From A World to Win News Service

The U.S.'s Expanding Empire of Prisons and Torture Chambers

Revolution #017, October 9, 2005, posted at

September 12, 2005. A World to Win News Service. Four years after the U.S. launched a global rampage in supposed retaliation for the 9/11 attacks, its global empire of prison camps and torture chambers continues to swell.

The best known is Guantanamo, Cuba, where the U.S. military says it is now holding about 520 men, most seized shortly after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001. They have been imprisoned without charges for what is now going on four years. According to lawyers in New York and London, since last August 8, 210 prisoners have been on what they vow will be a hunger strike to the death. They are demanding that they either be charged with a crime or released, and, in the meantime, that they be treated according to the Geneva Conventions governing prisoners of war, including an end to torture and punitive conditions.

Although about 70 people have been released from Guantanamo over the last year, construction is now underway on a sixth camp in the prison complex, designed for "long-term detention."

In Afghanistan itself, the U.S. is still keeping 350 prisoners at its Bagram airport military base near Kabul. Rather than shutting this jail down, American authorities have said they may expand it so that they can send prisoners there from Guantanamo. If these facilities were rebranded as Afghani--supposedly under the authority of the government the U.S. installed in Afghanistan--lawyers would no longer be able to file suit in American courts. The Pentagon has particularly objected to judicial orders that prisoners be allowed contact with attorneys. Similar arrangements to turn over legal responsibility for prisoners now at Guantanamo are under negotiation with Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Last June, a 2,000-page secret U.S. Army document on an investigation of torture at Bagram was leaked to the media. The resulting uproar forced even the U.S.’s Afghanistan president Hamid Karzai to mouth criticisms of his masters, but the U.S. defied UN calls to let Afghanistan’s human rights commission have access to the base. The U.S. Army did, however, feel obliged to try four GIs for the deaths of two Afghans whose murder was described in terrible detail in that report. American soldiers had grabbed a young taxi driver known as Dilawar in December 2002. They hung him from the ceiling with wrist shackles and beat him over four days. More than a hundred times, they applied special, "scientific" blows to the sides of his knees with metal rods to cause maximum pain while leaving no external marks. This technique is similar to ones used at Guantanamo and perhaps developed there. The secret report mentioned that interrogators believed Dilawar never really had any information to give them. The base coroner wrote that his knees had been "pulpified," as if he had been run over by a heavy vehicle.

Two soldiers tried for killing Dilawar and another man were convicted but given no jail time. In late August, two more were given a two and three-month sentence, respectively.

The U.S. prison at Abu Ghraib, infamous for the torture photos that shocked the world in April 2004, has also been expanded. It now holds 4,000 people. Currently the U.S. is holding nearly 11,000 captives in Iraq, double the number of a year ago, in three military prisons, with a new one under construction. Recently the U.S. government announced plans to expand the capacity of its prisons in Iraq to 16,000.

At the same time, the number of people being held in the prison system run by the Iraqi puppet government is exploding. An article in the British Observer (July 3, 2005) describes what happens on the seventh floor of the Ministry of the Interior:

"Hanging by the arms in cuffs, scorching of the body with something like an iron and knee-capping [using an electric drill to make holes in the knees] are claimed to be increasingly prevalent in the new Iraq. Now evidence is emerging that appears to substantiate those claims. Not only Iraqis make the allegations. International officials describe the methods in disgusted but hushed tones..."

The newspaper points out, "British and U.S. police and military officials act as advisers to Iraq’s security forces. Foreign troops support Iraqi policing missions. What is extraordinary is that despite the increasingly widespread evidence of torture, governments have remained silent. It is all the more extraordinary on the British side, as embassy officials have been briefed by senior Iraqi officials over the allegations on a number of occasions, and individual cases of abuse have been raised with British diplomats."

Actually, this isn’t surprising at all since these things are being carried out under the authority, and for the benefit, of the U.S./UK-led occupation. The Wolf Brigade, an "Iraqi government" security force the Observer cited as one of the most vicious, made up largely of former members of Saddam’s secret police and Republican Guard, works under U.S. Special Forces officer James Steele, whose background includes training American-backed death squads in El Salvador during the 1980s, according to CounterPunch (June 10/12, 2005).

There are other such centers in official buildings in the capital and other cities. Alongside them exists a chain of unofficial dungeons and killing rooms run by the Shia and Kurdish parties allied with the U.S. Sources such as the Washington Post’s Anthony Shadid (June 15 and August 21) report that U.S.-seized captives are routinely delivered to these facilities for disposal.

Many of those being held in the U.S.’s worldwide network of military prisons are children. U.S. investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in the UK Guardian that a memo addressed to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld shortly after the 2001 invasion noted "800-900 Pakistani boys 13-15 years of age in custody." In Iraq, sociology professor Arlie Hochschild wrote in The New York Times (June 29), "The International Committee of the Red Cross reported registering 107 detainees under 18 during visits to six prisons controlled by coalition troops. Some detainees were as young as 8. Since that time, Human Rights Watch reports that the number has risen." Some Guantanamo prisoners--it’s not clear exactly how many--were captured at the age of 15, 14 or even younger, and the U.S. says that about half a dozen are still under 16.

At Abu Ghraib, Hochschild cites cases of children as young as 14 being tortured by setting dogs to bite them. Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, formerly in charge of that prison, told military investigators "about visiting a weeping 11-year-old detainee in the prison’s notorious Cellblock 1B, which housed prisoners designated high risk. ‘He told me he was almost 12,’ General Karpinski recalled, and that ‘he really wanted to see his mother, could he please call his mother.’ Children like this 11-year-old held at Abu Ghraib have been denied the right to see their parents, a lawyer, or anyone else. They were not told why they were detained, let alone for how long."

Karpinski was the only officer to even so much as lose their job because of the torture recorded in soldiers’ photos at Abu Ghraib--not for her responsibility in the crimes committed there, but for failing to defend them to the media. Testimony in the trials of several soldiers given prison terms last June in relation to the scandal brought out that the "interrogation" techniques used there were developed at Guantanamo and brought to Iraq first by a special training team and then by the head of the Cuban prison himself, Major General Geoffrey Miller, who was put in charge of prisoners in Iraq and, after the military investigation of Abu Ghraib, given a promotion.

The fact that Guantanamo remains the flagship and research and development laboratory for the U.S.’s global torture network gives the hunger strike there even more significance.

Prisoner statements written at the start of the current hunger strike were recently released by British civil rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, who represents 40 detainees. Binyan Mohammed, a former London schoolboy, wrote, "I do not plan to stop until either I die or we are respected. People will definitely die." He compared their action to the hunger strike at Maze prison in the UK led by Bobby Sands in 1981, when eight accused Irish Republican Army members died in a fast to protest their internment without trial. "He had the courage of his convictions and he starved himself to death. Nobody should believe that my brothers here have less courage." CounterPunch reports that as of october 1, 210 out of more than 500 detainees are still on hunger strike, and at least 20 are being force-fed through nasal tubes.

Apparently there have been quite a few protests at Guantanamo, although for the first few years the prisoners were so completely isolated that little word got out. The New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents many prisoners there, documents these actions in their recent pamphlet "The Guantanamo Prisoner Hunger Strikes and Protest: February 2002--August 2005" ( ). A hunger strike that began in June called for better access to books, bottled water (prisoners say they are deliberately given repulsive drinking water), medical care, mail contact with their families and other basic human needs. Prisoners also demanded that they all be treated equally. Currently, the small number of prisoners who cooperate with interrogators are housed in a special unit, camp four, with relatively better conditions and privileges. This is the unit visiting U.S. Congressmen were taken to see (although even they were forbidden to talk to prisoners). The harshest unit is the newest, camp five, with about 100 inmates, who haven’t been told why they were sent there. That protest ended July 28 when the authorities promised to meet at least some of the detainees’ demands. The military would "bring the prison into compliance with the Geneva Conventions. They said this had been approved by Donald Rumsfeld himself in Washington, DC," explained the British prisoner Mohammed.

But apparently these promises were a trick. In August, a Tunisian prisoner was severely beaten with a metal chair during interrogation. A Kuwaiti was violently assaulted by the military’s "Extreme Reaction Force" when he refused to return to interrogation after being sexually abused. This triggered a second hunger strike. In retaliation, the Prisoners Council representative was put in isolation. Contact with lawyers was forbidden, contrary to a court order. On September 12, the U.S. Defense Department announced that 128 prisoners were "fasting" and 18 had been hospitalized for force-feeding. The government declined to give out a list of hunger strikers or notify their families. Attorneys warn that the purpose of hiding the real number of people involved and their names--like the U.S. government’s continuing refusal to make known the exact number and identity of Guantanamo prisoners overall--may be to cover up deaths. The U.S. is still refusing to allow UN officials to inspect the prison complex.

In addition to these prisons, there is also reason to believe that the U.S. has secret detention centers located, among other places, on American naval ships in the Indian Ocean, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak told BBC June 28, adding his weight to a regularly repeated charge. He said that the UN has been demanding that the U.S. provide a comprehensive list of detention centers for over a year--in vain.

International law and institutions clearly cannot stop what the U.S. is doing, and American law as well is not allowed to be an obstacle. In the U.S., the Democratic Party has refused to make an issue of the torture network. A few months ago, during an upsurge of criticism of Guantanamo, ex-president Bill Clinton put forward the slogan "Clean it up or shut it down"--as if a "clean" concentration camp is acceptable. This one seems as "scientifically" administered as any Nazi could wish, with doctors and other professionals intimately involved in developing torture techniques ranging from psychological manoeuvres to the use of thorax pressure points to cause extreme pain and unconsciousness with no traces. After a few days, Clinton and his party just dropped the whole thing.

Further, while it’s not surprising that the UK and the other "coalition" members go along with Guantanamo and the other military camps, it seems that so far, at least, no government is willing to go against the U.S. on this.

People who find these outrages intolerable will either have to learn to live with them, or take mass action themselves to end this situation and all that lies behind it.