BAD MEN– Guantanamo Bay & the secret prisons

BAD MEN Guantanamo Bay & the secret prisons

An evening with Clive Stafford Smith- Hebden Bridge- West Yorkshire – 3rd July 2007

By Andrusha Wickremeratne (Hebden Bridge)

As my wife and I walked into a packed cinema hall on Tuesday evening, I recognised a dimunitive, bespectacled, slim looking man sitting patiently, seemingly waiting his turn. I turned to my wife and remarked: “oh that’s him…….Clive Stafford Smith”. So who is this man?
Clive Stafford Smith is a lawyer. He moved to New Orleans some 25 years ago and started working with inmates in America’s notorious death row prisons; defending, for the most part, poor people, mostly blacks. People who never received a fair trial; and he had notable successes. From the beginning of 2002, Stafford Smith has volunteered his services to detainees at Guantanamo Bay and has assisted in filing lawsuits on behalf of 128 detainees. His clients include: Shaker Aamer, Jamil al Banna, Moazzam Begg and Benyam Mohammad.

It has to be said that considering what he has seen and heard from his clients; their harrowing tales of torture, and from his experiences in dealing with the American and British security apparatus, he had a most positive tale to tell. So what did he have to say?

First, the title of the talk, “Bad Men”. This was a term coined by that well known good guy George. W. Bush, as in “there are some bad men in there”. Referring to the point that, yes there may be some innocents that get trawled in, but in the overall scheme of things (i.e. the threat posed is so bad), this is ok. What Stafford Smith calls the “ticking time bomb” scenario. The threat (i.e. the time bomb) is so bad that it is ok to subvert the judicial process and detain people in an army base in Cuba with no lawyers because, the argument goes, this will save lives.

So who are the people, and how did most of them arrive in a place that gives the local wildlife (in this case iguanas who roam plentifully about) more ‘human’ rights than them? This is no joke. If an American soldier kills an iguana he or she will be fined $10,000 and jailed for a number of years. They can do more or less what they like to people like Moazzam Begg.

Anyway, I am digressing. Donald Rumsfeld blatantly lied and stated that every detainee had arrived in Guantanamo Bay captured in the battlefields of Afghanistan. In fact 95% of inmates came via another way. How? One of the ways came about during the time of the Bombing and invasion of Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11/01. Posters depicting “Muslim” men (not particular individuals, but generic pictures in some sort of western caricature of what a “Muslim” looks like; you know, beard, headdress, somewhat wild – eyed) were dropped by planes in areas of Afghanistan. Accompanying this picture was written in Arabic, Pashto or Urdu, the inscription that “you can receive $5000 if you know the whereabouts of anyone connected to Bin Laden and al Qaeda”. So the local authorities duly received various notifications of various Bad Men seen in the Tora Bora caves, talking to Bin Laden, kissing his hand etc etc. 5000 dollars!! This is equivalent to about £250,000 per year here, taking into consideration our cost of living and economic system and way of life. And so people were trawled in on this say so and detained in Guantanamo Bay and others like it. Places like Poland, Morocco, Gambia and Egypt, and now Bagram air base in Iraq. There are today, apart from Guantanamo Bay, some 14,000 people languishing in secret prisons. No lawyers. No defence.

How else did they come? Through CIA “intelligence”. The other thing to emerge from the talk was the sheer incompetence and willful blindness of the security apparatus, and interrogators of the United States. People in Guantanamo Bay and other prisons, who under torture, have confessed to belonging to al Qaeda (incidentally, the expression used by those purporting to establish democracy in the Middle East is not torture, but ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’), plotting mayhem, and in one case being the General of al Qaeda, have in turn, given names of others who might be threatening ‘our way of life’. And “evidence” garnered in this way is taken at face value. Incidentally the man confessing to be the General of al Qaeda was, in fact, a chef in a north London restaurant at the time he was supposed to have been with Bin Laden orchestrating plots and training recruits; whose details it would have been very easy to check. As eventually Stafford Smith did, and point out.

By the way, these men were, and are, classified as Prisoners of War (POWs). Since there is a War on Terror, there is some logic to referring to them as POWs .But with one main caveat; these guys have no recourse to the Geneva Convention.

I mentioned earlier that Stafford Smith’s delivery this night was positive. The first thing to say is that he actually enjoys his work. Yes enjoys! Being able to somehow, through various machinations, get into some of these prisons and represent these men. Hearing their stories of suffering and anguish, and being able to assist in some way, by ridiculing their captor’s methods and logic, and perhaps most importantly of all, by seeing how they have, unbelievably, retained their dignity as human beings.

Also, as the night was drawing to a close, the perennial question arose from the audience: “what can we (as in mere ordinary people) do?” Well, what Stafford Smith pointed out is that there is a lot of small things that cumulatively add up to a lot. Just sacrificing a bit of your time writing letters or poems to inmates brings great hope that they have not been forgotten. Stafford Smith mentioned a 14 year old boy (apparently an al Qaeda recruiting sergeant ) in a jail in Gambia whose sense of self worth and faith in humanity was maintained because, in large part, of letters of encouragement*.

From the viewpoints of those voted to safeguard our freedoms and security, who purport to act in our name in their various acts of terror, people like Clive Stafford Smith, those who think like him, and those he tries to help, are Bad Men. Well, from any rational and sane definition of good and bad, this slim unassuming person is a very good man.

Andrusha Wickremeratne is a freelance writer, independant Political analyst and a speaker at local events and media Outlets covering local, national and Internatioanl events. He is a regular guest speaker on Islam Radio’s Current Affairs show and has made appearnaces on Crescent radio (Rochdale). He currently lives in Hebden Bridge but works in Rochdale with the local community as an Adult tutor.

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