Thursday, February 14, 2013

Jamil el-Banna—Stories from the Dark Side

In his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, President Obama proudly reported that “after a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home”.  He declared that “by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over”.  Instead of waging war abroad in the future, the President told us, “we will need to help countries like Yemen, Libya, and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali”. 

It sounds nice, doesn’t it?  No more war for us, just helping others out.  But the reality is that this “help” comes in the form of a war of terror waged by pounding other countries with missiles fired from drones.  It involves continued, if modified, usage of the extraordinary rendition (for which read abduction and torture) policies developed under the Bush administration.  The report, “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition”, commissioned by the Open Society Justice Initiative, notes that the U.S. continues to maintain as many as 20 torture prisons in Afghanistan, and others in Somalia (21).

What are these prisons like, and who is sent there?  Here’s one example from the report:

“Jamil el-Banna (Abdul Latif el-Banna), a British resident and Jordanian citizen, was arrested by Gambian intelligence agents on November 8, 2002 upon his arrival at Banjul airport with Bisher al-Rawi.  Gambian authorities told el-Banna and the other arrestees that the British had ordered the arrests.  El-Banna was first detained and interviewed by CIA and Gambian authorities after the British intelligence service MI5 wrongly told U.S. officials that al-Rawi was carrying bomb parts in his luggage.  
El-Banna was first transferred to the Dark Prison and later to Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.  According to his lawyer, in the Dark Prison, el-Banna was imprisoned underground in isolation and darkness and tortured over two weeks.  He was held in leg shackles 24 hours per day, starved, beaten, kicked, dragged along floors while shackled, and was unable to sleep due to continuous screams from fellow detainees.  
In early 2003, el-Banna was transferred to Guantanamo Bay.  He was released without charges on December 19, 2007, and returned to Britain.  Spain subsequently issued an extradition warrant for him, but dropped all charges in March of 2008” (34).

Abducted on the basis of the same kind of sloppy intelligence that the Bush Administration used to launch their war of aggression in Iraq, el-Banna was then funnelled, over a period of five years, through the system of camps and prisons that the United States has erected to aid in its war of terror and revenge.  Presumably, given that he was released from Guantanamo, he was regarded as innocent and non-threatening.  If the U.S. government believed he was a threat but lacked evidence, he would undoubtedly have been held, like those who remain shuttered in Guantanamo without any recourse to a legal system, often unaware of why they are being held.  How must el-Banna and the others like him feel after having spent five years unjustly imprisoned in such terrible places?

A sometime favourite phrase of U.S. administrations and the media is “rogue state”, applied not on the basis of a country’s behaviour to its people, but on the basis of its compliance with U.S. will.  But what better word could there be to describe a government which so clearly sees itself as above the law and beyond scrutiny?  How else to characterise the successive governments which over the years have embraced abductions, murders, disappearances, unlawful imprisonment, torture, and such an ugly idea of American exceptionalism (an idea echoed in Marco Rubio’s pitiful response to the President)?  How disgusting that our President is trying to claim that our wars are drawing to a close when those who have borne the brunt of the spectacular violence we deploy so casually will continue to be subjected to the kinds of “targeted” strikes that yesterday killed 10 civilians, five of them children, in Afghanistan?

We, the public, should be ashamed of ourselves for our complicity in the all-party consensus that surrounds the necessity of the war on terror and for sharing in the nauseating conceit that Americans are somehow better and more deserving than people elsewhere in the world.


“We also have to work, through, sort of the dark side, if you will.  We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world.  A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful.  That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective”—Dick Cheney (“Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition”, 5).

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