There’s been an interesting juxtaposition in the news over two unjust imprisonments lately involving the United States. In both cases, people were arrested and imprisoned on false charges. In both cases, the imprisoned are facing torture and even death.
The differences? In one case, the prisoner is an American and in the other, the jailer is the United States. The other major difference is that in one case, the US fought to keep one imprisoned while fighting to free the other.
In a story from the New York Times titled “My Guantanamo Nightmare”, Lakdahr Boumediene details his story of being unjustly taken from his work at the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates in Sarajevo and whisked away to the US detention center at Guantanamo Bay. There he was imprisoned for seven years, tortured, and denied contact with his family. It wasn’t until he had his case heard before the US Supreme Court, as Plaintiff in Boumediene v. Bush, and won that he was finally released. The case was decided 5-4, with conservative judicial heroes Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito dissenting.
When I arrived at work on the morning of Oct. 19, 2001, an intelligence officer was waiting for me. He asked me to accompany him to answer questions. I did so, voluntarily — but afterward I was told that I could not go home. The United States had demanded that local authorities arrest me and five other men. News reports at the time said the United States believed that I was plotting to blow up its embassy in Sarajevo. I had never — for a second — considered this.
The fact that the United States had made a mistake was clear from the beginning. Bosnia’s highest court investigated the American claim, found that there was no evidence against me and ordered my release. But instead, the moment I was released American agents seized me and the five others. We were tied up like animals and flown to Guantánamo, the American naval base in Cuba. I arrived on Jan. 20, 2002.
I still had faith in American justice. I believed my captors would quickly realize their mistake and let me go. But when I would not give the interrogators the answers they wanted — how could I, when I had done nothing wrong? — they became more and more brutal. I was kept awake for many days straight. I was forced to remain in painful positions for hours at a time. These are things I do not want to write about; I want only to forget.
I went on a hunger strike for two years because no one would tell me why I was being imprisoned. Twice each day my captors would shove a tube up my nose, down my throat and into my stomach so they could pour food into me. It was excruciating, but I was innocent and so I kept up my protest.
Conservatives derided the decision as “judicial activism of the highest order”. An article in the Wall Street Journal said:
The Boumediene majority has two hopes for getting away with its brazen power grab. It assumes that we have accepted judicial control over virtually every important policy in our society, from abortion and affirmative action to religion. Boumediene simply adds war to the list. The justices act like we are no longer really at war. Our homeland has not suffered another 9/11 attack for seven years, and our military and intelligence agencies have killed or captured much of al Qaeda’s original leadership. What’s left is on the run, due to the very terrorism policies under judicial attack.
Never mind that the US kidnapped, tortured, and imprisoned a man without evidence, without trial, and without cause. To conservatives, we were to all fall in line with whatever the President demanded, even throwing away the Constitution, because we were “at war”.
Fast forward a couple of years to today. Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, a US citizen of Iranian heritage, was in Iran on a family visit. He was arrested, tried, and sentenced to be executed, the first death sentence given to an American in Iran in over 30 years.
The charge(s)? The Iranians accused him of using his family visit as a cover to spy for the CIA, a charge the US flatly denies.
In this case, the US condemns the charges, saying the Iranians have no evidence and that they’re holding him without cause.
“The Iranian regime has a history of falsely accusing people of being spies, of eliciting forced confessions, and of holding innocent Americans for political reasons,” Vietor said in a statement.
Swiss diplomats, acting on behalf of the United States because Washington and Tehran have no diplomatic relations, have tried unsuccessfully to gain consular access to Hekmati. Because Iran does not recognize Hekmati’s U.S. citizenship, it has refused to grant access.
In no way do the war crimes we’ve committed in Guantanamo and abroad justify what Iran has done. That being said, to be outraged over someone else doing exactly what we have done is the height of hypocrisy.
The “it’s ok when we do it” defense, birthed in moral relativism, is unethical and highly immoral. We reap what we sew, and the seeds for what happened in Iran were sewn a decade ago when the US opened Gitmo.
- Testament of humanitarian aid worker who spent seven years being held and tortured in Gitmo (boingboing.net)
- Guantanamo Bay Today: The Shocking Facts And Figures (huffingtonpost.com)
- A decade of Guantanamo – Aljazeera.com (aljazeera.com)
- Iran Imposes Death Sentence on US Man Accused of Spying – New York Times (nytimes.com)