February 16, 2006


Trapped in a legal no-man's land: In a rare visit by a British journalist, Con Coughlin reports on the changes that have taken place at Guantanamo Bay detention centre. (Con Coughlin, 17/02/2006, Daily Telegraph)

The detainees come from a total of 44 countries and speak a total of 17 different languages. All have been detained as a result of Operation Enduring Freedom, the American-led military campaign against al-Qa'eda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. The majority are Afghan, Pakistani, Saudi and Yemeni nationals, although there is also an Australian who converted to radical Islam to take up arms against the West.

Of 750 detainees, nearly 250 have been released. Some have been released after US officials deemed them no longer a threat or to possess useful information. Others - such as the British detainees - returned to their home countries following the intervention of their governments.

But the remainder face an uncertain future, as US officials insist they are too dangerous to be released, or that they possess high-quality intelligence that is regarded as crucial to the successful prosecution of the war on terror. Even after four years in detention, some of the detainees possess critical information about the international terror network being operated by Osama bin Laden, the al-Qa'eda leader.

"One of the detainees was able to provide key information relating to the London bombings," a senior US military official at Guantanamo told The Daily Telegraph. "Even after four years they are able to provide crucial intelligence about the al-Qa'eda network."

American officials are also concerned about releasing detainees who, once released, could resume hostilities against coalition forces. At least 12 of those released so far on the grounds that they no longer posed a threat have been involved in anti-coalition attacks, including an Afghan who was fitted with a prosthetic limb while being held at Guantanamo.

During those four years the Guantanamo detention facility has changed beyond all recognition from the disturbing images that first appeared of bound, blindfolded detainees being taken for interrogation in orange jump suits. Those pictures were provided courtesy of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who allowed an American photographer unprecedented access to a sensitive border post on the Cuban border with Guantanamo to heap embarrassment on his long-standing American enemies.

The detainees are no longer held in the makeshift, iron-mesh open air structures at Camp X-Ray where the first arrivals were held following their arrival from Afghanistan in early 2002. Camp X-Ray itself now lies abandoned, covered in weeds.

The US Defence Department has spent hundreds of millions of dollars transforming what was once a sleepy, uneventful navy base into what is effectively a state-of-the-art, maximum high-security prison capable of holding hundreds of detainees for as long as the US wants to hold them. In many cases, US officials say this could be for the "duration of hostilities", which given the uncertain nature of the war on terror, could be decades.

For despite all the international criticism Washington has received over its treatment of the detainees - or "enemy combatants" as the US prefers to call them - Guantanamo has been institutionalised to the extent that work is still under way on building new, multi-million dollar maximum security facilities.

"Basically there is nowhere else we can hold these people," said a senior US official. "And so long as they pose a threat to our security, or can provide information that can help us prevent further bloodshed, then we need to have properly-equipped, maximum security facilities in Guantanamo in which we can detain them humanely."

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 16, 2006 11:23 PM

We should let a couple "escape" into Cuba just to see what happens and where they end up.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at February 17, 2006 4:43 PM