Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Outcast of Camp Echo

Alfred W McCoy

Stripped of all rights as an “unlawful combatant”, isolated inside a concrete cell, abandoned by his homeland and pushed to the brink of suicide, David Hicks has somehow managed to defy the world’s most powerful person, George W Bush

06/10/06 " Excerpted from The Monthly, June 2006" -- -- In support of their request, General Hill attached a memo from Guantanamo's Joint Task Force 170 recommending: first, "stress positions (like standing) for a maximum of four hours"; second, "isolation facility for up to 30 days"; third, "deprivation of light and auditory stimuli"; fourth, hooding; fifth, "use of 20-hour interrogations"; and, finally, 'Wet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation".

On or about 11 January 2002, a small, slender 26-year-old Australian named David Hicks, recently captured fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, became one of the first detainees flown to Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. As a high-school dropout, former drug addict, sometime car thief, mercenary soldier in Kosovo, Taliban fighter against America, graduate of four Al Qaeda terrorist-training courses and an unconvincing convert to radical Islam, Hicks seemed to many the despicable face of global terror.

Within days, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld branded the 700 Guantanamo detainees "hardened criminals willing to kill ... for their cause" and swore to keep them there indefinitely. Prime Minister John Howard seconded that view, saying of Hicks: "He knowingly joined the Taliban and Al Qaeda. I don't have any sympathy for any Australian who's done that." On 18 January, Attorney-General Daryl Williams backed the prime minister's position: replying to a plea by Hicks's father for Australia to "arrange contact between David and his family", Williams said this was "ultimately a matter for the United States" ...

[The US] administration began building a global system for torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and at least eight CIA "black sites". After the president signed a classified order soon after 9-11 giving the agency "new powers" to detain captives on its own, Washington negotiated supporting agreements for secret prisons in Thailand, Diego Garcia Island, Afghanistan and Eastern Europe. When harsh physical techniojies were needed, the CIA, continuing a practice used against Al Qaeda suspects since the mid-1990s, engaged in "extraordinary rendition" by flying detainees to allied nations notorious for torture: Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Uzbekistan. Knitting this far-flung prison network together, the Agency shuttled its captives around the globe in a fleet of two-dozen jets operated by front companies, which made some 2600 rendition-related flights between 2001 and 2005. And inside the long-established US base at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA operated Camp Echo - where David Hicks would later suffer his eight months in solitary - an "off-limits" cluster of a dozen concrete-block houses, each with a "steel cage, a restroom, and a table for interviews".

Secretary Rumsfeld crafted conditions for Guantanamo that, in the view of Hicks's chief US attorney Joshua Dratel, made it a "physical and legal island" where Washington could do whatever it wanted. In a series of controversial orders, Rumsfeld denied detainees protection under the Geneva Convention, convened military commissions that mocked US standards of justice, and issued secret instructions for inhumane interrogation. Above all, by authorising extreme techniques beyond the Army Field Manual and assigning a handpicked general to carry out his commands, Rumsfeld transformed Guantanamo into an ad hoc behavioural laboratory, and its inmates into involuntary subjects for human experimentation that refined the CIA's psychological torture paradigm.

As the first Afghan captives started arriving at Guantanamo on ti January 2002, Rumsfeld denied them legal status as prisoners of war, saying, "Unlawful combatants do not have any rights under the Geneva Convention." Although he soon branded them "the worst of the worst", a study by Seton Hall Law School later found that 86% of prisoners in the Pentagon's inventory were arrested not by US forces, but by Afghan and Pakistani mercenaries eager for the USS5000 bounty on each captive advertised in airdropped leaflets that invited locals to "inform the intelligence service and get the big prize". While there are, no doubt, some hardened Al Qaeda members at Guantanamo, many prisoners are hapless tribals or peasants brought in by bounty hunters: not the worst of the worst, but rather the least of the least.

In October 2002, after just ten months of Guantanamo's operation as the chief prison for the War on Terror, the Pentagon removed Brigadier General Rick Baccus as commander, following complaints from military interrogators that he "coddled" detainees by restraining abusive guards ...

To facilitate this work, Guantanamo interrogators asked the Southern Command chief, General James T Hill, for more latitude to interrogate potential assets such as the camp's most valuable prisoner, Mohamed al-Kahtani, a 26-year-old Saudi dubbed "the twentieth hijacker". In support of their request, General Hill attached a memo from Guantanamo's Joint Task Force 170 recommending: first, "stress positions (like standing) for a maximum of four hours"; second, "isolation facility for up to 30 days"; third, "deprivation of light and auditory stimuli"; fourth, hooding; fifth, "use of 20-hour interrogations"; and, finally, 'Vet towel and dripping water to induce the misperception of suffocation". In sum, these orders simply refined the two foundational techniques tor psychological torture developed by the CIA during the Cold War: sensory deprivation and self-inflicted pain ...

David Hicks was one of the first to learn the real meaning of Rumsfeld's orders of "deprivation ot light and auditory stimuli". By the time he felt the full effect of these enhanced psychological methods in July 2003, Hicks had already suffered eighteen months of extreme treatment. After a Northern Alliance warlord sold him to US Special Forces for US$1,000 in mid-December 2001, Hicks was packed into the brig of the USS Peleliu in the Arabian Sea. From there he was twice flown to a nearby land base for ten-hour torture sessions, shackled and blindfolded, which were marked by kicking, beatings with rifle butts, punching about the head and torso, death threats at gunpoint and anal penetration with objects - all by Americans. For the daylong military flight to Guantanamo, Hicks was wrapped in the standard sensory-deprivation package of drugs, earmuffs, goggles and chains ...

In January 2005, adding another challenge to the military panels, US District Judge Joyce Hens Green, in hearing petitions from 50 detainees, affirmed the right of federal courts to issue habeas corpus writs for Guantanamo prisoners. The judge found, in reviewing allegations by Mamdouh Habib about his abuse in Egypt, that evidence in the military commissions might well be tainted by torture. After the Washington Post published a moving expose of Habib's agony and Canberra finally requested his repatriation, he was quickly released, without charges or explanation. In January 2005, after three years of detention and months of cruel torture, Habib finally rejoined his family in Sydney ...

Australia remains one of the few, perhaps the only, nation that still accepts the legality of Guantanamo's conditions and its tribunals. In late March, right after a visit from the Australian consul, Hicks was - in clear violation of the third Geneva Convention - moved back into solitary confinement at Camp Five, where he remains today, isolated 22 hours a day inside a cement room with a solid steel door. Apart from a small window with opaque glass that allows a faint glow during the day, he is again being denied human contact or sunlight, and is suffering the severe distress that such sensory deprivation inflicts. Even now, more than four years after Hicks arrived at Guantanamo, Canberra has yet to protest such inhumane treatment.

Indeed, two months after that steel door slammed shut on Hicks, Australia's ambassador to Washington meekly concluded a formal agreement with the Pentagon's Office of Military Commissions, winning a promise of Hicks's repatriation once his case is completed by agreeing to honour whatever terms the tribunal might impose. For the plenipotentiary of a nation to treat with a third-tier functionary and legitimate the illegal incarceration of one of its citizens is, in the view of Joshua Dratel, an inexplicable "surrender of Australia's national sovereignty".

As a people, Americans are now faced with a decision that will influence the character of their nation and its reputation in the eyes of the world. They can reject White House policy and join the international community by honouring their commitments, under the UN convention and US law, to ban torture unconditionally. Or, they can agree with the Bush administration's decision to make torture a permanent weapon in the arsenal of American power, paying what may prove a prohibitive price. For, as a powerfully symbolic state practice synonymous with brutal autocrats, torture - even of the few, even of just one - raises profound moral issues about the quality of America's justice and the legitimacy of its global leadership.

As a people, Australians may face a decision of similar significance. They can break with Canberra's policy and press their government to honour its commitments, under domestic and international law, to protect the human rights of all Australians. Or, they can support the Howard government's decision to placate a powerful ally by consigning David Hicks to further inhumane torture and illegal incarceration, paying what may yet prove a prohibitive price. For, as the Law Council's Lex Lasry has warned, by letting even one of its citizens continue in "the grossly unfair" legal process at Guantanamo, Australia may well have diminished its "moral authority" as a nation. By treating David Hicks as an outcast, Australia now risks making itself a moral outcast in the community of nations.

From Wikipedia:

Alfred W. McCoy is a historian and current Professor of History in the "Center for Southeast Asian Studies", at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He received an undergraduate degree from Columbia University and his PhD in Southeastern Asian history from Yale University. He primarily researches and writes about Philippines history and on the Golden Triangle drug trades of opium and heroin; his 'The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia' was a landmark work documenting how the CIA aided, abetted, and controlled the drug trade for its own enrichment and geo-political purposes.

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