Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Book: Moving The Bar, A Radical Lawyer in Guantanamo Concentration Camp


"The guards would say to us 'We could kill you at any time. Nobody knows you're here."

My Life as a Radical Lawyer


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From Moving the Bar, in which Michael Ratner describes his meeting with the Tipton Three, a trio of young British men who were held in extrajudicial detention for two years in Guantanamo ...

After landing at Guantánamo in January 2002, the young men [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed] were kept in cages six feet by six feet, with a hole-in-the ground toilet, a sink with running water, and a bunk with a mattress. They stayed in their cages 24 hours per day, except for two minutes a week to take a shower. Guards paced outside constantly, and the powerful floodlights surrounding the camp never dimmed. In the first few weeks they could not exercise at all. "During the day we were forced to sit in the cell in total silence," said Iqbal. "We couldn't lie down. We couldn't lean on the wire fence or stand up and walk around the cage."

Iqbal explained that the guards "were told that we would kill them with our toothbrushes at the first opportunity, that we were all members of Al Qaeda, and that we had killed women and children indiscriminately." As a result, the guards treated the inmates brutally, verbally and physically abusing them, and showed disrespect for Islam, often kicking the Koran or throwing it into the toilet.

When taken to interrogation rooms, the inmates wore shackles. "Our  interrogations in Guantánamo," Rasul and Iqbal said, "were conducted with us chained to the floor for hours on end in circumstances so prolonged that it was practice to have plastic chairs for the interrogators that could be easily hosed off because prisoners would be forced to urinate during the course of them and were not allowed to go to the toilet."

During interrogations, guards "short shackled" them-forcing them to squat without a chair with their hands chained between their legs and to the floor. "If we fell over," they said,  "the chains would cut into our hands. We would be left in this position for hours before an interrogation, during the interrogations (which could last as long as 12 hours), and sometimes for hours while the interrogators left the room. The air conditioning was turned up so high that within minutes we would be freezing. There was strobe lighting and loud music played that was itself a form of torture. Sometimes dogs were brought in to frighten us. We were not fed all the time that we were there, and when we were returned to our cells, we would not be fed that day...

"Soldiers told us personally of going into cells and conducting beatings with metal bars.... Soldiers told us 'we can do anything we want.'  We ourselves witnessed a number of brutal assaults upon prisoners. One, in April 2002, was of Juma al-Dossary from Bahrain, a man who had become psychiatrically disturbed, who was lying on the floor of his cage immediately near to us when a group of eight or nine guards known as the ERF Team (Extreme Reaction Force) entered his cage. We saw them severely assault him. They stamped on his neck, kicked him in the stomach even though he had metal rods there as a result of an operation, and they picked up his head and smashed his face into the floor. One female officer was ordered to go into the cell and kick him and beat him, which she did, in his stomach...."

"Sometimes detainees would be taken to the interrogation room day after day and kept short-shackled without interrogation ever happening, sometimes for weeks on end. We received distressed reports from other detainees of their being taken to the interrogation room, left naked and chained to the floor, and of women being brought into the room who would inappropriately provoke and indeed molest them. It was completely clear to all the detainees that this was happening to particularly vulnerable prisoners, especially those who had come from the strictest of Islamic backgrounds."

Ahmed said that because he was young and strong he could deal with the physical torture-the routine beatings, the lack of decent food, natural light, exercise or adequate medical treatment. But after 2003 when General Geoffrey Miller took command of Guantánamo, the torture became more psychological, and that was more difficult. Isolation, filthy conditions, forced sleep deprivation up to 180 hours at a time, the repetition of being asked the same questions hundreds of times, withdrawal of reading material, exposure to extreme temperatures, the humiliation of forced nudity in front of provocative women, constant verbal threats from guards and interrogators, forced injections, endless hours of being short-shackled in stress position with no access to a toilet, the horror of not knowing where they were or why or what they were charged with, the inevitable hopelessness that comes when no end is in sight-all these and more were part of the psychological torture designed to "break" the prisoners.

"During the whole time that we were in Guantánamo, we were at a high level of fear," said Rasul. "At the beginning we were terrified that we might be killed at any minute. The guards would say to us 'We could kill you at any time. Nobody knows you're here. All they know is that you're missing and we could kill you-and no one would know.' After time passed, that level of fear came down somewhat but never vanished. It was always there." ...

The night I met the Tipton Three was a real eye-opener for me. I didn't know much about U.S. torture techniques at the time. I believed most of what the three told us, though I thought to myself that the sexual harassment of religious Muslims sounded exaggerated. Later, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's "special interrogation plan" memo was made public. The Tipton Three obviously did not know what Rumsfeld had said in 2002 when he'd written it. But what they reported matched almost exactly with every one of the 17 techniques that Rumsfeld suggested, including sexual humiliation. I knew then that they were telling the truth.

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