Wednesday, October 03, 2007

When the war on terrorism BECOMES terrorism

Mohammed al-Amin has just been released from Guantánamo, and his story, though brutal, is typical of the suffering that men have been forced to endure for five and a half years.
It is one thing to tout the 778 men who have been held in Guantánamo as "the worst of the worst," as the administration did when the prison was set up in January 2002, but it is quite another to realize that 431 of these men have now been released, and that a large number of them, like Mohammed al-Amin, were completely innocent of any wrong-doing.
Mohammed al-Amin's accidental odyssey to torture, and to his long years of illegal imprisonment without charge or trial, began when, at the age of 17, he left his parents and his five sisters, and traveled to Saudi Arabia to study the Koran, with the intention of becoming a teacher. He then traveled to Pakistan to continue his studies, but was arrested in Peshawar in April 2002, and held for two months in a Pakistani jail, where he was "subjected to beatings, held for prolonged periods in solitary confinement and denied adequate food," in an attempt to force him to confess that he was a Saudi Arabian national, because, presumably, Saudis were valued more highly than Mauritanians.

He was then transferred to Bagram, where, like many other prisoners, he was suspended by his wrists for long periods of time. He explained to his lawyers in Guantánamo that he was tied by his hands to the ceiling "for days on end," and that "whenever he lost consciousness a guard would forcefully pull him up to wake him." He also said that he was sexually abused and subjected to sleep deprivation, and was threatened with being sent to Egypt to face further torture.

Transferred to Guantánamo in August 2002, he said that his first year in Guantánamo was "terrible" and "worse than Bagram," and explained that, in addition to the sleep deprivation and sexual humiliation that he had experienced in Afghanistan, he was also exposed to loud music, as part of a program to "break" the detainees, which was masterminded by the Pentagon and introduced by Guantánamo's commander, Major General Geoffrey Miller. As in Bagram, he was eventually forced to make false confessions, telling his interrogators whatever they wanted to hear.

In protest at his indefinite detention without charge or trial, al-Amin joined a widespread hunger strike in August 2005, when his weight, which had been a meager 121 pounds on arrival (8 stone 9 pounds), plunged, at one point, to just 103 pounds (7 stone 5 pounds). By January 2006, when he was one of 84 detainees who were still maintaining their hunger strike, the authorities responded by drafting in a new team of doctors, armed with restraint chairs and feeding tubes. Al-Amin said that he was removed from the camp hospital and placed in solitary confinement in a windowless black cell, which he called the "freezer," because the air conditioning was turned up to the maximum. He also explained that the guards would "throw water on him to exacerbate the freezing conditions, and would wake him up if he fell asleep."

Describing his force-feeding, he – like others who have spoken about the experience – said he was fastened so tightly in the restraint chair that he was unable to move at all, and that a large feeding tube was then forced into his stomach, which was, of course, extremely painful. He added that, whether by accident or design, the doctors regularly "stated that they could not find the correct position and forcefully pulled the feeding tube from him," repeating the process two or three times, which caused his nose to bleed. He also stated that he was "deliberately overfed until he vomited, and when he vomited the force feeding would start again," that he was "strapped in the restraint chair for periods of two to three hours at a time, which, coupled with being overfed, led him to urinate and defecate on himself," and that he was then "dumped, covered in his own vomit, blood and faeces, back in his isolation cell." Although he attempted to maintain his hunger strike, he admitted that he gave up after 21 days. With some accuracy, he told his lawyers that the authorities "used physicians to commit crimes," and explained that doctors supervised the force-feeding, watching him while he was forced to vomit, and that on one occasion a doctor asked him, "Are you going to quit the hunger strike or stay in this situation?"

Despite all this violence, he was cleared for release sometime in 2006, after an Administrative Review Board concluded that he was no longer a threat to the United States and no longer had any intelligence value...

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