We Don't Know The Dead Men's Stories


Did Kenneth Newman ever have a son called Harry Harris and a daughter called Colleen Graffy?

Back in the 1970s, when Newman was the Chief Constable of the RUC, police doctors in Castlereagh, Gough and Strand Road interrogation centres began reporting a huge increase in prisoners with perforated eardrums, black eyes, burn marks and bruises to their bodies.

Kenneth Newman explained it all, sewed it up, smoothed it out, tied the loose ends together, papered over the cracks...

No, they hadn’t been tortured, he insisted, smarting from even someone daring to ask the question. It was really all part of the IRA’s propaganda war, he explained.

The prisoners, you must understand, were going to extreme lengths to “self-inflict” injuries in order to blacken the name of the RUC.

There was a huge sigh of relief in the courts, in the media and among unionists. The mantra rose up in one chorus: that was it! - the prisoners were ordered to inflict injuries on themselves; that was the happy explanation (until contradicted by the Bennett Report which censured the RUC over its interrogation procedures).

Harry Harris is a Navy Rear Admiral and commander of Guantánamo Bay where three detainees reportedly committed suicide last weekend.

“It was an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us,” said Harris, mightily impressed with his command of gobbledegook.

Colleen Graffy is the US’s deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy (i.e. tactlessness). She was not to be outdone.

“It certainly is a good PR move,” she said of the three prisoners whose deaths have once again drawn world attention to the USA’s abuse of human rights, its derogation from the Geneva Convention, its own Constitution and its flagrant breach of international and domestic law. However, the US thinks it can ride out the demands to close Guantánamo, just as it thinks it rode out the scandal of Abu Ghraib.

Imagine the outcry if it had been suggested that the suicide of Dr David Kelly, the scientist and former UN weapons inspector, was a “PR move” to embarrass Tony Blair? Yet, because these were prisoners, largely without a voice, we do not know the dead men’s stories. What we can do is piece together what a few former prisoners who were released have said, along with what the few lawyers who have had limited access with clients have heard.

A few months after the September 11th bombings the USA, with the help of the Afghan faction, the Northern Alliance, invaded Afghanistan, overthrew the Taliban regime and installed a new government. The Taliban had hosted Osama bin Laden whose al Qaeda organisation was based and trained there. Hundreds of prisoners were captured. Northern Alliance officials were given a $5,000 bounty for every alleged al Qaeda operative they handed over. Many of these were flown to Guantánamo to be interrogated.

Since then, unknown numbers of suspects have been seized from an unknown number of countries and have been taken via an unknown number of other countries to an unknown number of prisons around the world where they have been interrogated for an unknown number of times and held in unknown conditions.

What we do know is what the US has declared and that is that it can imprison anyone it declares to be an ‘unlawful combatant’ for the rest of their lives (or until ‘the war on terrorism’ is won), without trial or court appearance or producing the evidence. In other words, under George Bush, the US has completely abandoned judicial process. At the other end of the spectrum, the US opposes the Rome Treaty which set up the International Criminal Court. Bush insists that US military and civilian personnel alone be immune from prosecution for war crimes.

Currently there are believed to be about 759 inmates in Guantánamo (and another 600 at Bagram air force base in Afghanistan). They are kept in open-air, chain link cages. They are interrogated day and night. They are subjected to loud noise and strobe lights and deprived of sleep.

In four years only ten have been charged (by a makey-uppy military court) and none of those has had a trial. Eight are on hunger strike. For ten months they have been force-fed by US doctors in contravention of the Tokyo Declaration. The prisoners are strapped into restraint chairs and force fed through tubes inserted through their nasal passages which often causes bleeding and nausea.

In ‘Camp I’ prisoners are denied even a roll of toilet paper.

One prisoner, Mohammed El Gharani, was only 14 when he was seized in a mosque in Pakistan. He has tried to kill himself twice this year in Guantánamo.

Another prisoner was Shafiq Rasul from England. He was held in solitary confinement for three months and made a false confession of attending a 9/11 meeting with bin Laden in Afghanistan in January 2000 at a time when he was actually working at the Wednesbury branch of Currys, outside Birmingham.

Those who died last weekend were two Saudi nationals: Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi al-Utaybi and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani; and a Yemeni national, Ali Abdullah Ahmed. Understandably, their families, who have not seen or spoken to them in almost five years, do not believe that they killed themselves but died during interrogation. But if they did commit suicide, it was out of a sense of hopelessness and abandonment, not an act of “asymmetrical warfare”. Al-Utaybi had actually been declared by the US as a “safe person, free to be released”, since last December but hadn’t been told. The US hadn’t decided to which third country he should be banished.

Lieutenant-Colonel Anthony Christino, a veteran military intelligence officer who worked at the Pentagon, said he did not believe that the interrogations in Guantánamo have helped to prevent a single terrorist attack. “Most of the information from interrogations at Guantánamo appears to be very general in nature; so general that it is not very useful,” he said. He said that in order to avoid maltreatment the prisoners would tell their interrogators what they wanted to hear.

Despite that, the US government is currently constructing a new $30m detention facility. If it is to impress the US public, it’s doubtful if it will be worth it. If it is aimed at defeating al Qaeda, it’s definitely not worth it because it will not work.

Finally, a little quote from the appendix to Peter Taylor’s book, ‘Beating The Terrorists’, about RUC methods in the 1970s: “The RUC say that they have obtained documents and material detailing the Provisional IRA’s training in anti-interrogation techniques. The RUC will not comment on their contents, but one senior officer who had seen some of the material told me it was concerned with ways of ‘hampering’ an interrogator. He admitted that there was no mention of self-inflicting injuries.”

The tactics of the IRA’s asymmetric warfare were, no doubt, passed on by word-of-mouth only.

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© 2007 Irish Author and Journalist - Danny Morrison