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Sherwood Ross: Gitmo Prisoners Ruled "Non-Persons"

D.C. Appellate Court Holds Gitmo Prisoners Are "Non-Persons" And Throws Out Their Suit

By Sherwood Ross

It's hard to believe, but the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., just ruled three Muslim British humanitarian workers and a religious pilgrim captured in Afghanistan and detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, prison, were non-persons and, therefore, torturing them was legal!

A law suit brought by the four Muslims, (since freed and repatriated to England,) was tossed out January 11th by the D.C. court, a big victory for 11 present and former Pentagon officials, including ex-Defense boss Donald Rumsfeld. The dismissal occurred on the sixth anniversary of the opening of "Gitmo", which today houses 275 inmates, down from its peak of 800 --- not one of whom has had a trial in a U.S. Federal court.

In a display of arrogance of the sort that is coming to typify this "worst generation" of Americans under President George Bush, the Appeals Court held the Pentagon can do as it pleases to aliens held outside U.S. borders. They have no rights. To her credit, dissenting judge Janice Rogers Brown said the decision "leaves us with the unfortunate and quite dubious distinction of being the only court to declare those held at Guantanamo are not 'person(s)."

Circuit Judge Karen LeCraft Henderson actually wrote in her main opinion: "It was foreseeable that conduct that would ordinarily be indisputably 'seriously criminal' would be implemented by military officials responsible for detaining and interrogating suspected enemy combatants." Excuse me, but "seriously criminal" conduct is just that, "seriously criminal," foreseeable or not. Also, please notice her reference to "suspected enemy combatants"--- an admission the men never received due process. They were never charged. They were never tried. They were never convicted. But how they were punished!

And, of course, that's just what's been happening to thousands of other human beings caught in the terror grip of the Bush regime in prisons across the Middle East. As former President Jimmy Carter has written, even boys have been imprisoned and tortured.

"The (Gitmo) detainees allege that they were held in stress positions, interrogated for sessions lasting 24 hours, intimidated with dogs and isolated in darkness, and that their beards were shaved," wrote Greg Gordon of McClatchy newspapers in The Miami Herald of January 12th. And former Gitmo chaplain James Yee has testified guards scream at the prisoners, "Satan is your god now, not Allah!" and kick their Korans around the floor.

And who were these dangerous men? According to McClatchy, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed were traveling to Afghanistan "to provide humanitarian relief" but were seized by a Uzbek warlord and sold to U.S. troops for bounty. The three were unarmed and protested they never engaged in combat against the U.S.

The fourth man, Jamal al Harith, said he was planning to attend a religious retreat in Pakistan, but his truck was hijacked and he was jailed by the Taliban. When the Taliban fell after the U.S.-led invasion he was sent to Gitmo. So much for a religious pilgrim and three humanitarian aid workers! Doesn't this sound to you like dragnet arrests? Could it be they got no trial because the U.S. knew all along they were innocent and needed "terrorists" to fill its prisons? According to Michael Ratner, president of the Center For Constitutional Rights, the Bush regime has imprisoned men in its Cuban enclave because it believes "no court or anybody can go to Gitmo, has jurisdiction over it or can visit it."

After being held two years, the four Muslims were repatriated to Britain in 2004 and quickly freed. Their lawyer, Eric Lewis, of Washington, D.C., said the Pentagon violated the Geneva Conventions, religious freedom laws, and the U.S. Constitution. He'll appeal.

Judge Henderson's decision was handed down the same day Amnesty International(AI) sponsored nation-wide protests that drew thousands of people into the streets to urge the closing of Guantanamo. See if any major presidential candidate, however, utters a word of sympathy for the thousands of falsely imprisoned, illegally-held Muslims! Meanwhile, President Bush is visiting his Middle East surrogate states prating about "democracy" when the truth of his brutality and butchery dogs him like a specter the whole world can see. Beware the society whose leaders and judges claim some human beings are "non-persons"!


(Sherwood Ross writes for newspapers and magazines. Reach him at

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