Do we owe anything to the released Guantanamo innocents?

Speaking of rights and remedies, let’s talk about the hundreds of people who have been released from Guantanamo over the years.  No credible judge or court has ever cleared them of the US Government’s allegations that they were “the worst of the worst” or that they “returned to the battle”.  None of them have, so far, been able to get even a declaration that their captors have wronged them — let alone any apologies or damages.  None of the US or foreign personnel who seized these innocents and imprisoned them for years, outside the fundamental protections of US and foreign legal traditions, have suffered anything but the pangs of their own consciences.  The designers of the Guantanamo regime deliberately strategized to escape a legal reckoning, and have so far succeeded.  When there is zero accountability for error, similar errors are likely to recur, harming further innocents, and harming centuries of painstakingly built legal protection cherished by every person who hasn’t yet been thrown into prison without hope, mercy, or reason.  There may be real terrorists in Guantanamo, and we can argue about whether those people deserved the treatment we’ve given them.  But it is undisputed that there are hundreds there who suffered, and yet were and are not terrorists.

What do we as a people owe to the innocent victims of our spasm of rage after 9/11?  An apology.

And we owe them what comes after a heartfelt apology:  restitution, and a commitment to not repeat the error.

My corrupt government refuses to admit error, apologize, or make these people whole.  Canada showed more honor.  But America is not merely our government.  America is a people and a society.  And frequently the American people uphold higher honor and morals than the American government.  The American people can do what their government won’t.

The American private legal profession has stepped forward and ably represented every prisoner in Guantanamo, for free, for years.  They came forward at a time when everyone else was drawing away.  These lawyers are among our proudest patriots.  If we have any remnant of rule of law rather than fiat dictatorship, it is because these people heeded their instinct to rise up in defense of the detainees.  But legal defense is only part of what the victims of Guantanamo need.

Many released former detainees are living in primitive conditions, in countries where they have no friends, no family, and frequently don’t even speak local languages.  Through coordination with their lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights, I have provided university scholarships to a few such detainees.  Universities provide a haven where you can focus your energies on the future rather than the past; where many people are newcomers and foreigners; where your time can profitably be spent in improving the remainder of your life.  Colleges come with social services and opportunities that are much better than sitting at home contemplating your mental illness, or morosely working at a menial job in a culture not your own.  But there are hundreds more detainees who nobody is sponsoring, who could use that apology and that restitution today.

If you or your readers believe that error has been done at Guantanamo, don’t wait for a statesman to show up and fix it.  The generous spirit of American philanthropy can go a long way to salve the wounds that official action has opened.  And it’s cheap.  You, yourself, can afford to support an undergraduate student in a third world country for a few years.  (Even the student who attended the London School of Economics only required a few thousand pounds per year from me.)  Ignore political stalemate.  Bypass quisling judges and spineless orators.  Transcend official secrecy, scumbag DOJ lawyers, and complicity in torture.  You can take a simple personal action to heal the ugliness of Guantanamo.  Donate to a former detainee’s education or living expenses today.

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