January 11th marked the 12th anniversary of the detention centre based within the US Naval base on the island of Cuba, but unlike most anniversaries it was certainly not a time for joyous frivolities and celebration. Guantánamo Bay ‘detainment and interrogation facility’ represents what many would agree to be the worst violations of human rights by a democratic state in recent history. The United States of America, the great democracy, who fought against British colonial rule in order to gain their freedom and created a democracy, a free state, where citizens have the vote and human rights and civil liberties. The very same United States which stands for FREEDOM for the majority of its citizens, committing such awful atrocities on their own doorstep. By Kaytie McFadden.
The fact that this facility is still open 5 years after the inauguration of President Obama, who promised to close the Guantánamo bay facility as one of his manifesto pledges, is a travesty in itself. In order to understand the complications which have been preventing the efforts to close Gitmo, one must understand the circumstances of its origins.
George W. Bush started using the naval base to house suspected members of Al-Qaeda shortly after declaring his ‘War on Terror’. Before sending people there, he first ensured (through consultations with his legal advisors) that it was outside the legal jurisdiction of the US, and declared that inmates would not be covered by the Geneva Convention. The Geneva Convention states the treaties and protocols for both international law and the humanitarian treatment of the victims of war. It is apparent that George W. Bush believes that suspected terrorists do not deserve human rights.
Upon arrival at Guantánamo Bay, it has been reported that detainees are told by US military intelligence officers: “You are in a place where there is no law – we are the law.”
There have been many reports of inmates detained within the facility being abused in many ways. During November 2002, an FBI agent reported that a detainee had been in solitary confinement for three months, with his cell perpetually flooded with light. By the end of November, the detainee was hearing voices, speaking to invisible people and spending hours crouched in the corner of his cell underneath a sheet. Although three months sounds like a ridiculously long period of time, in fact there have been Guantánamo prisoners who have been held in solitary confinement for over a year, and one inmate, Othman Abdulraheem Mohammad, lived under florescent lights 24 hours a day for three years.
This is pure psychological torture, and according to the CIA’s KUBARK manual: “such techniques are able to induce regression, psychic disintegration, and feelings of helplessness that lower prisoners’ defences, goals which are consistent with the manipulation of the torture victim”. Essentially, the CIA encourage psychological torture as a method of lowering a suspect’s defences with the aim of extracting information.
On one occasion, Donald Rumsfeld, who was the Secretary of Defence at the time, gave his approval to keeping a detainee sleep deprived for 50 days, during which time the prisoner was allowed to sleep for no more than four hours per day, between 7am and 11am.
There have also been reports of flashing strobe lights on for hours at a time and extremely loud music or white noise being played through six speakers arranged close to the detainee’s head for approximately 12 hours, whilst he was shackled to the floor by his hands and feet.
Sami Al-Laithi was an Arabic and English teacher at Kabul University. The following is an account of his physical torture in Guantánamo Bay as published by the Centre for Constitutional Rights in their 2006 report on the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay:
‘Mr Al-Laithi is not, and never has been, an Islamic extremist… He opposed the Taliban, because he believes in democracy, freedom, and open elections… Though a healthy man when taken into U.S. Custody, Mr Al-Laithi is now confined to a wheelchair with two broken vertebrae. He attributed his current infirmity to severe beatings that he received soon after arriving at GTMO. “Once they stomped my back,” Al-Laithi wrote [in an affidavit filed recently with the district court], “an MP [military police] threw me on the floor, and they lifted me up and slammed me back down. A doctor said I have two broken vertebrae and I risk being paralyzed if the spinal cord is injured more.’
So, psychological torture and physical torture so far. There are also widely documented reports of waterboarding, rape and sexual abuse including smearing men with fake menstrual blood, religious humiliation and interference with religious practices, the withholding of medical care and the giving of unnecessary medical care such as the amputation of limbs. Being detained within Guantánamo Bay and being subjected to this sort of treatment, it is no wonder that in the first year and a half of its opening, eighteen individuals attempted suicide a total of 28 times. In 2003, there were 350 ‘acts of self-harm’ including 120 attempted suicides by hanging. In August 2003, 23 prisoners attempted a mass suicide. Since the mass suicide, attempted suicide attempts have become even more frequent.
The behaviour of the guards at Guantánamo Bay is obviously out of control – but seen as acceptable to them, so either approved or allowed to happen by someone higher up than them. This is illustrated below:
‘The force used by the IRF [the specially trained ‘Immediate Reaction Force’- mainly in charge of the torture] is illustrated by an injury sustained by an American soldier who was ordered to act as a prisoner in a “training” exercise. Because the guards believed they were restraining an actual prisoner, not a U.S. soldier, they used the force regularly used against prisoners, slamming the soldier’s head into the floor and grinding his temple into the steel. He suffered a traumatic brain injury and now has epilepsy, with up to 12 seizures a day. The U.S. military reports that the video of this episode is “missing”.’
So what must one do to be taken to Guantánamo Bay? Well, you must be classed as an ‘enemy combatant’. Named after Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defence between 2001-5, the Wolfowitz definition of an enemy combatant is very vague:
“an individual who was part of or supporting Taliban or al Qaeda forces, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the U.S. or its -coalition partners. This includes any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy armed forces.”
Under this definition, it is surprisingly easy to be categorised as an enemy combatant, in fact, before a federal judge, the U.S. government conceded that, under the Wolfowitz definition, a “little old lady in Switzerland” could be held as an enemy combatant if she – unknowingly – donated funds to a charity that funnel money to Al Qaeda.
Of course, it is not so easy to get out as it is to get in, regardless of innocence or guilt.
“Of the 550 [detainees] that we have, I would say most of them, the majority of them, will either be released or transferred to their own countries . . . Most of these guys weren’t fighting. They were running.” – Brigadier General Martin Lucenti
Although 750-800 men have been detained in Guantánamo Bay since its opening in 2002, only two have faced trial so far. There are currently 171 prisoners remaining, a large proportion of whom have been cleared for release, but are being prevented due to bureaucratic procedures. Shaker Aamer is one such detainee. He is a British man who has never been charged with a crime, and yet has been confined in Guantánamo Bay since 2002. He was declared as innocent and cleared for release in 2007, and again by Obama’s administration in 2009 but due to political squabbling in the US, he is still being held there, whilst accepted as innocent, in that hell-hole.
Many believe that Shaker is being held in an attempt to keep control over what he says about the treatment of prisoners there. He has fought hard throughout his detainment for fairer treatment of inmates and has witnessed many atrocities whilst in GTMO. According to a former Guantanámo detainee “He was always forward, he would translate for people, he’d fight for them, and if he had any problems in the block he’d shout at the guards… until he would get you your rights. And that’s why he’s still in prison… because he’s very outspoken, a very intelligent person, somebody who would fight for somebody else’s rights.” He is outwardly critical of the acts of the U.S government – in an article published by the Guardian which Shaker dictated to his lawyer, he said of the Americans: “when they kill a small child with a drone missile in Pakistan, or when they lock people up without trial in Guantánamo Bay. These actions are very unwise, too. They anger people who might before have been reasonable, so that more of them turn to extremism. They feed terrorism, just as once the denial of legal rights to those suspected of being Irish terrorists drew disaffected people to the IRA banner.” His lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith said that as Shaker is so eloquent and outspoken about the atrocities committed within Guantánamo bay he is viewed as a threat by the US, as he is an individual who can very eloquently criticise the nightmares which happened there.
Obama declared that he would close the prison within one year of reaching office. As he was inaugurated into the office of the President in January 2009, Guantánamo Bay should have been closed down two years ago. His plan was initially that it would close on 22nd January 2010, and ordered that the prisoner’s files should be examined in order to decide whether they should go on trial or not. However, there were no comprehensive files, and so compiling the evidence would be time consuming. Work then started on accumulating the evidence necessary to trial detainees. The Final Report released internally on January 22nd, 2010 by the Guantánamo Review Task Force (but only publically released May 28th 2010) recommended the release of 126 detainees to their home state, 36 to be prosecuted in court, either federal or military, and 48 to be held indefinitely under the laws of war, although bear in mind that they weren’t originally detained in accordance with the laws of war or treated in accordance with them. However, on January 7th 2011 Obama signed a bill (the Defence Authorisation Bill) which prevents the transfer of Guantánamo detainees, and therefore prevents the closure of the prison. Obama’s further move of adding his signature and approval to the ‘National Defence Authorisation Act for Fiscal Year 2012’ on December 31st 2011 extends and prolongs the ban on the transfer of prisoners, it also makes it practically impossible to transfer the 88 men who have been cleared for release to their home countries.
Wikileaks released documentation from Guantánamo Bay dating between 2002 and 2008. Here are two case studies of imprisoned men being tortured so severely that they gave unreliable information:
Abd al-Hakim Bukhari (ISN [Internment Serial Number] 493), a Saudi imprisoned by al-Qaeda as a spy, who was liberated by US forces from a Taliban jail before being sent, inexplicably, to Guantánamo (along with four other men liberated from the jail) is regarded in the files as a member of al-Qaeda, and a trustworthy witness.
Abd al-Rahim Janko (ISN 489), a Syrian Kurd, tortured by al-Qaeda as a spy and then imprisoned by the Taliban along with Abd al-Hakim Bukhari, above, is also used as a witness, even though he was mentally unstable. As his assessment in June 2008 stated, “Detainee is on a list of high-risk detainees from a health perspective … He has several chronic medical problems. He has a psychiatric history of substance abuse, depression, borderline personality disorder, and prior suicide attempt for which he is followed by behavioural health for treatment.”
Guantánamo Bay is an abomination of a place – the total disregard and abuse of basic human rights is a disgrace. A disgrace to Bush for initiating it, Obama for failing to shut it down, the individual guards for taking part in such cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners; and also a disgrace to us. For us allowing this facility to exist, for not using our voices to shout about how wrong this is, for forgetting about the 158 poor individuals who are still living in such awful conditions.