Guantánamo Prisoner to Joe Biden: ‘The Last Two Decades of My Life Have Been a Nightmare Without End’

Yves here. The US still refused to acknowledge, much the less plan to shutter, the cess pit known as Guantánamo. By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies

I’ll be bold but accurate. In international affairs, America acts like a criminal nation, the biggest bully on the block, a nation that soaks in fear and revels in power. Its hubris and insecurity are so great that it will spend near-infinite dollars to avoid a world in which any other nation stands its equal, or even half its equal.

America is also run by a deeply corrupted Establishment, one so devoted to enriching its swollen defense and security industries — the other reason it’s constantly at war — that the thought of spending to relieve the pain of its people comes tenth on a list of two.

There is no more poignant reminder of our criminal selves than the prisoners remaining at Guantánamo.

As late as January 2021, more than 18 years since most of them were captured, 40 of the original 780 prisoners remain incarcerated. Stories of at Guantánamo are rampant.

The Marine general who oversaw the building of the prison said in 2013, “Even in the earliest days of Guantánamo, I became more and more convinced that many of the detainees should never have been sent in the first place. They had little intelligence value, and there was insufficient evidence linking them to war crimes.”

That’s being generous. Most of these prisoners were bought from Afghan warlords, who received a “bounty” (that’s the correct word) for every “terrorist” they delivered to the American army during the initial years of the Afghan War. Afghan warlords are no less corrupt than our Congress men and women ­— like the latter, most will do anything for money (search the article for “Marianas” and look for Ralph Reed’s name).

Thus their enemies and often complete strangers were rounded up and sold to American soldiers eager for “terrorists” to punish. (If you remember the infamous TV program 24, you’ll appreciate just how eager Americans were and are to mete out punishment.)

The prisoners, of course, are humans, just like the rest of us, with parents, wives, children, friends, careers and former jobs. Picture yourself in Guantánamo for 18 years, legally nowhere, with no evidence against you, no recourse to appeal, no way to confront your accusers, nothing behind you but memories of what you lost, nothing in front but detainment, torture, and death. You live looking forward to your death.

According to the Miami Herald:

Administration officials have through the years described a variety of reasons why the men could not face trial: Evidence against some of the indefinite detainees was too tainted by CIA or other interrogation torture or abuse to be admissible in a court; insufficient evidence to prove an individual detainee had committed a crime; or military intelligence opinions that certain captives had undertaken suicide or other type of terrorist training, and had vowed to engage in an attack on release.

Do you dream of revenge? It would be human to do so. If you were scooped up by, say, the Chinese and held in a torture camp for decades on no evidence, would you not consider an attack if let loose? It’s a perfect circle; we created these men’s hatred, then cannot let them go because of it.

If there is a hell, the managers of the American Establishment State deserve a place — perhaps, as suits their wish, the center seat — in its deepest, hottest pit.

I offer the following into evidence. This was a statement given just this year by a Guantánamo prisoner named Ahmed Rabbani, Guantánamo ISN 1461, to the human rights organization Reprieve. It’s a message and request to President Joe Biden.

He peacefully asks for mercy. Along the way he tells a horrid tale. One part: here’s what Rabbani endured after his sale to the Americans and before being taken to Guatánamo:

I was tortured for 540 days in the ‘Dark Prison’ in Afghanistan “without authorization” — whether that makes it better or worse, I am still undecided. I can confirm that the torture did take place, although I couldn’t have counted the days myself: the days and nights blended into one while I was hung from a bar in a black pit, in agony as my shoulders dislocated.

I doubt that President Biden can understand what this torture is like; to hear a woman screaming in the next room and to be told it is your wife, and that if you do not do as they insist, they will rape her or kill her.

Today, he’s seven years into a hunger strike. The way the hunger strikers are “fed” is itself torture.

Note that at the beginning of his piece, Rabbani has to swear off revenge even to be heard. I’m not a fan of revenge myself — to quote the Bard, it is twice cursed, it curseth him that gives and him that takes — but affirming the U.S. state’s monopoly on violence is a requirement for entry into any of these negotiations. (BLM, take note. You too, student debt protestors.)

Now, Rabbani.

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  1. ArvidMartensen

    Torture and fraud are so woven into the fabric of western civilisation that if one tried to remove one or the other, the whole of western civilisation would unravel.

    Most credible findings of fraud and torture, even official findings, have been ignored for decades, minimal punishments meted out. If someone commits fraud, is found out and there are no consequences, why wouldnt s/he double or triple up.

    Same for torture. Why not just torture everybody, and see what comes up. You never know, you might find out something that gets you a promotion.

  2. Tomonthebeach

    As somebody who has actually experienced most of the tortures (albeit briefly) that the GITMO prisoners have endured, I found it ridiculous that VP Cheney and his evil henchmen euphemized prisoner torture as “harsh interrogation.” Believe me, it is harsh, but it is so harsh that it likely provides an incentive to either say nothing or say something misleading as revenge. Moreover, it appears that some if not many of the prisoners were innocents who were scooped up along with the baddies and have had their lives destroyed by decades of separation from family just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    Sadly, the unprosecuted brutal war crimes we have committed in Cuba were not so different from those we imprisoned or executed in Germany after WW-II. Torture is banned by the inconsequential Geneva Convention for the treatment of prisoners. The GITMO tortures were designed by several psychopathic psychologist colleagues whose only punishment was expulsion from the American Psychological Association for ethics violations. They argued that they were just following orders. Sound familiar?

    I was exposed to GITMO’s harsh interrogation as part of my pre-combat training in late 1971 in Navy’s Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) school. Was it really torture? It sure felt like torture. The curriculum was informed by real POWs. Among various painful abuses, we were water-boarded, stripped and hosed with icy water, beaten, forced to kneel in tiny boxes with only a 1/4″ breathing hole while our leg pain became excruciating from lack of circulation. We were also sleep-deprived and starved. After a few days of that, you start to get weird mentally.

    The torture label for our “harsh interrogation” was validated on the bus ride back to San Diego when my CO stood up in the front of the bus and naively asked: “So, men, what can we all take away from this unpleasant experience?” The entire bus chorused; “Not to be taken alive, sir!” and we meant it. My CO sat back down and looked out the window for the remainder of the journey. The GITMO POWs are still looking out their window, but they are not going anywhere.

    1. Cocomaan

      I’ve heard that the first rule for captured soldiers after the Korean POW situation is to plan an escape. If I was at GTMO, I would be planning my own demise if not for the other people there, who I’d want to help get out.

      Seems to me that one keeps GTMO open as a warning to your enemies: we don’t care about your rights, or any international conventions.

      1. drumlin woodchuckles

        Or maybe the DC FedRegime keeps GTMO open to inspire our enemies to GTMO-ise any Americans they capture in response. That GTMO-isation response against captured Americans in response is designed to make Americans more hate-filled and terrorised in order to support more DC FedRegime Tyrannocracy here at home.

        Question for Tomonthebeach, if it is not too effronterous to ask. Was the response you-all gave to your CO’s question the response he wanted? Was he looking out the window in a spirit of satisfaction at a job well done? Or had he hoped for a different response? If so, what would that response have been?

  3. The Rev Kev

    It took me years before I realized that those men were doomed. They will never be allowed to leave their prison and the only way that they will leave there is feet first. And not because some of them are guilty but because it would make the US government look bad if they did let them go. This was part of the original plan. One prosecution officer in the early years resigned from the Guantanamo command when he was told that none of them would be found innocent but all were to be found guilty.

    At the beginning, the Bush regime declared Guantanamo to be a legal black hole. That and those US Navy ships used as torture prisons at sea too. American laws would not apply there and even US military law for that base would be cobbled together for any court proceeding. Perhaps the idea was that making it a Devil’s Island would be good propaganda. Well it was – for the Jihadists. Being told about what was happening to people there, they sought revenge against any American soldier within range and as Tomonthebeach talked about above, they swore never to be captured.

    The public was being deliberately hyped up after 9/11 over people like this and it worked. When terror (kinda) suspect José Padilla was on trial, jurors showed up all dressed up. Row one in red. Row two in white. And row three in blue. Yes, that really happened in a court of law. Even now this idea that those prisoners are the worst of the worst of the worse is still kept up after what, twenty years? So on Fox News the other day, the idea was floated that since they had their usefulness all used up, that we might a well kill them now- (37 seconds)

    The worse of it? I knew twenty years ago that establishing a legal black hole was a fantastically dangerous idea as once that precedent had been set, that it will be only a matter of time till that idea will make it to the mainland. Think that I am kidding? Remember that secret police prison that the Chicago Police Department set up years ago? That is an example of this idea coming home to roost.

    1. drumlin woodchuckles

      My memory of timelines may be wrong, but didn’t those Chicago police invent their secret prison before the one at GTMO?

      1. The Rev Kev

        Good question. I did a quick bit of research and it seems that the Chicago secret prison went back as far as 2004 and going through to 2015. So it came online two years after Guantanamo Bay detention camp was established-

        Your question did make something click though. In 2004, which guy was the Senator from Illinois with a Chicago background and who probably heard about this place? And if he did know, why did he do nothing about it in the eight years that he was President?

        1. drumlin woodchuckles

          Probably too busy auditioning for millions of dollars after leaving office to let such questions trouble his beautiful mind.

  4. BillS

    Hell for the US torture establishment could be hot or cold, depending on the interpretation of their sins. Violence against others lands you in the 7th circle, where you eternally cook in a lake of boiling blood. If you rise to far out of your torment, you are pincushioned by the centaur-archers Chiron and Pholus, who patrol the circle.

    IMHO, the deceitful Afghan warlords and their US enablers deserve the punishment for treachery against their own and those unknown who get swept up for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They will be forever frozen in a great lake of ice, reflecting the deadly coldness of their natures. At the center is frozen the giant three-faced beast that is Satan himself, impotent, but for the chewing on the bodies of prominent traitors.

  5. QuicksilverMessenger

    NC posted an article last Friday that is part of this, and it is not easy to read:

    I had to stop reading it for a while. I have found that for me, as we usually are, we say we know how cruel and insane the world is, becoming cynical and jaded, understanding it in a way, but then sometimes one gets hit directly in the solar plexus by the absolute madness and pure suffering in the world. I don’t know what to say, maybe there is nothing to say. Maybe there is only recognizing the reality of the situation and to let it truly penetrate. I know, I see, that there is also beauty and joy and in the world. But the sorrow and suffering is seemingly bottomless

  6. Alex Cox

    Has anyone read an article in the MSM explaining why the US gets to operate its torture camps on Cuban soil? Has the NYT or the WaPo reported on the means by which the US seized and retained Guantanamo Bay, part of a sovereign state which wants the Americans gone?

    1. Tomonthebeach

      Ancient history – we had a sovereign Navy base on the island during Batista. Castro’ revolucion lacked the military might and will to storm the base and risk annihilation by US forces. Recall this was the Cuban Missile Crisis era and we would have loved to annex the entire island. We eventually will – someday. Since GITMO is at the end of the island, life goes on. BTW, we have bases like this all over the world. Think of them as Navy gas stations (still an ancillary purpose) and CIA holding cells.

  7. Winslow P. Kelpfroth

    It’s been said that a Captain can send a man to Guantanamo, but the President can’t get him out.
    Part A of releasing detainees is getting the buy-in from the intel people at the facility, through the FBI and Sec Defense.
    Part B always seemed to be the hardest part, at least while I was there. Where do you put them then? The US paid the ruling family of Vanuatu something on the order of $40Million to take a handful of detainees back in ’06. The Saudis took a bunch of their’s back over the years. The Afghans and Yemeni seem to be too disorganized to repatriate theirs and the Chinese representative told me that the half dozen Uighurs would be executed as they stepped off the plane.
    One of the Algerians told me that, since he was facing a death sentence back home, he wanted to be the last to be repatriated, and if we would issue him a woman he would be happy to stay right where he was.
    Seems simple until you get to individual cases.

    1. Lambert Strether

      > Part A of releasing detainees is getting the buy-in from the intel people at the facility, through the FBI and Sec Defense.

      Part A should be firing or sidelining intelligence community whack-jobs who’ve forgotten who works for who.

      1. Dave_in_Austin


        I’ve been involved in real decision-making. On Part A your easy answer is to go after the intel community. They don’t make the decisions; the President and those he appoints do.

        But I’m more interested in hearing your answer to PART B. What do you propose to do in the real world with these at best minor characters in a play that ended years ago?

        The part about “The Afghans and Yemeni seem to be too disorganized to repatriate theirs” by “Kelpfroth”, above is odd. In all cases in that part of the world the prisoners are turned over to the extended families who are held responsible for the future behavior. That’s what the Saudis did and it works.

        And the Uighurs? Quietly offer a bit of aid to any of the stans (which share the culture) if they will take them, integrate them into society and let this humanitarian screwup end.

        The larger question is “Why is it still open?” I can make guess but that’s all.

        And Lambert, I too am from RI, the low end capecods of Pawtucket and a bit of acting out that got me sent to Henry Barnard and freedom. feel free to email me.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          My answer to Part B is you can’t release them, they’ve been treated too horribly and have to be presumed to be radicalized.

          You turn Gitmo into the nicest possible Club Fed.

          1. boots

            These days it is a nursing home. The detainees who remain are too old and/or physically debilitated to live without skilled nursing care.

            There are battles ie over whether the Navy will provide dental care (I think they finally do). It is not a humane place, but one big reason the detainees who are still there are there is because there is no other place for them to go.

            Obama wanted to close it, and I think Trump did too, but from what I understand they had to bow to the fact that the remaining detainees will probably die there.

            Like in prisons in general, some of the Navy staff are compassionate at least sometimes, and fight their command chains for little victories. Others are hateful.

            Nonetheless, I don’t think the debility and dependance on skilled care of the remaining detainees is widely known. Look, being force fed hummus and raisins rectally through the largest bore pipe that will fit during hungerstrike is not conducive to health. Some might not survive transport off the island.

            Gitmo should be closed. The care of fragile released detainees taken into consideration as part of closure.

            1. marym

              Obama reduced the number of detainees. He proposed sending some of the indefinite detainees to US prisons, which also would be a harsh imprisonment but there was Congressional resistance. As with many Obama policies, one must ask how hard he tried to overcome the resistance. He allowed the force-feeding torture response to the hunger strikers. Trump ran on keeping it open. He only released 1 person.


  8. marym

    Thank you for the post.

    Recent open letters to Biden about Guantanamo
    From 7 former detainees. All have also written books about their time there.

    “President Bush opened it. President Obama promised to close it, but failed to do so. President Trump promised to keep it open. Now, it is your turn to decide.”

    From 111 organizations led by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Center for Victims of Torture urging him to close Guantanamo and end indefinite military detention.

  9. everydayjoe

    I live between India and USA- two large but different Democracies. One is a parliamentary and developing and an old civilisation . The other is a Republic and has a two party system and is multi racial. I see how politicians say and do things in India for votes. So with that perspective I ask my self how the GOP still cannot find in their conscience to convict Trump in the Senate. But the answer lies in the electorate, just like the electorate in India always gets sold on Gods and caste from which their leader comes from.
    Trump getting away with this is a big blow to the moral core of the country and it perpetuates the notion of might is right. This notion seems to have spread across waste swathes of the country.

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