Sunday, April 05, 2009

NatGeo: "Inside Guantanamo"

The National Geographic two hour "Explorer" film “Inside Guantanamo” was aired at 9 PM EDT on Sunday, April 5, 2009, with the following URL giving details of and clips from the film.

Guantanamo is located on the southeast coast of Cuba, and is, in a sense, “on another planet” legally, which makes it possible for the United States to hold international terror suspects there. The 1992 film "A Few Good Men" with Tom Cruise is partially set at Guantanamo.

There are ten camps on the 45 sq mile base (7000 personnel), one of which has never been shown to journalists. The film then moves into showing the daily life of prisoners, where there are suicide checks every three minutes 24 x 7. The Bush administration maintained that since Al Qaeda was not signatory to the Geneva Convention (as we learned about it in Army Basic in 1968), the US military did not have to abide by the convention.

The original tempoaray camp was “Camp Xray” which closed in 2002. Then the Bush administration narrowed the definition of torture for Guantanamo. The film goes on to describe the extreme renditions, with stress positions, isolation, dogs, and sometimes waterboarding.

The prisoners are in orange and red jumper suits and often scream at the jobs. The military guards wear face shields.

The film covers the lack of habeas corpus rights for prisoners of war, and Bush claimed that the detainees had no right to federal court review of their detention. However the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that detainees did have the right to review by the federal courts. Gitmo turned out to be within reach of US Courts after all. But then Congress passed a law to keep detainee cases out of federal court. Eventually detainees had to be tried in front of military judges. The Supreme Court made a stronger ruling in 2008 that Congress could not end-around.

The base has a library with Arabic books (including a translation of Harry Potter), and manually censors newspapers, a tedious process.

A 19-year-old Navy guard, on duty station for three months, says that he was in middle school when the first Gitmo prisoners arrived.

American female lawyers went down to help with habeas corpus, and say that the charges were classified and that they couldn’t tell the defendants the charges.

Some detainees had been arrested because of mistaken identities.

Some detainees were released and sent back to their home countries, on condition that they not associated with terrorists, but obviously there is no way to ensure compliance. One released detainee was shown under “house arrest” in Kabul (on location) but active in Taliban politics.

There is a discussion toward the end of the film as to whether Gitmo feeds jihad, but there was no Gitmo before 9/11. Yet one female guard there for 26 months says she heard one prisoner say he would go right back to jihad.

The film describes prisoners on hunger strikes, one who has refused 2300 meals, and another who covers himself with feces, even for fighting with his fingernails. In American prisons people are not allowed to die on hunger strikes. In the military prison, things are not so clear.

A the end of the film a "call to prayer" is shown. American soldiers would stop and listen.

There are sixty prisoners cleared to leave now that no country will take back. Prisoners abused for a few years are not fit to be released anywhere. A federal judge has ruled that Camp XRay must be retained as evidence. President Obama has promised to close Gitmo, but there is a real problem with remaining prisoners.

The movie had a lot of unusually long, annoying commercial interruptions.

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