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Book Review
Last Updated: 11/16/2004
Guantanamo and Human Rights
Reviewed by Katharina Rohl

"Guantánamo is a professional and humane prison and interrogation centre" , a US Army general is quoted as saying this June at a press conference in Miami. The British journalist David Rose shows convincingly why it is not.


David Rose, Guantánamo: The War on Human Rights, New Press, 30 Nov., 2004, ISBN 156584574

 

"Guantánamo is a professional and humane detention and interrogation centre", a US Army general is quoted as saying this June at a press conference in Miami. The British journalist David Rose shows convincingly why it is not. Based on the analysis of official documents and on various interviews with former inmates, army and prison personnel, as well as government and secret service officials, Rose not only documents the contempt for basic human rights supposedly legitimised by the “war against terrorism”. He also concludes that “Gitmo” and similar prisons have, even by their own masterminds’ standards, failed to yield any useful results.

 

The “war on human rights” refers to illegal derogations from the right to a fair trial, the denial of POW or, indeed, any legal status to those detained, and above all to the undermining of the universal prohibition of torture. Rose illustrates an Orwellian scenario, in which sleep deprivation becomes “sleep adjustment” and food deprivation “diet manipulation”. Former inmates explain that in Gitmo-Speak, “milieu changes creating a certain degree of discomfort” means being subjected to deafening noise, nauseating smells, and extremely cold or hot temperatures for hours or even days. These and similarly humiliating measures had been authorised in a Rumsfeld document “not releasable for foreign nationals”. Here, the US Secretary of Defence acknowledges that some of these interrogation techniques might, in the view of “other nations”, be incompatible with the humanitarian imperatives of the Geneva Conventions.

 

But could all this not be justified if it helps to preserve the lives of innocent people who might become victims of further anticipated terrorist attacks? Rose’s interviews with high-ranking officials in the government and the secret services document clearly that Guantánamo interrogations haven’t yet delivered any important information for the international fight against terrorism. This is partly due to the fact that most of the approximately 750 persons imprisoned in Guantánamo have been captivated under very dubious circumstances. Those few who could reliably be linked to Al Qaida turned out to be “small fish”. Further, the interrogation methods of “carrots and sticks” analysed by Rose provide strong incentives for inmates to make false “concessions”.

 

Yet Rose does not confine himself to detailing the shocking conditions in Guantánamo. He also places the inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners into its political and psychosocial context. His point is not just to accuse those responsible of “destroying the life of innocents”. The book also sheds light on the way that propaganda and paranoia create a climate in which politicians and soldiers become perpetrators of systematic human rights violations without being held accountable.

 

[Copyright  Katherina Rohl]

 

 

Katharina Röhl is a University for Peace graduate. She currently works for the German Human Rights Institute in Berlin, conducting research on the fight against terrorism and human rights. She can be contacted via the editor of the Peace and Conflict Monitor


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