Gitmo: Conditions worsening since election
Joe Byrne
Published: Sunday February 8, 2009

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Update at bottom: UK suppressed evidence related to genital slicing torture

The Obama Administration has made the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison facility a high priority. One of Obama's first executive orders, two days after inauguration, was that Guantanamo be closed within the year. Human rights activists are applauding the order, as well as his promise that all American-led torture will cease. With new leadership, many are optimistic that the methods American forces use to gather intelligence during conflict will be dramatically changed.

But surprisingly, in Guantanamo's eleventh hour, conditions are deteriorating due to a massive hunger strike. Lt. Col. Yvonne-Bradley, a lawyer of detainee Binyam Mohamed, revealed to The Observer's Mark Townsend and Paul Harris that 50 out of 260 prisoners within Guantanamo are on strike. 20 of those are unhealthy enough to be listed as “critical.” The Joint Task Force in charge of Guantanamo has not commented on the hunger strike.

"Binyam has witnessed people being forcibly extracted from their cell. Swat teams in police gear come in and take the person out; if they resist, they are force-fed and then beaten. Binyam has seen this and has not witnessed this before. Guantanamo Bay is in the grip of a mass hunger strike and the numbers are growing; things are worsening,” Bradley said.

Lt. Col. Bradley is in London to demand the release of her client, a UK resident, and to obtain disclosure of secret documents that reveal Britain's complicity in Mohamed's imprisonment and torture. Binyam Mohamed was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and taken to a “Morocco torture prison." There, he was told that the MI5 was working with the CIA to bring down Al Qaeda. 2 years later he was moved to a similar prison in Kabul, and finally ended up at Guantanamo in May 2005. While in detention, he was interviewed by an MI5 officer known only as “Witness B.” Selected journal entries recording his experience in each prison can be found here.

If the records obtained by Bradley indicate that MI5 was involved in the torture of Mohamed and others, then there will almost certainly be an investigation into the UK's secret activities in the War on Terror. UK intelligence officials, including Foreign Secretary David Miliband, may face criminal prosecution. Claims that Miliband was keen to suppress evidence of torture are going to be evaluated in court this week.

Meanwhile, a visit by the Senate Armed Services Committee to Guantanamo Bay brought only positive news from the detention facility. Senator James Inhofe (R, OK) led a “fact-finding mission” in response to Obama's executive order to close the prison. He is opposed to the closing of the prison, which would result in the eventual freedom of 260 inmates, most of whom have already been imprisoned for 4 years. A video of Inhofe at Guantanamo was published on his blog. “The detainee complex at Guantanamo is the only complex in the world that can safely and humanely hold these individuals who pose such a grave security risk to the US,” he said in a floor Senate speech.

Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) added, “If anyone receives mistreatment at Guantanamo, it is the guard force. They must endure frequent verbal and physical attacks from detainees while maintaining the highest standard of care for those same individuals.” None of the four senators who went on the visit have made any references to the hunger strike that is being held by one-fifth of the population.

Despite Obama's executive order to close the prison and his promise to transform U.S. intelligence tactics, key Bush-era Guantanamo advisers still hold their positions within the Pentagon. Three senior officials who oversaw policy at the prison were suspected of 'burrowing in', or creating career jobs out of political appointment. Some are worried that these officials who supported Guantanamo during the Bush administration will be reluctant to shut it down.

It's unclear whether Obama will keep his promise of reversing the way we deal with suspected terrorists. The closure of Guantanamo Bay will not be easy and faces opposition by Republicans in the Senate and many within the Pentagon. However, as developments in the UK and the US bring documents from the past eight years of secret interrogations to light, more information may help the Obama administration fulfill its promises.

UK suppressed evidence related to genital slicing torture

The evidence that the UK government had suppressed from a torture suspect's trial referred to genital slicing torture, according to a published report.

"Material in a CIA dossier on Mr Mohamed that was blacked out by High Court judges contained details of how British intelligence officers supplied information to his captors and contributed questions while he was brutally tortured," The Sunday Telegraph reported.

The article continues, "Intelligence sources have revealed that spy chiefs put pressure on Mr Miliband to do nothing that would leave serving MI6 officers open to prosecution, or to jeopardise relations with the CIA, which is passing them 'top notch' information on British terrorist suspects from its own informers in Britain."

"The 25 lines edited out of the court papers contained details of how Mr Mohamed's genitals were sliced with a scalpel and other torture methods so extreme that waterboarding, the controversial technique of simulated drowning, 'is very far down the list of things they did,' the official said," Tim Shipman and Melissa Kite, report for The Telegraph.

Last week, British foreign secretary David Miliband vehemently denied that the US had pressured Britain to keep the Mohamed documents secret, insisting instead that the UK was unable to release the information simply because it would have violated the intel-sharing agreement with the US, an explanation that doesn't appear to jibe with what the High Court judges originally described.