Science - June 22, 2006

In the news/ Guantanamo Bay

Not an act of desperation, but one of war. That’s how US military refers the suicides of three prisoners in Guantanamo Bay two weeks ago. MSc student Jasmine Osorio from New York is astonished at the claim.

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Jasmine starts by mentioning the nickname for Guantanamo Bay – Gitmo. ‘It is funny that is has a pet name,’ she says with a touch of irony, ‘It’s a bit insulting.’ She came to the Netherlands three years ago to do an MSc in Environmental Sciences. Although she will graduate next week, she’s not planning on returning to the US soon. Besides being married to a Dutchman, her feelings towards her home country, given the current state of affairs, make her unwilling to go back. ‘I don’t want to raise my future children there.’

The first Afghans captured by the US military arrived in Guantanamo Bay on 11 January 2002. The US has leased the 45 square miles of territory from Cuba since 1903 and, in addition to being a naval base, it now houses more than 450 prisoners that are labelled by the US as terrorists. They are being held there without having been officially charged and with no civil rights.

A special facility for terrorists is fine, says Jasmine, but it should be done legally. ‘It is different when people have to go to prison because they have stolen candy as opposed to someone who has flown an airplane into the World Trade Centre. I understand a separate facility, but do it well. As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to Guantanamo Bay: fix it or quit it!’

Jasmine has feelings of shame in response to reports about the torture and violation of human rights. ‘I read about refusing one of the main prisoners a bathroom break. They made him urinate over himself. That breaks my heart!’

The inhumane conditions have resulted in many prisoners going on hunger strikes and a number of attempted suicides. None of these was successful until two weeks ago. Bush stressed that the three bodies would be treated humanely. ‘Now that they are dead. But what about when they were living?’ Jasmine reacts.

Despite growing international pressure, Bush has no plans to shut down the prison on Cuban territory. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham declared that shutting down Gitmo would be an overreaction. ‘He says America is allowed to act crazy, because the enemy uses crazy tactics. But that way we stoop to the level of the terrorists. America should know better as a ‘civilised’ nation.’

Sitting straight up, Jasmine continues about the inconsistency of the US. ‘Bush talks about democracy and human rights, but facilities like Guantanamo Bay fly in the face of this. How can America present itself as being such a good example to the rest of the world if its actions go against these basic ideals and principles? If it were Americans who were being treated this way, Bush might have declared war on those countries.’

The way American politicians are reacting to accusations and criticisms is one of shifting attention from their own actions. ‘For example, Republican Duncan Hunter rejected suggestions of mistreating prisoners by repeatedly citing the menu prisoners get: they killed babies, we give them fried chicken.’ Instead of giving the truth straight, facts are twisted, or given out of context. ‘We call that spin.’

Jasmine often feels embarrassed about her home country, but as she sees it, Americans often do not see the wider picture of what is going on until they leave the continent. ‘That is not their fault. Don’t forget that America is a huge country, an isolated island. Instead of news about other countries, we get news about other States in America.’

Besides not giving all the news from abroad, many of the many broadcasters in the US are also not objective. ‘Fox Channel for example is really bad. A confidential memo was leaked in which is says that they have to show Bush in some heroic situation every day. It is not that politicians are directly involved, but the media is owned by big companies, and people high up in these companies always have connections with politicians.’

Jasmine wishes that everybody in the USA could see the world outside their own nation. ‘If only people had a sense of what is going on. As another politician - Republican senator Chuck Hagel – said, the situation in Guantanamo Bay should offend the sensibilities of any straight-thinking American, any straight-thinking citizen of the world.’

Laurien Holtjer

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