It has been 42 years since I was at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Strange how no one adds the “Cuba” any more. It was a small U.S. enclave at the edge of a hostile foreign country, a country that did not want us there. Not much has changed in that arena for the last four decades. The major problem for my aircrew was the short distance between the end of the runway and the fence demarking the “border” between the U.S. Navy and Cuba. It made for a difficult approach at night at an unfamiliar airport and we were glad to be safely on the ground. We did not stay long, perhaps two hours, just long enough to unload some cargo and file a new flight plan. Little did we know how famous, or infamous, this bit of land was destined to become.
I relate some of this so that you will understand that I have some military experience, 30 years, from Viet Nam to Desert Storm, to be specific. I have friends and classmates who died in battle and some who were captured. I have accompanied the body of my best friend to burial in a national cemetery, I have served on the joint staff, I have some knowledge about the conduct of war.
The Korean War was the first war in which the U.S. experienced the systematic torture of prisoners of war. Some were able to resist like my eventual squadron mate, Sgt George Morar, the most decorated U.S. Air Force enlisted man. You can read about Sgt Morar here “Ex-Pows May Be Decorated” and here “Rugged Travis (AFB) Sergeant Marches into the Comics.”
I asked, and George related to me some of the stories of his imprisonment. I was incredulous. First, that one human would treat another in the manner he was treated and second that he was able to resist. Many died in his camp, refusing to eat the maggot infected rice and fish. George ate everything, fifteen years later, it was still an adventure to go to dinner with George as his table manners were imprinted from the camp and drew stares from the other patrons who did not know of his bravery. George was a real life American hero, no doubt about it.
Not everyone was as tough as George. We remember GIs confessing to war crimes that none of us believed. Torture is an effective way to get someone to confess to anything just to stop the pain. I was proud that I served a country that would never do that.
Fast forward 30 years to Guantanamo Bay, the prison. I am no longer proud. The United States has proven to be just as cruel and diabolical as North Korea and North Vietnam.
Indefinite detention of combatants without trial and the use of torture is something I find abhorrent and not what I took an oath to protect on that January morning in 1963. Now the principles can even be applied to American citizens. Just in case you don’t understand, that means you or I could be detained at a Guantanamo type facility. Read carefully so you know what to expect.
Here are some of the stories that have been published at this, the tenth anniversary of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
By Ian Millhiser on Jan 9, 2012 at 1:30 pm
Lakhdar Boumediene, the named plaintiff in a seminal Supreme Court case preserving Guantanamo Bay detainees’ right to challenge the legality of their detention, recounts his experience as a man falsely accused of terrorism and imprisoned at Gitmo for seven years in an op-ed in the New York Times. The whole thing is worth reading, but one sentence in particular stands out:
I left Algeria in 1990 to work abroad. In 1997 my family and I moved to Bosnia and Herzegovina at the request of my employer, the Red Crescent Society of the United Arab Emirates. I served in the Sarajevo office as director of humanitarian aid for children who had lost relatives to violence during the Balkan conflicts. In 1998, I became a Bosnian citizen. We had a good life, but all of that changed after 9/11.
When I arrived at work on the morning of Oct. 19, 2001, an intelligence officer was waiting for me. He asked me to accompany him to answer questions. I did so, voluntarily — but afterward I was told that I could not go home. The United States had demanded that local authorities arrest me and five other men. News reports at the time said the United States believed that I was plotting to blow up its embassy in Sarajevo. I had never — for a second — considered this.
Boumediene was not simply arrested and imprisoned for years despite no evidence that he was a terrorist, he was arrested while he was working as a humanitarian aide worker. For children. The man devoted his life to helping the youngest and most vulnerable victims of a terrible conflict, and we locked him up and tortured him.
Sadly, America still has not learned the lesson Justice Louis Brandeis tried to teach us 85 years ago: “Men feared witches and burnt women.”
Chris Hayes of MSNBC interviews former detainee.
President Bush undoubtedly committed the original sin. Had he followed the rules governing wartime detention from the outset, Guantánamo would not be an international embarrassment. It has long been established that in an ongoing war a country may detain the enemy for the conflict’s duration. But the laws of war require that we afford hearings to those whose status is in doubt, that we release them when the conflict ends and that we treat them humanely throughout. Bush refused to provide hearings, asserted the prerogative to hold people during a never-ending “war on terror” and authorized systematic cruel and inhuman treatment. For years, Guantánamo was synonymous with Bush’s defiantly lawless approach to the “war on terror. … Read More
To mark the tenth anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay prison to house “war on terror” detainees captured after 9/11, Truthout will republish a handful of exclusive reports by Jason Leopold about the facility.
A version of this report was originally published on Truthout on April 8, 2010.
The Bush administration deceived the American people about the certain danger posed by Guantanamo Bay detainees – the “worst of the worst” as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called them – when many were simply innocent bystanders, according to a former top State Department official.
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, said President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld knew that many detainees had done nothing wrong but still kept them prisoner for political or PR reasons.
In a nine-page sworn declaration filed with a lawsuit by former Guantanamo detainee Adel Hassan Hamad, Wilkerson said Cheney, in particular, pursued a cynical strategy regarding the detainees in which “the ends justified the means” and assumed that “innocent people languishing in Guantanamo for years was justified by the broader war on terror.”
Wilkerson said he also learned during discussions with Powell that “President Bush was involved in all of the Guantanamo decision making” and that Cheney had mastered the art of manipulating his boss.
“My own view is that it was easy for Vice President Cheney to run circles around President Bush bureaucratically because Cheney had the network within the government to do so,” Wilkerson said. “Moreover, by exploiting what Secretary Powell called the President’s ‘cowboy instincts,’ Vice President Cheney could more often than not gain the President’s acquiescence. … Read more:
THE TORTURE REPORT
Today we post the fourth and final installment of Chapter 5, titled “Endgame,” which brings us up to date on the stories of the three main characters in this chapter, Mohammed Al-Qahtani, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi.
As we saw in the very first chapter of this report, no sooner had the Bush administration embarked on a course of systematic violations of the Torture Convention than veteran intelligence officers and military interrogators began to ask what would happen to those who had been treated in a way that undermined any possibility of reintroducing them into the legal system for prosecution. In the heavily redacted section of CIA Inspector General John Helgerson’s 2004 Special Review from which this new section takes its title, the only unredacted passage reads:
The number of detainees in CIA custody is relatively small by comparison with those in U.S. military custody. Nevertheless, the Agency, like the military, has an interest in the disposition of detainees and particular interest in those who, if not kept in isolation, would likely divulge information about the circumstances of their detention.
This was one of the most chilling passages I came across early in my journey into the torture documents, with its insinuation that the fate of some detainees might be determined, at least in part, by “an interest” in preventing detainees from telling the stories of their mistreatment. Seen in the light of what has happened to Qahtani, Slahi, and al-Libi, it’s absolutely haunting.
One of the essential elements—perhaps the essential element—of an accountability process is that those who have been subjected to torture and other human rights violations have the opportunity to tell their stories publicly and have them officially corroborated. Here, though a mounting body of evidence and even official acknowledgements confirm that these three men were tortured, none has had the chance even to be seen by the citizens of the country responsible for their brutalization, let alone heard. And one of them, at least, will never have that chance. … Read More
WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Files on All Guantánamo Prisoners
In its latest release of classified US documents, WikiLeaks is shining the light of truth on a notorious icon of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” — the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which opened on January 11, 2002, and remains open under President Obama, despite his promise to close the much-criticized facility within a year of taking office.
In thousands of pages of documents dating from 2002 to 2008 and never seen before by members of the public or the media, the cases of the majority of the prisoners held at Guantánamo — 765 out of 779 in total — are described in detail in memoranda from JTF-GTMO, the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo Bay, to US Southern Command in Miami, Florida.
These memoranda, known as Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs), contain JTF-GTMO’s recommendations about whether the prisoners in question should continue to be held, or should be released (transferred to their home governments, or to other governments). They consist of a wealth of important and previously undisclosed information, including health assessments, for example, and, in the cases of the majority of the 172 prisoners who are still held, photos (mostly for the first time ever).
They also include information on the first 201 prisoners released from the prison, between 2002 and 2004, which, unlike information on the rest of the prisoners (summaries of evidence and tribunal transcripts, released as the result of a lawsuit filed by media groups in 2006), has never been made public before. Most of these documents reveal accounts of incompetence familiar to those who have studied Guantánamo closely, with innocent men detained by mistake (or because the US was offering substantial bounties to its allies for al-Qaeda or Taliban suspects), and numerous insignificant Taliban conscripts from Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Beyond these previously unknown cases, the documents also reveal stories of the 399 other prisoners released from September 2004 to the present day, and of the seven men who have died at the prison.
The memos are signed by the commander of Guantánamo at the time, and describe whether the prisoners in question are regarded as low, medium or high risk. Although they were obviously not conclusive in and of themselves, as final decisions about the disposition of prisoners were taken at a higher level, they represent not only the opinions of JTF-GTMO, but also the Criminal Investigation Task Force, created by the Department of Defense to conduct interrogations in the “War on Terror,” and the BSCTs, the behavioral science teams consisting of psychologists who had a major say in the “exploitation” of prisoners in interrogation. … READ MORE