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Neil Durkin

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Is the Future Still Orange at Guantánamo?

Posted: 14/01/2013 00:00

It could be I'm unusually sensitive to certain colours. But, for instance, I strongly dislike turquoise. The same with purple. Ghastly. Also, generally, orange.

Hmm. While I've done well in avoiding the first two (including painting over the standard-issue turquoise window frames in my flat), a particularly lurid orange has insinuated itself into my life during the last few years. Yes - the eyeball-bruising orange of the Guantánamo jumpsuits.

Call it to mind. Camp X-Ray. Those first, disconcerting images beamed back from Cuba in January 2002. Chained figures crouching in the channel between two wire-mesh fences, and... those jumpsuits, jarringly bright-orange. I don't know the exact shade of orange involved, but it's somehow 'over-ripe', almost putrid. Sure, my distaste is no doubt... er, coloured by a deep-seated opposition to the behaviour of the US authorities in this context. But still. This is a vile colour.

Okay, stop me before I start ranting. But there's a serious side to this. For one thing we're talking about an instantly recognisable clothing item/image from one of the most notorious detention centres on the planet. Given the Pentagon's heavy PR-ing of the camp in its early days, you can only assume the US Department of Defense wanted to link this image and the phrase "enemy combatant" in the public mind (or at least large parts of the US public mind).

As it happens, the orange jumpsuits are generally worn only by 'non-compliant' Guantánamo detainees. 'Compliant' detainees are put into white jumpsuits. The 'compliance' system seems to be key to the way the camp is run. As Andy Worthington explains, it determines, for example, whether a detainee is put in Camp Six (with communal facilities) or, potentially in a disciplinary block like Camp Five Echo (with small lock-down isolation cells, similar to those in mainland US "supermax" prisons).

Compliance is an interesting notion here. Remember, we're talking about 166 detainees being held in defiance of international law. The vast majority are un-charged and untried. Their detentions are unlawful. (For more on Guantánamo's illegality - and President Obama's broken promise over closing it - see Kate Allen's article here, and also more background here). In short, what is there to be compliant with?

Probably the best-known 'non-compliant' detainee is Shaker Aamer, the 44-year-old former UK resident. I've blogged about him numerous times (see here and here), sadly enough because his case seems all but 'frozen', with the years going by and nothing being done to bring him to trial or to release him. Aamer has reportedly been an unofficial 'spokesperson' for other detainees, airing grievances and taking part in hunger strikes. For this he's been put in solitary confinement and, allegedly, assaulted by the guards. His US lawyer has said he thinks his client was regularly beaten by the guards during his many and lengthy spells in solitary confinement, and through his UK lawyers Aamer himself alleges that the beatings were systematic in Camp Five. In one spell between 3 December 2011 and 27 January 2012, he claims to have been beaten up every day by guards dressed in black body armour.

There's now a new Amnesty petition calling on the US authorities to either charge or release Aamer and the other Guantánamo detainees.

This latest effort to get justice for Shaker and to close down the camp altogether comes 11 years to the day after we first saw the Guantánamo orange. Then it was just the latest bizarre twist in the 'war on terror'. Few people imagined we'd still be trying to re-establish basic human rights provisions for the GITMO detainees more than a decade later.

Needless to say, Guantánamo is a terrible indictment of the USA's failure to stick to human rights principles in combatting global terrorism. It's done a huge disservice to the families and victims of the vicious 9/11 attacks and other atrocities. It's seriously damaged the USA's standing in the world. And of course it's wreaked havoc with the lives of hundreds of detainees who deserve due process of law not indefinite detention at a military base in the Caribbean.

Final thought: what might lie ahead for this misbegotten place and its long-suffering inhabitants? To coin a phrase, is the future of Guantánamo still orange....?

 
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