- Created: Wednesday, 23 September 2009 12:03
- Written by Cat Alison
On 6 March, the United Nations demanded that the US concentration camp in Guantanamo be closed down, that all torture must cease immediately, as must the force-feeding of detainees on hunger strike, and that the remaining 500+ detainees be tried or set free. In the face of this uncompromising denunciation, even the US’s staunchest ally, Prime Minister Tony Blair, was forced into the grudging admission that the Guantanamo camp is an ‘anomaly’ that should be closed ‘sooner rather than later’.
That the true horror of what has been going on in Guantanamo and other US torture camps is beginning to emerge is testimony to the courage of the detainees and all those who have campaigned to expose the crimes committed by the US administration and British complicity in those crimes.
The US chose Guantanamo Bay, a strip of Cuban territory it occupies illegally, for its camps precisely because it could argue that, as foreign territory, it was outside the reach of both international and US federal law.
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld described the detainees as ‘among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth’. The reality is that many were bought off Afghan bounty hunters for $500 a piece, or simply kidnapped on the flimsiest of evidence. Of over 700 detainees who have passed through Guantanamo, only four have ever been charged. At the tribunal of British citizen Feroz Abbasi, held without charge for two years and released last year the judge, a senior US military officer, told him: ‘I don’t care about international law. I don’t want to hear the words international law again...Geneva conventions do not matter here.’
Rendered anonymous by the ubiquitous orange jumpsuits that have become a symbol of US oppression, chained and forced to their knees in the searing heat and dust of Guantanamo; locked in cages and denied access to journalists, lawyers or even the Red Cross, these detainees were to be the lowest of the low, swallowed up in what the British Court of Appeal has termed ‘a legal black hole’, without rights, without charge and without redress. Rumsfeld boasted that he ‘didn’t even know their names’. Today the names of British detainees Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rahul and Rhuhel Ahmed (the Tipton 3) and Moazzam Begg, who spent four years incarcerated in Guantanamo, are broadcast on film, in the press, on television, as is their evidence of the routine use of torture at Guantanamo, including painful and degrading stress positions, sleep deprivation, isolation, beatings, ‘white boarding’ (partial drowning), the threat of dogs and sexual humiliation. Their testimony chimes with the horrific photos of abuse that have emerged from the US detention centre at Abu Ghraib, (which finally faces closure).
‘Words can mean whatever I want them to’ – Humpty Dumpty, Through the Looking Glass
Torture of any kind is in breach of international law, US federal law and the Geneva Convention. Torture is defined in the UN Torture Convention as: ‘Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person’, whether to obtain information or a confession, as punishment or intimidation, by a person acting in an official capacity.
In the face of such a blanket ban, the US administration simply changed the name of the game. Having already declared the Geneva Convention ‘irrelevant’, a working group memo of 2002 insists that both US domestic law against torture and the United Nations Convention against Torture ‘prohibit only the most extreme forms of physical and mental harm’, redefining just about anything short of organ failure, severe incapacitation and death under the heading of ‘cruel, degrading and unusual punishment’. A similar semantic con trick saw the detainees designated as ‘unlawful combatants’ – a term with no legal status intended simply to strip them of the rights of prisoners of war.
British government colludes with torture
British law is unequivocal. In a hearing over the refusal of British ministers to request the release of three British residents held in Guantanamo, Mr Justice Collins stated that the US’s idea of what constitutes torture ‘is not the same as ours and doesn’t appear to coincide with that of most civilised countries’.
The Law Lords concur, ruling out the use of evidence gathered by torture ‘on the grounds of its barbarism, its illegality and its inhumanity.’ Lord Bingham spoke of the law having ‘regarded torture and its fruits with abhorrence for over 500 years’ – an abhorrence clearly not shared by this Labour government which fought the ban all the way to the country’s highest court and continues to attempt to deport suspects to countries which routinely practise torture. MI5 and MI6 have been complicit in the torture of suspects in Pakistan, Aghanistan and Iraq.
In March the government’s flouting of the law was further exposed when British officials were forced to admit knowledge of 73 CIA torture flights landing at British military airports en route to transporting suspects to US torture camps around the world. Up till now, the government has told lie after lie about such flights while secretly briefing ministers to ‘move the issue on to the huge challenge which the threat of terrorism poses’.
Early this year footage emerged showing British soldiers beating Iraqi teenagers in 2003 and shouting ‘You’re going to get it it...you little fuckers. Die. Ha, ha.’ and mocking the boys as they beg for mercy. The response of Labour Defence Secretary John Reid was to ask us to be ‘a little slower to condemn and a little quicker to understand’. In the name of fighting so-called terrorism, anything goes. As released British detainee Tarek Dergoul said of being chained in an agonising stress position for hours at a time: ‘It wasn’t about trying to get information. It was just about trying to break you’.
But the repression is failing. As more and more evidence emerges and US and British imperialism stand exposed in their naked inhumanity and arrogant contempt for either morality or legality, the oppressed are increasingly galvanised into fighting back.
FRFI 190 April / May 2006