GUANTÁNAMO Bay, the American gulag in Cuba, is one of the more egregious examples of how democracies can bend and break the rules when it suits them. The detention camp entered the popular global lexicon in the aftermath of the 9/11 events, when the US started holding terror suspects in the facility. However, over the years the penitentiary developed a reputation for notoriety, particularly when it came to the abuse of prisoners’ rights and the flouting of due process. Amongst Guantánamo’s prisoners is Saifullah Paracha, a septuagenarian Pakistani businessman who has been held in the gulag for over 16 years. While the Americans claim he was an Al Qaeda ‘facilitator’, Mr Paracha denies the charge. It is important to note he has never been charged with a crime, while he claims he was abducted in Bangkok and tortured at Bagram, Afghanistan. Saifullah Paracha’s long nightmare may be about to end as he has been approved for release as the US feels he is “not a continuing threat”. However, his attorney adds it may take several months for him to be a free man.
While transnational terrorism has thrown up unique challenges for the global community, nothing justifies the torture and abuse of prisoners, or holding individuals without charge for over a decade, as is the case with Guantánamo. The Biden administration must speed up the process of closing down the facility permanently. While at one time it housed over 700 prisoners, today around 40 are still incarcerated at the detention centre. Former US president Barack Obama had early in his tenure called for closing down the gulag but he failed to do so while Donald Trump put the brakes on the process altogether. Now, Joe Biden must do the needful. If there are individuals the US believes have aided or participated in acts of terrorism, they should be tried in courts of law. If not, they should be released. The fact that Washington opened the facility in the first place indicates the Bush administration’s hesitation in allowing the cases to be heard in normal courts. Extra-constitutional and extralegal methods must be avoided as due process is sacrosanct. The lives of numerous individuals have been destroyed in Guantánamo, while they have not been convicted of the crimes they were accused of. How can states that swear by fundamental rights justify the use of such methods in the name of security?
Published in Dawn, May 20th, 2021