“I think also that there’s a fundamental misperception about the nature of Islamic terrorism, – continues Rose – that underlies the course they took [US Military Intelligence]. They saw Al-Qaeda as this highly organised, web-like, hierarchy, when of course it’s nothing of the kind. What Al-Qaeda is, essentially, is an idea. It was starting to metamorphos into a genuine organisation in Afghanistan in the late 90s, up until 2001, but having lost that State sponsorship and base, it was scattered to the four winds. So, most people in Afghanistan in 2001 are just not going to know, by definition, what kind of islamic terrorist threat exists now, where it might come from and who might be directing it. The position has absolutely changed as a result of the Afghan war.”
None of this is to suggest a) that Islamic terrorism doesn’t exist, or b) that there aren’t dangerous individuals that need to be apprehended. What about those who are involved in terrorism? Shouldn’t they be in Guantánamo Bay? Well, it seems that even the Bush administration reckons not. “There have been a number of genuine Al-Qaeda kingpins captured in 2002-2003, – Rose outlines – including Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who was the planner of 9/11; Ramzi bin Alshib, who was Mohammed Atta’s flatmate in Hamburg and part of the so-called ‘Hamburg cell’, who would have been one of the pilots if he’d managed to get a visa; Abu Zubaydah, who was the operations chief for Osama bin Laden. They’re all in American custody, along with a number of others. They’ve never been anywhere near Guantánamo Bay. Nobody knows where they are. There are rumours that they’re in these so-called floating prisons in the Indian Ocean, or Diego Garcia, the British colony in the Pacific. There’s been use made of an American base in Thailand.”
Strange, when Rumsfeld, countering criticism of the Guantánamo set-up in February 2002, told the American people, that the detainees were ‘”amongst the most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth”. In fact, as Rose demonstrates in his book, a closer look at the intelligence gathering teams and their methods in Guantánamo, characterised by inexperience and a preference for coercive methods, suggests that detainees are not considered to be of a high intelligence value. For example, interrogations at Guantánamo routinely use interpreters, and not necessarily fully qualified ones either (often speaking Arabic as a mother-tongue has been considered qualification enough). Rose spoke to one intelligence official who commented “Yet they’re still using interpreters at Gitmo, what does that tell you? That they don’t think the people there are very important’.
And yet the system put in place by the Bush administration, with its widespread disregard for both national and international law, and use of torture, from Guantánamo through to Abu Ghraib, discredits and impedes the cases against genuine terrorists. “It’s interesting – explains Rose – This is the other side of the coin, of the Guantánamo model, and the other prisons in this secret gulag that represent the negation of the rule of law, and the law enforcement type process for bringing terrorists to justice. The other side of the coin is that these people, people like Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Ramzi bin Alshib, who’ve openly boasted about their involvment in 9/11, haven’t been brought to justice at all. The people who represent the September 11th families, the lawyers who are trying to sue various Arab banks that funded Al-Qaeda, people who’ve played a huge role in trying to get information out to the public through the September 11th commission, are extremely cross about this. They want justice. They want to put people on trial, but it’s clear that this isn’t going to happen. Why isn’t it going to happen? It’s entirely possible that it’s because these people have been so badly treated that no court could put them on trial. That America doesn’t really want to see what’s happened to them. It’s a complete mystery as to what’s happened to these people.”
The Future for Guantánamo
Rose, an articulate and professional journalist, opens his book on Guantánamo with a quote from Hermann Goerring from the Nuremburg trials. Throughout, when examining the motives behind Guantánamo, and the results, he suggests parallels with the thinking of the Third Reich. Parallels that many will find offensive, but are they warranted? “I don’t labour the parallel – he qualifies, carefully – The fact is that there is no evidence that the overwhelming majority of people being held have done anything that could be described conventionally as terrorism. They are deemed as people who might, in the future, commit some form of crime. People who are dangerous. That’s exactly the logic that the Nazis used when setting up the concentration camps. I’m being provocative, to some degree, but the absence of due process, the preventitive nature of the detentions do have parallels with Nazi Germany. Clearly it can’t be taken too far. While I disagree with many aspects of the Bush Administration’s conduct of the so-called ‘Global war on terror’, it has not yet descended towards Fascism. There are though a great number of very worrying things going on. There’s a great deal of violence going on at Guantánamo and other detention centres. We’ve seen in the last three days [May 20th] a horrifying story in the New York Times, detailing the murder of two prisoners in Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, the airbase through which most of the prisoners in Guantánamo have passed. We know what happened in Abu Ghraib. It’s clear that Guantánamo isn’t an isolated outpost, but rather a part of the system that came into being quickly after September 11th in which the normal rules of the American Constitution and international law were simply disregarded. While the Administration has continued to insist that the proven cases of torture and abuse that have taken place were the work of a few bad apples, many observers do feel that the documentation that has emerged from the administration establishes a strong case that the abusers were responding to an ideological lead. Abuse was not only being sanctioned but encouraged. It was part of the system that was set up. You can take the Nazi parallel to far, but there are worrying parallels.”
It’s important to highlight the fundamental problems with the system that Guantánamo represents, because all the signs are that it is in expansion. “I think the chances are that it probably is there for good, or at least for the foreseeable future – says Rose, somewhat resignedly. – The United States Supreme Court, last year [June2004], ruled that the US constitution did apply after all to non-US citizens being held at Guantanamo. But this has not, as some hoped at the time, led to an opening of the flood gates or any great relaxation of the conditions of the detainees or any real change in the very restricted way in which their cases are reviewed. What the Government have done is set up largely meaningless so-called ‘combattant status review tribunals’ which are supposed to decide whether or not someone can continue to be detained.There’s no way that these come anywhere near to the type of tribunal that the Geneva Convention envisages for people who are deemed not to be regular prisoners of war. There will certainly be further litigation which will eventually reach the Supreme Court, on the subject of what procedures should be established to define whether someone should continue to be detained at Guantánamo. And all the signs are that the Court will probably defer largely to the executive when that comes about. The second thing that’s going on are these military commission tribunals, these trials of people at Guantánamo. At the moment these are on hold because the constitutionality of these tribunals is being questioned. The test case is a man called Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who is Osama bin Laden’s former driver. He says that he was never a terrorist, and was driving simply to support his family. That case will decide the legality or constitutionality of the commissions that will eventually try him, that will reach the Supreme Court in about a year’s time. So everything is kind of on hold. I think the Administration, though, expects that the chips will largely fall their way, and that they will be able to continue to use Guantánamo as an extremely useful facility. Meanwhile they’re spending millions of dollars on building new cell blocks there, being built, of course, by Kellog, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of the Vice-President’s former company Halliburton. I think it’s going to be around for a long time.”