Rumsfeld’s House of Lies and Inhumanity

British lawyer Clive Stafford Smith has 36 clients in Guantánamo. He's written a book called “Bad Men” about what a twisted place it is, and the Guardian is running excerpts,

In Guantánamo, the military began with smaller lies and worked upwards. I was visiting Camp Echo one day and they had messed up the visitation schedule. The client I was meant to see was not there, although I had sent the schedule for my visits several weeks before. I thought I might as well go ahead and see Shaker Aamer [British resident captured in Afghanistan], whom I was not meant to meet until later in the week. So I asked the SOG (the sergeant of the guard, in charge of the camp) whether Shaker was in his normal cell. “No, he's not here,” the SOG replied. I settled down for another wasted hour, waiting for the military to bring over someone I could see. It was hot even under the umbrella at the “picnic table” – the area behind one of the cells in Camp Echo where they made lawyers wait. I watched a lizard crawling up the green mesh on the wire fence. I thought about the spider in Robert the Bruce's cave, continually battling to spin its web and teaching patience to the early Scottish nationalists.

The next day I saw Shaker. “Were you here yesterday?” I asked. “Yeah, of course. I've been here for weeks,” he replied. …

The dissembling disease got worse as time passed. First there was the effort to suppress the truth, with censorship or silence rather than any overt falsehood. Then there was the lie by semantics, where the US military redefined the language to provide plausible deniability. Finally, there was the bare-faced lie. This kind of culture does not germinate in a vacuum. Rumsfeld is responsible for a reconstitution of the English language. …

In a December 2004 press conference, the US navy secretary Gordon England tried to defend conditions in Guantánamo by producing the novel argument that the camp was rehabilitative: “People have learned to read and have learned to write, and so it's not just being incarcerated. We do try to get people prepared for a better life.” Prisoners had some difficulty exercising their new-found abilities. Indeed, contrary to England's statement, prisoners in Guantánamo were certainly not considered “people” and the guards were not even allowed to call them “prisoners”. …

Meanwhile the authorities exercised rigid control over any information that the prisoners received. Each time I went to visit, I would take a suitcase full of reading materials. I maintained a log reflecting the fate of each publication. Magazines awarded the stamp DENIED included National Geographic, Scientific American and Runner's World. On one occasion it seemed justified, since that month's National Geographic had a story about building an atomic bomb, but the editions about whales and African tribes hardly seemed a threat to national security. One soldier explained the censorship of Scientific American to me: the prisoner might learn about some hi-tech weapons system. Banning Runner's World was less obvious, given the naval base was surrounded on one side by a Cuban minefield and on the other three by ocean.

…I dropped off an anthology of first world war poetry for Omar Deghayes that included Wilfred Owen's poem Futility, about the ghastly violence of war. It was returned DENIED.

Omar was born in 1969 and was a British refugee from Libya. His father was tortured and killed by Muammar Gadafy in 1980, and as a teenager Omar moved with his family to Brighton and studied law. He had not completed his law exams, so I brought his books so he could study, ready for his release. Law books, though, were not permitted, least of all a subversive tome about the legal rights of prisoners.

The only Australian left in Guantánamo, David Hicks, was facing a military con-mission, like Binyam, and his lawyer was banned from giving him Scott Turow's legal thriller Presumed Innocent. The basis for censoring The New Dinkum Aussie Dictionary was less clear. Perhaps the strangest decision involved four books returned with the notation: “These Items were not Cleared for Delivery to the Detainee(s).” They were Puss in Boots, Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Beauty and the Beast – all in Arabic translation. As one FBI agent admonished me: “You know that Arabic script is full of squiggles, and it can easily hide messages to the prisoners.” Could it be, I wondered, that Cinderella was secretly an enemy combatant? Eventually the military barred us from bringing books for our clients altogether.

And then there was the secrecy: lawyers were neither allowed to repeat anything the prisoners said to them, nor even to keep their own notes, which were all shipped to DC to be scrutinized by a declassification group before they'd be let out into the open.

All this was to control the flow of bad news out of Guantánamo. From the beginning Joe Margulies, the other civilian lawyer working for Binyam Mohamed, encapsulated the proper response to this: if we could open up the prison to public inspection, the government would close it down.

And there was a lot to hide. For example,

The way the military had pretended to torture his wife in the next room, even information about American soldiers murdering two prisoners in front of Moazzam, was considered a “method of interrogation” that could not be revealed.

Amnesty International's report, USA: Cruel and Inhuman — Conditions of Isolation for Detainees in Guantanamo Bay is grim. I wish every member of Congress could be persuaded to read it.

Despite being provided with what the US government has called “high quality” medical care, adequate food, sanitation and access to religious items, most detainees have languished in harsh conditions throughout their detention, confined to mesh cages or enclosed maximum security cells. Moreover, in December 2006, a new facility opened on the base. This facility, known as Camp 6, has created even harsher and apparently more permanent conditions of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation in which detainees are confined to almost completely sealed, individual cells, with minimal contact with any other human being.

At the time of writing, about 300 of the Guantánamo detainees — nearly 80 per cent of the current detainee population — were believed to be held in isolation in Camps 5, 6 or Camp Echo. According to the Pentagon, 165 detainees had been transferred to Camp 6 from other facilities on the base by mid-January 2007. Around 100 detainees are held in Camp 5, and some 20 more are believed to be held in isolation in Camp Echo, a facility set apart from others on the base, which was originally used to hold detainees selected for trial by military commissions. Fourteen “high value” detainees transferred from years of secret detention to Guantánamo Bay in September 2006 are also held in isolation on the base, although their exact location is unknown.

The isolation, and other psychologically damaging aspects of the treatment are literally driving the prisoners crazy. It is no surprise that there are suicides and growing hunger strikes.

I do not believe that this sort of treatment can be justified under any moral standard, however elastic.

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2 Responses to Rumsfeld’s House of Lies and Inhumanity

  1. serena1313 says:

    I agree 100 percent. No matter the circumstance torture, abuse and isolation do not produce “hi-value” intelligence. Moreover it is not any way to treat a human being. This sort of treatment eventually is just as damaging to the torturer as the ones they torture. Humans deserve dignity and some semblance of respect. It is not about how they treat us; it is about how we treat them.

    US actions taken since 911 canceled any good will we’ve done over the past 200 years! This will have long-term and lasting effects.

    What have we become? Up until bush took office, I never dreamt there would come a time when the US would reverse almost all if not all dictates previously adhered to by our leaders. Compare what is being done today: disappearing people by extraordinary renditions is commonly used by the CIA — whisking suspects to countries known to practice torture. “Suspects” are assassinated, not tried in a court of law. Habeas Corpus, a 700 year old law, is being denied to detainees locked up indefinitely without any recourse to challenge their incarceration. They are considered guilty until proven innocent.

    Military tribunals are their only chance, but all odds are stacked against them: information using coercive means can be submitted into evidence including that evidence can be withheld from the detainee. He/she can be convicted without even being told what the charges are muchless the evidence. How does one prepare a defense for that? Imagine being sentenced to death not knowing why because it is a secret! This is a complete reverse of just and fair trials.

    Agree or not the consequences do not look good — expect other countries to follow suit when American civilians and/or soldiers get caught and jailed in a foreign country there is nothing to stop them from exacting the same treatment in return.

    This is not the America I knew and loved!

  2. Gloria Macaloney says:

    Dear Sir:

    Regarding Alberto Gonzalez performance one wonders why the charge of pandering cannot be leveled at all involved in the ‘firing’ of any/or all prosecutors. There is a felonious stench oozing from the Department of Justice these days.

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