Jamal al-Harith made the mistake of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And for that, the last two years of his life have been one long nightmare. The 37-year-old British Web site designer went to Pakistan in October 2001 to study Muslim culture.
Jamal says that on his way to Turkey, he mistakenly entered Afghanistan. Once there, he was arrested as a suspected spy and turned over to U.S. authorities. Then the real horror began. Jamal was transported to Camp X-Ray–and later Camp Delta–the notorious U.S. prisons located at the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay.
But after two years of detention and virtually no contact with the outside world, the U.S. finally admitted that Jamal wasn’t one of the “most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth,” as U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once labeled the prisoners at Camp X-Ray.
Last month, Jamal and four other British nationals were released. Jamal’s recounting of life inside the camp became further proof that Washington’s brand of “justice” is anything but. In an interview with the Britain’s Mirror newspaper, Jamal described the horrific conditions and physical and mental torture that inmates were forced to endure on a daily basis.
Rice and beans were the usual diet, and the water was “filthy,” he said. “In Camp X-Ray, it was yellow and in Delta, it was black–the color of Coca-Cola. We had it piped through with a tap in each ‘cage,’ but they would often turn the water off as punishment…
“The food was terrible as well, up to 10 years out of date. They would open a hatch and shove it through a section at a time. Recreation meant your legs were untied, and you walked up and down a strip of gravel. In Camp X-Ray, you only got five minutes, but in Delta you walked for around 15 minutes.”
During lengthy interrogation, inmates would be attached–like animals–to a metal ring on the floor. “Sometimes,” Jamal said, “you would be chained up on the floor with your hands and feet actually bound together. One of my friends told me he was kept like that for 15 hours once.”
Inmates who resisted–in whatever form–found themselves subject to worse torture, according to Jamal and others. “You would be punished for anything–for having six packets of salt in your cell rather than five, for hanging your towel through the cage if it wasn’t wet, even for having your spoon and things lined up in the wrong order,” Jamal said in his Mirror interview.
As punishment, he says, a group of guards dressed in full riot gear known as the “Extreme Reaction Force” would beat uncooperative inmates–who were then paraded in front of other prisoners’ cells as a warning. “The whole point of Guantanamo was to get to you psychologically,” Jamal commented. “The beatings were not as nearly as bad as the psychological torture. Bruises heal after a week, but the other stuff stays with you. They would play tricks on people by denying them things–you might be the only person on your block who didn’t get any bread.”
Prisoners, according to Jamal, were told they had no rights. “They actually said that–‘you have no rights here.’ After a while, we stopped asking for human rights–we wanted animal rights.
“In Camp X-Ray, my cage was right next to a kennel housing an Alsatian dog. He had a wooden house with air conditioning and green grass to exercise on. I said to the guards, ‘I want his rights,’ and they replied, ‘That dog is member of the U.S. army.'”
Following Jamal and other prisoner’s allegations of abuse, the U.S. embassy in London took the disgusting step of releasing detailed allegations about them to the British press. Washington claimed that Jamal and the other four released British detainees had received weapons training and been caught with Taliban forces in Afghanistan.
If that was really the case, the U.S. wouldn’t have released them. And British authorities–despite their kowtowing to Washington–have concluded that the men did nothing wrong.
Following the allegations from Jamal and other prisoners, Secretary of State Colin Powell scoffed: “We do not abuse people in our care. Guantanamo Bay is not a resort, but at the same time, we do not abuse individuals.” Maybe Powell can explain, then, why at the same time that Jamal and the other British prisoners were telling their stories to the press, a group of 23 newly released Afghan and Pakistani prisoners were recounting similar stories of torture at the hands of the U.S.
Aziz Khan, a 45-year-old father of 10, said he was taken from Paktia Province more than two years ago because he had four Kalashnikov rifles in his home. At Guantanamo, he was sometimes kept in chains and sometimes “put in a place like a cage for a bird.” “They had very bad treatment toward us,” he told the New York Times. “Americans are very cruel. They want to govern the world.”
“The American inspectors behaved very badly–they were mentally torturing us,” Mohammed, a 27-year-old who was among those released, told Agence France Presse. As for the more than 600 prisoners left in cages in the U.S. gulag? “They are all innocent people just like me,” Mohammed said. “If I was a Taliban and al-Qaeda why did they release me? The others still in jail are just like me.”
But if the Bush administration has its way, that’s exactly where many of them will stay. That’s because Washington still refuses to grant the inmates status as prisoners of war, which would entitle them to basic rights under the Geneva Convention.
Instead, “All detainees are treated humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in accordance with the principles of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949,” Lt. Cmdr. Barbara Burfeind, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told the New York Times. In other words: Washington gets to decide which prisoners have rights–and if and when they get to exercise them.
Ultimately, it took an international outcry from human rights groups before the U.S. finally agreed in late January to release the youngest of its Guantanamo. prisoners–three children between the ages of 13 and 15. They were kept at the prison camp for more than a year. The U.S. still has an undisclosed number of children between the ages of 16 and 18 at the camps.
The Bush administration says it is waging a “war on terror.” But the degrading treatment of prisoners at its Guantanamo gulag show that this is a war of terror. We need to organize to put an end to this outrage.
“Drive-by act of legal violence”
SEVENTY-SIX days in a military brig and a name and career dragged through the mud. But the best “apology” that the U.S. government can offer to Capt. James (Yousef) Yee is “never mind.” Yee is the Muslim chaplain who ministered to prisoners at the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo Bay and who was arrested last September on allegations of spying, mutiny, sedition, aiding the enemy and mishandling classified information.
For more than two months, Yee was jailed in a maximum-security Navy lockup in Jacksonville, Fla., where he was only let outside his cell in shackles for just one hour each day. Yet last week, the government dropped all of the criminal charges against Yee.
They won’t, of course, admit that it’s because Yee is innocent. Instead, the Army said it could not proceed because of “national security concerns that would arise from the release of the evidence” against him. What garbage! If Yee was a “spy” aiding al-Qaeda terrorists, as the government initially claimed, they would have raked him over the coals for years to come.
Instead, as an additional slap in the face, a military hearing found him guilty of committing adultery and storing pornographic images on a government computer. “This officer is the victim of an incredible drive-by act of legal violence,” Eugene Fidell, Yee’s lawyer, told Reuters.
NICOLE COLSON writes for the Socialist Worker.