Thu. Jan 27th, 2022

I am on my 40th visit to the United States Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay.

My clients have been locked up for almost two decades now without charges or a trial, in any way proof to the American people that the government is fighting “Islamic extremism” – when in fact we are provoking it.

Early one Sunday morning – before the tropical sun got too high in the sky – I walked 4 miles (6.4 km) along Sherman Avenue in search of Camp X-Ray, the infamous clutter that is home to the first “War on terror” detainees almost 20 years ago.

I wanted to see what was left.

The FBI “investigated” Camp X-Ray in 2009 and allegedly searched for evidence of prisoner abuse. Maybe they should have intervened when the well-documented torture was going on.

I thought the camp had been demolished, but I was wrong. The scar remains on our collective conscience.

The site immediately took me back to my dad’s favorite poem, Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Dad always told me this when I was maybe six, before I went to bed, and echoed with the useless vanity of a king who thought the world was amazed at his power. The statue he had built for himself relentlessly collapsed, leaving only his feet with their boastful pedestal: “Look at my works, you Mighty One, and despair! / Nothing left next door. Around the decay / Of that colossal wreck… ”

Special Series - The Guantanamo 22On June 27, 2013, a watchtower was seen in the currently closed Camp X-Ray which was the first detention facility to detain ‘enemy fighters’ at the US Navy station in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [File: Joe Raedle/Getty Images]

There’s a fair amount left over from Camp X-Ray, because it’s only 20 years later. The wire fence, covered with a DNA helix of razor wire, still runs around an area of ​​perhaps 200 square meters (2,153 square feet) in size, and sits in a cavity that must have trapped the tropical heat.

There are no more prisoners with hoods in their iconic orange uniforms, cowed by soldiers and their attack dogs. But I could make out seven or eight open cages, each with a corrugated iron roof like a remote parking lot. At the corners were the watchtowers of wood, like a German prisoner-of-war camp in World War II, with plywood walls changing to a dirty brown color. I noticed a tree growing inside the wire – maybe now 10 meters (33 feet) high, a tribute to the passage of time since the original folly.

All around, however, the signs remained: “Photography and videoography prohibited”. It would certainly be a shameful reminder of the birth of the disastrous Guantanamo experiment, but why should it be kept secret? Why not learn from history?

” A sorry lie ”

Indeed, the history of Guantanamo teaches us that some things never change. On April 30, 1494, Christopher Columbus sailed into the Bay in search of a better world. He stayed less than 24 hours and realized that El Dorado was not to be found in this tropical desert. The US would also never find out why Osama bin Laden launched 9/11 at the World Trade Center here.

The Guantanamo detention camp was born a pitiful lie and it remains one. On January 11, 2002, the U.S. military announced the prison to the world for the first time in carefully censored choreography. Together with two colleagues, I sued to open it only about a month later for proper public inspection. It took more than two years to reach the U.S. Supreme Court, but we won Rasul against Bush before conservative judges who were shocked that the Bush administration would claim the right to detain prisoners completely outside the rule of law. I was first allowed here in November 2004 to meet a client.

At the time, US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld assured us that the 780 detainees were the “worst of the worst” in the world. I knew the government would have made some mistakes, they always do, but I worked mainly on principle – there is no one who can be denied the right to take note of the charges against him and a fair trial .

guantanamo hunger strike outside imageA ‘non-compliant’ detainee is being escorted by guards after plunging into the US military prison for ‘enemy fighters’ on October 27, 2009 in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba [File: John Moore/Getty Images]

Nevertheless, I thought I would encounter many men captured on the battlefield of Afghanistan, and that we would have some explanations to do.

Instead, to my surprise, there were very few “terrorists” here.

I met Mohammed el-Gharani, a 14-year-old who was snatched from Karachi where he was studying English: the closest he was still to Kabul was a little over 1,000 miles (1,610 km) with the fastest way. I came across Ahmed Errachidi, a Moroccan chef from London who had a long and documented history of bipolar disorder and announced during one of his psychotic episodes that a big snowball was about to destroy the earth.

I met Sami al-Haj, an Al Jazeera cameraman, who is confused with another journalist, who is accused of the heinous offense of conducting an interview with Osama bin Laden. He must have been in a cell with Robert Fisk of the Independent, Peter Arnett of CNN, and John Miller of ABC News – all journalists who also felt they had to interview the man.

‘Sell like slaves at auction’

It took a while to figure out what’s going on, but in the end it turned out to be a familiar story: just as U.S. prosecutors buy their informants with lavish promises of rewards, so do we have abundant pamphlets in Afghanistan and Pakistan sprinkled. As President Pervez Musharraf boasted in his autobiography, In the Line of Fire, “We handed over… 369 [detainees] to the United States. We have earned rewards totaling millions of dollars. ” My clients were sold, like slaves at an auction.

After almost 20 years, one would think that the mighty CIA would have sorted the intelligence wheat out of the Musharraf chaff.

Unfortunately, that is not the case: 39 prisoners remain today, and 12 of them have been released for release, reflecting the unanimous agreement by the top six U.S. intelligence agencies that they pose no threat to the U.S. or its coalition. Those 12 add up to more than 200 years of false imprisonment based on the initial lie.

Take Ahmed Rabbani |, he was also sold to the US for a reward, on September 10, 2002, again in Karachi. He has already branded himself as a highly coveted “terrorist” named Hassan Ghul. He maintained he was merely a taxi driver. The CIA did not know what to believe – but better safe than sorry. They took him 1,000 miles to the Dark Prison in Kabul for 540 days and nights of torture.

I met Ahmed well over 10 years ago when he told me his story about how he was hung on his wrists in a deep pit, a Medieval torture called Strappado where the shoulders gradually dislocate. It was used a lot by the Inquisition. Ironically, we would later learn from the US Senate torture report that the US captured the real Hassan Ghul and brought him to the Dark Prison to join Ahmed in January 2004. Ghul was detained there for two days, and he “cooperated” and was later sent back to Pakistan and liberated – after which he returned to his “extremist ways”, and died in a 2012 bombing raid.

Activists in orange prison jumpsuits protest with signs next to an American flagActivists wearing prison dresses and black hoods are taking part in a protest against the Guantanamo Bay detention camp on January 11, 2020, calling for closure and ‘liability for torture’ near the White House in Washington, DC. [File: Mike Theiler/Reuters]

Better safe than sorry? Only Ahmed and his pregnant wife will regret it.

Ahmed was not released, he was sent to Guantánamo Bay, where he remained for 19 years. Seven months after his original arrest, his wife gave birth to their son Jawad, who is now celebrating his 18th birthday without ever touching his father.

Ahmed was recently cleared, but I represent three others who are not, who themselves are no more “terrorists” than my grandmother.

In so many ways, Guantanamo has not changed since I first arrived here.

It’s certainly less efficient – I used to be allowed to spend 55 hours a week with my clients, a blessing since I’m not coming here for a tropical vacation; now they have cut it to a maximum of 23 hours, which makes a banker look relatively hard-working. It used to be more cost-effective – but as the number of detainees has shrunk, the annual cost per inmate has risen to $ 13 million. It is almost 200 times as expensive as the second most expensive prison in the world, in Colorado in the USA, which costs $ 78,000.

But Guantanamo is and has always been a major blot on US reputation. The Afghan war was not recently lost in Kabul; it was doomed from the moment the world saw pictures of torture and ill-treatment. If that’s what democracy means, many have in common, the Taliban can not be that bad.

“This is an international liaison disaster,” an anonymous U.S. senior official of the Defense Intelligence Agency told journalist David Rose in early 2004. “For every detainee, I would think you are creating another 10 terrorists or supporters of ‘terrorism’.”

After almost 20 years, the intelligence agent would surely revise his view. The infamous prison has incited thousands of disgruntled youths to hate the United States and wish us well. This is perhaps the most foolish own goal in the history of the USA.

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