By Matt Foot
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Bad Men

This article is over 14 years, 7 months old
When George Bush opened his offshore prison camp of Guantanamo in January 2002, he was proclaiming to the world that he and the US were above the law.
Issue 315

In the “war on terror” US agents were given licence to abduct Muslim men from almost anywhere in the world and transport them to prisons. A gruesome list of torture methods was then approved at the highest level.

A few hundred of the many thousands of these men ended up in Guantanamo – the tip of the iceberg of the worldwide network of US prison camps. Here they have been held without charge, without trial and, worst of all, without knowing when they might ever be freed. Some have committed suicide; many more have tried. Hundreds have been on prolonged hunger strike – their only possible means of protest. Not one has been tried in a US court or found guilty of a single offence.

These are the men of whom Bush said proudly, “The only thing I know for certain is these are bad people” – the inspiration for the book’s title. Clive Stafford Smith blows apart the anonymity of these “bad men”. As the legal representative of 50 of the Guantanamo prisoners, he is in a unique position to be their voice. Through this book we learn about their background, suffering, bravery and humour – and their innocence.

“Omar Deghayes was not a Chechen rebel – he has never been to Chechnya, and he is not the man brandishing the Kalashnikov in the US military video. Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed were not the three shady figures beside Bin Laden in another videotape – at the time it was made, in 2000, they were in Birmingham. Yusuf el Gharani was not a 20 year old member of the London al Qaida cell in 1998 – he was 11, and had never been to Saudi Arabia. Ahmed Errachidi was not the general of al Qaida in Afghanistan in July 2001 – he was a chef at the Westbury Hotel.”

A particularly inspiring case is that of Binyam Mohammed. After three years of torture and interrogation he bravely decides to defend himself (rather than use an army lawyer) at his military commission. He tells the judge, Colonel Kohlmann:

“‘…if you was arrested somewhere in Arabia and Bin Laden says, ‘You know what, you are my enemy but I am going to force you to have a lawyer and I give you some bearded turban person,’ I don’t think you will agree with that. Forget the rules, regulations and crap… you wouldn’t deal with that… if you want to be a general you have to go along with this, but if you want to stay as colonel… you have to make real big decisions here. I am done; you can stop looking at the watch.’ He turned away from Kohlmann… He was holding up a sign, ‘Con-Mission’, and waving it to the journalists behind him.”

The casual normality of the torture and ill treatment in Guantanamo was discovered by the unfortunate US soldier Sean Baker. He foolishly volunteered to don an orange jumpsuit and pretend to be a detainee during a training exercise. The notorious Emergency Reaction Force (ERF), which deals with disturbances in Guantanamo, was not told he was a soldier.

“As he was instructed, Baker refused the ERF team’s orders and hid under the bunk. They entered the cell, beat him, choked him and slammed his head against the floor… The beating continued… ‘That individual slammed my head against the floor and continued to choke me. Somehow I got enough air. I muttered out ‘I’m a US soldier, I’m a US soldier.’ Even this failed to stop the attack until one of the soldiers noticed something wrong.”

Baker suffered brain damage, was discharged from the army and is now unemployed.

An estimated 14,000 people are held by the US in secret prisons around the world. Stafford Smith shows that the reason there have been no trials of Guantanamo prisoners is that these would expose the secret programme of torture and imprisonment. This book reminds us that Blair, the man guided by god, kept silent about Guantanamo for years, then called it an anomaly and never requested its closure.

Blair could have stopped the torture and illegal incarceration. He chose instead to suck up to Bush and keep quiet about the outrages on his watch. He is a bad man, no better than the torturers.

I spoke to Clive about this wonderful book. He told me that because the law is failing to provide any justice, “the court of public opinion becomes an even more important forum than normal for my clients”. He added:

“I hope by sharing the truth – albeit a truth every word of which went through the US censors – common sense will drive us back to the rule of law.”

He remains infectiously optimistic: “We win all the time. One way or another, 390 prisoners have won their freedom, through advocacy of one kind or another – even if the courts have not ordered it yet. I think it is fantastic that a small group of lawyers can take on the most powerful government on earth and simply stop it from violating the law.”

He also urges others to “give a damn”. This book ensures that and inspires you to join the Reprieve campaign to free the remaining prisoners.

Bad Men – Guantanamo Bay and the Secret Prisons by Clife Stafford Smith is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, £16.99. For more information about Stafford Smith’s Reprieve campaign go to

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