After the New York Times published accounts from former employees at the US detention centers in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba revealing new evidence that prisoner abuse there is systemic, lawyers for detainees held there renewed their calls for an investigation into treatment of prisoners at the base.
Speaking on condition on anonymity to the Times “military guards, intelligence agents and others” described a system in which uncooperative prisoners were abused into providing information to American officials and cooperative detainees were rewarded with food from McDonalds, games, movies, reading material and tobacco.
One interrogation tactic explained by the Times’ anonymous sources was the practice of stripping detainees to their underwear, shackling them to the floor while they were sitting in a chair and blasting music, strobe lighting and cold air at them for up to fourteen hours at a time. “It fried them,” one of the Times’ sources said. Another added, “They [the prisoners] were very wobbly. They came back to their cells and were just completely out of it.”
“I don’t think there’s any question that treatment of that character satisfies the severe pain and suffering requirement, be it physical or mental, that is provided for in the Convention Against Torture,” David Sheffer, a former State Department official and current law professor at George Washington University told the Times.
Another procedure described by the Times’ sources was to repeatedly over the course of a night wake a prisoner, interrogate him and then return him to a different cell, let him fall asleep, wake him again for interrogation and take him to yet another cell, and so on.
In response to the testimony by former base employees, a Defense Department official issued a statement that said, “Guantánamo guards provide an environment that is stable, secure, safe and humane.”
The statement, by Lieutenant Commander Alvin Plexico, continued: “It is that environment that sets the conditions for interrogators to work successfully and to gain valuable information from detainees because they have built a relationship of trust, not fear.”
Plexico added that the detention operation at Guantánamo “is providing valuable information in the war on terrorism.”
Nevertheless, since all but a handful of the estimated 549 detainees still held at Guantánamo have never been formally charged with crimes and had almost no access to legal counsel, courts, or the outside world, critics of the mass detention program question whether most of the detained have any ties to terrorism. Many were reportedly imprisoned after being picked up by armed factions in Afghanistan and sold to the US military for reward money.
Lawyers with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which has been leading the charge to gain access to American civil courts and lawyers for the several hundred prisoners at Guantánamo, said the Times article is yet another revelation of evidence confirming their clients’ claims that they have suffered abuse at the prison.
“It is now patently clear that the use of torture and inhuman treatment by the United States was not limited to Abu Ghraib,” Michael Ratner, president of CCR, said in a press statement from the group. “The despicable tactics of torture and abuse are part and parcel of the Bush administration’s interrogation process.”
Ratner added that he believes the “inhuman methods” were approved at the “highest levels” of the US government and renewed his call for independent investigations into the treatment of the Guantánamo detainees that “go all the way up the chain of command.”
As previously reported by The NewStandard, CCR two months ago released a 115-page testimonial outlining their clients’ experiences in US custody. The written accounts of Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmedbegin provide detailed portrayals of their imprisonment and contain numerous allegations of torture, humiliation and rights violations. They say US personnel forcibly injected them with unknown drugs, brutally physically assault them, sexually violated and humiliated them, kept them in cages exposed to the sun and to snakes and scorpions, degraded their religion and restricted their religious practice, kept them in solitary detention and interrogated them for long periods of time, and coerced false confessions.
The three also give accounts of what they saw other detainees go through and information about a few specific detainees still being held at the base.
CCR has also publicly released what they call an “uncensored letter” written by Moazzam Begg, a British citizen currently being held at Guantánamo. In his letter, Begg demands to be shown all charges against him and to be given an explanation for his detainment, his continued confinement in solitary and the seizure of his property and money leaving his “wife and young children destitute and penniless.”
Begg also writes: “During several interviews, particularly — though unexclusively — in Afghanistan, I was subjected to pernicious threats of torture, actual vindictive torture and death threats — amongst other coercively employed interrogation techniques. Neither was the presence of legal counsel ever produced, or made available.
“The said interviews were conducted in an environment of generated fear,” the letter continues, “resonant with terrifying screams of fellow detainees facing similar methods. In this atmosphere of severe antipathy towards detainees was the compounded use of racially and religiously prejudiced taunts. This culminated, in my opinion, with the deaths of two fellow detainees, at the hands of US military personnel, to which I myself was partially witness.”
“Now that CCR’s allegations have been confirmed by people who worked at Guantánamo,” said Ratner, “there is no conceivable justification for delaying a full and open investigation.” © 2004 The NewStandard