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WASHINGTON — It was a scary, uncooked time simply 4 months after the assaults of Sept. 11, 2001, when the army at Guantánamo Bay obtained its first prisoners from the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
The secretary of protection, Donald Rumsfeld, had declared the remoted Navy outpost behind a Cuban minefield “the least worst place” to carry suspected Taliban and international fighters, most of whom had been handed over by native allies.
I discovered myself sitting within the noon solar on a small dusty rise above the bottom airstrip watching pairs of Marines stroll 20 captives down the ramp of a now out of date army “Starlifter” cargo airplane.
A small knot of civilian reporters was permitted to observe, however not take images, in trade for sending a pool account to the Pentagon press corps. Right here’s an excerpt:
2:55: First prisoner comes off. He’s carrying a fluorescent orange jumpsuit, a shiny turquoise face masks, goggles, comparable coloured orange socks over white footwear, a brighter orange head cowl that seemed to be a knit cap. His palms have been manacled in entrance of him, and he limped. He was frisked and led, by not less than two Marines, to the awaiting bus.
After I discuss to individuals about that day, on the radio or to college students, I say, “Shut your eyes and picture males in orange jumpsuits on their knees at Guantánamo Bay.”
You’ve in all probability seen an image of it. A Navy photographer took it at Camp X-Ray on that very first day and the Pentagon launched it a few week later, capturing a second in historical past whose persevering with use within the media has pissed off the army as a result of, not solely does it seem like torture to some individuals, the army now homes its remaining 40 Guantánamo prisoners indoors.
The picture additionally haunted me at occasions, differently. The Pentagon known as these first males “the worst of the worst” however refused to call them. Almost from the beginning, I questioned: How do they know?
4 months to the day earlier than their arrival, the 9/11 assaults had uncovered the US’ intelligence failures. Vice President Dick Cheney had mentioned that the army “could be given missions in reference to this general activity and technique” and that “we’ve received to spend time within the shadows within the intelligence world.” He known as it “the darkish aspect.”
Years would cross earlier than I might put names to these first 20 males. It took triangulation: I in contrast sloppily produced weight charts of every prisoner, by quantity not title, with flawed early intelligence profiles that leaked in 2011, after which consulted sources, together with outdated notes.
With the twentieth anniversary of the institution of the detention operation approaching, I made a decision to retrace what grew to become of the boys photographed on their knees and found this:
Almost the entire unique 20 are gone. The Bush administration repatriated eight of these Day 1 detainees. The Obama administration went on to switch 10 extra.
Now we all know that the Bush administration had despatched these it actually believed have been “the worst of the worst” to not Guantánamo instantly however to the key C.I.A. jail community, the black websites. The White Home introduced in September 2006 that it had introduced 14 “high-value detainees” from the darkish aspect to Guantánamo.
Amongst them have been Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and 4 different males who’re accused of plotting the Sept. 11 assaults. Charged twice, most not too long ago in 2012, they’ve but to go to trial.
Meantime, three of the boys in that picture have been a part of the Taliban negotiating workforce in Qatar whose settlement with the Trump administration led to the discharge of hundreds of Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan. A fourth strikes between Pakistan and Afghanistan, primarily functioning as a senior Taliban protection official.
I realized of the grim existence of 1 man within the picture, Ibrahim Idris, who was identified with schizophrenia and different sicknesses whereas in U.S. army custody, and was repatriated to change into a shut-in at his mom’s dwelling in Sudan. Then sooner or later I received a message from Khartoum: “Inform that reporter he died.”
I wrote what I consider to be the primary obituary of a former Guantánamo detainee to seem in The Instances. All those that died earlier than him have been included in information articles.
I’ve coated the story frequently since that first day, and I’ve been reflecting loads on these first males, particularly since President Biden introduced that the US would withdraw all American forces from Afghanistan (besides these guarding the U.S. Embassy) by the twentieth anniversary of the Sept. 11 assaults.
Afghanistan was the place the flight carrying these first 20 males originated, and I used to be in a position to watch their arrival as a result of the army understood that the mission was being carried out within the title of the American individuals, not simply the U.S. army.
Now, it has been greater than a 12 months since a reporter set foot on that base, principally due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the outpost has change into extra remoted than ever. Only a few legal professionals have visited the detainees, after present process a two-week quarantine, and a delegation of the Worldwide Crimson Cross has visited simply as soon as slightly than 4 occasions a 12 months.
Now we wait and marvel when, nevertheless belatedly, there will probably be a 9/11 trial. No new listening to dates have been set, and the case is as soon as once more awaiting a brand new army decide.
This has in all probability been essentially the most secretive of all of the years. The admiral accountable for the jail took over in Might 2019 and, in contrast to his predecessors, has by no means met a reporter there or permitted representatives of the media to go to the jail zone, which for years was a daily prevalence.
Again when the operation started, and the assaults of Sept. 11 have been nonetheless a uncooked nationwide trauma, the Marine common in cost couldn’t all the time reply the reporters’ questions. However he understood our proper to ask them, and did his finest to reply.
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