Guantanamo Bay widens divide between United States and Muslims

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Photo by Wah-Hui Ong
Civil liberties lawyer Joseph Margulies traces arguments on U.S. detention policies in his new book “Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power.”

BY MAX RINGSGWANDL

WASHINGTON, Nov. 29 – The Guantanamo Bay military prison has become a symbol for U.S. imperialism and feeds anti-American sentiment in the moderate Muslim world, according to author and law professor Joseph Margulies.

It’s no longer about the 450 people that are held in the prison, but about what it stands for: humiliating interrogation methods, Margulies said.

The fact that now only Arab and Muslim suspects — with the exception of one Russian — are imprisoned produces rage in the Muslim world, Margulies said. All European nationals have been freed, he said.

“The concern you have is for the secular Muslims in places like Turkey who would otherwise be our allies,” Margulies said, “Guantanamo’s endurance creates an impetus to push them towards extremism.

“Those are the people that fuel the next 9/11,” he said.

Margulies spoke Wednesday at the National Press Club to publicize the release of his new book, “Guantanamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power.” Margulies was lead counsel in Rasul v. Bush, in which the Supreme Court ruled that Guantanamo detainees are entitled to judicial review. He is an attorney with the MacArthur Justice Center and a professor at Northwestern University Law School.

The event was organized by The Constitution Project, a liberal think tank that promotes constitutional safeguards.

Margulies was joined by retired Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a Constitutional Project member who said the reputation of the United States overseas is now the lowest in history. The abuse of prisoners in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib has damaged the country’s reputation, he said.

“Our strategic power and leverage in the Middle East right now is rock bottom,” he said.

Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, said the prisoner abuse is a result of failure at the highest political level.

Margulies said the Bush administration’s detention policy expanded intelligence-gathering process implemented after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The White House, he said, thought interrogations under the Geneva Conventions wouldn’t produce good enough results.

“The administration perceives 9/11 to be an intelligence failure,” he said. As a result, the administration focused on intelligence to avoid future attacks and mobilized the powers of the commander in chief to respond to the “acts of war,” he said.

“In late 2001, early 2002, between the Department of Defense and the CIA, they developed an interrogation model of creating an environment that they believe would allow them to extract this information that they thought was necessary to keep us safe,” he said.

Margulies said the administration used several techniques to create an environment of fear and disorientation. For example, orange uniforms are worn by prisoners who are condemned to die in many Muslim countries, he said, so the orange uniforms prisoners in Guantanamo had to wear implied to them that they were going to be executed.

“They were terrified,” he said.

Margulies questioned the White House assumption that only dangerous people with useful information were brought to Guantanamo.

Within weeks of the creation of the detainee prison, interrogators knew that many of the prisoners had little or no intelligence value, Margulies said. The facility housed as many as 800 detainees at the time, he said.

The then-chief of interrogation, Major Gen. Michael Dunlavey, flew to Afghanistan — the origin of most prisoners — to complain that the prison was filling up with “Mickey Mouse prisoners,” Margulies said.

The U.S. bounty system may have spurred unfounded accusations of individuals having connections to the Taliban or al-Qaida, Margulies said. The U.S. government placed $5,000 bounties on Taliban members and $25,000 bounties on al-Qaida members, he said.

Margulies said he doesn’t expect the new Democrat-controlled Congress to make dramatic changes in detention policy partly because the president would likely veto such changes.

“I think you’ll get, finally, congressional oversight,” he said. “And that’s something that was sort of missing.”

Observer reporter Wah-Hui Ong contributed to this report.

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