A Monthly Newsmagazine from Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT)
To Gain access to thousands of articles, khutbas, conferences, books (including tafsirs) & to participate in life enhancing events

News & Analysis

Gitmo Torture Chamber Still Open 21 Years Later

Khadijah Ali

Image Source - Pixbay Free Content

With world attention rightly focused on Israeli genocide in Gaza, it is easy to overlook another place where American barbarism is still operational. That place is Guantanamo Bay, the Cuban island illegally occupied by the US where men accused of terrorism are held.

This month (January 2024) will mark 21 years since Gitmo, as it came to be called, was opened. Donald Rumsfeld, who was US defence secretary at the time, said people shipped there were the “worst of the worst”. These included boys as young as 12 and men as old as 70. Rumsfeld is long dead and his body consumed by worms but the punishment that awaits him with Allah is greater still.

At its peak, Gitmo held 780 prisoners. Today, there are less than 30. Despite all the hype, a mere 10 persons have been charged with involvement in the 911 attacks. Yet, they have not been presented even before the kangaroo tribunal at Gitmo for trial. Most legal experts have denounced the tribunal as not meeting even the minimum standards of justice.

Of the 780 people held and tortured at Gitmo, 750 people were completely innocent. They have all been released but not before being subjected to extreme torture.

The US coined fancy terms to camouflage the torture euphemistically calling it “enhanced interrogation technique”. Kidnapping was referred to as “extra-ordinary rendition”. It would be interesting to subject people like George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz among other US officials to some “enhanced interrogation techniques” and ask them how they feel.

The CIA ran a number of “black sites” in different parts of the world. Bagram airbase north of Kabul (Afghanistan), Thailand, Romania and Poland were sites secretly used by the CIA. People suspected of involvement in 911 were kidnapped from the streets of various cities, mainly in Pakistan, and shipped to these sites.

One particular torture that was used against detainees was water boarding. This involved strapping the detainee to a board, putting a cloth over his face and nose and slowly pouring water over it until he nearly choked.

Abu Zubaydah (real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn) was accused of being an al-Qaeda leader. In addition to other forms of torture, he was the first to be water boarded. He was captured, along with about 50 other men, in a joint operation in August 2002 by a group of FBI and CIA agents aided by Pakistani forces in Faisalabad, Pakistan.

General Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani dictator proudly claimed in his book, In the Line of Fire, that he and his fellow generals captured hundreds of al-Qaeda operatives. He admitted earning millions of dollars in bounty from the Americans. Musharraf specifically mentioned Abu Zubaydah.

First, let us recount the circumstances of his capture. During the military operation in August 2002, Abu Zubaydah was severely injured—shot in the thigh, testicle, and stomach and might have died but the CIA flew in an American surgeon to patch him up. Lest it be confused with humanitarianism, CIA officials wanted to keep him alive to interrogate him. Despite his severe injuries, the Americans continued to torture him by withholding pain medication.

In the 1980s Abu Zubaydah helped run the Khaldan camp, a mujahedeen training facility set up in Afghanistan with CIA help during the Soviet occupation. So, the CIA knew precisely who he was: an American ally in the fight against the Soviets.

Rumsfeld, however, said he was “if not the number two, very close to the number two person” in al-Qaeda. The CIA informed Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee that he “served as Osama bin Laden’s senior lieutenant. In that capacity, he has managed a network of training camps… He also acted as al-Qaeda’s coordinator of external contacts and foreign communications,” the agency alleged. Bush made similar allegations and used his case to justify the CIA’s torture sessions.

Thanks to Rebecca Gordon’s brilliant piece in Counterpunch, “none of it was true.” American officials lied to justify their crimes against Abu Zubaydah and many other innocent people including Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen and only 15 years old when captured in eastern Afghanistan in July 2002. As a child, Khadr should have been repatriated to Canada where he was born. Instead, the Canadian government abandoned its own citizen to American torturers.

Based on its own false allegations, the CIA hired two contractors, psychologists Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell to work on Abu Zubaydah. Their mission was to induce what they called “learned helplessness,” meant to reduce a suspect’s resistance to interrogation.

The psychologists charged $81 million for their ‘services’ to test their theories about using torture to extract information even if in the process an innocent person was horribly brutalized.

Under the Jessen-Mitchell plan, Abu Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times in the course of a single month. At one point during this endless cycle of torture, according to the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence torture report of December 2014, Abu Zubaydah became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, full mouth.”

Each of those 83 uses of what was called “the watering cycle” consisted of four steps:

“1) demands for information interspersed with the application of the water just short of blocking his airway; 2) escalation of the amount of water applied until it blocked his airway and he started to have involuntary spasms; 3) raising the water-board to clear subject’s airway; 4) lowering of the water-board and return to demands for information.”

Throughout, the CIA videotaped Abu Zubaydah’s torture. Gina Haspel was in charge of these sessions in Thailand. She was appointed CIA director by Donald Trump. The tapes were destroyed in 2005 when news of their existence leaked and the embarrassment (and possible future culpability) of the Agency seemed increasingly to be at stake.

In addition to waterboarding, the Senate torture report indicates that Abu Zubaydah endured excruciating stress positions (which cause terrible pain without leaving a mark); sleep deprivation (for up to 180 hours, which generally induces hallucinations or psychosis); unrelenting exposure to loud noises (another psychosis-inducer); “walling” (the Agency’s term for repeatedly slamming the shoulder blades into a “flexible, false wall,” though Abu Zubaydah told the International Committee of the Red Cross that when this was first done to him, “he was slammed directly against a hard concrete wall”); and confinement for hours in a box so cramped that he could not stand up inside it.

Among hundreds of others tortured repeatedly were people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, accused of being the mastermind of 911. Like Abu Zubaydah, he, too, was waterboarded many times. Four other men are similarly charged but their case is stuck in limbo.

Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Abdus Salam Zaeef was handed over by the Pakistan army to the Americans. This was against all diplomatic norms. Mullah Zaeef was blindfolded, stripped naked and flown to Guantanamo Bay. Released in 2005, he went on to write a book titled, My Life with the Taliban. It also included his experiences in the torture chamber. His harshest criticism was reserved for the shameless Pakistani generals.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 11

Jumada' al-Akhirah 19, 14452024-01-01

Sign In


Forgot Password ?


Not a Member? Sign Up