In January 2002, while the rubble of the Twin Towers was still being removed, military aircraft began landing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba with a strange cargo. Men in orange jump suits, shackled hand and foot, hooded and dirty were unloaded brusquely and moved across the base to a hastily-constructed holding facility known as Camp X-Ray. It was little more than a razor wire and mesh compound of cages, protected from the elements by a metal roof. A few plywood buildings were knocked together to serve as dispensary/hospital, administration building, and interrogation booths. Wooden guard towers overwatched the camp and a few hundred yards away, on higher ground, a tent city was erected. The troops who guarded the detainees would live there.
Camp X-Ray only lasted until March 2002 when newly constructed Camp Delta accepted the last of the fewer than 800 detainees. But to this day when much of the world’s media shows photos of Guantanamo it shows the old B-roll from X-Ray. Even though thousands of reporters and photographers have transited the new facilities and the public affairs offices of the Pentagon and subordinate commands have released updated film, the old shots of orange-clad, hooded, kneeling detainees are the visuals of choice for a condemnatory media. Why let the truth stand in the way of a good story?
And the Guantanamo story for most of the world is that American troops unjustly hold hundreds of men prisoner under the harshest, most brutal conditions including regular, institutionalized torture and abuse. These hapless men, the story continues, have substandard living conditions in an incredibly harsh environment and are denied even the most basic standards of humane treatment. That these innocents – for the world automatically presumes that the Guantanamo detainees are such and the U.S. guilty – are despondent and depressed, denied any opportunity of release or even basic rights to present their case in a legal forum.
As you read this, unruly crowds in London, Paris, and other European capitols are calling for immediate release of the Guantanamo innocents. They carry signs depicting President Bush with a Hitler brush moustache and demanding “Stop the Torture Now!” In London they pass near grounds upon which tower cranes are erecting the showpiece Olympic stadium for the 2012 London Games. Precisely beside this glorious display of British pride other workers are toiling away to construct what will become the largest mosque in Europe. This juxtaposition that would have been incomprehensible a mere two or three decades ago, does not draw the merest bleat of protest from the crowds who are preoccupied with their profane attack on America.
The demonstrators exercise the most disciplined cognitive dissonance when dealing with issues of things Muslim. Most particularly they would not deign to be considered in any circumstances as prejudiced or – Gaia forbid! – unaware of the bliss of a multicultural existence. While they decry imagined brutality at Guantanamo they ignore the reality of nearby Wahabbist imams exhorting the faithful that rape, assault, robbery, and murder of infidels is not really a sin in Allah’s eyes, especially if the recipient is a Christian, Jew, or non-believer. Such a “big tent” philosophy of hatred would easily encompass the vast majority of the protesters who – when they are ultimately confronted by a mob of fired-up jihadists – better hope that the multicultural do-gooders had it right.
So given the international rage over Guantanamo what is really happening there? As this column has documented in the past, torture doesn’t exist in the camps, period. And abuse is aimed at the guards and medical corpsmen by detainees. What else would you call it when a detainee deliberately tosses a noxious cocktail of feces, urine, semen, spit, and vomit – sometimes thickened by hair – into the mouth, eyes, and nose of a guard or medic who is trying to help them?
How the time a detainee asked a female medic to lean over so he could whisper something to her, and when she did, smashed her face against the cell so hard and so viciously that she had to undergo reconstructive surgery? Or when food is passed to them and they lunge, trying to break a guard’s arm or hand against the cell?
Maybe it was just lack of full judicial process that caused the detainee in the hospital to punch the female nurse who was tending to him so hard that it shattered her nose across her face? And certainly we can empathize with his outrage as he demanded fresh clothing because his were stained with her blood.
There are hundreds of similar stories coming out of the Joint Task Force in Guantanamo. Sufficient in number to suggest that they are legitimate and not made up. There are also a number of stories – highly underreported – of detainees, usually Afghanis, who have been released praising the care and courtesy they received at Guantanamo and thanking U.S. military for the excellent care they received. Good care? At Guantanamo?
How about prostheses for amputees and care of combat wounds, in some cases years old when they were brought to Guantanamo? Consider that many came with diseases such as TB or hepatitis that has been cured or arrested while in Guantanamo. Or the cardiological specialty team that was flown at great taxpayer expense to Guantanamo to perform surgery on a patient who then declined at the last minute. Another victory for al Qaeda. And let’s not forget the voluntary colonoscopies for detainees age 50 and over. Maybe not the most enjoyable experience but it ain’t torture.
What we don’t hear from Guantanamo five years after is that of the original 780 or so brought there fewer than 350 now remain. The judicial review processes that the demonstrators condemn as absent have, in fact, resulted in transfer to other country custody or outright release of more than 400. Of those released many have surfaced on the battlefields. A couple turned up dead and others were identified in al Qaeda propaganda videos.
In the UK most of the citizens – of Pakistani background primarily – were summarily released by compliant judges within hours of return. Following dictates of al Qaeda’s training manual they immediately claimed torture and abuse, while explaining their presence in the battleground county of Afghanistan as a misunderstanding. It is amazing how many British citizens of Muslim persuasion decided that winter 2001 was the precise time they needed to travel to Afghanistan to “find a bride.” Unfortunately their innocent game of “burqua number one, or burqua number two?” was interrupted by Tiger teams of Special Forces and Northern Alliance rough men who captured all whom they did not kill outright.
These men include Moazzam Begg and Shafiq Rasul, two hard-core terrorists who defied America and beat the Guantanamo system. These are newly minted British heroes who Gitmo critics praise lavishly and elevate to the status of poster boys for the repressive American detention system. Both were captured by Coalition forces in Afghanistan fighting with Taliban forces. But the capture and initial interrogation data was not properly logged in the heat of battle.
Consequently when these men were processed by the Administrative Review Board that is charged with an annual analysis of whether an individual detainee poses a threat to America or possesses intelligence value, they were released back to U.K. custody because of lack of documented proof of their combatant status. Subsequently both men have told lurid tales of the most horrid kinds of torture – none of which seems to have left marks or scars – all in keeping with al Qaeda doctrine found in the Manchester Manual.
It is indicative of leniency the U.S. that more detainees have been transferred or released outright because of lack of hard evidence that continue to be held in Guantanamo. Yet America is still castigated as the “world’s worst human rights violator” that runs a “modern gulag” by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations that ought to know better. Even as recently as this week Representative John Murtha, flexing some newly-won Congressional muscle, claimed that he “intends to close Guantanamo.”
While critics fume, interrogators work diligently to extract volumes of strategic intelligence information from a group the head of the Joint Intelligence Group calls “the main repository for al Qaeda, terrorist HUMINT on the planet.” Cells in Europe and America have been busted, money laundering routes intercepted, bomb making stifled, and organizational and recruiting techniques stymied all because of intelligence coming from Guantanamo’s detainees.
So keep up the good work, troopers. Even though you are slandered, unappreciated by many, and work tirelessly to protect the largely ungrateful, be aware that many Americans are extraordinarily proud of you and the mission you strive so hard to accomplish.
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