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Guantánamo Bay

John Simkin

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Zachary Katznelson is senior counsel at Reprieve, which represents 36 Guantánamo Bay detainees. Here is an article by him that appeared in yesterday's Guardian:


On Friday night, three prisoners in Guantánamo Bay committed suicide. Two Saudis and one Yemeni hanged themselves. In a desperate attempt at spin, the US claims this was an act of war or a public relations exercise. The truth is quite different. Islam says it goes against God to kill yourself. So what would drive a man to take his own life, despite his religious beliefs? The answer shames the US and its allies, Britain prominently included.

The 460-plus men in Guantánamo Bay have been held for longer than four years. Only 10 have been charged with a crime. Not one has had a trial. The men are not allowed to visit or speak with family or friends. Many have suffered serious abuse. Most are held on the basis of triple and quadruple hearsay, evidence so unreliable that a criminal court would throw it out. Yet the US says it can imprison the men for the rest of their lives. Imagine yourself in this environment, told you will never have the chance to stand up in a court and present your side of the argument. What would you do if no one would listen, if you had been asking for justice for four years and had nothing in return? How hopeless would you become?

Of these three men, little is known. They were in Camp I, a maximum-security area where prisoners are denied even a roll of toilet paper. But we do not know the dead men's stories. While most of the men in Guantánamo have lawyers who fight for their right to a fair trial, these men did not. Until May, the US refused to even tell us who was in Guantánamo. But before it finally released the names of everyone there, the Bush administration secured passage of a law barring lawsuits by the prisoners held in Guantánamo. That means that at last we know the prisoners' identities, but can do nothing legally to help them. The men who committed suicide found themselves in just this legal black hole. They had no legal recourse, just the prospect of a life in prison, in isolation, with no family, no friends, nothing. They took their lives.

So what now? President Bush stated this week that he wants to close Guantánamo, that he wants to give the men trials. Well, let's have them - immediately. The US has had over four years to gather evidence against the men. Surely that is enough time to prove guilt. And now it is time to show the world the evidence. As Harriet Harman, the British constitutional affairs minister, said yesterday, Guantánamo must be opened up to review or shut down. Will Britain do what is necessary to make this a reality? Because this is about even more than the fate of 460 people, it is about whether the US and its allies will lead the world by democratic example, or whether they will continue to give lip service to human rights and open societies, while denigrating those cherished notions with their actions.

If the men in Guantánamo (and the other US prisons around the world, such as the one at the Bagram air force base in Afghanistan, where over 600 men languish in Guantánamo's hidden twin) did something wrong, by all means punish them. But if they did not, they must be sent home.

Mohammed El Gharani, our client at Reprieve, was only 14 when he was seized in a mosque in Pakistan. He was only 15 when he arrived in Guantánamo Bay. Already twice this year he has tried to kill himself, once by hanging, once by slitting his wrists. Let us pray there is movement by the US to finally do justice, before Mohammed, truly only a child, or anyone else in Guantánamo Bay commits suicide.

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They could close Guantanamo in a fanfare of publicity and carry on with torture by "extraordinary rendition" with a wink and a nod from their puppets Blair and Brown.

And the war against terrorism? The US supports terrorists like Posada when it suits them, they financed and trained Al Quaeda and have never tried to deny it. Guantanamo is a huge recruiting aid for terrorism - giving the lie to all the fine talk about democracy and luring people into the blind alley of terrorism.

Until 9/11, Cubana Flight 455 was the worst act of terrorism aboard a commercial airline in the Americas. One of the men responsible for the planning of this incident currently lives within the country, and is currently applying for citizenship. His name is Luis Posada Carriles.

A fanatical anti-Castro Cuban exile, Posada has left a bloody swath of terror and destruction across the Gulf of Mexico. By his own admission, the CIA-trained and Miami-funded Posada has planned bombings of Cuban hotels, cafes, and dancehalls. Although he has denied involvement, strong evidence exists that Posada was involved in the bombing of Cubana Flight 455. CIA and FBI documents unearthed by George Washington University's National Security Archive place Posada among the conspirators at two planning meetings for the bombing.

Two faced or what?

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I received this suggested letter to MPs from the Save Omar campaign. This is a campaign which calls for Omar Deghayes, a British resident whose family still live in Brighton, to be either tried or released. He has been held without charge or trial and tortured at Guantanamo Bay.

It was reported on Saturday that three men, two Saudi nationals and a Yemeni, being held at Camp 1 at Guantanamo Bay committed suicide on Friday 9 June 2006 by tying bed sheets together and then hanging themselves. The US military, which was tardy in releasing information about the identity of the three men, was quick to refer to this act of desperation as an “act of warfare”.

Such comments reveal the brutality of the US military and do nothing to hide the fact that these men were detained in inhumane conditions without recourse to due process, access to their families or lawyers for more than four years.

The British government ought to seek an independent inquiry into the cause of the deaths of these men which could be verified by an accredited and independent third party and for the results of that inquiry to be made public. This inquiry must include the full disclosure of medical and psychological reports held by the US military about these men from the date of their seizure to the date of their demise.

I urge the British government to urgently demand that the US military releases the bodies of these men to their families in Saudi Arabia and Yemen as soon as is possible and that they are buried in accordance with the requirements of the Islamic faith so that their basic human rights may be honoured in death even though they were not during their lifetimes.

I also urge the British government to call for the immediate closure of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and for all the men held there, without trial or charge, to be immediately sent to countries where they will not face further abuses of their basic human rights and before further tragedy strikes.

You are probably aware that eight British residents are among the 450+ men currently being held there; this news has done nothing to assuage their fears for their loved ones. They too have had no direct access to their family members for over four years and two of the residents have never seen their youngest children. I call upon you to ask the British government to immediately act on behalf of the British residents still held at Guantanamo to obtain their immediate release from Guantanamo and their return to Britain. Also, the British administration must now ask for an independent enquiry into the three deaths at Guantanamo that was announced on the 10th of June 2006. The British government must also ensure the safety and security of the British residents still detained at Guantanamo as a matter of urgency. Families of these detainees, living in UK, must be provided every comfort in these trying times including telephone and direct contact with their loved ones held at Guantanamo.

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