Article cited in video: The Australian – “Silence all round on Gitmo horrors” (16 Sep 08):
In due course, but not after anything remotely resembling due process, 470 detainees were released without charge. The Australian Mamdouh Habib was one of them. Sometimes detainees were released on the insistence of their governments. While the Blair government demanded its detainees be sent home, the Howard government left two Australian citizens in that illegal hell-hole. David Hicks was a detainee for five years.
Both Habib and Hicks claim to be victims of profoundly inhumane treatment at Gitmo. In Habib’s case there’s evidence of extraordinary rendition to Egypt to facilitate torture by third parties. But Guantanamo was bad enough. Four died in custody while there were any number of suicide attempts. Base Commander Rear Admiral Harry Harris Jr’s response was surreal: “They have no regard for human life, neither ours nor their own. I believe these were not acts of desperation, but acts of asymmetric warfare against us.”
The overwhelming majority of detainees, including the two Australians, were rounded up in Afghanistan and Pakistan by bounty hunters. The US military dropped countless thousands of leaflets offering $25,000 for al-Qa’ida and Taliban suspects. This in a region of the world where the average wage is less than $500 a year.
“Get wealth and power beyond your dreams”, one leaflet read. “You can receive millions of dollars. Enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life. Pay for livestock and doctors and school books and housing for all your people.”
Talk about an offer you couldn’t refuse. Little wonder that a staggering 86 per cent of detainees were rounded up by Afghan warlords or notoriously corrupt Pakistani police. Only 5 per cent were arrested as a result of US intelligence work. Which accounts for Gitmo being full of entirely innocent people.
Some were children, one an 80-year-old paraplegic. US civil rights lawyer Mahvish Rukhsana Khan tells the paraplegic’s story in her book My Guantanamo Diary, published in Australia by Scribe. (Khan retold the story on my program, Late Night Live). Paralysed by strokes 15 years earlier, Haji Nusrat Khan was taken to Gitmo on a stretcher, but that didn’t save him from beatings, one of which broke his arm. Illiterate, with 10 children, he had lived in a small mountain village near Kabul. The excuse for his incarceration was a cache of weapons. He explained that his son worked for the US-backed Government of Hamid Karzai and had collected the weapons on the President’s orders as part of an official disarmament campaign. At Gitmo he would demand to face his accusers, but was told their names were classified and could not be released. But finally he was released, and back in Afghanistan, he’s been asking for a US visa. He wants medical help for an injury he’s had since fighting the Russians. But this time the US doesn’t want him.