THE FIRST introduction that most people had to the U.S. prison camp at GuantÃ¡namo Bay was enough to turn many stomachs. The Bush administrationâ€™s first photo op in January 2001 revealed helpless men being treated worse than animals at the whim of their captors.
Housed in 6-by-8-foot wire cages exposed to the elements, the prisoners were forced to kneel on rocky ground, their hands and feet bound, their eyes covered with blacked-out goggles, and their mouths and noses masked. The Bush administration promised that conditions would get better once the temporary Camp X-Ray was replaced with the more “permanent” Camp Delta.
Yet although Camp Delta has been up and running since April 2002, the situation remains bleak for the approximately 660 inmates from more than 40 countries. In fact, the majority of Camp Delta prisoners today are held in maximum security cells that are often even smaller than those at Camp X-Ray.
According to Vanity Fair reporter David Rose, who visited Camp Delta in October, the standard Camp Delta cell is “a faded green metal box a little larger than a king-size mattress.” The toilet consists of a “hole in the floor” that faces the open bars of cell doors–which guards, some of them women, pass by every 30 seconds.
“Next to the toilet is a small sink and faucet so low that that the only way to use it is to kneel,” writes Rose. “At the highest security level, prisoners are not allowed to keep a cup. If they wish to drink, they must either bend to the faucet or borrow a cup from a guard.”
Everything about daily life at Camp Delta is used in the drive to break prisonersâ€™ spirits. “Cooperative” prisoners–meaning those who go along with hours-long U.S interrogations–might receive a bottle of water instead of having to drink out of the tap. Or, they might get 30 minutes of exercise, followed by a shower. Prisoners who the military deems “uncooperative” are allowed exercise and a shower just twice a week–despite the fact that temperatures in the cells can reach more than 100 degrees. The lights at Camp Delta glare all night long, making it difficult to sleep.
And while detainees are not allowed to speak to other prisoners or guards, Britainâ€™s Guardian reported last week that some guards canâ€™t keep their comments to themselves. “[S]ometimes, some of the guards are okay with us,” Shafiq Rasul, a British national who has been held since the spring of 2002 reportedly wrote to his family, “and some are saying things to us, calling us names like â€˜camel-riderâ€™ and â€˜raghead.â€™”
While the conditions at Camp Delta are brutal enough, even more horrible is the desperation felt by detainees who have no rights at all–whether to lawyers, to a trial, or even to contact their families. According to a November report by the International Committee of the Red Cross–the only non-governmental agency allowed contact with detainees–there has been a “worrying deterioration in the psychological health of a large number” of the detainees.
Wendy Patton, U.S. advocacy director of Human Rights Watch, agrees. “Overall, the chief concern that we have about conditions is the devastating psychological effect of the prolonged, indefinite detention on the detainees,” Patton told Socialist Worker.
“I just saw a statement from a military official from GuantÃ¡namo last week saying that there have been 34 suicide attempts to date that have been recorded at GuantÃ¡namo. And one of the former detainees interviewed by Human Rights Watch in Pakistan confirmed that he had attempted suicide three times at GuantÃ¡namo.”
David Roseâ€™s Vanity Fair report also noted the high number of suicide attempts by detainees–and speculated that the real number might be even higher than the military is willing to admit. According to the Pentagon, the rate of suicide attempts has declined in the past several months.
But Rose says that this is because the military has begun to officially classify many of the detaineesâ€™ suicide attempts as “manipulative self-injurious behavior”–a made-up psychological term implying that the detainees are trying to get better treatment by harming themselves. In the last six months, there have been at least 40 incidents that the military describes as “manipulative self-injurious behavior.”
Like the prisoner that Rose witnessed chained to a bed in Camp Deltaâ€™s hospital acute ward, with a feeding tube inserted in his nose. “Heâ€™s refused to eat 148 consecutive meals,” explained naval surgeon Louis Louk.
To the Bush administration, this is just an “unruly prisoner.” “In my opinion, heâ€™s a spoiled brat, like a small child who stomps his feet when he doesnâ€™t get his way,” said Louk.
Despite the fact that not a single GuantÃ¡namo detainee has been charged with any crime relating to the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration has repeatedly claimed that the extreme conditions of Camp Delta are necessary because of the prisonersâ€™ “ruthlessness.” In 2002, for example, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared that the inmates were “among the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth.”
But neither Rumsfeld nor any other member of the Bush team has explained how the “most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth” could possibly include children. “We know that there are an undisclosed number of children at GuantÃ¡namo,” says Wendy Patton. “There are three children between the ages of 13 and 15, and very often, when the military talks about having juveniles at GuantÃ¡namo, theyâ€™re talking about these three younger detainees.
“But,” Patton added, “the military is also holding an undisclosed number of children who are aged 16 and 17. They are held in the adult camp, and arenâ€™t segregated from the adults as required by international standards…The military has never said how many 16 or 17 year olds are there, nor has it explained why it has arbitrarily drawn the line at 16, rather than at 18, which is the international standard for determining who is an adult and who is a child.”
Likewise, no one from the Bush administration has commented on the 88 alleged “terrorists” held at the camp who have been quietly released over the past two years–held for months before being proven innocent of any connection to terrorism.
As Human Rights Watch commented, “According to several sources, ranging from interviews with former detainees to press reports citing U.S. officials in Afghanistan, as many as several dozen detainees sent to GuantÃ¡namo were simply farmers, taxi drivers, and laborers with no meaningful ties to the Taliban or al-Qaeda–not the enemy combatants the Bush Administration claimed.”
This includes men like Mohammed Hagi Fiz, an Afghani man who was released in November 2002 after spending eight months at Camp X-Ray. When he was released, reporters said that the frail Mohammed appeared to be in his 70s and was barely capable of carrying on a conversation–let alone of being a terrorist. “Babbling at times like a child, the partially deaf, shriveled old man was unable to answer simple questions,” the New York Times reported. “He struggled to complete sentences and strained to hear words that were shouted at him.”
While a few GuantÃ¡namo detainees have been released from U.S. custody, the nightmare still hasnâ€™t ended for many of them. Thatâ€™s because once the U.S. is finished with them, many are shipped back to U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan–where they face almost certain torture and imprisonment.
Last month, civil liberties advocates scored a victory when the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the Bush administration lacked authority to imprison non-U.S. “enemy combatants” indefinitely. The case is now going before the U.S. Supreme Court. If the decision stands, it could have wide implications for the 660 GuantÃ¡namo prisoners–some of whom are entering their third year of captivity.
In its arrogance, the Bush administration thinks that it can get away with running a gulag. They think that they can “disappear” detainees into the legal limbo of Camp Delta. More than ever, we have to fight to make sure they canâ€™t get away with it.