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A "war" with no Geneva Conventions
on February 7, 2008
British journalist Andy Worthington is perhaps the world's leading expert on Guantánamo Bay and its inmates. Basing his research mostly on the Pentagon's own documents, obtained under freedom of information legislation, Worthington has produced a unique compendium of individual histories, combining them with a narrative of events in the "war on terror". The overwhelming case made by the book is that, amongst the great numbers of prisoners who were swept up in Afghanistan, the majority were either completely innocent men caught in the wrong place at the wrong time, or were unimportant foot-soldiers whose involvement in an inter-Muslim civil war both pre-dated 9/11 and had no connection with it. The treatment of these captives has been wholly disproportionate.
Helpless men, of whom some have subsequently been released, were tortured before arriving at Guantánamo Bay, the torture producing forced - and untrue - confessions of their links with al-Qaeda. In a number of cases the torture was "outsourced" to selected countries. The conduct of the CIA and the US military towards their prisoners recalls in some instances the fate of prisoners at the hands of the Gestapo in World War Two. Not coincidentally, perhaps, the term adopted by the US authorities, "enhanced interrogation techniques", expresses in English the Nazis' identical euphemism for similar forms of torture.
Following rendition to Guantánamo Bay, prisoners receive brutal treatment in supermax lockdowns. The majority of US "detainees" in Guantánamo Bay are being kept isolated in long-term solitary confinement, in high-security facilities. While there appears to be no operational necessity for such long-term isolation, one consequence of it is permanent psychological damage. In plain language, the detainees are being driven insane by the conditions of their incarceration. According to the normal meaning of words this is "cruel punishment" which the eighth amendment to the US Constitution specifically prohibits. The US appears to think such revenge against captives in its war on terror to be its moral right. Unfortunately for the Guantánamo detainees, because they are not US citizens, and not held in "the sovereign United States", the US Constitution does not operate for their protection.
Medical opinion is that the incarceration of prisoners in indefinite long-term solitary is a form of mental torture. As such it is contrary to the 1984 Convention Against Torture ratified by the United States. The supermax prison at Guantánamo Bay has been described as "harsher than any of the Death Row prisons" on the US mainland.
On the evidence provided by Andy Worthington, the judgment has to be that the US just over-reacted to the events of 9/11. Quite apart from the perverse decision to go to war in Iraq, what other verdict could there be, considering its adoption of torture as a method of punishment, and torture as a technique for the gathering of faulty intelligence?