ACLU: Bush admin tried to create 'Gitmo inside the US'
The US military was using the same procedures employed at the controversial Guantanamo Bay prison at other facilities inside the United States where US citizens and legal residents were detained, according to documents released Wednesday.
At least one Navy officer was concerned that a detainee was being slowly driven insane by the policies, which prohibited detainees from having items such as shoes or socks, according to 91 pages of e-mails between officers at military brigs in Virginia and South Carolina released Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union.
"These documents are the first clear confirmation of what we've suspected all along, that the brig was run as a prison beyond the law. There was an effort to create a Gitmo inside the United States," Jonathan Hafetz of the ACLU's National Security Project in New York told the Associated Press, using the slang word for the U.S. naval facility in Cuba.
A pdf of the heavily redacted e-mails can be downloaded here. The ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request along with the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School to obtain the documents.
The obtained e-mails apparently were exchanged between brig officers and military higher-ups between 2002 and 2004. They discuss detentions of Yaser Esham Hamdi, Jose Padilla, both of whom were US citizens at the time, and Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who was a legal resident in the country when he was detained.
“Guantánamo was designed as a law-free zone, a place where the government could do whatever it wanted without having to worry about whether it was legal,” said Jonathan Freiman, an attorney with the Lowenstein Clinic at Yale. “It didn’t take long for that sort of lawlessness to be brought home to our own country. Who knows how much further America would have gone if the Supreme Court hadn’t stepped in to stop incommunicado detentions in 2004?”
The detainees apparently were not allowed to speak to family members or lawyers for years, and the e-mails suggest that Guantanamo standard operating procedures were being employed in the domestic brigs. An officer asked what to tell detainees about their legal status and received little guidance.
"Best not to discuss his status at all with him," wrote an unidentified superior, presumably a Pentagon or military lawyer. "Realize that's tough on a human level but realize anything you say becomes statement of US govt, at least potentially. Safest and honest answer is 'I don't know, sorry.'"
The documents also include "weekly updates" the brig officers were required to send on the treatment of the detainees, but the ACLU notes that the updates on Padilla and al-Marri were not released because the Navy said the documents were either being withheld or were missing. That the missing updates cover a period "during which the two were being detained incommunicado and interrogated," the ACLU says, suggests "the possibility that Guantánamo-like interrogations were taking place."