A Kinder, Gentler Torture

H. Candace Gorman

While stay­ing at his in-law’s vil­lage in Afghanistan in Decem­ber 2001, Abdul Hamid Al-Ghiz­za­wi, my client at Guan­tá­namo, knew lit­tle of Bush and Cheney. 

Al-Gwhizzawi told me he thought he would be safe with the Americans 'and have rights' and be treated 'with respect.' He was wrong.

Lat­er, when vig­i­lante thugs turned him over to the North­ern Alliance for an Amer­i­can boun­ty, Al-Ghiz­za­wi knew noth­ing of Don­ald Rums­feld, Alber­to Gon­za­les, Jay Bybee, John Yoo or Matthew Wax­man – the man who would become Al-Ghizzawi’s per­son­al war crim­i­nal and who is now a pro­fes­sor at Colum­bia Law School.

So, it was under­stand­able that when Al-Ghiz­za­wi heard Amer­i­can troops were com­ing, he tried to get him­self turned over to them. As Al-Ghiz­za­wi lat­er told me, he thought he would be safe with the Amer­i­cans and have rights” and be treat­ed with respect.” Al-Ghiz­za­wi con­vinced the Amer­i­cans to take him when they learned he spoke Eng­lish. That was all the troops knew about him. Igno­rance of who he was or why he was there, how­ev­er, proved no imped­i­ment to torture. 

In the ear­ly years, the Amer­i­cans treat­ed me very bru­tal­ly and dis­re­spect­ful­ly, worse than the North­ern Alliance … and the North­ern Alliance was very bad,” Al-Ghiz­za­wi recount­ed to me. But now the tor­ture is much dif­fer­ent. Now the tor­ture is my life every day in this prison, alone with­out my fam­i­ly, dying, with no rights and no charges.” 

His Amer­i­can jail­ers spared Al-Ghiz­za­wi the very worst of the worst in the long list of tor­ture tech­niques now in use. He was not mur­dered or water­board­ed. He did not have a razor blade tak­en to his penis, nor was he hung from the ceil­ing by his arms. One might describe Al-Ghizzawi’s tor­ture as a kinder, gen­tler torture.

In Amer­i­can cus­tody, Al-Ghiz­za­wi was only beat­en with chains; bound to chairs in excru­ci­at­ing posi­tions for end­less hours; threat­ened with death and with rape; stripped and sub­ject­ed to body-cav­i­ty search­es by non-med­ical per­son­nel while men – and women – laughed and took pictures. 

Among many oth­er bru­tal­i­ties and indig­ni­ties, Al-Ghiz­za­wi was also posed naked with oth­er pris­on­ers; ter­ror­ized with dogs; forced to kneel on stones in the sear­ing heat; left to stand or crouch for extend­ed peri­ods; deprived of sleep; sub­ject­ed to extreme cold with­out clothes or cov­er­ing; denied med­ical atten­tion; and kept in iso­la­tion for years.

Again, as I said: a kinder, gen­tler torture.

Now, of course, Al-Ghiz­za­wi knows all about Bush and his enabling min­ions. He knows that lawyers invent­ed legal the­o­ries to jus­ti­fy the inhu­mane and inde­fen­si­ble treat­ment he received. He knows the role that lawyers such as Bybee, Yoo and Matthew Wax­man played.

At the end of 2004, Wax­man, then assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for detainee affairs, who is cur­rent­ly try­ing to rein­vent him­self as one of the good guys, learned that Al-Ghiz­za­wi and oth­ers were found not to be ene­my com­bat­ants” (EC) or threats to the Unit­ed States by the military’s own com­bat­ant sta­tus review tri­bunals (CSRTs). Wax­man set into motion a do-over” CSRT, to make sure that Al-Ghizzawi’s suf­fer­ing con­tin­ue, lest Wax­man and the Bush admin­is­tra­tion suf­fer the embar­rass­ment of being exposed for hold­ing numer­ous inno­cent men for years for no reason. 

Note this declas­si­fied por­tion of an e‑mail chain between Wax­man and others: 

Incon­sis­ten­cies will not cast a favor­able light on the CSRT process or the work done by [Office for the Admin­is­tra­tive Review of the Deten­tion of Ene­my Com­bat­ants]. This does not jus­ti­fy mak­ing a change in and or (sic) itself but is a fil­ter by which to look … . By prop­er­ly clas­si­fy­ing them as EC, then there is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to (1) fur­ther exploit them here in [G]TMO and (2) when they are trans­ferred to a third coun­try, it will be con­trolled trans­fer in status.” 

Every time I vis­it, Al-Ghiz­za­wi asks me, What hap­pened to Amer­i­ca?” I try to explain the unex­plain­able. I tell him that the Amer­i­can gov­ern­ment now believes that tor­ture is per­mis­si­ble; that we can hold peo­ple for­ev­er with­out charge; keep peo­ple in iso­la­tion for years; bar com­mu­ni­ca­tions with fam­i­ly mem­bers; force-feed those who want to die and refuse to pro­vide med­ical treat­ment for those who want to live. I explain that the Amer­i­can peo­ple, whose nation once stood as a bea­con of human rights, nei­ther care about this nor want to hear about it.

I also assure him that I am col­lect­ing the names of those responsible.

Attor­ney Seth Far­ber con­tributed to this article.

H. Can­dace Gor­man is a civ­il rights attor­ney in Chica­go. She blogs reg­u­lar­ly about legal issues sur­round­ing Guan­tanamo detainees at The Guan­tanamo Blog.
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