Human rights lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith talks to AI about his experiences
inside the notorious US detention centre at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba
I went to Guantánamo for the first time in November  and I’ve been
back four times now. You’re never quite sure whether to laugh or cry when
you’re there. The soldiers go around saluting each other saying, "Honour
bound, sir," and the other says, "To defend freedom".
I think if you’d been asking two years ago, would we be closing
Guantánamo, it wouldn’t have been on the radar screen. Now Guantánamo is
in its death throes, but of course, it’s always been a distraction from
the real issues. And the real issues are if you’ve got 520 people in
Guantánamo, there are probably another 12,000 folk who are being held in
US detention centres around the world and being abused there. The bigger
problem is, what’s the substitute? Unfortunately, I think, the US has
plans to take a lot of prisoners away from Guantánamo to Bagram airforce
base and beyond. We have to start thinking beyond Guantánamo Bay to all
the other detention centres and American proxy prisons around the world.
The treatment of the prisoners has been one long horror story. Take, for
example, the Koran desecration scandal. That is just one of many, many
things that have been done. We’ve had prisoners who have been taken to
Egypt to have electric shock torture. I’ve got a client who was taken to
Morocco where they took a scalpel to his penis. Almost every single one of
my clients has been subjected to the strappado [a technique used during
the Spanish Inquisition] which is where you hang someone up by their
wrists and basically dislocate their shoulders by leaving them there for
ages, and you beat them while they’re up there.
I have a terribly hard time establishing trust with the prisoners… Because
of the manipulation and all this devious stuff, the prisoners are very
paranoid. The moment we got lawyers in there, for example, the US military
sent interrogators in pretending to be lawyers.
We want prisoners to be released from Guantánamo, but it’s a more
complicated issue than that. There’s a large number of folk who come from
countries where they would be tortured or even killed. Our problem is that
if you assert asylum and have nowhere to go, then you get locked up in
prison. So unless we can find countries that are willing to accept
prisoners, any time we claim asylum for someone, we’re just giving the
Americans a ticket to hold them in Guantánamo forever.
One thing I find truly frightening about the whole process at Guantánamo
Bay is how it exposes the incredible limitations on American intelligence.
Perhaps the most obvious is that, after three years of interrogation, the
United States military can’t even get my clients’ dates of birth right.
I’m representing juveniles – children in Guantánamo Bay – and the US
doesn’t even know their dates of birth. And if they can’t get that right
who’s to think they get other things right? The argument that Guantánamo
is producing very important intelligence is risible.
This is an edited extract from an interview with Clive Stafford-Smith, 13
June 2005, London. The opinions stated are those of the author and do not
necessarily reflect AI policy.
Click Here for Guantanamo Bay information page.