Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Gitmo...That's Guantanamo....I Knew That One

In today's NY Times, Mourad Benchellali, a French citizen and former Gitmo detainee, weighs in on the suicides of the inmates there. Before I delve into this much further let me share this little tidbit The US prison suicide average per year is:
Nationwide, the prison suicide rate is about 13 deaths per 100,000, compared with 11 deaths per 100,000 in the general community, said Hayes, a project director with the National Center on Institutions and Alternatives.

So in 4 or 5 years that enemy combatants have been held at Gitmo we have only had 3 suicides. Now obviously, there are only 465 detainees or so so the ratio of suicides to prisoners is a lot higher than the nation average, but if we really were torturing detainees hideously you'd think that suicide rates would be higher. Waterboarding and stress positions seem to be the worst things we've done to those guys, and while I am not going to make the call on whether or not they should be considered the legal definition of "torture" that's a world away from the rusty saws and rape rooms of the Taliban and Saddam Hussien. Anyway, let me get in to the meat of the op-ed.

Says Mourad:

In the early summer of 2001, when I was 19, I made the mistake of listening to my older brother and going to Afghanistan on what I thought was a dream vacation. His friends, he said, were going to look after me. They did — channeling me to what turned out to be a Qaeda training camp. For two months, I was there, trapped in the middle of the desert by fear and my own stupidity.

As soon as my time was up, I headed home. I was a few miles from the Pakistani border when I learned with horror about the attacks of 9/11. Days later, the border was sealed off, and the only way through to Pakistan and a plane to Europe was across the mountains of the Hindu Kush. I was with a group of people who were all going the same way. No one was armed; most of them, like me, had been lured to Afghanistan by a misguided and mistimed sense of adventure, and were simply trying to make their way home.

I was seized by the Pakistani Army while having tea at a mosque shortly after I managed to cross the border. A few days later I was delivered to the United States Army: although I didn't know it at the time, I was now labeled an "enemy combatant." It did not matter that I was no one's enemy and had never been on a battlefield, let alone fought or aimed a weapon at anyone.

Leaving aside the "dream vacation" spot that was Taliban controlled Afghanistan, where soccer stadiums were used to showcase beheadings and the punishment for wearing nail polish is the removal of fingers and fingernails, leaving that insanity aside let's assume that young Mourad is really that ignorant and take his story at face value. What do we know about young Mourad?

* He spent months training to be an Al-Qaeda terrorist (whether he planned to put the knowledge to use or not)

* He has close family ties to an Al-Qaeda recruiter

* He was traveling in a party with other men who trained to be Al Qaeda terrorists, a portion of whom knew what they were getting themselves into

From his own words we know that there is reasonable grounds for assuming that he would be a terrorist. As for his words:

It did not matter that I was no one's enemy and had never been on a battlefield, let alone fought or aimed a weapon at anyone.

Would you have believed him? If a young American man went through Basic Training, whose brother ran a Army recruiting post (store? facility?), and who was travelling with other Army guys in a foriegn country would you believe him if he said he wasn't in the Army because he had never actually seen action? Unlike the Army though, these guys don't wear uniforms, they will kill anyone who gets in their way, and they do not distinguish between 4 year olds and 24 year old Marines.

Still, give him the benefit of the doubt, he's a stupid kid caught up by circumstances:

You repeat yourself over and over again to interrogators from the military intelligence, the F.B.I., the C.I.A. The first time you hear "Your case is being processed," your heart, seizing on the hopeful possibilities in those words, skips a beat. After months of disappointment, you try to develop an immunity to hope, but hope is an incurable disease.

I remember once an interrogator warming me up during several sessions for a polygraph test I was going to take, that was, according to him, infallible. After I took the test, I was left alone in the interrogation room; an hour later, the interrogator returned. "Congratulations," he said grimly. "You have passed the test." And he gave me a box of candy.

In the outside world, I thought, the difference between telling the truth and lying, between committing a crime and not committing it, is the difference between being in jail and being free. In Guantánamo, it is a box of candy.

I was eventually released and I will go on trial next month in Paris to face charges that I've never denied, that I spent two months in the Qaeda camp.

They were assorted cremes and he wanted nuts damn it! Goodness gracious, what if they were Danish chocolates offensive to Mohammed! So here's a stupid kid who managed to weave his way through government beauracracy in 2 and a half years (lightning quick in government circles - just ask Brent Kavanaugh who was sitting waiting to be confirmed to an appellate court for 6 or is it 8 years?). Never mind that he has potentially extremely valuable information about who he was with in that training camp, or who his brother's associates might be - those 2 years were horrible because they couldn't believe he was that stupid.

Can we look at another story of Gitmo detainees? Three Afghanistan boys who say:

The boys never spoke to Guantanamo's other prisoners - "lots of Arabs and Afghans," according Naqibullah.

Meanwhile, their own interrogation became a predictable affair. "I said, 'Look, I don't anything about the Taliban'," said Asadullah. "But anyway, the Taliban were the government so lots of people worked with them. Just because you were Taliban it doesn't mean you're a criminal."

Hmm. Not a criminal eh? How about their inhumane time at Gitmo?

Naqibullah's first 10 days in Guantanamo were the worst of his life, he said. He was put in a tiny cell with a single slit-window as his interrogation continued. Then everything changed. "I was taken to an American general who said, 'We will educate you and soon you will go home'. And my situation improved."

Naqibullah, Asadullah and Mohammed Ismail were moved into one large room, which was never locked. They were taught Pashto (their own language), English, Arabic, maths, science, art and, for two months, Islam. "The American soldiers ate pork but they said we must never do that because we were Muslim," said Naqibullah. "They were very strict about Islam."

The boys played football every day, and sometimes basketball and volleyball with their guards. Asadullah said his particular friends were called Special Sergeant M and Private O - their real names were kept from him. Officially, he was called Prisoner 912. "But my friends called me Asadullah, which made me happy."

After five months, Naqibullah wrote home for the first time. Taking this first letter, written on Red Cross notepaper, from his pocket, he now reads it aloud. "My greetings to beloved family, to my beloved father, to my beloved uncles, to my beloved cousins, to my beloved brothers. I am in good health and happy. I am in Cuba, in a special room, but it is not like a jail. Don't worry about me. I am learning English, Pashto and Arabic." The next two lines of the letter were scrubbed out by the Guantanamo censor. Asadullah said he couldn't for the life of him remember what they said.

1 comment:

Richmond said...

Is it any wonder that I just can't seem to get worked up over the conditions at Gitmo. ::sigh::