Shameful: This is the world's view on Guantanamo.
But Tony Blair
still calls it 'an anomaly'
A UN report condemns 'torture' at the detention camp. But, like
other revelations in the 'war on terror', the reaction is to
deplore the publicity and ignore the brutality.
By Francis Elliott and Raymond Whitaker Independent (London)
Independent" -- -- What happens at the US-run
detention camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is torture, and the
place should be shut down "without further delay". That is the
conclusion of an independent panel of experts commissioned by
the United Nations.
It is shared by figures of international stature such as
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as well as millions in the Muslim
world. The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, yesterday became
the latest voice to join the chorus calling for Guantanamo to
But if their views on the shame of "Gitmo" could not be more
stark, the attitude of those who have the power to close it down
could not be more dismissive. So far, Tony Blair will only say
that the detention centre holding nearly 500 men, some of them
for four years, is "an anomaly", while a Downing Street source
is reported as describing the outcry as a "flurry".
In the US, meanwhile, the report barely registered with a media
industry still obsessed with Dick Cheney's shooting accident. It
got even less attention than the disclosure, earlier last week,
of new photographs of the 2003 abuse in Abu Ghraib prison in
Iraq which were more shocking than any seen before.
Although the evidence reinforced the belief in much of the world
that both Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are symptoms of American
disregard for any rules in the "war on terror", none of this was
reflected in major US newspapers, which put reports on the new
photographs on inside pages, and did not print any of them. The
Bush administration was able to brush off both the Iraq and the
It was the same story in Britain, which had had its own reminder
of the consequences of the "war on terror" in the shape of
footage showing British soldiers beating demonstrators in the
town of Amara. Three soldiers were arrested after the pictures
became public, but on the issue of Guantanamo there was as
little prospect of Mr Blair calling for the camp to be closed as
there was of George Bush agreeing to do so.
The Downing Street aide is almost certainly right - despite the
condemnation of such men as Archbishop Tutu and Dr Sentamu, the
"flurry" over Guantanamo seems destined to blow itself out. But
before it does, it pays to read to the end of the UN report
published last Wednesday.
After 54 pages of closely argued legal discourse, footnotes
detail the shocking truth of what is happening every day in
Guantanamo. Recently it was discovered, for example, that 25
"special restraint chairs" were ordered by the camp for use
during force-feeding to break a hunger strike by a number of
inmates. A lawyer representing some them described what happens.
"They are being force-fed through the nose," the report quotes
New York attorney Juliet Tarver. "The force-feeding happens in
an abusive fashion as the tubes are rammed up their noses, then
taken out again and rammed in again until they bleed. For a
while tubes were used that were thicker than a finger, because
the smaller tubes did not provide the detainees with enough
food. The tubes caused the detainees to gag, and often they
would vomit blood. The force-feeding happens twice daily..."
Then there is the evidence the report presents of interrogation
techniques deliberately designed to offend inmate's religious
sensibilities, such as female officers "lap-dancing" during
interrogations. Menstrual blood is alleged to have been smeared
on detainees' faces to "bring home the futility of the
The Pentagon has acknowledged 10 cases of abuse or mistreatment
at Guantanamo, including a female interrogator climbing on to a
detainee's lap, and a detainee whose knees were bruised from
being forced to kneel repeatedly.
The report also collects new evidence on the practice of
"extraordinary rendition", where detainees are flown around the
world to nations where they may face torture. It quotes the
example of a man called al-Qadasi, who was taken from Guantanamo
to Yemen in secret in April 2004. A statement from his lawyer,
Tina M Foster, details what happened next. "He stayed there for
13 months in solitary confinement in an underground cell. He was
routinely beaten and received only rotten food and was prevented
from using the toilet. He was then temporarily transferred to
Ta'iz prison, where he was also not provided food and had to
rely on his family to feed him. In June 2005 he was transferred
back to Sana'a prison, where he is still held without being
aware of any charges."
The Bush administration has called the detainees "terrorists"
and "trained liars", and stressed that the committee's members
had not been to Guantanamo, without adding the reason: the panel
refused to visit the camp because they were barred from speaking
to detainees. Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary, said the
call by the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, for the closure of
the facility was "just flat wrong".
As for the Abu Ghraib and Amara revelations, the reaction of
officialdom on both sides of the Atlantic was to deplore the
publicity given to the images as much as the brutality they
showed. Senior officers from military intelligence arrived in
the offices of the News of the World, which obtained the Amara
footage, to demand - unsuccessfully - that the newspaper pull
In the US, "we felt that it was an invasion of the [Abu Ghraib]
detainees themselves to have these photographs come out," said
John Bellinger of the State Department, showing somewhat
selective concern for their rights. It could also "fan the
flames around the world and cause potentially further violence",
The third anniversary of the Iraq invasion is a month away, and
Britain is sending thousands more troops to Afghanistan, where
Iraq-style violence, including suicide bombing, is on the rise.
But instead of putting an end to abuses which create more
recruits for insurgency and terrorism, the instinct is still to
keep them hidden away.
Desmond Tutu, Ex-Archbishop of Cape Town
It's a horrendous blot on the image of what was supposed to be
the only superpower... They've held people for unconscionably
Peter Hain, Northern Ireland Secretary
I would prefer that it wasn't there and I would prefer it was
closed... [Asked if Tony Blair agreed] I think so. Yes.
John Sentamu, Archbishop of York
To hold someone for up to four years without charge indicates a
society heading towards George Orwell's Animal Farm.
Angela Merkel, German Chancellor
An institution like Guantanamo cannot and should not exist in
the longer term. Different ways and means must be found ...
Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General
There will be a need to close Guantanamo... It will be up to the
[US] government to decide, and hopefully... as soon as is
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