Guantanamo panels examine human rights in America

“Guantanamo: How Should We Respond?” challenged students and faculty to question the methods used on prisoners in the Guantanamo Bay detainment camp, particularly torture. Held from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the New Library Auditorium, it was broadcast to the College via live simulcast from Seton Hall Law School and discussed how the detainment camp will affect policy in journalism, medical, legal and religious fields across the country.

The teach-in, created by Seton Hall Law professor Mark Denbeaux and Bard College professor Alan Sussman, reached over 44 states this past Thursday. “This is an important issue, the sort of thing students and citizens in general should get info on,” Daryl Fair, political science professor, said.

The streaming video from Seton Hall Law was comprised of seven sessions that explained matters of faith, politics and religion through panel discussions. Fair organized the event after Christina Muiar, a former student in her third year at Seton Hall Law School, asked the College to become a part of the Guantanamo event she worked on under Denbeaux.

Fair said it was unfortunate the College did not have enough bandwidth to carry the program from noon to 5 p.m. “The program itself, speakers, panelist, and so forth were excellent,” Fair said.

“Session Two: Journalists Look Behind the Wire” discussed how classified information and limited access of Guantanamo Bay has made reporting newsworthy elements difficult, if not impossible. Jack Hit, moderator and New York Times and Harper Magazine journalist, said that writers must describe the look and feel of the detainment camps rather than what is going on inside them.

At first, reporters were welcomed onto the island during the building stages of Gitmo, as it is known colloquially Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald journalist, described the camp as an “experiment” consisting of “dog-house cages.”

“They wanted to show America that they get justice and wanted to show the world if you mess with us you get put into a dog cage,” Rosenberg said.

Adam Zagorin, Time magazine journalist, wrote the first story on the torture log of Muhamed Al Qahtani, the 20th suspected 9/11 terrorist. He discussed how interrogation often left Qahtani in a psychosis and how the classified torture log gave credence to the fact that torture was occurring in Gitmo.

“Documents are indisputable; ‘the record’ is the key to good reporting,” Jane Mayer, journalist for The New Yorker, said.

Much of the controversy has to do with Guantanamo not following the Geneva Convention’s outlines to the humane treatment of prisoners of war, which considers torture illegal.

Noha Aljawhary, senior biology major, said that a double standard of human rights exists within the United States. Aljawhary said that we criticize China’s human rights policies, yet we do the same thing.

There was also agreement that torture was not the method to gather evidence against terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and the Taliban. “You can get misled from ringing (information) out of people,” Mayer said.

“I didn’t really know anything about this; it just makes me even more interested,” Alyssa Saray, freshman business administration major, said.

While most students thought that this was an important issue, some questioned the event’s execution.

John Leschak, senior law and criminal justice major, thought that an event on campus with speakers of the same intellectual caliber would have been more beneficial to the student body.

In one of the habeas interludes, or mini-talks, lawyer Julia Tarver Mason told her client’s unsettling account of force feeding. Yousef Al-Sherhi, after having a tube shoved down his nose to his stomach, was forced to share feeding tubes covered in other detainees stomach bile and blood, Mason said. Mason has not been allowed to see Al-Sherhi since October 2005.

Lawyer Thomas Wilmer said that new methods of torture, like simulated drowning, sexual humiliation and the desecration of religious objects, are an insult to religion.

“Why won’t our government make it clear without a shadow of a doubt that torture and inhumane treatment of prisoners is wrong and will not be tolerated?” Wilmer said. A member of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, he said, “What the government has authorized to do to the few it can eventually do to the many.”

Another moving speech was that of lawyer Joshua Colagelo-Bryan. His client, Jum’ah Al Dossari, attempted suicide during one of their meetings on Guantanamo. After Dossari had been in the bathroom for an unusual amount of time, Colagelo-Bryan proceeded to check on him. “The first thing I saw was a puddle of blood; Jum’ah had hung himself, his eyes were rolled back, blood was all over his face.”

Afterward, when military investigators questioned him on why Dossari would attempt suicide, he responded, “It’s really hard to keep people in isolation for years.”

The lack of judicial proceedings and over-classification was a topic discussed in numerous sessions of the program. Colonel Dwight H. Sullivan, chief military defense counsel, said that it should not be a burden on the courts to litigate 450 more defendants. “I think anonymity is not supposed to be a part of democracy,” Mayer said. Presently many courts assume that Guantanamo detainees are out of their jurisdiction.

“On the one hand you need to find information for our security, but on the other hand you want to protect human rights,” Aljawhary said.

William H. Taft, former legal advisor to the United States Department of State, said Guantanamo has many flaws but is necessary for national security. Taft said comparing Gitmo to the antithesis of freedom and liberty misses the point. He said combatants must be locked up. “The World Trade Center did not fall down by itself,” Taft said.