President Barack Obama lifted a moratorium on transfers of Guantanamo bay detainees to Yemen – a moratorium he put in place. Why Obama put this moratorium into place after vowing, on a multitude of occasions, to do whatever he could to restore justice and shut down Gitmo is neither here nor there. I don’t intend to speculate on his reasons for taking so long, but I will say that this is one step forward after 3000 steps back.
But of course, this step is only a drop in the bucket representing justice for those jailed indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay. Now that Obama has made a meaningful step forward toward ending Gitmo, we must put pressure on the executive to see true justice is served. So what will true justice look like for those innocent individuals jailed at Guantanamo? Surely justice would not be to merely release these prisoners into Yemen, where they may very likely meet their end in death-by-drone at some later date.
First, we must look at compensation. In half of the union’s states, compensation is due to those who have wrongfully been imprisoned. Federal statute stipulates $50,000 per year of imprisonment, and $100,000 for those on death row. But of course, for far too many at Gitmo, their wrongful caging goes beyond the standard state or federal case. For example, many were never formally charged with a crime. Many were stripped from their homeland and brought to a foreign island. Many were either tortured directly or force fed during a heroic and continuing hunger strike. All were forced to live under the constant threat that any privileges afforded to them can be stripped away, if they ever refused to comply with the demands of guards. And lastly, many have been known to be innocent for years.
For all of these reasons, we must consider that due compensation far exceeds that of the average wrongfully imprisoned American. I do not mean to speak softly of the plight of your average American prisoner. Practice of solitary confinement has been found by human rights watchdogs to be nothing less than torture. But issues of solitary confinement at Guantanamo are even worse than your average federal supermax. As of 2009, a majority of Gitmo detainees were being held in solitary confinement, often deprived of sleep and beaten for the slightest deviations of prison protocol according the Center For Constitutional Rights.
The issue of compensation is then a difficult one to calculate. There are no standards one can abide by. I might suggest a lump sum of $2m for each innocent detainee, along with either continued compensation from their torturers or even a shifting of the torturers’ wages and benefits to those who should be freed. The same will go for any other prisoner who, in the past or in the future, will be proven innocent of crimes they have never even been accused of formally.
There is also the concerning issue of releasing detainees into Yemen, where I earlier half-jokingly referred to their possible fate of being bombed by the same government that at one time imprisoned them. President Obama, in the same recent speech that he addressed the issue of Guantanamo, also hinted that the drone policy of his administration is going to be made permanent and even be pursued to new degrees. Perhaps instead we should allow the detainees to be freed into the U.S., into any area of their choosing. Anthony Gregory has suggested Pennsylvania avenue as a possible relocation for them, but that might not be in the cards. I think that they should at least be given the option of living in America, as opposed to Yemen or other countries. Perhaps we can even get them on a path to U.S citizenship? This might, quite ironically, be the safest place for them.
And then there is the issue of future justice. Justice can not truly be served while the practices that led to their wrongful imprisonment are still being carried out. We must arrest their torturers and those responsible for implementing, endorsing and enforcing their torture. This includes both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, along with a lengthy list of top military brass. They, like all others, are entitled to a trial. Those found guilty must pay restitution. We must end the unjust occupations that made such black-bagging of individuals seem necessary. End our campaigns in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and all other nations under attack by the U.S government. End government secrecy. Allow free and open journalism about war crimes the U.S has committed. We must make a solemn promise to never allow such a travesty of justice to occur ever again.
Finally, there is the issue of legacy. Many of those detained unjustly have acted as noble heroes worthy of reverence. Their hunger strike forced the issue, laying bare the injustice of their imprisonment. As such, a memorial is in order. Perhaps we can set aside a space in the heart of Washington D.C, alongside those who seek to emblazon the injustice of Japanese internment camps, where family, friends and supporters can set up such a memorial. To create a memorial for all those innocent victims of a racist United States military.
We must honor, revere and restore as much justice as possible to these innocent victims. We must never forget.