Abuse: The treatment of Guantanamo
detainees has provoked outrage
around the world
Abuse of Guantanamo prisoners has got much WORSE since
Obama took office, claims lawyer
Abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay has worsened
sharply since President Barack Obama took office, a
lawyer has claimed.
Ahmed Ghappour, who represents some of the detainees,
believes prison guards are ‘getting their kicks in’
before the camp is closed.
According to the human rights lawyer, abuse began to
increase in December after Obama was elected.
resident Binyam Mohamed was freed from the
camp this week: He claims he was tortured
during his time there
He cited beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying
of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray
to toilet paper and over-forcefeeding detainees who are
on hunger strike.
The Pentagon said on Monday that it had received renewed
reports of prisoner abuse during a recent review of
conditions at Guantanamo, but had concluded that all
prisoners were being kept in accordance with the Geneva
‘According to my clients, there has been a ramping up in
abuse since President Obama was inaugurated,’ said
Ghappour, a British-American lawyer with Reprieve, a
legal charity that represents 31 detainees at Guantanamo.
‘If one was to use one’s imagination, (one) could say
that these traumatised, and for lack of a better word
barbaric, guards were just basically trying to get their
kicks in right now for fear that they won’t be able to
later,” he said.
‘Certainly in my experience there have been many, many
more reported incidents of abuse since the
Ghappour has visited Guantanamo six times since late
September and based his comments on his own observations
and conversations with both prisoners and guards.
He stressed the mistreatment did not appear to be
directed from above, but was an initiative undertaken by
frustrated US Army and Navy jailers on the ground.
It did not seem to be a reaction against the election of
Obama, a Democrat who has pledged to close the prison
camp within a year.
Instead Ghappour, who helped secure the release this
week of British resident Binyam Mohamed, put it down to
the realisation that there was little time remaining
before the last 241 detainees, all Muslim, are released.
‘It’s “hey, let’s have our fun while we can,”’ he said.
‘I can’t really imagine why you would get your kicks
from abusing prisoners, but certainly, having spoken to
certain guards who have been injured in Iraq, who
indirectly or directly blame my clients for their
injuries and the trauma they have suffered, it’s not too
difficult to put two and two together.’
Following an order from Obama on January 22, the US
Defence Department conducted a two-week review of
conditions at Guantanamo ahead of the planned closure of
the prison on Cuba.
Admiral Patrick Walsh, the review’s author, acknowledged
this week that reports of abuse had emerged but
concluded all inmates were being treated in line with
the Geneva Conventions.
‘We heard allegations of abuse,’ he said, asked if
detainees had reported torture.
‘And what we did at that point was to go back and
investigate the allegation... What we found is that
there were in some cases substantiated evidence where
guards had misconduct, I think that would be the best
way to put it.’
A detainee is taken for questioning: Abuse allegedly
ranges from beatings to over-forcefeeding prisoners on
Walsh said his review looked at 20 allegations of abuse,
14 of which were substantiated, but he did not go into
Generally he said the abuse ranged from ‘gestures,
comments, disrespect’ to ‘preemptive use of pepper
Ghappour said he had spoken to army guards who,
unsolicited, had described the pleasure they took in
abusing prisoners, whether interrupting prayer or
He said they appeared unconcerned about potential
He also saw evidence of guards pulling identity numbers
off their uniforms or switching them once they were on
duty in order to make it more difficult for them to be
Ghappour said he had filed two complaints of serious
detainee abuse since December 22 but received no
response from US authorities.
In one case his client had his knee, shoulder and thumb
dislocated by a group of guards, Ghappour said.
In one of the six main camps at Guantanamo, the lawyer
said all the detainees he knew were on hunger strike and
subject to force-feeding, including with laxatives that
induced chronic diarrhoea while they were strapped in
their feeding chairs.
‘Several of my clients have had toilet paper
pepper-sprayed while they have had haemorrhoids,’
Ghappour said. Another area of concern was evidence that
detainees were being abused on the way to meetings with
their lawyers – sometimes so badly that they no longer
wanted to meet with counsel for fear of the beatings
they would receive, he said.
‘Some detainees are convinced they are going to be
locked up there forever, despite the promises to close
the camp,’ he said.
|Aborigines angry a
year after ‘sorry’
This time last year,
Aborigines in the Northern Territory boarded buses for
the three-day drive to Canberra, drawn to the nation’s
capital by the promise of a single word: Sorry.
It was uttered three times by Australian Prime Minister
Kevin Rudd, as he apologised to indigenous Australians
for the past injustices.
In the public galleries of parliament and at live sites
around the country, the “sorry speech” was met with
applause, tears and thanks.
Australia’s Day of Atonement, as some called it, was
deemed a triumph.
But 12 months on, I was in Alice Springs to watch a
group of Aborigines embark on the same journey, this
time to protest at the foot of Parliament Hill.
There is deep-felt resentment that not more has changed
since the apology, and fury that the Rudd Government has
not only kept the rudiments of the previous government’s
Northern Territory intervention in place, but extended
elements of it to Queensland. The intervention was
former Prime Minister John Howard’s forceful response to
a report which revealed that child sex abuse had reached
crisis levels in more than 70 Aboriginal communities in
the Northern Territory.
Declaring a national emergency, Howard banned the sale,
transport and consumption of alcohol in indigenous
communities, as well as pornography.
Big signs went up at the entrances to these communities
designating them “prescribed areas” where the new
Welfare payments were partly quarantined, which meant
that tough restrictions came into force dictating how
they were spent.
Instead of cash payments, Aborigines received plastic
cards that could be redeemed for food and produce, but
not for alcohol, or grog as it more commonly known in
the Northern Territory.
To prevent legal challenges to these policies, the
government suspended the landmark 1975 Racial
Some Aboriginal leaders, like Noel Pearson, gave these
policies a cautious welcome, arguing that a crisis
situation required a drastic response. Others have been
Harry Nelson, an Aboriginal elder, was amongst those
boarding the protest bus.
“The apology is nothing. I don’t think the apology has
changed anything,” he said.
He is particularly aggrieved about the restrictions
placed upon welfare payments.
“Of course it does annoy me. I mean we don’t tell the
Canberra mob, the white people, how to spend their
“What I would like to see is the government people have
their money to be quarantined, as well. I bet you they
wouldn’t like it.”
But the government would say that it has reduced alcohol
consumption and the myriad problems it brings, I
“The majority of the people don’t spend all their money
on grog,” he replied.
Barbara Shaw is another Aboriginal leader. She lives in
a town camp on the outskirts of Alice Springs which has
been designated a “Prescribed Area,”
“That’s what we are now,” she said. “Prescribed area
people. Everybody behind those signs are either
alcoholics or paedophiles – and that’s not the case.”
“You think the signs are stereotyping you,” I asked.
“Yeah, and demonising our people. Stereotyping our men
as child abusers and mothers that neglect their
“You are basically saying that all Aboriginal people are
alcoholics beyond those signs.”
Another common complaint surrounds the suspension of the
1975 Racial Discrimination Act, which has been condemned
by many human rights lawyers in Australia.
“At an international level, Australia’s track record in
human rights is being tarnished, and our standing in the
global community diminished,” says Claire Smith from the
University of Newcastle.
“At a time when we are angling for a non-permanent seat
on the United Nations’ Security Council, our own
transgressions prevent us from meeting our international
As Claire Smith points out, this year, the United
Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and
fundamental freedoms of indigenous people, James Anaya,
is scheduled to make a formal visit to Australia.
There is a concern, as well, that the Rudd Government’s
priority now is to stave off recession and to rebuild
the fire-affected communities in Victoria.
Closing the gap, that 17-year difference in the life
expectancy of black and white Australians, is no longer
such a pressing national issue.
Pat Turner, a former Chief Executive Officer of the
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, notes:
“Aboriginal affairs is always the first casualty. And
now we’ve got this international global financial crisis
Aboriginal affairs is off the agenda.
“You do the symbolic things, that’s what governments and
white Australia is comfortable with, but when it comes
to putting money on the table, it’s not going to
We had planned to speak to Jenny Macklin, the
government’s minister for indigenous affairs.
But she is now coordinating the government’s response to
the Victorian wildfires – which Aboriginal leaders would
say speaks of the problem.
|Verdict on Kosovo
war crimes due
A United Nations war crimes
court is due to deliver a verdict in the case of Serbian
ex-President Milan Milutinovic.
Along with five other Serbian ex-officials, he is
accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity during
the conflict in Kosovo in the 1990s.
It is the court’s first ruling on crimes allegedly
committed by Serbs in the Kosovo conflict.
Prosecutors in The Hague are seeking jail terms of
between 20 years and life for the men, who all deny the
The charges in the International Criminal Tribunal for
the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) focus on an alleged
campaign of terror and violence which included the
expulsion of 800,000 ethnic Albanians from Kosovo.
The allegations also include the murders of hundreds of
Milutinovic was seen largely as a figurehead president
of Serbia during the conflict in Kosovo, with real power
in the hands of his mentor, Slobodan Milosevic, the
then-President of Yugoslavia.
Slobodan Milosevic died in tribunal custody in 2006,
before a verdict was delivered in his own trial, giving
this trial much greater significance, says BBC
correspondent Helen Fawkes in Belgrade.
It is the largest case at the UN war crimes tribunal for
former Yugoslavia that has ever reached this stage.
The six defendants were on trial from July 2006 to
The other five defendants are Serb former Yugoslav
deputy prime minister Nikola Sainovic, ex-defence
minister Dragoljub Ojdanic, ex-army commanders Nebojsa
Pavkovic, and Vladimir Lazarevic, and former public
security service chief Sreten Lukic.
Although Milutinovic was indicted during the Kosovo
conflict in 1999, he served out his full five-year term
as president until the end of 2002.
It was only after he lost his immunity as president that
‘I’m not giving up’
Dozens of white-owned farms in Zimbabwe have
reportedly been invaded by supporters of President
Robert Mugabe this month as the long-time opposition
joined a national unity government.
Some suspect this is part of an attempt by hardline
Mugabe supporters to scuttle the agreement. Catherine
Meredith, 40, tells the BBC what happened to her farm.
On February 6, a crowd of 30 men showed up on our land.
Most of them were young, many of them wearing [President
Mugabe’s] Zanu-PF T-shirts.
I was away in South Africa visiting my son at university
but my husband had stayed behind. We had a feeling that
something could happen so we decided one of us should
They told my husband that our farm was now being taken
over by a local businessman. Their manner was boastful
When I came back from South Africa a few days later, I
was advised by the French embassy not to return to the
farm (I’m originally from France).
This is because in 2008 there were similar invasions of
white-owned farms and it got quite violent. Back then,
there were people threatening to kill us and we had to
leave our farm for some time.
This time, there was less violence, but I was in touch
with my staff on the mobile from Harare. They told me
the invaders had been menacing towards them and stopped
them from working.
This made my staff very angry, but they were under
strict instructions from me not to lose it.
After a week, my husband and I returned to the farm. In
the meantime we had obtained a court order in Harare
saying the squatters had no right to our land.
The crowd was still there. The atmosphere was very
tense, very unpleasant.
We calmly handed the eviction papers to the leader of
the pack. We want to follow the law by the letter. The
local sheriff was with us. He explained to them that
they had no right to be there.
They kept saying they hadn’t been violent. But that
isn’t true. Last week they seized a member of my staff
and pushed his face to the ground to get him to hand
over the keys to our garden gate.
Then, 17 of them broke into our garden. Luckily, the
police for once stuck up for us and prevented them from
breaking into our house.
These squatters are arbitrary people who have been paid
to squat on our farm. We call them ‘rent-a-crowd.’
But generally the local police haven’t been very
helpful. Despite the eviction order, they haven’t tried
to force the squatters off our land. They claim they
haven’t got the manpower to help us.
There are several reasons why these people have invaded
our land now, just as a new unity government emerges.
Either it’s a last push from Zanu-PF to seize all
commercial white farms.
Or it’s an attempt by the old regime to endanger the new
government and show that it isn’t working.
Or it’s just the last attempt of a group of greedy
people who don’t own their own farm to grab one from
Although the men that invaded our farm were wearing Zanu-PF
T-shirts, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are members
of the party.
They might just be one of the few t-shirts they own –
Zanu has handed out so many.
But the businessman who ordered the invasion is a Zanu-PF
member. He seems to be a collector of farms – he already
owns three others that he has taken by force.
Financially this has cost us a great deal. The man who
ordered the crowd to seize our land has allowed his
cattle to walk through our maize fields. This has partly
destroyed our crops.
Emotionally, it’s absolutely draining. You think you are
protected by the law and then this happens.
All of our children are grown up and have moved away and
thank goodness for that. Otherwise we would have to
worry about their safety as well. On the surface, this
invasion seems more peaceful than the one last year. But
there are still about 12 of them on our land and you
never know what they are capable of.
They drink and smoke pot quite a bit, and it worries me.
I have lived here since I was 23. Zimbabwe is my home
now, I wouldn’t know where else to go.
My husband was born in this area and he speaks Shona. We
We are not giving up. We strongly believe that change is
coming to Zimbabwe.
My feeling is that we are very near the end of these
troubles. We have a new prime minister now.
I’m 100% confident that in five years’ time, I’ll still
be living on this farm.
|Ski respite for
war weary Kashmiris
This winter, the
attraction of the sun-washed snow slopes of Gulmarg in
Indian-administered Kashmir has led many middle class
people into shedding their pherans (traditional woollen
gowns) and kangri (earthen fire pot hand warmers) for
the thrill of winter sports.
On a wooden ramp inside the dimly lit ski shop in
Gulmarg, Sabiha Nabi, 14, stomps the heels of her boots
into her skis.
Her father, Ghulam Nabi, makes sure they fit properly.
“Papa, it is fine,” she whispers looking over her
shoulder. Sabiha is now ready to go.
Sabiha is not the only person preparing to descend.
There is a crowd outside the ski shop in Gulmarg where
young girls and boys accompanied by their parents are
all dressed for slaloming down the slopes.
For the first time, local Kashmiris outnumber foreign
adventure tourists here. All are enjoying a welcome
respite from the years of bloodshed that have meant
recreational activities such as this have not been
As Sabiha takes position for her first downhill run, she
looks back, her eyes glinting.
“I want to represent Kashmir in the Olympics one day.”
Her father flaunts a proud smile. “She will make me and
Kashmir proud one day,” he says.
From five-year-old Samia Gul to 42-year-old Siraj Ahmad,
everyone whizzes down the snow. It is an activity that
is becoming increasingly popular – the slopes of Gulmarg
have seldom been so busy.
“I came here last winter as well but I felt a bit shy to
ski. Actually I was afraid that I would fall and
everyone would laugh,” says Irfan Shafi, a college
student from Srinagar.
“But then I tried it this year. Of course I fell but
no-one laughed at me. In fact, another skier pulled me
up and I saw everyone giving tips to each other and I
have learnt some basic controls in two days only. Skiing
feels great now.”
In Gulmarg, everything is painted with snow - its
dazzling whiteness lines the streets, the pine branches,
the wooden roofs and the mountains.
Gulmarg – 58 km (36 miles) from Srinagar – is not far
from the Line of Control that separates Indian and
Pakistani administered Kashmir.
Several ski courses are being conducted by the state
youth services and sports department.
Foreign skiers are holding free ski courses for local
“We usually enrol 60 students in a course but this year
we have been forced to take 90 because of the huge
number of applicants,” says Nisar Wani, an instructor.
“We have rejected more applications than we have
accepted this year. We were not expecting so many
Kashmiri children to come forward.”
The ski instructors now bemoan the lack of equipment and
accommodation facilities for the increasing number of
“There are not enough skis or slopes for the number of
people who have started to come here,” Nisar Wani says.
It is hoped that the new chief minister of
Indian-administered Kashmir, Omar Abdullah, may provide
“Omar learnt skiing here with us and he is a very good
skier today. We are sure that he will make Gulmarg a
place for professional skiing and provide more
facilities to skiers,” says Abdul Quyoom, another
A few steps away, Mr Abdullah’s sister, Sara, gets in
position to tackle the slope. “I love skiing and more so
in Gulmarg. I come here often and it is good to see that
Kashmiri boys and girls have started to come here,” she
Ms Abdullah begins to ski. At first she is slow but soon
she gains momentum, cutting arcs to the bottom of the
slope where she finally joins other skiers, wearing
colourful jackets, all waiting in the queue for their
turn at the ski-lift.
There are famous slopes in Gulmarg – Shark Fins, G-4,
Beta, Gujjar Hut and Sunshine Peak. They are definitely
not for the faint hearted – only top skiers dare tackle
Even in the evening, when the ski shop and ski lift
close, skiers continue their sport. As they clamber up
the sharp slopes they chat to each other and form new