Over the last few years, Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio and I have had some hard-hitting interviews, covering many of the most unpalatable aspects of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” and, in the last year, the inadequacy of Barack Obama’s response to this toxic and corrosive legacy.
On Tuesday evening, however, we hit a new pitch of outrage (the show is available here, when we discussed two aspects of this legacy that have just surfaced: the revelation, in a compelling article for Harper’s Magazine by Scott Horton (the law professor), that the three men who died at Guantánamo in June 2006 were killed, and that the suicide story was manufactured as a cover-up (which I also wrote about here); and my preliminary analysis of the first ever publicly available list of prisoners held in the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, in which I investigated the stories of the “ghost prisoners” — previously held in a number of secret prisons run by the CIA — who have been held in Bagram for up to six years, and asked what happened to others who are not included in the list.
In our 13th outing, Scott and I began by discussing my article, “Dark Revelations in the Bagram Prisoner List,” based on the list of 645 prisoners made available to the ACLU last Friday (PDF). After explaining how Bagram was the “pre-Guantánamo” and “the heart of the beast” — having held almost all the prisoners who ended up in Guantánamo, as well as the majority of the “high-value detainees” and other “ghost prisoners” — Scott and I discussed the unilateral rewriting of the Geneva Conventions introduced by George W. Bush and clearly maintained by Barack Obama.
We also discussed the whole sordid story of the CIA’s secret prison network, and the part that Bagram played in it, which allowed me to explain how, between 2004 and 2006, many of those held in the secret prisons were either sent to Guantánamo, or repatriated to their home countries (to an uncertain fate — or worse), but that an unspecified number of these men remained in Bagram, four of whom — three foreigners and an Afghan — successfully challenged their indefinite detention without charge or trial in a habeas corpus petition in March last year, in a ruling that has been appealed by the Obama administration.
Scott and I also discussed the Guantánamo prisoners’ successful habeas corpus petitions over the last 16 months (32 victories out of 41 cases), which allowed me to recall the extraordinary rulings in the cases of al-Qaeda torture victim Abdul Rahim al-Ginco and Fouad al-Rabiah, who was tortured until he made false confessions about his activities that were only revealed as a result of an impartial judge being able to review the so-called evidence. I also spoke about how the administration’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force has, essentially, been competing with the judges, a development which, however well intentioned, only draws comparisons with the ways in which the Bush administration exercised executive power at the expense of the judiciary.
In the last 15 minutes of the 50-minute show, Scott and I discussed the story of the Guantánamo murders, enabling me to voice my evolving thoughts about this horrendous story. As I explained, it seems to me that, because the three men were demonstrably not terrorists — two had been cleared for release, and it was later revealed that the authorities had accepted that the third man had no connection to any terrorist group — the most plausible explanation for how they all died, in a three-hour session of “enhanced interrogation” conducted by operatives of an as-yet unidentified agency in a secret facility outside Guantánamo’s perimeter fence, is that they were killed — and that their deaths, therefore, reveal, with the grimmest clarity, what happens when the restraints on appropriate behavior are abandoned, and the most sadistic impulses are unleashed.
What adds to this impression is that the men had clearly irritated the authorities to an extraordinary degree. All three were long-term hunger strikers, who, in at least two cases, had been force-fed until their deaths, and were amongst the few remaining prisoners who had not abandoned the hunger strike that convulsed the prison in the summer of 2005, and which was finally broken when the authorities imported a number of restraint chairs and, for the most part, made force-feeding such a vile ordeal that few had the will to continue.
I also spoke about Shaker Aamer, who had also irritated the authorities to an extraordinary degree. A British resident, who is still held, Shaker was the fourth prisoner to be tortured that night, but the only one who managed to escape with his life, and I explained my theory about why he has not been freed, even though he was cleared for release in 2007.
As a uniquely eloquent and charismatic individual, who pushed relentlessly for the prisoners’ rights, Shaker knows more about the workings of Guantánamo than probably any other prisoner, and it seems to me — perhaps now more than ever, with this latest revelation — that he is only held because the US government doesn’t want him to be released to a country where he might be able to speak freely, and, as a result, wants to return him to the country of his birth, Saudi Arabia, and not to the UK — and to his wife and children. The corollary, of course, is that the British government is siding with its allies, despite making noises in public about working overtime to secure his return to the UK.
On the eve of President Obama’s failure to close Guantánamo by his self-imposed one-year deadline, these are grim stories indeed, but the fact that they have surfaced — even though they are not getting the prominence they deserve — will strengthen calls for accountability from those of us who, in defense of the law, the Constitution and basic human decency, are not content to “look forward as opposed to looking backwards.”
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
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