The Inquisition Strikes Back
“And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”
By Jules Siegel
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
January 27, 2005
– John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, Meditation XVII, 1623
We have by now all seen much of this material before, but reading it all in one piece, told by human voices in this book-length interview, is not easy to take. Guantánamo: What the World Should Know becomes a heart-stopper once you cross the line and realize that you could be any of these victims.
Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, is co-counsel in Rasul v. Bush, the historic case of Guantánamo detainees now before the U.S. Supreme Court. His interviewer, Ellen Ray, is president of the Institute for Media Analysis, and a widely published author and editor on U.S. intelligence and international politics.
It’s hard to say which is more disgusting, the descriptions of the torture or the bone-chilling analyses of how the president of the United States gave himself the powers of an absolute military dictator. Under Military Order No. 1, which the president issued without congressional authority on November 13, 2001, George W. Bush has ordered people captured or detained from all over the world, flown to Guantánamo and tortured in a lawless zone where, the White House asserts, prisoners have no rights of any kind at all and can be kept forever at his pleasure. Despite the at-best marginal intervention of the American courts so far, there is no civilian judicial review, no due process of any kind.
While any military force will routinely violate the civil rights of anyone who gets in its way, Ratner’s descriptions of how victims wound up in Guantánamo reveal wanton cruelty and callousness that will nauseate any sane human being.
“A lot of the people picked up by warlords of the Northern Alliance were kept in metal shipping containers, so tightly packed that they had to ball themselves up, and the heat was unbearable. According to some detainees who were held in the containers and eventually released from Guantánamo, only a small number, thirty to fifty people in a container filled with three to four hundred people survived. And some of those released said that the Americans were in on this, that the Americans were shining lights on the containers. The people inside were suffocating, so the Northern Alliance soldiers shot holes into the containers, killing some of the prisoners inside.”
Some prisoners were captured in battle; many others were picked up in random sweeps for no reason at all except being in the wrong place at the wrong time. As usual in these kinds of operations, some were turned in as a result of petty revenge or as an excuse to steal their property. When asked in court to explain the criteria for detention, the government had no answer. There were no criteria, it appears. “The government even made the ridiculous argument before the Supreme Court that the prisoners get to tell their side of the story, by being interrogated,” Ratner reports.
Ratner notes that 134 of the 147 prisoners later released from Guantánamo were guilty of absolutely nothing. Only thirteen were sent on to jail. He believes it is possible that a substantial majority of the Guantánamo prisoners had nothing to do with any kind of terrorism. One prisoner released after a year claimed he was somewhere between ninety and one hundred years old, according to Ratner. Old, frail and incontinent, he wept constantly, shackled to a walker.
So what did the authorities get from those who survived? We will never know, but we can guess from at least one incident in this book. Ratner reports that the Guantánamo interrogators showed some of his clients videotapes supposedly depicting them with Osama bin Laden. At first they denied being in the videos, but they confessed after prolonged interrogation under harsh conditions. Yet British intelligence proved to the American government that the men were actually in the United Kingdom when the tapes were made.
If many of these people who died in custody or were tortured had committed no crime, there is no doubt that they were all victims of crime, whether guilty or not. Despite White House arguments to the contrary, torture is a crime under international and United States law.
Under the United Nations Convention Against Torture, an international treaty that almost every country in the world, including the United States, has ratified, torture is an international crime. The United States has made it a crime even if it occurs abroad.
“The Convention Against Torture also establishes what is called universal jurisdiction for cases of torture,” Ratner explains.
“So, for example, if an American citizen engaged in torture anywhere in the world and was later found in France, let’s say, that person could be arrested in France and either tried for torture there or extradited to the place of the torture for trial. To the extent U.S. officials were or are involved in torture in Guantánamo or elsewhere, they should be careful about the countries in which they travel.”
“In addition, torture committed by U.S. soldiers or private contractors acting under U.S. authority is a violation of federal law, punishable by the death penalty if the death of a prisoner results from the torture. Even if one argues that al Qaeda suspects are not governed by the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture and other human rights treaties ratified by the United States prohibit torture as well as other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.
“The convention is crystal clear: under no circumstances can you torture people, whatever you call them, whether illegal combatants, enemy combatants, murderers, killers. You cannot torture anybody ever; it’s an absolute prohibition.”
While many well-meaning people on both left and right profess to be shocked by the stories that continue to pour out of Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and other detention centers, they usually fail to understand that these atrocities are well-rooted in American culture.
“None of what is known to have happened in Guantánamo is alien to American prisoners.” says Paul Wright, Editor, Prison Legal News. “Sexual assault, long term sensory deprivation, abuse, beatings, shootings, pepper spraying and the like are all too familiar to American prisoners. Coupled with overcrowding, this is the daily reality of the American prison experience.”
Perhaps the only real difference is that the White House argues more forcefully than usual that no court can forbid it to arbitrarily detain and torture anyone it designates an unlawful enemy combatant, a definition that it has applied not only to foreigners but also to American citizens. We have seen how the drug exception to the Constitution has nullified basic American rights such a freedom from illegal search and seizure. But the war on drugs was merely a test run. Some rights remained intact. Now comes the permanent war against terrorism in which all human rights are annihilated.
Rasul v. Bush could be a legal turning point, but it remains to be seen whether or not the White House will respect any inconvenient court decision, no matter how high the bench. Michael Ratner and Ellen Ray could be merely eloquent early witnesses to the inevitable future. Thus ends democracy in the United States. The most hope that one can express is a question mark. Thus ends democracy in the United States?
JULES SIEGEL’s writings have been published in Playboy, Best American Short Stories and many other publications. He served with the 4th Military Intelligence Detachment, U. S. Army, Korea, 1955-56. In 2003 he was a professor at the first session of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism.
Tis the season...for political nonfiction
Ruminator Review | October 2004
Guantanamo is a profoundly disturbing portrait of the history of the U.S naval station in Cuba and those detained there. Prisoners of war and even civilians, carefully recategorized as “enemy combatants,” may be held there indefinitely, on no formal charges and without access to legal counsel or a hearing in court, and even allegedly tortured in hopes of producing intelligence that may improve national security. This small book consists largely of transcripts if interviews with Michael Ratner, an attorney working with the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the detainees in Guantanamo (some of them held there since 2002). He gives stark information about conditions within the prison as well as the ongoing struggle to give the detainees a fair hearing in court. Much of it is drawn directly from government and court sources. If our government is going to “nuance” its commitment to the Geneva Convention and its protections for prisoners of war, we owe it to each other to make civil liberty concessions deliberately, with informed consent. If we don’t bother to look squarely at Guantanamo and the detainees—and the implications for our own basic freedoms the situation entails—we have no one but ourselves to blame for the erosion of those rights. This is a book you must read.
The Prison at Guatanamo: What the World Should Know
Counter Punch | Monday 6th September 2004
by DOUGLAS VALENTINE
The new book Guantanamo: What The World Should Know is an interview between author/editor Ellen Ray, and Michael Ratner, an eloquent human rights attorney and president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Mr Ratner and his colleagues at the CCR have the distinction of being the first Americans to mount a legal challenge of the Kafkaesque detention and interrogation facilities the Bush Administration uses at the US military base in Guantanamo, Cuba, to incarcerate suspects in the war on terror.
This is a tight, well-organized book. The discussion proceeds in logical order, and right away we learn that Ratner is eminently qualified to speak about the subject of human rights abuses. He has years of experience dealing with the issues of torture and indefinite detention, although his focus is usually in Third World dictatorships. His involvement with human rights issues in America, stemming from the hysteria following 9/11, began when the CCR decided to represent Muslim and Arab citizens whom Attorney General John Ashcroft had rounded up and detained without due process.
Having represented HIV-positive Haitian refugees detained at Guantanamo in the 1990s, Ratner also knows the history of what may rightfully be described as America’s Devil’s Island. Knowing the history helps to put the situation in context. As Ratner explains, even when he was representing the Haitians, the US government insisted that no court had jurisdiction over Guantanamo. "The United States wanted Guantanamo to be a law-free zone," he says. Evidently, this has always been the case. But Guantanamo’s special legal status, forged in the ambiguous language of the 1903 Platt Amendment to the Cuban Constitution, is especially well crafted to serve the US government’s duplicitous motives in the murky war on terror. Guantanamo is a place where the US government is totally unaccountable, although the US military is in total control. Suspected members of al Qaeda, captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan, may have some legal recourse in those countries. But once they land in Guantanamo, they disappear down a legal black hole; which is why some people facetiously refer to it as "an off-shore concentration camp."
Ratner’s personal experience and historical knowledge gave him cause for alarm when, in January 2002, the rampaging Bush Administration began packing the "dog-run-like cages" at Guantanamo’s infamous Camp X-Ray with alleged "enemy combatants." He saw the pictures of tough-looking bearded men, and read news reports quoting Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld saying that only the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers were being held at Guantanamo. But none of the detainees were allowed to have lawyers, and it wasn’t known, at the time, that among those being incarcerated were boys as young as eleven, and at least one old man in his nineties.
Having no one to represent, Ratner at first objected solely on principle. The Center for Constitutional Rights believes that even a suspected member of al Qaeda should not be detained without due process of law. Ratner and the CCR believe that everybody has the right of habeas corpus and legal representation as well as the universally recognized right not to be tortured. They also know that where human rights are denied, human rights abuses are being committed. Right away they suspected that Rumsfeld was lying, so Ratner and the Center assembled a team and waited for the opportunity to act. That happened almost immediately, when they were approached by a lawyer in Australia and asked to help defend David Hicks, an Australian citizen detained at Guantanamo. From that point onward, Ratner would get a firsthand look of the sadistic practices and horrendous conditions that define Guantanamo, and which are recounted in detail in the book.
Enemy combatants sent to Guantanamo were initially quartered at Camp X-Ray, a desolate place surrounded by razor wire and gun turrets. The cells where human beings are caged are covered on three sides with steel mess wire, and are exposed to the blazing Caribbean sun and hard rains. All-American boys and girls assigned as guards pass the cages twice every minute, not because the prisoners have any chance of escaping, but simply to torment them. To soften them up for interrogation.
Take note, readers: people require privacy in order to maintain their self-respect. Take away their privacy, while abusing their minds and bodies, and eventually you destroy their sense of personal identity. And then they become putty in your hands.
The purpose of Camp X-Ray, like all of Guantanamo’s detention facilities, is the slow, calculated murder of the spirit. It’s a place where people are subjected to unbearable, humiliating and degrading forms of abuse every minute of every day. They sleep on concrete floors, and are denied clothing, medical attention and food. Unless, of course, they cooperate. As Major General Geoffrey Miller, the camp commandant, once boasted, many detainees have cooperated during the climatic hours they spend in Guantanamo’s interrogation booths, which Ratner describes as "trailers, really."
Guantanamo is also a laboratory, where new methods of destroying the human spirit are constantly being tried. Thus, sometime in the middle of 2002, a number of prisoners were transferred from Camp X-Ray to Camp Delta, which is different in so far as it separates detainees according to their status. Those who cooperate are segregated from those who do not, and those who are deemed to be troublemakers get special attention in their own private quarters.
Guantanamo is further divided into Camp Echo is a separate facility for those facing trial by military commission. (Camp Echo is aptly name. It was built by Halliburton’s subsidiary, Kellogg Brown Root, which in an earlier lifetime built the detention facilities which replaced in the infamous Tiger Cages on Con Son Island, 90 miles off the Coast of South Vietnam). Camps Romeo and Tango consist of isolation cells, where naked Muslim men are, in scenes reminiscent of Abu Ghraib, gawked at by female American guards, as yet another form of spiritual assassination.
The purpose of continual softening up detainees for interrogation, and then interrogating them, is twofold. The first purpose is to coerce confessions that result in convictions. The second is to obtain information for use in the war on terror.
Convictions are preordained, but so far there is no verifiable evidence that any useful intelligence has ever been produced. However, in return for signing a false confession, or bearing false witness against another Muslim, or for turning into a double agent, the ultimate reward is a Big Mac.
Imagine a world where, after two years of privation and the most sophisticated physical and psychological torture techniques ever devised by cummings’ man-unkind, the ultimate reward is a Big Mac. You have to wonder, what kind of sick mind is capable of creating such a hellhole? The sick mind belongs, of course, to George W. Bush, war criminal extraordinaire.
L’etat, c’est moi
What Ellen Ray does through her well-chosen questions, and what Michael Ratner explains clearly, in layman’s terms, is why Bush and his accomplices in war crimes have established Guantanamo as a symbol of their omnipotence, and how their lawless and supremely arrogant actions have undermined America’s democratic institutions at home, and moral authority abroad. They tell us how and why we evolved from the rule of law to rule by executive fiat, and how this process made Guantanamo possible.
The authors include in the book’s Appendixes the full text of several documents that are critically important for understanding why and how Guantanamo occurred. The most important is Military Order No. 1. This is not a widely disseminated document, for very good reasons. Signed by Bush on 13 November 2001, it confirms that he used 9/11 as a pretext to proclaim a national emergency, which in turn enabled him to confer upon himself extraordinary war powers, without the consent of Congress or the Judiciary. Through Military Order No. 1, and other powers vested in him as commander-in-chief, Bush, in effect, has staged a military coup d’etat. He has taken America back to a time prior to the Constitution, when the military ruled the country.
Through Military Order No. 1, Bush has given himself the authority 1) to identify terrorists and "those who support them" and 2) to detain "individuals subject to this order" in horrid places like Guantanamo. People subject to this order need only have harbored people who threaten to harm our "citizens, national security, foreign policy, or economy." This applies to anyone Bush has a personal grudge against, like Saddam Hussein. Bush has only to write a note telling his deputies to get someone in order to condemn that someone to a life of endless persecution and/or death.
Military Order No. 1 also allows Bush to form "tribunals" or "commissions" to try alleged terrorists under military, not civilian law, despite the fact that terrorism is "not a violation of military law or the laws of war," as Ratner explains. The military tribunals have "exclusive jurisdiction," and individuals subject to Military Order No. 1 are denied due process not only in the US, but also in any foreign court or international tribunal.
Apart from any document or law, and in violation of treaties and the supreme law of the land, Bush has exempted himself and his deputies from any existing international laws of war, such as the Geneva Conventions. The reason for this is simple: Bush has been advised, for good reason, to protect himself and his henchmen from being tried as war criminals. Which they are.
"People Will Say Anything"
This is disturbing stuff that does not bode well for the future of America. But, as the dialogue between Ray and Ratner reveals, it just gets worse and worse.
Bush and his corporate puppet-masters have seized upon the penultimate point of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, the survival of the fittest, and given it an evangelical, Masonic twist. By bestowing upon himself the powers of a military dictator, Bush has broadened into infinity the moat of secrecy between the fortress of government and the citizen rabble. Not only are the denizens of Guantanamo held in isolation from the world, many for crimes they did not commit, but we, the citizens of America, no longer have the right to examine what is being done to them in our name.
Not even the Red Cross can examine the interrogation centers.
As an attorney for several detainees, Ratner, however, has heard first hand accounts of what goes on inside Guantanamo, and what he describes "is like Dante’s ninth circle of hell."
Sleep derivation is a favorite form of "stress and duress," the designated euphemism for torture at Guantanamo. Old-fashioned beatings are routine. Shackling people to the floor of an interrogation room for hours and making them lie in their excrement is an easy and effective way of telling someone, "You’re not worth shit." (It also has the side of effect of making their tormentors hate them even more.)
Making people kneel for hours has the dual effect of causing Muslims pain when it’s time to pray. Then again, as we know from reading the newspapers and watching TV, defaming Islam is de rigueur in America nowadays.
Making detainees stand for hours in the hot sun is another favorite technique, which caused me chills, as the Japanese tortured my father in the same fashion in a camp in the Philippines in the Second World War. My father saw several tough Australian soldiers resort to suicide attempts at his prison camp, and at least forty suicide attempts in a six-month period have been documented at Guantanamo. Small wonder. Like at my father’s POW camp, the possibility that one will not survive, or ever be allowed to leave, is perhaps the cruelest torment of all.
Ah, but there’s more. Loudspeakers at one time continually blared out little Rumsfeld lies like, "Cooperate and you’ll go home." Sometimes the loudspeakers blared bigger lies, like, "We know who is telling the truth and who is lying and we can tell. Tell the truth."
This is the venerable "Eye of God" trick, which was used by the CIA as a facet of its Phoenix Program in Vietnam.
Take note again, dear reader: the Eye of God trick is being employed, incrementally, on you, too. As the Homeland Security color codes continually rise and fall, based on "chatter" about unconfirmed threats, and as the level of surveillance reaches ubiquitous proportions, we are all finding ourselves under spiritual assault.
Then there is the old medicine trick, which consists of denying medicine to prisoners unless the cooperate. This is another torture technique that has personal meaning to me. I remember interviewing Congressman Rob Simmons (R-CT), about his experiences as a CIA officer running an interrogation center in Vietnam in 1972. Yes, Simmons, now a member of the Armed Services Committee, used the same trick on detainees way back then. A counter-terror team or the secret police would drag in a guy with a gunshot wound, and Simmons would present him with the choice: cooperate and get medicine, or take your chances.
Simmons says that doesn’t amount to torture and (big surprise) the people running Guantanamo, even the CIA Doctor Menegles on there, agree.
Not everything at Guantanamo is derivative. Some torture techniques are innovative, and incredibly bizarre. Michael Ratner tells of about an interrogation room that displayed posters of Israelis who had apparently murdered Palestinian women. According to Ratner, the idea was to get Muslim detainees to believe that if they cooperated, they would be freed to return to the Middle East to kill Israelis.
What The Future Bodes
For me, it hurt at times to listen to Ray and Ratner’s interview. I’m sure many other readers will personally relate to different aspects of this timely and important book, too.
It was especially bad news to learn that there is there a Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Operations, a Mr. Paul Butler, who sits in the Pentagon and reviews cases. However, final judgments about the fate of any of Guantanamo’s lab rats are not made by Butler, or even some secret review board, but by a "designated civilian official (DCO)" appointed by, you guessed it, Bush. This DCO can hold a detainee indefinitely for any reason that is deemed "in the interest of the United States," a term which really means, in the political interests of Bush.
Ray and Ratner’s book raises some disturbing questions. For example: What’s to stop Bush from turning his star chambers and designated civilian officials on his political opponents, here, in America?
One might also ask: How long does a national emergency last, and how does one know, quantitatively, when it’s over?
It’s a fact that our government is waging psychological warfare against us. Is it paranoid to ask: Are mini-Guantanamo, political indoctrination camps for recalcitrant Americans looming on the horizon?
This book makes one thing painfully clear: we’re in big trouble if these new terms and instruments of government become part of our national dialogue, and not just an ominous conversation between Ellen Ray and Michael Ratner.
Reading this book made me angrier than ever before. I don’t want to live by Bush’s leave, as a lab rat in a corporate experiment in a military dictatorship, under the guise of what Michael Ratner calls a "metaphorical" war on terror. Maybe it’s time to new form a new government? One not modeled on the totalitarian corporate paradigm, and certainly not a government where a mentally unstable chief executive has the power to torture, murder, invade foreign countries under false pretenses, dispense with due process, and otherwise break the supreme law of the land. Maybe it’s time to change our current form of government to ensure that the people, not the government, control their fate?
The book raises one other matter for consideration. Approximately 2,800 soldiers and CIA interrogators have already served as de facto torturers at Guantanamo, which houses only a few hundred prisoners. The total number of Americans who have served there is certainly larger, as soldiers and spooks are rotated in and out. Many others are being trained as torturers in military indoctrination courses. Already thousands of Americans at Guantanamo, and in other God-forsaken places around the world, have whole-heartedly embraced the role of torturer. Like those Abu Ghraib, they enjoy it.
What does this mean for America, as these torturers return home? Is it our patriotic duty to validate their service, and adopt their values? Or shall the privates, corporals and sergeants be held responsible for the war crimes they committed, while following the orders of policy makers like Bush? Will there be a prison big enough to hold all the war criminals America is producing at places like Guantanamo?
Douglas Valentine is the author of The Hotel Tacloban, The Phoenix Program, and TDY. His fourth book, The Strength of the Wolf: The Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 1930-1968, is newly published by Verso. For information about Mr. Valentine, and his books and articles, please visit his web sites at< a href="http://www.DouglasValentine.com" target="_new"> www.DouglasValentine.com and http://members.authorsguild.net/valentine