By Vikram Dodd (THE GUARDIAN, 12/01/07):
It would be the ideal spot for a beachside birthday party. Surrounded by a turquoise sea, palm trees and white sand, the US detention camp at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba was five years old yesterday. Tony Blair calls it an “anomaly”, but the evidence is overwhelming. Camp Delta, which still houses 470 men never convicted of any crime, is a torture camp. That should be the starting point of any debate about what is acceptable in the west’s fight with Islamist extremists. More than 750 men have passed through the camp, with nearly half being released. Many prisoners, past and present, have given consistent and repeated testimony of serious abuses and ill treatment. There is also significant evidence from US officials and government documents of widespread abuse at the camp.
The British detainees known as the Tipton Three allege they were repeatedly beaten, shackled in painful positions for long periods and subjected to sleep deprivation. They were also subjected to strobe lighting, loud music and extremes of hot and cold – all meant to break them psychologically. Other detainees have suffered beatings, sexual assaults and death threats. At least one man has been “water boarded” – tied to a board and placed under water so that he had the sensation of drowning.
According to the Red Cross, the regime at Guantánamo causes psychological suffering that has driven inmates mad, with scores of suicide attempts and three inmates killing themselves last year.
Even US officials are shocked. Last week FBI documents revealed that an inmate’s head had been wrapped in tape for quoting from the Qur’an. Another was humiliated for his religious beliefs and “baptised” by a soldier posing as a Catholic priest. The documents show FBI agents saw 26 instances of abuse in their time at Guantánamo. The FBI is highly sceptical about alleged confessions gained by its military colleagues. A May 2004 FBI memo branded intelligence gained from “special techniques” as “suspect at best”. Indeed, one of the Tipton Three confessed to being in a video shot at an Afghan terror camp alongside Osama bin Laden – in fact, at the time he was working in an electronics store in the Midlands.
But the US should not shoulder all the blame. Some of the material from Guantánamo has been used by Britain’s counter-terrorism agencies. In June 2003 Tony Blair told the Commons: “Information is still coming from people detained there … That information is important.” George Bush, his aides and the US military define what they have been doing as a special programme using special measures: their position appears to be that as long as blood is not drawn, it is not torture.
One official investigation found an inmate had been sexually humiliated and forced to perform dog tricks on a leash. It said the conduct was “abusive and degrading” but not torture. In a UK court hearing over Guantánamo, a senior British judge, Mr Justice Collins, declared: “America’s idea of what is torture is not the same as ours.” A UN report has confirmed evidence of torture, and Amnesty International has declared Guantánamo “the gulag of our time”. Guantánamo is not the only US torture camp. Bagram in Afghanistan has been dogged by stories of abuse, and there are secret US prisons around the world where it is widely feared new horrors are occuring.
Human rights have been traded away in Guantánamo in the hope of gaining security, and it has not worked. One of the US’s founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, stated: “He who trades liberty for security deserves neither and will lose both.” Adorned on the walls of the Guantánamo camp is its mission statement: “Honour-bound to defend freedom”. After five years of Guantánamo, do you feel any safer?