It has been said that a civilized society can be measured by its criminal justice system, especially how it treats the worst of its lot.
Since September 11, 2001, terrorists, whether foreign-born or domestic-reared, have been considered by the U.S. government and the people it serves as the “worst of the worst” among us.
Saudi Arabian-born Abu Zubaydah was considered one of the worst by U.S. officials, an alleged terrorist who has been either directly or indirectly involved in terror attacks against the U.S., both here and abroad. Some argue the allegations against Zubaydah are either fictitious or overstated.
With the recent nomination by President Trump of Gina Haspel to be the new CIA Director, Zubaydah’s name re-surfaced prominently in the nation’s news cycle. Haspel had both knowledge and participation of torture, murder, kidnapping and concealment in secret “black site” prisons of terrorists.
CIA Black Sites, Torture
In fact, after Zubaydah’s March 28, 2002 arrest in Faisalabad, Pakistan, Zubaydah was transferred to a CIA-operated black site prison in Thailand which was under the supervision of Haspel.
While confined at the prison, a seriously bullet-wounded Zubaydah was subjected to what became known as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” euphemisms of torture prohibited by federal law. In 2016, The Intercept outlined what Haspel and other CIA personnel did to Zubaydah in the name of the American people:
- Water-boarded him 83 times;
- Forced him into stress positions;
- Subjected him to sleep deprivation;
- Place insects in a small confinement box in which he was kept for 29 hours (21 inches in width, 2.5 feet long, and 2.5 feet high);
- Forced him to remain continuously in a coffin size box for 11 days, 2 hours (266 hours);
- Subjected him to extremely cold temperatures
- Blared loud music into his cell; and
- Subjected him to religious and sexual humiliation.
FBI agents present at the scene threatened to arrest the CIA operatives committing the torture. Haspel had them removed from the prison.
From Black Sites to Gitmo
After 18 months of interrogation in CIA black site prisons in Thailand, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Poland, North Africa, and Diego Garcia, Zubaydah, and three other terrorist suspects, were transferred to the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The prison was opened on January 11, 2002—exactly four months after 9/11—with an initial twenty detainees. The facility was no more than a military detention camp at the time. It became known as GTMO.
According to Human Rights First, a total of 780 detainees have been housed at the facility. Five hundred of those detainees were released or repatriated back to their home countries under President Bush’s administration. An additional 197 detainees were transferred, repatriated, or resettled under President Obama’s administration. During Obama’s last month in office, 14 detainees were resettled.
Military Detention Camp Turned Super Ultra- Super Max Prison
GTMO has evolved from a barbed-wire detention camp into a massive, sprawling ultra-super max penal facility. The facility currently houses 41 detainees, including Zubaydah, according to Human Rights First. Each of these detainees has been incarcerated at the facility for more than a decade. Twenty-six of them, according to the Miami Herald, have been designated by Military Tribunals under the Law of War as “forever prisoners” who can be held at GTMO without a charge, much less a trial. Human Rights First says only one detainee ever housed at GTMO was referred to U.S. authorities for criminal prosecution. The youngest of the forever prisoners, reports the Herald, is 31 and the oldest is 70.
Forever Prisoners May Never Get Trial
President Trump has vowed to keep all the “forever prisoners” forever at GTMO and, in fact, wants to increase the number of detainees (who he calls “bad actors). The cost of this “forever” policy to the American taxpayer will be staggering.
1,700 military and civilian personnel operate GTMO today. The Defense Department says it costs $10.85 million per prisoner to house the 41 remaining detainees each year requiring a budget of at least $500 million annually to keep the facility operating. Compare those costs to the $78,000 it takes to house an inmate in a “super-max” federal prison.
Human Rights First reports that since 9/11, there have 660 terrorism-related convictions obtained in the federal court system in the U.S. Compare that to the mere 8 convictions obtained by the military tribunals at GTMO. To date, 443 of those convicted in the federal court system on terrorism-related charges remain in federal prisons—and not one of them has ever escaped from federal prison custody.
Federal Courts Can Handle Terrorism Cases, Detainees
The one GTMO detainee prosecuted in the federal court system is Ahmed Ghailani who, on January 25, 2011, was sentenced to 36 years in prison by a judge in the Southern District of New York. He is currently housed in the ADX Supermax prison near Florence, Colorado where he must serve roughly 34 flat years on that 36-year sentence. He is currently 48 years of age. He will be approximately 75 years of age when his release date arrives in 2045.
We are a society of laws. A criminal suspect in this country has a right to a formal charge against him or her, the right to counsel, the jury to a fair and impartial jury trial, the right to confront and cross-examine his/her accusers, and the right to appeal any conviction obtained from the formal charge. Home grown terrorist, violent drug cartel members and even Florida’s mass school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz will enjoy the fundamental rights.
Terror suspects should enjoy the same constitutional rights as the criminally. Those 41 GTMO detainees—26 of whom are “forever” detainees—represent a tragic blight on this nation’s system of justice, not to mention a rallying cry for aspiring terrorists. That sprawling military prison complex, which has cost the American taxpayer billions of wasted dollars and the nation part of its Democratic reputation around the world, should be razed to the ground and buried in some secret compartment of America’s shameful past.