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Sun, 11 Jun 2006

Pointing the finger

(Warning: politics ahead. May be distasteful for some. You're getting it because I'm angry. Normal service can wait.)

"They have no regard for human life. Neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation but an act of asymmetric warfare against us."

This statement emanated from US Navy Rear Admiral Harry Harris. And now it's quiz time! Was he talking about:

  • Al Qaida members attacking members of the US military
  • Detainees at Guantanamo Bay committing suicide
  • If you guessed (2), you win! Yes, committing suicide after being held in a concentration camp, subjected to torture, and refused legal redress for over four years is now "an act of asymmetric warfare against us". That's asymmetric warfare committed by camp inmates, some of whom were 12 years old when they were detained, some of whom were taxi drivers, and a whole bunch of whom were ordinary folks handed in by neighbours who bore a grudge against them and wanted a cut of that reward money, thanks.

    Are there guerillas among the inmates? Probably. Are there innocents? Definitely. And are they being mis-treated? Well ... Let's see. A good yardstick to look at when examining morale among human beings is the suicide rate. What does it tell us?

    There are roughly 460 inmates in the concentration camp. They've been there for four years. The camp administration admit to 41 suicide attempts, although defense lawyers say this is a gross underestimate -- certainly hunger strikes to the death that are broken only by forced feeding are usually classed as suicide attempts in other jurisdictions, and Camp X-Ray has had over 128 inmates on hunger strike. The best figures I've been able to root out suggest prison suicide rates are typically on the order of 50-200 per 100,000 inmates per year; let's go with 100 per 100,000, or an incidence of 0.1% per year. (The Lancet recently reported that in British prisons, men are five times likelier to attempt suicide than on the outside; this is in line with these figures for overall mortality.) If we assume a ball-park figure of ten attempts per successful suicide, then if Camp X-Ray was a normal prison, we would expect 4-5 attempts per year. Instead we have, by the Pentagon's own admission, at least 10 attempts per year, and by defense lawyer's claims, an average of 20-30. Moreover, a rate that seems to have spiked to over 100 per year recently (and can only be denied by asserting that a hunger strike that is broken by nasogastric feeding tube and restraint chair isn't a suicide attempt).

    I'd say that a prison with a suicide rate two to five times higher than normal -- let alone spiking to 20 times higher than normal -- has a problem. A big, festering, shitty problem. And sticking fingers in ears and chanting "they're all terrorists, they're in prison so they must be guilty," is a big part of the problem.

    As to how to fix the problem ...

    It'd be a good start if Rear Admiral Harris washed his mouth out with soap and started investigating why prisoners at Guantanamo Bay seem to think that hanging themselves is an improvement over their current situation. It'd be an even better start if his bosses in the Pentagon and the Department of Defense were arrested and sent to the Hague for trial for crimes against humanity -- to wit, torture, waging illegal war, acts of terror against civilian populations, collective punishment, and most of the rest of the bill of goods that applied at Nuremburg in 1946 -- but that'll have to wait.

    But meanwhile, kindly reflect: if you support the war on terror, then you're also supporting a policy that has brought concentration camps back to the western world.

    [Link] [Discuss Camp X-ray trials]

    posted at: 16:34 | path: /politics | permanent link to this entry


    I'd like to quote briefly from the report The Guantanamo Detainees: The Government's Story, prepared by legal academics from Seton Hall Law School who acted as defense advocates for the detainees.

    From the executive sumary:

    1. Fifty-five percent of the detainees are not determined to have committed any hostile acts against the United States or its coalition allies.

    2. Only 8% of the detainees were characterized as al Qaeda fighters. Of the remaining detainees, 40% have no definitive connection with al Qaeda at all and 18% have no definitive affiliation with either al Qaeda or the Taliban.


    4. Only 5% of the detainees were captured by United States forces. 86% of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Allaiance and turned over to United States custody. This 86% of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were handed over to the United States at a time in which the United States offered large bounties for capture of suspected enemies. (Emphasis mine.)

    Read the rest here.

    posted at: 16:33 | path: /politics | permanent link to this entry


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