Showing RemorsePosted: February 14, 2008
After Mr. Hajj was arrested in Afghanistan in December 2001, he was beaten, starved, frozen and subjected to anal searches in public to humiliate him, his lawyers say. The U.S. government initially seems to have confused him with another cameraman, and then offered vague accusations that he had been a financial courier and otherwise assisted extremist groups.
“There is a significant amount of information, both unclassified and classified, which supports continued detention of Sami al-Hajj by U.S. forces,” said Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, adding that the detainees are humanely treated and “receive exceptional medical care.”
Military officials did acknowledge that Mr. Hajj was not considered a potential suicide bomber and probably would have been released long ago if he had just “come clean” by responding in greater detail to the allegations and showing remorse.
Mr. Hajj’s lawyers contend that he has already responded in great detail to every allegation. One indication that the government doesn’t take its own charges seriously, the lawyers say, is that the U.S. offered Mr. Hajj a deal: immediate freedom if he would spy on Al Jazeera. Mr. Hajj refused.
Most Americans, including myself, originally gave President Bush the benefit of the doubt and assumed that the inmates truly were “the worst of the worst.” But evidence has grown that many are simply the unluckiest of the unluckiest.
Some were aid workers who were kidnapped by armed Afghan groups and sold to the C.I.A. as extremists. One longtime Sudanese aid worker employed by an international charity, Adel Hamad, was just released by the U.S. in December after five years in captivity. A U.S. Army major reviewing his case called it “unconscionable.”
Mr. Hajj began his hunger strike more than a year ago, so twice daily he is strapped down and a tube is wound up his nose and down his throat to his stomach. Sometimes a lubricant is used, and sometimes it isn’t, so his throat and nose have been rubbed raw. Sometimes a tube still bloody from another hunger striker is used, his lawyers say.
“It’s really a regime to make it as painful and difficult as possible,” said one of his lawyers, Zachary Katznelson.
Mr. Hajj cannot bend his knees because of abuse he received soon after his arrest, yet the toilet chair he was prescribed was removed — making it excruciating for him to use the remaining squat toilet. He is allowed a Koran, but his glasses were confiscated so he cannot read it.
All this is inhumane, but also boneheaded. Guantánamo itself does far more damage to American interests than Mr. Hajj could ever do.
To stand against torture and arbitrary detention is not to be squeamish. It is to be civilized.
I don’t know what I find more offensive; the treatment of this accidental captive, or the fact that he would have been released sooner if he had shown some remorse for what he did. But what exactly did he do, apart from being the victim of mistaken identity, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Did they object to his reporting from a stylistic point of view? Are his captors (as well as being barbaric monsters) incredibly demanding aesthetes? Or perhaps he has merely become an inconvenience, a side effect of some failed recruitment drive (it didn’t work out… it never happened… bury the evidence).