Concentration Camp Guantanamo


Richard Moore


There are two articles below by James Meek of The Guardian. The
first is about the judicial system being set up to deal with the
prisoners at Guantanamo. The Pentagon is having difficulty
finding military lawyers who can stomach the gross injustices of
that system. The second, longer article talks about the
conditions in the prison and includes interviews with prisoners
who have been released. Many of the arrests appear to have been
entirely arbitrary, with no real reason or sense behind them.

Did you ever wonder why the White House set up the Guantanamo
prison and why they operate it the way they do? If any of the
prisoners have any real connection with terrorism, then certainly
it would be easy to prosecute them in a normal civil or military
court. In today's climate of fear, any judge or jury would just
love to get the chance to "hit back" at terrorism by handing down
a stiff verdict. They probably would even accept thin evidence.

My own suspicion is that there are several other reasons for
Guantanamo, reasons that make more sense from the perspective of
the fascists in the White House. One reason is simply to give
substance to the "War on Terrorism".  The existence of prisoners
implies that there are terrorists, and that the US is succeeding
in rounding them up.

I imagine there are two immediate reasons for the secrecy and the
shredding of judicial protections. First, most of the prisoners
are probably not terrorists at all; they were rounded up simply
to boost the numbers. The secrecy and isolation permit the
treacherous charade to be continued without interference or
outside knowledge. Second, there are probably a few prisoners who
really were involved in the Al Qeada network. Those must be kept
isolated because of the stories they could tell about CIA
connections with Al Qeada leading right up to 9-11.

But I believe the underlying fundamental reason for Guantanamo,
and its flagrant brutality, is to establish a precedent to enable
more concentration camps in the USA. The hyper-propaganda
fear-mongering campaign has created a climate where the general
public supports what's going in Guantanamo for the time being.
The longer the Administration can preserve that climate of fear, the
longer the mere existence of the prison causes it to become de
facto "normal and acceptable". Meanwhile, the Pentagon is rushing
together a phony kangaroo-court legal system so that
concentration-camp practices can become part of the established
legal framework. That will be useful in case public opinion
becomes less accepting.

Why does the Administration want to have more concentration
camps? That has to do with the real reasons behind 9-11, and for
the creation of the phony war on terrorism...

The most obvious reason behind 9-11 and the terrorist thing is of
course the White House's "Agenda for the New American Century".
That spells out how how a "new Pearl Harbor" would be needed to
enable the seizing of global resources and the expansion of US
military hegemony. And that's the agenda they've been following,
the agenda they wrote themselves ahead of time. No mystery there.
A less obvious reason behind 9-11, but perhaps a more fundamental
one, is represented by the anti-globalization movement.

It's not that the demonstrations and their disruptions posed any
kind immediate threat. They didn't.  They were an annoyance only.
They could be "programmed around" with heightened security and
remote locations. The threat posed by the anti-globalization
movement is the fact that it is the tip of an iceberg.  In
Madison Avenue terms, the demonstrators are the trend-setters,
the early-adopters. They are the ones who saw first the
handwriting on the wall -- that the whole system is f*kd.

As capitalism plunges into its terminal crisis -- the global limits
to growth -- our elite masters must employ ever-more desperate
measures to keep the system going a bit longer. Increasing
unemployment, homelessness, poverty, crime, deteriorating health
and living standards, civil unrest, wars-- all of these are
inevitable as ever more profits are squeezed out of already
squoze  populations and resources.

"Globalization" is simply the name for one phase of this
grip-tightening process. The anti-globalization movement
represents a popular recognition that the tightening process is
going too far, and that the fundamental assumptions behind how
our society operates need to be examined. Meanwhile the
tightening process continues apace, accelerates, expands in its
dimensions. The danger to the regime is that larger segments of
the population begin to connect the dots.

9-11 and its aftermath enable the regime to deal with this threat
at two different levels. On the one hand, with all the hysteria
and warpath fanfare, attention is distracted from thinking about
what the real ills of our society might be. On the other hand, if
one of these days the propaganda hysteria war machine stops
fooling most of the people, there will be concentration camps and
phony courts ready to handle that scenario as well.


Delivered-To: •••@••.•••
Date: Wed, 03 Dec 2003 09:34:35 -0800
To: •••@••.•••
From:  Alan Rycroft <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Guardian: US fires Guantanamo defence team /
  People the law forgot,3858,4810734-111575,00.html

US fires Guantanamo defence team 
James Meek
Wednesday December 3, 2003
The Guardian 

A team of military lawyers recruited to defend alleged terrorists held by
the US at Guantanamo Bay was dismissed by the Pentagon after some of  its
members rebelled against the unfair way the trials have been designed, the
Guardian has learned. 

And some members of the new legal defence team remain deeply unhappy with
the trials - known as "military commissions" - believing them to be slanted
towards the prosecution and an affront to modern US military justice. 

Of the more than 600 detainees at the US prison camp at Guantanamo, none has
been charged with any crime, and none has had access to a lawyer, although
some have been in captivity of one kind or another for two years. 

But the US has repeatedly promised that at least some of the prisoners will
be charged and tried by military commissions, an arcane form of  tribunal
based on long-disused models from the 1940s. 

When charged, a prisoner will be assigned a uniformed military defence
lawyer. The prisoners have a theoretical right to a civilian lawyer, but the
US has placed financial and bureaucratic obstacles in the way of this. 
A former military lawyer with good contacts in the US military legal
establishment said that the first group of defence lawyers the Pentagon
recruited for Guantanamo balked at the commission rules, which insist, among
other restrictions, that the government be allowed to listen in to any
conversations between attorney and client. 

"There was a circular that went out to military lawyers in the early spring
of 2003 which said 'we are looking for volunteers' for defence  counsel,"
said the ex-military lawyer. "There was a selection process, and the people
they selected were the right people, they had the right credentials, they
were good lawyers. 

"The first day, when they were being briefed on the dos and don'ts, at least
a couple said: 'You can't impose these restrictions on us because we can't
properly represent our clients.' 

"When the group decided they weren't going to go along, they were relieved.
They reported in the morning and got fired that afternoon." 

The Pentagon's recently set up Office of Military Commissions denied  the
claim. "That is not true, never happened," said its spokesman, Major John
Smith. "The military commission is a tool of justice. I expect some of these
individuals [on Guantanamo] will plead not guilty, and will be represented
zealously by their lawyers." 

Yet the Guardian understands from a uniformed source with intimate knowledge
of the mood among the current military defence team, six lawyers  strong,
that there is deep unhappiness about the commission set-up. 

"It's like you took military justice, gave it to a prosecutor and said,
'modify it any way you want'," the source said. "The government would like
to say we have done these commissions before. But what happened after [the
Nazi cases] was the military justice system changed. What we have done is
stupid. It is, I would say, an insult to the military, to the evolution of
the military justice system. They want to take us back to 1942." 

Two Britons, Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abassi, are among the Guantanamo
prisoners that President George Bush has "designated" for trial. The
military defence lawyers in Washington are still waiting for permission to
fly to Guantanamo. 

In an investigation into the Guantanamo prison camp, the Guardian has also
learned that a number of prisoners, thought to be between two and five, are
kept permanently isolated in a super-secure facility within the main prison
camp at Guantanamo, Camp Delta. 

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003 


People the law forgot 
James Meek
Wednesday December 3, 2003
The Guardian 

    It is almost two years since the Guantanamo prison camp opened.
    Its purpose is to hold people seized in the 'war on terror' and
    defined by the Bush administration as enemy combatants - though
    many appear to have been bystanders to the conflict. Images of
    Camp Delta's orange-jumpsuited, manacled detainees have provoked
    international outrage. But the real horror they face isn't
    physical hardship, it is the threat of infinite confinement,
    without trial or access to legal representation. James Meek has
    spent the past month talking to former inmates and some of those
    involved in operating the Pentagon's Kafkaesque justice system.
    He has built an unprecedented picture of life on the base, which
    we present in this special issue.

One summer's day in Cuba in 2002, a 31-year-old Pakistani teacher
of English named Abdul Razaq noticed something unusual in the
familiar patterns of movement among the orange-suited figures in
the mesh cages on either side of him. Two or three cages along
from his own, a fellow Pakistani prisoner, Shah Mohammed, was
silently going about trying to hang himself from a sheet lashed
to the mesh. He had the cloth around his throat and he was

Other prisoners in neighbouring cells had noticed and, as they
usually did when a detainee in the United States prison camp in
Guantanamo Bay tried to kill himself, they raised a hue and cry
in their many languages.

"First we shouted at Shah Mohammed to stop, but when he didn't,
we called the guards," says Razaq, who was released from
Guantanamo in July, and returned to his home town in October
after three months' detention by the Pakistani authorities. "The
guards came in and saved him. It was the first time he attempted
this in my block, then he was taken to another place. He appeared
to be unconscious."

It was one of four suicide attempts by Mohammed while he was in
Guantanamo. He was released in May and lives in the Swat Valley,
on the far side of the Malakand Hills from Peshawar, a few dozen
miles from Razaq's home. It is a district of God-fearing,
conservative, cricket-loving yeomen, who are passionate about
their land and liberty, and protective of their right to bear
arms; the fields of sugar cane and tobacco are well tended, and
prices in the gun shops are more reasonable than their
counterparts in America. In the mornings, a crocodile of small
boys in black berets, walking to school, stretches for miles.

Mohammed, who is 23 and a baker by trade, is 5ft 3in and light on
his feet. He has been having nightmares ever since he came back.
His face peers out from behind a lustrous black beard and long
hair like a child hiding between the winter coats in a wardrobe.
In Kandahar and Guantanamo, he was interrogated 10 times.

His face only lights up when you ask about fishing. He has been
doing a lot of it - mostly for trout - since his return. The
other day he caught a five-pounder with his Japanese rod. "The
biggest damage is to my brain. My physical and mental state isn't
right. I'm a changed person," he says. "I don't laugh or enjoy
myself much."

Asked why he tried to commit suicide so often, Mohammed is vague.
He talks about worries over troubles at home; his mother's
health, his brother's business, and "my own problems". But his
attempts at self-harm at Guantanamo began after he was confined,
without explanation, in a sealed punishment cell for a month -
not, it seems, because he had broken camp rules, but because the
American authorities had nowhere else to put him while they were
finishing new facilities.

In India Block, as the block of punishment cells is known, "there
were no windows. There were four walls and a roof made of tin, a
light bulb and an air conditioner. They put the air conditioning
on and it was extremely cold. They would take away the blanket in
the morning and bring it back in the evening. I was kept in this
room for one month. We'd ask them: 'Is this a sort of a
punishment?' And the translator would say, 'No, this is being
done on orders from the general.'"

As treatment for Mohammed's suicidal state of mind, US medics
injected him with an unknown drug, against his will. "I refused
and they brought seven or eight people and held me and injected
me," he says. "I couldn't see down, I couldn't see up. I felt
paralysed for one month - this injection, the effect, I couldn't
think or do anything. They gave me tranquillising tablets. They
just told me: 'Your brain is not working properly.' They were
forcing me to take these injections and tablets and I didn't want
to do that. Some people were being injected every month."

In trying to learn what life is like at the US prison camp at
Guantanamo, the few score of released detainees - almost all
Pakistanis and Afghans - are among the scant sources available.
Journalists are allowed to "visit" the facility; the Guardian has
been three times, and I was offered a slot, but journalists, like
family members, lawyers and human rights investigators, have no
access to the detainees themselves. Like a tour of the White
House, the visits offer a superficial openness about the lives of
the main occupants.

Yet the testimony of those former detainees, together with rare
scraps of information from censored mail, official statements and
the odd comment from guards and others who have been inside,
overlaps into a coherent portrait. In the almost two years since
the Guantanamo prison camp opened to hold people seized by the US
in what the Bush administration has designated "the war on
terror", it has settled from a rough and ready, occasionally
brutal place of confinement into a full-grown mongrel of
international law, where all the harshness of the punitive US
prison system is visited on foreigners, unmitigated by any of the
legal rights US prisoners enjoy. To this is added the mentally
corrosive threat, alien to the US constitution, of infinite
confinement, without court or appeal, on the whim of a single man
- the president of the US. The question, "What is Guantanamo
really like?", has all the appeal of the unknown. But inside it
lurks a darker question, with all the implications for freedom in
America and beyond that its answer contains: "What is

One of the few political statements to slip past the censors by a
man still detained there is contained in a short postcard from a
French prisoner, Nizar Sassi, to his family, dated August 2002.
"If you want a definition of this place," he wrote, "you don't
have the right to have rights."

The US executive acted quickly in the weeks following the
September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Within
26 days, Afghanistan was being attacked from the air; Kabul fell
in nine weeks. Eleven weeks after the World Trade Centre was
destroyed, resistance by Taliban fighters and their non-Afghan
allies in northern Afghanistan was crushed.

But, as US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the military in
a revealing slip in April 2002, "We have been successful in not
eliminating al-Qaida." Having failed to find the suspected
mastermind behind 9/11, Osama bin Laden, his Taliban ally, Mullah
Omar, or much in the way of terrorist infrastructure, the US set
about constructing, behind razor wire on a secure Caribbean
island, an incarcerated model of what its "war on terror"
rhetoric implies. It has gathered terrorism suspects from all
over the world, imposed discipline and order on them, encouraged
them to hate the US and kept them together for years. It was as
if the Bush administration so wanted the Hollywood fantasy of a
central terrorist campus to be true that they built it

Because the roughly 660 detainees still on Guantanamo have no
voice, and because the US has never explained case by case why it
locked them up, the outside world has only the accounts of their
families and the catch-all US definition of "enemy combatant" to
understand who they are and why they are there.

Most were arrested in Afghanistan but many were handed over to
the US by other countries. "They are an extremely heterogenous
group. There are some 40 different nationalities, there's 18
different languages," says Daryl Matthews, a forensic
psychiatrist based in Hawaii who spent a week at the Guantanamo
prison camp in May. "There's a big division between
Arabic-speaking and Urdu-Pashto-speaking ones. There are some
people who are extremely well educated and westernised, and some
people who are not at all. There are some very young people and
some very old and wise people. There are people who speak English
well, people who don't speak English at all. There are some who
go in with mental disorders there are some very secular, and some
deeply devout."

There is Shafiq Rasul from Tipton in the West Midlands, who took
his wardrobe of designer clothes with him to Pakistan, was
captured with his friends Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed by the
Northern Alliance, and was handed over to the US in Shebergan in
northern Afghanistan in December 2001. Jamil al-Banna and Bisher
al-Rawi, two refugees living in Britain, were arrested in the
Gambia in west Africa and handed over to the US by the Gambians.
Moazzam Begg and Richard Belmar, two other Britons, were arrested
in Pakistan and handed over to the US by the Pakistanis. David
Hicks, an Australian, who had previously led a life of shark
fishing and kangaroo skinning, and had fathered two children,
ended up in the Shebergan prison after fighting with the KLA in
Albania and the Kashmiri insurgency group Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Mehdi-Muhammed Ghezali, who grew up in the Swedish town of Rebro
and whose father was Algerian and mother Finnish, had a promising
career as a footballer ahead of him before turning up with the
Taliban in Afghanistan and being captured. Nizar Sassi and Mourad
Bechnellali grew up in Venissieux, a suburb of Lyons. Their lives
came to revolve around the mosque on Lenin Boulevard before they
travelled east. Ibrahim Fauzee, a citizen of the Maldives, was
arrested in Karachi while staying in the home of a man with
suspected al-Qaida links. Tarek Dergoul, from east London,
thought to have been arrested during the battle for Tora Bora in
southern Afghanistan, is reported to have had an arm amputated as
a result of wounds. Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese assistant cameraman
with the al-Jazeera TV station, was picked out and held while
leaving Afghanistan for Pakistan after the fall of Kabul with the
rest of his crew. They never saw him again. Another Briton,
Martin Mubanga, from north London, was handed over to the US by
Zambia. Jamal Udeen, from Manchester, born into a devout Catholic
home, and converted to Islam in his 20s and was seized in
Afghanistan only three weeks after he left England. Airat
Vakhitov, one of eight Russians on Guantanamo, thought he had
been liberated when a reporter from Le Monde discovered him in a
Taliban jail, where he had sat in darkness and been beaten for
seven months on suspicion of spying for the KGB. But he only
exchanged the Taliban prison for an American one. And there is
Mish al-Hahrbi, a Saudi schoolteacher. After he tried to kill
himself on Guantanamo, he suffered severe and irreversible brain

The road for many detainees, including the small number who have
since been released, began with, they claim, a non-combatant
reason for being where they were when they were caught. Mohammed
says he went to work for the Taliban as a baker; Razaq says he
was a missionary. They were held by the Northern Alliance in
northern Afghanistan, selected by the Alliance to receive a
cursory interview from US special forces or the CIA, and flown to
Kandahar, where they were held for weeks or months before being
flown to Cuba.

Razaq, in his first interview with a journalist, told me he was
convinced the only reason he was sent to Cuba was because he
spoke English. He had been held by the Northern Alliance for a
month in Shebergan prison, in crowded conditions with little
food, when Alliance soldiers came and asked the group of
Pakistani, Arab and Uzbek captives who among them spoke English.
Razaq stepped forward.

His hands were tied and he was taken to a small room with mud
walls where he was made to kneel on the ground in front of two
Americans in uniform, one sitting on a mud bench projecting from
the wall and the other standing. The interview took three or four
minutes, and consisted of two questions: "What is your name, and
why have you come to Afghanistan?" Afterwards he was taken
outside. He just had time to see a group of bound men with hoods
on their heads sitting in a row before he, too, was hooded. They
were taken to an airfield and flown to Kandahar. No signal had
passed between his interrogators and the soldiers who hooded him.
In other words, on the basis that he knew English, the US had
already decided to take him to Kandahar, whatever the result of
this initial interview.

Another released Pakistani, Mohammed Saghir, a grey-bearded
sawmill owner who is now 53, tells me that he had not even had a
cursory interview at Shebergan before he was bound hand and foot,
blindfolded and helicoptered to Kandahar.

Shah Mohammed was held at a prison in Mazar-i-Sharif, near
Shebergan, before being sent to Kandahar. He met Hicks, the
Australian, while he was there. There were early signs of the
differential treatment, apparently according to national
background and skin colour, that was to be one of the
characteristics of the US handling of terror suspects. "I spoke
to the Australian, he knew a bit of Urdu," says Mohammed. "He
said he had come for Jihad. He was asked a lot of questions [by
the Americans], more than us. He was taken to a navy ship and I
was taken to Kandahar." Mohammed was to see Hicks again.

The released detainees recount the roughness with which they were
treated at Kandahar, from the moment of their transport there.
"One thing I've learned about the Americans is they are very
harsh when they transport people around," says Razaq. "They had
tied up my hands so tight that for two months I couldn't use my
right hand. They haul you from your neck and drop you off the
plane in a very disrespectful manner. For a long time we didn't
know it was Kandahar. We thought they were going to kill us

"They would just pick us up and throw us out [of the plane],"
says Saghir. "Some people were hurt, some quite badly." Mohammed
says: "They kicked us out of the plane and threw us on the

The accommodation at Kandahar was uncomfortable. Prisoners slept
and sat in small groups under canvas canopies, on the bare earth,
surrounded by razor wire and under constant surveillance. They
were given a single blanket each. It was winter. Razaq says that
the bottled water they were given to drink would be frozen in the
mornings. He said that for the first 20 days, a strict no-talking
rule was enforced. Saghir describes how no one had been allowed
to sleep for more than an hour. "If someone slept for an hour
they would yell at him: Get him up!"

The prisoners were interrogated steadily, with long intervals
between sessions. "We used to ask them: 'Why are we being kept
here?'" says Mohammed. "They would reply: 'You will be
interrogated, and whoever is found innocent will be allowed to
go.' They never told us we would be taken to Cuba.'"

Razaq was one of the last to leave Kandahar. He saw the camp
emptying around him. From his testimony, it appears that once a
detainee was committed to Kandahar, the vast US military
bureaucracy could only send people to Guantanamo. "I don't know
what made them suspect me, but there were rumours that they
arrested me because they thought I was a very senior Taliban
official," he says. "In fact, in the last interrogation at
Kandahar, the American interrogator gave me water to drink and
assured me I would be released.

"This assurance was given to me on several occasions. I never
knew where they were taking the people who disappeared. We asked
the Red Cross, but they wouldn't give us any information. But
there was this gate through which we could see people in red
costumes in the distance. At the end, it seemed they just wanted
to send everyone to Cuba and I was in the last group."

The last thing the US captors did before dispatching the Kandahar
detainees to Cuba was shave off their beards, a process they
found humiliating. Razaq was told it was because, without
showers, they had picked up lice. "We resisted, but four or five
commandos came and they had a machine and just shaved off my
beard and moustache," says Saghir.

For the flight to Cuba, the prisoners were given the orange
jumpsuits familiar from television footage of their arrival at
Guantanamo. They were bound hand and foot, blindfolded, gagged,
and their ears were muffled. Once on board the military transport
plane, their feet were chained to the floor, their hands bound to
the handrests, and restraining straps stretched across their
bodies. "The translator told us: 'Don't make any movement, don't
worry, you are being taken home,'" says Mohammed. "I don't
remember how many hours but we left at night from Kandahar and
arrived in Cuba in the evening. We stopped somewhere and changed

Saghir says that, as with the arrival at Kandahar, the detainees,
still bound, gagged and blindfolded, were thrown off the plane on
arrival in Cuba. Some had their noses broken, he says. "I got a
bruise under my left eye where my face hit the ground."

The first prisoners were moved from the runway to a truck, from
there to a launch across the bay, and from there to the bare mesh
cages which would be their home for the first few months of 2002,
the original detention centre, Camp X-Ray. Those initial images
of blinded, deafened, mute and bound men in glaring orange became
a potent weapon in the hands of those who opposed the manner in
which the Bush administration was coping with terrorism,
particularly in Europe and the Muslim world. A country which
would not countenance an international criminal court, the
pictures seemed to say, had built a harsh international jail. The
bizarre setup of Guantanamo itself, a fortified American toehold
in one of the world's last outposts of communism, added to the
sense of prisoners being cast into the centre of concentric
circles of isolation. Cubans remember, if few others do, that the
world's first concentration camps were built on their island by
the Spanish in the 1890s.

In the first few weeks of Camp X-Ray's existence, the regime was
even harsher than it looked from the pictures of tiny cages. The
prisoners were not allowed to speak to each other, not even in a
whisper. "I spent the first month in utter silence," says

According to Saghir, in this initial, relatively brutal phase of
Guantanamo, there was little tolerance for the practice of Islam,
with its requirement of prayer five times a day. "In the first
one-and-a-half months they wouldn't let us speak to anyone,
wouldn't let us call for prayers or pray in the room," he says.
"We were only given 10 minutes for eating. I tried to pray and
four or five commandos came and they beat me up. If someone would
try to make a call for prayer they would beat him up and gag him.
After one-and-a-half months, we went on hunger strike."

US officials at the camp have admitted hunger strikes did take
place there - in some cases, prisoners were force fed - but in
the minds of the detainees, they have been associated with
protests that have achieved results. According to Saghir, it was
only after a mass four-day hunger strike that the no-talking rule
was lifted, a loudspeaker was put up to broadcast the call to
prayer, more time was given for meals, and Korans and other books
were provided. Mohammed says that an eight-day hunger strike when
a guard had thrown the Koran on the ground had ended with a
personal apology from a senior officer and a promise that the
Koran would not be touched again.

Razaq, who arrived after Camp X-Ray had already shut down, said
that the culture of protest was a feature of life in Guantanamo.
"In the beginning there was a mass hunger strike, but later on
there were individual cases of people not eating," he says. In
other cases detainees would take off their plastic tags carrying
their US identification codes and throw them at the guards, or
would bang on their metal benches. Sometimes the guards would use
a disabling gas in response.

"When we threw off our tags the guards asked us to hand over our
blankets, but two of our colleagues didn't oblige, so they
sprayed them to make them unconscious, tied them up and took them
to the punishment block; during that transfer they were quite
brutal," says Razaq. "But I didn't see any slapping."

Life in X-Ray became easier after the no-talking rule was lifted.
The camp authorities appear to have instituted a kind of
linguistic mosaic, giving detainees a reasonable chance of
finding someone to talk to, but without allowing too large a
cluster of people speaking the same language. Mohammed sketches
out the group of 10 cages he was in in X-Ray. His immediate
neighbours were Hicks, a Bangladeshi, two Arabs whose names he
does not remember, and Rokhanay, from northern Afghanistan.
Slightly further away, but still in talking distance, was Asif
Iqbal from Tipton, another Arab, Abu Nakar, and two southern
Afghans, Wasiq and Nurullah.

"Asif was at an advantage because he was able to speak to the
Americans in English," says Mohammed. "He was like my translator.
He had just come for a visit to Pakistan and then went to
Afghanistan. He never intended to wage Jihad. He would swear at
the guards from time to time. Sometimes, on some issue, he would
just start yelling at them but the Americans would not respond.
David Hicks knew some Urdu as well, so I would speak to him, and
he would speak to Asif."

The Guantanamo prisoners have no way of knowing what is happening
in the outside world, whether it concerns football scores or the
war in Iraq. Apart from the guards and interrogators, the only
contact the prisoners have is with officials of the international
committee of the Red Cross and with occasional visitors from the
intelligence services and foreign ministries of their home
countries. The ICRC never talks about conditions in Guantanamo
and little else has leaked out.

Swedish activists campaigning for the release of Mehdi Ghezali
have used Sweden's freedom of information laws to obtain a
censored version of a report by an intelligence officer, Bo
Eriksson, on a visit to Guantanamo with another Swede in February
2002. It and other documents reveal that the US was so obsessed
with security that it drafted in a Swedish-speaking US army
officer to listen in on the meeting between the agents and
Ghezali, and, even so, got an envoy in Stockholm to ask the
Swedes for a copy of their report into the meeting that they had
already listened in on.

"The cells measure approximately 2x3 metres with walls of wire
mesh, concrete floors and metal ceilings," wrote Eriksson.
"Inside the cells, the detainees have a mattress, a blanket, a
hand towel, a couple of buckets and water bottles made from soft
plastic. Outside their cells, the detainees wear orange overalls
and plastic slippers. Their freedom of movement is not restricted
to the cells, although outside their cells they wear hand and
feet restraints. The handcuffs are fastened to a belt around
their waist allowing them only restricted movement with their
hands and arms. [Ghezali] only just managed to drink water from a
mug with hand restraints on.

"The leg restraints mean that when detainees are moved they have
to move forward taking very small steps. One of the guards keeps
a hand on the back of the detainee's neck the whole time, bending
the detainee's head forwards so that he is looking at the ground
the whole time he is being moved.They are not tortured, nor do
they receive any other degrading treatment. The mesh cell walls
mean of course that the detainees never have a moment's privacy.
On one occasion, detainees had suspended a plastic sheet on the
fence to prevent people from looking in but they had been forced
to remove it since it became unbearably hot despite the cool
breeze from the sea."

In April 2002, the prisoners were moved to new accommodation,
Camp Delta, and Camp X-Ray was closed. Their beards grew back.
The new facilities, which make up the main part of the prison
camp to this day, feature blocks of 48 cages each, with two rows
of mesh cages separated by a narrow corridor. The blocks have no
external walls, only a pitched roof; they stand on concrete
bricks in areas of raked gravel surrounded by high, opaque green
fences topped by razor wire. The cages are about as long and wide
as a tall man lying down, and contain a metal bunk, a tap and a
toilet. Besides this standard type of accommodation, there are at
least six others. There is the more relaxed regime of Camp Four,
where docile, cooperative prisoners are rewarded with
dormitory-style living and free association with other detainees.
Within Camp Four, there is a further category of prisoners,
believed to include Britons Moazzam Begg and Feroz Abbasi, kept
isolated from other prisoners in preparation for being put on
trial. In Camp Delta, there is a special block set aside for
three juvenile prisoners, with a view of the ocean and a less
repressive confinement. There is Delta Block, where prisoners
with mental problems are kept under special observation; and
India Block, and possibly one other block, which contain the
punishment isolation cells.

The Guardian has also learned that a very small number of
prisoners, thought to be between two and five, are kept
permanently isolated in a special, super-secure facility within
Camp Delta.

Mohammed, Saghir and Razaq all had experience of the punishment
cells. Saghir says that he was locked up in one of the windowless
metal boxes for more than a week when an Arab spat at a guard and
the entire line of 24 cages was punished with solitary.

One of the US justifications for holding the Guantanamo prisoners
for so long in isolation is that they need to be interrogated for
valuable intelligence. There has been an enormous amount of
interrogation; each prisoner has typically been questioned
between 10 and 20 times, which would, assuming interviews last 90
minutes on average, have generated some 15,000 hours of
transcripts, containing perhaps 200 million words, the equivalent
of around 250 Bibles. Yet without exception, the detainees say
they were questioned by different interrogators each time, and
each time the questions were the same.

Prisoners describe the interrogation room as a small, windowless,
air-conditioned, plywood space, lit by fluorescent ceiling tubes.
One, two or three Americans ask questions, through a translator
if necessary. The only furniture is a wooden table with metal
legs and metal chairs. Interviews are recorded on tape and by
written note. There is a metal ring fixed to the floor; while
they are being interrogated, the prisoners sit in a chair and
have their chains fixed to the ring.

"They would ask: 'Where is Osama? Do you know any of the al-Qaida
leaders? Have you met them?' Things like that," says Saghir.
"They would not get angry with my answers. We would ask them and
they would say: 'We don't know when you will be let free. Only
our bosses know, we are here to do our job.'"

Sometimes it seemed that the interrogators wanted the detainees
to show sympathy with the victims of 9/11. Saghir was once told
by a translator that he had got closer to being released by
giving a "right" answer. "In my last interrogation I was asked:
'These people who attacked the twin towers, would you call them
Muslims?' I answered: 'I won't call them Muslims, but I'm not a
religious scholar, I couldn't judge these people.' The translator
then said: 'You have gone one stage further, there will be no
more interrogations.'"

After Kandahar, none of the released prisoners has described
torture or even aggression by the interrogators, but Razaq said
detainees who refused to answer questions were sometimes put in
isolation cells as punishment.

The interrogated and the interrogator do attempt mind games with
each other. In one interrogation, the interrogators effectively
told Razaq he was free to go. "They said: 'OK, your file is
clear. Where do you want us to drop you?'"

Daring to hope, Razaq answered: "Peshawar?" Immediately, the
interrogators began questioning him again as if for the first
time, and made him take a lie-detector test. "Maybe this was one
of their tactics," says Razaq. "They first made me happy and
accept that I will be free, then they changed direction."

Guantanamo is a bleak, dull, repressive place for its inmates.
Yet there is something about it which may not be immediately
apparent to Europeans dismayed by the level of security, the
chains and the punitive, degrading way the prisoners are caged:
it is not dissimilar to facilities in the harsh US civilian
prison system. By focusing on physical conditions, there is a
risk of missing the unique aspect of Guantanamo - the arbitrary,
unprecedented and unfair way in which President Bush and his
administration have confined hundreds of people without either
any idea how long they are to be locked up, or any way to plead
their case. It is this which the legal establishment in the US
and Europe finds most menacing. It is this which causes the
greatest mental torment to the prisoners and their families. And
the strange Pentagon creatures that have been set up to try some
detainees, the military commissions, are, the Guardian has
learned, troubling even the uniformed lawyers signed up to make
them work.

"Prisons are a big industry in the US," says Daryl Matthews. "We
imprison a lot of people. People don't understand the extent and
the misery of prisons in the US. People who are considered the
most dangerous people in the US are moved in shackles. I've been
in prisons in the US much more secure than Guantanamo. I've
interviewed people in masks and shackles on the mainland US.
These are scary places. I don't think the issue for the
Guantanamo folks is their conditions of confinement. It's easy to
be fascinated by a place you can't get to but that's not the
issue. The issue is human rights."

Matthews, who opposes the death penalty, none the less provides
psychiatric advice to courts in civilian capital cases. Yet he is
still wrestling with his conscience over whether to provide the
same service to the military commissions that will try the
Guantanamo detainees. The commissions have the power to impose
the heaviest sentences, up to and including death. Unlike the
rapists, child abductors and serial killers on capital charges in
the US, unlike the Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, cold war
Soviet spies or Nazi war criminals, unlike even the shoe bomber
Richard Reid, the confessed terrorist and al-Qaida supporter, the
hundreds of people locked up in Guantanamo have neither been told
why they have been deprived of their liberty for two years, nor
when or how they might be released, charged or tried, nor given
any opportunity to challenge their status before a tribunal.

That isolation and uncertainty, Matthews points out, puts an
extra burden on the detainees. "Most of the stresses that operate
on the Guantanamo detainees would operate on anyone in a maximum
security facility [on the mainland US]," he says. "They're bored,
it's noisy, they have no privacy, they get some exercise but not
very much. They have to deal with strangers who don't like them
all the time, guards and other inmates. They don't have access to
personal objects. It's horrible being a prisoner... when I read
about your British detainees, and families being concerned that
people are being tortured because they are depressed, I wish I
could tell the families it doesn't need torture to make someone
depressed in prison. Just a normal prison environment produces
profound alteration in mental states, suicide and depression.

'But at Guantanamo there's an added level of stress, and I think
that is the thing that's somewhat unique... Inmates in a normal
prison are focused on how much time they are going to serve, on
contacting their lawyers, on being able to take constructive
efforts to get out; these are important ways prisoners deal with
the stress of confinement, and these guys can't do anything.'

When the terrorists attacked the US on September 11, the world
found in Bush and his attorney-general, John Ashcroft, men who
had already embraced the idea that large-scale incarceration and
executions were the way to fight wrongdoing, who wanted to
encourage judges to impose harsher sentences, and who felt that
defence lawyers were the bane of justice. The leash-is-off
rhetoric of the 'war on terror' fitted naturally into the
rightwing narrative of recent history, which portrayed spineless
liberals betraying the victims of crime by too scrupulous a
concern for the rights of suspects.

Ashcroft makes the link explicit. In a recent speech, close to
the second anniversary of 9/11, he boasted that the Bush
administration had used the same tactics to fight terrorism as to
fight crime. 'For almost two decades, some in Washington have
preached defeatism and surrender in the battle against the drug
smugglers, the criminal and the lawless,' he said. 'At one time,
elite opinion held that law enforcement and citizens could not do
anything. They believed we were doomed to live with rising crime.
They argued that criminals were driven by circumstance and root
causes beyond our control... The ideological critics were proven
wrong... We have proven that the right ideas - tough laws, tough
sentences, and constant cooperation - are stronger than the
criminal or the terrorist cell.'

A foretaste of how the Bush administration planned to avoid
'defeatism and surrender' in pursuit of terrorists came with the
detention of more than 1,000 foreign Muslims in the US in the
immediate aftermath of 9/11. Although they were technically held
for outstaying their visas and other workaday immigration
offences, 762 of them were investigated for suspected terrorist
links. Few, if any, were ever charged with anything
terrorist-related, but all had to wait weeks or months to be
cleared by the FBI. Those held in one detention centre, in
Brooklyn, were initially prevented from contacting family and
lawyers; some experienced violence and racist abuse. The
presidential order that created the basis for the Guantanamo
prison camp, and for the military commissions that will try any
of the detainees charged with terrorist offences or war crimes,
was published on November 13 2001, the day the Northern Alliance
took control of Kabul. With the sudden, unexpected fall of
Mazar-i-Sharif in the north a few days earlier, it became clear
to the Bush administration that they were about to have access to
hundreds, perhaps thousands of Taliban and allied fighters, some
of whom might be terrorists. The question suddenly became urgent
as to what status to give the captives so that the US could
interrogate them, detain them at the president's pleasure, and
punish them. At the time, hopes were high of capturing Bin Laden
himself. The Guantanamo detainees may to some extent be paying
the price for the Americans' inability to capture the al-Qaida
leader. In a sense, Guantanamo is St Helena without Napoleon,
with the dregs of the Grand Armee locked up instead.

Practical templates were available in international law that, on
the face of it, would have allowed Washington to satisfy its
aims. It remains a mystery as to why the Bush administration
chose not to follow international law, but to make up its own.
Its first step away from international norms was to refuse to
categorise the Afghanistan captives as prisoners of war. One
source told me of a - possibly apocryphal - story that Bush and
his aides were going through the Geneva convention when the
president came to the part that declares PoWs must be paid
between eight and 75 Swiss francs a day. At this point, the story
goes, Bush lost his temper and ordered his people to find a way
for the captives not to be PoWs.

Officially, the US hides behind the fact that the resistance in
Afghanistan didn't dress like soldiers. It is true that, like CIA
operatives in the field in Afghanistan and Iraq, and like many of
the Northern Alliance allies of the US, the Taliban and
non-Afghan fighters didn't wear uniforms, but that does not
prevent them being declared prisoners of war. Article 5 of the
Third Geneva Convention is clear: any captured belligerent whose
status is uncertain should be considered a PoW until their status
is settled by a 'competent tribunal'. The US carried out hundreds
of these tribunals during the 1991 Gulf war and in the recent
Iraq war. In Afghanistan, it didn't. Asked why there hadn't been
any tribunals for the Afghan captives, Major John Smith, a
military attorney in the Pentagon department organising the
forthcoming trials of Guantanamo detainees, says it is because
the president decided there was no need.

'The president's decision was that there was no doubt these
individuals did not qualify for PoW status and a tribunal wasn't
required,' he says.

Eugene Fidell, a former military lawyer, now president of the
National Institute of Military Justice in the US, said that the
decision not to hold tribunals had deprived his country of the
moral high ground. 'Whether that policy decision was right or
wrong, or wrong in part, let's say, as to al-Qaida or Taliban
members, it represented a fork in the road. And the path taken
has had, I think, a very poisonous effect on our standing in the
world community.'

Had there been formal tribunals, the US could still have
interrogated, charged and tried the PoWs. They might also have
screened out some of their more pathetic captives before they had
to endure Guantanamo, such as Mohammed Hagi Fiz, a toothless,
fragile old Afghan in his 70s, released in October 2002, or Abdul
Razeq, an Afghan suffering from schizophrenia, released in May
2002 with a six-month supply of medication.

The strangeness of the US position is that although it does not
consider the Guantanamo captives prisoners of war in the formal,
Geneva Convention sense, it considers them prisoners of war in
one very specific sense - that they can be held until the war is
over. It calls them 'enemy combatants', a term not recognised in
international law. To the question 'What war?', the Bush
administration responds: 'The war on terror.' In other words, the
captives can be held for as long as the US president likes; until
forever, in fact, since, unlike normal wars, where a particular
territory and a particular military entity is involved, this one
exists only as a concept. The 'war' was going on before September
11 2001 - it is hard to think of a year in recent decades in
which US citizens or US interests have not come under terrorist
attack - and it is difficult to see how any US leader could ever
take the political risk of declaring a 'war on terror' to have
finished. The US persists in claiming that the 'war' can and will
be won.

'Detention as an enemy combatant is not criminal, it's to take
them off the battlefield,' says Smith. 'We are at war with
al-Qaida. It's not a metaphorical war, it's a real war.' At one
point in our conversation he compares the US in 2003 to Britain
in 1941. 'I believe we will be able to defeat al-Qaida. It's a
political situation, and it's a tough decision, but I think at
some point we will be able to say that al-Qaida is no longer a
threat to the US... at some point, al-Qaida and terrorism will be

Yet enemy combatant status, combined with the lack of Article 5
tribunals, means that the Guantanamo detainees are kept captive
until the end of a potentially endless 'war', without the
opportunity to plead before a court that they had nothing to do
with that 'war.' The US does not consider itself obliged to put
them on trial, so has no obligation to give them lawyers; even if
they are put on trial, and are acquitted, under its own rules,
the US might simply lock them up again.

'It seems to me that our government's talking out of both sides
of its mouth,' says James Harrington, a lawyer from upstate New
York who represents a US citizen, not in Guantanamo, awaiting
sentencing on terrorism charges. 'We say they're not PoWs and
won't be treated as PoWs but at the same time we say we are at
war. It either should be one or the other. If we are trying to
say to the rest of the world we have due process and best
practice in our country... we shouldn't be treating other people
in ways that are unfair. These guys get picked up, shipped to
somebody else's country, held there so they aren't in the US so
they don't get the same rights as in the US, and then get treated
by rules made up by the government to suit the government's

Louise Christian, a British lawyer representing three of the
Britons held in Guantanamo, said the US today looked more like
Britain in the 1970s than in the 1940s. 'It's the same thing that
happened in this country when we had mainland bomb attacks from
the IRA, that the tremendous panic and fear just replaced
everything else. There was no understanding in this country of
how we were viewed outside,' she says. 'We locked people up
arbitrarily. We ignored the fact that people were being coerced
into making confessions. But I think also the daily experience of
internment, seeing your best friends and neighbours locked up
without cause, led to great bitterness, and the continuing of the
conflict in Northern Ireland, because of feelings of injustice.
Obviously there were people who did do terrible things. But if
the government response is to criminalise a whole category of
people, all we do is increase support for people who are guilty.'

Having hurriedly come up with the 'enemy combatant' notion to
deal with the hoped-for capture of Bin Laden, and having applied
it to the ragbag of captives picked from Northern Alliance jails
in Afghanistan, the US government has become so comfortable with
it that it has begun to wield it around the world, and at home,
in ways that frighten rights activists and lawyers. Now, it
appears, anyone, US citizen or not, can be declared an 'enemy
combatant', at any time, and thus be detained indefinitely at
Bush's discretion.

Enemy combatant status is leaking out of Guantanamo and into the
mainland US. There are now three 'enemy combatants' held in US
military jails. One is a Qatari computer student living in
Illinois, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. He was awaiting trial on
low-grade criminal charges indirectly linked to terrorism when,
immediately after the government's case against him looked to be
in trouble, the Bush administration declared him an 'enemy
combatant' and moved him to a high-security naval prison,
allowing a trial to be avoided, and the accused to be held for as
long as the president likes.

Bush's November 13 order refers to 'enemy combatants' being
'treated humanely, without any adverse distinction based on race,
colour, religion, gender, birth, wealth, or any similar
criteria'. Yet it is hard to equate the starkly differing
treatment of three men allegedly found fighting alongside the
Taliban with this creed. The only white American in that
category, John Walker Lindh, was given a criminal trial, the full
panoply of legal rights, and swiftly sentenced. Another American
citizen, but of Saudi descent, Yasser Hamdi, was moved from
Guantanamo to a naval prison on the mainland US, and is still
held there incommunicado as an 'enemy combatant'. Compare that to
Mohamed Tariq, an ordinary Pakistani from Shah Mohammed's
village, not yet released. There is no reason to think he did
anything that Lindh or Hamdi did not do. But he remains on
Guantanamo. Speculation that a mass release of European prisoners
is imminent, welcome as it is, only highlights the arbitrary
nature of the detentions. Nothing illustrates the US government's
new power over suspects, and the unfairness of its treatment of
the Guantanamo detainees, better than the case of the Lackawanna
Six - a group of Yemeni-Americans from a suburb of Buffalo, who
were accused of aiding al-Qaida. In the end, all pleaded guilty -
but only after prosecutors had dropped heavy hints that they
would be declared 'enemy combatants' if they didn't.

'Basically, what was related to us was that if the case was not
resolved by a plea, the government was going to consider any
options that it had,' says Harrington, attorney for one of the
men, Sahim Alwan. 'They didn't say they were going to do it
[declare them 'enemy combatants'], they just were going to
consider it.

'Even as vague a definition as 'enemy combatant' is, it didn't
seem it would apply in this particular case, but given the way
that the government has used their authority, obviously it was
something that was a concern for us. It was a factor my client
took into account. He was worried about it. I think it's an
improper use of the procedure first of all. It's pretty
heavy-handed.' In the end, the group were allowed to remain
within the civilian justice system, in their home country, the
US. They had access to legal counsel. The Bush administration was
happy to use its 'enemy combatant' device against them if things
did not seem to be going the prosecution's way, but equally happy
to let them go through the normal civilian courts. Those
Guantanamo detainees who are to face trial have no such option.
They are to face a different kind of court entirely - military
commissions - a system that has been condemned internationally,
by the US legal establishment and, the Guardian has learned, is
regarded with dismay even by some of the uniformed lawyers whose
job it is to make it work.

The government has had to dig back into two arcane cases
involving Nazi agents six decades ago, before the Geneva
Conventions were even written, to find precedents for military
commissions, and, as with the skipping of PoW tribunals for the
Guantanamo detainees, it is a mystery why they did so. They had
at least two other options: the civilian criminal courts, as used
to try past terrorist cases, such as the 1993 World Trade Centre
bombing, and court martials in the US military courts, as used to
try the deposed leader of Panama, General Manuel Noriega. The
Bush administration defends the choice of military commissions on
the grounds that the alleged, presumably terrorist, offences for
which some Guantanamo prisoners will be tried are 'war crimes';
and on the grounds that the commissions will help safeguard
classified information that would leak out from normal trials or
courts martial. Critics say that neither argument stands up, and
that the real reason military commissions are being used is that
they give the accused little chance of a fair hearing, and stack
the deck in favour of convictions.

The two facets of the commissions that have drawn the most fire
are that the government assumes the right to listen in to any
conversations between defence lawyers and their clients, and
that, once convicted, the accused have no possibility of having
their case reviewed by an independent appeal body. But there is
more in the detail of how the commissions are supposed to work
that reads like pages from Franz Kafka's workbook.

The first thing that strikes the lay student of military
commissions is the enormous power vested in the US deputy
secretary of defence, Paul Wolfowitz, who is the commissions'
'appointing authority'. The judges - seven in a capital case -
are appointed by Wolfowitz. Any judge can be substituted up to
the moment of verdict, by Wolfowitz. The military prosecutors are
chosen by Wolfowitz. The suspects they charge, and the charges
they make, are determined by Wolfowitz. All defendants are
entitled to a military defence lawyer, from a pool chosen by
Wolfowitz. The defendants are entitled to hire a civilian lawyer,
but they have to pay out of their own funds, and by revealing
where the funds are, they risk having them seized on suspicion of
their being used for terrorist purposes, on the order of
Wolfowitz. Defendants need not lose heart completely if
convicted. They can appeal, to a panel of three people, appointed
by Wolfowitz. When it has made its recommendation, the panel
sends it for a final decision to Wolfowitz.

'That's the system,' says Clive Stafford-Smith, a
British-American lawyer known for representing death-row clients
and who now represents some of the Britons on Guantanamo,
although he has never been allowed to meet them. 'It's a
multi-headed Hydra with Paul Wolfowitz's face on every head.'

Given the obstructions in the way of civilian lawyers - they have
to be US citizens, they have to get security clearance at their
own expense, they have to abandon their practices and move to
Guantanamo permanently for months on end - conscientious military
defence lawyers seem to be the best hope of a fair trial for many
of the detainees charged.

The Guardian has learned of deep unhappiness among the relatively
small pool of experienced military defence lawyers that the
Pentagon can call upon to do that job. There is anger both at the
restrictions being placed on them, and the fact that the Bush
administration has gone back to the 1940s for a court model,
ignoring six decades of evolution of the sophisticated US
military justice system.

The Pentagon's Office of Military Commissions has six full-time
military defence attorneys working for it. The only one to have
been publicly identified is the chief defence counsel, Colonel
Willie Gunn. The Guardian understands that the remaining five are
not the lawyers originally recruited, but that the original
volunteers were dismissed after refusing to sign a paper agreeing
to the restrictions they would work under.

'There was a circular that went out to military lawyers in the
early spring of 2003 which said 'we are looking for volunteers'
for defence counsel,' says a former military lawyer. 'There was a
selection process, and the people they selected were the right
people, they had the right credentials, they were good lawyers.
The first day, when they were being briefed on the dos and
don'ts, at least a couple said: 'You can't impose these
restrictions on us because we can't properly represent our
clients.' When the group decided they weren't going to go along,
they were relieved. They reported in the morning and got fired
that afternoon.'

The Office of Military Commissions denies the claim. 'That is not
true, never happened,' says Major Smith. 'The military commission
is a tool of justice. I expect some of these individuals [on
Guantanamo] will plead not guilty, and will be represented
zealously by their lawyers.' Yet the Guardian understands from a
uniformed source with intimate knowledge of the mood among the
current military defence team that there is deep unhappiness
about the commission set up - a disturbing situation when the
death chamber may await those found guilty.

'It's like you took military justice, gave it to a prosecutor and
said: 'Modify it any way you want," the source says. 'The
government would like to say we have done these commissions
before. But what happened after [the Nazi cases] was that the
military justice system changed... What we have done is stupid.
It is, I would say, an insult to the military, to the evolution
of the military justice system. They want to take us back to

'What sort of justice are we taking to Iraq and Afghanistan? The
constitution talks about justice. Is it only for America?'

As an illustration of the slapdash way he considers the
commissions have been set up, he points to how a rule has been
removed that barred defence lawyers, once they had arrived in
Cuba, from carrying out research outside Guantanamo. Instead of
the formal issuing of a new instruction, the Pentagon simply went
to the commission website and rewrote the offending paragraph.

'They went on the internet and just substituted the new passage,
leaving the old date. I can't think of a better example of how
these processes were created. They were going to make the rules
and change them when they felt like it.'

The source points out that under the rules, whereas the head of
the Pentagon's prosecution team, Colonel Frederic Borch III,
could lead the government's case in court, his defence
counterpart, Colonel Gunn, was not allowed to take part in
commission proceedings at all.

'We could have had some people make rules that no one would
complain about but they didn't. We had a bunch of like-minded
people and yes-men. It's shocking how many articles I read and no
one is picking up on the fact that Colonel Gunn is just a puppet.
It's a farce.'

Eugene Fidell says that the military law establishment - there
are around 5,000 active duty lawyers in the US military - have
been infuriated by a comment piece in the New York Times by
Alberto Gonzalez, the White House counsel, which suggests that
the US military justice system and military commissions are the
same thing.

'What the Bush administration did was literally use as a model a
set of rules Roosevelt signed for dealing with German saboteurs
in the second world war, seven years before the Geneva
Conventions. It baffles me how the government got into this
position. We have an [appeals] court that's been around for 53
years and which has built up a huge body of law. To rely on this
review panel instead of using that court, it's indefensible.'

And Wolfowitz's role? 'It's right out of the Mikado, isn't it...
the government has created something as close to being
hermetically sealed as the human mind is capable of creating.'
The supreme court is now pledged to examine the legality of what
is happening on Guantanamo next year. 'I think Americans are very
uncomfortable with all this,' says Fidell. 'I mean, prison
islands in tropical regions give us a real bad feeling, whether
it's Devil's Island, or Robben Island, or Norfolk Island. This is
not a role that comes to us naturally.'

'One of the prosecutors told me that they think 30% of the people
in Guantanamo Bay were nothing to do with anything. They were
just in the wrong place at the wrong time,' says Clive
Stafford-Smith. 'When the prosecutor tells you 30%, I tend to
think it's more like 70%. But the bottom line is we're not
talking about 600 of the worst people in the world. We're talking
about at least a couple of hundred who didn't do anything.

'You kidnap people who may be totally innocent, you take them all
the way around the world in hoods and shackles, you hold them
incommunicado for two years, you don't give them a lawyer and you
don't tell them what they're charged with. It's not a matter of
what's wrong with it, it's a question of what's right with it.
And it achieves nothing.'

Shah Mohammed was given no apology or compensation when he was
released, just a three-paragraph letter from a unit based at
Bagram airport in Afghanistan, called CFTF180-Detainee Ops. It is
signed by a soldier with a rank lower than corporal, Joseph P
Burke. It reads: 'This memorandum is to certify that Shah
Mohammed Alikhel [his tribal name], ISN-US9PK-00019DP, was
detained by the United States Military from January 13 2002 to
Mar 22 2003.' The letter is dated May 8; in other words, Mohammed
was kept prisoner two months longer than the US wanted him.

Despite interrogating him nine or 10 times, the letter goes on to
say that the US has no record of Mohammed's place of birth. The
letter concludes: 'This individual has been determined to pose no
threat to the United States military or its interests in
Afghanistan or Pakistan. There are no charges pending from the
United States against this individual... the United States
government intends that this person be fully rejoined with his

'If they kept me for 18 months and sent me a letter to certify
I'm innocent, then why did they keep me there for 18 months?'
asks Shah Mohammed. 'Don't they have any duty or obligation to

Even less than a duty - a nameless grudge: despite declaring him
harmless, the US military transported him home to Pakistan as it
had brought him to Cuba - in chains.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003 

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

          Rycroft & Pringle, Sunshine Communications
       250.592.8307 Canada
    Box 8307, Victoria, BC, V8W 3R9


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