Friday, October 27, 2006

A Visit to a Lawless Prison: Legal Parody in Guantanamo

October 26, 2006

A visit to a lawless prison

Legal Parody in Guantanamo


In Guantanamo, the iguanas have more rights than the detainees in
this gulac of our time.

Being a protected species, it is obligatory to drive at a speed of
less than 40 km/h on roads inside the US base in Cuba in order not to run over the animals. If by haste, absentmindedness or cruelty any
soldier goes beyond that limit and kills one of these reptiles, the
offender must pay a fine of $10,000 dollars USD.

By an idyllic Caribbean seashore, there is a detention center where
for four years now some 800 kidnapped people from around the world have been held. "A bit over 430 or a bit under that figure are still
here now, the rest have been released," said the enigmatic General
Edward Leacock, second in command of the nightmare called Guantanamo.


No photos. No recorders. No names of those present can be used. One can only enter the room with pen and paper. Credentials must be left outside so detainees cannot identify you. But the parody of justice that the militaries show in Guantanamo is about to begin. The
entrance door to the room announces "Trial in Session." The judge's
armchair, a table for defense attorneys and one for the prosecutor. A
place for reporters. Additional seats for the witnesses. The walls
are white. There are no windows. It can be day or night outside.
Outside it is daytime and it is hot, this is Cuba. But it is cold
inside. The air-conditioning makes teeth chatter and sheets of paper
fly. The furniture is shabby. There is a camera on every corner to
record the process and the images are being monitored by other
military or intelligence agents in the next room. The US flag
presides over the room.


"Stand up," a US Navy Lieutenant calls out in a combative tone, a
prisoners stands up. He has a stout figure (the daily food ration in
GITMO -the abbreviation Americans use for the long and complicated
pronunciation of Guantanamo- consists of 4,200 calories, and with
minimum physical exercise it's easy to get fat.

The man has a long beard; he is a 27-year-old Afghan. Once again the militaries demand total discretion about his name and force those present in the room to sign a document accepting not to reveal the prisoner's identity. The interpreter stands up, the US military
personnel who represents the detainee stands up, and so do the only reporters that have been granted the grace of attending this circus function. "Court is in session" says a solemn female US Navy Captain, who has just entered the room and will play the role of judge. Except for the defendant, the journalists and the interpreter, the rest of the people on hand are actors; they are all military people
performing roles.


Two young soldiers had left the room a little while before -a man and
a woman. They were wearing navy uniforms and aseptic, green plastic gloves. They had just handed over the prisoner and before going away they had left him tied up to the floor with chains tightly adjusted around his ankles.

Everything has been designed in detail. The detainee sits in a cheap,
white plastic chair -"that doesn't represent a danger for him or the
others"- says Capt. Waddingham as he explains to the two reporters
the scene that will unfold. A ring is anchored to the floor to which
the prisoner is chained in order to thoroughly impede his mobility.

His handcuffed wrists are chained down to his lap. His uniform is
white, which means that he holds the lowest degree of badness in the scale used by the US military in Guantanamo.

If the detainee is considered to be of medium dangerousness, then his clothes are beige. Orange covers the body of those who, even after years of being behind bars, have not bowed.

Those who behave properly have toothbrushes, toilet paper, soap,
shampoo, sheets, blankets, and underwear. The unruly wash their teeth with their fingers, receive a strip of paper to clean after
defecating, and sleep on a hard shabby bed. Those who have attempted suicide are dressed in a kind of dark green straightjacket over their naked bodies.

But every cell, be it punishment cell or not, has a stamped cross
pointing to Mecca.


With her hair combed up in bun, the skin on her face looks stretched.
Her uniform is thoroughly ironed; a pair of huge glasses covers
almost half of her face. She is the US Navy captain that has been
given the script to play the judge. Inside a white plastic file, she
has a document with each and every word that she is to say from that
moment on.

And the defendant's interpreter also has the words written in advance
in Pashto. Nothing is spontaneous for the military actors. For the
prisoner, everything is so nightmarish that it may not seem real

"Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth?" the captain asks the defendant. Then, the interpreter, an
Afghan with a US passport appointed for this job by the US
government, repeats the question in Pashto. The accused replies in a very low voice: "I have already sworn that twice, I swear it again."
Twice. Since he was captured by the US army in its fight against
terrorism in mid-2002 in Afghanistan, the man -whose name cannot be revealed- has sat twice before in front of those with the power to
decide on his imprisonment or freedom.

On the two previous occasions his jailers must have thought that he
had not redeemed, because he is still here, he is here again sitting
in front of the fake court that is trying him.

"Yes or No?" asks impatiently another high-ranking officer, this time
from the Navy. The interpreter with a nervous chuckle translates the
question adorned with kindness or with a suggestion to answer
affirmatively so that everything ends at once.

Finally, the prisoner says "yes, I swear it to Allah."

Q: Were you a member of Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden's terrorist

A: When the Taliban arrived, we fled to Pakistan.

"Yes or No," repeats the same officer. Again the interpreter who
looks uneasy, almost frightened and red in the face is trying to
advise his "client". Then comes the result of his mediation: "No".

Q: Why do you consider that you are no longer a danger to the United

A: I repeat for the third time that I have never said a word against
America; I am a friend of America and the Americans.

His statement is mechanically articulated.

For half a minute, the defendant stares in the eyes of the reporter.
He does not know the crime for which he is being tried because he has never been shown any evidence against him. No legal charge has ever been filed against him before a judge. He has never had a lawyer represent him. The detainee knows that if he does not convince the court today, he will have to wait for another year until his case is reviewed.

He looks both ways and realizes that he is alone. No one is by his
side. Besides the reporters and the interpreter, he is the only
civilian in the courtroom. He is in front of seven military officers,
one of whom is trying hard not to fall asleep in this soporific Cuban

There is no witness. There is no lawyer. The look on his face shows
that he may be trapped for a lifetime in the black hole of Guantanamo
or until the new world order that George W. Bush has established

"I'm innocent," he mumbles. "I'm innocent." And he looks around
again, searching for someone who might tell his tragedy once out of
those four walls.

The captain with the hair in a tight bun stares at him and states.
"The court will decide, this session is adjourned."

She leaves the courtroom at a martial pace. What session was she
referring to, if this is not a trial? What court was she speaking of,
if there are no magistrates? What conviction, if there is no charge?

"No one has believed him," comments the soldier with the green gloves to his sergeant. The defendant will soon be unfastened from the ring on the floor and taken at a slow pace (as fast as the short chains gripped around his ankles permit) to his cell.

What no one would believe, if they were able to see it, is what
occurred inside a white room at the Guantanamo base in Cuba on
Thursday, October 18, between 13:00 and 14:27. A sign that read "Mock Trial in Session" should have been posted at the door.

Gen. Leacock says: "I'm going to give you today's headline: There is
no detention camp around the world as transparent as Gitmo."

That same transparency makes Tajik Zen Ulabedin Merozhev tell his
interpreter that he has not seen his own face for five years now.

Imagine this for one moment: five years without being able to look at
yourself in a mirror. For five years, he has been abducted in a
detention camp located thousands of miles from his home. Five years deprived of any right.

It is worth recalling that more than 800 people, including children,
have been held in Guantanamo ever since it was set up as a detention facility for the war on terrorism in 2002. That about 430 of them are still confined there. That formal charges have been filed only against 10 prisoners. That the reports of physical and psychological torture are non stop. That the Geneva Convention has been violated and misused by the US military, who cite it as an excuse to prohibit photographs.

It is necessary to recall these details; otherwise, one might think
they are visiting a Caribbean recreation resort after making the tour
of the premises that the US Army presents to visitors, where there is
a dental clinic and the Arabic translation of Harry Potter books for
the prisoners to read.

"They are lying," a prisoner calls out.

Camp V. The last prison facility set up by the US military. It is as
cold as steel, as aseptic as a morgue and as invulnerable as a
fortress. The marine recites its advantages. "It can hold 100
prisoners. State-of the-art technology. There are cameras in every
cell. It was built to resemble Indiana's top security prison. And he
is right. As soon as the automatic door that separates the prison
from the street closes, one feels as if one was buried alive and
feels an urge to escape. And only five minutes have passed. The ghost that are surviving in the four-meter-long-by-three-meters-wide cells have been here for four years.

"Madam, you cannot stand behind me," warns a soldier. You cannot snap pictures of my soldiers nor the control center in my prison. The use of possessives makes one shiver.

"You can take photos of the interrogation armchair, it is as
comfortable as anyone in any house," he says as he leads the
reporters into the room. At the feet of the velvet-upholstered
armchair a couple of handcuffs emerge from the floor. They are used
to hold the prisoner.

Next are the cells. When the door of the cell is closed, the cage is
sealed. This helps avoid the uncomfortable "cocktails" that the
prisoners prepare for the guards. In Camp Delta, where only a barbed wire fence separates the detainees from the jailers, the prisoners throw "bodily fluids" -urine and excrement.

But a wall that can contain the cries of desperation has not been
built in Guantanamo. It is Ramadan. It is prayer time. And in the
midst of the prayers when a detainee realizes the presence of a
reporter, he cries out in poor English: "They are lying to you."

(Taken from the Spanish newspaper El Pais)

1 comment:

Pan-African News Wire said...

Cheney endorses simulated drowning

Mark Tran
Friday October 27, 2006
Guardian Unlimited

The use of a form of torture known as waterboarding to gain information is a "no-brainer", the US vice-president, Dick Cheney, told a radio interviewer, it was reported today.

Mr Cheney implied that the technique - a form of simulated drowning - was used on the alleged September 11 mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is being held at Guantánamo Bay.

In an interview with Scott Hennen, a conservative radio show host in Fargo, North Dakota, on Tuesday, Mr Cheney agreed with the assertion that "a dunk in water" could yield valuable intelligence from terror suspects.

"Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?" Mr Hennen asked.

"Well, it's a no-brainer for me," Mr Cheney replied. "But for a while there, I was criticised as being the vice president for torture. We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in."

In some versions of waterboarding, prisoners are strapped to a board and their faces covered with cloth or cellophane while water is poured over their mouths to stimulate drowning. In others, they are forced head first into water.

Mr Cheney's comments set him at odds with the Military Commissions Act, which bars, under all circumstances, treatment of prisoners that inflicts serious physical or mental pain or suffering.

Two of the chief sponsors of the legislation, senators John McCain and John Warner - both senior Republicans - say it outlaws waterboarding.

Last month, the US army also revised its field manual to specifically ban waterboarding and other techniques as "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" that is banned by the Geneva accords.

Military officials said such techniques did not yield reliable intelligence from prisoners.

Mr Cheney told his interviewer that the ability to interrogate high value detainees had "been a very important tool that we've had to be able to secure the nation
... we need to be able to continue that".

A spokeswoman for the vice president yesterday said Mr Cheney was not confirming the use of any specific interrogation techniques.

"He was talking about the interrogation programme without torture," Lee Anne McBride told the Washington Post. "The vice president does not discuss any techniques or methods that may or may not have been used in questioning."

The US group Human Rights Watch said Mr Cheney's comments on waterboarding contradicted the views of Congress and the defence department and warned they could come back to haunt the US.

"If Iran or Syria detained an American, Cheney is saying that it would be perfectly fine for them to hold that American's head under water until he nearly drowns, if that's what they think they need to do to save Iranian or Syrian lives," Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for the organisation, said.

The US has long considered waterboarding - which dates back at least to the Spanish Inquisition - to be torture and a war crime.

As early as 1901, a US court martial sentenced Major Edwin Glenn to 10 years hard labour for subjecting a suspected insurgent in the Philippines to the "water cure".

After the second world war, US military commissions successfully prosecuted as war criminals several Japanese soldiers who subjected US prisoners to waterboarding.

In 1968, a US army officer was court martialled for helping to waterboard a prisoner in Vietnam.