, such as Eastern Europe.

The criminal system at Guantanamo is undeniably ad-hoc, and follows neither U.S. military nor civilian law, nor the international laws of war established under various treaties. Under acts like the Military Commission Act of 2006, prisoners aren't even granted some of the most fundamental rights of prisoners since the Magna Carta in twelfth century, and that is habeas corpus: to be told what you are being detained for, how long, and your right to due process. This is denied in Guantanamo. Some prisoners, in fact, have been detained since 2002, since the inception of the prison. No trials, no process. Simply detainment. Three prisoners simultaneously committed suicide in 2005, yet this is suspicious, since there are no human rights watchdogs, or any media allowed to the prison. Many nations believe it was an act of torture, and there is no way to be sure, since there is only the American military to trust.

A new construction of Guantanamo is on its way, reported today by Reuters. The courtrooms are going to be larger, and a computer system to display evidence will be replaced by a newer system. This is going to cost millions of dollars, and thus the US clearly intends to stay at Guantanamo much longer. Amensty's efforts to gather support worldwide through the internet, is having little effect on the United States policies in Guantanamo. Perhaps there is evidence of pressure on the military, contributing to fewer incidents. But there is no way to tell. Amnesty's latest idea, to have thousands of protesters arrive at the naval base in several large flotillas, might be a disaster. I signed onto the list of interested persons, along with 4,500 other people. Hopefully no one is hurt in this dangerous, yet brave, act. Greenpeace activists who have pulled similar stunts, have been arrested in the past by various governments, including the US. Perhaps all the demonstrators will be held in compliance with acts of terror and committed to imprisonment in Guantanamo themselves. Would the ICC be implicated then? Would US citizens have recourse to a fair trial then?

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