Carol Rosenberg on the “Prison within a Prison” at Guantánamo for Four Convicted “War Criminals”

2.3.11

Since Guantánamo opened on January 11, 2002, Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald has made it her beat. I may have built up a comprehenive knowledge of who is in Guantánamo by studying all the available documents and talking to ex-prisoners, gaining my greatest accolade from former prisoner Omar Deghayes, who has explained that I write about Guantánamo as though I was in there with the prisoners, but Carol has been braver and more persistent than any reporter, taking on the military, at whatever level, when they try to obstruct her, and constantly pushing for information and digging for hidden truths.

In her latest article, Carol has focused on the conditions of isolation in which the four men who have lost their trials by Military Commission are held, and for once I’m going to cross-post the entire article, as it oozes a thinly-disguised disdain for some of the exaggerations, lies and unfairnesses of the regime at Guantánamo — her description of the four men as “a cook, a kid, a small-arms trainer and a videographer,” for example, or her description of how “TV time is spent alone, each man shackled by an ankle to the floor of an interrogation room, always under the watch of a special guard force implementing a Pentagon policy for ‘punitive post-conviction confinement.’” Get that: punitive post-conviction confinement. Another Guantánamo speciality for the lucky few who aren’t merrily detained forever without charge or trial, or cleared for release by an administration that, it turns out, has no intention of releasing them at all.

I also like, with reference to former child prisoner Omar Khadr, the understatement with which she notes that, “once back in Canada, Khadr’s parole is all-but certain because he was captured as a juvenile, 15 at the time of the crime” — something the US, to its shame, thoroughly ignored — and again, towards the end, when she lays out the possibilites facing one of the men, Ibrahim al-Qosi, whose sentence ends next July, when he “may leave Guantánamo — if the Obama administration chooses to negotiate [his] release,” and “congressional restrictions” don’t get in the way.

After nine years, as Carol knows, any kind of monstrously unjust nonsense — such as not releasing someone after they have served a sentence negotiated by the Pentagon — remains a distinct possibility.

Inside the convicts cellblock where war criminals stay at Guantánamo Bay
By Carol Rosenberg, Miami Herald, February 28, 2011

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba — One Sudanese prisoner is filing his hours until release reading Decision Points, George W. Bush’s memoir on why he quit alcohol, ran for president and approved waterboarding war on terror captives.

Another is being home-schooled every other week inside a cell, learning the astronomy, math, grammar, Shakespeare, even elocution, he never got as a child of al-Qaeda.

These are the war criminals of Guantánamo Bay. They are four convicts — captured as a cook, a kid, a small-arms trainer and a videographer — kept out of sight of visitors in a segregated cellblock of a SuperMax-style 100-cell $17 million penitentiary.

Because each man was sentenced for war crimes by a U.S. military jury, three after guilty pleas in exchange for short sentences, theirs is what the Pentagon calls “punitive confinement.” They are “prisoners” set apart from the other 168 captives at what former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls “one of the finest prison systems in the world.”

Yet, military defense lawyers say the convict cellblock at Camp 5 is especially austere and that their clients are doing hard time reminiscent of Guantánamo’s early years when interrogators isolated captives of interest.

Each man spends 12 or more hours a day locked behind a steel door inside a 12-by-8-foot cell equipped with a bed, a sink and a toilet.

They get up to eight hours off the cellblock in an open-air recreation yard, a huge cage surrounded by chain-linked fencing. If recreation time coincides with one of Islam’s five times daily calls to prayer, the convicts can pray together. If it coincides with meal time, they can eat together.

Once locked in their cells, they can shout to each other through the slots in their steel prison doors troops uses to deliver meals and library books.

TV time is spent alone, each man shackled by an ankle to the floor of an interrogation room, always under the watch of a special guard force implementing a Pentagon policy for “punitive post-conviction confinement.” That policy is still in flux, says a spokeswoman, Army Lt. Col. Tanya Bradsher, so the Defense Department won’t let the public see it.

At 50, Ibrahim [al-]Qosi of Sudan is the eldest. Early in his captivity here, Bush era prosecutors portrayed him as al-Qaeda’s payroll master. By the time he pleaded guilty to supporting terror last summer, his crime was working as a cook for bachelor irregulars in Afghanistan and occasionally driving for Osama bin Laden and others in al-Qaeda.

Now up for release from the cellblock in July 2012, he’s passing time with a copy of Bush’s recently released best-selling memoir. His Navy defender couldn’t find an Arabic translation. So Qosi’s learning about the man who waged the global war on terror with the help of an Arabic-English dictionary.

In a failed bid for clemency, Qosi’s attorney, Navy Cmdr. Suzanne Lachelier wrote in January that, after years in communal custody, living in a POW-style setting, his post-sentencing conditions are “grueling” and “reminiscent for him of the eight difficult months he spent in complete isolation when first arriving at Guantánamo.”

But a senior guard who works at the prison said it’s far from isolation. “They do get to commune together,” said Army Command Sgt. Major Daniel Borrero, whose 525 Battalion pulled guards from the blocks interning U.S. criminal soldiers at Fort Leavenworth to work at Guantánamo.

“It’s a prison, ma’am,” said Borrero. “I make the assumption they don’t want to be here.”

The cellblock’s youngest is confessed teen terrorist Omar Khadr, 24, and he’s on the fast-track to freedom.

He pleaded guilty to war crimes last year in exchange for a promise to repatriate him before his 26th birthday. A military jury sentenced him to 40 more years in prison for hurling a grenade that killed an American commando in a July 2002 gun battle in war-time Afghanistan. But once back in Canada, Khadr’s parole is all-but certain because he was captured as a juvenile, 15 at the time of the crime.

At his sentencing hearing, a government paid psychiatrist said Khadr spent his years here “marinating in a radical Islamic community’’ — memorizing verses of the Quran in the company of captives who got to eat, pray, watch satellite TV and shoot hoops in groups as a reward for good behavior.

Now Khadr’s cut off from that group, as a war criminal segregated in circumstances his Army lawyer, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, calls “horrific and stupid and don’t make any sense.”

Khadr’s father, a since slain al-Qaeda insider, moved the family from Toronto to Afghanistan when the boy was in elementary school. So to prepare him for life back in Canada, Khadr’s Pentagon defense team is shuttling twice a month to the remote base for attorney-client visits in a compound, Camp Echo.

There, for four days out of five military lawyers and paralegals are drilling Khadr on a home-school styled curriculum designed by a Canadian college professor — history, astronomy, math, grammar, elocution.

English is the emphasis, said Jackson, to help him achieve “mature student” status in Canada, a gateway to college admission.

Not so long ago, the al-Qaeda convict played Romeo to the Army officer’s Juliet.

“He’s very serious about his education,” said Jackson. “His attitude is positive. There’s been a real change in him now that he has the legal matters behind him.”

Also on the cellblock are Guantánamo’s lone lifer, al-Qaeda filmmaker Ali Hamza al-Bahlul and former weapons instructor, Noor Uthman Mohammed. Bahlul keeps to himself, according to military sources, and Noor is just settling in. On Feb. 2, he traded 34 months imprisonment on the cellblock for testimony at future trials about terrorists he knew in Afghanistan.

Theirs is a prison within the sprawling prison system, cut off from the other captives regardless of how good their behavior.

Elsewhere on the base, the military has built a secret lockup for men interrogated by the CIA and suspected in some of the most heinous attacks against America — the Sept. 11th terror attack, the 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen, beheading Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl.

There are five Uighurs, ethnic Muslims fearing religious persecution in their native China, likewise segregated from the other captives because a federal judge found them unjustly imprisoned.

But Bahlul and Qosi, Khadr and Noor are segregated because they are “serving punitive sentences,” says Navy Cmdr. Tamsen Reese, a Guantánamo spokeswoman.

Under the 1949 Third Geneva Conventions, she said, the other captives are “detained under the Law of War only as a security measure” and “should not be subjected to a penal environment or comingled with prisoners punitively incarcerated as a consequence of a criminal conviction.”

Once their sentences are over, under Pentagon doctrine, they become ordinary detainees again — put back with the others in a penitentiary away called Camp 6, the closest thing at Guantánamo today to POW-style barracks housing.

Or they may leave Guantánamo — if the Obama administration chooses to negotiate their release, and congressional restrictions don’t hamstring future releases, for example to Sudan, a State Sponsor of Terror nation.

That test could come next year. The Sudanese man reading the Bush memoirs finishes his sentence on July 7, 2012.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

12 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Terry Sully wrote:

    unclassified torture still at large!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    I’m sharing this.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    On Digg, wanacare wrote:

    Thank Goodness for the people in our country like Carol Rosenberg, that are not willing to be bribed and bought out to project lies and deceptions at the cost of people’s lives. Certainly it is a travesty to have children and men spending their lives in a prison, when so many of them are known to be innocent. Just as the WMD were drummed up and a complete lie and the Bush administration must surely have known that after WWII the Japanese who had committed water-boarding were sentenced to 15 years, both Obama and Bush have known that they could have allowed these men their freedom with little or no problems, but they would lose the propaganda of needing a war in the Middle East and lose the oil transportation routes established and all of us in the US who have watched the documentary on the Nazi regime and endured watching the story of one of the worst terrorist actions of the Nazis which was experimenting on the people, especially the children, has now been done in Guantanamo and therefore most of us US citizens now believe that a conspiracy bigger than the Nazi scheme has been perpetrated against the world.

    Not only has the Presidency and the administration of both the Republican and Democratic Parties been reduced to a reputation that is symbolized by the story of the Boy and the Wolf with so many lies that no one can trust the leaders of the US, but also violence and thievery are actions almost always associated with the political military that often represents the corporations of oil and Monsanto more than that of human ideals of democracy and caring. The US military turned into an organization that any young well-informed person would be ashamed to be a part of because of the atrocities and injustices that are not only common place, but now expected.

    This article reminds me of how David Hicks’ guard said he knew if he had not been assigned such a horrible job of watching him tortured and instead both had been free he would have probably asked him to go for a beer. These once young men and boys are now learning to deal with sparsely delegated time slots for living and interacting. Chinese have said they have learned to be controlled and obedient to the wants of the master who tortures, yet the world knows of the humanness of these men and the inhumanness of those taking part in perpetuating lies of a need for war, even if we continue with the wars.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Tashi Farmilo-Marouf wrote:

    The world would be better off had Bush remained a drunk.

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Brilliant, Tashi! Thanks.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    George Kenneth Berger wrote:

    In case you haven’t heard this, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/41876046/ns/us_news-security/

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Joe Anbody wrote:

    boy the US sure is creepy, and is doing sick twisted things to humans.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    That just about says it all, Joe.
    And George, thanks for the tip. I hadn’t seen it. Article up now: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2011/03/03/death-penalty-for-bradley-manning-the-alleged-wikileaks-whistleblower/

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Ghaliyaa Haq wrote:

    Joe: This is true. Sadly, I live here. But I want to leave. I’ve had it – and I dread it when someone asks me where I’m from. It’s so embarrasing. Believe me, there are plenty of us who are trying to get things changed, but it’s virtually impossible. Personally I’d like to see us follow the example of Egypt, Libya etc… that’s what it will take I think.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Sharon Askew wrote:

    Do not leave Ghaliyaa, it needs people like you to stay put and many more like you :)

  11. Tyler Cabot’s Important Profile of Guantánamo Prisoner Noor Uthman Muhammed for Esquire « freedetainees.org says...

    [...] [...]

  12. NEWS: IBRAHIM AL-QOSI FREE FROM GUANTANAMO says...

    [...] KNOW MORE ABOUT IBRAHIM AL-QOSI CLICK HERE  Share this FissabililehShareFacebookRedditEmailPrint Category: Guantanamo, NEWS July 11, 2012 [...]

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