We were heartened to hear of North Korea’s release of Matthew Miller and Kenneth Bae, the last two Americans held there, and fervently hope they can swiftly and fully recover from their unimaginable ordeals. Miller, a tour guide, was tried and convicted on charges of committing “hostile acts” against the North Korean government, then sentenced in September to six years hard labor. Bae, a missionary, was given a 15-year sentence after being convicted on charges of “antigovernment activities.”
North Korea’s human rights violations are notorious: a 2014 report by the U.N. found a litany of horrors, including torture, starvation, and imprisonment for “questioning the system or trying to escape it.” A senior Obama administration official who would only speak to the press anonymously said the prisoner release “does not mean a change in U.S. posture regarding North Korea’s disputed nuclear program, and the North still must show it is serious and ready to abide by commitments toward denuclearization and improved human rights.”
Damn right, anonymous senior Obama administration official! Way to scold that nasty Kim Jong Un, and tell him what’s what.
Of the 149 prisoners remaining in US custody at Guantánamo Bay, 78 of them have been cleared for release. Defense and intelligence officials have determined that these men pose no threat to national security. They have never been charged with a crime, much less tried and convicted of one. Many have been imprisoned for more than a decade. They are not going anywhere anytime soon.
Reports from a variety of sources confirm “unremitting” psychological abuse at Guantánamo, resulting in extraordinary mental health damage to detainees. Solitary
confinement for long periods (more than a year, for some), long-term exposure to extremely cold temperatures, weeks or months of sleep deprivation and threats of extradition for torture have resulted in hundreds if not thousands of suicide attempts and other forms of self-harm. Then there is the physical abuse: slamming heads into floors and walls, brutal punishment beatings based on pretexts, permanently debilitating medical neglect and forced unnecessary medical procedures including amputations, routine sexual assault by interrogators, rape and rape threats by guards, painful short-shackling and stress positions, head-shaving (one prisoner was left with a cross-shaped patch of hair), forced nudity, pepper spraying, tear gassing, and religious and cultural abuse, such as being wrapped in Israeli flags during interrogations. In fact, the sadistic torture, degradation and abusive interrogation techniques you may recall from Abu Ghraib were first developed and implemented at Guantánamo before they were unleashed in Iraq. And as horrifying as all of that is, many Gitmo prisoners report that their treatment in US custody before their arrival was worse: waterboarding, electric shocks, hanging by the hands from hooks for days, being spit on and pissed on. And on and on.
It is worth remembering that at least half of those detained at Guantánamo were probably completely innocent, and that our government has always known this. Since 2002, out of hundreds of Gitmo prisoners only three have been tried and convicted. Another seven will eventually face military tribunals—assuming they live that long. Then there are the 38 subject to “indefinite detainment.” They have never been convicted or even charged with any crime, but our human-rights-promoting government has decided not to ever let them out anyway. And all of this for the low, low price of an average $2.7 million per prisoner per year, to the tune of over $5 billion since prisoners began arriving in 2002.
The UN, just as it recently did with North Korea, has issued scathing reports condemning the inhumane treatment of prisoners in US custody, in knowing and flagrant violation of both US law and long-standing international treaties to which the US is bound as a signatory. Strangely, though, I could not find a single news story in any mainstream media since the release of Bae and Miller this weekend that contains the phrases “Guantanamo Bay” and “North Korea.” (I did get a hit on this, though, which is pretty cool.)
So I guess the really important message to take from recent news coverage is that North Korea sure is terrible, and we can all feel superior to North Korea.
Have a nice day.