Friday, March 14, 2008

Another Act of Evil: Slow Murder at Gitmo

(NOTE: Temporarily blogging here until my regular site ( is freed from a hacker hijack.)

One grows weary, so weary, of plowing through filth, day after day – the unspeakable, blood-soaked, stinking filth of torture, murder, lies and degradation that pours in a relentless, unending stream from the belching pits of the Bush Regime. And let's be clear: we speak here of deliberate evil – not good works gone wrong, not mere "incompetence," not misguided policies or ignorance or even ideological blindness– but fully concious acts of evil which the perpetrators themselves know are evil.

One such act is in the concentration camp in Guanatanamo Bay: the slow, deliberate murder of an innocent man, who is being killed with the collusion of oath-breaking physicians. In an important piece at, Candace Gorman tells the story of Abdul Hamid Al-Ghizzawi, who was forced to flee from his home by American bombing raids in the early days of the attack on Afghanistan, and was then sold to American forces by local bounty hunters in December 2001. He has never been charged with any crime; indeed, one of Bush's own military panels declared that Al-Ghizzawi was not an "enemy combatant." One of the officers on the panel testified, under oath, that the evidence against the purchased prisoner was "garbage." But Al-Ghizzawi has been left to rot in Guantanamo, where he is now dying of liver disease, a condition that was allowed to deteriorate while medical officials helped hide his true condition from American courts. Gorman, who is acting as his attorney, takes up the story:

Military officials claim he has been given proper healthcare. But Al-Ghizzawi appears to have acute liver disease, among other ailments, and the military is allowing his condition to deteriorate without proper diagnosis or treatment, according to a doctor with the International Committee of the Red Cross who has observed Al-Ghizzawi and his medical records at the prison. A leading medical expert who has reviewed Al-Ghizzawi's case agrees with that conclusion, as do I, based on my observations of my client during repeated visits to Guantánamo. Military and government officials have refused to grant me access to my client's medical records.

Al-Ghizzawi, now 45, is a Libyan-born man who had been living quietly in Afghanistan with his Afghan wife. They had a small shop selling honey and spices that they later expanded to a bakery. They have a young daughter, now 6 years old, whom Al-Ghizzawi last saw when she was just a few months old. When the American bombs started to fall in late 2001 on Jalalabad, the city where Al-Ghizzawi lived with his family, he did what most people would do: He fled. He took his wife and infant daughter to his wife's parents' home away from the city. Unfortunately, Al-Ghizzawi was not well known in his in-laws' village. Bounty hunters turned Al-Ghizzawi over to the Northern Alliance in December 2001, who then handed him over to the United States. (Our government offered millions of dollars for captured "murderers and terrorists," and few questions were asked when Arab men were turned over for those bounties.) By March 2002, Al-Ghizzawi was sent to Guantánamo, where he was never charged with a crime or given the opportunity to prove his innocence....

The duration and isolation of his indefinite confinement are appalling enough, but now Al-Ghizzawi appears to be dying of liver disease. Eighteen months ago, in August 2006, I filed an emergency motion with the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., to try to get copies of Al-Ghizzawi's medical records, which the government refused to turn over. Bush administration lawyers submitted an affidavit in response from the then medical director at Guantánamo, Dr. Ronald Sollock, who acknowledged that Al-Ghizzawi had a "history of hepatitis B," and stated that the military had run "routine" tests on Al-Ghizzawi. The results, he said, came back "normal." Sollock also noted in his affidavit that Al-Ghizzawi became infected with tuberculosis while at Guantánamo. This was the first that Al-Ghizzawi had learned of his having a "history of hepatitis B" and of being infected with tuberculosis. But U.S. District Judge Bates denied my motion to gain access to the medical records.

I brought Al-Ghizzawi's ill health to the attention of the International Committee for the Red Cross. Representatives of the ICRC who are granted access to Guantánamo and its population have watched the medical deterioration of some prisoners there, but they are apparently helpless to do anything to stop it. One ICRC doctor, expressing anger and frustration, told me that he had sought healthcare for Al-Ghizzawi after looking at his test results from the military, but said that military officials had ignored him. He also told me he believed that Sollock's affidavit appeared to have been written to conceal or downplay Al-Ghizzawi's test results, rather than adequately explain them to the court.

When I visited Al-Ghizzawi last October, he told me that a military doctor had finally conceded that he had a severe liver infection. According to Al-Ghizzawi, the doctor asked to do a liver biopsy, but also told Al-Ghizzawi that the procedure was dangerous and could damage his organs. (The military has denied that anyone spoke to Al-Ghizzawi of such a risk.) Al-Ghizzawi declined the biopsy, and the medical staff has apparently failed to treat his liver infection. But according to Dr. Juerg Reichen, a leading expert on liver disease who has reviewed Al-Ghizzawi's case, a biopsy would not have been necessary to diagnose and treat him properly.

I filed another emergency motion on my client's behalf in February. Judge Bates then ordered the government to update him on Al-Ghizzawi's health, and in mid-February the government submitted an affidavit from the new medical director at Guantánamo, Dr. Bruce Meneley, a dermatologist by specialty. In that Feb. 15 affidavit, Meneley admitted that tests were performed on Al-Ghizzawi as far back as November 2006 -- shortly after the judge had denied my initial request for medical records -- showing that Al-Ghizzawi's liver was not "normal" as Sollock had testified in October 2006.

So why did military doctors, after learning of Al-Ghizzawi's liver problems in fall 2006, fail to start treating him properly, and instead move this ill man to the isolation of Camp 6? The answers to these questions remain unknown. But Reichen, the expert on liver disease, said in an affidavit submitted to the court on Feb. 19, "It is evident that [military doctors at Guantánamo] withhold information without any military value, misinterpret it and try to withhold treatment from Mr. Al-Ghizzawi."

I continue to visit with Al-Ghizzawi every other month for two days at a time, and monitor his dying. In our meetings we talk about his legal case and his family, but mostly we discuss his deteriorating health. Al-Ghizzawi has become weaker and weaker and at times he is barely able to talk...With his own death looming, Al-Ghizzawi has given me his last will and testament and instructions for the disposition of his remains. I don't have the heart to tell him that one simple request will almost certainly never be granted by our military: to have his remains tested to see exactly what killed him, so that if such testing does confirm a history of hepatitis B, his wife and daughter can be tested to ensure their health is not compromised by this same disease.
Why was Al-Ghizzawi not freed long ago, when it was first determined that he was not an "enemy combatant," and therefore, even under the ludicrous legal theories of the Bush gulag, should not have been subject to indefinite detention without charge or trial? Perhaps a clue can be found in the words of one of the minions most directly responsible for imposing Bush's perverse lust for torture: William J. Haynes II, the general counsel of the Defense Department. At Harper's, Scott Horton references the accounts given by Col. Morris Davis, the former chief military prosecutor in Guantánamo, of his conversations with Haynes. As noted in the Nation:

“[Haynes] said these trials will be the Nuremberg of our time,” recalled Davis, referring to the Nazi tribunals in 1945, considered the model of procedural rights in the prosecution of war crimes. In response, Davis said he noted that at Nuremberg there had been some acquittals, something that had lent great credibility to the proceedings.

“I said to him that if we come up short and there are some acquittals in our cases, it will at least validate the process,” Davis continued. “At which point, [Haynes’s] eyes got wide and he said, ‘Wait a minute, we can’t have acquittals. If we’ve been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off? We can’t have acquittals, we’ve got to have convictions.’”
"If we've been holding these guys for so long, how can we explain letting them get off?" This has been the crux of the matter for a long time concerning the many prisoners in Guantanamo who are innocent of any wrong-doing. (And it should be noted that all of the prisoners at Guantanamo are being held under an illegal and unjust system, backed up by force and torture -- a system that is a complete repudiation of the "civilized values" that the Terror War purports to defend.) What indeed can the Bush Regime -- and its willing executioners in Congress, including the Democratic "opposition," who have done nothing to shut down this shameful enterprise -- do with all these innocent people they've held captive for so long? It would be too embarrassing to admit that their incarceration was a mistake -- much less the crime that it undoubtedly is. And while some prisoners have been released from time to time -- usually under a cloud, often rendered into custody elsewhere -- it is clear that the Bush Regime's Gitmo endgame strategy is simple: put some of the captives on trial in the kangaroo court of rigged "military tribunals, and leave others, like Al-Ghizzawi, to rot and die in darkness, in silence, forgotten by the world.