Five detainees released from US concentration camps in Guantanamo Bay

FRFI 178 April / May 2004

Detention without trial has long been the hallmark of tyrannical regimes. In apartheid South Africa the regime detained and tortured thousands of black people, mostly young men, in periods when the challenge to white racist rule was most fierce. In Chile thousands of supporters of President Allende were detained and tortured by the military junta of General Pinochet following the 1973 coup. In Ireland in 1971, Republicans were rounded up by the British Army and sent to internment camps.

The accounts of inhuman treatment, degradation and torture are similar for all these events, regardless of the geography, varying only in the severity of the treatment. In South Africa, detainees were beaten, electrocuted, hung or thrown out of windows; in Chile the mechanics of torture were cruelly similar. In the north of Ireland, the detainees described how their heads were covered with black hoods; they were deprived of food, water and sleep; they were made to stand against walls with hands raised and legs apart for long periods, some were threatened with being thrown out of helicopters. On 9 March five Guantanamo Bay detainees were released. Asif Iqbal, Rhuhel Ahmed, Shafiq Rasul, Terek Dergoul, and Jamal Al Harith were flown back to Britain; four of them were then questioned further by the police before they were released to tell the story of their two-year detention by the US in Guantanamo Bay concentration camps. They told the truth and it bore all the hallmarks of torture.

These detainees were picked up in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the aftermath of the USA’s war in Afghanistan. The dogs of war were let loose across the region to round up suspected supporters of the Taliban and Al Qaida. The local warlords and drug traffickers had many scores to settle and were indiscriminate. It is clear from these detainees’ accounts that thousands died in barbaric conditions. When they were handed over to the US authorities their rights continued to be violated in every respect:
• they were deprived of food, water, clothing and sleep;
• they were not told or were lied to about where they were, where they were being transported to and how long they would be held;
• they were physically assaulted and threatened;
• they were interrogated repeatedly (more than 200 times) for long periods;
• their families were denied information about their whereabouts and their wellbeing, and they were denied contact with their families;
• they received no legal or independent advice or representation.

All these points are the standard techniques used to demoralise and isolate prisoners ready for interrogation. After months of abuse with no end in sight such prisoners will confess to anything, and will invent information to escape the worst excesses of their treatment. From beginning to end their human rights were violated. Even after they had been released, and the British had failed to find any reason to detain them further, the US was still claiming that they had been involved in terrorism and that they had not been tortured or badly treated in detention. The facts show the opposite.

610 men are still being held in Guantanamo concentration camps and no one knows how many others are held in camps across Asia, either by the US or by its local henchmen. The US argues that this is a war against terrorism and they have every right to intern their enemies for the duration of the war. This is not true. The detainees are being held outside any international treaty and in total contravention of international law.

Even a senior law lord described the process: ‘The purpose of holding the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay was and is to put them beyond the rule of law, beyond the protection of any courts, and at the mercy of the victors...The [Guantanamo Bay] procedural rules do not prohibit the use of force to coerce prisoners to confess. On the contrary, the rules expressly provide that statements made by a prisoner under physical and mental duress are admissible “if the evidence would have value to a reasonable person”, ie military officers trying enemy soldiers.’ (Lord Steyn, FA Mann Lecture, November 2003)

The released Guantanamo Bay detainees have confirmed this. They confessed that they attended an Al Qaida meeting at a time when in fact they were in Britain. Ironically it was MI5, which had participated in interrogation sessions, that held the proof that their confessions were false – they had been extracted by torture: ‘All the time I was kneeling with a guy standing on the backs of my legs and another holding a gun to my head.’ (Rhuhel Ahmed)

Four other British men are still held in Guantanamo: two of them, Feroz Abbasi and Moazzam Begg, have, in the weasel words of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw ‘been designated by the United States authorities as eligible to stand trial by the US military commissions being established to deal with the detainees’. In a lickspittle statement about the release of the five detainees issued on 20 February, Straw covered up the reality of British collusion in the unlawful detention and torture of these prisoners. He claimed that the UK government had been in ‘frequent and regular contact’ with the US about the nine detainees, visiting on six occasions to ‘check on their welfare’. Did this include the occasions when MI5 was involved in the illegal coercive interrogations? It is no accident that it was Straw who allowed Chilean torturer and murderer General Pinochet to escape trial in Spain in 2000.

The British Labour government has made much of its ‘reservations’ about the military tribunals which are being passed off as courts of law and which can impose the death sentence. Those deemed ‘eligible’ for trial will have the US military as their interrogators, prosecutors, defence counsel, judges and executioners. Straw claims that there have been ‘complex issues of law and security which both governments have had to consider’. But the reality is very clear: these courts are kangaroo courts designed to torture, murder and incarcerate Muslims. In the 1970s the Irish had a song which ran: ‘Being Irish means you’re guilty’. Today, ‘being Muslim means you’re guilty’ and the British Labour government is once again complicit in this racist, murderous, barbaric process. These ‘progressives’ offer the good news that no British detainee will suffer the death sentence. So what about the other 606 detainees who will be subject to very unequal treatment? They can be left to rot in unmarked graves in Guantanamo Bay or in prison cells and concentration camps across the world. After 100 years as a bourgeois political party in the service of imperialism, Labour is racist to its core.
Carol Brickley


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