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Red Cross: U.S. May Have Committed War Crimes at Guantanamo Bay

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Michael Ratner, from the Center for Constitutional Rights, outlines a new report on how three British detainees were tortured in U.S. detention. The men said they were beaten, shackled, photographed naked and in one incident questioned at gunpoint while in US custody. [includes rush transcript]

The Red Cross said yesterday that the U.S. may have committed war crimes at Guantanamo Bay if reports of detainees being tortured at the military base are true. This according to a report in the Guardian of London. The comment by the Red Cross comes a day after three former detainees from Britain revealed they were the victims of systemic abuse at the hands of their US captors both in Afghanistan and at Guantanamo Bay. A Red Cross spokesperson told the Guardian “Some of the abuses alleged by the detainees would indeed constitute inhuman treatment.” And that “Inhuman treatment constitutes a grave breach of the third Geneva convention and these are often also described as war crimes.”

The former detainees, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed, released a 115-page report yesterday that claimed they were beaten, shackled, photographed naked and, in one incident, questioned at gunpoint while in US custody. The three young men are from Tipton, a poor neighborhood in the West Midlands of England with a small community of Pakistani and Bangladeshi people. All three were detained in Northern Afghanistan on November 28, 2001. In March of 2004, after 2 ½ years of being held in extreme conditions, they were released to the British government. They were never charged with any crime and were released shortly after they returned. The three men compiled the report of their experience with their attorney, British civil rights lawyer Gareth Pierce.

Following these latest reports on conditions at Guantanamo, a leader in Britain/s Liberal Democrats party called on the Foreign Office to launch an investigation into the treatement of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

Meanwhile, U.S. Navy Secrtary Gordon England defended the military tribunals being held for Guantanamo detainees. The tribunals come in response to a Supreme Court ruling requiring that detainees have the ability to challenge their detentions. Five of the eight prisoners reviewed so far have refused to take part in the process. We’re joined from our New York studio by human rights lawyer Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights and attorney for several Guantanamo detainees. He is the co-author of a new book called “Guantanamo: What the World Should Know.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now!, Michael.

MICHAEL RATNER: Thank you for having me, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you. Can you talk about this latest 115-page report from the three British Guantanamo prisoners?

MICHAEL RATNER: This report gives most detailed account of what a two-and-a-half year, what I would describe as a Kafkaesque interrogation situation at Guantanamo bay. These men picked up in Afghanistan, assumed guilty, eventually through these interrogation techniques from shackling to being stripped, confessed to meeting Osama Bin Laden. It was a false confession. What it makes you think is that most of the information coming out of Guantanamo is coerced and is probably false. It doesn’t work. But what this report does, it gives you a scene of a no-exit situation. If you say you are innocent, they think that you are guilty and you are lying. If you say you fought with the Taliban, they say that’s not enough, you financed the Taliban. Any door you opened led to more coercive interrogation. It’s an incredible report to read. It reminds me of Timerman’s report during the Argentinean dirty war of a prisoner without a name, a cell without a number. It gives you such a feeling that these people were just locked in the box, assumed guilty and they were going to be driven and driven and driven whether through a dog or stripping or lights or temperature or diet restrictions or shaving into confessing to something. They all did eventually. That’s what is remarkable here. It’s like a poster child for everything that the U.S. is doing wrong with the war in Guantanamo.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the Red Cross’s comments reported in The Guardian of London that if what they’re saying is true, these are war crimes?

MICHAEL RATNER: Look, two things about that. If what they’re saying is true, I know the Red Cross hasn’t interviewed them, I actually did interview these three young men in Oxford, England, authority after they were released. The idea that these people were terrorists is like me saying my son was a terrorist. These were young men who I think just from my — my visible relationship with them had no relation to terrorism at all. Secondly, in terms of credibility of the report, they were telling me these things that now appear in this full report in March of this year. It then came out about Abu Ghraib. It then came out that the U.S. was using a number of these interrogation techniques. So, their honesty cannot be questions. The ICIC is not questioning that at the Red Cross. What they’re doing is saying if true, these are war crimes. That’s right. The Geneva Conventions prohibits inhumane treatment. What’s remarkable about this is when you read the Gonzalez Memo, the President’s Council’s Memo to the President shortly after Guantanamo opened, he said, we’re not going to apply the Geneva Conventions in Guantanamo because if we do it’s possible we will be subject to war crimes prosecutions. So, back then, ten days after Guantanamo opened, January 25, 2002 this administration already recognizes that they’re going to be using interrogation techniques at Guantanamo that violate the Geneva conventions and are grave breaches and war crimes under U.S. law. They can be prosecuted for this kind of conduct.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking with Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights. What about the prisoners’ refusing to participate in the process. Explain what CCR, your organization, won through the Supreme Court, and what’s happening at Guantanamo continue he mow right now?

MICHAEL RATNER: Well, we won the right to file writs of habeas corpus for every single one of the Guantanamo detainees that we represent. That’s at 53 now. It will probably be 100 by the end of the week. We started filing the writs in the district court and getting hearings and wanting to go to Guantanamo and represent those people as attorneys. What the government did is set up essentially a sham procedure in Guantanamo in their claimed efforts — I’m not sure they can make that claim — to comply with giving the people some kind of hearing. But it’s really those hearings are essentially interrogation by another name. They there should be no mistake about it. Each detainee is given a personal representative. Not an attorney, no attorney-client relationship, and no confidential relationship that the regulations say that anything said by the detainee could have personal representatives, must be reported to the tribunal, even if it’s said in so-called confidence. The detainee doesn’t know this necessarily. He thinks that the personal representative is there to help him. What you have is a situation of interrogation by another name. It’s an utter and complete outrage. Right now, this government, this Bush administration is not complying with the Supreme Court ruling. They’re not giving — they’re not allowing attorneys to go down yet. We have been in court four or five weeks trying to get attorneys down there. They’re setting up sham procedures and continuing to do these interrogations.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael, your book that has just been published, Guantanamo: What the World Should Know. What should the world know?

MICHAEL RATNER: The world should know first of all that what this administration is doing, and what the memos reflect and the conduct that’s going on in Guantanamo is completely off the charts in terms of legality, in terms of morality and in terms of what we’re doing in the Muslim world. Guantanamo has become iconic in the Muslim world for everything we’re doing wrong to Arabic people and to Muslim people. This book really describes that. It talks about Guantanamo, the lease with Cuba. It goes into the Gonzalez Memo with regard to allowing these interrogation techniques to go on and it actually does address the story of the three young men who have issued this long report about Guantanamo.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, what does it mean if the U.S. has committed war crimes? What process would happen or what — where would you as a lawyer go from here?

MICHAEL RATNER: Wow, there’s two things. One is the international criminal court, of course, doesn’t have jurisdiction because the U.S. won’t address it. There is a criminal statute in the United States that allows war crimes prosecutions. It would take a prosecutor looking at that and starting to do that. Another alternative is other countries in the world do have war crimes statutes, for war crimes committed anywhere in the world. There’s a requirement that you seek out and prosecute those people. So, there’s other countries that could go after them as well. If I were these guys right now, I would be very careful about where I travel to. I want to close by saying if you want to get a copy of that report, you can go to the center website, which is It’s on the website and it’s chilling reading that our country is involved in that kind of conduct and behavior.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, his new book, with Ellen Ray, is called Guantanamo: What the World Should Know. This is Democracy Now!

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