I was still a free man on 11 January 2002 when, like the rest of the world, I saw images of the first set of captives in orange jumpsuits. The men looked a bit like extraterrestrials in a low-budget 1950s sci-fi movie, with face masks, blacked-out goggles, ear muffs and all. Only this movie was painfully real. There was something subhuman, alien, in how they were made to appear. The US President secured a coalition of the willing in his Operation Enduring Freedom, but many of his allies too were disquieted by the images of the men in Camp X-Ray, Guantanamo Bay.
I remember Donald Rumsfeld saying that the men - alleged members of al-Qa'ida and the Taliban - were "killers and terrorists. He said the detainees were well cared for, sheltered and "warm". Not surprising, I remember thinking, since Cuba lies between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator. They were obviously stifling from the heat and gear they were made to wear - as I was to discover myself within weeks - and Rumsfeld knew it.
At the time of my abduction by American and Pakistani intelligence thugs, it seemed as if the US government not only seized people from around the world with impunity, but could hold them indefinitely, without charge or trial, in inhumane, degrading and torturous conditions. But I always hoped that reason would prevail. It was, after all, the US, not a despotic Third World regime. Five years on, the despots can cite their precedent.
Today there are fathers held in Guantanamo who have never seen their children. At least I was fortunate finally to see my three-year-old son when I was released two years ago.
Three of the Guantanamo men were finally released to their loved ones last year - in coffins. They were said to have either committed suicide out of despair, or as a planned act. Their families and former detainees believe otherwise. Last year, controversy raged after statements issued by US officials called the deaths "PR stunts" and acts of "asymmetric warfare".
Realising the public-relations disaster created by his subordinates, President Bush distanced himself by momentarily appeasing the world's press with the claim: "I would like to see the camp closed". In reality, two permanent, multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art structures - Camp Five and Camp Six -were being completed as he spoke. As if on cue, it was announced that 14 "high-ranking Al-Qa'ida operatives", hitherto held in secret "ghost" sites around the world, the existence of which was previously denied by the US, had arrived in Guantanamo.
Meanwhile, captives around the world were released sporadically after years of incarceration without charge, explanation or apology. Some of them came home to find relatives had passed away. My own paternal uncle and aunt died when I was in Guantanamo. Of the hundreds of men remaining, several have learned about the deaths of mothers and fathers who clung, in vain, to the hope of seeing their sons once more. The prisoners are not allowed visits, telephone calls or any other meaningful communication with the outside world. Letters arrive both to and from Guantanamo - if at all - heavily and ludicrously censored, often months, and sometimes years, after they were written.
This week marks the fifth anniversary of Guantanamo and by now most people are asking the question: who exactly has been found guilty of involvement in the plot that justified the existence of the place to begin with? The reply: no one - so far. When 14 "high-level" al-Qa'ida operatives were brought to Guantanamo, all talk of wanting to "see it closed" had ceased. Even though Bush's military commissions process was introduced to try detainees for war crimes (something I was designated for myself in 2003), the US Supreme Court ruled that Bush had acted illegally in ordering such trials.
And then, by bizarre concurrence, the Military Commissions act was passed, which removed the illusory right of habeas corpus granted to detainees in 2004. It's ironic that an act designed to prosecute the handful of people it has taken years to charge - including the one man who is said to have planned the 11 September attacks - removes the right of the overwhelming majority to challenge their incarceration.
For the record, the overwhelming majority were not captured on the battlefield, nor anywhere near one; they were not engaged in acts of terrorism, and will never face charges in Guantanamo. The ones who do, will, in the words of Lord Steyn, face "a mockery of justice that derives from the jumps of the kangaroo".
The writer is a former Guantanamo detainee and spokesman for Cageprisoners www.cageprisoners.comReuse content