Guantanamo: A Right to a Fair Trial




G

uantanamo,
the 45-square mile naval base located on the southeast tip of Cuba,
is the oldest U.S. base overseas and is about 400 miles off the
coast of Miami. It is divided into two distinct areas by the two
and a half mile wide Guantanamo Bay, the Leeward side and the Windward
side. Around 3,200 total personnel—750 active duty service
members; 1,300 foreign nationals; 800 military, civil service, and
contractor family members; 235 civil service and contracted employees;
83 Cuban exiles and their dependents; and 9 Cuban commuters—work
on the base. The airstrip is on the Leeward side and is the only
conventional method of getting to the base. 


The
entire civilian infrastructure is run by a private military firm.
One can move around the Leeward side fairly freely. However, the
freedom of movement ends the moment the Public Affairs staff picks
you up for a visit to the Windward side. They are a pleasant, friendly,
but firm bunch of people, mostly reservists plucked out of their
civilian lives. The ferry crossing to the main base (Windward) takes
around 25 minutes. On the surface, the Windward side is like any
other U.S. small town, with McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and
a souvenir shop selling Guantanamo Bay sweatshirts, caps, mugs,
bags, etc. This side of the base is divided into various camps.
 


  • Camp America:
    Composed of 83 sea huts, serves as administrative, medical, and
    storage spaces. It also includes a gymnasium, big screen cable
    television room, call center, and Internet room. 

  • Camp America
    North: Home to the guard and security forces of Camp Delta. 

  • Seaside Galley:
    A canteen serving over 2,000 people per meal. 

  • Detention Hospital:
    Located inside Camp Delta, it currently has 20 beds with surgeons,
    doctors, and nurses on duty. 

  • Camp Delta:
    Subdivided into Camps 1, 2, 3, and 4. Camp 1 has around 150 Lower
    Level “detainees.” Camps 2 and 3 hold up to 340 individuals
    classified as Level 3 and 4 detainees—in other words, the
    dangerous ones. Camp 4 houses around 160 inmates classified as
    the lowest level detainees—those who have the best chance
    of being released in the coming months. In all, approximately
    660 detainees from 42 countries are held at Camp Delta. They are,
    with a few exceptions, what the U.S. Military calls “enemy
    combatants,” taken from the so-called “theater of war”
    in Afghanistan. 

  • Camp Iguana:
    Houses “about” three juvenile detainees. They learn
    English and play scrabble. They can also play football in the
    garden. The youngest detainee is deemed to be “around”
    14 years of age the eldest “about” 16.  


The
detainees in Camps 1 to 3 wear orange uniforms and live in solitary
confinement in 5 square meter cells fitted with a metal bed frame
with foam mattress, a sink, and squat toilet. They are issued so-
called “comfort items” like soap, shampoo, toothbrush,
toothpaste, two towels, one washcloth, a mug, sandals, two blankets,
one sheet, a prayer cap, and a Koran. An arrow at the foot of the
bed points to the direction of Mecca, along with the approximate
distance between the cell and the Muslim holy site. Daily ten-minute
exercise and a quick shower are a must.



Camp
4, which opened this March, differs substantially from the other
detention units. The detainees wear white clothes and have “privileges”
because of “good behavior” and “cooperation.”
They live in dormitory-style rooms with 6 to 12 beds and detached
toilets and showers. They also get lockers for storing personal
“comfort” items, such as writing material and books. They
are allowed to eat together in the yard. They have recreational
facilities like football and volleyball and get more time under
the shower. 


All
detainees are served three meals each day, can write letters home,
and can talk to a Muslim Chaplin. 


One
has to go through four heavily fortified iron gates to enter Camp
Delta. Once inside the feeling is of being in a vacuum. At first
you don’t see the detainees, you hear them. It is the sound
of 30 to 40 people chattering away incessantly in Urdu, Arabic,
Pashtu, and Dari. Talking to them is not permitted, not even a simple
“good afternoon” is allowed. Visitors are warned: one
word to the detainees and you are out of Camp Delta. However, there
is not much the authorities can do about eye contact. The eyes convey
a multitude of emotions—suppressed anger, hate, indignation,
shame, helplessness, and futility. This particular group of 15 or
so were from Pakistan. I also saw similar groups of Chechens and
Saudis. 


There
are “about” 660 detainees from 42 countries in Camp Delta.
From what I was allowed to see and from what other sources have
told me, I can account for 158 Saudi Arabians, 55 Chechens, 82 Pakistanis,
80 Afghans, 1 Turk, and 12 Western captives. 


Apart
from a handful of big names, the majority of prisoners were either
forcibly conscripted by the Taliban or are young men from the madrasas
of Pakistan, sent to Afghanistan in the name of Jihad. As for the
Western detainees they were mostly arrested in Pakistan and sent
to Cuba via Kandahar.  


Outwardly,
the detainees appear to be in good health. However, there have been
32 known suicide attempts between July 2, 2002 and August 22, 2003.
Significantly, there were 14 cases of attempted suicide during the
first three months of 2003. Given that the inmates seldom come in
contact with implements that facilitate suicides, the number is
quite high. Captain (Dr.) John Edmondson at the Detention Hospital
admitted to me that some of the detainees had been given psychiatric
treatment and that tranquilizers and anti- depression drugs were
also being administered. 


You
could see this sign everywhere: “Joint Task Force Guantanamo
Bay. Honor bound to defend freedom.” I asked two captains if
it was not cynical to talk about freedom when “about”
660 detainees were behind barbed wire. One of them was at a loss
to answer, the other said that to defend freedom it was necessary
to keep “such elements” behind bars. Call it Army propaganda,
blame it on certain U.S. television channels, but they believe that
each and every detainee is a terrorist out to harm the U.S. 


It
came as a surprise that quite a few young women worked as guards
inside Camp Delta. Although all of the guards I spoke to said they
had no problems with the detainees, the doctors gave a different
story. They talked of “water,” a euphemism for urine,
thrown at the guards and of bite wounds.  


What
I found astonishing was that the authorities were only concerned
with the cooperation of the detainees. If a prisoner had killed
a few U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, but was well behaved, he was
entitled to better living conditions. A detainee who had not killed
anybody, but would not cooperate when taking a daily shower or exercising,
would be worse off. 


Brigadier
General James E. Payne, the acting commanding officer of “Gitmo,”
was full of praise for his young soldiers who sacrificed so much
for their country. The reservist general, a real estate broker from
Florida, wondered why journalists were only interested in the detainees
and not in his young soldiers. Asked what intelligence the prisoners
have to offer after almost two years of interrogation, General Payne
said that question should be put to his intelligence people. The
“intelligence people,” not surprisingly, were not interested
in seeing the press. 


The
fact is the majority of the detainees were in the wrong place at
the wrong time and in the hands of one of the many corrupt warlords
or, in the case of Pakistan, bounty-hunting police. Towards the
end of 2001, thousands of Taliban soldiers surrendered to the warlord
Abdul Rashid Dostum in north Afghanistan. Many suffocated in the
cargo containers used to transport them to the notorious Shebarghan
prison. Those lucky to survive had to live in conditions that one
EU envoy compared to Auschwitz. It was from there that the first
Guantanamo Bay prisoners were picked. One such was Jan Mohammad,
a 35-year-old farmer from Helmand in south Afghanistan. He was forcibly
conscripted into the Army by the Taliban and sent to Kundus in north
Afghanistan to fight the coalition forces. Realizing that they stood
no chance against the U.S., the Taliban commanders surrendered.
Jan Mohammad was brought to Shebarghan prison. “One day some
Americans came with some of Dostum’s people and began sorting
us out. They picked me because I am big and strong. They thought
I was a Taliban officer. I pleaded with them, I told them I was
no Talib, but to no avail,” Jan recalled. They transported
him to Kandahar and from there to Cuba. The journey took over 20
hours and their bodies were shackled so that no movement was possible.
A hood covered their heads, with a slit open to breathe. 


Life
in the wired cages of Camp X-Ray was unbearable. In one of the letters,
Jan told his family,” I have now become half an animal. By
the time I come home I’ll be a complete animal.” After
ten months of solitary confinement he was set free. In his absence,
his family had to sell off their land. The only compensation he
received was $100 each from President Karzai and then Interior Minister
Wardak. About 22 other prisoners taken to Cuba along with Jan are
still being held. More than 300 Pakistanis, Afghans, and Arabs are
also still languishing in Sheberghan. 


A
second person, released along with Jan, was 80-year-old Mohammed
Saddiq from Saran, a village in southeast Afghanistan. His crime:
his nephew had worked for the Taliban. One January evening the U.S.
forces bombarded his house, shot down the gate with rockets, and
took Saddiq away. All his belongings were confiscated. It took the
authorities ten months to decide that this frail old man posed no
danger to the U.S. Today, with his house in rubbles, his belongings
gone, Saddiq lives with his relatives and is unable to come to terms
with what has happened to him. 


Equally
intriguing is the case of two young taxi drivers from Khost in east
Afghanistan. On April 10, 2002, Syed Abassin set out in his taxi
with three passengers from Khost in the direction of Kabul. Around
noon, Abassin was driving through Gardez when a loud detonation
was heard around the U.S. garrison. He was stopped by armed Afghans
at a checkpoint and taken to the local police station and accused
of being a member of Al Qaida. Half an hour later Abassin’s
friend Wazir Mohammad, also carrying passengers to Kabul from Khost,
reached Gardez. He spotted his friend’s empty taxi at the checkpoint
and wanted to know what had transpired. He was asked if he knew
Abassin. The moment he said Abassin was his friend, he was also
arrested and accused of being with Al Qaida. Taj Mohammad War- dak,
then governor, was informed of the arrests. Without bothering to
check the facts, Wardak called the U.S. Special Forces who took
the two taxi drivers away. Within days they were on a transport
plane to Guantanamo Bay. When the father of Abassin and the brother
of Wazir tried to plead with the governor, they were beaten. Later,
some town elders managed to convince Wardak that the young men were
innocent. Wardak promised to do all in his power to have the taxi
drivers released. Nothing happened. Abassin’s father wrote
to the U.S. Ambassador in Kabul, but received no reply. A reminder
was sent, but to no avail. 


After
spending almost a year in Guantanamo Bay, Abassin was sent home
on March 21, 2003. Abassin’s taxi is gone, untraceable. He
has no means of earning his livelihood. In an interview, Abassin
accused Wardak of selling him to the U.S. for $5,000. This may or
may not be true. But it is widely accepted in Kabul that Wardak,
as the governor of Paktia Province and later during a short tenure
as the Interior Minister, had misappropriated funds allocated to
build schools and roads. 


There
is ample evidence that rogue warlords like Bacha Khan Zadran—the
face of new Afghanistan at the Petersberg Conference and whose hand
Chancellor Schröder so warmly shook—have palmed people
off to U.S. forces as terrorists in return for dollars. Other warlords,
like Haji Zaman Ghamsharik and Hazrat Ali, are known to have divided
up the booty after selling hundreds of Taliban foot soldiers to
the U.S. Army after the fall of Tora Bora in early 2002. Hazrat
Ali is today the military commander of Jalalabad; Haji Zaman had
to leave the country after he was implicated in a plot to kill Defense
Minister Fahim. 


Sadly,
there seems to be no end in sight. In June a family in Gardez received
the dreaded midnight knock on the door. U.S. forces arrested a family
of six for alleged links to Gulbuddin Hekmetyar, who has now thrown
in his lot with the Taliban. The arrested were 3 sons, their very
old parents, and the 14-year-old boy of the eldest son. They were
taken to the U.S. Army base Bagram. After 45 days, the old people,
one of the sons, and the boy were released. The two other sons are
still in U.S. custody. Nobody knows where. The family, so far, absolves
the U.S. of any misconduct. They blame their own countrypeople,
who for a variety of reasons (money, tribal animosity, business
interests etc.), betray fellow Afghans to the U.S.  


Some
in the ranks of the U.S. military have identified the problem. Major
General Michael Dunlavey, the operational commander Guantanamo Bay
until last October, traveled to Afghanistan to complain that too
many “Mickey Mouse” detainees were being sent to the already
crowded facility in Cuba. He told Bagram dozens of detainees described
in classified intelligence reports as farmers, taxi drivers, cobblers,
and laborers were just that and were of no intelligence value. To
no avail, it appears. The shippings continue because, in words of
one of the officers, “No one wants to be the guy who releases
the 21st hijacker.”



 




Note: The three
juvenile prisoners mentioned in this article have since been released.




Ashwin
Raman is a long-time journalist and is currently with German television.
He has produced more than 200 documentaries, including



Die
Gefangenen von Guantanamo Bay

(

The Prisoners of Guanatanamo
Bay

).