by Tahir Mahmoud (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 48, No. 9, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1441)
Former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once made the claim that the illegally occupied US-run Guantanamo Bay torture camp (aka Gitmo) held “the worst of the worst” terrorists. Those who watched CNN and other corporate Western media outlets when the gulag was just being erected will remember how they painted the detainees as absolute barbarians. Their line that “they deserve it,” was widely projected.
Today, the same corporate media that eagerly legitimized US aggression against Afghanistan and the need for a torture camp like Gitmo has changed its tune. Now it carries reports discussing violations of human rights of the remaining detainees at the Gitmo torture camp. Why did the propaganda machinery of Western neocolonialism change its tune? The answer is simple. The hard facts that the vast majority of detainees at Gitmo were simply caught up in the wrong place at wrong time became undeniable.
According to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) report of June 2018, “at least 780 people have been held at Guantanamo, the vast majority without charge or trial. Nine detainees have died there, six from suspected suicide. The US has transferred 732 to home or third countries, 533 during the George W. Bush regime and 144 during Barack Obama’s. Only one detainee has been released during the regime of current US President Donald Trump. Far from closing it, he has said he would like to lock up more people there, no doubt innocents, but ones who are opposed to US aggression worldwide.
On his second day in office in January 2009, Obama had promised to close Gitmo but by the end of his second term, 41 detainees still remained, including five that his regime had “designated for release.”
The above data from HRW clearly points to the fact that most of the people detained at Guantanamo Bay had nothing to do with terrorism. What is more horrifying about the data is the fact that the detainees were subjected to kangaroo style military courts, with minimum legal rights and still nothing could be pinned on them. Many American civil rights lawyers and activists have denounced the Gitmo military tribunal as a travesty of justice.
In 2008, the drumbeater for US military adventurism worldwide, Foreign Policy magazine, acknowledged, “Guantanamo has been a powerful recruitment tool for extremists and a stain on the reputation of the United States. Now we can say, with little doubt, that it did not even serve to remove terrorists or insurgents from the battlefield.” The bulletin magazine of US foreign policy of course put a “soft” spin on this crime by stating that “almost all of the detainees were turned over to US forces… for a hefty bounty or reward… contrary to standard law enforcement practice, the US military accepted the uncorroborated allegations of the award claimants with little independent investigation.”
While the story of the Guantanamo torture camp has gained worldwide attention, the wider phenomenon of US involvement in arbitrary imprisonment is being ignored. For decades Washington has been facilitating detention of innocent people in the Muslim world. The US role in training Savak, the notorious secret police of the Shah’s regime in Iran is widely known, but that is not the only locale the US was and is involved in detention and torture of innocent people. Washington outsources the dirty work of torture to illegitimate regimes it sustains in power throughout the Muslim world.
Only recently Trump referred to ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi as “my favorite dictator” during the G7 conference in France (August 24–26). This is something the world should be glad about, as Trump’s blatant stupidity has its positive side. It exposes the true colors of the US empire.
Washington’s torture industry is not only active in the Muslim world; it perfected its torture techniques in South America through the training facility located in Georgia, ironically called the School of the Americas (SOA). According to Ramona Wadi, a freelance journalist, a 2014 analysis by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Colombia-Europe-US Human Rights Observatory, found that “out of 25 Colombian graduates from 2001 to 2003, 12 had either been charged with ‘a serious crime or commanded units whose members had reportedly committed multiple extrajudicial killings.’”
The current detainees at Guantanamo gulag seem to be held not because of any credible evidence, but simply because the guards and managers at the torture camp do not like their non-compliant attitude. According to HRW, based on the latest information available, currently 40 people are held at the US-run gulag, two remain imprisoned after trial or accepted plea agreements with Guantanamo’s military commissions.
The Guantanamo saga is not merely the manifestation of Washington’s brutality; it is one of its many displays. Thus, when covering the abuses at Guantanamo, it is essential to address the root cause, which is the illegality of the US war on Afghanistan and its political background.
The corporate Western media conveniently ignores the fact that US Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel made several well-publicized trips to Kabul in September 1996 and in 1998. This was long after Osama bin Laden was wanted by the US and Washington knew that he was in Afghanistan. In December 1997, a delegation of Taliban representatives was invited to the US to meet officials from the US oil company, UNOCAL. Given the US’ close relationship with Pakistani government officials and the Saudi regime, the Americans never requested the Taliban for Bin Laden’s extradition during that time. Even if the US did ask for extradition in 2001, of which there is little evidence barring Bush’s arrogant demand that the Taliban hand over Osama, Afghanistan did not have any extradition treaty with the US at the time.
Why did the US launch a war against Afghanistan for the 9/11 attacks when none of the perpetrators identified by the US was an Afghan citizen? According to the US, of the 19 alleged attackers, 15 were Saudis, two Emiratis, one Egyptian and one Lebanese. If there is one place the US army should have gone after, it should have been the palaces of the Saudi royals in Riyadh. Thus, when reporting about the Gitmo torture camp, this wider picture should never be ignored; it must be brought forward and highlighted.