I support George W Bush on most issues. I believed and continue to believe that armed action in Iraq and Afghanistan by the coalitions was the right thing to do. I further believe that it was right to send battlefield detainees to Guantanamo Bay and hold them outside most of the provisions of the Geneva Convention. Watching this film was scintillating though I cannot call it entertaining. It was also useful in forcing me to re-examine my opinions.
The detenus came across as humans. In an armed conflict one tends to de-humanise the enemy. It is easier to kill them that way. I am glad to say I have never been within a 100 miles of a battle and I never wish to experience war. To my surprise this film included interviews with the detainees themselves, news footage as well as dramatic reconstructions.
It focuses on 4 Britishers of Pakistani ancestry who went to Pakistan in October 2001. They then crossed over the porous border just as Afghanistan was becoming a war zone between the Taleban and the coalition. In fact Afghanistan had long been the scene of fighting between the Northern Alliance and the Taleban.
It seems a strange decision to cross the frontier into a war zone unless of course one intends to fight. Not a nice spot for a holiday at the time. These youths were all pious Muslims who say a preacher besought the congregation to go to Afghanistan and help. Help in what sense? Fight? If not there was a lot of humanitarian work to be done except these men do not seem to have recounted doing any. It was a bizarre choice to go to Afghanistan at the time and even suspicious but that does not in itself make them terrorists.
These men came across as nice guys but that does not mean they were not engaged in terrorism. One can come across as amiable and indeed be very amiable on a personal level and still hold loathsome views and commit the most horrendous crimes. They say they went to Taleban controlled areas. The town they were in came under attack by the coalition and they surrendered to the Northern Alliance. Every man – even if not a combatant – was treated as though he were one. They were held in poor conditions. There was some harsh treatment form the Northern Alliance. Their arms were tied to tight they say. They were held in a container with no ventilation – that was cruel, if it is true. The Northern Alliance shot through it to provide breathing holes. The prison they were kept in was very overcrowded. They were not fed enough and allowed no exercise. I am of course taking everything they said at face value. For most of the program they gave an impression of veracity. Occasionally I did see the blink rate race. This is a sign that they are probably being mendacious.
They then came to the attention of the US military. The US had heard that some prisoners spoke English. Why did these men identify themselves? They may have feared the consequences if they were discovered not revealing this fact. They may have thought it would get them better treatment. They were interrogated. They interrogators did not abuse them. Shouting and the use of foul language is not abuse in these circumstances. Holding a gun to someone’s head when he is not a significant threat I do consider to be wrong. These men were tied up and on their knees in front of two armed men. The US considered these men to be highly dangerous but I think they took it too far. I began sympathising with these British Pakistanis a lot.
The US military had these men in a pen for days or weeks. They lack of exercise and the fact that they were not allowed to talk seems very unfair. The American troops moved these guys around by dragging them very fast. I suppose this was to make escape or fighting very difficult.
The men allege that they were chained in uncomfortable positions and forced to listen to very loud music. I found myself thinking of this as torture. Maybe that word is too strong. Abuse would be better. The men do not allege beatings -electric shocks and so on.
Ifound myself losing respect for the US military. Are you so feeble that you have to keep the men hooded and chained when they are in your custody – when you are trained soldiers – when you have guns and they have none – when they are thousands of miles from home and successful escape is a virtual impossibility?
The interrogation sessions did not include mistreatment. It seems to me that the US invented things to try and scare the detainees into implicating themselves. ”So and so said you did this…” The strategy is to convince the prisoner that he has already lost and the only thing he can do to help himself is to confess.
I think it probable that these men were involved in terrorism in a minor way. I believe that some of them have subsequently admitted that.
I feel it was wrong to deny them lawyers, contact with him and consular services for so long. The US authorities seemed to be so convinced that these men were guilty that they were not willing to consider that they might be innocent.
I re-state that in the extraodinary circumstances after 9/11 it was right to use extraordinary measures. In that most dangerous time peoples’ rights had to be curtailed temporarily. The thing is this must be temporary. It must have a sunset clause. Of course in wars compromises have to be made and innocent people suffer. The encroachment on individual rights must be a short term thing. It cannot go on for ever.
The British Army banned hooding after it was used in Northern Ireland in 1972. The US very unfairly criticised the UK excessively. Yet the US military used this method over 30 years after the British military scrapped it as an abuse.
The US seemed to think the prisoners were super fighters. They had to be chained and hooded. I will say this for the US policy I do not think that any American guards were seriously harmed by the prisoners or anyone escaped. The US authorities always said these men were too dangerous to be allowed better treatment.
Obama promised to close Guantanamo by January 2010. Over a year has gone by since that expired. Why is the media not holding him to account? He is getting too easy a ride.
The men in the documentary claim that a mentally disturbed prisoner was badly beaten because he kept calling out at a female soldier. If that is true then that was an abuse.
The scene where a guard stamps on and kills a scorpion to save a prisoner was revealing. Suddenly a guard seemed to care for a prisoner. The prisoner thanked him profusely. It was a rare moment of warmth in the film between the two sides.
Of course that the US did is nothing compared to what her enemies did. Yes, the US should set the standard for good behaviour. I must remind myself though that this film is totally one-sided. It allows assertions by one side to go unchallenged. It shows the US personnel as being arrogant, bigoted, ignorant, cruel, fascistic and brutal at all times. They Americans only once come across as decent in that scorpion incident. To be fair this depiction of the Americans has some truth in it especially when seen from the perspective of those held by them in such conditions. It was almost funny when the American woman asked the prisoners to work for the US. What – after all this you think we like you guy? In my mind I was cheering the prisoners on when they swore at the guards and won little victories.
What can I say in favour of the US treatment of these men? The prisoners were well-fed; they had clean clothes; they were washed; they had medical care; they slept in clean warm and dry places; they were provided with the Koran.
Much though I disagree with Islam and indeed all religions I do not oppose it. If people wish to be strict Muslims and pray five times daily and so forth I would do nothing to obstruct them. Of course such people can be totally good people.