Tag Archives: News

They torture children, don’t they?

Perhaps David Icke is right. Perhaps world leaders are reptiles with the ability to shape-shift to appear human. Sometimes they don’t do a good job at the disguise.

If rendition, abuse, incarceration without trial, torture, murder, and all the other horrors of the War of Terror elicit neither excuses nor apologies from the war architects, then surely the knowledge that children as young as 8 have been routinely detained, abused (often sodomised) and even murdered (and we’re not talking about the death of children from bombs – something that happens in any conflict), at the hands of US military and CIA, would cause someone in power to offer even the mildest of condemnation. Alas no. Politics trumps essential humanity on every count.

If the British government demands that writers visiting a shool to read to a large group are required to obtain a Criminal Records Check prove that they are not paedophiles (see Guardian July ’09 – the essential argument being, again, guilty until proven innocent), and if the same government is demanding that its own politicians carry out a similar ridiculous vetting process (but I bet they claim the £64 on expenses) (see Guardian July ’09), then how can it possibly be that someone like Milliband issues no criticism or condemnation of the wholesale abuse and murder of hundreds of children? Milliband’s repeated poe-faced defence of witholding information (‘classified intel’) on the grounds that it would be a threat to national security is an insult to his own cabinet, to his government, and to the people of the UK.

Unless, of course, he is a lizard. In which case such human attributes as compassion, remorse, and forgiveness are simply alien concepts.

Am I reduced to this most fantastic of ideas as a means of reconciling myself to the utter brutality of this long and costly conflict?

“President Jimmy Carter wrote that the Red Cross, Amnesty International and the Pentagon “have gathered substantial testimony of torture of children, confirmed by soldiers who witnessed or participated in the abuse.” In “Our Endangered Values” Carter said that the Red Cross found after visiting six U.S. prisons “107 detainees under eighteen, some as young as eight years old.” And reporter Hersh, (who broke the Abu Ghraib torture scandal,) reported 800-900 Pakistani boys aged 13 to 15 in custody.” (President Carter: Many Children Were Tortured Under Bush Thepeoplesvoice.org)

” Some of the worst things that happened you don’t know about, okay? Videos, um, there are women there. Some of you may have read that they were passing letters out, communications out to their men. This is at Abu Ghraib … The women were passing messages out saying ‘Please come and kill me, because of what’s happened’ and basically what happened is that those women who were arrested with young boys, children in cases that have been recorded. The boys were sodomized with the cameras rolling. And the worst above all of that is the soundtrack of the boys shrieking that your government has. They are in total terror. It’s going to come out.” (Seymour Hersh Thepeoplesvoice.org)

The following is all copied from the article quoted above in Thepeoplesvoice.

— Iraqi lawyer Sahar Yasiri, representing the Federation of Prisoners and Political Prisoners, said in a published interview there are more than 400,000 detainees in Iraq being held in 36 prisons and camps and that 95 percent of the 10,000 women among them have been raped. Children, he said, “suffer from torture, rape, (and) starvation” and do not know why they have been arrested. He added the children have been victims of “random” arrests “not based on any legal text.”

— Former prisoner Thaar Salman Dawod in a witness statement said, “[I saw] two boys naked and they were cuffed together face to face and [a U.S. soldier] was beating them and a group of guards were watching and taking pictures and there was three female soldiers laughing at the prisoners.”

— Iraqi TV reporter, Suhaib Badr-Addin al-Baz, arrested while making a documentary and thrown into Abu Ghraib for 74 days, told Mackay he saw “hundreds” of children there. Al-Baz said he heard one 12-year-old girl crying, “They have undressed me. They have poured water over me.” He said he heard her whimpering daily.

— Al-Baz also told of a 15-year-old boy “who was soaked repeatedly with hoses until he collapsed.” Amnesty International said ex-detainees reported boys as young as 10 are held at Abu Ghraib.

— German TV reporter Thomas Reutter of “Report Mainz” quoted U.S. Army Sgt. Samuel Provance that interrogation specialists “poured water” over one 16-year-old Iraqi boy, drove him throughout a cold night, “smeared him with mud” and then showed him to his father, who was also in custody. Apparently, one tactic employed by the Bush regime is to elicit confessions from adults by dragging their abused children in front of them.

— Jonathan Steele, wrote in the British “The Guardian” that “Hundreds of children, some as young as nine, are being held in appalling conditions in Baghdad’s prisons…Sixteen-year-old Omar Ali told the “Guardian” he spent more than three years at Karkh juvenile prison sleeping with 75 boys to a cell that is just five by 10 meters, some of them on the floor. Omar told the paper guards often take boys to a separate room in the prison and rape them.

— Raad Jamal, age 17, was taken from his Doura home by U.S. troops and turned over to the Iraqi Army’s Second regiment where Jamal said he was hung from the ceiling by ropes and beaten with electric cables.

— Human Rights Watch (HRW) last June put the number of juveniles detained at 513. In all, HRW estimates, since 2003, the U.S. has detained 2,400 children in Iraq, some as young as ten.

— IRIN, the humanitarian news service, last year quoted Khalid Rabia of the Iraqi NGO Prisoners’ Association for Justice(PAJ), stating that five boys between 13 and 17 accused of supporting insurgents and detained by the Iraqi army “showed signs of torture all over their bodies,” such as “cigarette burns over their legs,” she said.

— One boy of 13 arrested in Afghanistan in 2002 was held in solitary for more than a year at Bagram and Guantanamo and made to stand in stress position and deprived of sleep, according to the “Catholic Worker.” (Thepeoplesvoice.org)

Follow this link to TRUTHOUT.ORG, for a long extract from Henry A. Giroux’s forthcoming book, “Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror,” to be published by Paradigm Publishers.

Today (Aug 27th) in the Times, an article about Mohammed Jawad – ‘I was 12 when I was arrested and sent to Guantanamo’

Guantánamo isn’t Gitmo

Guantánamo and Gitmo are two radically different beasts. 

This is important – especially when considering Obama’s executive order to close Guantánamo. 

Here follows (if copyright allows) a brief article that I published in the Guardian in March ’09 entitled GITMO ISN’T GUANTÁNAMO


Gitmo isn’t Guantánamo

Though Obama has promised to close Guantánamo’s detention facility, the US naval base still lingers – as do US-Cuba tensionsMistaken assumptions are regularly being made that President Barack Obama has planned to close the US military base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. This is not so. He has promised to close only the base’s detention facility – which has no bearing on US-Cuba relations.

While attention is focused on Obama’s gargantuan $787bn (£548bn) economic stimulus plan, the effect of the putative closure of Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility on US-Cuba relations has generally been overlooked.

Having browsed ad nauseam message boards, discussion groups, blogs and forums from both the US and the UK concerning the closure of Guantánamo, I have been struck by a pattern of perceptions that appears endemic. The pattern goes something like this: All detainees in Guantánamo are terrorists. Guantánamo is somehow owned or controlled by Cuba. As such, the detainees are lucky they are under US protection rather than being in the island prison of Cuba itself. And Obama is set to close down the entire operation at Guantánamo Bay.

All of the above are wrong.

First, in the absence of due process of law, the guilt of most of the detainees has not been established. Second, the base is reluctantly leasehold from Cuba – creating an ambiguity of sovereignty and jurisdiction that Judith Butler, back in 2002, described as contributing to “Guantánamo limbo”. Third, the detainees are not under US protection, but rather are incarcerated without charge or sentence. Fourth, on his second full day in office, President Obama publicly signed an executive order to suspend the proceedings of the Guantánamo military commission for 120 days and to close the detention facility within the year. He has not pledged to end the lease of Guantánamo Naval Base.

In November of last year, Raúl Castro explained to actor Sean Penn that he would be willing to discuss with President Obama the return of Guantánamo Bay to Cuba. He suggested that a mutual and neutral space for the meeting could be, ironically, Guantánamo Bay itself. Castro also voiced this opinion in the Russian press prior to his recent state visit, and the idea has been embraced by his brother Fidel Castro, who recently called for Obama to return Guantánamo to Cuba, arguing that the base was a violation of Cuban sovereignty. Cuban foreign minister Felipe Pérez Roque and Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez have also publicly declared this view.

Obama, for his part, has indicated that he is keen to normalise US-Cuba relations. Yet he has also suggested that lifting the trade embargo, and easing the travel and remittance restrictions for Cuban-Americans, would only be possible after political reforms in Cuba – in particular, amnesty for political prisoners. Raúl Castro declares this to be tantamount to exhorting change in the Cuban political structure.

We have now entered the old game of tit-for-tat. The US accuses Cuba of imprisoning political opposition, while the Cuban Five remain behind bars in US penitentiaries. The US accuses Cuba of suppressing dissident voices, while Cuba points to the continuing human-rights abuses at Guantánamo. Cuba retains the label of “rogue state” and supporter of terrorism, while the US refuses to allow Luís Carriles Posada to be extradited. The game is a tired one, and shows no sign of ending.

Meanwhile, detainees in Guantánamo have recently declared a mass hunger strike, the embargo against Cuba is maintained, travel to Cuba by Cuban exiles remains restricted and expensive – and communication between Cuban and US leaders continues to be conducted through the intermediation of Hollywood actors.

guardian.co.uk, Monday 2 March 2009 14.00 GMT

The slaves of Guantánamo – Zomai: “There, where the light is not allowed”

The detainees of Guantánamo Bay Detention Centre share much with the slaves who, over a century before, lived and worked in the lands of eastern Cuba.

 The first link in this chain occurred to me with the closure of a Birmingham firm that made handcuffs, leg-irons, manacles and “nigger collars” to shackle slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries, and handcuffs used on Gitmo detainees in recent years. 

Moazzam Begg also reflects on the historical parallels on a Stop the War meeting at Goldsmiths’ University London.

I also found a brief Huffington Post article in which David Bromwich contemplates the similarities between slavery and torture, arguing that:

“Torture and slavery have something in common. They are expressions of a power that admits no restraint on itself. They issue from the instinct for domination, hardened by a savage self-protectiveness. Yet a slave might always assert his freedom by choosing to die. This last resort has been denied to the Guantanamo prisoners. If they refuse to eat, they are force-fed intravenously. We keep them alive, and starve them of justice, and kill them by inches. Is this done to prevent their becoming martyrs? But they are already martyrs from the terms of their imprisonment. The force-feeding is really the last refinement of state coercion and cruelty.”

Let’s consider some of the similarities.

The following aspects of the treatment of human beings refers both to enslaved Africans of the Atlantic Slave Trade, and detainees of the War on Terror, especially in Guantánamo Bay. We should be aware, of course, that Gitmo represents the tip of the iceberg of those detained in secret detention centres around the world. 

I have outlined all the similarities between the two historical periods in a page of notes that I used for a seminar given for the School of History at the University of Kent in February ’09.


Just as the Europeans did not plunge into the interior of Africa to capture people for slaving, but traded for people already enslaved from raiding parties by other African nations, so too, were many of the detainees of Guantánamo captured for bounty and sold to the US ground forces, often outside of the arena of combat. 

Clive Stafford-Smith transcribes the verdict of one of his clients held at Gitmo, Ahmed Errachidi: 

‘I was not “captured”,’ he said scathingly. ‘I was in a car going to Lahore so I could get a plane out. We were stopped by the Pakistanis. […] There was an American who was speaking English, which I understood. They were talking about prisoners. The Pakistani had a small case and I heard them counting out money. Imagine the feeling of being sold, and becoming his! Later an Arab-American military policeman in Bagram told me that I had cost them five thousand dollars. I am a hostage and traded commodity.’ (Bad Men, p.168). 

The journey from initial capture to detention still in the home territory often very long, and often the captives subject to torture and abuse. 

A factor of captivity being the enforced notion that the captives will never again see their family, village or community. In the slave-trading port of Ouidah, in Benin, captives were forced to march around the ‘Tree of Forgetfulness’ prior to being held in the dungeons in preparation for the Atlantic crossing. The objective of this tree-circling was to enforce amnesia – especially so that the spirit would not pine for home. 

Slave traders rounded up men, women and children, at times trapping them with nets.  

Their catchment area stretched deep into Africa, even as far as Ethiopia and Sudan.  

Once caught the slaves were forced to walk in chains, hundreds of miles to Ouidah.  

Once there, they were subjected to a brutal process of brainwashing.  

They were made to walk around a supposedly magical tree, called the Tree of Forgetfulness  

Taken down the slave route that I followed, they were made to walk around a supposedly magical tree called the Tree of Forgetfulness.  

Men had to go round it nine times, women and children seven.  

This experience, they were told, would make them forget everything – their names, their family, and the life they had once had.  

As if this was not enough, the slaves were then locked into a dark room, built to resemble the hulk of a ship.  

In the local language this room was called Zomai, meaning literally: “There, where the light is not allowed.”  

Its foundations are still visible and the place still seems to exude evil spirits and terror. (BBC

Captives in the War on Terror have reportedly been drilled with the same sense of forgetfulness, forced to accept the reality of their permanent captivity.

“I certainly believed that I was going to spend the greater part of my life and perhaps even face execution, which was what I was told quite often.” (Moazzam Begg, interviewed in documentary Taxi to the Dark Side [watchable on YouTube, if it’s not soon pulled for copyright]).

In captivity the captives are mixed and separated from kin – dividing language, religion, culture, homeland, even race – and thus reducing solidarity based on shared cultural traditions. Bagram Air Base, Kandahar, and other holding facilities housed men in specifically mixed environments. The detainees of Guantánamo apparently represent 46 different countries, and numerous different and mutually unintelligible languages. 

Extraordinary Rendition. Atlantic Transportation.

Bound and transported across the Atlantic in brutal conditions, often chained, manacled, beaten, sensorially deprived. ‘The European and American slave ships’, writes James Walvin, ‘represent slavery at its most brutal and inhuman’ (Slave Trade p. 1).

And taken to the tropics – indeed, the bay of Guantánamo was a principle entry port for the slaving vessels in the 18th C. 

Once in Cuba, the captives (slaves or detainees), are stripped (if they are not already nude), examined, and reclothed in the new uniform of captivity. 

The deliberate mixing of language, culture, etc. continues. 

Once in captivity, slaves/detainees are housed in barracoons, chained, manacled, overlooked by a watchtower, guarded by dogs, punished for infringements, abused. In the barracoons, living conditions are harsh, mosquitoes, rodents, and disease are rife. 

“It wasn’t a full day in Gitmo if you didn’t see a banana rat, more likely a platoon of them. Take a rat, make it uglier and more possumlike, and there you have the unofficial mascot of Guantánamo Bay. They feared almost nothing and were so numerous that their droppings had to be the principal component of Gitmo soil.” (Erik Saar and Viveca Novak, Inside the Wire, p.33). 

The captives are different from the captors, in terms of race, language, religion and nationality. They are treated as children (detainees in Gitmo are offered Disney movies and McDonalds Happy Meals as rewards for collaboration in interrogation). They are labeled as barbarous.

In captivity, slaves/detainees suffer disorientation, homesickness, despair. They have no defense, and no means of understanding the roots of their captivity. Escape is impossible. Suicide is common. Their body itself does not belong to them. Slaves took the names of their masters, families were separated, newborns were treated as livestock offspring, etc. In Gitmo, biological functions, such as bowel movements, are in public view. In particular, in captivity, the nature of the abuse often takes the form of sexual abuse.  Whilst many writers have analysed the particular relationship between general physical abuse and sexual abuse in the US treatment of detainees, one article entitled Whores on Terror  in issue 137 of the Beast viscerally examines the sheer horror of this abuse, asking in particular:

What’s so sick about it is that the sexual nature of the torture seems so unnecessary. I mean, even if we were going to torture them, we could have stuck to waterboarding, pulling some fingernails or just beating the shit out of them. But menstrual blood smeared on their faces? Ass rape? What kind of people do that? What possible purpose does that serve that outweighs becoming known as the country that ass-rapes people? We couldn’t get enough answers, or false confessions, or whatever we were looking for, from regular brutality? We had to go all BDSM on these people?

A chief and interesting difference is the concept of PRODUCTIVITY. Slaves worked the cane harvest, the mills, the docks, the coffee plantations, the domestic duties, etc. What is the product of the Gitmo detainees? A fascinating, if slightly wild and ultra-literary study by Susan Willis called Guantanamo’s Symbolic Economy deals particularly with the idea that the detainees of Gitmo are working on the Intel Harvest – they are the producers of intel. Although the reality of this is that the intel gained from the interrogation is mostly worthless (despite Cheney’s [both Pa and daughter] ceaseless protestations to the contrary), nevertheless, Willis’s proposals are thought-provoking. 

Erik Saar expresses this lack of productivity – and the high price such absence has cost: 

“I felt as if I had lost something. We lost something. We lost the high road. We cashed in our principles in the hope of obtaining a piece of information. And it didn’t even fucking work. […] What the fuck did I just do? What the fuck were we doing in this place? […] Most of America was asleep, but I was wide awake, defending freedom, honor fucking bound. There was no honor in what we had just done. We were grasping, and in doing so we had spit on Islam. Our tactics were way out of bounds. What we did was the antithesis of what the United States is supposed to be about.” (p.228-9)

Above all, captives are denied their basic identity, their names, their background, and their voice. 

Slaves/detainees are still transported even after the supposed end of the ‘trade’.

“On May 1, President Bush stood on an aircraft carrier with a big banner hung behind him declaring MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. […] That month two more flights left the island carrying a total of eighteen detainees home. But another one arrived bringing new captives; I wasn’t sure how many were on board, but I heard there was a net gain.” (Saar p.230). 

“LONDON (Reuters) – Abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has worsened sharply since President Barack Obama took office as prison guards “get their kicks in” before the camp is closed, according to a lawyer who represents detainees.” (http://crooksandliars.com/node/26283/print

We’ll soon be able to celebrate the anniversary of the promise to close Gitmo within one year… 

Here’s an illuminating article published in Huffington Post in Jan ’09.