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The Prison at Guantanamo

What the World Should Know

by DOUGLAS VALENTINE

The new book Guantanamo: What The World Should Know is an interview between author/editor Ellen Ray, and Michael Ratner, an eloquent human rights attorney and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Mr Ratner and his colleagues at the CCR have the distinction of being the first Americans to mount a legal challenge of the Kafkaesque detention and interrogation facilities the Bush Administration uses at the US military base in Guantanamo, Cuba, to incarcerate suspects in the war on terror.

This is a tight, well-organized book. The discussion proceeds in logical order, and right away we learn that Ratner is eminently qualified to speak about the subject of human rights abuses. He has years of experience dealing with the issues of torture and indefinite detention, although his focus is usually in Third World dictatorships. His involvement with human rights issues in America, stemming from the hysteria following 9/11, began when the CCR decided to represent Muslim and Arab citizens whom Attorney General John Ashcroft had rounded up and detained without due process.

Having represented HIV-positive Haitian refugees detained at Guantanamo in the 1990s, Ratner also knows the history of what may rightfully be described as America’s Devil’s Island. Knowing the history helps to put the situation in context. As Ratner explains, even when he was representing the Haitians, the US government insisted that no court had jurisdiction over Guantanamo. "The United States wanted Guantanamo to be a law-free zone," he says.
Evidently, this has always been the case. But Guantanamo’s special legal status, forged in the ambiguous language of the 1903 Platt Amendment to the Cuban Constitution, is especially well crafted to serve the US government’s duplicitous motives in the murky war on terror. Guantanamo is a place where the US government is totally unaccountable, although the US military is in total control. Suspected members of al Qaeda, captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan, may have some legal recourse in those countries. But once they land in Guantanamo, they disappear down a legal black hole; which is why some people facetiously refer to it as "an off-shore concentration camp."

Ratner’s personal experience and historical knowledge gave him cause for alarm when, in January 2002, the rampaging Bush Administration began packing the "dog-run-like cages" at Guantanamo’s infamous Camp X-Ray with alleged "enemy combatants." He saw the pictures of tough-looking bearded men, and read news reports quoting Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld saying that only the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers were being held at Guantanamo. But none of the detainees were allowed to have lawyers, and it wasn’t known, at the time, that among those being incarcerated were boys as young as eleven, and at least one old man in his nineties.

Having no one to represent, Ratner at first objected solely on principle. The Center for Constitutional Rights believes that even a suspected member of al Qaeda should not be detained without due process of law. Ratner and the CCR believe that everybody has the right of habeas corpus and legal representation ­ as well as the universally recognized right not to be tortured.
They also know that where human rights are denied, human rights abuses are being committed. Right away they suspected that Rumsfeld was lying, so Ratner and the Center assembled a team and waited for the opportunity to act. That happened almost immediately, when they were approached by a lawyer in Australia and asked to help defend David Hicks, an Australian citizen detained at Guantanamo. From that point onward, Ratner would get a firsthand look of the sadistic practices and horrendous conditions that define Guantanamo, and which are recounted in detail in the book.

Inside Guantanamo

Enemy combatants sent to Guantanamo were initially quartered at Camp X-Ray, a desolate place surrounded by razor wire and gun turrets. The cells where human beings are caged are covered on three sides with steel mess wire, and are exposed to the blazing Caribbean sun and hard rains. All-American boys and girls assigned as guards pass the cages twice every minute, not because the prisoners have any chance of escaping, but simply to torment them. To soften them up for interrogation.

Take note, readers: people require privacy in order to maintain their self-respect. Take away their privacy, while abusing their minds and bodies, and eventually you destroy their sense of personal identity. And then they become putty in your hands.

The purpose of Camp X-Ray, like all of Guantanamo’s detention facilities, is the slow, calculated murder of the spirit. It’s a place where people are subjected to unbearable, humiliating and degrading forms of abuse every minute of every day. They sleep on concrete floors, and are denied clothing, medical attention and food. Unless, of course, they cooperate.
As Major General Geoffrey Miller, the camp commandant, once boasted, many detainees have cooperated during the climatic hours they spend in Guantanamo’s interrogation booths, which Ratner describes as "trailers, really."

Guantanamo is also a laboratory, where new methods of destroying the human spirit are constantly being tried. Thus, sometime in the middle of 2002, a number of prisoners were transferred from Camp X-Ray to Camp Delta, which is different in so far as it separates detainees according to their status. Those who cooperate are segregated from those who do not, and those who are deemed to be troublemakers get special attention in their own private quarters.

Guantanamo is further divided into Camp Echo is a separate facility for those facing trial by military commission. (Camp Echo is aptly name. It was built by Halliburton’s subsidiary, Kellogg Brown Root, which in an earlier lifetime built the detention facilities which replaced in the infamous Tiger Cages on Con Son Island, 90 miles off the Coast of South Vietnam). Camps Romeo and Tango consist of isolation cells, where naked Muslim men are, in scenes reminiscent of Abu Ghraib, gawked at by female American guards, as yet another form of spiritual assassination.

The purpose of continual softening up detainees for interrogation, and then interrogating them, is twofold. The first purpose is to coerce confessions that result in convictions. The second is to obtain information for use in the war on terror.

Convictions are preordained, but so far there is no verifiable evidence that any useful intelligence has ever been produced.
However, in return for signing a false confession, or bearing false witness against another Muslim, or for turning into a double agent, the ultimate reward is a Big Mac.

Imagine a world where, after two years of privation and the most sophisticated physical and psychological torture techniques ever devised by cummings’ man-unkind, the ultimate reward is a Big Mac. You have to wonder, what kind of sick mind is capable of creating such a hellhole?
The sick mind belongs, of course, to George W. Bush, war criminal extraordinaire.

L’etat, c’est moi

What Ellen Ray does through her well-chosen questions, and what Michael Ratner explains clearly, in layman’s terms, is why Bush and his accomplices in war crimes have established Guantanamo as a symbol of their omnipotence, and how their lawless and supremely arrogant actions have undermined America’s democratic institutions at home, and moral authority abroad. They tell us how and why we evolved from the rule of law to rule by executive fiat, and how this process made Guantanamo possible.

The authors include in the book’s Appendixes the full text of several documents that are critically important for understanding why and how Guantanamo occurred. The most important is Military Order No. 1. This is not a widely disseminated document, for very good reasons. Signed by Bush on 13 November 2001, it confirms that he used 9/11 as a pretext to proclaim a national emergency, which in turn enabled him to confer upon himself extraordinary war powers, without the consent of Congress or the Judiciary. Through Military Order No. 1, and other powers vested in him as commander-in-chief, Bush, in effect, has staged a military coup d’etat. He has taken America back to a time prior to the Constitution, when the military ruled the country.

Through Military Order No. 1, Bush has given himself the authority 1) to identify terrorists and "those who support them" and 2) to detain "individuals subject to this order" in horrid places like Guantanamo. People subject to this order need only have harbored people who threaten to harm our "citizens, national security, foreign policy, or economy." This applies to anyone Bush has a personal grudge against, like Saddam Hussein. Bush has only to write a note telling his deputies to get someone in order to condemn that someone to a life of endless persecution and/or death.

Military Order No. 1 also allows Bush to form "tribunals" or "commissions" to try alleged terrorists under military, not civilian law, despite the fact that terrorism is "not a violation of military law or the laws of war," as Ratner explains. The military tribunals have "exclusive jurisdiction," and individuals subject to Military Order No. 1 are denied due process not only in the US, but also in any foreign court or international tribunal.

Apart from any document or law, and in violation of treaties and the supreme law of the land, Bush has exempted himself and his deputies from any existing international laws of war, such as the Geneva Conventions. The reason for this is simple: Bush has been advised, for good reason, to protect himself and his henchmen from being tried as war criminals. Which they are.

"People Will Say Anything"

This is disturbing stuff that does not bode well for the future of America. But, as the dialogue between Ray and Ratner reveals, it just gets worse and worse.

Bush and his corporate puppet-masters have seized upon the penultimate point of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, the survival of the fittest, and given it an evangelical, Masonic twist. By bestowing upon himself the powers of a military dictator, Bush has broadened into infinity the moat of secrecy between the fortress of government and the citizen rabble. Not only are the denizens of Guantanamo held in isolation from the world, many for crimes they did not commit, but we, the citizens of America, no longer have the right to examine what is being done to them in our name.

Not even the Red Cross can examine the interrogation centers.

As an attorney for several detainees, Ratner, however, has heard first hand accounts of what goes on inside Guantanamo, and what he describes "is like Dante’s ninth circle of hell."

Sleep derivation is a favorite form of "stress and duress," the designated euphemism for torture at Guantanamo. Old-fashioned beatings are routine. Shackling people to the floor of an interrogation room for hours and making them lie in their excrement is an easy and effective way of telling someone, "You’re not worth shit." (It also has the side of effect of making their tormentors hate them even more.)

Making people kneel for hours has the dual effect of causing Muslims pain when it’s time to pray. Then again, as we know from reading the newspapers and watching TV, defaming Islam is de rigueur in America nowadays.

Making detainees stand for hours in the hot sun is another favorite technique, which caused me chills, as the Japanese tortured my father in the same fashion in a camp in the Philippines in the Second World War. My father saw several tough Australian soldiers resort to suicide attempts at his prison camp, and at least forty suicide attempts in a six-month period have been documented at Guantanamo. Small wonder. Like at my father’s POW camp, the possibility that one will not survive, or ever be allowed to leave, is perhaps the cruelest torment of all.

Ah, but there’s more. Loudspeakers at one time continually blared out little Rumsfeld lies like, "Cooperate and you’ll go home." Sometimes the loudspeakers blared bigger lies, like, "We know who is telling the truth and who is lying and we can tell. Tell the truth."

This is the venerable "Eye of God" trick, which was used by the CIA as a facet of its Phoenix Program in Vietnam.

Take note again, dear reader: the Eye of God trick is being employed, incrementally, on you, too. As the Homeland Security color codes continually rise and fall, based on "chatter" about unconfirmed threats, and as the level of surveillance reaches ubiquitous proportions, we are all finding ourselves under spiritual assault.

Then there is the old medicine trick, which consists of denying medicine to prisoners unless the cooperate. This is another torture technique that has personal meaning to me. I remember interviewing Congressman Rob Simmons (R-CT), about his experiences as a CIA officer running an interrogation center in Vietnam in 1972. Yes, Simmons, now a member of the Armed Services Committee, used the same trick on detainees way back then. A counter-terror team or the secret police would drag in a guy with a gunshot wound, and Simmons would present him with the choice: cooperate and get medicine, or take your chances.

Simmons says that doesn’t amount to torture and (big surprise) the people running Guantanamo, even the CIA Doctor Menegles on there, agree.

Not everything at Guantanamo is derivative. Some torture techniques are innovative, and incredibly bizarre. Michael Ratner tells of about an interrogation room that displayed posters of Israelis who had apparently murdered Palestinian women. According to Ratner, the idea was to get Muslim detainees to believe that if they cooperated, they would be freed to return to the Middle East to kill Israelis.

What The Future Bodes

For me, it hurt at times to listen to Ray and Ratner’s interview. I’m sure many other readers will personally relate to different aspects of this timely and important book, too.

It was especially bad news to learn that there is there a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Operations, a Mr. Paul Butler, who sits in the Pentagon and reviews cases. However, final judgments about the fate of any of Guantanamo’s lab rats are not made by Butler, or even some secret review board, but by a "designated civilian official (DCO)" appointed by, you guessed it, Bush. This DCO can hold a detainee indefinitely for any reason that is deemed "in the interest of the United States," a term which really means, in the political interests of Bush.

Ray and Ratner’s book raises some disturbing questions. For example: What’s to stop Bush from turning his star chambers and designated civilian officials on his political opponents, here, in America?

One might also ask: How long does a national emergency last, and how does one know, quantitatively, when it’s over?

It’s a fact that our government is waging psychological warfare against us. Is it paranoid to ask: Are mini-Guantanamo, political indoctrination camps for recalcitrant Americans looming on the horizon?

This book makes one thing painfully clear: we’re in big trouble if these new terms and instruments of government become part of our national dialogue, and not just an ominous conversation between Ellen Ray and Michael Ratner.

Reading this book made me angrier than ever before. I don’t want to live by Bush’s leave, as a lab rat in a corporate experiment in a military dictatorship, under the guise of what Michael Ratner calls a "metaphorical" war on terror. Maybe it’s time to new form a new government? One not modeled on the totalitarian corporate paradigm, and certainly not a government where a mentally unstable chief executive has the power to torture, murder, invade foreign countries under false pretenses, dispense with due process, and otherwise break the supreme law of the land. Maybe it’s time to change our current form of government to ensure that the people, not the government, control their fate?

The book raises one other matter for consideration. Approximately 2,800 soldiers and CIA interrogators have already served as de facto torturers at Guantanamo, which houses only a few hundred prisoners. The total number of Americans who have served there is certainly larger, as soldiers and spooks are rotated in and out. Many others are being trained as torturers in military indoctrination courses. Already thousands of Americans at Guantanamo, and in other God-forsaken places around the world, have whole-heartedly embraced the role of torturer. Like those Abu Ghraib, they enjoy it.

What does this mean for America, as these torturers return home? Is it our patriotic duty to validate their service, and adopt their values? Or shall the privates, corporals and sergeants be held responsible for the war crimes they committed, while following the orders of policy makers like Bush?
Will there be a prison big enough to hold all the war criminals America is producing at places like Guantanamo?

DOUGLAS VALENTINE is the author of The Hotel Tacloban, The Phoenix Program, and TDY. His fourth book, The Strength of the Wolf: The Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 1930-1968, is newly published by Verso. For information about Mr. Valentine, and his books and articles, please visit his web sites at www.DouglasValentine.com and http://members.authorsguild.net/valentine