Sixteen years ago today, at midnight, agents of the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, and the CIA kidnapped me at gunpoint in front of my family. They took me on a torturous odyssey of secret prisons that ended in the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay.
Earlier this month, the US government declared that it would be cutting all security-related funding to Pakistan because it had not done enough to “fight terrorism”. In reality, Pakistan has been hosting US military bases and CIA operatives and vigorously implementing much of US policy in the region for decades.
I was handed over to US military custody in contravention of Pakistani extradition laws and not based on any evidence but for bounty money – just like hundreds of others, most of whom ended up in Guantanamo. Far from doing little to fight terrorism, thousands of Pakistanis have been killed and vast parts of the nation destabilised in pursuit of the US-led “War on Terror”. In truth, Pakistan sold its very soul to America.
My own ordeal was over after only three years, without charge or trial, and is well documented. However, that wasn’t the case for several hundred Muslim prisoners from over 40 nations. Sixteen years on, 41 of the original 779 prisoners remain.
It was shortly after my return that I joined the organisation CAGE to campaign against every cruelty I had endured and witnessed, and to call for an end to the abuse.
As news filtered through today that President Trump had signed an executive order to keep the military prison open at Guantanamo, I was not surprised. The move is congruent with the man and his administration.
But it is the attitude of the public that raises questions. Like many of the views on Guantanamo, the US appears bipolar – alternating between the vastly different views of both presidents.
Some people think Guantanamo shut down in 2009 when Obama came in to power and signed his own executive order to close the prison facility within a year.
The harsh truth is that many Americans care little for the negative effects Guantanamo has on the reputation of America. During his election campaign, Trump said he’d “load up” Guantanamo with more prisoners and would reintroduce the medieval torture technique of waterboarding and “a whole lot more”. Last year, he contemplated reopening the CIA torture sites and caused great controversy when he declared his belief that “torture works”.
Trump said that one of the consequences of releasing prisoners from Guantanamo was the emergence of dangerous “recidivists” like Islamic State (Isis) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Of course, the so-called caliph was not imprisoned in Guantanamo. He was a result of the “Guantanamo-isation” of Iraqi prisons under US occupation, specifically at the notorious Camp Bucca.
The US invaded Iraq on the basis of the tortured false testimony of Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi. Al Libi, an alleged al-Qaeda member, had “confessed that they were working with Saddam Hussein on obtaining chemical weapons”. This information was presented to the US at the UN Security Council in 2003 as “credible” and a key justification for the invasion.
But it is now a commonly accepted fact that al-Qaeda only came to Iraq because of the US occupation and there were no chemical weapons.
It was from the US prisons at Camp Bucca that most of the Isis leaders eventually emerged, with a renewed hatred of a country that committed the atrocities in Abu Ghraib and beyond. In 2015, President Obama admitted that Isis was an “unintended consequence” of the invasion.
Donald Trump has suggested that new prisoners from the conflict in Syria and Iraq may be sent to Guantanamo. If that happens then the clock will be set back 16 years and we can expect to see more Western citizens dressed in orange jumpsuits before they are horrifically executed, as Isis and others have done.
It was Obama’s failure to follow through on his promise to shut Guantanamo and to prosecute those involved in gross human rights violations that allowed Trump to flagrantly endorse war crimes.
The truth, however, is that imprisonment without trial and torture will remain crimes of the very worst kind no matter which US President justifies them.
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