Life at Guantanamo: “I look alive, but actually I’m dead”

Solitary confinement at Guantanamo Bay: “I look alive, but actually I’m dead…”

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) released two reports on the conditions and treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. One report highlights numerous instances of threats and abuse of prisoners at Guantánamo by interrogators from brutal human rights abusing regimes who are given full access by the U.S. The second report demonstrates the deteriorating mental health of the overwhelming majority of Guantánamo prisoners relegated to solitary confinement at the prison.


[In] Solitary Confinement at Guantánamo Bay, CCR details the deteriorating mental health of the approximately 70 percent of Guantánamo’s prisoners who are currently in solitary confinement – virtually all without charge or trial. Three of Guantánamo’s camps – Camps 5, 6, and Echo – house detainees in extreme conditions of solitary confinement, which the government speaks about as “single-occupancy cells” providing greater “privacy.”

CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren
said, “The government is not keeping these men in a Holiday Inn-type room—in reality, they live in brutal isolation with no chance of seeing the light of day, much less a fair trial.”

According to the report released today, one prisoner in Camp 6 recounted to his lawyer, “I’ve started talking to the ceiling. I know it’s crazy, but I can’t stand it anymore.” Another Camp 6 prisoner with deteriorating mental health, stated, “I look alive, but actually I’m dead.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights reports on House of Representative subcommittee hearings on the torture of Canadian citizen Maher Arar:

Two House of Representatives Subcommittees will be hearing testimony from the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General on the rendition of Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen sent by the United States to be tortured in Syria more than five years ago. The hearing will focus on the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) report on the processes used to send Mr. Arar to Syria, which the office has so far refused to release to the public – instead, in March of this year, it released an unclassified one-page summary with no new information. Some portion of the Report is now supposed to be released at the conclusion of tomorrow’s hearing. According to an article in Harper’s magazine, the release of the Report has been delayed by the efforts of senior government officials because it exposes “serious misconduct.” The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represents Maher in a case against high-level U.S. officials calls again for the release of the entire unredacted OIG report. “More than five years have passed since our government sent Maher to Syria to be tortured, and almost two years since the Canadian government issued its 1,200-page report on the role of Canadian officials in what was done to Maher,” said CCR Senior Attorney Maria LaHood. “It is high time the Inspector General reveal his full findings on the actions of U.S. government officials so they may begin to be held accountable.”

Democracy Now! reported that in October 2002, Arar was detained at JFK airport while on a stopover in New York. He was then jailed and secretly deported to Syria. He was held for almost a year without charge in an underground cell not much larger than a grave. Charges were never filed against him. In a 2006 interview he told Democracy Now!:

Well, you know, they [the Americans] sent me to a country where it is common knowledge that they torture detainees. I was—I spent there a year, ten months of which I was placed in an underground cell. Of course, this is not to mention the beatings, the physical beatings I endured at the beginning when I arrived in Syria. But I can tell you that the psychological torture that I endured during this ten-month period in the underground cell is really beyond human imagination. It is beyond human imagination.

Making it Matter:

Actions continue for June’s National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Check out these inspiring Atlanta actions:

Druid Hills United Methodist Church and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta will fly banners in their sanctuaries in June decrying the U.S. use of torture.

“Each banner highlights [the fact that] we still have a policy of torture,” said Suzanne O’Hatrick, who is helping coordinate the national campaign.

Churches in all 50 states and Puerto Rico are participating, and the sponsors expect many more to sign on, she said.

David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, has been a leading religious voice against the use of torture and is organizing a conference on the topic Sept. 11-12 in Atlanta.

“Disturbingly, that debate [over torturing prisoners in the war on terror] remains unresolved, with significant percentages of the American people approving torture, and American law and policy continuing to reflect our national inability to renounce it,” Gushee wrote.

And the Episcopal News Service reports that:

More than 275 congregations of a wide variety of faiths in all 50 United States and the District of Columbia will display an anti-torture banner on the exterior of their buildings during June, which religious and human-rights organizations have designated as Torture Awareness Month.

Make it Matter. Check out the campaign website here, tell the presidential candidates to oppose torture and sign the statement against torture.


June 8, 2008 Posted by | Torture News | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lexis Hits on Sami al-Haj’s Release

Let’s play the Glenn Greenwald game and see how much the mainstream media covered al-Haj’s release:

Lexis hits, 05/01/08-05/05/08

Sami al-Haj:

US Newspapers and Wires — 20 hits

Transcripts of News programs — 8 hits, not one from a network or cable newscast

Federal News Service — 4

CQ Transcriptions — 2

Global Broadcast Database — 2

Jeremiah Wright

US Newspapers and Wires — 695

Transcripts of News Programs — 245

May 12, 2008 Posted by | Media Criticism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sami al-Haj’s Release from Guantanamo Bay

Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj was finally released from Guantanamo. He arrived in his native Sudan on the evening of May 1, 2008.

Alternet reported:

After four and a half months of inexplicable inertia, the U.S. administration has finally seen fit to release another group of prisoners from Guantánamo, including the Sudanese al-Jazeera cameraman and journalist Sami al-Haj. Despite claims from within the administration that it was hoping to scale down the operation at Guantánamo, no prisoners have been released since December 2007, when two other Sudanese prisoners, 13 Afghans, ten Saudis and three British residents were released…

The most celebrated Guantánamo prisoner — at least in the Middle East — Sami, whose story was reported at AlterNet just a few weeks ago, was seized by Pakistani forces on December 15, 2001, apparently at the behest of the U.S. authorities, who suspected that he had conducted an interview with Osama bin Laden. As with much of their supposed intelligence, this turned out to be false, but as his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, the Director of the legal action charity Reprieve (which represents Sami and 34 other Guantánamo prisoners), explained last year, “name me a journalist who would turn down a bin Laden scoop.

The same author also wrote a powerful piece on the other prisoners released with Sami al-Haj:

On the cargo plane containing Sami al-Haj that landed in Khartoum in the early hours of May 2 were Amir Yacoub al-Amir and Walid Ali, who, like Sami, were bound like beasts for their journey despite finally being transported to freedom. Both had also been held for over six years without charge or trial, but unlike Sami, whose plight was widely publicized by al-Jazeera, by his lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve, and by groups campaigning for the rights of journalists, including the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters Sans Frontières, both of these men had barely registered on the media’s radar.

And here’s some other coverage of his release:

The U.S. War on Journalists by Amy Goodman

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 10 journalists have been held for extended periods by the U.S. military and then released without charge. Just weeks ago in Iraq, the U.S. military released Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein after holding him without charge for two years. The military had once accused Hussein of being a “terrorist media operative who infiltrated the AP.”

Andy Worthington reported just weeks before al-Haj’s release

As the years wore on, however, the irrepressible spirit recalled by all those who had met Sami before his imprisonment, and which also impressed Stafford Smith, was ground down by a particular despair that is perhaps unknowable to those who are not imprisoned without charge, without trial, with no contact with family or friends, and with no way of knowing when, if ever, this regime of almost total isolation will come to an end.

On January 7, 2007, the fifth anniversary of his detention without trial by the US, Sami embarked on a hunger strike, which continues to this day. In common with the small number of other persistent hunger strikers, he is strapped into a restraint chair twice a day and force-fed against his will. Clive Stafford Smith explained the brutality of the procedure, the reason the authorities are doing it, and also why it is illegal to do so, in an article last October.

Listen/Read the 2007 Democracy Now! program on al-Haj and fellow imprisoned journalist, Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein.

The release of BBC reporter Alan Johnston earlier this month after 114 days in captivity in Gaza made headlines around the world and was hailed internationally as a victory for press freedom.

During Johnston’s nearly four months in captivity, calls for his release came from world leaders and human rights organizations alike. Over 200,000 people signed an online petition calling for him to be freed.

But perhaps the most poignant of Johnston’s supporters came from deep within the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. Sami al-Haj, an Al Jazeera cameraman who had been jailed without charge at Guantanamo for the past five-and-a-half years, sent a letter via his lawyer calling for Johnston’s release. He wrote, “While the United States has kidnapped me and held me for years on end, this is not a lesson that Muslims should copy.”

In comparison to journalist Alan Johnston, Sami al-Haj’s story of abduction has been largely ignored by the corporate media, kept out of the global spotlight.

May 12, 2008 Posted by | Torture News | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment