Counsel Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, is one of the most esteemed and heeded American lawyers in military courts. In the past four years, he’s bound his name and that of the Washington legal firm of which he’s a partner (Feldesman Tucker Leifer Fidell LLP) to Guantánamo and its prison cells. He has profound awareness of that overseas military jail, as well as the procedures that govern it, and for quite some time he has been a severe and passionate critic of it, both in the forensic and academic environments. He has been able to measure the psychological and physical violence in Camp Delta as defence counsel of James Yee, a Muslim chaplain from the American Army who had been hired as spiritual guide for the prisoners in Guantánamo and who left that same base in chains and an orange boilersuit, because unfairly accused of espionage and high treason. Today, Fidell says: “The time has come to close, once and for all, that prison.”
The UN report calls for this as well.
“Sure. Yet, I demand it as American. And, reading the dozens of e-mails I’ve been receiving since this morning, I think I’m not the only one in this country to be deeply annoyed by the reading of the 54 pages of the UN document.”
“Old stuff”, the White House says.
“Really? On the contrary, I believe that this report is not a Valentine’s Day card but a serious thing. Very serious. This document makes the establishment of an independent inquiry commission that is not carried out by the armed forces a necessity. Because America has the right to know what occurred during the past four years in Guantánamo and what is occurring still today. It must be able to have a say about the facts, in a clear and exhaustive way. I will add something else. While awaiting Guatánamo’s closing, this report urges that a permanent monitoring of the detention conditions is immediately assured within the prison. I’m thinking of a sort of ombusdam, of a civic defender who doesn’t wear the uniform of the US Army. It might be a former Appeals or Federal Court judge.”
The Administration raises an objection about the reliability of UN’s work: the refusal by the observers to visit the prison before submitting their conclusions in the final report.
“It’s a silly objection. I find it completely reasonable that the report authors have refused to accept the condition for the visit the prohibition from having direct contact with the prisoners. Instead of making prohibitions, I think that the Administration owes some explanations. About what happens in that prison, to mention just one thing, as well as about the substance and the outcome of the disciplinary trials regarding American military personnel accused of ill-treatment of prisoners in Guantánamo.”
Are there some trials in course?
“Reliable sources tell me that there are several ones. Too bad nobody knows the substance and the number of these proceedings, nor the circumstances that brought about them. Simply, we know nothing. I add that all this silence is even more unbearable today, since the UN uses a clear term as ‘torture’.”
Upon closer scrutiny, the UN’s report says still more. That there is no legal basis that today allows the US to maintain Guantánamo, as a justification of its “exceptional” character.
“No doubt about it. And this means that, in spite of what the Administration believes, today there are no such provisions in Guatanamo able to guarantee the respect, even only partial, of habeas corpus principles of the prisoners. A fact that brings us again to the fundamental matter the report lays down: does America really need Guantánamo? Is there any reason for keeping it? The answer, that may sound obvious to a European, here is not obvious at all.”
It seems that your expectation is that the White House will continue as it has been doing.
“I don’t like to announce moves I can only guess at, even though it’s not difficult to foresee a reaction of refusal. Thus, I prefer to think that this report on Guantànamo may be the umpteenth chance to think about the material and symbolic impact that Guantànamo has on the hearts and the minds of Islam, as well as of our European friends. Many Americans still keep on wondering: “Why do they hate us?” I have a suggestion to make: to seek an answer, it will suffice to measure, in the coming days and weeks, the synergic and symbolic effect that this UN report will have upon the Middle East. Also because these 54 pages come at the height of the war over the cartoons and only 24 hours after the disturbing new images from Abu Ghraib. Everything may be done, except acting as if nothing had happened.”
Translated from Italian by Diego Traversa, revised by Mary Rizzo, member of Tlaxcala, the network for linguistic diversity (firstname.lastname@example.org). This translation is on Copyleft