Michael Ratner: January 11th, here we are. We’ve completed ten years after 9/11, going into the eleventh year. The tenth anniversary of Guantanamo opening. On the actual anniversary, January 11th, I will be in London commemorating the opening of Guantanamo with other lawyers but particularly with men who have been freed from Guantanamo, a group called CagePrisoners. Commemorating the 11th year of the practices that underlie imprisonment at Guantanamo: the capture of detainees anywhere in the world or their kidnapping; their imprisonment indefinitely or forever under a preventive detention scheme; and their trials, if at all, by rump trials or military commissions.
Here we are, the Guantanamo Syndrome — that series of illnesses, sickness and outrage that represent both Republican and Democratic administrations are still with us. I’m commemorating it with a group set up after Guantanamo, set up by some of the very people who were formerly imprisoned in Guantanamo, a group called CagePrisoners. And I’m in London going through three days of commemoration of not just those who remain in Guantanamo, but of those who remain in secret prisons all over the world, particularly Bagram.
I’m with a number of the people who have been freed — freed from Guantanamo, for example, Moazzam Begg. I’m with him today in London and his story actually tells us a lot about what happened at Guantanamo. I met Moazzam Begg in in the United Kingdom. He’d been freed because of the huge amount of efforts by the British citizens — led by the Redgraves [the late Corin Redgrave and his sister Vanessa Redgrave of the British acting family dynasty] in particular and other efforts to get the British citizens out of there.
I met a group of detainees known as the Tipton Three in 2004. When I walked into the room, I remember it like it was yesterday, here were these young men — I mean they were young like my own children in a way — and the idea that these three men were ever kept in Guantanamo as the ‘worst of the worst’ or ‘terrorists’ just struck me as completely impossible. They could joke with me, they could tell the stories of what happened, they could talk about Guantanamo, they could talk about their own lives and, of course, they were kept in Guantanamo after being picked up in Pakistan and forced to give ‘confessions’ when they were at Guantanamo.
They figured when they were at Guantanamo that after they were being tortured in various ways that they were better off just saying, ‘Yeah, we knew Osama bin Laden, etc.’ And they thought it would go better for them but of course it went worse. And even though they had alibis of where they were at the time and why they were in Afghanistan — and good ones, correct ones — the government forced these ‘confessions’ out of them under torture and kept them there year after year. When I met them, they talked about the torture. And when I talk to you, our listeners, about it, you have to understand that when I met them, no one knew publicly what was going on in Guantanamo, there’d been no access to Guantanamo. But there was the testimony of the Tipton Three.
And everybody said, ‘Oh, they’re lying, they’re not telling the truth. In the room with me that day, they went over what’s called a “Rumsfeld Technique.” Those are what we now know are everything from hooding, stripping, dogs, sexual assault — all these kind of terrible things that Rumsfeld Techniques did to people at Guantanamo as a means of coercing what turned out to be false confessions out of people. And I sat there and I believed them. But I had trouble believing it because, of course, I’d always looked at Guantanamo as a horrible place because it was incommunicado detention — we couldn’t get them into court to test their detentions, we couldn’t get them lawyers, we couldn’t visit — and I looked at that as the worst aspect. And while I suspected that there might be interrogation issues, I didn’t realize that there would be abuse amounting or equivalent to torture.
Was I naive in that respect? Possibly so. But of course within a couple of months after my interview with the Guantanamo Three or the Tipton Three, the Abu Ghraib photos came out on April 24th of 2004 and then, of course, it was public for everybody. The Rumsfeld Techniques came out and then the Tipton Three’s testimony — that people had said, ‘Oh, we don’t believe it’ — was proven to be utterly, utterly accurate to the actual use of the Rumsfeld Techniques, the dozen techniques. And so then Guantanamo became synonymous not just with incommunicado detention but with torture as well.
Today, of course, Guantanamo is still there. And as we talk about Guantanamo, I want to give people the numbers. Guantanamo is still there. 171 men remain in Guantanamo. 46 have been approved — whatever that means — for indefinite detention and will be there forever as far as I know. 36 men have been referred for prosecution.(4 of those have been convicted) What kind of prosecution? Most likely military commissions which are just rump courts which are just rump trials for nothing. The remainder? Not clear. But most of the remainder have been approved for release. So that means the remainder shouldn’t be there at all. People like the Uighurs from western China who were picked up wrongly — admittedly wrongly — and have now been there for ten years and will be going on I don’t know how many years. So that total is about 89 people, most of whom have been approved for transfer. So of those 89 none of them should be there. So there’s our numbers again. 46 indefinitely detained forever, 36 supposedly subject to prosecution and 89 who shouldn’t be there at all — or most of whom should not be there at all, some of whom they may not have decided yet. That’s Guantanamo today.