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Guantanamo Bay: inhuman and degrading

This article is over 19 years, 10 months old
Victoria Brittain, who together with Gillian Slovo compiled the acclaimed play Guantanamo: Honour Bound to Defend Freedom, spoke to Socialist Worker about the dossier published last week giving testimony from three British detainees
Issue 1914

What is striking about last week’s dossier, released by three men from Tipton in the West Midlands, is the detail. It came out just as four French people were released. Two of them reportedly told their lawyers a similar story.

A Swedish and a Spanish man were also released recently. They have made the same allegations. All these reports, coming at the same time, make the dossier hard to deny.

It is very unconvincing when the Foreign Office says, “Nobody told us – nobody made any complaint.”

The human rights abuses these men faced started back in Kandahar in Afghanistan. One was interrogated at gunpoint and threatened by the Americans.

They were kept in freezing cold conditions with just thin shirts on. They had no shoes, and they were beaten a lot.

They were transported from Afghanistan to Cuba, forced to wear goggles and earmuffs, with their hands taped very tightly, and forced to sit for hours and hours before they were loaded onto the plane.

On the plane they had to sit in this rigid way and often were not allowed to go to the toilet. Before they got on the plane they had “cavity searches”, which were repeated when they were naked after arriving in Guantanamo.

This was an effort to humiliate them sexually.

The men were shackled a lot of the time. There were beatings for the smallest infringements.

People were kept for very long periods in solitary confinement – often kept naked for months.

The detainees were put in a small cell that had full air conditioning. They describe their teeth chattering as they tried to sleep and get away from the cold.

What they found most terrible was the interrogations. The US interrogators were often very young and inexperienced.

They would ask the same questions over and over again so that the men always had the feeling that nobody was taking any notice of what they said.

After a while some of them stopped cooperating. In the interrogation there were threats: “We can keep you here forever,” “We can kill you – nobody would ever know.”

Food was withheld so people got very weak. Some prisoners were moved from one cell to another every two hours, so they never got to sleep.

In their dossier, the Tipton men describe a video, recorded in 2000, showing a Bin Laden rally in Afghanistan. Bits of the video had been blown up and made into photographs.

They kept being shown these photographs by the interrogators, who would say, “That’s you.”

At first the men said, “We weren’t there in 2000 – we were in Tipton.” But they went on and on with these interrogations and they describe how in the end you just say, “OK, if you want, it’s me.”

The story of how they were forced to confess to something ludicrous shows how they had been reduced by the conditions they were being held in. They were terrified all the time.

There are other people of different nationalities in Guantanamo. There are Chinese people, Afghan farmers, Pakistani farmers, Kuwaitis, Yemenis, Sudanese, some of whom are in a really bad way psychologically, who have been really terrorised and beaten.

People were sent away to places like Egypt to be tortured. Everybody knew about this.

The lid has been lifted by this dossier, but there may yet be worse things to come.

US lawyers have linked the treatment in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.

There is a level of lawlessness and torture where the responsibility goes very high up, justified by saying that it is a different world after 11 September.

But it is exactly the same world – torturing people was wrong before, and it is wrong now. It is no coincidence that when General Geoffrey Miller came to Guantanamo, from the end of 2002 until April 2004, conditions worsened.

He stopped the call to prayer, and all the sexual taunting began. Guantanamo was not only an experiment in trying to get information from people, but also in what kind of torture they could get away with.

There is a big movement in the US legal profession to fight this, including some of the military defenders, particularly Major Dan Mori, who was the top prosecutor in the US Marines and is now the counsel for the Australian prisoner David Hicks.

Mori has spoken eloquently about what he feels is happening to US military justice.

People in authority in Britain knew about conditions in Guantanamo. There have been so many British visits.

The Foreign Office told them there was no information when there was information. Families were told that letters would be given to their sons, brothers or husbands.

They would later find that those letters had never arrived. Letters seem to take about six months to arrive.

The British government knew the conditions, and the conditions are absolutely unacceptable. If you kept an animal in those conditions for two weeks in Britain you’d be put in prison.

The trials set to take place at Guantanamo Bay are such a complete negation of international law that I think it is very shocking that the lawyers in the government here have gone along with it.

There is massive concern about what is happening. I have had journalists from all countries come to talk to me about the play.

If you listen to people talking in the interval or after the play you hear over and over again, “How come we didn’t know?”

Quite often Americans come up to me and say, “Thank you for showing us.”

A lot of people ask, “What am I supposed to do now?”

Everybody needs to write to their MP and ministers. People with money can give money to the Guantanamo Human Rights Commission which helps to pay the lawyers.

There are four British citizens still in Guantanamo Bay and two British residents. The citizens are Moazzam Begg, Feroz Abbassi, Richard Belmar and Martin Mubanya.

The residents are Bishar al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna.

Anything that one can do to make this appear more on the public agenda is really important so that our government cannot just pretend that they are doing their best.

If this is their best, it is just not acceptable.

Guantanamo: Honour Bound To Defend Freedom is at the New Ambassadors Theatre, Drury Lane, London WC2, until 4 September.

Special Offer – See the play

Socialist Worker readers can get tickets for the play for the special price of £15 (usual price £20).

Phone the box office on 0870 060 6627 from 10am to 8pm and mention the “Socialist Worker offer”.


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