I hope the first African-American United States president has seen the movie ‘12 Years A Slave’. It’s the story of Solomon Northup, a born-free, educated African-American carpenter and musician who lived in Saratoga, New York.
In 1841, during a trip to Washington DC, Northup was kidnapped by slave traders. He was sold into the slave pens in the nation’s capitol, imprisoned in chains, beaten, and transported by paddle wheel steamer by slave traders to the American south. There he was sold to slave owners and began working as a slave on an American southern plantation. He was savagely beaten and humiliated on the plantation and remained there for 12 years, unable to escape, except by suicide.
Finally, he was able to tell his story to a travelling Canadian builder who was hired to construct a building on the plantation. The Canadian, who was against slavery, at great personal risk, sent a letter to Northup’s friends and business acquaintances in New York describing Northup’s imprisonment as a slave.
One of Northup’s friends travelled from New York to the southern plantation with the papers that showed that Northup was a free man, not a slave, and with the help of the local sheriff, was able, after 12 years, to bring Northup back to New York where he became an abolitionist and helped those attempting to escape slavery.
He sued the Washington, DC slave pen owners, but as a black was not permitted to testify in the Washington, DC courts and his attempt to sue in New York those who sold him to the slave pens was not successful.
I hope the movie reminds President Obama of the past 12 years of another American injustice – that toward prisoners in Guantanamo. Most Guantanamo prisoners were kidnapped for a bounty, beaten, tortured, some water boarded, sexually humiliated and transported from all over the world by extraordinary rendition to a prison in Cuba from which escape was impossible except by suicide.
For years, the names of prisoners were unknown to the world, but finally a navy lawyer, Matthew Diaz, believed all prisoners should be able to have legal defence, at great personal risk, disclosed the names thereby allowing lawyers from around the world to volunteer to be the defence attorneys for the prisoners. Diaz was court-martialed, sentenced to six months in prison and given a dishonourable discharge.
After 12 years, of the 779 prisoners kidnapped and subjected to extraordinary rendition by the United States government, 693, or 89 percent, have been freed because there was no evidence against them. Seventy-nine more prisoners have been cleared for release years ago but are still being held.
Twelve years later, 158 prisoners are still imprisoned in Guantanamo: seven have been convicted by a US military commission of criminal acts against the United States, six are facing trial by US military commission and 46 have been designated for indefinite detention, without charge or trial.
After no releases of cleared prisoners for several years, eight were released in the past three months – four to Algeria, two to Saudi Arabia and two to Sudan.
I hope President Obama remembers that one-half of those remaining in Guantanamo – 79 prisoners – have been cleared for release, and that he will issue an order for them to be released and that he also will finally order the infamous Guantanamo Prison to be closed… 12 years later.