an area of the map for world news.
April 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 4)
on the United States
Treatment of Prisoners
Warigi, The East African (independent), Nairobi, Kenya,
Jan. 27, 2002
Americas war against terrorism may have decimated the
Taliban and Al-Qaeda. But that was to be expected. What is surprising
is another side of America exposed by this war, which the country
likes to believe does not exist.
terrorists: U.S. military police watch detainees at Guantanamo
Bay, Cuba (Photo: Shane T. McCoy/U.S. Department of Defense).
Start with the treatment of Al-Qaeda prisoners being transported
to the X-Ray camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The photographs
splashed across the globe shackled captives, their eyes
blacked out behind no-see goggles, their ears and noses tightly
muffled as they were made to kneel before their captors
rightly caused international outrage, even in European countries
that consider themselves U.S. allies.
The technique being applied to the prisoners as
shown in the pictures is called sensory deprivation. It is a
refined but no less cruel form of torture. All the prisoners
senses are blocked. The eyes are completely blindfolded. The
ears are muffled. So is the nose. The prisoner cannot see, hear,
smell, or feel anything. The Al-Qaeda men were kept like this
for an agonizing 20-hour flight from Afghanistan, and seemingly
for another spell thereafter.
Try to imagine the extreme trauma this totally blacked-out state
causes, and you will get sick. Like all torture, the aim is
to break the victim as he is prepared for interrogation. Sensory
deprivation is especially preferred because it leaves no physical
traces. Nonetheless, the mental scars it bears are severe.
You would be amazed at the roll call of culprits who have practiced
this sordid business. A startling 1974 book called The Guinea
Pigs detailed shocking cases of sensory deprivation experiments
carried out in 1971 on 14 Irish Republican Army prisoners by
their British jailers.
Authored by an Irish ex-prisoner, John McGuffin, the book caused
a sensation upon publication, selling 20,000 copies in the first
two weeks of release. The British government, however, exerted
so much pressure to block the books sale that it was abruptly
taken off the market.
In 1981 the book was reissued, but with two of the most damning
chapters omitted. The saving grace was that the outcry the book
provoked in 1974 forced British authorities to outlaw this kind
of mental and psychological torture. In addition, some US$5
million has since been paid out by the British government over
the years to victims of torture.
But others were quick to pick up where the Brits left off. East
Europeans had long been acknowledged as masters of the science
of mental torture. There have also been very plausible charges
by assorted American activists that their country has indulged
in this kind of gross human-rights abuse targeted at sundry
undesirables: Black Panther members, Puerto Rican nationalists,
peaceniks of the Plowshares movement [that opposes the manufacturing
of weapons of mass destruction], and the like.
For all that, books like The Guinea Pigs can be comparatively
tame. That Her Majestys good government subjected captured
Mau Mau fighters to unspeakable horrors in our own country is
totally shocking. [A group of freedom fighters called the Mau
Mau led a rebellion from 1952-59 to free Kenya from British
colonialism at any cost. British troops crushed the rebellion.WPR]
Hearing those tales from the survivors quite simply harrows
the soul. Those who sneer at these survivors periodic
demands for compensation from Britain have no idea what these
men went through.
In releasing the Guantánamo photos, the American military
most probably wanted to frighten would-be terrorists by alerting
them to what awaits them if ever they try to strike again. Little
thought appears to have been given to the likelihood of fanning
even more hatred toward America in the Islamic world.
The disturbing trend of America failing to practice what it
preaches goes beyond its mistreatment of Al-Qaeda prisoners.
There was also its undisguised anger against Al-Jazeera, the
intrepid Qatar-based television station that became famous for
its live broadcasts of Osama bin Ladens speeches. Quite
properly, Qatari officials rebuffed American entreaties to put
pressure on the station for giving Osama coverage. That it took
an autocratic, unelected monarchy like the Qatari royal family
to remind America of values it likes professing, such as freedom
of the press, was one of the more interesting ironies of this
That was not all. Bush administration officials pressured CNN
and the other American TV networks to cut off the Osama broadcasts.
This behavior is universally known as censorship, something
that America says it abhors. The explanation given by the Bush
administration, that Osamas broadcasts could contain some
coded signals to Al-Qaeda foot soldiers, sounded quite sheepish.
You can expect that the worlds autocrats whom America
is keen on lecturing followed this episode with great interest.
Now we know, they must have muttered to themselves,
grinning from ear to ear. Next time the Americans try to get
sanctimonious, these despots will laugh them out of town.
Americas ally Britain, true to her claim as the less barbaric
of the pair, showed more imagination. Tony Blair instructed
his officials to avail themselves for on-air interviews with
Al-Jazeera in an effort to put the Wests point of view
The international outcry has forced America to call a temporary
halt to the transfer of Al-Qaeda prisoners to Guantánamo.
A Muslim chaplain has also been appointed for the detainees,
who are being held in enclosures that are nothing but cages.
In a further insult to the captive men and their puritanical
Muslim beliefs, there have been reports that some of the military
guards overseeing them at the base are women.
Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook spoke for many when
he noted that while Al-Qaeda may be terrorists, America ought
not to descend to their level in seeking retribution. Whatever
their crimes, the captives are human beings.
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he is not bothered
by reports from Guantánamo. Clearly this is somebody
who is not the most sensitive of people. It is surprising the
leeway this roughneck gets in the Bush administration.
The stories from Guantánamo have also brought to light
another obscure injustice. It so happens that the United States
pays a measly $4,000 annual rent to Cuba for use of the Guantánamo
Bay Naval Base, which the Americans occupied in 1898. America
has since refused to return the property to Cuba.