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UK suspects in new claims of torture at Guantanamo

Robert Verkaik / London Independent | September 21 2006

The extent of the torture and abuse that British residents held at Guantanamo Bay claim to have suffered is revealed for the first time in a series of recently declassified interviews between the detainees and their human rights lawyers.

Documents submitted to the American courts allege that one of the detainees was strapped to a chair by prison guards and beaten and tortured to the point of death.

Other British suspects are still being held in solitary confinement, four years after their capture, where they are subjected to extreme temperatures, sleep deprivation and the confiscation of the most basic necessities, including lavatory paper and blankets.

None has been charged with any crime.

Some of the most serious allegations of torture concern the treatment of Shaker Aamer, a Saudi national who until his arrest four years ago had been living in London with his wife and four children.

In June this year, Mr Aamer claims he was badly beaten and tortured because he failed to provide a retina scan and fingerprints to the camp authorities. He says he was strapped to a chair, fully restrained at the head, arms and legs.

The habeas corpus motion filed in the court of the District of Columbia states: "The MPs [military police] inflicted so much pain, Mr Aamer said he thought he was going to die. The MPs pressed on pressure points all over his body: his temples, just under his jawline, in the hollow beneath his ears. They choked him. They bent his nose so hard he thought it would break.

"They pinched his thighs and feet constantly. They gouged his eyes. They held his eyes open and shined a Maglite [torch] in them for minutes on end, generating intense heat. They bent his fingers until he screamed. When he screamed, they cut off his airway, then put a mask on him so he could not cry out."

Mr Aamer, who had been resident in Britain since 1996, was used as key negotiator on behalf of the prisoners during recent hunger strikes.

But when a settlement between the prisoners and the guards broke down last year he was sent to solitary confinement. This month he was visited by his lawyer from the human rights charity Reprieve. Mr Aamer told the lawyer that he had not seen the sun for 79 days and had had no meaningful contact with the outside world.
In a harrowing account of his torture he said: "At any moment, they can strip you naked. They will put your head in the toilet in the name of security. It is all about humiliation. They are trying to break me."

Bisher al-Rawi, another British resident captured by the Americans in Gambia after alleged collusion between the CIA and MI5 officers, is also being held in solitary confinement at another detention centre known as Camp V.

Mr al-Rawi has stopped co-operating with his interrogators because they are still seeking answers to the same questions they were asking when he was first arrested in 2002.

His resistance has cost him the few privileges he had and led to his interrogators using torture lasting for weeks. The most common form of torture he has been forced to endure is the use of extreme temperatures in the cells. During the day the guards let the temperatures reach 100 degrees and in the night take away his sheet and use the air conditioning system to create freezing conditions

Zachary Katznelson, the Reprieve lawyer who interviewed the men in Guantanamo, said the torture had been so severe that Mr Al Rawi had suffered wheezing and loss of consciousness.

The evidence relating to Mr al-Rawi is to be used to support an appeal already lodged at the High Court in London. Two other British residents, Omar Deghayes and Ahmed Errachidi, are also being held in Camp V.

Ahmed Belbacha and Abdennour Sameur are in Camp II. Jamil al-Banna is in Camp IV, the lowest security rated part of the prison. An eighth man, Binyam Mohamed, is due to appear before a military commission. All the men remain defiant and protest their innocence.

Reprieve, the British based human rights charity representing the men, says their detention is a gross breach of international law and an infringement of the Geneva Conventions.


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