Twenty years of horror at Guantánamo Bay
Twenty years have passed since the first detainees arrived at Guantánamo Bay. The US detention center is located on a naval base in eastern Cuba. The Cuban government continually calls for its closure and considers that it is located in occupied territory. The prison was built in ninety-six hours after the terrible attacks of September 11, 2001 and held 780 prisoners. They were of forty-nine different nationalities, mainly Afghans, Saudis, Yemenis and Pakistanis, and were between thirteen and eighty-nine years old when detained. Guantánamo is an impregnable place where torture and impunity were – and probably still are – the order of the day.
Guantánamo is a demonstration of the worst of a state, the worst that human beings are capable of inflicting on their fellow human beings. During these two decades, only twelve of the detainees were prosecuted; among them, only two were condemned by a military commission. Today, thirty-nine people remain in prison, twenty-seven of them without charge. The twenty-seven who have not been charged in all this time remain there, convinced that they are prisoners of war in the conflict with al-Qaeda, with no end in sight for their situation. Like the newspaper La Vanguardia recently recalled, the trial of the five alleged ringleaders of 9/11, including that of the alleged leader, Khalid Shaykh Mohammed, has still not started after ten years of preliminary hearings.
In 2002, from court number 5 of the Audiencia Nacional, I issued an indictment against Spanish citizen Hamed Abderrahaman Ahmed – alias Hamido, imprisoned in Guantanamo – as a member of the Spanish cell of Al-Qaeda . In December 2003, I issued an arrest warrant. I used it to request his extradition from the United States.
His release was obtained in February 2004 in exchange for the commitment of the government of José María Aznar to keep him in prison, which clearly fell within my jurisdiction on the basis of the open procedure. On February 13, Interpol confirmed his surrender to me. On the same day, I received a call from the Minister of Justice, José María Michavila, asking me to assure him that the detainee would not be released, as this could affect the elections which were to take place on the following March 14. replied categorically that what he was telling me was out of place.
This was to be the first case in the world in which a person was released from this prison. He was a person deprived of all his rights who recovered them, without prejudice to the charges that could be brought against him and which predated his departure from Spain to Afghanistan. Once there, I ordered him to undergo a thorough medical examination, but before that I asked him about his detention and treatment at Guantánamo.
From my notes at the time:
He told me about individual iron cells (cages) measuring 2 x 1.5 m; with not every day a quarter of an hour outside, in permanent silence, a hood on the head, blows in the face, successive interrogations without a lawyer. For more than two years, this person has been living in a situation of lawlessness. I agreed to have him admitted to the Gregorio Marañón Hospital, despite the fact that the medical reports were not unfavorable.
I had a confused feeling. On the one hand, the satisfaction of having been handed over to a suspected terrorist, but, on the other, I felt the heartbreak, unease, disgust and unease that the disorientation he brought with him, the ordeal he had to go through in this concentration camp. I authorized the family to see him in an open and comfortable space (at the secretariat and not in the dungeons) in case this alternative could remind him of what he experienced in Guantánamo. Lawyer Javier Nart was very professional and told me that he would file a civil liability lawsuit against the United States.
In 2009, I took legal action to investigate those responsible for torturing Guantánamo prisoners. Several complaints and lawsuits followed. Today, like that day in 2004, I am still moved by the stories of the victims. The practice of torture has been a temptation and a constant throughout history. Multiple investigations have shown this (dictatorships, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, terrorism, prisons, interrogations). It is the very negation of human rationality and the grossest denial of the rule of law.
Naturally, the American authorities have only ever collaborated to obstruct the investigation, with the valuable collaboration of certain Spanish officials, as WikiLeaks revealed in 2010. I don’t forget those cables from the US Embassy in Madrid that talked about ‘twisting Garzón’s arm’ or ‘we suspect Garzón will get all the publicity for the case unless he’s forced to give it up”. This publication probably saved the case and led the judges of the Audiencia Nacional to confirm their jurisdiction and order the continuation of the investigation. The Spanish Supreme Court would call Guantánamo a legal vacuum, considering any evidence obtained there to be illegal.
On December 9, 2014, a report by the United States Senate stated that Guantanamo embodies the barbarism of a system that has lost all humanitarian reference and forgotten the rule of law in the sewers of clandestine detention centers, secret prisons, and at every brought to or the humiliation of defenseless people deprived of their most basic rights. In an article that I published a few days later on the site of my foundation, FIBGAR, I exposed what I think today: that the justification of the need to apply these methods to fight against terrorism, in addition to being a legal aberration, is false, and supports a twelve-year-plus deception shared by many governments and legal systems that have remained eerily silent. And let the shame extend to all countries whose leaders have consented and continue to consent to the illicit actions of US agencies and those who aid or abet them.
But even more, this Senate decision confirmed that such criminal actions by the CIA at Guantánamo were useless because the detainees – who had not been tried – in the face of these expeditious methods, signed false declarations which served to justify the senior officials of this intelligence agency and the American authorities who have systematically used torture as a means of combating terrorism and as a state policy to subjugate other countries.
As for the American administration, President George Bush admitted that Taliban and Afghan detainees would be covered by the Geneva Convention. In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that this convention applied to all detainees and that the military commission system violated international law. Five hundred of the detainees were released. Another 200 were to be released during Barack Obama’s tenure, when he planned to close the center within a year.
Donald Trump arrived and stopped this process. Joe Biden became president with the promise to shut him down. To date, only one detainee has been transferred. The Biden administration’s position is clear: Guantánamo is “a moral stain,” as State Department spokesman Ned Price has said. But Biden clashes with Senate Republicans who reject any possibility of closing the prison. Prisoners are considered dangerous and the use of public funds for their transportation to any destination or for any improvement of prison facilities is prohibited.
In London, protests are currently taking place against what they call “eternal prisoners”. “Charge them or release them”, demand the demonstrators. Guantánamo is a disgrace and a paradigm of what a country that adorns itself with human rights is capable of doing against them, deceiving the global message to protect them.
Universal jurisdiction, the instrument that allowed us in Spain to carry out this investigation and the subsequent trials, had proven to be a tool capable of defeating the systematic and arbitrary attacks of any regime, however powerful- he. But politics resists pressure badly and, too often, judges do not fight as they should for their independence. Organic Law 1/2014, of March 13, modifying Organic Law 6/1985, of July 1, on the Judiciary, on Universal Justice, under the government of the People’s Party, came to put a definitive end to a first reform in 2009 under a socialist regime. government, which has limited it. If Spain had been a world reference, impunity would be limited and the protection of vulnerable people would be strengthened.
As for Guantánamo, I always tried to get whoever I could out of that nightmarish place. But all this has only reaffirmed to me, today and during these twenty years, that the defense of victims and the guarantees of the rule of law must be maintained above all compromise, and that it is crucial to denounce those who seek to obstruct the exercise of independent justice, however powerful they may be.