The stain on America’s collective soul that will not wash away

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Peter Jan Honigsberg Photo courtesy of University of San francisco Law School

Guantanamo Bay has become a name synonymous with torture and lawlessness as years after the so-called “War on Terror” began, information about operations in this U.S.-controlled section of Cuba have slowly leaked out. In an astounding new book titled “A Place Outside the Law: Forgotten Voices from Guantanamo,” University of San Francisco law professor Peter Jan Honigsberg documents the firsthand accounts of 52 of the 780 detainees held at Guantanamo Bay by U.S. authorities. 

On the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” Honigsberg, who was only allowed to interview former detainees, tells Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer some of the stories of these men who were “purchased” by the U.S. government, and detained without charges or a trial. 

“The way this happened was after the attacks on 9/11, America dropped flyers over Afghanistan that said, ‘Bring us Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters and we'll pay you,’” the law professor explains. 

“We paid three to five thousand dollars a person,” he goes on. “One man told us he was sold for $30,000. We purchased a lot of the people in Guantanamo [and] we didn't really care so much about who they were; we just took them.”

One of the more surprising revelations Honigsberg makes to Scheer is that there were 22 Uyghurs, a persecuted Muslim minority living in China, detained at Guantanamo Bay. The fact highlights the hypocrisy of a West that criticizes Chinese mistreatment of the minority, and yet has itself participated in their oppression. All of this lawless oppression, which took place in Cuba where American officials seemed to believe they could get away with little to no scrutiny, forms part of a larger message the U.S. wanted to send in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, according to Scheer. 

“The [Uyghurs, like all other Guantanamo Bay detainees] were needed for this movie. For this propaganda,” says Scheer. “That really is what you're talking about. You round up these people, they are supposed to be Muslims, they are not white. You call them terrorists. You keep them locked up for 12 years so you can tell the American people we got the bad guys, we got them in there. And you don't want a trial, because then it'll become very obvious that you don't have ‘em; you got people you picked up to be extras in your horror film.” 

As of May, 2018, it was estimated that 40 people are still detained in Guantanamo Bay, a site that remains in operation to this day despite promises from the Obama Administration that it would be shut down. As Honigsberg points out, however, it is not just the detainees that have been cruelly and indelibly impacted by U.S. actions on the site. It is also the Americans that took part in the torture, and the rest of us who are complicit in this harrowing chapter in American history that we have not even begun to make amends for. 

In the summer of 2020, several of the interviews with former detainees will be aired on television for all to bear witness to. In the mean time, listen to the painful, all-important conversation between Honigsberg and Scheer as they discuss the truly heinous acts the U.S. government has carried out in Guantanamo Bay in our name.



Joshua Scheer