THE ONLY response from home secretary David Blunkett to the bombings in Madrid was to call for more of the repressive measures which failed to prevent the tragedy. Western governments have been locking up hundreds of men for two years, all justified by the claim that a bit of repression is a price worth paying in the ‘war against terror’.
Far from ending terrorism, we now face, according to Tony Blair, a greater threat. And the horror of the US prison camp in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba has added to the rage across the Middle East and elsewhere in the world that can lead a minority to respond with terrorist violence.
The five British prisoners released from Guantanamo last week have revealed the full barbarity of the camp. Blunkett says he is happy for four other British men to remain there along with hundreds of other detainees. Three of the British prisoners released last week spoke to the Observer about how what started out as a trip to Pakistan for a wedding in September 2001 ended in imprisonment.
Shafiq Rasul, Rhuhel Ahmed and Asif Iqbal, all from Tipton in the West Midlands, were interrogated 200 times during their two-year ordeal in Guantanamo Bay. They faced the CIA, the FBI, the Defence Intelligence Agency, and the British secret services, MI5 and MI6.
The US finally admitted it has no grounds whatsoever for linking them to Al Qaida. That is despite trying to torture a confession out of the three.
US authorities claimed the men were pictured on a video with Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan.
Shafiq, Rhuhel and Asif protested they were in Britain at the time. Yet the torture was so severe they ended up confessing to being in a nonexistent video. That was despite MI5 agents eventually providing documentary evidence to prove the men had been in Britain.
Shafiq said, ‘I’d got to the point where I just couldn’t take it any more. I’d been sitting there for three months in isolation so I said yes, it’s me. Go ahead and put me on trial.’
When the three were first arrested in Afghanistan US soldiers held guns to their heads while questioning them. The three were held alongside other prisoners of the US-installed regime in Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance. Many reported beatings and abuse, and suffered from lack of food.
Shafiq, Rhuhel and Asif were near to death. The Northern Alliance herded hundreds into containers without airholes. Asif told of how only one in five got out alive. When they were taken to the US-run Guantanamo Bay they were held in cages and not allowed any contact with a lawyer.
They were questioned for 12 hours or more without a break, month after month. They were regularly strapped into body-belt restraints that bit into their flesh, and forced to kneel with their heads pressed against the floor. Those images were transmitted across the world. The abuse continued away from the cameras. The prisoners were pinned to the floor and beaten.
The US claims Guantanamo Bay allows them to get information about ‘terrorist networks’. But all the brutality does is drive some prisoners to give false information in the hope that they will get better treatment. Shafiq described how during interrogation he was told, ‘This guy says you’ve done this, this guy says you’ve done that.
‘What they meant was that other detainees desperate to get out were making allegations, making stuff up that they thought would help get them out of the camp.’ The FBI even tried to get the three to sign a confession that they had links with terrorism in their final questioning before they were released. When the US regime thinks it has ‘evidence’ against any of the prisoners, it transfers them to a new security facility inside Guantanamo Bay called Camp Echo.
Two of the four remaining British prisoners, Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi, are being held there. There is 24-hour solitary confinement and sound-absorbent cells. The three men from Tipton’s shocking testimony is supported by the other two British prisoners released last week. Jamal Al Harith told the Mirror of the beatings and torture he and other prisoners suffered.
The paper described how his body has been distorted because the shackles that bound him were too short. Tarek Dergoul has spoken through his solicitor of the botched medical treatment, interrogation, beatings and trauma he has suffered. Blunkett and Blair say that has made the world a safer place.
THE SAME talk of clamping down on terrorism was used in Britain in the 1970s to justify mass arrest and imprisonment of Irish people. The threat from the IRA, we were told, was so great that anyone regarded as suspect should be arrested and imprisoned.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) led to the mass harassment and arrest of people from an Irish background. Some 97 percent of those arrested between 1974 and 1988 were released without charge.
Of the few who were charged, the first to be convicted under the PTA was Paul Hill of the Guildford Four, wrongly imprisoned for 15 years. Before they were set free, many suffered the type of ‘questioning’ that the US used in Guantanamo Bay.
Bernard O’Connor, a school teacher, was arrested in 1977. He was forced to raise himself up on his toes, bend his knees and hold his hands out in front of him. If his heels touched the ground, police officers hit him in the face. Officers tried to force him to admit he had links to terrorists. The beatings and torture continued until he was released days later without charge.
The 1974 act was an ’emergency’ measure that was only supposed to last for six months. It remained law until 1992 and has now been incorporated into Blunkett’s even more repressive anti-terrorism laws, under which 8,000 have been stopped. Only 70 have faced charges, mostly immigration-related offences. Of the seven convicted, none were found guilty of planning or carrying out acts of terror. Virtually all of those targeted have been Muslim.
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