The Horrors of Gitmo

This (pdf) report from the Center for Constitutional Rights regarding the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo will make your hair stand on end. The Abu Ghraib torture photos are terrible and shocking, but this is so systematic, so methodical so Kafkaesque that it makes you wonder if this country can redeem itself. It is only a matter of scale that differentiates this camp from the gulags and the concentration camps of the twentieth century.

It is a long detailed account by three of the British prisoners who were held for more than two years and have since been released and are back home, free and presumably not considered dangerous since they were released by the authorities within 24 hours of landing. The story of their treatment, most particularly the cold and calculating, relentless mental torture combined with harsh conditions and regular bouts of physical abuse is difficult to read.

During the whole time that we were in Guantanamo, we were at a high level of fear. When we first got there the level was sky-high. At the beginning we were terrified that we might be killed at any minute. The guards would say to us "we could kill you at any time." They would say "the world doesn't know you're here, nobody knows you're here, all they know is that you're missing and we could kill you and no one would know". After time passed, that level of fear came down somewhat but never vanished. It was always there. We were in a situation where there was no one we could complain to and not only could they do anything to any of us but we could see them doing it to other detainees. All the time we thought that we would never get out. Most especially if we were in isolation there would be a constant fear of what was happening and what was going to happen. If it hadn't been for the Arabs knowing by the position of the sun when to pray, we wouldn't have known even that. We didn't know the time. We know the dates we do know because we counted for ourselves and some soldiers would tell us enough to let us slightly keep track, otherwise there was no way and there was never meant to be any way.

These men had already been through that horrible shipping container massacre in Afghanistan. Then they were held at Bagram and Kandahar, where their treatment was unspeakably harsh and cruel. (This, of course, is where certain "contractors" are alleged to have beaten prisoners to death.) By the time they got to Gitmo, they had already been brutalized.

Now, if one were to have some sort of sympathy for the soldiers in Afghanistan who were gathering up "Taliban" and "al Qaeda" with virtually no knowledge of the country, the terrain or the various tribal and political feuds that went on there, you could say that they,at least,expected that Guantanamo would sort out the real bad guys from the innocent guys. That never happened. Apparently, it was assumed that if they put you on a plane for Gitmo you were a terrorist, period.

That's why, as an American, it is also difficult to face the fact that nobody down there had the first clue about what they were doing in terms of interrogations and intelligence. It sounds as if every third rate intel guy from the FBI to MI5 to the CIA to Navy intelligence got a crack at these guys, basically asking them stupid useless questions over and over again, all the while torturing them until they falsely implicated themselves. Then the cycle would begin again. Millions of dollars and man hours have been wasted on useless intelligence gathering turning the entire project into a self perpetuating cycle of sadism and insane ass covering. It is a disgrace.

I am not surprised to learn that much of the truly malignant psychological torture was brought to the camp by artillery officer in charge of sadism, General Geoffrey D. Ripper who is, as we speak, streamlining the torture operations in Iraq so as not to be so sloppy and obvious. He did a fine job of that in Guantanamo. The ERF goon squad was a particularly nice touch.

"We had the impression that at the beginning things were not carefully planned but a point came at which you could notice things changing. That appeared to be after General Miller around the end of 2002. That is when short-shackling started, loud music playing in interrogation, shaving beards and hair, putting people in cells naked, taking away people's "comfort" items, the introduction of levels, moving some people every two hours depriving them of sleep, the use of A/C air. Isolation was always there. "Intel" blocks came in with General Miller. Before when people were put into isolation they would seem to stay for not more than a month. After he came, people would be kept there for months and months and months. We didn't hear anybody talking about being sexually humiliated or subjected to sexual provocation before General Miller came. After that we did. Although sexual provocation, molestation did not happen to us, we are sure that it happened to others. It did not come about at first that people came back and told about it. They didn't. What happened was that one detainee came back from interrogation crying and confided in another what had happened. That detainee in turn thought that it was so shocking he told others and then other detainees revealed that it had happened to them but they had been too ashamed to admit to it. It therefore came to the knowledge of everyone in the camp that this was happening to some people. It was clear to us that this was happening to the people who'd been brought up most strictly as Muslims. It seemed to happen most to people in Camps 2 and 3, the "intel" people, ie the people of most interest to the interrogators. In addition, military police also told us about some of the things that were going on. They would tell us just rather like news or something to talk about. This was something that was happening in the camp. It seemed to us that a lot of the MPs couldn't themselves believe it was happening.

One of the things that becomes clear in this is that they carefully used each prisoner's weak points to get them to confess. Sexual humiliation was not considered useful with these British guys, they used isolation and mind games on them. Others, it seemed, responded to pain. The torture was very individualized. (At Abu Ghraib, after Miller passed on the techniques, they let things get out of hand and Lynndie and the gang started to have "fun" with the sexual sadism. But, there is little doubt that the whole system came from Miller.)

These three guys were very lucky that they came from a country that was closely allied with the US and had some favors to call in. They'd been forced to confess to being in a video with bin Laden even though two of them were in British police custody at the time the video was filmed and the other was working in an electronics store in his home town of Tipton. (They were fingered as being the ones in the video by one of the many mentally ill prisoners in the camp who have been driven around the bend by the conditions there.) British Intelligence found the proof that they were nowhere near bin Laden at the time which explains why these allegedly vicious terrorists who had been held in appalling conditions for years were allowed to just get off the plane from Gitmo and walk right back into Britain as free citizens. The poor damned Afghans, Pakistanis,Africans and Chinese(?) who've been sold to the Americans by various members of the northern Alliance and others for CIA money aren't so lucky.

I urge you to read the whole thing even though it's quite long. It details stories, some of which we've heard from other sources, of prisoners being forcibly injected with unknown substances, denial of urgent medical treatment, brutal beatings, sexual humiliation and psychological torture that is beyond outrageous.

These men were never charged with a crime. Indeed, they never even fought against the United States. Even in the worst cases of prison abuses in America before the reform movement of the 1930's, prisoners had at least had a chance to appear before a hanging judge before they were locked up in "the hole."

I am sick that this happened in my country's name. The men who signed the orders allowing this, Don Rumsfeld and George W. Bush, are war criminals.


Moral Malpractice

Via TalkLeft and Body and Soul, I am glad to see that the New England Journal of Medicine has weighed in the rather stunning spectacle of doctors, medics and nurses participating in or overlooking torture. I wrote about this a couple of times in the past. It was right there in the papers.

At Gitmo psychiatrists willingly gave the interrogators access to the medical files which they used in very special ways to torture the prisoners with their own worst fears.