A statue named Freedom stands on the summit of the dome of the Capitol building in Washington DC, where it is supposed to symbolise the highest ideal of the American nation. On the evidence of this book, it is an ideal horribly betrayed by the Bush Administration during the years of its War on Terror.
In April 2002 Binyam Mohamed was arrested in Pakistan. A British resident originally from Ethiopa, Binyam had the misfortune to have his passport stolen. He was arrested on his way home attempting to use a friend's passport and, a suspect in the War on Terror, was savagely tortured. American and British agents questioned him during this time. He was then "rendered" by American agents to Morocco where, for 18 months, he was subjected to violent beatings and a variety of horrendous tortures at the hands of a Moroccan torture team, while interrogations by Americans continued. The tortures included cutting with razors. During one two-hour session twenty or thirty cuts were made to his penis. Later, "even worse" things were done to him. He was forced to make false confessions. He was drugged with narcotics by intravenous drip and tortured with noise through headphones. He was finally sent to Guantánamo Bay where he is still imprisoned. He is innocent of all the imaginary offences and al-Qaeda liaisons of which he has been accused by the US. The Bush administration will still not allow him to go free.
Binyam Mohamed's story is only one of many. The US has incarcerated 773 men and boys in Guantánamo Bay. Around 385 are still there, suffering brutally harsh conditions. Some of them are held in long-term solitary confinement. Clive Stafford Smith is a lawyer who currently represents 50 of these "enemy combatants" (sadly, many of the other prisoners have not obtained any legal representation). In this important book Mr Stafford Smith, who has both British and American nationality, relates the circumstances of some of his clients and describes the realities of life as it is lived at Guantánamo - within the limits set by the military censorship with which he is bound to comply.
It emerges that a considerable number of the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay were at the time of their capture, and of course still are, totally innocent, but being in the wrong place at the wrong time were sold into captivity by locals greedy for the bounty offered by the US. Amnesty International has published a finding that "hundreds of people" were arbitrarily detained, after the US offered cash payments, in leaflets dropped by American aircraft, for information on Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. This "rewards programme" resulted in a frenetic market in abductees. It is the reason for the false imprisonment of uncounted men and boys in American secret prisons, in secret locations around the world, and at Guantánamo Bay. In an earlier article [in Index on Censorship, "The Archipelago of Gulags," February 2006] Stafford Smith wrote: "The majority of prisoners I represent were not seized in Afghanistan, but purchased in Pakistan for the bounties offered by the US - starting at $5,000." In Pakistan, the per capita annual income is $720.
Torture by US proxies, the book shows, was carried out to obtain confirmation of the alleged status of these purchased captives as terrorists or enemy combatants. Another victim of rendition was the 16-years-old Hassan bin Attash, who was rendered to Jordan "for sixteen months of torture" because the US government wanted information about his older brother. He is still imprisoned at Guantánamo.
On the basis of the evidence in this book, when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied, in December 2005, that the US had sent so-called enemy combatants to countries where they would be interrogated under torture, she was lying - a lie to which Prime Minister Tony Blair and the British Foreign Secretary of the day repeatedly lent their support at the time.