Guantanamo reflects everything wrong with the War on Terror

Guantanamo reflects everything wrong with the War on Terror
Comment: Reports documenting torture at Guantanamo and Obama's failed promise to close the camp encapsulate the abysmal failure and injustices of the US's 'War on Terror', writes Usaid Saddiqui
5 min read
19 Oct, 2016
Dozens of Guantanamo detainees have been left with serious mental health problems [Getty]

Even after 15 years of the Global War on Terror, new revelations of the horrors at Guantanamo never fail to shock.

Last week an alleged plotter of the 9/11, attacks and prisoner in Guantanamo successfully underwent reconstructive rectal surgery for injuries sustained while held in a CIA black site – a more formal idiom for secret torture site. Interrogators "sodomised" the detainee Mustafa al-Hawsawi prior to his transfer to the Cuba based prison in 2006, which left him suffering anal fissures and chronic haemorrhoids.

Hawsawi's story is one of many prisoners detained at Guantanamo who were relentlessly abused in the facility or brought to it after enduring a brutal ordeal at one of the CIA's black sites.

An investigation by The New York Times printed earlier this month revealed the inhumane conditions former Guantanamo prisoners faced during their incarceration, leaving dozens with permanent mental health problems, including those who the government never charged.

The tragedy perfectly captures the catastrophe of the all-encompassing War on Terror as it set a precedent to justify the most heinous of human excesses - leaving behind millions of innocent lives wrecked while those responsible remain unscathed – feeding the propaganda of the very forces it has spent trillions to fight. 

Lack of accountability

While unanimous consensus exists, amongst human rights groups and international organisations such as the UN, that American interrogation tactics at Guantanamo amounted to torture, the state has failed to prosecute a single person involved in the abuse or the officials who sanctioned it.

Though the US government's own 500-page Senate Intelligence Committee report, released in 2014 provides harrowing details of everything that took place during the Bush Years, the Department of Justice refused to act. Much of this was President Barack Obama's pledge to grant the previous Bush government immunity from any persecution, remarking that the country needed to move forward. He added that:

"[N]othing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past… we must resist the forces that divide us, and instead come together on behalf of our common future."

The state has failed to prosecute a single person involved in the abuse or the officials who sanctioned it

Yet what the president wilfully ignored was that for hundreds who were on the receiving end of Bush's draconian measures, there is no moving forward.

"I am living this kind of depression," said Younous Chekkouri, a Moroccan citizen and former Guantanamo prisoner who fears going outside because he sees faces in crowds as Guantanamo Bay guards. "I'm not normal anymore" he told NYT reporters who conducted a month-long investigation into mental health issues in Guantanamo prisoners that was published on October 8th.

Mohammad Jawad, who arrived at the facility as 17-year-old (possibly younger) had his sleep interrupted every three hours for 2 weeks straight. Jawad who now lives in Pakistan, told the NYT investigators that interrogators "tortured us in jails, gave us severe physical and mental pain, bombarded our villages, cities, mosques, schools". Unsurprisingly Jawad adds that this has left him others with "flashbacks, panic attacks and nightmares".

The military's torture tactics would encroach on the duties and responsibilities of its medical community who became complicit in the illegal activities approved by the US government. In one case reported by the Times, a psychologist prescribed an antipsychotic drug after which he advised the interrogators of its side effect for them to exploit.

A psychologist responsible for Jawad advised the interrogators that he be kept away from anyone who spoke his language and to "Work him as hard as possible".

The medical staff's contradictory practices further came to light when prisoners were found to be force fed while voluntarily hunger striking to protest their wrongful incarceration.

For hundreds who were on the receiving end of Bush's draconian measures, there is no moving forward

According to an article published in the New England Medical Journal in 2013, the authors (all physicians) claimed that those who partake in such practices "become weapons for maintaining prison order". They add that "Force-feeding a competent person is not the practice of medicine; it is aggravated assault".

The procedure is considered so controversial in the medical community, it prompted a group of 250 medical experts from seven countries to write an open letter condemning the US government for the practice and demanded it immediately cease using the technique.

The Secretary General of the World Medical Association Dr. Otmar Kloiber asserts that, "doctors working in prisons or the armed forces have exactly the same ethical obligations when treating prisoners as they do when caring for other autonomous patients".

Despite a mountain of evidence that the military's medical staff were acting in violation of their responsibilities to patients at Guantanamo, no one has to date been prosecuted for malpractice. Meanwhile, the lives of people like Jawad and Chekkouri remain bound to their hellish experiences at the US naval base, without receiving any compensation or justice for their suffering.

Guantanamo and the War on Terror

The lack of accountability in Guantanamo encapsulates what the War on Terror has come to mean for millions that have come in its path - a conflict where the US state wilfully tramples on freedoms and liberties in pursuit of a goal so broad that has no end in sight.

The War on Terror represents a conflict where the US state wilfully tramples on freedoms and liberties in pursuit of a goal so broad that has no end in sight

Just as Guantanamo's detainees live their lives without any prospect of receiving justice, thousands of innocent people whose lives have been destroyed by drone warfare and illegal invasions suffer the same fate. 

Moreover, the inhumane treatment of Guantanamo's largely Muslim population confirmed for many Muslims that this war is essentially an offensive against them - undermining any credibility the US government ever hoped to build with the Islamic world in its quest to fight terrorism. 

In is 2009 speech in Cairo, Obama affirmed to the Muslim world that he would chart a new course in America's relationship with Muslims. But his lack of will to close the Cuba-based facility - as he pledged in his first year in office - is one the many examples of how badly he has failed in achieving that objective.

Usaid Siddiqui is a Canadian freelance writer. He has written for PolicyMic, Aslan Media, Al Jazeera America and Mondoweiss on current affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @UsaidMuneeb16

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.