With Obama pledging in the latest State of the Union address to finally shutter the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay -- something he's been promising to do since his 2008 election campaign -- it's worth revisiting the people who remain imprisoned there, more than a decade after the GW Bush administration declared its War on Terror.
There are 155 men in Guantanamo. 77 have been cleared for transfer but there is no country to which they can be sent. 45 men are in "indefinite detention" -- unable to be prosecuted, often because of the brutal torture inflicted on them by Guantanamo's jailers, but unable to be released because the US government considers them to be a threat. 31 more are awaiting prosecution.
This month, the American Psychology Association dropped all proceedings against a member who designed, oversaw, and participated in the torture at Guantanamo. They had previously denied a request to censure other members who participated in torture.
The protocol designed by John Leso, the doctor that the APA will not censure, involved intravenously hydrating a victim until he urinated on himself; sleep deprivation; forcing the victim to bark like a dog; keeping the victim naked and subjecting him to extreme cold; spinning the victim in a swiveling chair to disorient him; putting the victim into stress positions; depriving the victim of mattresses and other bedding; keeping the victim in isolation from all human contact; and more.
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Writing from Guantanamo Bay via his lawyer, Shaker Aamer, the last UK citizen imprisoned at the camp, describes the Kafkaesque regime of censorship practiced by the camp guards. His lawyer brings him books every three months, but so far, guards have confiscated Russell Brand's memoirs (too sweary), "The Gulag Archipelago" and "The Rule of Law" by Lord Bingham. They allowed Dershowitz's "Blasphemy: How the Religious Right Is Hijacking Our Declaration of Independence," but redacted certain passages. Unsurprisingly, Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment" did not attain the Gitmo stamp of approval. Aamer's favorite book is (of course), "Nineteen Eighty-Four."
The piece is written with admirable resilience and humour, but it's a reminder that the US government is still maintaining a torture camp where people who haven't been convicted of any crime are imprisoned indefinitely.
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A guard walks through a cellblock inside Camp V, a prison used to house detainees at Guantanamo Bay U.S. Naval Base, March 5, 2013. Photo: Reuters.
Post-9/11 detainee interrogration policies of the US Defense Department and CIA forced medical professionals to abandon the ethical obligation to "do no harm" to the humans in their care, and engage in prohibited practices such as force-feeding of hunger strikers, according to a report out this week. "Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror" [PDF Link] was produced by 19-member task force of Columbia University's Institute on Medicine as a Profession and the Open Society Foundations. The LA Times has a summary here.
Artist Molly Crabapple visited Guantanamo Bay and documented the bizarre conditions in which men cleared of all crimes are held without charge at a cost of millions, forever, in some of the harshest conditions imaginable. Crabapple documents the boondoggle that is Gitmo with admirable clarity, and her illustrations are especially poignant.
Afghans sold Nabil to Afghan forces from his hospital bed. Injured and terrified, he huddled together with five other men in the underground cell of a prison in Kabul. Interrogators whipped him. The screams of the tortured kept him awake at night. According to a statement filed by Clive Clifford Smith, Nabil’s lawyer at the time, “Someone—either an interpreter or another prisoner—whispered to him, ‘Just say you are al Qaeda and they will stop beating you.’”
At Bagram, Americans held Nabil naked in an aircraft hanger that was so cold he thought he’d die of exposure, while military personal in warm coats sipped hot chocolate. When Nabil tried to recant confessions he’d made under torture, the soldiers just beat him more, according to a statement filed by Clifford Smith. Finally, the military transferred Nabil to Kandahar, and then to Guantánamo Bay.
Nabil arrived at Gitmo’s Camp X-Ray in February 2002. With its watchtowers, clapboard interrogation huts, and rings of barbed wire, X-Ray looks nothing but surreal—a concentration camp on the Caribbean. For the four months it took the JTF to build permanent prisons, Nabil lived in a metal cage under the burning Cuban sun. For hygiene, he had one bucket for water and another for shit. During the seven hours it took me to complete a drawing of X-Ray, I nearly passed out from the mosquitos and heat.
It Don’t Gitmo Better Than This
Charlie Savage writes in the New York Times of the books on offer to prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, which include a set of Indiana Jones novelizations, some Star Trek: TNG novels, Ender's Game, Arabic editions of Danielle Steele, and some Captain America graphic novels. Some of the prisoners arrived in Gitmo able to read English, other have learned during their 10-year incarceration. One lawyer brought in copies of Nineteen Eighty-Four for his client, Shaker Aamer, who said, "it perfectly captured the psychological reality of being at Gitmo."
The library has about 18,000 books — roughly 9,000 titles — the bulk of which are in Arabic, along with a smaller selection of periodicals, DVDs and video games. Religious books are the most popular, Milton said, but there is also a well-thumbed collection of Western fare — from Arabic translations of books like “News of a Kidnapping,” by Gabriel García Márquez, and “The Kiss,” by Danielle Steel, to a sizable English-language room, which boasts familiar titles like the “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” series, “Watership Down” and the “Odyssey.” Some detainees arrived knowing English, while a few others have learned over time. Most have now been held without trial for over a decade.
You can see photos of the books at the Gitmo Books Tumblr, which was started by Charlie Savage
lawyers for some of the prisoners.
Invisible Men [Charlie Savage/NYT]
(via Hacker News)
Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Laura Poitras
, who is my colleague on the board of the Freedom of the Press Foundation
, has a powerful short-form documentary film out today, via the New York Times
' "op doc" series
"Death of a Prisoner: The Tragic Return Home of a Guantánamo Bay Detainee" follows a journey to Yemen, to return the body of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif to his family. In 2012, he "died in solitary confinement at Guantánamo at age 36, after nearly 11 years of imprisonment there, despite never having been charged with a crime."
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President Obama isn't closing Guantánamo any time soon, but prisoners will be well-taken-care-of in the entertainment department, according to this Miami Herald article
: they have an endless supply of of Will Smith’s 1990s TV comedy, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
, with which to while away the years. The sitcom has become a "popular way to pass time among the 168 captives now in their second decade of U.S. detention." Guards say it now eclipses the Harry Potter
books as most-requested entertainment. (via @kgosztola)
RECOMMEND: Follow RUBEN BOLLING on TWITTER.
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Fortunately, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals has issued an opinion on Gitmo detainee Adnan Farhan Abd Al Latif's appeal against his continued detention by the Obama administration. Unfortunately, it's none of your business.
Latif's legal status is "indeterminate", according to Wikipedia, despite a judge ordering the administration to "take all necessary and appropriate diplomatic steps to facilitate Latif's release forthwith." Latif, a Yemeni citizen, has been held in Guantanamo Bay since 2002.
USCourts.gov [Thanks, Anonymous!]