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Guantánamo ‘gulag of our times’, says former illegal detainee

28th Jan 2022
Guantánamo ‘gulag of our times’, says former illegal detainee

Hamed Chapman

A new website ‘Closing Guantánamo Together’ has been set up by a British-based advocacy organisation striving for a world free of injustice and oppression to mark the 20th anniversary of the notorious US internment camp dedicated to the survivors.

“It’s an effort to centre the survivor’s voice and ensure the campaign to close Guantánamo and free its prisoners remains rooted in the experiences and testimonies of those who lived through what is now known as ‘the gulag of our times’,” said CAGE Outreach Director and former Guantánamo Bay prisoner, Moazzam Begg.

“Guantánamo Bay was built to house an exclusively Muslim male population. It causes deep distrust in what America says and stands for. Closing it for good, and ending this injustice, is not only possible but a must,” Begg said.

January 11, marked 20 years since the first of 779 detainees were incarcerated in the internment camp set up outside US jurisdiction at the naval base in Cuba. Hooded, shackled, restrained by ear defenders and dressed in their now-iconic orange jumpsuit uniforms to be presented to the world as trophies of the so-called “war on terror”.

The images and accounts of torture at Guantánamo disturbed the world. However, very few dared to question the legitimacy of holding prisoners in the camp, and even fewer attempted to lift the hoods to uncover the humans underneath.

“Most of the Guantánamo prisoners had never been to America, but America came to them. They came from over forty different countries and saw something no one else did,” the former illegal British prisoner said.

“While nine prisoners never left Guantánamo alive and 39 remain imprisoned, the rest of us told the world what we saw and made sure the world’s most infamous prison was never forgotten. America must show that it is ready to correct the wrongs of the past. Two decades on, President Biden must now close Guantanamo.”

President Joe Biden, like his predecessor Barack Obama, claimed he wanted to close the discredited facility before his four-year term ends, but according to the New York Times, instead, is dishonourably marking its 20th anniversary by extending Guantánamo prison with a new $4 million courtroom.

CAGE, launched by Begg in 2003 after gaining freedom from the internment camp, has pieced together the testimonies of families, survivors and observers while building the first database containing the names and faces of the men held in secret at the base.

Over the past two decades, CAGE has amplified the voices of the survivors of Guantánamo and in doing so, unravelled the myth that these men represented an existential threat, or “the worst of the worst”.

These men are fathers, sons, grandfathers, doctors, engineers, religious men, businessmen, artists, respected tribesmen and more. The US war machine needed a target to validate its relentless thirst for war, and the 779 men trafficked into Guantánamo were its victims.

The advocacy group said that Islamophobia that the centre thrived on has since been mainstreamed across the world and the “lawlessness of the detention system has become normalised in the countless policies instituted which have stretched the boundaries of state power and repression beyond recognition.”

“The moral black hole of Guantánamo Bay and ‘the war on terror’ have eroded the soul of the United States, contributing in no small part to the social crisis on its shores today,” it said.

Photo: Police officers arrest protesters wearing orange prisoner jumpsuits, symbolizing Guantánamo Bay detainees, outside the White House in Washington D.C, US on January 12, 2018.

(Credit: Safvan Allahverd/Anadolu Agency)

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