[16 January 2011] Last week I attended an event in London marking the 10-year anniversary of the American gulag at Camp Delta, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, organised jointly by Cage Prisoners, Islamic Human Rights Commission and Reprieve.
It was also the launch of a project by Cage Prisoners called “Laa Tansa –(Never Forget)”, a campaign aimed so that people do not forget the 779 victims of Guantanamo Bay. 171 men remain under detention despite President Obama’s 2009 promise to close the camp. Of these 89 have already been cleared for release, 46 have been cleared for Stalin-style indefinate detention and 32 earmarked for ‘prosecution’ – most likely in closed, military courts.
The event did something powerful insofar as it humanised the men who were kidnapped, tortured, murdered (in some cases) and imprisoned after being arbitrarily labelled ‘terrorist suspects’ and ‘enemy combatants’. It reminded us they were fathers, husbands, and sons of other innocent victims who were their family members. It gave sobering testimony to the complexities after release and the guilt feelings about those left behind – like Shaker Aamer, the last British resident who remains in abominable conditions with 170 others.
But the ‘Guantanamo legacy’ is far more than this criminal camp and the other similar prisons (like Bagram, as well as other ‘secret’ prisons) and the criminal acts that were done in getting people into this camp, and go on inside it. It is far more than the actions of the United States alone.
The ‘Guantanamo legacy’ is the public expose’ of policy decisions by the United States of America, Britain and other allies to pursue their interests in the world by undertaking actions that are considered illegal in their own terms and immoral by their own standards: torture and the use of secret prisons to detain people indefinitely; targeted assassination by drone aircraft that have killed hundreds of others besides the intended targets; invasion and occupation of other countries whilst perpetrating atrocities; violating the sovereignty of your supposed allies as well as killing their soldiers; and a variety of other murderous covert operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
More than one speaker at the 10-year anniversary event, including Michael Ratner of the Centre for Constitutional Rights and solicitor Gareth Peirce, were clear that many of these policies were driven by a specific view in policy making circles about Islam, or ‘Islamism’.
Such has been the success of anti-Islam propaganda in the West that these policies are tolerated – even welcomed – by large numbers of people.
Yet, welcomed or not, they represent proof that the Capitalist world may argue that human rights, freedom and democracy are an integral of its flesh and blood, but they are not. They are like clothes that the Capitalist world chooses to wear when it suits them, but discards when it sees them as uncomfortable. Its flesh and blood is the pursuit of profit, and Islam – with its uncompromising view that it should not be dominated by, colonised by or subservient to, other states – is the primary obstacle to the West harnessing much valued assets in the Muslim world.
Guantanamo may not be taking new kidnap victims, and Obama can promise to close the camp, but the evidence of the past and on-going belligerant policy towards Muslims and the Muslim world by America, Britain and their allies continues.
This week has seen revelations of abuses by US troops and British intelligence operatives that remind us also of these actions that have continued unabated, and will continue even though no new prisoners are sent to Camp Delta.
Images appeared of American soldiers urinating on the corpses of dead Afghans. We are told by the Western media that they were ‘Taliban fighters’. We will never know if they were or were not, but that wouldn’t justify perverse behaviour like this. The US authorities insisted they wished to identify and punish those involved. But the repeated targeting of individuals does nothing to tackle the systemic culture of abuse that exists at a policy level which eventually trickles down to the lower ranks.
We also heard about British complicity in torture of Guantanomo detainees, though the Crown Prosecution Service announced it had insufficient evidence to bring prosecutions against MI5 and MI6 personnel accused of complicity with the torture meted out to the detainees.
The British government has said it plans an inquiry under the retired judge Sir Peter Gibson to look into how much was known by ministers, and how much involvement was there by the British state. But such an inquiry is likely to be in secret and extremely limited in its nature.
Many years ago, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray, asked why Britain was ‘selling its soul for dross’ – revealing that Britain was in receipt of intelligence gathered via torture and questioning the validity of such information.
Since then the political establishment has done little to come clean on their practices and it is unlikely to do so now.
Murray’s assertion had always been that senior civil servants and ministers were fully aware – partly because he told them so. But even his whistle-blowing did little to change the culture at the government level.
The British government has found itself further embarrassed by the decision by Abdul Hakem Belhadj – the leader of the Libyan fighters who overthrew the Gaddafi regime – to prosecute British officials for their complicity with Mousa Koussa, Gaddafi’s security chief who enjoyed warm relations with MI6 for many years, in rendering him and torturing him. Again, questions have been asked at what level of government people knew about these actions, though following the trail of evidence is likely to prove complex and inconclusive.
All of these examples are worth remembering, because these, as well as others tell us something systemic in British and American policy that no number of inquiries and individual prosecutions will end.
Moreover, it is always worth remembering that Britain, France and America have supported vile regimes that abuse, oppress and torture their own people – well before and after 9/11.
David Cameron’s recent trip to Saudi Arabia is as a much a reminder of this on-going policy as were Blair’s trips to visit Gaddafi or Obama’s to Mubarak.
More evidence of the systemic nature of US policy emerged this month and is seen as yet another example of the United States discarding the principles it once tried to preach to others, with Obama signing into law the National Defence Authorisation Act – which allows, amongst other things, the indefinite detention of suspects without trial, greatly expanding the power and scope of the US government to fight its so-called ‘War on Terror’. The US military will now have the power to carry out domestic anti-terror operations within the US.
The US government seems to be following the British state in many of its domestic policies targeting Muslims – including spying on people in mosques, supporting the view that western states have become police states for their Muslim populations.
Britain, that allows the publication of books like the Satanic Verses that insult Islam, has sentenced to three years in prison a man who sells books about political Islam, further reinforcing a view that there are parallel systems of justice and rights for different citizens of different beliefs.
Last year saw hundreds killed in drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen as the US attempted extrajudicial assassinations of targets decided by their intelligence services – the same intelligence services that told us of Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction.
Even though some of the Ex-Guantanamo detainees descriptions of their personal experience with US military and security personnel revealed a vengeful overreaction to US deaths in the 9/11 attacks, this alone cannot explain such a wide range of on-going policy measures that meet the same objectives.
It is so important when remembering the countless injustices and our response to them, that they are rooted more in a desire to suppress the rise of Islam and maintain a Western hegemony on the Muslim world than anything else. These policies have not vanished, but merely change and become less obvious as Britain and America have found themselves shamed before their own populations, never mind the rest of the world.
Dr. Abdul Wahid is a regular contributor to New Civilisation. He is currently the Chairman of the UK-Executive Committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir in Britain. He has been published in The Times Higher Educational Supplement and on the websites of Foreign Affairs, Open Democracy and Prospect magazine. He can be followed on Twitter @abdulwahidht or emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org