Guantanamo inmates in Lithuania - is this country really willing and ready to help?

Article published on Feb. 12, 2009
community published
Article published on Feb. 12, 2009
This islamophobic society and its media would be waiting in thrill for the former Guantanamo detainees to misbehave. I'm still trembling with rage when I think about what I heard during yesterday's discussion on the prospect of transferring some of the Guantanamo to Lithuania.
On one hand, there are the humanitarian arguments that Lithuania, along with other EU countries, could and should try to assist in helping the inmates of the 21st century concentration camp to get back to +- normal life. On the other hand, it is obvious that the statement by the Lithuanian government was a diplomatic show-off, and, as my ex-professor Egdunas Račius says, an attempt to be "more American than the Americans themselves".

So, the story is, Lithuanian politicians started to squeak on the international level that they would be ready to stretch a helping hand to the US government in liquidating the camp and transfer some of the inmates to the country, way before the European Parliament adopted a resolution, vaguely calling on the member states to accept some of the detainees into their territory.

The politicians falsely assume that this will be a transfer of prisoners, who will live isolated (see my post on Lukiškės for the situation of Lithuanian prisons). The media somehow did not question this. When asked about the transfer, a famous lawyer has said that the further imprisonment of the Guantanamo detainees would lead to numerous cases against Lithuania according to international law. Lithuania, unlike the US, has ratified the important human rights conventions and has the legal obligations resulting from them. However, the discussion is entirely void altogether. The truth is, the inmates may be transferred NOT to be imprisoned again.

Most of them have spent years without any trial, legal defense, nor any judicial proceedings. Since the charges have to be submitted "within a reasonable period", and the presumption of innocence is valid everywhere, the detainees have to be released unless their guilt is proved. According to the expert of international law Dainius Žalimas, who was giving a speech at yesterday's discussion, the only fair and legitimate solution is the immediate release of the detainees, unless evidence of their guild would be present and sufficient to take them to court. However, as you probably know, many of the inmates cannot go back to their countries of origin due to the risk of torture and persecution. Although their involvement in terrorism cannot be proved, they were caught in certain circles or informed against by adverse tribes. This may be enough for their countries of origin to declare them criminals or, probably, in the case of China, - enemies of the people :} There have been similar stories in the Soviet history, when it was enough that neighbours inform against somebody, claiming that he or she is a bourgeois or has connections with "enemies", and the entire family would be exiled to Siberia. Thus, in their home countries these people are likely to face torture and persecution. By the way, China has already sent a note requiring Lithuania not to accept the Guantanamo inmates with Chinese citizenship, i.e. the members of the Uighur national minority (see what photos the journalist chose to create a fearful atmosphere and implicitly express her opinion on the detainees).

Several points have to be taken into account. First of all, people cannot be "imported". They have to express a will to be relocated to Lithuania. In that case they can apply for asylum or refugee status following the general procedure. However, have the politicians ever thought about what resources it would claim? These people have suffered torture, their illnesses and injuries have been ignored, which resulted in amputation of limbs and more serious diseases, some of them cannot read and write and probably don't speak any foreign language. Translators, psychologists, doctors, special rehabilitation and social integration programmes would be necessary. I (as well as every person who ever thinks and analyses) can imagine the frontpage of one of the national dailies, claiming that, while the country is convulsing with the financial and fiscal crisis, and money is lacking for the treatment of children's cancer, the government spends a few million LTL for creating special integration programmes for citizens of "rogue states", who might even (alas!) potentially be involved with some terrorist groups. Also, this islamophobic society and its media would be waiting in thrill for the former Guantanamo detainees to misbehave. The almost openly islamophobic "Lietuvos rytas" (for examples (didn't have time to look for many), see this, this and this - sorry for making an advertisement for bad media, but this is anthropologically interesting), the biggest national daily, among others, has prepared a fertile soil for the "we knew it!" reaction if anything happens. And something would probably happen - it would be naive to believe that the violent groups in the population would not seek to challenge these people for a fight.

However, as I've seen in one interesting exhibition at the Forum for living history in Stockholm, the Swedish society also did not approve the governments openness to all those escaping the Nazi regime. If the alternative is leaving people to be tortured, a lame Lithuanian rehabilitation and integration programme would be better than nothing. Yet, I'm afraid that the government has announced its will to help the US to dispose the responsibility, and will try to delay the transfer for as long as possible, hoping that Sweden or Germany would follow in offering help and, obviously, the detainees would choose a richer country.