on 9 May 2009
Until I read Clive Stafford Smith's book about Guantanamo, I was of the opinion that Henry Kissinger was the world's most wicked man, mainly because of his part in the overthrow of the Allende government in Chile, but also for his totally amoral attitude towards the benefit to his country of its actions, right or wrong.
This book has convinced me that Donald Rumsfeld and the rest of the senior mambers of the George W Bush administration (not Dubbya himself - he's too stupid to carry blame, only scorn) have taken over that accolade.
Mr Stafford Smith's book makes grim, but utterly compelling, reading. He has been lawyer to several of the Guantanamo prisoners and he highlights both the cruelty and utter incompetence of the facility and of those who controlled it in the Bush years. The disgraceful subterfuge of 'rendering' (awful word) prisoners to allied countries prepared to use fearful torture, thus absolving the USA administration from actual involvement in this, is also highlighted.
It's a well-written book, filled with righteous indignation, which every reader without a personal agenda on the issue of terror should share on reading it.
Mr Stafford Smith is to be congratulated on his bravery in writing this important book.
Clearly, Barack Obama shares this view of Guantanamo (though he's too diplomatic to say so in as many words). His vow to close the prison seems to me his best act, among many good acts, of his first 100 days.
on 12 July 2007
This excellent book by the lawyer Clive Stafford Smith is a chilling exposé of the revolting crimes committed by the US state at Guantanamo Bay. It was written under US military censorship rules, so he has been forced to conceal worse horrors than he reveals. Since January 2002, 759 people have been imprisoned there, including 64 children. After five years, fewer than half the prisoners have even met a lawyer, but most have met a torturer.
The US state uses the `ticking bomb' rationale to try to justify torturing prisoners. But there has never been a single case where torture saved lives by yielding information that prevented the explosion of a ticking bomb.
The US state has also used this rationale to encourage, assist and exploit torture by its allies. Torture in Egypt led to the false confession of a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qa'ida, a claim used to try to try to get us to support attacking Iraq. Torture in Morocco led to the US state's allegation of a plot to explode a dirty bomb in New York. The people that US Attorney-General Ashcroft named as responsible were never charged with the plot because, as officials said, that "could open up charges from defence lawyers that their earlier statements were a result of torture." This was to admit that the charges were true.
Under the US military commission's procedures for trying just ten of Guantanamo Bay's prisoners, even if the defendant were acquitted, he could still be held forever because all prisoners are supposedly "enemy combatants that we captured on the battlefield" (administration lawyer); "these are people picked up off the battlefield in Afghanistan" (Bush).
But in the real world, 55% of the prisoners are not even alleged ever to have taken part in hostilities. 95% of them were not captured by US troops; they were turned over to the USA by Pakistan or Afghanistan's Northern Alliance, for payment equivalent to seven years' salaries. 92% have not even been accused of being Al Qa'ida fighters.
Stafford Smith recounts the commission hearing of Binyam Mohamed in December 2005. The senior prosecutor allegedly said, "the military panel will be hand-picked and will not acquit these detainees." Lord Justice Steyn called these commissions kangaroo courts, where judges bound straight from charges to verdicts. In June 2006 the Supreme Court ruled that the commissions were illegal. In October, Congress reinstated them by passing Bush's Military Commissions Act.
Stafford Smith estimates that the US state is holding another 14,000 prisoners in other camps and prisons across the world, including on Britain's colony of Diego Garcia. Even Goering was given a fair trial - how many of these 14,000 people will ever get a fair trial? The Labour government has connived at and participated in these disgusting crimes that strengthen only Al Qa'ida.
on 3 January 2008
Unless, that is, you already have 'The Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side'. This is basically the same book, with a different title and dust-jacket. There may be minor differences (I posted my copy of Bad Men to a friend a few days before this one arrived, so I haven't been able to compare them directly), but if so they're very minor. There are even some of the same minor typographical errors in this one.
As for the book's contents, it's about the kidnapping, illegal deportation, torture and imprisoment without trial of those unfortunate enough to have ended up in Guantanamo Bay. Thankfully the author is a highly experienced human rights lawyer, not a 'Sun' headline writer; this book would be unreadable if there was any trace of hyperbole, as the facts disclosed are bad enough. Basically, most of the Guatanamo 'prisoners' were sold into captivity for large ransoms paid by the Americans. Most have been tortured, some severely, often by techniques used in the Spanish Inquisition, though much is witheld, partly due to censorship by the US military, partly because some of the victims understandably do not wish the full details of their ordeal to become common knowledge. Even those who have not been tortured have mostly been subjected to vicious beatings, in many cases causing severe and permanent injuries. None have had a trial, let alone a proper, fair and open trial. The amazing thing is that some people still defend the blatent war crimes revealed in this book. 'Kafkaesque' doesn't even begin to describe the awful reality that has befallen these men. Even Kafka's nightmares were nothing compared to this.
If you have any interest in truth, justice, or liberty you need to read this.
on 25 October 2007
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.
A fascinating survey on Guantanamo Bay and its inmates by someone with first-hand knowledge.
Stafford Smith's high profile as a campaigner necessarily lends itself to a slanted view; however, that profile does not get in the way, as (unlike a lot of lawyers of my acquaintance) he writes like a dream. His focus on the human effects of legal and military convention makes what could have been a turgid diatribe into an interesting and challenging read.
This is a book which both students of law and modern historians will be referring back to in times to come.
on 24 September 2012
After reading this, the only reason I can think of as to why there isn't uproar around the Western world about Guantanamo et al is that most of the population are too busy shopping or watching soaps - and that's probably what the American governement count on. I'm not sure whether I was more outraged by the actual treatment of the prisoners or the pathetic rationale that the US Army uses to justify it.
So here we are, 10 years on, and despite Obama's weasel words when he first got elected, the place still exists, and real people rot in it, many without knowing why they're there, while Hilary Clinton has the gall to berate Syria for its inhumanity.
on 29 October 2014
A truly brilliant and frightening publication.
In equal parts I was racked by sorrow, anger and guilt. Through a very easy writing style Clive Stafford Smith opens the doors on a world the military and government are intent on keeping locked shut. It is insightful and thought provoking, and was one of the best books I had read that year.
It is written in a matter of fact manner, there is no glitz and glamour, and no thrills, it is simple, honest and painful. It is impossible to read this and not feel something within you. Smith brings to our attention the various ludicrous actions and policies which have been implemented, allowing the reader to make up their own minds on the existence of the camp and its inmates. Inevitably, only one possible conclusion can be reached, utter condemnation.
Smith expertly portrays the stories of inmates he has worked with and re-brands these "terrorists", putting them in their rightful category as "human". He does not lead, he does not embellish, and he does not manipulate. Through the simple act of presenting factual accounts we are shown the true nature of one of the most disgusting situations in the Western world.
Guantanamo is a stain on our democratic beliefs and ideals, and Smith shines the light on to it for all to see. Hard to ignore, impossible to forget.
on 24 January 2014
It really is something that you have to read to believe. Whether you're pro or anti Gitmo it's worth reading through some of the first hand accounts in this book. Clive Stafford Smith goes to great lengths to put across a fair, measured and often amusing account of the hourly plight of those locked up in Guantanamo.
on 1 March 2015
Although this was published a number of years ago it remains as vivid and relevant today. I can't improve on some of the excellent reviews here. The one on 29 Oct 2014 by Paddy Vipond captures my sentiments entirely. Sorrow, anger and guilt indeed. While I'll admit to being something of a lily-livered pinko this book does not ram the message home and I think anyone, whatever your political views, will gain much from this book. It is, in many places, simply horrific but Clive Stafford Smith has gone to great lengths to offer his account dispassionately.
The main thing I'd like to add is that after I finished this book I immediately went to the Reprieve website. Among others, Shaker Aamer remains incarcerated in Guantanamo.
on 23 August 2008
Such a well written book on such an incredibly sobering topic. It makes me angry and ashamed the lengths the USA and UK will go to try and justify the existence of Guantanamo Bay and the heinous practices associated with it and the secret prisons. Clive Stafford-Smith writes in such a low-key non sensationalist manner, that it makes his points all the more powerful. I couldn't put this book down until I'd finished it and then I wanted to know what had happened to the defendants after the book was written. A great book that taxes the moral conscience!