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Transferring detainees from secret CIA jails to...
Bush's torture camp at Guantanamo Bay

September 15, 2006 | Page 5

NICOLE COLSON looks at the Bush administration's new plans for detainees of the "war on terror."

IT WAS a photo op calculated to exploit tragedy and manipulate fear.

On September 6, George Bush announced to a roomful of family members of those killed in the September 11 attacks that 14 al-Qaeda members would be transferred from undisclosed CIA prisons to the U.S. detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Bush added that he would be pushing for Congress to approve legislation allowing them to be tried by military tribunals.

Bush's speech was the first open admission by his administration that prisoners from the "war on terror" have been--and likely will continue to be--held in secret prisons around the globe.

What else to read

The Center for Constitutional Rights' "Guantánamo Action Center" contains a compilation of news articles and information about detainees and their cases.

The American Civil Liberties Union Web site contains legal updates and information about the "extraordinary rendition" program, as well as a database of government documents released under the Freedom of Information Act that relate to the torture of detainees.

Moazzam Begg, a British man wrongfully imprisoned for three years at U.S. detention centers in Afghanistan and Guantánamo, has written a book called Enemy Combatant: My Imprisonment at Guantánamo, Bagram and Kandahar. You can read or listen to Begg's two-part interview with Democracy Now's Amy Goodman.

 

The process, known as "extraordinary rendition," has been reported about in the mainstream media since last year, when the Washington Post disclosed that an estimated 30 detainees were being held in so-called "black site" prisons. These prisoners were held incommunicado and subjected to repeated interrogations under harsh circumstances.

But to hear George Bush tell it, they were too dangerous to be allowed basic rights.

Bush spent much of his speech declaring the "success" of the rendition program, citing information gained from detainees like Abu Zubaydah, the first supposedly high-level al-Qaeda operative captured following September 11. According to Bush, "The CIA used an alternative set of [interrogation] procedures" with Zubaydah that were "tough, and they were safe, and lawful and necessary."

But the New York Times described the interrogation differently in a recent article, reporting that within days of his capture, a severely wounded Zubaydah was stripped, held in an icy room until he turned blue and subjected to hours of ear-splittingly loud music, among other CIA methods.

Under both the United Nations and the Geneva Conventions, these tactics cross the boundaries of what is legal. But last week, Bush claimed that they were necessary, and led Zubaydah to reveal information about al-Qaeda plots.

According to author Ron Suskind, however, at least one top FBI analyst considered Zubaydah an "insane, certifiable, split personality" and said that rather than the high-level al-Qaeda planner the U.S. claimed him to be, he was mainly responsible for logistics, like travel arrangements.

Suskind reported that the interrogation methods used on Zubaydah--waterboarding (dunking a detainee until they believe they will be drowned) and sleep deprivation, among others--only yielded information about plots that didn't exist.

"In the case of Zubaydah, when it comes to some of the harsh interrogation tactics he was put through, what occurred then was that he started to talk," Suskind recently told Salon. "He said, as people will, anything to make the pain stop. And we essentially followed every word, and various uniformed public servants of the United States went running all over the country to various places that Zubaydah said were targets, and were not. Ultimately, we tortured an insane man and ran screaming at every word he uttered."

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SO WHY, after five years of holding these detainees in the dark, has the Bush administration suddenly decided to not only admit that it has "rendered" prisoners, but move them to Guantánamo?

Because the administration smells a political opportunity. As the New York Times put it, "In calling for public war-crime trials at Guantánamo Bay, President Bush is calculating that with a critical election just nine weeks away, neither angry Democrats nor nervous Republicans will dare deny him the power to detain, interrogate and try suspects his way."

In particular, Bush's move is designed to pressure Congress to pass legislation approving military tribunals, which would allow him to get around this summer's Supreme Court decision, which ruled that Common Article Three of the Geneva Convention protects detainees from torture and "humiliating and degrading treatment," and that detainees are entitled to a fair trial.

In the legislation the Bush administration is currently proposing, however, detainees would not be allowed to view any evidence considered "classified."

The tribunals would prohibit statements obtained by torture, but allow evidence obtained from "coercive interrogations." As long as Congress passes legislation that says interrogation "techniques" like waterboarding, sleep deprivation and extreme psychological abuse are "coercive" rather than torture, the evidence could be allowed in.

The administration's proposal would remove the prohibition against "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment" from the 1996 War Crimes Act, replacing it instead with a list of 10 specific categories of offenses, including murder, rape and hostage-taking.

Additionally, detainees would not necessarily have the right to be present throughout the proceedings against them, and any appeals would first go to a specially created court of civilian and military members--handpicked by the Secretary of Defense.

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ANYONE WHO thinks that a "war on terror" detainee could receive a fair trial need only look at the horrors prisoners at Guantánamo have been made to suffer through. Since the earliest days of the camp, when blindfolded and shackled prisoners were housed in exposed cages, lawyers and detainees described horrific abuse at the hands of guards, interrogators and even medical personnel.

Last year, antiwar activist and former Marine Dave Airhart, who served at Guantánamo, described to Socialist Worker what would happen to prisoners brought to the camp.

"There was a school bus that we had taken the seats out of," Airhart said. "We'd put them on the school bus, and drive them back to Camp X-Ray...We were encouraged by our officers to be extremely brutal and violent with [the prisoners]. Even if they made the slightest movement, like maybe they moved their finger or took too deep of a breath, we were told to kick them in different sensitive areas, like their ribs. A lot of times they were just beaten for entertainment purposes."

Since last year, lawyers for desperate detainees who had gone on hunger strike to protest their indefinite detention and the inhumane conditions at the camp reported that they were subjected to brutal force-feedings, in which medical personnel shoved tubes up their noses and into their stomachs, often until they bled or became violently ill.

In June, three detainees--one of whom was reportedly just 17 years old when he was first brought to the prison camp in 2001--took their own lives in despair.

Despite the administration's claims that Guantánamo houses the "worst of the worst," the reality is that more than 300 detainees have been quietly released since the camp was first opened, usually after months of imprisonment.

Late last month, Murat Kurnaz, a Turkish citizen who was born and raised in Germany, was released from Guantánamo after more than four years inside. Kurnaz was just 20 years old when first brought to Guantánamo, after having been picked up while on a missionary trip in Pakistan.

Last year, declassified records in his case showed that Kurnaz was designated an enemy combatant even though U.S. military intelligence and German law enforcement officials had concluded that there was no information tying him to al-Qaeda or any terrorist activities.

Yet Kurnaz was kept in what his lawyer described as a "cage," under the glare of bright lights 24 hours a day. Even when finally flying him home to Germany, Kurnaz's U.S. captors kept him shackled and blindfolded for the entire flight.

As Moazzam Begg, a British Muslim who spent three years wrongfully imprisoned by the U.S. in both Afghanistan and Guantánamo told Democracy Now, "The fact is that people are being persecuted there. They may not be having their fingernails and toenails pulled out, but the absence of the rule of law, the fact that you're in legal limbo, the fact that you have no meaningful communication with your family, the fact of the cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, the fact of psychological abuse...you don't have even an inkling as to what it is that you've done to harm this country that has ruined and destroyed your life."

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