Please Read My New Article for Al-Jazeera, About How Torture Victims in Guantánamo Should Be Allowed a Visit by UN Rapporteur Juan Méndez


Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali (aka Ammar al-Baluchi), photographed in Guantanamo by representatives of the International Committee of the red Cross, in a photo made available to his family and later released to the public.Yesterday, I was delighted that Al-Jazeera published my op-ed, “Guantánamo torture victims should be allowed UN visit,” the first op-ed I’ve written for Al-Jazeera for over a year a a half. You can check out my archive of Al-Jazeera articles here.

The op-ed came about as a result of my recently renewed focus on the military commissions at Guantánamo, a broken system that is incapable of delivering justice to the ten men still held who are facing — or have faced — military commission trials. For more, see my recent articles, Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions and Guantánamo’s Military Commissions: More Chaos in the Cases of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri and Majid Khan, and also my recent update of The Full List of Prisoners Charged in the Military Commissions at Guantánamo.

61 men are still held at Guantánamo, and while 20 have been approved for release, and will hopefully be freed soon, and 23 others continue to be held without charge or trial, those men are, at least, subject to periodic reviews of their cases, whereas those facing trials are caught in a system that is proceeding with such glacial slowness that it is uncertain if a date for their trials can be set with any kind of certainty, and this, of course, is a profound failure of justice considering that they have been in US custody for up to 14 years.

As part of my renewed focus on the military commissions, I have been in touch with military lawyers representing prisoners facing trials, and through them I received a letter to Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur for Torture, which was written by Ammar al-Baluchi, a “high-value detainee” and one of five men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

Like all the “high-value detainees,” he was held and tortured in CIA “black sites,” before his arrival in Guantánamo, and his letter deals with his torture, and the refusal of the US authorities to give him — and other torture victims at Guantánamo — appropriate medical and psychological care.

Although al-Baluchi and other “high-value detainees” arrived at Guantánamo over ten years ago, in September 2006, it is only recently that anything they have said or written has been unclassified by the US authorities, who have spent most of the time they have been imprisoned desperately trying to hide all evidence of their torture. That changed in December 2014, when the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA detention program was published, and it is since then that the veil of silence in which the torture victims had been enshrouded has started to be lifted.

It is to be expected that the US authorities will ignore al-Baluchi’s request, as Juan Méndez has been trying to visit Guantánamo since he became the rapporteur in November 2010, but the US government has never accepted that UN observers must be allowed to meet with the prisoners, and so no visit has taken place.

I hope you have time to read the article, and to share it if you find it useful. I also note that it was published on the same day that the New York Times published “How US Torture Left Legacy of Damaged Minds,” a major review of how ‘[b]eatings, sleep deprivation, menacing and other brutal tactics have led to persistent mental health problems among detainees held in secret CIA prisons and at Guantánamo.” I hope it stands as a kind of companion piece to that feature, with its demand for a UN visit that would also be a suitable outcome of the Times article.

The Times article mainly related the accounts of former prisoners — including Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), Ahmed Errachidi and Tarek El Sawah (aka Tariq al-Sawah), all held at Guantánamo, and Mohamed Ben Soud, held in “black sites” but not at Guantánamo — but it also included a section on the “high-value detainees,” including al-Baluchi.

The head of his defence team, James G. Connell III, told the Times that his client “associates sleep with imminent pain.” In a letter, al-Baluchi wrote, “Not only did they not let me sleep, they trained me to keep myself awake.”

The Times article also noted that “Guantánamo physicians have prescribed Mr. Baluchi antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs and sleeping pills,” according to Connell, who “sends him deodorants and colognes to keep flashbacks at bay.” As he explained, disturbingly, “The whole time he was in CIA custody, you’re sitting there, smelling your own stink. Now, whenever he catches a whiff of his own body odor, it sets him off.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — 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. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

3 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, promoting my op-ed for Al-Jazeera, “Guantanamo torture victims should be allowed UN visit,” published yesterday, which drew primarily on a letter to Juan Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur for Torture, from “high-value detainee” and torture victim Ammar al-Baluchi, pictured here. Al-Baluchi called on the US to allow Mendez to visit Guantanamo to see how he and other torture victims are, shamefully, still denied adequate medical and psychological care, although it’s a safe bet that he won’t be allowed to visit, as the US has never contemplated allowing UN observers to visit and actually talk to the prisoners.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Sven Wraight wrote:

    Even the Nazis usually let the Red Cross visit the PoWs.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, well said, Sven. The “war on terror,” on the other hand, was conducted from the beginning like the kind of covert operation that was only covert because what was taking place was so awful that keeping observers out was regarded as necessary – and, in terms of hiding evidence of torture, still is, apparently.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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