Skip to comments.Distant voices tell of life for Britons caged in Camp Delta
Posted on 11/02/2002 5:15:21 PM PST by Pokey78
The letters are brief and blunt. Crammed into eight lines in block capitals, the postcards ask after family and friends and wish a happy birthday to a much-loved brother. Asif Iqbal, 20, from Tipton in the West Midlands, could be any prisoner writing home to a concerned family.
But Iqbal's notes come from inside the most secretive and infamous prison in the world - a place created to hold those captured in America's War on Terror and condemned by critics as a centre of brutality and fear. Iqbal is an inmate at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The letters offer a glimpse behind the prison bars. 'They have not sent about eight of my letters because I've been writing the truth of the way we are being held and I'm not allowed to do that,' Iqbal wrote.
The Observer has obtained letters from three Britons held at Camp Delta and others from Kuwaiti prisoners. Added to interviews with lawyers, experts, former guards and the testimony of the first prisoners to be released, they reveal a detailed picture of life at the camp.
It is a regime of total control; of 30 minutes spent outside a cell per week; of shackles and interrogations; of starvation and suicides; of the threat of the 'cooler box'; of being trussed up and carted to hospital. Many inmates have gone on hunger strike; 34 have attempted suicide or harmed themselves. Others have developed serious mental illnesses.
Nearly all the prisoners were rounded up in Afghanistan by American soldiers and spies. But there is a growing belief that many of the 620 inmates are not terrorists. Some were pressganged into fighting for the Taliban; others were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
At night arc lights shine on the complex. But, despite the 24-hour light, the prison is hidden from the outside world. It lies on an American naval base and the only viewing point is 100 metres away. Held within are men from 38 nations. Some are in their seventies, one is only 15. Each man spends 30 minutes a week showering and exercising; the rest of the time he is alone in a cell measuring 8ft by 6ft 8in.
A prisoner raising his voice is sent to 'the cooler': a metal box just big enough to move in. An isolation wing houses 80 prisoners. In the main wings, prisoners move cell every few weeks to prevent them forming relationships with other inmates. Any trips to the camp's clinic involve the prisoner being shackled to a trolley and wheeled out of his cell. He is then chained to the hospital bed. Prisoners are exercised, shackled at the ankles, waist and hands. Guards hold each man's arms as he walks.
Interrogations are carried out by operatives from a special unit called JTF 170, made up of agents from the CIA, FBI and military intelligence. No beatings have been reported, but psychological techniques - including sleep deprivation - are used. Perhaps this is what Iqbal meant when he wrote about the visit of a British official. 'I told him the problems with this place but I'm not allowed to write [about them],' he noted. Certainly the three Afghan men - two in their seventies - released last week condemned the harsh conditions. 'We were kept like animals,' Mohammed Sadiq said when he arrived back in Kabul last Tuesday.
There have been four serious attempts at suicide, three by hanging with towels and bedding and one when an inmate tried to slash his wrists with a plastic razor. Thirty other inmates have tried to injure themselves.
At least one of those who emerged last week appeared to have been mentally damaged by his ordeal. As journalists asked him questions, Faiz Mohammed babbled like a child. His memory failed him as he claimed to be 105 while a bracelet on his wrist gave his birth date as 1931.
Almost one year after prisoners started arriving at Camp Delta, a veil of secrecy still hangs over the inmates. US officials would not confirm the names of the three Afghans and one Pakistani released last week. But a few facts have emerged. The largest group is the Saudis, of whom there are at least 150. Then come the Yemenis with 85. There are fewer than 100 Afghans, and the largest Western contingent is from Britain with seven.
Letters from the Britons - obtained by The Observer last week - are heavily censored. They speak almost entirely of family events. 'Tell mum I am okay and I miss her. Let me know the football scores and I write again soon,' writes Shafiq Rasul, 24, also from Tipton. In another letter he tries to reassure his family, who heard he had lost three stones. 'Don't worry about my weight problems. It is okay. Tell everyone to write because I am bored here, do the same thing every day,' he wrote.
Another Briton, Feroz Abbasi, 22, from Croydon, wrote: 'Dear Family, I have hope in Allah that you all are well and good. I have sent many messages out to you but received none yet so far... I have hope in Allah that their contents are full of good news and blessings from Allah. Love you all very much, Feroz.'
Some at Camp Delta are hardcore al-Qaeda. It is believed Mullah Faisal Mazloom, the former Taliban chief of staff, and Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, one of the 25 top al-Qaeda military commanders, are there. But there is evidence many of the inmates are not terrorists.
Pakistani interrogators visiting the camp this summer said nearly all the 53 Pakistanis should be released. Rasul's family describe a man who loved American fashion and had gone on 18-30 holidays. 'It is ridiculous. It's been 11 months and it is so hard for the family,' said his brother Mirza.
Efforts are getting some of the inmates out. American lawyer Thomas Wilner represents 12 Kuwaiti inmates who claim to be charity workers caught up in the war. 'Of the 12 men, we can vouch for nine,' said Wilner. 'We have a paper trail that stretches back miles and proves, without a doubt, they were bona fide charity workers.'
One Kuwaiti, Fawzi al-Odah, is a 25-year-old religious teacher from Kuwait City who, according to family and friends, has been making annual trips abroad since 1996 to participate in humanitarian efforts in Somalia, India and Bangladesh. 'I have gone on food strike for 27 days and I will continue my strike to indefinite period. Further, I have gone on strike for water and speech for four days till they... set me free as I am innocent or take me to the court for trial in order to obtain all my rights or to die as I cannot stand life in this place,' he wrote.
His father, Khalid Al Odah, 50, is bewildered at his son's treatment. 'I love America for liberating my country during the Gulf war. But this makes no sense to me. I cannot understand why the Americans are doing this,' he said.
Inmates at Camp Delta are in a legal black hole. In dubbing them 'unlawful combatants', the US implies the Geneva Conventions do not apply to them: there is no need to charge the men, no need for a trial, they have no right to a lawyer, and no rights to visitors.
The US has said it can hold them until the War on Terror is over. Even when released, they have no recourse to compensation. The three Afghans freed last week received only $500 between them.
Legal efforts on behalf of the inmates have been foiled by a legal ploy that states Guantanamo Bay is outside the jurisdiction of the US courts. Lawyers have argued the base is under Cuban sovereignty. 'The US is picking and choosing what law it obeys,' Jamie Felner of Human Rights Watch said.
And Camp Delta continues to grow. Last week - even as four inmates were released - a plane carrying 30 prisoners from Afghanistan touched down at the base.
The camp is being extended to a capacity of 812 by the end of the year, blueprints exist for an expansion to 2,000 and the base is to be included in a '20-year plan' for Guantanamo's naval base.
Camp Delta is starting to look permanent. For al-Odah that could be a disaster. Despite last week's releases, there are few signs of many more. 'I will be back soon, God willing. Just be patient,' he wrote in April. 'I would like to see my newly born baby and my children too.'
So, what's the beef? Gitmo is an R&R resort for charity workers. (If they can distort language, so can we . . . Charity workers, my a**!)
Standard procedure calls for name rank and serial number.
I remember how WW-II German POW's held in the US were treated. I was in grade school and used to go out to the Camp Shelton Virgina naval base on Saturdays with my dad. Part of that day sometimes involved my visiting with POW's out, under guard, doing gardening work. It was a treat for me, and for them, and when the war ended, they were sent back to Germany and many of those prisoners then immigrated to the US as fast as they could.
But Iqbal's notes come from inside the most secretive and infamous prison in the world - a place created to hold those captured in America's War on Terror and condemned by critics as a centre of brutality and fear.
I gloat at the thought of their suffering, and I urinate on their Koran.
My grandfather was one of them. He was never held here in the states; he was captured in Italy, interned somewhere in Europe, and released by the Americans in 1946. His best friend was not so lucky; he was captured by the Russians and released in 1955.
Following his release, my grandfather reunited with his family in Berlin (on Christmas day), and emigrated with the family shortly thereafter. He and the entire family were naturalized as soon as they could do it.
And for what it's worth, I have very little empathy for the prisoners in Gitmo. They are being treated much better than my grandfather was when he was captured, and he was treated pretty well....
Slings and Arrows
Our bestest Arab buddies? Whoodathunkit? Imagine that!
I wonder how many captured were from Iraq? Odd they don't mention this,isn't it? I mean,what with them now being the whole focus of our so-called "War on Terrorism",that is.
The authors should spend some time as a prisoner of the Chechens!
What? They didn't pay anything? In that case, we'll supply them with vouchers for an additional stay.