Decaying Guantánamo defies closing plans

The New York Times reports: The prison facilities amid this harsh landscape of sun, scrub and dust have expanded, even as the detainee population has shrunk. In 2003, about 680 prisoners filled Camp Delta, a sprawling complex with three units of open-air cellblocks and another area of communal bunks.

Today, the remaining 149 detainees live in newer buildings, and Camp Delta sits empty. To the north, the original complex, Camp X-Ray — with kennel-like cages that were used for about four months in 2002 while Delta was built — is a ghost prison, overrun by vegetation and banana rats, tropical rodents the size of opossums.

Hidden in the hills about a half-mile back from the seacoast sits Camp 7, an intelligence operations center where a group of high-level terrorism suspects, like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, are imprisoned.

Last year, the Southern Command, or Southcom, requested about $200 million to rebuild that structure; to upgrade housing for the 2,000 troops participating in the prison task force; and to replace or repair other buildings, arguing that the compound was not designed for long-term use and patching up various buildings was no longer adequate.

The Pentagon rejected the request, but Congress may approve about $23 million for two wish-list items: replacing the kitchen building and moving the medical clinic closer to Camps 5 and 6, concrete-walled structures where most of the detainees now live surrounded by layers of high fences covered with concertina wire.

Moreover, military officials here say they are updating a 10-year budgeting “road map” to eventually build many of the other items. They would gradually tap general military construction funds, not seek line-item approval from lawmakers in spending bills.

“We are forced to at least forecast so that we’re prepared if this detention facility is open two years from now, 12 years from now, 22 years from now, so that we’re prepared to be able to continue to do the mission,” said Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, who took over the prison task force in July. [Continue reading...]

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Guantanamo prisoners get to play video games in a recliner — while being force-fed

Jason Leopold reports: Military officials at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility are attempting to make force-feeding a little more fun for detainees. Some longterm hunger strikers can now kick back in a plush recliner — well, not literally, since their ankles are restrained by shackles — and play video games or watch TV while being tube fed a liquid nutritional supplement.

The policy was implemented last October at about the same time prison officials were rewriting a new standard operating procedure that rebranded the hunger strikes as “long-term non-religious fasts.”

VICE News obtained from Guantanamo attorneys newly unsealed declarations in a lawsuit filed by a detainee who is challenging the legality of the force-feeding process. In one sworn declaration, Army Colonel John Bogdan discussed the new reclining chair policy. He said it only applies to detainees who are “compliant.” [Continue reading...]

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Guantánamo prosecutor fights handing secrets over to defense

The New York Times reports: The chief prosecutor at the Guantánamo Bay war-crimes court has asked a judge to set aside an order that requires the government to give defense lawyers sweeping amounts of classified details related to the Central Intelligence Agency’s treatment of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi detainee accused of orchestrating the 2000 bombing of the destroyer Cole.

In a pretrial motion declassified last week, the prosecutor, Brig. Gen. Mark S. Martins, cited Obama administration efforts to declassify information related to a Senate Intelligence Committee report about the detention and interrogation program. That process, he said, should be allowed to play out.

Richard Kammen, an Indianapolis defense lawyer representing Mr. Nashiri, said in a phone interview that he was drafting a motion to oppose any attempts to reverse the judge’s order. He noted that he had a security clearance, and said the information he was seeking was for his own investigations and was not necessarily going to be made public. [Continue reading...]

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It is the second degree torture, when the torturer singles out someone else for abuse, that plays on your mind

shaker-aamerClive Stafford Smith writes: Two nights ago I watched The Railway Man at a local film festival. Afterwards, one of the writers, Andy Paterson, was being interviewed by Jon Ronson, the curator of the event. They discussed how Colin Firth’s character, Eric Lomax, had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of his torture by the Japanese during the second world war. Paterson had just returned from Tokyo, where it became clear to him that most Japanese people have not got to grips with what happened on the Thai-Burma railway.

I wonder how long it will take us to understand what we are continuing to do to Shaker Aamer in Guantánamo Bay?

I have represented Aamer unsuccessfully for a long time, and we have just received the first independent medical evaluation of him in 12 years. Dr Emily Keram, a respected psychiatrist, despairs for him as long as he remains in Guantánamo Bay. Her report makes for devastating and depressing reading.

Because of society’s eternal prejudices, I am loth to discuss Aamer’s mental health status, but ultimately I must. So let me preface it with an admission: I, too, suffer from PTSD, albeit on an inconsequential scale when compared with either Aamer or Lomax. My own flashbacks, black-and-white negatives of what I witnessed, stem from watching six of my clients die – two each in the electric chair, in the gas chamber and on the lethal injection gurney. The hardest was Nicholas Ingram. I was born in the same hospital as him, and he was electrocuted in a gratuitously grotesque manner.

For Aamer, yes there was all the physical abuse, from beatings, to strappado (dislocating the shoulders by hanging by the wrists), most of which happened to Lomax. But it was the second degree torture (originated by the Spanish Inquisition) that got to Aamer most – when the torturer singles out someone else for abuse and plays on your mind. The American interrogators assured him that they had his family, and they described what they were going to do to his daughter, then five years old: “They are going to screw her. She will be screaming, ‘Daddy! Daddy!'”

I have a five-year-old myself. No wonder Aamer told Keram he felt powerless, guilty that he had failed his kids, his mind imploding. [Continue reading...]

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Senate CIA torture report could throw Gitmo hearings into chaos

Jason Leopold reports: The possible declassification and release of a Senate report into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program — begun in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks — could have a huge impact on the controversial military tribunals happening at Guantánamo Bay, experts and lawyers believe.

The proceedings have been moving at a snail’s pace at the U.S.-held military base on the island of Cuba, amid widespread condemnation that they are being held in a legal limbo and outside the U.S. criminal justice system.

Details surrounding the CIA’s activities have been one of the most contentious issues concerning the commissions at Guantánamo, where the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and his co-defendants are on trial. Their alleged treatment while in CIA custody has been a key stumbling block in the hearings’ progress. The same goes for the man alleged to be behind the USS Cole bombing, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, another former CIA captive.

In both cases, there have been dozens of delays — mainly due to the fact that the attorneys have been battling military prosecutors over access to classified information about the CIA interrogation program that the attorneys want to use as evidence. Both cases have been dragging on for two years and are still in the pretrial evidentiary phase.

But now that the Senate Intelligence Committee appears set to vote on releasing its long-awaited 6,300-page, $50 million study — or at least some portion of it — the defense attorneys will finally get the opportunity to talk openly at the military commissions about torture. That could prove disastrous for military prosecutors. According to defense attorneys and human rights observers who have been monitoring the proceedings, it might also derail the government’s attempts to convince a jury that the detainees, if convicted, deserve to be executed. [Continue reading...]

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Karen Greenberg: Obama’s commandments

Think of us as having two presidents.  One, a fellow named Barack Obama, cuts a distinctly Clark Kent-ish figure.  In presiding over domestic policy, he is regularly thwarted in his desires by the Republicans in Congress and couldn’t until recently get his most basic choices for government positions or the judiciary through the Senate.  For the most minimal look of effectiveness, he has to rely on relatively small gestures by executive order.  In the recent history of the American presidency, he is a remarkably powerless figure presiding over what everyone who is a media anyone claims is a riven, paralyzed, even broken government structure, one in which the Republicans are intent on ensuring that a Democratic president can do nothing until they take the White House (which is almost guaranteed to be never).  What this president wants, almost by definition, he can’t have.  He is, as Guardian columnist Gary Younge wrote recently, a man who’s lost the plot line to his own story and has been relegated to the position of onlooker-in-chief.

But keep in mind that that’s only one of our two presidents.  The other, a fellow named Barack Obama, flies (by drone) like Superman, rules more or less by fiat, sends U.S. missiles to strike and kill just about anyone, including American citizens, anywhere in the distant backlands of the planet, and dispatches the country’s secret warriors (whether from the CIA or the special operations forces) wherever he pleases.  He can, with rare exceptions, intervene violently wherever he chooses.  He can (by proxy) listen in on whomever he’s curious about (including, it seems, 320 German business and political leaders).  He rules over what former Congressional insider Mike Lofgren calls the “deep state” in Washington, a national security apparatus that is neither riven, nor broken, nor paralyzed, with only the rarest intercessions from Congress.  In this world, Obama’s powers have only grown, along with the “kill list” he reviews every week.

Admittedly, in his actions abroad from Afghanistan to Libya, his moves on the global stage haven’t exactly proven to be brilliant coups de théâtre.  Many have, in fact, been remarkably boneheaded.  But no one ever claimed that Superman’s superpowers included super-brain-power.

Think of this White House, then, as the schizophrenic presidency, one half remarkably impotent, the other ever more potent.  The conundrum is that they both inhabit the same man.  And if they add up to anything, as Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law and TomDispatch regular, makes clear today, it’s long-term bad news for the country and the planet. Tom Engelhardt

The Five Commandments of Barack Obama
How “thou shalt not” became “thou shalt”
By Karen J. Greenberg

In January 2009, Barack Obama entered the Oval Office projecting idealism and proud to be the constitutional law professor devoted to turning democratic principles into action.  In his first weeks in office, in a series of executive orders and public statements, the new president broadcast for all to hear the five commandments by which life in his new world of national security would be lived. 

Thou shalt not torture.

Thou shalt not keep Guantanamo open.

Thou shalt not keep secrets unnecessarily.

Thou shalt not wage war without limits.

Thou shalt not live above the law.

Five years later, the question is: How have he and his administration lived up to these self-proclaimed commandments?

[Read more...]

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Lawyers, judge hold secret Guantánamo hearing on CIA black sites

n13-iconCarol Rosenberg reports: A military judge held a secret war court session Saturday on defense lawyers’ efforts to uncover evidence of what the CIA did to the alleged USS Cole bomber across years in the agency’s clandestine overseas prison network.

Both the public and the alleged terrorist were excluded from the 111-minute hearing in the case that seeks the execution of Abd al Rahim al Nashiri as mastermind of the Oct. 12, 2000 terror attack that killed 17 U.S. sailors off Aden, Yemen.

Only prosecutors and defense lawyers attended the hearing with the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, and a court recorder creating a classified transcript of the proceedings.

Nashiri, 49, spent four years in secret CIA prisons where, according to declassified reports, agents waterboarded him and interrogated him nude with a hood on his head and handcuffs on his wrists. One U.S. agent threatened to kill the Saudi with a power drill and handgun, and threatened to have his mother raped. [Continue reading...]

Meanwhile, AFP reports: Five former Guantanamo detainees are seeking damages for what they say were years of sexual, mental and physical abuse at the US detention center, where they were held without charge or trial.

The men from Turkey, Uzbekistan and Algeria, who are now settled in other countries, alleged Friday at a US appeals court that they were subjected to torture that included forced nudity, sexual harassment and beatings, first in Afghanistan and then at the military jail in Cuba.

Justices will make their ruling in several weeks, but one of them, Judge David Tatel, said military and civilian officials at the Pentagon had failed in their duty.

“Their job is to protect the detainees from abuse, they failed to do so,” he said.

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Obama administration won’t divulge cost of Guantanamo camp, asks court to dismiss FOIA lawsuit

n13-iconMcClatchy reports: The Obama administration is refusing to divulge how much it spent to build the secret prison facility at Guantanamo where the accused 9/11 co-conspirators are held and has asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit by a Miami Herald reporter demanding documents that would reveal the number.

In a filing Friday, the Justice Department said that the Pentagon had found just one document that would provide information relevant to a 2009 Freedom of Information Act request reporter Carol Rosenberg filed seeking that cost figure. That document was exempt from disclosure, the filing said, because it contained details of internal deliberations and the names of many officials who were entitled to privacy.

The Justice Department also made a separate secret filing with the court that provided more details on why the document should remain secret. That filing was not shared with Rosenberg’s attorneys, and its contents are unknown. [Continue reading...]

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The torture that flourishes from Gitmo to an American supermax

FeaturePardiss Kebriaei writes: I just returned from Guantánamo, where I met with my client Ghaleb Al-Bihani, a Yemeni citizen who began his thirteenth year of detention without charge there this month. He has been deprived of a third of his life, from ages 22 to 35, because the United States government says that in 2001 he was a cook for a Taliban affiliate that no longer exists. In a few months, he will go through another government review that will either recommend his transfer from Guantánamo or his continued and indefinite imprisonment. We have words and images to describe waterboarding; it is harder to convey the suffocation of perpetual detention.

The crisis of Ghaleb’s continuing detention — its injustice and pain — was at one time more visible. Guantánamo began as a prison the Bush administration declared was outside the law, and there was little pretense about it. People were shoved off the first transport planes in shackles and hoods and locked into outdoor cages. For two years, they were held incommunicado and denied the right to know or contest why they were being detained. When it came to torture, the “gloves were off,” to paraphrase top military and civilian officials.

The wrongful detention and abuse of the men who remain are less overt now. Today, as the result of years of legal challenges and advocacy, detainees have the right to challenge the legality of their detention in federal court; indeed, it is a federal court that sanctioned Ghaleb’s indefinite detention for being a cook. Today, the cages of the makeshift “Camp X-Ray” are overgrown with weeds; the majority of detainees are held in “state-of-the-art” facilities that resemble maximum-security prisons in the United States and mask similar cruelties. Today, torture is the mental torment of 4,380 days behind the walls of an island prison without good reason or end. It is that which Ghaleb says is excruciating.

A colleague, the first civilian attorney allowed access to the prison in 2004, talks of that first visit. The barbarity of the way human beings were being treated was raw and exposed. My visits nowadays begin with a mint on my pillow in my lodging quarters. I can bring pizza to my clients. The crisis at Guantánamo is as present now as ever, but it has been given legal cover, sanitized, normalized. It took a mass hunger strike at the prison last year to wake us up to it.

A few years ago, at an event in January marking yet another anniversary of the Guantánamo prison’s existence, I met the father of Fahad Hashmi, a US citizen of Pakistani descent who grew up in New York City. Fahad is incarcerated at another infamous US prison — the Administrative Maximum Facility (ADX) in Colorado. As a lawyer, I had spent the last several years trying to extend the protections of the American legal system to Guantánamo. But that meeting was an introduction to a slice of unjust punishment and torture on American soil—another outrage born of the “War on Terror,” where government zealotry produces grotesque outcomes, the façade of legal process can legitimize profound unfairness, and barbarity is masked by utter normality. [Continue reading...]

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U.S. psychology body declines to rebuke member in Guantánamo torture case

The Guardian reports: America’s professional association of psychologists has quietly declined to rebuke one of its members, a retired US army reserve officer, for his role in one of the most brutal interrogations known to have to taken place at Guantánamo Bay, the Guardian has learned.

The decision not to pursue any disciplinary measure against John Leso, a former army reserve major, is the latest case in which someone involved in the post-9/11 torture of detainees has faced no legal or even professional consequences.

In a 31 December letter obtained by the Guardian, the American Psychological Association said it had “determined that we cannot proceed with formal charges in this matter. Consequently the complaint against Dr Leso has been closed.”

But the APA did not deny Leso took part in the brutal interrogation of the suspected 20th 9/11 hijacker, Mohammed al-Qahtani, whose treatment the Pentagon official overseeing his military commission ultimately called “torture”. [Continue reading...]

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In Guantánamo, ‘national security’ rides roughshod over human rights

Shaker Aamer writes: The language that they use here at Guantánamo reflects how they treat us prisoners. Just the other day, they referred to me as a “package” when they moved me from my cell. This is nothing new. I have been a package for 12 years now. I am a package when en route to Camp Echo, the solitary confinement wing. I am a package en route to a legal call. “The package has been picked up … the package has been delivered.”

It is not enough that we are called packages. At best, we are numbers. I worry that when I come home that my children will call for “Daddy”, and I will sit unmoving. I am 239. I even refer to myself as 239 these days. I am not sure when I will ever be anything else. It is much easier to deny human rights to those who are not deemed to be “human”.

I have been reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) so I could mark it with the violations the US government commits against us in this facility at Guantánamo Bay. I have been studying each article and on virtually every occasion I have noted how the US military is doing the opposite. After going through all of the articles, I have identified one underlying motive that leads the US to violate the whole declaration.

It is national security. This is the coathanger the government uses to suspend all of these rights. It is always a matter of national security. [Continue reading...]

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Guantánamo detainees claim Poland allowed CIA torture

The Guardian reports: Lawyers for two men subject to extraordinary rendition by the CIA told the European court of human rights (ECHR) on Tuesday that Poland, which permitted a secret “black” site to operate on its territory, should be held responsible for their torture.

The two-day hearing at Strasbourg was the first time a European country has been taken to court for allowing US agencies to carry out “enhanced” interrogation and “waterboarding” programmes. In a highly unusual legal move, the media and public were barred from the opening day’s session.

The military base at Stare Kiejkuty, north of Warsaw, it was revealed, had previously been used by German intelligence and later the Soviet army during the second world war. One of the men, it was alleged, was subjected to mock executions while hooded and otherwise naked. [Continue reading...]

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Penny Lane: Gitmo’s other secret CIA facility

The Associated Press reports: A few hundred yards from the administrative offices of the Guantánamo Bay prison, hidden behind a ridge covered in thick scrub and cactus, sits a closely held secret.

A dirt road winds its way to a clearing where eight small cottages sit in two rows of four. They have long been abandoned. The special detachment of Marines that once provided security is gone.

But in the early years after 9/11, these cottages were part of a covert CIA program. Its secrecy has outlasted black prisons, waterboarding and rendition.

In these buildings, CIA officers turned terrorists into double agents and sent them home.

It was a risky gamble. If it worked, their agents might help the CIA find terrorist leaders to kill with drones. But officials knew there was a chance that some prisoners might quickly spurn their deal and kill Americans.

For the CIA, that was an acceptable risk in a dangerous business. For the American public, which was never told, it was one of the many secret trade-offs the government made on its behalf. At the same time the government used the threat of terrorism to justify imprisoning people indefinitely, it was releasing dangerous people from prison to work for the CIA.

Nearly a dozen current and former U.S. officials described aspects of the program to The Associated Press. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the secret program, even though it ended in about 2006. [Continue reading...]

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Today is Guantánamo’s 12th anniversary, and there’s no end in sight

Morris Davis writes: Twelve years ago, on 13 November 2001, President George W Bush signed an order authorizing the detention of suspected al-Qaida members and supporters, and the creation of military commissions. To borrow a line from the Grateful Dead: “What a long, strange trip it’s been.”

The order was modeled on one issued by President Franklin D Roosevelt on 2 July 1942, authorizing a military commission to try eight Nazi saboteurs apprehended in the United States. The men were captured, convicted and six of the eight executed in a span of 43 days. Roosevelt’s military commission was swift, secret and severe, so some urged President Bush to dust it off and use it again.

A total of seven detainees out of the 779 men ever held at Guantánamo have been convicted and sentenced. Five of the seven are no longer at Guantánamo creating a paradox: you have to lose to win. Those lucky enough to get charged and convicted of a war crime have good odds of getting out of Guantánamo, but those who are never charged could spend the rest of their lives in prison. [Continue reading...]

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The secret diaries of Abu Zubaydah

Jason Leopold reports:

Al Jazeera has obtained a copy of the secret personal diaries of Abu Zubaydah, one of the highest-profile prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. The six notebooks, which were obtained from a former U.S. government intelligence official who worked with the CIA and FBI on Al-Qaeda’s rise to power, were discovered at a safe house in Pakistan where Abu Zubaydah was captured in 2002. Repeatedly cited by U.S. officials in making the case for holding a number of prisoners at Guantanamo, the diaries, which were never officially released, cast fresh light on Abu Zubaydah and challenge some of the Bush administration’s accounts of its “war on terror.” Below are some of the highlights of the first notebook.

Arriving in Afghanistan in 1991, the young computer-science student Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain Abu Zubaydah had no idea of the fateful journey he was embarking on — a journey that, 10 years later, would land him in a CIA black-site prison and then in Guantanamo Bay, branded by President George W. Bush as “one of the top operatives plotting and planning death and destruction on the United States.”

“I am actually scared,” he conceded in his diary. “Not of a bullet or a shell, rather of the future itself. If I decide to settle here, it means that I will cancel my education and there is no harm in that, God willing; jihad is a good thing, and I will stay.”

Abu Zubaydah arrived in Afghanistan from Mysore, India, where he had gone against his father’s wishes to study computer science.

“But,” his diary continues, “I am scared that I’ll be left high and dry in the future, God forbid. At that point, I will have no contingent plan to resort to, a degree or a job to lean on.” His fear was not martyrdom but surviving the war in Afghanistan, particularly if he was wounded. “What would I do if the party is over and there is no more jihad in Afghanistan! Where would I go when I have no job and no college degree?”

He was distrustful of the few friends he had, describing many of them as backstabbers. “Friendship is a fantasy, friendship is false.”

So in the diary — which offers deep insight into a man portrayed by the Bush administration as a seminal figure in the “war on terror” — Abu Zubaydah created a friend he could talk to.

“Dear 30-year-old Hani,” the diary begins, referring to himself by a childhood nickname and making clear that the audience is himself 10 years in the future, “Today I have decided to write my memoirs and these words are to you. So, this will be the letter in which I complain to you, get things off my chest, and cry in your arms whenever I feel the need to share my burden, from this silly world, with someone.”

He states that he intends to reread the diary only after he reaches that age. “So, I will be you; the 30 years old Hani, provided that I get to live to meet you.”

Perhaps mindful of how others might interpret his literary device, Abu Zubaydah writes, “I am not a schizophrenic, which is a split personality disease; rather, I am trying to divide myself into two parts because; I believe that everything changes with time, even human beings. Therefore, it is inevitable that you Hani 2 at 30 years of age are different than Hani 1 … Me… at 20 years old.”

FBI agents who read the diaries said that Abu Zubaydah’s writing to a different version of himself proved that he had a “schizophrenic personality.” The correct term for the exhibition of multiple personalities is dissociative identity disorder, however, not schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a disease often characterized by hallucinations or delusions but not by multiple personalities. [Continue reading...]

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After Guantánamo, another injustice

John Grisham writes: About two months ago I learned that some of my books had been banned at Guantánamo Bay. Apparently detainees were requesting them, and their lawyers were delivering them to the prison, but they were not being allowed in because of “impermissible content.”

I became curious and tracked down a detainee who enjoys my books. His name is Nabil Hadjarab, and he is a 34-year-old Algerian who grew up in France. He learned to speak French before he learned to speak Arabic. He has close family and friends in France, but not in Algeria. As a kid growing up near Lyon, he was a gifted soccer player and dreamed of playing for Paris St.-Germain, or another top French club.

Tragically for Nabil, he has spent the past 11 years as a prisoner at Guantánamo, much of the time in solitary confinement. Starting in February, he participated in a hunger strike, which led to his being force-fed.

For reasons that had nothing to do with terror, war or criminal behavior, Nabil was living peacefully in an Algerian guesthouse in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sept. 11, 2001. Following the United States invasion, word spread among the Arab communities that the Afghan Northern Alliance was rounding up and killing foreign Arabs. Nabil and many others headed for Pakistan in a desperate effort to escape the danger. En route, he said, he was wounded in a bombing raid and woke up in a hospital in Jalalabad.

At that time, the United States was throwing money at anyone who could deliver an out-of-town Arab found in the region. Nabil was sold to the United States for a bounty of $5,000 and taken to an underground prison in Kabul. There he experienced torture for the first time. To house the prisoners of its war on terror, the United States military put up a makeshift prison at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Bagram would quickly become notorious, and make Guantánamo look like a church camp. When Nabil arrived there in January 2002, as one of the first prisoners, there were no walls, only razor-wire cages. In the bitter cold, Nabil was forced to sleep on concrete floors without cover. Food and water were scarce. To and from his frequent interrogations, Nabil was beaten by United States soldiers and dragged up and down concrete stairs. Other prisoners died. After a month in Bagram, Nabil was transferred to a prison at Kandahar, where the abuse continued. [Continue reading...]

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It don’t Gitmo worse than this

Molly Crabapple reports: A T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan IT DON’T GITMO BETTER THAN THIS is perhaps the definitive physical manifestation of globalization. Sewn in Honduras and sold by Jamaican contractors on land rented from Cuba, the shirt celebrates an American prison holding Muslims who’ve been declared enemies in the war on terror. It’s a popular item in the Gitmo gift shop (yes, Gitmo has a gift shop), displayed next to the stuffed banana rats and shot glasses engraved with GUANTÁNAMO BAY: DIVE IN.

Built in 1898, the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base looks like a US suburb. There’s a McDonald’s, a Subway, and even a Christmas parade. On Halloween, military members dressed as zombies complete a 5K run. Winners of the Mr. and Ms. Gitmo Figure and Fitness Competition arch their backs on the cover of the Wire, the base’s in-house magazine. The Team Gitmo outdoor movie theater screens all the big blockbusters (when I visited it was World War Z), and in the evenings, visitors can eat jerk chicken next to swaying banyan trees, get drunk at O’Kelly’s (“the only Irish pub on Communist soil”), or sing karaoke.

But since the Joint Task Force (JTF) arrived in 2002, Guantánamo Bay has been home to the world’s most notorious prison.

Gitmo’s prison camps were built, in principle, to hold and interrogate captives outside the reach of US law. Nearly 800 Muslim men have been imprisoned since it opened, and the vast majority of them have never been charged with any crime. Since he was inaugurated in 2008, President Obama has twice promised to close Gitmo, but 166 men still languish in indefinite detention. It is a place where information is contraband, force-feeding is considered humane care, staples are weapons, and the law is rewritten wantonly.

Nabil Hadjarab arrived at Gitmo 11 years ago, in an orange jumpsuit and a diaper, his head covered by a hood, eyes blinded by blackout goggles, mouth gagged, and with headphones blaring white noise into his ears.

At 34, Nabil is four years my senior. We both speak French, draw pictures, and, in our youths, liked to travel to desolate places and have adventures. But Nabil’s days of wanderlust may be over forever. Although he’s been cleared for release since 2007, the US will not return him to his family in France. He has vowed to remain on a hunger strike till he finds freedom or death, whichever happens first. [Continue reading...]

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Guantanamo tab $5.2 billion and counting

Carol Rosenberg reports: New number-crunching by Democrats campaigning for Guantanamo’s closure says the Pentagon spends nearly a half-billion dollars a year – a whopping $2.7 million per prisoner – to operate its offshore prison complex in southeast Cuba.

The figure is by far the largest per-prisoner cost ever calculated and apparently, for the first time, includes troop costs. The ostensibly temporary Pentagon prison has, since it opened in 2002, been staffed largely by troops trained up on their way to Guantanamo for rotations of nine months to a year.

The cost for this year – $454.1 million to operate, staff and build at the prison complex – comes from a report by the Defense Department’s Office of the Comptroller.

It was first provided to Congress on June 27 by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and made public last week.

The report says the Pentagon will have spent $5.242 billion by the end of 2014.

The total costs, however, are likely higher. The accounting does not appear to include the prison camps’ state-of-the-art headquarters, built in 2004 for $13.5 million, or a secret lockup for ex-CIA prisoners, called Camp 7, the price tag of which is considered classified.

In addition, the Justice Department and FBI have devoted staff to detainee operations, and probably the CIA.

At Guantanamo, the prison camps spokesman, Navy Capt. Robert Durand, said the $2.7 million-per-prisoner figure apparently represents “fully loaded costs” of maintaining what is today a 2,000-strong staff at the sprawling detention center zone where 166 captives are confined to seven different lockups – including the hospital and psychiatric wards. [Continue reading...]

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