In all the rhetoric flying between the Democrats and the Republicans, the human beings being detained in Guantánamo have seemingly been forgotten. The mainstream media appears more interested in giving equal air time to a former vice president than in investigating the situation in Guantánamo.
As revelations about the Bush administration’s torture policies accrue more quickly than they can be spun, Democrats fight over funding to close Guantanamo Bay, and President Obama defends his problematic positions at the National Archives, it’s worth considering not just how unrestrainedly sadistic the interrogation practices there were, but also how grievously enduring the psychological wounds they inflicted have been. Sustained Bush-Cheney torture has done emotional damage to detainees that will long outlast current investigations and prosecutions.
In 2006, I profiled the teenage detainee Omar Khadr for Rolling Stone. Khadr was captured in Afghanistan in 2002, when he was fifteen years old, after a gun battle between U.S. troops and the Taliban. Canadian-born, he had gone to Afghanistan with his jihadist father to live in Osama bin Laden’s compound.
The government accuses Khadr of killing a U.S. soldier with a grenade during the battle, but in 2008 the Pentagon accidentally revealed that it had no evidence of this; it had evidence only that Khadr was present at the time. Khadr was far too young to have any useful knowledge of al Qaeda activities. Still, at Bagram Air Base and then at Guantanamo, he was treated as a dangerous, savvy enemy combatant.