[Pnews] Opening Guantanamo to the World

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jul 28 11:10:39 EDT 2017


  Opening Gitmo to the World

by Robert Koehler <https://www.counterpunch.org/author/robert-koehler/> 
- July 28, 2017

To read /Witnesses of the Unseen: Seven Years in Guantanamo/ 
<https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1503601153/counterpunchmaga> is 
to run your mind along the contours of hell.

The next step, if you’re an American, is to embrace it. Claim it. This 
is who we are: We are the proprietors of a cluster of human cages and a 
Kafkaesque maze of legal insanity. This torture center is still open. 
Men (“forever prisoners”) are still being held there, their imprisonment 
purporting to keep us safe.

The book <http://witnessesbook.com/>, by Lakhdar Boumediene and Mustafa 
Ait Idir — two Algerian men arrested in Bosnia in 2011 and wrongly 
accused of being terrorists — allows us to imagine /ourselves/ at 
Guantanamo, this outpost of the Endless War.

“‘Take him outside,’ the interrogator told them. They led me up a flight 
of eight or nine concrete steps to a long gravel drive. It was pitch 
black out, and completely quiet. There was no one around. One of the 
soldiers grabbed my left arm, and another took my right. And then they 
started running.

“I tried to keep up, but my legs were shackled together. First, my 
flip-flops fell off, and after a few barefoot strides, my legs fell out 
from under me. The soldiers didn’t even slow down. They kept a firm grip 
on my arms while my legs bounced and scraped along the ground, gravel 
biting into them. When the run finally ended, the soldiers brought me 
back to the interrogation room, bloody and bedraggled.”

This is one fragment, one story of the seven years these two innocent 
men endured: these two fathers who were pulled away from their wives and 
children, yanked from their lives, stuffed into cages, interrogated 
endlessly and pointlessly, humiliated, force-fed (in Lakhdar’s case) . . 
. and finally, finally, ordered by a U.S. judge to be freed, when their 
case, Boumediene v. Bush, was at long last heard in a real court and the 
lack of evidence against them became appallingly clear.

The book is the story of the courage it takes to survive.

And it’s a story that can only be told because of the work of the Boston 
legal firm WilmerHale, which spent more than 17,000 pro bono hours 
litigating the case, “work that would have cost paying clients more than 
$35 million.”

Lakhdar and Mustafa were freed in 2008 and began rebuilding their lives. 
They eventually decided they wanted to tell their story — to an American 
audience. Daniel Norland, who was a lawyer at WilmerHale when the case 
was making its way through the court process (but was not part of the 
litigation team) and his sister, Kathleen List, who speaks fluent 
Arabic, conducted more than 100 hours of interviews with the two men, 
which were shaped into /Witnesses of the Unseen/.

In October 2011, the two men, who were living and working in Sarajevo, 
were among six Algerians who wound up being arrested by Bosnian 
authorities and charged with plotting to blow up the American embassy in 
Sarajevo. They were held for three months, then released. There was no 
evidence to back up the accusation.

But this turns out to be the beginning of their story, not the end of 
it. The men were released not back to their own lives but to an 
authority more powerful than the Bosnian judicial system: They were 
released to the Americans, who had begun rounding up Muslims . . . uh, 
terrorists. Evidence, or lack thereof, didn’t matter. These men were 
shipped to a new military prison, built at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Base 
in Cuba — an offshore prison, in other words, unencumbered by the U.S. 
Constitution. The detainees there allegedly had zero rights. That was 
the whole point.

Much of what Lakhdar and Mustafa describe is the efficiency of the U.S. 
military in dehumanizing its prisoners. The beatings and physical pain 
inflicted by guards, interrogators and even medical personnel were only 
part of it. The men also endured sexual humiliation, endless mocking of 
their religion — “I heard . . . that a soldier went into someone’s cell 
and flushed his Qur’an down the toilet” — and the cruel, teasing 
“misplacement” or censorship of letters from the prisoners’ loved ones.

Several years into his imprisonment, Lakhdar went on a hunger strike, 
which meant he was subjected to force-feeding, which the U.N. Human 
Rights Commission has called a form of torture:

“The soldier brought out an apparatus with a long yellow tube and 
started measuring out the length of tube he needed. He stopped when he 
got to a marking somewhere between 45 and 50 inches. That was the amount 
of tube he was going to insert through my nostril. . . .

“It’s almost impossible to explain what a feeding tube feels like to 
someone who hasn’t experienced it. I felt like I was choking, and being 
strangled, and yet somehow still able to breathe, all at the same time.

“The soldier taped the tube in place. I could see the Ensure trickling 
through the tube, one droplet at a time. It felt cold as it reached my 
stomach. I later learned that a full feeding normally takes fifteen to 
twenty minutes, but that first time they went exceptionally slowly. I 
sat in the clinic, chained to the chair, a tube protruding down my 
throat, for the rest of the afternoon and all through the night.”

It took no less than a Supreme Court ruling to start ending this nightmare.

In early 2007, a U.S. Circuit Court judge had refused to hear Boumediene 
v. Bush on the grounds that Guantanamo prisoners had no Constitutional 
rights. But the Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal, and in June 2008 
ruled that Guantanamo counted as part of the U.S. and, as Justice 
Anthony Kennedy wrote, the government couldn’t “switch the Constitution 
on and off at will.”

Thus the case went back to the Circuit Court and a real hearing got 
underway, leading to one of the most appalling revelations in the book: 
“Our lawyers had told us, in the days leading up to our trial, about a 
recent bizarre development in our case: the government had dropped its 
allegation that we had plotted to blow up the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo. 
Just like in Bosnia seven years before, authorities were eager to toss 
around bomb-plot allegations right up until a court required them to 
provide evidence.

“Instead, our lawyers told us, the government now said that the reason 
it considered us ‘enemy combatants’ was that it had evidence — 
classified evidence that I wasn’t allowed to see — that we had made a 
plan to fly to Afghanistan and join Al Qaeda’s fight against American 
forces there. This was the first time I had ever heard this allegation. 
No one — no police officer, no Bosnian official, no American 
interrogator — had ever asked me a single question about it.

“And it was a ludicrous allegation. . . .”

And the judge ruled in their favor and they eventually were set free, to 
reclaim their lives, to see their children for the first time in seven 
years — and to give their story to the world.

But as long as Gitmo remains open and the Endless War continues — and no 
one is held accountable — there is no ending to this story, just an open 

/*Robert Koehler* is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor./

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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