Given the degree of ignorance among most Americans, it is safe to assume that many would not know what Guantanamo Bay represents or where it is located. Even if they knew, most would not care. After all, their heads have been stuffed with such vile propaganda about the threat of terrorism that they have come to believe those held there deserve what to be punished.
Opened in January 2002, a few months after the 911 attacks, at its peak it held 779 prisoners. They were the “worst of the worst”, in the infamous words of Donald Rumsfeld. Worms have probably consumed his stinking body by now as he awaits his rightful place in the lowest depths of hell, but more than 20 years after it was opened, Guantanamo Bay still holds 36 detainees as of July 25, 2022. Only a handful—less than 10 men—are charged with involvement in the 911 attacks but their trials have not been held even at the kangaroo military tribunal. Most of the rest are either cleared for release or await judgement on their release. They have not been charged with any crime.
Guantanamo represents American lawlessness at its worst. According to the United Nations, such detentions have always triggered controversies over legality. Not only does the US illegally occupy Cuban territory but most detainees have not been tried according to US laws. Further, international human rights organizations have not been allowed to visit the facility, again in clear violation of international law and the Geneva Conventions.
Two days after he was sworn in as president of the United States in January 2009, Barack Obama signed the 13492 executive order. It was titled Review and Disposition of Individuals Detained at the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base and Closure of Detention Facilities. Its intended aim was to close the torture camp permanently.
During his eight years in office, Obama was able to reduce the number of detainees from 277 in 2008 to 91 in 2016, but he was unable to close it. American generals threatened him with dire consequences if he closed Guantanamo Bay. Even Joe Biden, who served as Obama’s vice president, vowed to close the torture camp but it still remains open.
Away from the prying eyes of journalists as well as human rights organizations, American soldiers and CIA agents have inflicted horrific torture on innocent people. Euphemistically called “enhanced interrogation technique”, torture was widespread. Sleep deprivation, holding detainees in stressful positions and other forms of barbaric practices were routinely inflicted on the detainees. Their only crime was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
To get a glimpse into what the detainees suffered, a few examples would suffice.
1: Omar Khadr
Captured in eastern Afghanistan in July 2002, he was shot twice in the chest by American occupation troops and barely survived. He was moved to Bagram airbase which served as America’s first torture location. While his wounds were still raw, Khadr, 15 at the time, was subjected to brutal torture. In October 2002, he was chained to the floor of a US transport plane in extremely stressful position, and shipped to Guantanamo Bay.
His real torture began there because he was accused of being an “al-Qaeda child”. Every soldier took turns to inflict their own punishment on him. Even the Canadian government led by the racist Stephen Harper at the time, joined in inflicting harm on him.
Had it not been for Khadr’s lawyers, Dennis Edney and Nate Whitling, he would still be languishing in Guantanamo. Brought to Canada in 2012 under a plea bargain, Khadr won his release in 2015 and received $10.5 million in compensation from the Canadian government in 2017 for violating his Charter rights. He was guilty of nothing. He was the victim of American barbarism aided and abetted by the likes of Harper and his right-wing anti-Muslim bigots.
2: Saifullah Paracha
The 74-year-old Pakistani businessman was captured in Thailand in 2003 and brought to Guantanamo in September 2004. He was accused of being an al-Qaeda “facilitator” because he had exchanged money for two of the alleged hijackers that he did not know. Would a grocery store owner be charged if the alleged hijackers had bought groceries there? Paracha was cleared for release last year after his son Uzair, also accused of terrorism, had his charges thrown out by a New York judge in March 2020. Allegations against Uzair as well as his father, were based on confessions extracted under torture from detainees at Guantanamo Bay.
The son was sent to his native Pakistan. The elderly Paracha, suffering from multiple ailments, has still not been released even though the review board declared that he was “no longer a threat to the US”. He never was.
3: Abu Zubaydah
Abu Zubaydah (full name Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn) was subjected to the most brutal forms of torture. He was captured in August 2002 by FBI, CIA and General Pervez Musharraf’s intelligence agents in Faisalabad. The Pakistani dictator and bounty hunter has acknowledged in his book, In the Line of Fire, that he received millions of dollars from the Americans for capturing and handing over al-Qaeda operatives.
Abu Zubaydah was accused of a laundry list of terrorist acts.
* Donald Rumsfeld said he was “if not the number two, very close to the number two person” in al-Qaeda.
* The Central Intelligence Agency 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.”
* CIA Director Michael Hayden would tell the press in 2008 that 25% of all the information his agency had gathered about al-Qaeda from human sources “originated” with one other detainee and him.
* George W. Bush would use his case to justify the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation program,” claiming that “he had run a terrorist camp in Afghanistan where some of the 9/11 hijackers trained” and that “he helped smuggle al-Qaeda leaders out of Afghanistan” so they would not be captured by US military forces.
During the operation to capture him, he was severely injured: “shot in the thigh, testicle, and stomach.” Without immediate medical attention, he would have died but the CIA wanted him alive so it flew in an American surgeon to patch him up. The Agency’s concern was not humanitarian. The CIA wanted him alive to be able to interrogate him hoping to extract information from him.
Ms. Gordon reveals that “Abu Zubaydah had the dubious luck to be the subject of a number of CIA ‘firsts’: the first post-9/11 prisoner to be waterboarded; the first to be experimented on by psychologists working as CIA contractors; one of the first of the Agency’s ‘ghost prisoners’ (detainees hidden from the world, including the International Committee of the Red Cross which, under the Geneva Conventions, must be allowed access to every prisoner of war); and one of the first prisoners to be cited in a memo written by Jay Bybee for the Bush administration on what the CIA could “legally” do to a detainee without supposedly violating US federal laws against torture.”
While he was accused of all kinds of misdemeanors, his real crime was that in the 1980s, he helped run the Khaldan camp. This was a mujahedeen training facility set up in Afghanistan with CIA help during the Soviet occupation of that country. In other words, Abu Zubaydah was, like Osama bin Laden, an American ally in the fight against the Soviets.
“Abu Zubaydah wasn’t involved with al-Qaeda; he was the ringleader of nothing; he never took part in planning for the 9/11 attacks. He was brutally mistreated and, in another kind of world, would be exhibit one in the war crimes trials of America’s top leaders and its major intelligence agency,” writes Ms. Gordon.
His horrific torture—waterboarding, sleep deprivation, slamming against a concrete wall—reflects the true nature of American elite. They are the real terrorists.
If there were any justice in the world, American officials involved in authorizing such horrific torture would be put on trial and publicly executed.