Friday, 27 August 2004

Guantanamo's torture regime is a shameful disgrace

The British intelligence services and the Foreign Office appear complicit in the torture

by Vanessa Redgrave


I have just returned from a theatre workshop in Croatia, with women who survived Tito's concentration camp for political prisoners on the island of Goli Otok. Officially this was a "work site" or "labour camp", and was opened by the Yugoslav State Security Service in 1948, when Tito split from Stalin.

The women prisoners were suspected of being pro-Stalin. They were never formally charged with a crime, and were never tried or given access to lawyers or a chance to defend themselves. On the island they were subjected to hideous beatings, forced to stand over urine buckets or against a wall for hours on end in "stress-positions"; they were deprived of sleep, denied food and drinking water as punishment and locked away in isolation. They were prohibited from washing even in the sea, and had to endure repeated interrogations and "self-criticism". They were called "bandits", "scum", "traitors", "enemies of the state". In effect, Stalin's methods were being used by the State Security Service against those suspected of being "pro-Stalin". No one knows how many went mad, how many died, or how many attempted suicide. In Tito's time, this was a "State Secret".

All the survivors of Goli Otok (the island had a camp for men as well) agree that under prolonged conditions of torture, they would do anything, say anything, write anything and sign anything that was demanded of them in the hope of being released.

I have also just finished reading the 115-page document Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay compiled by Birnberg Pierce & Partners, lawyers for the three British citizens released from Guantanamo Bay without charge in March. Their accounts of detention are horrifyingly similar to the conditions in Goli Otok. In both cases, the denial of a trial, and a specified date of release added to the physical torture the three endured.

Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed were captured in northern Afghanistan in November 2001. All three state that they were physically tortured in Sherbagan, Kandahar, before being consigned to the psychological and physical hell of Guantanamo Bay. In March this year they were sent back to England and released without charges.

Asif and Shafiq say they were interrogated by an SAS officer in Kandahar before they were flown to Guantanamo. Rhuhel states that he was questioned in Kandahar by MI5 and separately by someone from the Foreign Office. He was in a terrible state from prolonged sleep deprivation, starvation and dehydration. The MI5 officer told him he would be sent home if he agreed to "admit to everything" that was put to him. "I just said 'OK' to everything they said to me. I agreed with everything, whether it was true or not. I just wanted to get out of there." During their two years of incarceration in Guantanamo M15 officers and a representative of the British embassy in Washington made six or seven visits/interrogations. All three men made complaints about the conditions under which they were being held; and about the interrogations by US military intelligence and other US agencies. The British intelligence services and the Foreign Office appear therefore to be complicit in the conditions of psychological and physical torture in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

The document depicts a Kafkaesque nightmare combined with a barbaric system of punishments, including "short-shackling" for hours on end. Any decent person, British or American, could only feel the utmost shame and revulsion that such methods should be used.

It is clear from the accounts of the three British detainees that many prisoners have gone mad and many have attempted suicide. The Foreign Office has evaded the requests of family lawyers to allow independent doctors to see the British citizens and UK residents who still remain in Guantanamo.

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