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Red Cross report exposes the truth
Tortured at Guantánamo

December 10, 2004 | Page 5

NICOLE COLSON reports on the latest allegations of torture inside the U.S. military gulag at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

WHAT MANY long suspected is now official: The U.S. has been torturing detainees at its concentration camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

According to a confidential report leaked to the press in late November, a Red Cross inspection team that spent most of last June in Guantánamo observed physical and mental treatment of prisoners at the camp that was intended to break their will.

The actions described by the report mirror what former personnel at Camp Delta, the main prison facility, described to the New York Times weeks earlier--uncooperative prisoners stripped to their underwear, forced to sit in a chair while shackled hand and foot to a bolt in the floor, and subjected to strobe lights and loud rock and rap music played through two close loudspeakers while the air-conditioning was turned up to maximum levels.

The system of treatment, according to the Red Cross report, is designed to make prisoners dependent on their interrogators through "humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions." Additionally, says the report, detainees were subjected to "some beatings."

The Red Cross concluded: "The construction of such a system, whose stated purpose is the production of intelligence, cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture."

Sickeningly, the report also charges that some doctors and other medical workers at Guantánamo were helping plan for interrogations by passing information about prisoners' mental health and "vulnerabilities" to interrogators--and that detainees' medical files were "literally open" to interrogators, a violation of international law.

The Pentagon, of course, continues to deny that detainees at Guantanamo are suffering. "The United States operates a safe, humane and professional detention operation at Guantánamo that is providing valuable information in the war on terrorism," one Pentagon official told the New York Times as the Red Cross report broke.

But nothing could be further from the truth. As Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, wrote in his book Guantánamo: What the World Should Know, the U.S. abuse of prisoners in Guantánamo helped set the stage for the horrific pattern of torture of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. "What is amazing to me is that [the torture allegations at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq] are consistent with much of what has been revealed about interrogation abuse in Iraq, demonstrating that what was first used in Guantánamo was then used in Iraq," Ratner wrote.

As Ratner points out, despite the Pentagon's assertions that detainees at Guantánamo are providing "valuable information," any information extracted through such tactics is suspect. "At Guantánamo, one of the rewards for talking is a shower. Another is the opportunity to get some exercise. After two years and 200 interrogations, any of the most minor creature comforts will get people to say almost anything."

The Bush administration has bent over backwards since September 11 to make sure that detainees would be stripped of their rights under the Geneva Convention and international law. Former White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales--Bush's new choice to replace Attorney General John Ashcroft--wrote a memo in early 2002 warning that if detainees were given rights under the Geneva Convention, U.S. soldiers might be prosecuted for war crimes or "outrages against personal dignity" committed against prisoners.

With the latest revelations about Guantánamo, we know more about what those "outrages" entail. But according to the Bush gang, there's nothing wrong with a little torture.

Recently, while arguing in federal court that detainees have no legal rights to appeal in U.S. courts, Principle Deputy Associate Attorney General Brian Boyle said that the U.S. military panels reviewing detainees' status should be allowed to use "evidence" obtained by torture--something that has been inadmissible in U.S. courts for about 70 years. When District Judge Richard Leon asked Boyle if a detention based solely on evidence gathered by torture would be illegal--because "torture is illegal," Leon said, "we all know that"--Boyle had the nerve to reply that "nothing in the due process clause [of the Constitution]" prohibits them from relying on it.

For the hundreds of detainees who remain imprisoned at Guantánamo, the truth has never been more clear. The "war on terror" is really a war of terror--one designed to send a message that the U.S. is willing to shred anyone's rights in pursuit of its interests.

"A hell" run by the military

THIS ISN'T the first time that a president has allowed the U.S. military installation at Guantánamo to become home to sickening abuse.

More than 10 years ago, the world was outraged as the administrations of George Bush Sr. and Bill Clinton threw HIV-positive Haitian refugees--people fleeing the military regime that overthrew the government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide--into Guantánamo detention centers.

Instead of allowing the Haitians to apply for asylum, the INS tested them first for HIV. Under a 1987 statute barring HIV-positive immigrants, those who tested positive for the virus were thrown into Guantánamo. In the end, nearly 300 Haitians were detained for 18 months.

As journalist Lizzie Ratner described last year in the Nation, "The new camp was 'hell,' to quote the refugees, a barren plot surrounded by heavily armed Marines and a wall of barbed wire. The conditions were squalid, and despite the Haitians' immune-compromised systems, they were crammed into makeshift barracks that provided neither protection nor privacy."

Center for Constitutional Rights President Michael Ratner, who helped defend the refugees, said, "I visited my clients and the base a number of times. It was a dreadful experience, a desert outpost where inhuman treatment, even of refugees, was common practice."

Many had their lives shortened by the experience. Some didn't believe the diagnosis--since the U.S. chose to "notify" them of their HIV status by announcing it over a loudspeaker one day. Others rejected the treatment that was available, because they didn't trust U.S. doctors after their experience in the camp.

And despite warnings that many of the refugees were ill and needed immediate medical treatment, U.S. officials refused to airlift any to U.S. hospitals, or to improve the conditions at the camp.

A federal judge finally declared the detentions unconstitutional in June 1993, but not before INS spokesperson Duane "Duke" Austin explained why the U.S. refused to move the sickest to the U.S.: "They're going to die anyway, aren't they?"

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