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Spanish Investigation Reveals 'An Approved Systematic Plan of Torture' Under Bush

While Obama and the US Congress refuse to hold Bush-era torturers accountable, a Spanish judge fights for accountability and uncovers more US atrocities.

On Friday, I wrote a piece for AlterNet on how the Obama administration is continuing to use a notorious military police unit at Guantanamo that regularly brutalizes unarmed prisoners, despite Obama's pledge to uphold the Geneva Convention. This force officially known as the Immediate Reaction Force (IRF) has been labelled the "Extreme Repression Force" by Gitmo prisoners. Its members were also characterized as the "Black Shirts of Guantanamo" by human rights lawyer Michael Ratner. The IRF force is "an extrajudicial terror squad that has regularly brutalized prisoners outside of the interrogation room, gang beating them, forcing their heads into toilets, breaking bones, gouging their eyes, squeezing their testicles, urinating on a prisoner's head, banging their heads on concrete floors and hog-tying them - sometimes leaving prisoners tied in excruciating positions for hours on end."

There has been very little public attention focused on this force. But, as I noted in my story, this unit could potentially be subjected to legal scrutiny, even if the Congress and Justice Department refuse to do their jobs. That's because one of the men brutalized by this force is a primary figure in the (largely ignored by the US media) Spanish investigation-a British resident named Omar Deghayes. (See my article, "Little Known Military Thug Squad Still Brutalizing Prisoners at Gitmo Under Obama," for more on this story.)

Deghayes's torture, including under the IRF Teams at Guantanamo, was highlighted in Spanish Judge Balthazar Garzon's criminal investigation into the US torture program. A total of five Spanish citizens or residents were held by the US at Guantanamo. Testimony of four of those men is cited by the Spanish investigators. In addition to Deghayes, the men are: Hamed Abderraman Ahmed, Lahcen Ikassrien and Jamiel Abdulatif Al Banna. (An English translation of the Spanish writ was recently released by the Center for Constitutional Rights and can be accessed here.)

All of the victims cited in the Spanish investigation were moved to various locations where they were allegedly tortured before ultimately being transferred to Guantanamo where the torture continued and intensified. The torture, according to the Spanish investigation, "all" occurred "under the authority of American military personnel"  and was sometimes conducted in the presence of medical professionals.

The Spanish writ does not name specific defendants or suspects in its investigation, but rather seeks to investigate the role of those who planned, coordinated and implemented the torture of its citizens and residents. "This systematic plan may point to the existence of a coordinated action for the commission of a multiplicity of torture crimes... a plan that would seem to approximate an official level and that, therefore, would give rise to criminal liability for the various schemes of committing, ordering, designing, and authorizing this systematic plan of torture." On April 29, Garzon gave the green light to the investigation citing Spain's Universal Jurisdiction law.

While Deghayes's case appears to include the most extreme case of torture among the five cited by the Spanish investigation, the others contain some pretty gut-wrenching stories. According to the Spanish investigation,


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Hamed Abderraman Ahmed was captured in November 2001 in Pakistan and was handed over to the US military in Kandahar, Afghanistan two months later and was then taken to Guantanamo in January 2002. At Camp X-Ray, he was confined to a metal mesh "chicken wire" cell that exposed him to the extreme heat of the Caribbean sun and "left him little more than a half-meter by half-meter of space to move in." Additionally, the cells were lit with electric lights around the clock, which "produced vision and sleep disorders." For over a year, he says he and other prisoners were allowed to leave their cells for two 15-minute periods a week. Ahmed also says the US constantly blared "American patriotic songs." Ahmed was released to Spanish custody by the US in February 2004 and was acquitted by Spain's Supreme Court.

Lhacen Ikassrien, who is a Moroccan citizen and a 13 year resident of Spain was taken from Afghanistan to Guantanamo in February 2002. He claims US personnel "never explained to him why he had been deprived of freedom." At Guantanamo, Ikassrien claims he "Received blows to his testicles," according to the Spanish investigation. "He relates that they inoculated him through injection with ‘a disease for dog cysts.'" Ikassrien and other former prisoners claim the US prison authorities "introduced into the cell very cold air and chemical substances that affected his breathing and joints." Ikassrien was handed over to Spain in July 2005 and was also acquitted.

A Palestinian citizen, Jamiel Abdelatif al Banna was taken by the US military in Gambia in November 2002 and was ultimately transferred to Guantanamo in January 2003 where he remained until December 2007. Before arriving at Guantanamo, al Banna says US personnel  took him to Afghanistan for a brief period where he was kept "underground in total darkness for three weeks with deprivation of food and sleep, and, forced him to witness torture carried out on other prisoners in Afghanistan," according to the Spanish investigation. He also "received strong blows to the head with a loss of consciousness."

Once he arrived at Guantanamo, al Banna was "under a regimen of total isolation for one year, permanently bound with shackles." During his time at Guantanamo, he was "subjected to some one thousand interrogations in sessions lasting from 2-10 hours per day." He was also "held by shackles on the hands and feet (wrists and ankles), in forced positions, seated on the floor with his body doubled forward and with pressure from the interrogators on his back to increase the pain until it made him scream and rendered him unable to stand upright on his feet for several hours afterwards." Al Banna was also "subjected to threats of death by poisoning or by drowning in the sea." Like Ikassrien, al Banna described chemicals placed in his environment that caused "coughing fits and respiratory problems." His mesh wired cell allegedly "produced asthenopia (eyestrain) in him and in other prisoners, to the point of rendering him incapable of reading." Al Banna also describes being attacked by the Immediate Reaction Force teams. "In one of these attacks, Al Banna suffered injuries to the ring finger of his right hand, left side of his forehead and the back part of his left knee," according to the investigation.

Judge Garzon says the treatment of these men, combined with recently declassified US documents show "an approved systematic plan of torture and ill-treatment on persons deprived of their freedom without any charge and without the basic rights of all detainees as set out and required by applicable international treaties."

Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights has said it "is conceivable that arrest warrants have already been issued or will be soon. Indictments will almost surely follow. The torture team's travel options are narrowing."

Jeremy Scahill, The Intercept

Jeremy Scahill

Jeremy Scahill is an investigative reporter, war correspondent, co-founder of The Intercept, and author of the international bestselling books Dirty Wars: The World Is A Battlefield and Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.  He has reported from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, the former Yugoslavia, and elsewhere across the globe. Scahill has served as the national security correspondent for The Nation and Democracy Now!, and in 2014 co-founded The Intercept with fellow journalists Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and investor Pierre Omidyar. Follow him on Twitter: @jeremyscahill

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