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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 113

The forgotten detainees of 9/11 (part 1)

By Habib Siddiqui

It has been almost 19 years since the USA, joined by its western allies (esp. Canada and Australia), launched the so-called global war on terror (GWOT) invading first Afghanistan, soon after 9/11 for Taliban government’s sheltering of Al-Qaida and its leader OBL, and then Iraq (in 2003) under the false pretext of destroying the weapons of mass destruction, which did not exist there. Under an orgy of unfathomed bigotry and heavy bombardment, never to be seen before, both the regimes were toppled and friendly regimes put by the invaders.

The Afghan invasion was code-named by the US as Operation Enduring Freedom (2001–14). The Iraqi invasion was codenamed “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” These were rather odd code names for operations whose goals were nothing more than regime changes and wanton massacre and destruction. The lives of millions of those bombed, murdered, maimed and ruined forever simply did not matter to the neo-crusading warlords – the Bush-Blair cabal.

Every Muslim living in the West became a suspect, by default. Many were lynched. Thousands were put in the prisons and tortured on mere suspicion of being part of a sleeper cell, and many were given long sentences, violating all the well-established principles or notions of justice in this so-called secular world.

The Guantanamo (Gitmo) camp was established by US President George W. Bush's administration in 2002. At the time of its establishment in January 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said the detention camp was established to detain extraordinarily dangerous people, to interrogate detainees in an optimal setting, and to prosecute detainees for war crimes.

In what can only be described as a show of Pharaohnic despotism and Hamanic arrogance, the Bush Jr. administration asserted that detainees were not entitled to any of the protections of the Geneva Conventions, while also claiming it was treating "all detainees consistently with the principles of the Geneva Convention." However, the U.S. Supreme Court decisions since 2004 have determined otherwise. In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case, the Supreme Court decided on 29 June 2006 that detainees were entitled to the minimal protections listed under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Following this, on 7 July 2006, the Department of Defense (DoD) issued an internal memo stating that detainees would, in the future, be entitled to protection under Common Article 3.

Since January 2002, 779 men have been brought to Guantanamo camp of which the Afghans were the largest group (29 percent), followed by Saudi Arabians (17 percent), Yemenis (15 percent), Pakistanis (9 percent), and Algerians (3 percent). Overall, 50 nationalities were present at Guantanamo.

Nearly 200 were released by mid-2004. In July 2005, 242 detainees were moved out of Guantanamo, including 173 who were released without charge. Sixty-nine prisoners were transferred to the custody of governments of other countries.

Although the Bush Jr. administration said most of the men had been captured fighting in Afghanistan, a 2006 report prepared by the Center for Policy and Research at Seton Hall University Law School reviewed DoD data for the remaining 517 men in 2005 and "established that over 80% of the prisoners were captured not by Americans on the battlefield but by Pakistanis and Afghans, often in exchange for bounty payments." The U.S. widely distributed leaflets in the region and offered $5,000 per prisoner. One example is Adel Noori, an Uyghur Muslim and dissident who had been sold to the US by Pakistani bounty hunters.

Current and former detainees have reported abuse and torture, which the Bush Jr. administration denied. In a 2005 Amnesty International report, the facility was appropriately called the "Gulag of our times.” In 2006, the United Nations unsuccessfully demanded that the Gitmo detention camp be closed. On 13 January 2009, Susan J. Crawford, appointed by Bush Jr. to review DoD practices used at Gitmo and oversee the military trials, became the first government official to concede that torture occurred at Guantanamo Bay on one detainee (Mohammed al-Qahtani), saying "We tortured Qahtani."

As we know better, Qahtani was not the only one who was tortured. All the detainees were tortured while the degree of their torture varied. Some were repeatedly waterboarded until they almost collapsed or died from such torture.

Initially, the Bush Jr. administration tried to hide as much information about the detainees as was possible. Pressed by the international press and human rights groups, in September 2006, President Bush announced that 14 "high-value detainees" were to be transferred to military custody of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp from civilian custody by the CIA. He admitted that these suspects had been held in CIA secret prisons overseas, known as black sites. None of the 14 top figures transferred to Guantánamo from CIA custody had been charged with any war crime. In 2011, human rights groups and journalists found that some of these prisoners had been taken to other locations, including in Europe, and interrogated under torture in the U.S. extraordinary rendition program before arriving at Guantanamo.

In 2010, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a former aide to Secretary of State Colin Powell, stated in an affidavit that top U.S. officials, including President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, had known that the majority of the detainees initially sent to Guantánamo were innocent, but that the detainees had been kept there for reasons of political expedience. Wilkerson's statement was submitted in connection with a lawsuit filed in federal district court by former detainee Adel Hassan Hamad against the United States government and several individual officials. This supported numerous claims made by former detainees like Moazzam Begg, a British citizen who had been held for three years in detention camps in Afghanistan and Guantanamo as an enemy combatant, under the claim that he was an al-Qaeda member, who recruited for and provided money for, al-Qaeda training camps, and himself trained there to fight US or allied troops.

Bush’s successor, President Barack Obama, promised that he would close it, but met strong bipartisan opposition from the US Congress, which passed laws to prohibit detainees from Guantanamo being imprisoned in the U.S. During Obama's administration, the number of inmates was reduced from about 245 to 41; most former detainees were freed and transferred to other countries.

In January 2018, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to keep the detention camp open indefinitely. He has also considered bringing back waterboarding or "worse". In May 2018, the first prisoner was transferred during Trump's term; this reduced the number of inmates to 40.

James Mitchell, the architect of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) post-9/11 interrogation program, testified in January 22, 2020, at a pretrial hearing at the Gitmo camp in the case against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), the allegedly confessed mastermind of Sept. 11, 2001, attacks that the waterboarding technique he employed was so gruesome that people — including CIA officials — cried when they witnessed it. KSM and four other defendants are charged with nearly 3,000 murders. Mitchell and another psychologist, John “Bruce” Jessen, designed, oversaw, and frequently participated in what the CIA termed enhanced interrogation techniques. Waterboarding, a simulated drowning, was one of them.

To employ the method, a prisoner would be strapped to a board placed on a modified gurney, tipped so that his head was near the ground. Under President George W. Bush, the Justice Department approved and issued guidelines for how to execute the method. With guards steadying the gurney, Jessen would pour water onto a cloth Mitchell held over the prisoner’s mouth and nose. The water pour could last up to 20 seconds, then be paused, then another 20 seconds, paused, then 40 seconds. The subject feels as though he is drowning. Typically, the subject spasms, expels water and snot, , sometimes vomits, squirms, and flops on the gurney as if having a seizure. The practice is nearly universally condemned as torture.

The first person to be subjected to the method was Abu Zubaydah, an Al Qaeda functionary and the first so-called high-value detainee captured after 9/11. He was waterboarded 83 times over a handful of sessions in August 2002, according to an investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. KSM was waterboarded 183 times. It was the height of crime perpetrated by the self-styled judge, jury, and executioner in our time! Simply shocking!

Joseph Margulies, a law professor at Cornell University who once represented Abu Zubaydah, said the brutal methods helped numb America to wrongdoing. “James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen conceived, designed, and executed the first officially recognized torture program in U.S. history,” Margulies said in an email. “It is one thing that they are utterly unapologetic; that is a comm “James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen conceived, designed and executed the first officially recognized torture program in U.S. history,” Margulies said in an email. “It is one thing that they are utterly unapologetic; that is a commentary on them.”

He added: “Do not be seduced by linguistic light-footedness and ask whether this really is torture. I refuse to play that game. Instead, I encourage people to ask themselves this: Would you recoil in horror if you saw the same things done to a dog? If you saw a dog strapped to a board and nearly drowned, again and again, would it make you cringe and wince? Would you turn away and demand that it stop? If so, then it is torture, and we should call it what it is.”

The Center for Policy and Research's 2006 report, based on DoD released data, found that most detainees were low-level offenders who were not affiliated with organizations on U.S. terrorist lists.

Eight men have died in the prison camp; DoD has said that six were suicides. DoD reported three men, two Saudis and a Yemeni, who had committed suicide on 10 June 2006. Suicide is haram (forbidden) in Islam. So, the DoD report is suspicious. Even if it is true, it would mean that torture inflicted them was so inhuman that they felt ending their lives was a better alternative. Government accounts, including an NCIS report released with redactions in August 2008, have been questioned by the press, the detainees' families, the Saudi government, former detainees, and human rights groups. The detainees have also gone on a hunger strike multiple times, complaining about the inhuman condition in the camp.

An estimated 17 to 22 minors under the age of 18 were detained at Guantánamo Bay, which is in violation of international law. But who can punish a nuclear brahmin that has the veto power? Will our generation be ever able to bring the white-collar criminals like Bush and Blair to the International Court of Justice for their illegal war and monumental crimes against humanity?

To be concluded next week

- Asian Tribune -

The forgotten detainees of 9/11 (part 1)
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