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Guantánamo's Frequent Flyer Program

Jamil Dakwar,
Director, ACLU Human Rights Program
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June 20, 2008

Last week's Supreme Court rebuke of the Bush administration's attempt to preserve Guantánamo as a lawless place, a place where human beings are less worthy of protection under U.S. law than iguanas, brought newfound hope that this travesty of justice would finally come to an end. Unfortunately, this was not the case, as this week the military commission hearings resumed in what appears to be a signal from the Pentagon that it is business as usual at Guantánamo. It was during these hearings that we learned more about Guantánamo's frequent flyer program.

No, this program is not the airline rewards program for the very limited number of commercial flights to Guantánamo, the place chosen by the Bush administration to evade the Constitution and ignore international law. It is a program whereby detainees are constantly and systematically moved from cell to cell to disrupt their ability to sleep. This program is a form of mental torture in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution, the Torture Act, the War Crimes Act, and the U.N. Convention Against Torture.

There were two frequent flyer programs employed at Guantánamo under which prisoners were systematically deprived of sleep. As it turns out, there were official and unofficial frequent flyer programs. The official program (PDF) was authorized to be used against prisoners at Guantánamo (PDF) who were believed to have intelligence information. This program was reportedly eliminated in March 2004. The unofficial program was used as a disciplinary method by guards and military personnel at Guantánamo.

The unofficial frequent flyer program was the focus of one of many motions filed and argued yesterday at Mohammed Jawad's military commission. Mr. Jawad is an Afghan who was a minor when he was captured in December 2002 after allegedly throwing a grenade that injured two U.S. soldiers and an Afghan interpreter. Mr. Jawad arrived at Guantánamo in January 2003 and despite his status as a minor, the fact that the U.S. government has never made any connection between Mr. Jawad and either al Qaeda or the Taliban, and a statement by the former Commanding General of Joint Task Force-Guantánamo, Maj. Gen. Jay W. Hood (who stopped the official frequent flyer program), that Mr. Jawad was of no intelligence value, Mr. Jawad remains at Guantánamo and has been subject to torture, including the frequent flyer program. Referring to the program, Mr. Jawad stated during his hearing yesterday that "day and night they were shifting me from one place to another…nobody answered why they were giving me this punishment." Mr. Jawad's attorney, Major David J. R. Frakt, recounting Mr. Jawad's experience with the frequent flyer program in May 2004, stated yesterday that over the course of 14 days Mr. Jawad was moved to a different cell 112 times, each time he was shackled and unshackled. Major Frakt argued late into the night yesterday on a motion to dismiss the charges against his client due to the use of torture. He gave an historic closing argument that should be taught in every military academy across the country. What makes this abuse of Mr. Jawad's basic human right to be free from torture even more indefensible is that on Christmas Day 2003, Mr. Jawad attempted suicide at Guantánamo. With full knowledge of the poor state of Mr. Jawad's mental health, the U.S. personnel carried out these horrific acts.

Beyond the details of specific torture techniques employed at Guantánamo, this week also brought about new revelations as to where the torture orders originated. We learned of new evidence as to the complicity of high ranking officials, now commonly referred to as Bush's "torture team", and of the authorization of torture and other abusive techniques. In addition, we learned that Bush's "torture team" ignored fierce objections and reservations from military lawyers across the armed services.

I will write again, and in more detail, about yesterday's 14 hours of hearings at the military commission, including the first appearance as a witness of Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, the Legal Advisor to the Convening Authority in the Department of Defense Office of Military Commissions. Brig. Gen. Hartmann testified on the motion to dismiss on basis of unlawful command influence. These hearings, which I believe will not withstand constitutional scrutiny after the Supreme Court's decision last week, have long been tainted and have lost all legitimacy in the eyes of the World.

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