Guantanamo is a name now synonymous with terror, suffering and injustice. A place where the innocent may be found guilty and where justice slips in and out of existence like a memory
The opening of Guantanamo Bay in 2002 was a momentous juncture in the War on Terror which followed on from the catastrophic attacks against the World Trade Centre, otherwise known as 9/11.
The operations conducted at Guantanamo Bay even during its initial years have invited controversy and widespread suspicion at the legality surrounding the treatment of the detainees held there. Officially speaking, there have been 780 inmates in Guantanamo and by the time Obama was sworn in for his second term, there were 166 remaining detainees. The covert location of other detention centres coined ‘Black Sites’, that operated as Guantanamo’s illegitimate siblings, similarly have been subject to public cynicism particularly concerning their secrecy, which has made scrutinising their methods of conduct an arduous task.
These ‘torture centres’ were what the American Government considered to be a suitable environment for the extraction of intelligence specifically needed to locate networks of terrorists that were morally accountable for 9/11. Guantanamo Bay and its illicit counterpart ‘centres’ were developed out of a sense of duty to solve such a heinous infringement of American sovereignty; these sites became a twenty-first century reflection of the Manifest Destiny envisioned by the American forefathers, dutifully allowing Bush to permeate the Earth and rectify terrorist ‘hot-spots’ with a blend of diplomatic aggression and sheer militaristic force.
‘One thing I am not going to do, though, is I’m not going to jeopardise the safety of the American People‘. — George W. Bush. An example of one of Bush’s ominous promises, yet clouded in ambiguity.
The use of torture against an opponent is motivated first and foremost by an attempt to extract confidential information that will benefit the torturer’s own initiative and progression. The methodological approach adopted by the CIA when handling the incarcerated ‘terror suspects’ was hoped to expand U.S. awareness of Al Qaeda and Taliban affiliates, and ultimately achieve the annihilation of these movements. The CIA had at their disposal numerous torture techniques which had an infinite array of consequences: confinement in a box, the use of white noise, forced rectal feeding, sleep deprivation and waterboarding. These were not randomly selected; rather, their usage corresponded to the mental state of the detainee and whichever period of torture the detainee found themselves to be entering next. Institutions like Guantanamo Bay inhabited men that were victim to a systematic routine that sought to emotionally overwhelm the individual through a torturous process of physical humiliation and psychological manipulation.
If a government unequivocally decides on the imposition of torture against its opponents, as the U.S. Government did immediately after 9/11, it is vital that there exists an impeccable source of intelligence that justifies the suspicion of a certain character and the reasoning for an inquest. Without sound intelligence, innocent people suffer and what were once honest individuals will very promptly transform into hostile enemies. Imagine spending a sustained period of your adult life in a detention centre, where you are subject to frequent torment and are forced into physically agonising positions for extensive periods; imagine this whilst also endlessly worrying about the wellbeing of your family who are repeatedly threatened by your captors. Imagine enduring such an ordeal with the absolute certainty of your innocence throughout. That was the case for Mohammed El-Shari’ya who, when eventually allowed to leave Guantanamo and return to Pakistan, faced a trauma of a new kind when his daughter was unable to recognise him because of his absence.
The CIA Report that has now been nicknamed the ‘Torture Report’ highlighted that out of 119 detainees held across the so-called Black Sites, 26 of those were detained without official intelligence concerning their ‘crime’. An individual arrest may have originated with a tip-off or a suspicious affiliation, however, inclinations of this type do have limited legal credibility. There have been some successes with false conviction, including the Australian David Hick and also Salim Hamdan; the more infamous Khaled Sheikh Mohammed remains in detention awaiting charges for his orchestration of 9/11. These, unfortunately, only represent a small percentage.
The inconsistencies that arise from intelligence gathering is the precise reason why torture should be avoided. Advocates of torture may well argue that it is morally justifiable and that ‘terrorists’ have no right to negotiate; unsurprisingly, this is the position of 84 per cent of Republicans in a Gallop poll who favour keeping Guantanamo Bay open, with 54 per cent of Democrats in similar agreement. The justification for their stance is that torture has provided vital information regarding forthcoming plots against the West, thereby making it instrumental to national security and defence. This argument does, however, overlook the numerous false leads planted by the detainees who are willing to admit to anything in order to relieve their torture. Not only does this waste vital time, but conducting operations based on bogus claims is an expensive affair. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was said to have suffered 180 hours of sleep deprivation which is a process that can cause hallucinations and arguably, experiencing an act of torture with this level of intensity, the evidence between innocent and guilty or true and false becomes meaningless. Falsifying information to relieve the pain is the only obvious remedy.
Torture is a divisive issue and public opinion on its implementation is susceptible to fluctuation. The problem with torture is that it is too circumstantial, and certain scenarios may categorically demand its use whilst others do not. Say if one round of torture led to the exposure of a plot similar to 9/11, and the methods used to extract this confession were accessible by the public, presumably there will be an acceptance of torture as the best approach to save lives. Or conversely, if a programme of torture was instituted with its methods again open for public scrutiny, yet on this occasion there was no ground-breaking intelligence extracted, public opinion may sympathise with the person detained because of the subsequent psychological trauma caused by their ordeal.
This post was inspired by Panorama’s most recent show, ‘Fighting Terror With Torture’, which addresses how horrifying the experiences of Guantanamo’s detainees actually were. Guantanamo Bay remains open and we can only hypothesise about its future role in American foreign policy. One thing is for certain, that stories like Mohammed El-Shari’ya’s are not isolated cases.