Fifty years from today, people will remember Guantanamo Bay as one of the ugliest features of American policy. There is a long list of US crimes, from invading countries killing millions of people to setting up torture chambers in different parts of the world, but Guantanamo Bay stands out.
Many Americans, that is those who are aware that there is a world beyond the borders of the US, will also agree that Gitmo is a black dot on their country’s already tarnished image. That, however, will come 50 years too late. The American people will be considered complicit in the crimes perpetrated in their name if they remain silent. Ignorance cannot be used as excuse in the age of the Internet.
In March 2023, 48-year-old Ghassan Abdullah al-Sharbi was released and returned to Saudi Arabia. Fluent in English and with a degree in electrical engineering, the US accused him of being a “skilled bomb maker” who attended a US flight school, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona. This led to the further allegation that he “associated with two 9/11 hijackers,” who had also trained there.
Yet Al-Sharbi was never formally charged with any wrongdoing beyond the usual scandalous allegations for which the US is notorious. Just because he had a degree in electrical engineering did not automatically make him a “skilled bomb-maker”, or that he had indulged in any terrorist activity.
The same holds true for his attending a flight school where “two of the hijackers” might have taken flight lessons. Why was the flight school management not sent to Guantanamo Bay? If the alleged hijackers took fight lessons, a far more credible case could be made against the staff at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona. They trained the hijackers and should be held responsible.
While no action was taken against the flight school staff, Saifullah Paracha, a Pakistani businessman in New York, was not so fortunate. He was accused of being the hijackers’ financier because they had exchanged money at his store. Paracha was arrested in Thailand in 2003 and spent nearly 20 years in Guantanamo Bay.
He was released in October 2022, thanks to the tireless efforts of human rights lawyer, Clive Stafford-Smith. He has secured the release of 79 prisoners from Guantanamo Bay.
It is quite revealing that even though a detainee may be cleared by the Periodic Review Board (PRB) for release, it may take several months or even a year before he is released. The PRB was set up after Barack Obama signed Executive order 13492 in January 2009, two weeks after he was sworn in as president. He announced that he would like to shut down the torture camp within one year. Fourteen years later, it is still holding prisoners.
Al-Sharbi was cleared for release more than a year ago, but the US continued to hold him for another 13 months without explanation.
His release followed that of two brothers, Abdul Rabbani and Mohammed (Ahmed) Rabbani to Pakistan and the Pakistani-born Majid Khan to Belize in February 2023. Majid Khan had sued the US regime for illegal detention.
The Rabbani brothers were taxi drivers in Karachi. They were captured by Pakistani intelligence agencies and handed over to the Americans as “al Qaeda operatives” in return for bounty money. The Pakistani dictator General Pervez Musharraf admitted this in his book, In the Line of Fire (p.237).
In announcing the release of the Rabbani brothers, the US defence department said in its press release of February 23, 2023 that of the remaining detainees, “18 are eligible for transfer; 3 are eligible for a Periodic Review Board; 9 are involved in the military commissions process; and 2 remaining detainees have been convicted in military commissions.”
The March 2023 releases from Guantanamo Bay reduced the number of detainees to 29. This is a far cry from the 779 prisoners that were held at the notorious torture camp when it was first opened in February 2002. Donald Rumsfeld, then US secretary of defence accused them of being “the worst of the worst”. Rumsfeld is now dead but he will surely face divine retribution for the immense suffering he inflicted on innocent people at Guantanamo Bay.
Only 9 men are charged with involvement in the 911 attacks but their trials have not been held even at the kangaroo military tribunal. Among them is Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, the alleged mastermind of 911 and No. 3 in al-Qaeda hierarchy. The reason is simple: these detainees have suffered horrific torture at the hands of US operatives. How can the charges against them stand in any court of law?
They were subjected to such exotic practices as waterboarding, prolonged sleep deprivation, held in extremely stressful positions and slammed repeatedly against a concrete wall.
To get a glimpse into what the detainees suffered, a few examples would suffice.
1: 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.
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 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.”
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.
But as Rebecca Gordon exposes in her brilliant article in Counterpunch, “None of it was true.” 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.
2: 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 military transport plane in extremely stressful position, and shipped to Guantanamo Bay on a 15-hour non-stop flight.
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.
Khadr’s Canadian lawyers, Dennis Edney and Nate Whitling gamely fought on his behalf. They brought him 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.
3: Ammar al-Baluchi
According to his lawyer, Sarah Gannett, in an unclassified declaration, Ammar al Baluchi described one incident: “I wasn’t just being suspended to the ceiling, I was naked, starved, dehydrated, cold, hooded, verbally threatened, in pain from the beating and water-drowning [sic], as my head was smashed against the wall for dozen[s] and dozen[s] of times.”
The traumatic brain injury al Baluchi suffered has caused headaches, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to light and sound and has impaired his ability to think and perform everyday tasks. He has become a physical and mental wreck. Doctors say these symptoms will worsen over time and require long-term, intensive therapy.