A broiling Cuban night, October 2003. Main Basic Geoffrey Miller, a squat, pugnacious artillery officer who’s now commandant of the U.S. jail camp at Guantanamo Bay, stands within the shade of a palm tree by his headquarters.
His interrogators, he tells me proudly, ‘are creating enormously priceless intelligence’ which has prevented terrorist assaults in each America and Britain: ‘I consider Guantanamo because the interrogation battle lab within the conflict in opposition to terror,’ he says.
Their strategies, he assures me, are humane. Often, coping with a hardened suspect, they might should grow to be ‘aggressive’. However normally they get their data by ‘establishing a rapport’ and the prisoners quit their secrets and techniques as a result of they’ve come to admire the first rate, civilised values that Guantanamo represents.
To viewers of the acclaimed movie drama The Mauritanian, the true story of former Guantanamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Miller’s assertions could appear exhausting to consider.
Detainees in orange jumpsuits sit in a holding space below the watchful eyes of Army Police at Camp X-Ray at Naval Base Guantanamo Bay
Arrested in his residence nation on the sting of the Sahara after a bogus tip-off that he was an al-Qaeda terrorist, Slahi was taken to Guantanamo in 2002.
On Miller’s watch, he was subjected to shackling in agonising ‘stress positions’ for hours on finish and to extremes of warmth and chilly, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation and beatings. He was even pressured to drink seawater when he mentioned he was thirsty.
The usage of these ‘enhanced interrogation’ strategies has lengthy been documented in U.S. authorities reviews, in relation not solely to Slahi however to a whole bunch of others.
Lastly, in 2016, after greater than 14 years, Slahi, now 50, went residence, cleared of all fees. The years of torture and isolation had been for nothing — and no matter he could have advised his interrogators, it could possibly’t have prevented any terror assaults as a result of he was by no means a terrorist.
Army Police at camp X-Ray on the Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay carry a detainee, who arrived on the camp injured, to an interrogation room for questioning February 2, 2002
As for Miller, by the point he was awarded a Distinguished Service Medal on retiring in 2006, he had been publicly accused of overseeing the abuse of prisoners not solely at Guantanamo however on the jail he ran each earlier than and afterwards, at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
Makes an attempt had been made to prosecute him for conflict crimes, and he confronted questioning by the U.S. Congress. However he vehemently denied being chargeable for torture and claimed orders he gave had been ‘misunderstood’.
These days, Guantanamo hardly ever makes the information, particularly in Britain. The final of its 18 British prisoners, Londoner Shaker Aamer, was launched in 2015.
However though it now homes solely 39 prisoners, down from greater than 650 in Miller’s prime, it’s nonetheless open. On the day after he took workplace in 2009, President Barack Obama promised to shut it inside a yr. Eight years later, when he gave approach to Donald Trump, he had failed.
A U.S. Military soldier stands on the entrance to Camp Delta the place detainees from the U.S. conflict in Afghanistan stay April 7, 2004
It’s by far the world’s most costly jail. In accordance with official U.S. figures, America spends virtually £10 million on detaining every prisoner yearly, due to the price of sustaining Guantanamo’s garrison. Housing an inmate in a ‘supermax’ federal jail prices about one-fortieth as a lot.
Of the Guantanamo inmates who stay, 17 are deemed ‘high-value’ and can in all probability by no means be launched.
They’re held in Guantanamo’s Camp 5 — a facility so secret that for years America denied it had been constructed — and embody Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, the alleged masterminds of al-Qaeda’s assaults on Washington and New York on September 11, 2001 that killed virtually 3,000.
However the remaining 22 ‘low-value detainees’ are deemed to pose little danger, and 9 of them have already, in idea, been formally cleared as protected to launch.
Their situations, in Camp 6, are extra humane: their cells are bigger and they’re allowed out of them for 14 hours a day. They’ll eat meals communally and spend time within the scorching, dusty yard outdoors.
A cell guard tower stands over a camp for Chinese language Uighur detainees on the U.S. army jail for ‘enemy combatants’ on October 28, 2009
But they continue to be caught in indefinite limbo, with the U.S. seemingly unwilling to ship them residence.
Nearly a 3rd of those ‘LVDs’ share the identical British lawyer, the human rights knowledgeable Clive Stafford Smith. Due to the pandemic, he has not been capable of go to his purchasers since early final yr, and can make his first journey again to Guantanamo this month.
He has been capable of speak to them by video name, although, and says he’s ‘deeply involved’ for his or her psychological and bodily well being.
Certainly one of them, Pakistani taxi-driver Ahmad Rabbani, 51 — a sufferer of mistaken identification — has been on starvation strike since 2013 and is force-fed every day, strapped to a ‘feeding chair’ stored on his cell block.
He used to withstand this, however that meant being dragged there violently by the ‘excessive response power’ of six highly effective guards in physique armour. Now, says his lawyer, he not has the energy to combat.
‘He says he’s neither being allowed to stay, nor to die,’ Stafford Smith says. ‘He used to weigh 169lb. Now he is 79lb. The way in which he places it’s that 54 per cent of him has managed to flee.’
So why is that this image of tainted justice nonetheless in existence, as U.S. forces withdraw from Afghanistan — and twenty years after 9/11?
Strikes to determine the location started instantly after that atrocity, when Vice President Dick Cheney vowed to ‘take the gloves off’ in opposition to terrorism and warned that this is able to require America to ‘work by way of the darkish facet’.
In hindsight, this wasn’t shocking. The day after the assaults, Milton Bearden, who had led the CIA’s marketing campaign to assist Afghan rebels in opposition to the Soviet invaders within the Eighties and labored intently with commanders who later joined the Taliban, advised me 9/11 was a ‘catastrophic intelligence failure’.
It appeared that the method taken within the Nineteen Nineties — to deal with al-Qaeda as a matter for regulation enforcement companies — had failed. As a substitute got here what President George W. Bush referred to as ‘the conflict on terror’, utilizing strategies that hawkish supporters within the CIA and the Pentagon believed would stop terrorism and can be engaging to a U.S. folks fired by an comprehensible want for revenge.
Fighters captured within the army marketing campaign that ousted the Taliban from Afghanistan in late 2001 can be deemed not prisoners of conflict, with their rights protected by the Geneva Conventions, however unlawful ‘enemy combatants’.
Quickly that label was being utilized to terrorist suspects captured nearly wherever — together with Pakistan, the Center East and international locations corresponding to Mauritania.
The Geneva Conventions say PoWs want state solely their identify, rank and quantity, however enemy combatants may endure years of maximum interrogation.
Later, as Guantanamo’s British prisoners started to be launched, I interviewed most of them. All had endured such interrogation too.
However why arrange a jail to make use of this method at Guantanamo Bay, a tiny U.S. enclave on the southeastern tip of communist Cuba?
It had a number of benefits. It was distant: a three-hour flight from Florida. It had a longtime U.S. naval base, and entry might be strictly managed. Above all, as a senior Pentagon lawyer named William Lietzau argued in October 2001, it was past the attain — and authorized protections — afforded by the U.S. Structure. To him, and to the Bush administration, that made it ideally suited.
A former British Regulation Lord put it one other method: for anybody attempting to defend a Guantanamo prisoner, the camp was a ‘authorized black gap’.
By the point of my first go to, Guantanamo had been open for 22 months. An enormous public relations effort was being made to counteract the primary — and nonetheless the one —images of prisoners taken by journalists, displaying among the first arrivals cuffed and blindfolded, kneeling in orange jumpsuits, and being shuttled to interrogation rooms chained to hospital trolleys.
By 2003, the primary cells — the cages, open to the weather, of what was generally known as Camp X-ray —had been not getting used. They’d been changed by Camp Delta, an unlimited compound of prefabricated steel blocks during which every cell was solely barely bigger than a king-size mattress.
The passageway main into the camp was shrouded by nets and tarpaulins, however as I walked down it, I heard hissing directed at me and my escorts: ‘Nazi liars!’
My guides needed me to have a look at the camp kitchens, eager to impress that the prisoners got ‘culturally applicable’ meals, corresponding to hummus and dates. However the facade quickly slipped. I used to be additionally proven the medical wing, the place the primary inmates who went on starvation strike had been being force-fed.
On one ward, a younger man lay chained to his mattress, being fed high-protein mush by way of a tube, inserted into one nostril, which prolonged into his abdomen.
‘He has refused to eat 148 consecutive meals,’ naval surgeon Dr Louis Louk advised me. ‘In my view, he is a spoilt brat.’
Little by little, the reality about Guantanamo — that it was a spot of harsh situations, torture and injustice — started to seep out, thanks partly to this newspaper.
U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had claimed it contained solely the ‘worst of the worst’, but increasingly inmates had been being launched with out cost — greater than 500 by the point George W. Bush’s presidency resulted in 2009.
And nonetheless it didn’t shut, whilst its prisoner numbers diminished.
By the point of my second go to, ten years later, the sense of melancholy amongst guards and inmates alike was palpable. In 2003, the Individuals had been fired by a way of righteousness, satisfied they had been combating the great combat on behalf of the 9/11 victims.
By 2013, they appeared to simply accept it was pointless and that the ‘extraordinarily priceless intelligence’ described by Miller had been illusory — the product of torture victims being able to say something to make the torture cease.
One senior Pentagon intelligence analyst advised me Guantanamo had not stopped a single terrorist assault — although assaults continued, perpetrated by folks with no hyperlink to Guantanamo prisoners, corresponding to the brand new wave of IS killers spawned in Syria and Iraq.
In Washington, I met Lietzau, Guantanamo’s authorized apologist — who had simply retired from the army. He mentioned that if he may have his time once more, he would argue the camp shouldn’t be constructed. That was eight years in the past.
Unable to muster the Congressional votes to shut Guantanamo, Obama did arrange a system below which prisoners’ circumstances had been examined by a panel of six senior intelligence officers, generally known as a Periodic Overview Board — and by the point he left workplace in 2017, they’d determined that 5 of the 23 low-value detainees ought to be freed. One other 4 had been later cleared.
However up to now, just one, Abdul Nasser, who returned to Morocco after greater than 19 years final month, has been freed, as a result of Donald Trump ordered that nobody ought to be free of Guantanamo, regardless of how lengthy they’d been there or how harmless they may be.
The impact on those that remained, says Stafford Smith, 62, has been disastrous: ‘To undergo a lot, be advised they had been cleared, then simply keep — to them it appears like that is their without end jail.’
The evident injustice makes it worse. For instance, Rabbani, the eight-year starvation striker, was arrested in Karachi in 2002 and is the daddy of a son born simply after he was detained, whom he has by no means seen besides on Skype.
Like many Guantanamo prisoners, he was denounced by bounty hunters, who claimed a reward of $5,000 being provided by the Individuals for ‘terrorist’ suspects. They claimed he was residing below a false identification and was really a killer named Hassan Gul.
Earlier than reaching Guantanamo, Rabbani was tortured within the infamous ‘Darkish Jail’ close to Kabul, run by the CIA, the place, Stafford Smith says, he was suspended by his arms for days on finish, disadvantaged of water and overwhelmed — strategies that an official Senate report says had been in widespread use.
But the true Hassan Gul was there on the identical time and was additionally tortured — however then launched, solely to be killed by a U.S. drone in 2012. Nobody severely disputes this. But below Guantanamo’s impenetrable regime, Rabbani stays a prisoner.
One other shopper is businessman Saifullah Paracha, 73, who lived for years in New York. After he was kidnapped by U.S. brokers on a enterprise journey to Thailand in 2003, the airplane that took him to Guantanamo refuelled in Scotland. He, too, was tortured however regularly protested that allegations he supported al-Qaeda had been false.
Lastly, in 2018, one of many Guantanamo boards cleared him — however three years later he’s nonetheless a prisoner, afraid he’ll die earlier than he’s reunited along with his household.
Then there’s Asadullah Haroon, Guantanamo’s final Afghan inmate. He’s a prisoner as a result of he had the misfortune to be introduced up in the course of the Soviet period in a refugee camp run by the highly effective insurgent commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, then a U.S. ally.
Years later Hekmatyar determined to assist the Taliban and this, Stafford Smith says, was sufficient for his shopper to finish up in Guantanamo, the place his plight is determined: ‘Nobody else speaks his language, Pushtun, and as he is the one Pushtun-speaking prisoner left, they’ve even stopped subscribing to Pushtun TV.’
For these and different low-value detainees, daily is similar. Each few months there’s a Purple Cross go to and, as soon as a month, a video name with their households.
They’ve entry to books and, if they’ll perceive it, TV. They’re allowed to play soccer. ‘However there are too few low-value prisoners to lift two groups any longer,’ Stafford Smith factors out.
For the high-value detainees in Camp 5, life is worse. There, as Shaker Aamer advised me after being despatched there as a punishment, the cells are tiny and thick steel partitions cease the prisoners speaking. For nearly 20 years, America has been promising to place a few of these males on trial in particular courts, together with the 9/11 architects. However the chief prosecutor has simply resigned after 5 years within the job and no trial date has been set.
It’s no accident that when al-Qaeda in Iraq, the murderous forerunner of IS, started beheading British and American hostages, they had been proven on video carrying Guantanamo-style orange fits. Over time, quite a few senior British and American intelligence officers have advised me that the camp has turned out to be a extremely efficient recruiting sergeant for extremism.
In fact, nobody is suggesting that harmful criminals who want the West hurt ought to merely be launched. But America is a rustic of legal guidelines — and plenty of consider that the rightful place for its prisoners isn’t authorized black holes on international shores.
Democrat leaders say they wish to shut Guantanamo now. However they’ve a wafer-thin Senate majority — and final month Republican senators implored President Biden to not act, saying the camp nonetheless ‘ensures justice’. Attempting to shut it will be deeply divisive and, up to now, Biden has given no indication he needs to make the political effort.
Main Basic Miller have to be happy. Working Guantanamo, he mentioned when he retired, ‘has given me the chance to assist this nation win the worldwide conflict on terror’. Many would argue that the camp is, as an alternative, a stain on America’s conscience.