Both the UK's Observer newspaper, Revealed: the full story of the Guantanamo Britons, and the UK's tabloid Daily Mirror, My Hell in Camp X-Ray describe charges of torture and inhuman treatment at Guantanamo levvied by UK citizens returned to England after two years of detention in Guantanmo.
Outside independent review — ideally judicial review — is essential either to rebut these claims convincingly or to root out and punish those responsbile if the uglier charges are at all true.
From the Observer's story:
Three British prisoners released last week from Guantanamo Bay have revealed the full extent of British government involvement in the American detention camp condemned by law lords and the Court of Appeal as a 'legal black hole'.
Shafiq Rasul, Ruhal Ahmed and Asif Iqbal, the so-called 'Tipton Three', speaking for the first time since their release at a secret location in southern England, have disclosed to The Observer the fullest picture yet of life inside the camp on Cuba where America continues to hold 650 detainees.
After more than 200 interrogation sessions each, with the CIA, FBI, Defence Intelligence Agency, MI5 and MI6, America has been forced to admit its claims that the three were terrorists who supported al-Qaeda had no foundation.
- The existence of a secret super-maximum security facility outside the main part of Guantanamo's Camp Delta known as Camp Echo, where prisoners are held in tiny cells in solitary confinement 24-hours a day, with a military police officer permanently stationed outside each cell door. The handful of inmates of Camp Echo include two of the four remaining British detainees, Moazzem Begg and Feroz Abbasi, and the Australian, David Hicks;
- That they endured three months of solitary confinement in Camp Delta's isolation block last summer after they were wrongly identified by the Americans as having been pictured in a video tape of a meeting in Afghanistan between Osama bin Laden and the leader of the 11 September hijackers Mohamed Atta. Ignoring their protests that they were in Britain at the time, the Americans interrogated them so relentlessly that eventually all three falsely confessed. They were finally saved – at least on this occasion – by MI5, which came up with documentary evidence to show they had not left the UK;
- That their first interrogations by British investigators – from both MI5 and the SAS - took place in December 2001 and January 2002 when they were still being held at a detention camp in Afghanistan. Guns were held to their heads during their questioning in Afghanistan by American soldiers, and physical abuse and beatings were rife. At this point, after weeks of near starvation as prisoners of the Northern Alliance, all three men were close to death.
Ahmed described an interrogation session which took place before he left Afghanistan by an officer of MI5 and another official who said he was from the Foreign Office: 'All the time I was kneeling with a guy standing on the backs of my legs and another holding a gun to my head.
From the Daily Mirror:
Jamal al-Harith, 37, who arrived home three days ago after two years of confinement, is the first detainee to lift the lid on the US regime in Cuba's Camp X-Ray and Camp Delta.
The father-of-three, from Manchester, told how he was assaulted with fists, feet and batons after refusing a mystery injection.
He said detainees were shackled for up to 15 hours at a time in hand and leg cuffs with metal links which cut into the skin.
Their “cells” were wire cages with concrete floors and open to the elements – giving no privacy or protection from the rats, snakes and scorpions loose around the American base.
He claims punishment beatings were handed out by guards known as the Extreme Reaction Force. They waded into inmates in full riot-gear, raining blows on them.
Now Jamal bears the scars of Guantanamo. He stoops into a hunch as he walks because the shackles that bound him were too short.
As a punishment, inmates would be confined so tightly they would be forced to lie in a ball for hours. During lengthy interrogation, they would be tethered to a metal ring on the floor.
Jamal said: “Sometimes you would be chained up on the floor with your hands and feet actually bound together. One of my friends told me he was kept like that for 15 hours once.
“Recreation meant your legs were untied and you walked up and down a strip of gravel. In Camp X-Ray you only got five minutes but in Delta you walked for around 15 minutes.”
Jamal said victims of the Extreme Reaction Force were paraded in front of cells. “It was a horrible sight and it was a frequent sight.”
He said one unit used force-feeding to end a hunger strike by 70 per cent of the 600 inmates. The strike started after a guard deliberately kicked a copy of the Koran.
Rice and beans was the usual diet and the water was “filthy”. Jamal added: “In Camp X-Ray it was yellow and in Delta it was black – the colour of Coca-Cola.
“We had it piped through with a tap in each 'cage' but they would often turn the water off as punishment.
“They would shut off the water before prayers so we couldn't wash ourselves according to our religion.
“The food was terrible as well, up to 10 years out-of-date. They would open a hatch and shove it through a section at a time.
“We had porridge and something they called 'like-milk', which was disgusting and 'like-tea' and a piece of fruit. The fruit had been frozen and pounded with chemicals. An apple might look red but there was waxy white stuff all over it and inside it would be black and brown.
“They would play tricks on people by denying them things – you might be the only person on your block who didn't get any bread. I prided myself on never asking them for anything. I would not beg.” Jamal said they were told they had no rights. “They actually said that – 'You have no rights here'. After a while, we stopped asking for human rights – we wanted animal rights. In Camp X-Ray my cage was right next to a kennel housing an Alsatian dog.
“He had a wooden house with air conditioning and green grass to exercise on. I said to the guards, 'I want his rights' and they replied, 'That dog is member of the US army'.
I have to say that several aspects of the Mirror's account are hard for me to believe. I do not believe the US would starve detainees or feed them spoiled food. Would it? And the stuff the Mirror repeats about the use of prostitutes to shock sensitive Muslims with naked bodies and menstral blood sounds just too weird — more like the propaganda of a person who has been held illegally in hard conditions for two years and wants his revenge.
One of the many bad consequences of the secrecy of the detenetions and the decisions to set up camps outside the law is that it makes it hard for the US to rebut this propaganda effort even among those who want to trust it…much less those who do not.