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Sun

10

Jun

2007

Seasons in Hell: Voices From the American Gulag
Sunday, 10 June 2007 14:54
by Chris Floyd

I. The Life of a King

The Independent has a remarkable story on Sami al-Haj, the Sudanese journalist who has been held in George W. Bush's concentration camp in Guantanamo Bay for five years. Haj has not been charged with any crime, but he is undoubtedly guilty of a grave sin in the eyes of the Bush Regime: he is a cameraman for Al Jazeera.

He was captured while trying to enter Afghanistan, on a valid visa, to cover the war there in June 2002. Pakistani authorities detained him without any cause, then turned him over to the Americans. No doubt someone – or many people – collected one of the hefty bounties that American forces were handing out in Pakistan and Afghanistan in those days for anyone whom the paid denouncer declared was a "terrorist suspect." Hundreds of people ended up in the Gitmo concentration camp this way, and Haj was one of these. Yet as the Independent notes, Haj has "continued to act like a reporter, detailing and documenting what he has seen and experienced inside Guantanamo and then passing this on to his lawyers." His eyewitness account of life inside the Bush gulag is harrowing – and humiliating for every American in whose name the Bush Regime has perpetrated this filth. Some excerpts:

"For more than four years many of us have been isolated in a small cell, less that 10ft by 6ft, with the intense neon lights on 24 hours a day, " [Haj wrote]. "Many of us are not allowed to exercise outside these cells for more than one hour, just once a week. We are provided with food and drinks which are not suitable for the iguanas and rats that live beside us on Torture Island."

Haj is a Sudanese citizen who had been working for the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network for only a matter of months when he was seized close to the Afghan border. The order for him to be detained apparently contained the number of his old passport, which had been lost two years previously and Haj thought the matter would quickly be cleared up. He was very wrong.

The US authorities have never formally charged Haj, though during the time of his incarceration at Guantanamo they have leveled various accusations at him – accusations that have changed from year to year. Among the allegations that have emerged during a series of Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRT) is that Haj ran a website supporting terrorism, that he sold Stinger missiles to Islamic militants in Chechnya and that he interviewed Osama bin Laden. He denies all the charges, though his lawyers point out that another Al Jazeera cameraman was present during an interview with Bin Laden. Could this be a case of guilt by association?

Remarkably, during 130 separate interviews, his interrogators have questioned him very little about his alleged links to the al-Qa'ida leader or other radicals. Rather their questions have focused almost exclusively on the operation of Al Jazeera. One of his lawyers reported that Haj said he had been told by several people that he would be set free if he agreed to return to Al Jazeera and spy for them. Each time he turned them down.
This is a pattern that we've seen over and over with Bush's Terror War captives. Innocent people are seized – or bought – by American security forces, who then attempt to force the captive to become an informant. Those who refuse are then plunged into the bowels of Bush's torture-and-terror apparatus. It is a crude, brutal, indeed Stalinist way of trying to create an intelligence network on the fly, and on the cheap.

In Haj's case, however, there was also the added incentive of penetrating Al Jazeera, whose independent reports on Bush's Terror War were considered highly dangerous by the Regime's media manipulators. And it was of course a further act of intimidation against the Qatar-based station, whose operatives have been killed by American forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq. We also know that Bush discussed bombing Al Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar with Tony Blair, who evidently dissuaded him from this course. The UK government has never disavowed the revelation of this bloodthirsty conversation between the two Christian statesmen – although it has recently prosecuted the two brave whistleblowers responsible for revealing it.

Haj has seen the handiwork of the Christian statesman from Crawford first hand:

"During our days, months and years of detention we are constantly hauled off for interrogation sessions which are a by-word for abuse," Haj writes. "Here we encounter the 'Enhanced Interrogation Techniques'. One such method is solitary confinement which, for a selected number of prisoners, has been known to last for years. Interrogation itself can last for 28 hours without interruption, the prisoner forced to crouch or stand in stress positions, deprived of sleep, sexually humiliated without any clothes, sometimes even having Israeli or US flags wrapped around their heads. If they want to frighten us, then when we are bound and hooded they bring in the dogs."

More than five years of protesting his innocence, of thinking about his family, has taken its toll on Haj. Back in January he started a hunger strike in protest at his incarceration. Twice a day the prison authorities strap him to a chair using 16 separate restraints and force-feed him using a tube that has on occasion been forced, inadvertently, into his lungs rather than his stomach.

By way of punishment for his "difficult" behaviour he has been held in solitary confinement. Those who have been permitted to visit him say he has lost weight and is pale. And despite this the cameraman says he will not give up his effort to speak out.

In another note, he writes: "I sometimes ask myself, who are these people who are held in cages not even fit for wild animals? How do these humans live? The Prophet Jonah lived inside a whale and Moses lived inside a coffin, so the Guantanamo cells are only for those who are strong and those who have a will to adopt the path of the prophets. If I stay all my life in these cages, let those who inflict this on me do what they wish, but I feel I am living the life of a King."
As the Red Cross notes, the situation of the prisoners in Bush's gulag – held captive indefinitely without charges and subjected to endless interrogation – is itself a form of torture, irregardless of any other heinous act inflicted on the prisoners. And as the Independent reports, an examination of the Pentagon's own records by Seton Hall University shows that more than half of the prisoners taken to Guantanamo have not even been alleged to have committed any hostile act against the United States. That is, they are so clearly and completely innocent that Bush's gulag minions could not even come up with the kind of baseless and scattershot allegations they have leveled against Haj. As the Independent notes:

Just eight per cent are accused of fighting for a terrorist group while 86 per cent were captured by the Northern Alliance or Pakistani authorities and handed over "at a time when the US offered large bounties for the capture of suspected terrorists."
II. The Children's Crusade
"It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!  It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones." – Luke 17:1-2
But bear in mind that the prison in Guantanamo Bay is meant to be the Theresienstadt of the Bush Gulag – a "model camp," the public face of the Terror War incarceration system, which journalists and relief workers are allowed to visit, albeit under very restricted conditions. Gitmo is actually the "first circle" of Bush's hell, the best that it gets. Behind this public face lie the "secret prisons" of the CIA and other agencies and entities in the hydra-headed, ever-expanding "security organs" of the Regime. We know almost nothing of the horrors that have gone on there – or in the many dungeons of the many tyrannical regimes to which Bush has "renditioned" an unknown number of captives.

What do know, however, is that the Regime has kidnapped and apparently tortured the children of captives in an effort to make them talk. This was one of the nuggets in the recently released report by six human rights groups, which detailed 39 known cases of captives being "disappeared" somewhere in the Bush Gulag. As highlighted by Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings and Glenn Greenwald (among others), these "disappeared" include Yusuf and Abed Al Khalid, the sons of accused al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. When the two boys were nine and seven years old, they taken by Pakistani security forces and later transferred directly to U.S. custody.

This is not exactly news, however. In March 2003, The Daily Telegraph – a fiercely pro-war, pro-Bush paper, at that time controlled by neocon impresario Conrad Black – reported straightforwardly that the children had been taken captive and "are being used by the CIA to force their father to talk." The story goes on:

Last night CIA interrogators confirmed that the boys were staying at a secret address where they were being encouraged to talk about their father's activities. "We are handling them with kid gloves. After all, they are only little children," said one official, "but we need to know as much about their father's recent activities as possible. We have child psychologists on hand at all times and they are given the best of care."
Again, the Telegraph has long been used as a conduit for British and American intelligence services to put the best spin on their activities. (See "Ulster on the Euphrates" for a recent and particularly egregious example.) Here it served a two-fold purpose. First, it signaled to the world that the Regime was willing to play the hardest of hardball in its Terror War (a point underscored by the unprovoked invasion of Iraq just days after the story was published. Second, it sugarcoated the hardball by assuring the world that the seven and nine year old boys were being handled with "kid gloves" – why, there was even a child psychologist present during their interrogations.

A glimpse of some of those interrogations was offered in the new "Disappeared" report, from the testimony of Ali Khan, whose two adult sons were taken captive by the Pakistani security forces. One son, Majid, was sent to Gitmo, where he is still being held; the other, Mohammed, was released after month. As noted by Hilzoy, Ali Khan testified that

according to Mohammed, he and Majid were detained in the same place where two of Khalid Sheik Mohammed’s young children, ages about 6 and 8, were held. The Pakistani guards told my son that the boys were kept in a separate area upstairs, and were denied food and water by other guards. They were also mentally tortured by having ants or other creatures put on their legs to scare them and get them to say where their father was hiding.
Remember, the young boys were kidnapped because the American security organs were trying first to capture then break their father. It is simply inconceivable that U.S. agents were not involved in or aware of the "interrogation" of the boys by Pakistani officials before they were turned over directly to Bush's own tender mercies.

This system of torture, indefinite captivity and (as we have often noted here before) outright murder is the officially acknowledged and openly championed policy of the United States government. This it what America officially represents in the world today: this is the true face of the Terror War. And not even children are safe from it.
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