On my way to Guantánamo, I read the front page Washington Post story about Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, two permanent UK residents who were abducted and disappeared in Gambia by U.S. intelligence officers in 2002. They were unlawfully rendered to the U.S. military airbase in Bagram, Afghanistan before being sent to Guantánamo, where they continue to be held without charges or fair trials.
Interestingly enough, one of the men was officially a former MI5 informant and both men were cleared to travel to Gambia to do business by the British intelligence services. On March 12, 2003, Rawi wrote a letter to his family in London:
Dear Mum and family, I’m writing to you from the seaside resort of Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. After winning first prize in a competition, I was whisked to this nice resort with all expenses paid (I did not need to spend a penny). . . . Everyone is very nice, the neighbors are very well-mannered, the food is best class, plenty of fun.
Guantánamo still has a long way to go before it becomes an exotic resort for its prisoners. Only with this week’s release and review of additional Guantánamo documents, might we even know who all the prisoners here are. Many of the approximately 490 prisoners still held here are not even officially listed, or accounted for by the U.S. military.
The majority of the detainees still do not have access to lawyers or independent doctors, and many of them have been on hunger strike in protest of their continued indefinite detention and the conditions of their confinement; several were even harshly forced fed and restrained in chairs.
The U.S. has repeatedly refused to allow independent UN experts to visit and monitor the situation in Guantánamo. In February 2006, UN experts concluded that interrogation techniques authorized by the Department of Defense amounted to degrading treatment and “amounted to torture.” The report also concluded that the widespread and prolonged use of solitary confinement under conditions of indefinite detention by the U.S. amounted to inhuman treatment.
The UN report found that reports of excessive violence during the force-feeding of detainees on hunger strike met the definition of torture under the Convention against Torture, which the U.S. ratified in 1994.
The only organization that does have access to Guantánamo prisoners and detention camps is the International Committee of the Red Cross which does not make its findings public. Therefore little is known about the real conditions of confinement in those camps.
Thus far the U.S. military has allowed human rights organizations, including the ACLU, to observe and monitor only the military commission hearings, with no access to all detention facilities and the prisoners. One wonders what the administration has to hide from the world and what message we are sending to other countries when we refuses to allow U.N. independent experts to monitor the conditions or meet privately with prisoners who have been here in isolation for over four years.