March 15, 2004

The story of the Tipton Three

Everything you wanted to know about the prisoners at Guantanamo is here (or here, in part two). If half of what these men say is true, the brutality of the present US regime is shocking, even to those of us who find it increasingly difficult to be shocked at anything these days. If all of it is true – including allegations that Guantanamo is a picnic compared to the places where the real terrorists are held – then comparisons between Americans and terrorists stop being odious and start being realistic. Either way, the Observer has a must-read exclusive.

Clarification: An email correspondent misunderstood what I was saying above. So just to be clear: terrorists will always come off worst in any comparison. But when it comes to their regard for human life, it simply doesn't even make sense to compare terrorists and western governments. In the case of the US government in Gitmo, however, it might. The US govt "wins" in the comparison, but the fact that it's made at all is pretty damning.

Posted by Felix at 03:09 PM GMT

MI5's involvement appears to have been much more hands-on than we were previously led to believe. I wonder if this will have repercussions for Blair.

Posted by: Stefan Geens on March 15, 2004 03:24 PM

Your clarification, then, basically states that only Gitmo makes a comparison even remotely morally acceptable, right?

Which would imply that you feel the US govt- and other western governments - has nothing but the highest regard for human life, right?

Hmm, I seem to find, in almost everything I've ever read about foreign policy/affairs/events, that if there's one thing we ought to be sure of it's that western governments, as with all governments, rarely have any regard for the lives of those who are not its citizens/voters unless it either suits their purpose or does not get in the way of their purpose. Otherwise, they seem to care very little if their policies kill innocents.

I assume from your clarification that western governments are exempted from responsibility for such acts, thus making any comparison with terrorists morally odious, because, er, as western governments their intentions must surely have been pure?

Posted by: murray on March 15, 2004 08:38 PM

The point of my clarification was not to absolve wetern governments of responsibility for those they kill; rather, it was to make clear that I wasn't going down the moral equivalence path. That's all.

Posted by: Felix on March 15, 2004 08:49 PM

This is my favorite part:

"Until then, some of their allegations--which, it can be assumed, America is likely to deny--cannot be corroborated."

Well, does the U.S. deny them? We don't know because it doesn't appear that anyone asked. And nothing at all can be corroborated? Shurely the crack Grauniad team that won this 'world exclusive' knows how to get in touch with the Red Cross, for starters, not to say all the other folks mentioned tangentially in the piece.

Everything here could be true but it could also be a total fabrication and there's no way of telling one way or the other from what's been presented. Very useful addition to our understanding.

Posted by: Matthew on March 15, 2004 10:10 PM

I can't link it but the South China Morning Post - not a particularly pro-American paper - ran an article about some of the younger people recently released from Guantanamo Bay and returned to Afghanistan. The reporter was from one of the British papers, I forget which (the SCMP runs a lot of features from UK papers) and admitted looking for a scandal, and was shocked to learn the teenagers wanted to go back to Cuba. Quiet bed, good food, daily religion, free of the depravations of life back home.

I can't vouch for what I read, or the reporter's true agenda, any more than for the Observer. I've never supported the notion behind Camp X-Ray, that these people have no legal representation, no recourse of any kind. It's unAmerican. I wouldn't be shocked if abuses are taking place, because abuses always fester when there's secrecy and opaqueness. On the other hand, reports like the one I read suggest the Observer may be stovepiping.

Posted by: Jame on March 16, 2004 01:55 AM

In Afghanistan, the Tipton Three found themselves in a container, being shot at by machine guns and surrounded by corpses. Nothing at Gitmo was as bad as that, and if I were them, I'd probably rather stay in Cuba than get sent back to Afghanistan, which is a warlord-run, anarchic place, filled with the most gruesome of memories for all these prisoners. But I fail to see how that means the Observer is stovepiping.

Posted by: Felix on March 16, 2004 02:55 AM

Looking at my previous comment, I sound rather dismissive of the Observer article. I didn't mean to be. Its account of the experience at Guantanamo is pretty horrible. It's the kind of crime that "patriots" dismiss as impossible "because we're Americans" but they're only kidding themselves.

My point about stovepiping is that I don't think all inmates were treated that way - but the fact that any inmate was presents a problem. Even more galling, the chances of this story running on CNN are miniscule. Ultimately this story highlights the gulf between American values/rhetoric and American acts - the very hypocracies that drive so much anti-Americanism in the Middle East.

Winning the 'war on terror' will require not just military and intel victories but mending our ways too...and that won't happen as long as secrecy prevails over transparency. Sadder still, would a Kerry presidency fundamentally change things?

How much does any civilian know? Once a government starts down the path of a militarized state, how does it turn the course? Is our struggle for global freedom and democracy in fact turning America toward fascism?

Posted by: Jame on March 16, 2004 07:16 AM

that's a big yup-aroonie on your last question.

but the good news is it's still a long way away.

Posted by: eurof on March 16, 2004 09:48 AM

I should imagine that some Gitmo prisoners were treated better, some were treated worse (after all, these were UK nationals who had never even fought in Afghanistan), and that genuine terrorists/senior Taliban never even got to Gitmo in the first place, and are being treated worse still elsewhere.

It's worth remembering, too, that fascist leaders often had broad popular support from a majority of the population. (This actually applies to "Islamofascists" as well.) George W Bush likes to say that he's a "war president" -- implicitly drawing a distinction with Clinton, who was clearly not a war president, Kosovo notwithstanding. And Bush is clearly very comfortable with egging on the US population to vote for "strong leadership" while the "war on terror" is being waged.

Eurof is right that the US is still a long way from being a fascist state. The opposition is not being forcibly oppressed, censorship is still confined to issues of Janet Jackson's nipple, and there's no militarisation of domestic life. Most of these things, thankfully, are inconceivable. But the Bush propaganda machine does worry me: I'm about to post on that very subject...

Posted by: Felix on March 16, 2004 04:05 PM

if you don't want to be treated like the scum of the earth don't hang out with the scum of the earth. if these "smart" boys would have stayed at home and not went to the belly of the beast, they would not have wound up in the new hell call GITMO. hope this teaches some lessons to these young men.

Posted by: kris on March 16, 2004 08:36 PM

I fear, Kris, that these young men have indeed learned "some lessons". And they're not at all the lessons you might hope them to be.

Posted by: Felix on March 17, 2004 01:23 AM

your argument would be more persuasive if there was a reasonably transparent sifting process by which the innocent, the quasi-innocent and the guilty were determined.

Unfortunately Gitmo represents nothing but arbitrary Pentagon oppression. Probably most of the bastards deserve it. But quite a few do not, which is a betrayal of all the legal and humane values the US allegedly represents.

This is not a case of a system (like the US court system) that is imperfect and convicts a few innocent men; we're talking about a system that is irrational, offers no recourse or second chances, and apparently engages in the kind of cruel and unusual brutality one expects from Saddam Hussein's thugs, not members of US armed forces.

Until Gitmo prisoners are given access to legal defense and the fundamental right of the presumption of innocence, Camp X-Ray will not only remain a blot on America's reputation, but also a rallying cry for Islamic fascism. We shouldn't expect or deserve any gratitude from those fortunate enough to be released.

Posted by: Jame on March 17, 2004 06:44 AM

There is a sifting process or else these kids would not be in England now. I grant you the sifting process is quite slow and most likely flawed (assuming thier story is to be believed), but i would rather error on the side of caution at this point.

Posted by: kris on March 17, 2004 05:25 PM

The problem is that this sifting process is opaque and arbitrary.

I have no qualms with holding people that are still yielding intelligence, or may do so in the future. But there should be a stated process once they move beyond the intel grilling, even if it takes a long time, and that process should include access to a lawyer.

Posted by: Jame on March 23, 2004 11:12 AM

I believe the idea of legal representation for people being held at Guantanamo is based on the premise that they are criminal suspects, not prisoners of war. As I understand it, they are considered 'EPWs,' or 'Enemy Prisoners of War,' and as such, don't need to be charged with a particular crime to be held, well, almost indefinitely. Any terrorist actions committed and/or planned by any of these people would be considered war crimes. Since the war on terrorism is going to go on for a long time, those who are not going to be charged with war crimes will still be kept for months, even years, in order to a) make really sure they are not anybody for whom we're looking, and b)by virtue of the length of their captivity, make them operationally useless to any terrorist organizations with which they might have connections, and c)squeeze all the intelligence out of them that we possibly can.
Did the Tipton Three ever get around to saying just what they were doing in Afganistan? I mean, there could be lots of reasons they might for their reluctance to say what they were up to, even if it wasn't fighting with the Taliban (Visiting relatives, or rounding up some brides from the 'old country' comes to mind), but they'd have more credibility if they could account for their presence there.

Posted by: Matt Angelucci on April 13, 2004 04:43 AM

In my opinion the tipton three are enemies of Britain and now the country they would fight against will make them rich. What a disgraceful country Britain is and I'm ashamed to be British at this time. Traitors used to get shot, now they get respect it seems.

Posted by: Dave on March 13, 2006 01:29 AM

Dude, when you get arrested for not doing anything.. would you consider yourself a traitor? AH!

Posted by: me on June 23, 2006 04:43 PM

Did the Tipton Three ever get around to saying just what they were doing in Afganistan? I mean, there could be lots of reasons they might for their reluctance to say what they were up to, even if it wasn't fighting with the Taliban (Visiting relatives, or rounding up some brides from the 'old country' comes to mind), but they'd have more credibility if they could account for their presence there.

Posted by: RAM on July 18, 2006 05:17 AM

"In the fall of 2001, the happenstance of life as they lived it took them from their hardscrabble neighborhood of Tipton, England, (just outside Birmingham) to Pakistan. That is where one of the Tipton Three, Asif Iqbal, was to be wed in an arranged marriage. The other two, Ruhel Ahmed and Shafiq Rasul, were buddies who went to Pakistan for the wedding and for the sheer novelty of it.

“When he asked me to go to his wedding, I said, ‘Why not?’” Ahmed says in the new British film, The Road to Guantanamo. “He’s my friend and, also, it would be a great holiday.”

But the lighthearted road trip to a friend’s wedding would, within a month, become a grotesque nightmare. Bored with waiting for the marriage ceremony, inspired in a mosque to go and aid poor Muslims in Afghanistan -- and intrigued, as well, by tales about the huge loaves of naan, a local bread, they’d heard were customary in Afghanistan -- the men who would become known as the Tipton Three crossed into Afghanistan just as the American military assault on the Taliban regime began." ...AND THE TOWER BRIDGE IS FOR SALE TOO!...AND NESSIE IS GIVING SHOWS TWICE A DAY AT THE LOCH! etc.,etc...

Posted by: RAM on July 18, 2006 05:52 AM

The North Alliance killed about 90% of their POWs, according to the Tipton Three's account. That's terrible, considering thatthe North Alliance was a proxy for the "forces of Good & Justice" (US+UK+the rest).
It does not matter if the Tipton Three were up to something murky in Afghanistan or not. I grant that going to Afghanistan was an outlandish idea, and that they probably went there to provide support for some of the bad guys or associates thereof.
The fact was that they were falsely accused of stuff that they proved to be wrong. For instance, being on an Osama rally at a time they could prove an aliby. They were also lied to many times (i.e. "we've got your passports", "we've got your Al Qaeda membership form"...) in ways that seem to me incompetent or stupid. They were in Gitmo for almost 3 years. They could not be proven to be guilty of any crime. If they were indeed guilty of anything, then the system they were subjected to was irrational, stupid, cruel and inhumane.
It seems, on the light of these facts, that they spent 3 years of their lives in jail for doing nothing. Could someone have at least officially told them "you're free, it looks like we screwed up, sorry"?
The stories about Gitmo suggest that torture is a usual way to obtain intelligence from detainees. This is fact, you can extract moral judgement as you will. Another fact is that we Western citizens are lied to, insofar as we are told there is no systematic torture at detainee camps. We need this as ideological comfort : "we are not as cruel as they are", etc.

Posted by: Me on July 24, 2006 12:12 AM