15 Years After 9/11, Still Waiting for the Closure of Guantánamo
Exactly 15 years ago, terrorists attacked the United States, killing 2,996 people, in the World Trade Center and on two hijacked aeroplanes, and changing the world forever.
Within a month, the US had invaded Afghanistan, aiming to destroy al-Qaeda and to topple the Taliban regime that had harbored them. That mission was largely accomplished by early 2002, but instead of leaving, the US outstayed its welcome, “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,” as Anand Gopal, the journalist and author of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes, explained to me several years ago.
In addition, of course, the Bush administration — led by a president who knew little about the world, attended by two Republican veterans, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who believed in the president’s right to act as he saw fit in times of emergency, unfettered by any kind of checks and balances (the unitary executive theory) — also set up a secret CIA program of kidnap and torture on a global scale, and prisons in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, in Cuba, where the Geneva Conventions did not apply, and where they tried to pretend that indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial was the new normal, rather than a dangerous aberration.
The use of torture, poisoning America’s lifeblood with the false notion that it was necessary, in reality led to very little useful information — and, certainly, no useful information that could not have been obtained through old-fashioned interrogations based on rapport-building rather than conscience-shocking brutality. It did, however, lead to false statements that led to the intelligence services being sidelined into countless wild goose chases, and, crucially, also led to false statements that were used to justify the second post-9/11 military invasion — the illegal invasion of Iraq in March 2003.
In addition, of course, in response to the nearly 3,000 dead — and 6,000 wounded — in the US on September 11, 2001, the US has killed at least 1.3 million people in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to a report by Physicians for Social Responsibility, Physicians for Global Survival, and the Nobel Prize-winning International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which was published in March 2015.
The authors of the report — which identified a million lives lost in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan — also noted that the body count “could also be in excess of 2 million, whereas a figure below 1 million is extremely unlikely.” The report also added that figure of 1.3m was “approximately 10 times greater than that of which the public, experts and decision makers are aware,” which has been “propagated by the media and major NGOs.”
In addition, those compiling the report did not look at all the other countries targeted by the US in the years since the invasion of Iraq, which include Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen.
Reflecting on the invasion of Iraq, in particular — a country that, demonstrably, had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9/11 attacks, but where US actions have very clearly contributed to the rise of IS/Daesh — it seems reasonable to propose, as I first did many years ago, that Dick Cheney ought to be held accountable for treason for his role in securing and using the information about al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that Colin Powell delivered to the UN on Cheney’s behalf — and to his eternal shame — a month before the invasion in March 2003.
A key lie emerged though the torture of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the emir of an independent training camp in Afghanistan, who, under torture, made a false claim that al-Qaeda was seeking chemical weapons from Saddam Hussein. Al-Libi, eventually returned to Col. Gaddafi’s Libya by the Bush administration, died in dubious circumstances in a Libyan prison in May 2009.
The facilitator of al-Libi’s camp, on the other hand, was Abu Zubaydah, the first victim of Bush’s torture program, who, like other “high-value detainees,” held and tortured in CA “black sites,” is still held at Guantánamo, where, 15 years after 9/11, justice remains elusive, or, even worse, impossible to imagine.
61 men are still held at Guantánamo, and while 20 of those 61 have been approved for release, the rest are either facing discredited military commission trials whose progress is so slow that they may never happen (including, disgracefully, the five men charged with planning and implementing the 9/11 attacks, who would almost certainly have been convicted years ago if they had been prosecuted in federal court) or are still consigned to indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial. This is in spite of the fact that there has been no demonstration, in the last 15 years, that the US has been helped in any way by holding people indefinitely without charging them — and refusing to hold them as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, who, unlike those allegedly responsible for committing crimes, can be held without charge until the end of hostilities.
Responsible for inflaming tensions abroad, and especially in countries that can readily discern that Guantánamo is a prison for Muslims, and Muslims alone, the use of indefinite detention and torture also smacks of colossal hypocrisy, as the US continues to claim that it is a beacon of freedom, founded on the rule of law, and proudly proclaiming that it upholds the highest values.
On the 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, as we remember those who lost their lives on that terrible day, let us also remember those who have lost their lives in all the wars that have been launched since, let us recall that holding people without charge or trial at Guantánamo has been a horribly unacceptable response to the attacks, and that justice has not been delivered for the victims of 9/11, and let us also remember that those responsible for the warmongering, torture, rendition and indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial since 9/11 must one day be held accountable for their actions.
Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp).
He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield.
He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).
To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.
Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.