Exposed: Systematic Torture at Guantánamo

Red Cross Documents Torture in U.S. Prison Camp

Revolutionary Worker #1261, December 12, 2004, posted at

It’s hard think about what it must be like to be a prisoner in the U.S. Camp Delta on Cuba’s Guantánamo Bay. The anguish and suffering must be overwhelming for those in this U.S. torture camp.

What must it be like to be held captive indefinitely with very little judicial recourse, not knowing when the next beating might come, the next interrogation, the next psychological torment and humiliation by your captors. All designed to break the human spirit and will.

The men and boys held captive by the U.S. at Guantánamo Bay, over 500 of them, never know when they might be dragged into a room for interrogation, or if they will ever see a judge or even a lawyer, let alone their families.

Most of these men were captured during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and other U.S. military operations in the so-called "War on Terrorism." Most are accused by U.S. officials of being al-Qaida or Taliban fighters—these men now have the status of "enemy combatant," and are denied the legal protections of prisoners of war.

A System of Torture

For three years, the U.S. government has denied there is torture at Guantánamo.

Now this high-level cover-up is being shredded.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has charged in a confidential report, that the U.S. military has "intentionally used psychological and sometimes physical coercion ’tantamount to torture’ on prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

According to the major New York Times article which broke this story (November 30), "The report was distributed to lawyers at the White House, Pentagon and State Department and to the commander of the detention facility at Guantánamo, Gen. Jay W. Hood. The New York Times recently obtained a memorandum, based on the report, that quotes from it in detail and lists its major findings."

The report was filed by an ICRC investigative team that visited Guantánamo for most of last June.

What is particularly exposing in the latest ICRC report is it is now documented, by outside observers, that U.S. military authorities is systematically using physical torture and other extreme information extracting techniques. This torture, both physical as well as psychological, is highly calculated.

According to the ICRC, prisoners are subjected to "humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, use of forced positions" making them wholly dependent on their interrogators. They write, "detainees were subjected to ’some beatings.’ " The report makes clear that the methods used were increasingly "more refined and repressive" than learned about on previous ICRC visits.

In a clear and damning summation of its evidence, the ICRC writes: "The construction of such a system, whose stated purpose is the production of intelligence, cannot be considered other than an intentional system of cruel, unusual and degrading treatment and a form of torture."

Information on this torture has been coming out from other sources too. Military guards, intelligence agents and others made their own admissions to the New York Times , which were summarized in an article that appeared on October 17. They described a range of highly abusive procedures occurring over a long period. One regular procedure was making uncooperative prisoners strip, shackling them to a chair bolted to the floor and forcing them to endure strobe lights and loud rock and rap music blasting in speakers right on their ears while the temperature in the room was made extremely cold.

Doctors Helping Torturers

According to what was received by the New York Times, the ICRC report also claims that doctors and medical personal were participating in planning interrogations. These medical personnel reportedly work hand-in- hand with interrogators in a group called the "Behavioral Science Consultant Team" (BeSCT, nicknamed "Biscuit"). The point of this Biscuit team is to have doctors, psychologists, and psychological workers advise the actual interrogators about the mental health, vulnerabilities, and stamina of various prisoners—so that the maximum pain, isolation, disorientation, and despair could be created, all to obtain the maximum results.

The ICRC described such procedures as "a flagrant violation of medical ethics." And they are!

After World War 2, the world was horrified to learn how German doctors had collaborated with the Nazi SS and Gestapo to apply refined torture methods—that would maximize pain while avoiding accidental death. This wedding of modern medical science to gruesome fascist torture was considered the heights of immorality. The fact that the U.S. has resurrected such practices is an outrage and atrocity in its own right.

Doctor Rubenstein, the executive director of the Physicians for Human Rights, told the New York Times : "The use of medical personal to facilitate abusive interrogations places them in an untenable position and violates international ethical standards.. We need to know more about these practices, including whether health professionals engaged in calibrating levels of pain inflicted on detainees."

Scrambling to Preserve the Cover-up

In light of this report, the U.S. government, and particularly the Justice Department, are now further "calibrating" their legal arguments justifying such torture.

Almost three years ago, high level discussions in the White House, Justice Department and Pentagon examined legal justifications for torture in the "war on terror." Alberto Gonzales, Bush’s legal counsel and nominee for U.S. Attorney General, wrote a memo calling the provisions of the Geneva Conventions "quaint" and "outdated." As a result of these internal deliberations, the U.S. government essentially declared itself and its interrogators outside any rule of law. The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel produced secret legal opinions that said the opponents the U.S. was fighting should be considered "unlawful combatants" who did not deserve any legal rights or status.

Now these arguments are undergoing further refinement: Brian Boyle, the principal Deputy Associate Attorney General at the Justice Department recently made legal arguments against a group of ten Guantánamo Bay prisoners who are waging a legal battle over their detention. While arguing that these prisoners have no constitutional rights because they are "enemy combatants," Boyle also made clear the finer points of legalized torture. Asked by a district court judge "if there were any restrictions on using torture-induced evidence," Boyle replied that the United States never not rejected information that came from practices like torture by a foreign power.

U.S. officials have tried to deny that prisoners medical records were "literally open" to interrogators—even though the ICRC documented that this is the case. Similarly Pentagon officials have also denied that systematic torture is taking place. And (at the same time) they argue that these prisoners were "merely enemy combatants"—which in their legal lexicon means that they are allowed to violate all kinds of human rights and international treaties on the treatment of prisoners.

The New York Times reports that in the past 18 months, 21 detainees have made 32 suicide attempts, and many more are being treated for depression. However, according to BBC reports, the U.S. military authorities answer this by arguing that any mental health problems documented among prisoners must have "existed before they arrived." This is essentially the same as saying—"hey, these guys had broken legs long before we started beating them with bats, so don’t blame us."


Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights recently remarked on the ICRC report during an interview on Democracy Now!Ratner, who legally represents prisoners in Camp Delta, said, "Everybody in the world knows the U.S. is engaging in everything from cruel inhuman and degrading treatment to torture. They are doing it around the world. They’re doing it in Guantánamo. They’re doing it in Baghram [in Afghanistan]. They’re doing it in Iraq. And United States insists, as Donald Rumsfeld says in that article, as the Pentagon spokesman says, ’We treat people humanely.’ The world has become utterly Orwellian. War is peace. Torture is humane treatment. That [ New York Times November 30 article documenting the IRC report] is just extraordinary because it does detail exactly what happened to our clients, the Center’s clients in Guantánamo. When you can call that treatment ’humane treatment,’ we have a world and we have a government that has to be changed."