By Sam Ord
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2787

Twenty years after Guantanamo camp opened, former inmates speak out

The meeting heard powerful calls for the camp to be closed
Issue 2787
Moazzam Begg speaking at the meeting

Moazzam Begg speaking at the meeting

In January 2002 US president George Bush opened the Guantanamo Bay torture camp.

On the 20th anniversary, human rights organisation Cage held a meeting with seven former detainees to share their horrific experiences. The former inmates experienced 70 years of Guantanamo torture and detention between them. Over 900 people internationally registered for the online event.

Host and former detainee Moazzam Begg introduced the meeting with a call to president Joe Biden to “do what previous governments haven’t” and shut the camp.

“George Bush opened Guantanamo, Barack Obama promised to close it, Trump promised to keep it,” he said. “What will Biden do? It must be shut down.”

Guantanamo Bay in its two decades of operation has tortured 779 prisoners aged from 13 without charge or trial.

Ahmed Errachidi was nicknamed “the General” by US soldiers as he was seen as a Guantanamo inmate leader. He viewed himself as just a chef from London. 

He said, “The title caused me pain. In the war on terror, they considered me a ‘top general’.”

Errachidi fought back during his detention and organised protests, but was monitored and subsequently interrogated.

The authorities removed his blanket and clothes and he was “chained to the floor, in the middle of Guantanamo, in the middle of the most powerful army”.

“I was scared but I woke up in a different mood and told my friend ‘we will continue with the protest’,” he said.

The camp’s  managers put Errachidi in isolation. But other inmates protested and went on hunger strike to ensure his safety. On his return inmates shared experiences on how best to strike and resist.

Omar Deghayes was studying law when he was kidnapped by the US military. “I learnt more from interrogation than any book could teach me,” he said.

“I was brutalised, I lost my sight in one eye. I was beaten for 50 days, I started to hear voices in my head.”

When taken aboard a US military plane, “the system covered my eyes and ears to make you desensitised, I completely lost my mind”, he added.

Deghayes argued that Guantanamo’s tactics have now been normalised and subsequently replicated in other nations. He said, “China is doing the same against Muslims in their own country. The US claims to be a country of laws and freedom, Guantanamo must be shut down.”

Guantanamo Bay incarcerated young teenagers during its operation. Omar Khadr was 14 when he was snatched by the US military, he grew into an adult in Guantanamo. He said, “Guantanamo stole people’s identity, to break them, to make them into machines.

“There was a time when guards said I wasn’t cooperating. They took my reading materials because they knew that I was growing and developing.”

Summarising he said, “Human rights and justice won’t be given to us. It’s something we must fight for.”

Mohamedou Ould Salahi was detained for 15 years, he added to Omar’s contribution by shining a spotlight on the racism and religious oppression present.

“In isolation I wasn’t allowed to pray, they’d violently stop me,” he said. “Fasting wasn’t allowed, they’d force-feed us.”

Lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith has defended many Guantanamo inmates, including Begg. When they met, Begg was shackled in chains built in Birmingham, his home town.

He called for “Guantanamo to be turned into a museum of shame”.

These former inmates’ experiences offer a glimpse into the harsh reality of imperialism and capitalism. Demanding an end to all torture camps must be at the heart of mass movements against war, imperialism and racism.


Watch Cage’s eight-point plan on closing Guantanamo Bay here

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