Gitmo churing out jihadists

When we learnt last week that Abdallah Salih al-Ajmi had blown himself up in Mosul in northern Iraq, the US government presented this as a vindication of its policies. Al-Ajmi was a former inmate of the detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. The Pentagon says that his attack on Iraqi soldiers shows both that it was right to have detained him and that it is dangerous ever to release the camp’s prisoners. On the contrary, it shows how dangerous it was to put them there in the first place.

Al-Ajmi, according to the Pentagon, was one of at least 30 former Guantanamo detainees who have “taken part in anti-coalition militant activities after leaving US detention”. Given that the majority of the inmates appear to have been innocent of such crimes before they were detained, that’s one hell of a recidivism rate. In reality, it turns out that “anti-coalition militant activities” include talking to the media about their captivity.

The accounts of people released from Guantanamo describe treatment that would radicalise almost anyone. In his book Five Years of My Life, Murat Kurnaz maintains that one of the guards greeted him on his arrival with these words. “Do you know what the Germans did to the Jews? That’s exactly what we’re going to do with you.” There were certain similarities. “I knew a man from Morocco,” Kurnaz writes, “who used to be a ship captain. He couldn’t move one of his little fingers because of frostbite. The rest of his fingers were all right. They told him they would amputate it. They brought him to the doctor, and when he came back, he had no fingers left. They had amputated everything but his thumbs.”

The young man — scarcely more than a boy — in the cage next to Kurnaz’s had just had his legs amputated by American doctors after getting frostbite in a coalition prison in Afghanistan. The stumps were still bleeding and covered in pus. He received no further treatment or new dressings. Every time he tried to hoist himself up to sit on his pot by clinging to the wire, a guard would come and hit his hands with a billy-club. Like every other prisoner, he was routinely beaten by the camp’s Immediate Reaction Force, and taken away to interrogation cells to be beaten up some more.

Fathers were clubbed in front of their sons, sons in front of their fathers. The prisoners were repeatedly forced into stress positions, deprived of sleep and threatened with execution. As a senior official at the US Defence Intelligence Agency says, “maybe the guy who goes into Guantanamo was a farmer who got swept along and did very little. He’s going to come out a fully fledged jihadist.” In reading the histories of Guantanamo, and of the kidnappings, extrajudicial detention and torture the US government (helped by the UK) has pursued around the world, two things become clear.

The first is that these practices do not supplement effective investigation and prosecution; they replace them. Instead of a process which generates evidence, assesses it and uses it to prosecute, the US has deployed a process that generates nonsense and is incapable of separating the guilty from the innocent. The second is that far from protecting innocent lives, this process is likely to deliver atrocities. Even if you put the ethics of such treatment to one side, it is evident that it makes the world more dangerous. — The Guardian