Vanessa Redgrave: Guantanamo's torture regime is a shameful disgrace
The British intelligence services and the Foreign Office appear complicit in the torture
23 August 2004
I have just returned from a theatre workshop in
Croatia, with women who survived Tito's concentration
camp for political prisoners on the island of Goli
Otok. Officially this was a "work site" or "labour
camp", and was opened by the Yugoslav State Security
Service in 1948, when Tito split from Stalin.
The women prisoners were suspected of being
pro-Stalin. They were never formally charged with a
crime, and were never tried or given access to lawyers
or a chance to defend themselves. On the island they
were subjected to hideous beatings, forced to stand
over urine buckets or against a wall for hours on end
in "stress-positions"; they were deprived of sleep,
denied food and drinking water as punishment and
locked away in isolation. They were prohibited from
washing even in the sea, and had to endure repeated
interrogations and "self-criticism". They were called
"bandits", "scum", "traitors", "enemies of the state".
In effect, Stalin's methods were being used by the
State Security Service against those suspected of
being "pro-Stalin". No one knows how many went mad,
how many died, or how many attempted suicide. In
Tito's time, this was a "State Secret".
All the survivors of Goli Otok (the island had a camp
for men as well) agree that under prolonged conditions
of torture, they would do anything, say anything,
write anything and sign anything that was demanded of
them in the hope of being released.
I have also just finished reading the 115-page
document Detention in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay
compiled by Birnberg Pierce & Partners, lawyers for
the three British citizens released from Guantanamo
Bay without charge in March. Their accounts of
detention are horrifyingly similar to the conditions
in Goli Otok. In both cases, the denial of a trial,
and a specified date of release added to the physical
torture the three endured.
Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed were
captured in northern Afghanistan in November 2001. All
three state that they were physically tortured in
Sherbagan, Kandahar, before being consigned to the
psychological and physical hell of Guantanamo Bay. In
March this year they were sent back to England and
released without charges.
Asif and Shafiq say they were interrogated by an SAS
officer in Kandahar before they were flown to
Guantanamo. Rhuhel states that he was questioned in
Kandahar by MI5 and separately by someone from the
Foreign Office. He was in a terrible state from
prolonged sleep deprivation, starvation and
dehydration. The MI5 officer told him he would be sent
home if he agreed to "admit to everything" that was
put to him. "I just said 'OK' to everything they said
to me. I agreed with everything, whether it was true
or not. I just wanted to get out of there." During
their two years of incarceration in Guantanamo M15
officers and a representative of the British embassy
in Washington made six or seven visits/interrogations.
All three men made complaints about the conditions
under which they were being held; and about the
interrogations by US military intelligence and other
US agencies. The British intelligence services and the
Foreign Office appear therefore to be complicit in the
conditions of psychological and physical torture in
Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.
The document depicts a Kafkaesque nightmare combined
with a barbaric system of punishments, including
"short-shackling" for hours on end. Any decent person,
British or American, could only feel the utmost shame
and revulsion that such methods should be used.
It is clear from the accounts of the three British
detainees that many prisoners have gone mad and many
have attempted suicide. The Foreign Office has evaded
the requests of family lawyers to allow independent
doctors to see the British citizens and UK residents
who still remain in Guantanamo.
Torture is morally repugnant, degrading both the
tortured and the torturers. It is also wholly
destructive of security, which in part depends on
intelligence. Torture produces dysfunctional
intelligence since the suspect is being forced to give
only the answers the interrogators want.
Article 2 of the UN Convention on Torture, 1984,
states: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever,
whether a war or a threat of war, internal political
instability or any other public emergency, may be
invoked as a justification of torture." Both the UK
and the US signed and ratified this convention. Yet
our Appeal Court has upheld our Government's case for
accepting evidence extracted under torture.
In the name of security, our Government is destroying
the principles and the laws which are the foundations
of the security of all citizens; these principles were
proclaimed by the American Patriots in their
Declaration of Independence and after the war, in
their constitution which also prohibits cruel and
degrading treatment. It is a spine-chilling disgrace
that the Blair government has supported the Guantanamo
torture regime, and agreed to the pre-tribunal
hearings that have been repudiated by US civil rights
lawyers and human-rights NGOs.
23 August 2004 02:35