- By Ikram Ullah
It became the unfortunate home for the refugees from Cuba and Haiti caught in the International waters during 1970s and continued the monomania through the half of 1990s when the last Haitian refugee was released in 1995 after being declared unlawful by Sterling Johnson Jr., a United States District Court Judge. The Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba turned into a flagrant rough-house of boisterous abuse and victimization after its initiation in 2002 as the detainment facility for the suspects caught during the United States’ so-called “War on Terror’. During the past 11 years of its existence as a notorious prison facility for counter terrorism enemy combatants, it has come under heavy denunciation from wide sectors of Human Rights groups and the general public so much so that during his election campaigns for the first term Barack Obama promised to close it down. However, Obama won the elections for a second term as the President of United States in 2012 but the facility remains undaunted as a ‘House of Vile’ marking its 11th year on January 11,2013 since the first batch of detainees of “war on Terror” were brought into it to be terrorized for the rest of their lives.
The United States brought suspected Al-Qaeda fighters in large numbers to Guantanamo Bay prisons to eventually make their conditions worse than those held in the KGB’s infamous detention facilities at Lubyanka during Yuri Andropov’s crushing response to “the Prague Spring” as the Director of KGB in 1968. Since its inception as a “mopsey prison facility for US”, 779 men of wide regional origin but almost of same religious ideology have been imprisoned in it. The very antecedents that led to most of the arrests seem to put the arrests of suspects under question as according to a report by “The Associated Press”, most of the detainees were vouchsafed to United States by the poor tribal people in Afghanistan in return for huge amounts of money. These allegations were further verified by the Seton Hall University Law School when it published the “First Seton Hall Report” after the research done by “Mark Denbeaux” wherein they produced copies of posters and leaflets blazoning the bounties which sometimes ran into thousands of dollars. Such circumstances of “give and take policy” adopted by the US army widely lead to widespread allurement for the tribal poor and greedy people to make quick bucks and hence they started handing-over men who were not even remotely linked to Al-Qaeda. Sometimes even the personal acerbity and prejudice came into play and thus the very first steps involved in the initiation of the Guantanamo Bay Prisons violated the Human Rights at a large scale.
As if the apocryphal and unconstitutional detentions, in itself, were not enough, the detainees were subjected to be treated without a formidable Law and the United States for a long time maintained that these detainees do not fall under the “Common Article 3” of the Geneva Conventions, hence, they were not entitled to the International Laws prohibiting torture and the actions that cause serious injuries to the detainees. This had a serious impact as it gave a free hand to the interrogators to use any means of torture to extort information leading to shameful stories of torture and abuse that would go down in the history books as a blotch on the face of America. Moazzam Beg, a former Guantanamo Bay detainee and now Spokesman for Cageprisoners in his article “Guantanamo remembered:A Personal Perspective” writes that he and other detainees were greeted with- “You are now the property of United States and have no Rights” by the authorities at Guantanamo Bay. This demeaning of Human Values, and Humanity rather, into material entity started becoming a dangerous phenomenon at Guantanamo leading to consistent abuse and in turn to nearly 47 attempts of suicide by the prisoners, 6 of which were successful. Apart from the infamous water-boarding, hooding and shackling the detainees were severely sleep deprived for days together. In an article “Guantanamo’s Long Shadow” on New York Times, Anthony Lewis quotes an FBI agent saying, “On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times, they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more”.
The torture of prisoners went beyond the physical constrains and insinuated the mental boundaries, often transcending into dour abuse. In his book called “Inside the Wire”, Sgt. Erik R. Saar, a former Solider at Guantanamo alleges that he had witnessed a female interrogator piquing at the detainees sexually and sometimes wiping menstrual blood on them. A high level-military inquiry conducted by Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt revealed “accounts by agents of FBI who complained after witnessing detainees subjected to life threatening torture and severe abuse, wrote in classified memos that they had seen female interrogators forcibly squeezing male prisoners’ testicles and that others had been stripped and shackled low to the floor”. After an 18-month investigation in the allegations of Human Rights abuse at Gitmo, UN in its report titled “Situation of Detainees at Guantanamo Bay“ on February 15, 2006 called onto the United States to close the detention facility after its independent experts found that the prison had become a hub of severe human Rights abuse and torture.
Behind those concrete walls, bulwarked by concertina wires and into the dark dungeons of the Guantanamo Bay are men; men ridiculed, condemned, abused and fiddled, but never charged, never tried before Law, living a life; life from which has been taken away! Out of the 779 men, 600 have been released after relentless torture and abuse, most of them without charge, some due to lack of any evidence. Eight have died behind those tawdry walls. At present there are almost 166 prisoners still there, living the life of contempt, and hope of reunion with their families. Of these 86 have been cleared to be released in 2009 but some mysterious force of the politicians has left them in an abyss between despise and hope. In reaction to this lawlessness many people gathered outside the Supreme Court, The White House and the Capitol, in Orange Jumpsuits, some hooded-the symbol of Gitmo, to mark their Protest and demanded the closure of Guantanamo Bay on 11th January, the 11th anniversary of Gitmo.
As the citizens of a responsible society it becomes our duty to ensure that our rights and those of other Humans are preserved and that any violation of Human Rights be condemned. We should hence, bring to fore our own conscious methods of awareness and demand the closure of Guantanamo Bay so that the remaining inmates be either tried or released, and retrieved from the limbo they have have been pushed into. In his message, handed to Andy Worthington, Omar Deghayes, a former Guantanamo detainee says, “I was lucky and grateful to be reunited with my family, to be touched, at last, by the soft cool wind of freedom but my joy is incomplete until the rest of the unlawfully held detainees share my experience of freedom. Before another one dies, and loses his rights even after his death, before another one loses his eye sight forever as myself, please bring this grave violation of the most basic human rights to an end, please free detainees and unite them, intact, with their families, before the rest of their youth perishes behind concrete walls”
Ikram Ullah is a freelance writer from Srinagar, Kashmir. He is currently doing research internship at CSIR Institute of Genomics & Integrative Biology (IGIB), New Delhi. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in The Kashmir Walla on 29th January, 2013