Sunday, March 14, 2004

In the early days at Camp X-ray, the conditions of detention were extreme.

The detainees were forbidden from talking to the person in the next cell and, Rasul recalls, fed tiny portions of food: "They'd give you this big plate with a tiny pile of rice and a few beans. It was nouvelle cuisine, American-style. You were given less than 10 minutes to eat and if you hadn't finished the Marines would just take your plate away." After a few more days Rasul was questioned again by MI5. The officer asked how he was. "I started crying, saying I can't believe I'm here. He says: 'I don't want to know how you are emotionally, I'm only interested in your physical state.'"

After about a week the prisoners were allowed to speak to detainees in adjacent cells, and a few weeks later still were given copies of the Koran, a prayer mat, blankets and towels. Yet all witnessed or experienced brutality, especially from Guantanamo's own riot squad, the Extreme Reaction Force. Its acronym has led to a new verb peculiar to Guantanamo detainees: "ERF-ing." To be ERFed, says Rasul, means to be slammed on the floor by a soldier wielding a riot shield, pinned to the ground and assaulted.

Iqbal and Rasul were at opposite ends of the same block and were forbidden from talking to each other. There was almost nothing to do. "Time speeds up," Rasul says. "You just stare and the hours go clicking by. You'd look at people and see they'd lost it. There was nothing in their eyes any more. They didn't talk."

As the weeks of detention became months they would sometimes see psychiatrists. The response to any complaint was always the same: an offer to administer Prozac. (On my visit to Guantanamo, the camp medical staff told me that at least a fifth of the detainees were taking anti-depressants.)

It was almost impossible to master the rules and know how to avoid punishment. There was only one rule that mattered, Rasul says: "You have to obey whatever US government personnel tell you to do."

In mid-2002 the prisoners were moved from the open cages with mesh walls at Camp X-ray to the pre-fabri cated metal cellblocks of Camp Delta. There, the standard punishment was transfer to solitary confinement in the sensory deprivation isolation wing. Once, Ahmed says, he was given isolation for writing "Have a nice day" on a polystyrene cup. This was deemed "malicious damage to US government property". On another occasion, he was punished for singing.

-- From David Rose's interview with the "Tipton Three", published in today's Observer.

In his speech on 25 February 2004 to launch the US State Department's latest report on human rights practices in other countries, Secretary of State Colin Powell said that "throughout the globe in 2003, the United States helped to build democratic institutions, promote good governance and strengthen civil societies by supporting the rule of law". His words echo President George W. Bush's repeated assertion that the USA will stand firm for the "non-negotiable demands of human dignity", including "the rule of law"....

It is something of an irony that the State Department report criticizes Cuba for invoking sweeping powers of arrest and detention "to deny due process to those detained on purported state security grounds". For the US administration spent 2003 attempting to keep its own courts and any lawyers away from the hundreds of foreign nationals it was holding in Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. What was the administration's justification for this? It argued that this was a national security matter, and that Guantánamo Bay is the sovereign territory of Cuba and therefore out of the reach of the US courts. As Lord Steyn, one of the United Kingdom's most senior judges, has noted: "The purpose of holding the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay was and is to put them beyond the rule of law". He suggested that the UK government, for one, should "make plain and unambiguously our condemnation of the utter lawlessness at Guantánamo Bay".

Secretary Powell said on 11 February that "we are operating fully in accordance with international law" in relation to the Guantánamo detainees. Yet, for example, Article 9 (4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states: "Anyone who is deprived of his liberty by arrest or detention shall be entitled to take proceedings before a court, in order that that court may decide without delay on the lawfulness of his detention and order his release if the detention is not lawful". The Human Rights Committee, the expert body set up by the ICCPR to oversee implementation of the treaty, has stated that this right is non-derogable, even in states of emergency. The provisions of the ICCPR apply to all persons within the jurisdiction of the state party. The Committee has stated that even if so-called preventive detention is used for reasons of public security, it must be controlled by the provisions of Article 9 of the ICCPR....

-- From an Amnesty International report dated 27 February 2004.

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