“We will show you things worse than Guantanamo”

Written by Arnaud Mafille Wednesday, 04 July 2012
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On 1 June 2012, Belgian newspapers reported the arrest of Stéphanie Djato, a young lady wearing a niqab (face veil) after an identity check. It was added that she assaulted police officers and injured two of them before being released. A few days ago, she gave her own version of the story and described what happened in the police station’s storage room where she was held (here). A statement allegedly made by one of the policemen especially resonates: “We will show you things worse than Guantanamo! Here it is worse than Guantanamo!”

Indeed, the treatment to which she was subjected was clearly inspired by the way American soldiers would “process” detainees of the War on Terror.

The young lady explains what happened after she removed her face veil but refused to undress fully. Two female officers attempted to take off her clothes forcefully and started to beat her. Unable to do so, they then called two male officers who allegedly joined the beating sessions. She explains:
“They called in the help of a third male officer who was told to bring a pair of scissors. They threw me on the floor and the male officer sat on my buttocks and he started to cut my clothes:  my jilbaab, niqab and underwear. So there I was on the floor with that cop on my back who tore my clothes with scissors and the rest he tore with his hands. Meanwhile, my face was being kicked and my body was being punched by the two policemen who stood beside me (...) At that point, a male cop came and he put handcuffs on me, with my hands behind my back. I had my hair tied in a knot, he snatched the rubber band out of my hair and he pulled me by my hair to put me on my feet. He pulled my hair and my handcuffs and I sat on my two knees.”
The abuses worsened when the young lady accidentally head butted one of the female agents in her attempt to avert the beatings of the police officers.
“The police really became wild and they threw me back on the floor and started to undress me completely, they started to cut my underwear and pulled off my pants. I was naked.”
These words disturbingly echoe those of Moazzam Begg, a British citizen who spent several years in Guantanamo without charge and who is currently directing Cageprisoners. In his autobiography, EnemyCombatant, he recalls his “processing” after he was handed over by the Pakistanis to US personnel.
“I was tripped onto the ground to the prone position again. This time I felt knees pushing hard against my ribs and legs, and crushing down on my skull simultaneously. I was pinned to the ground by this massive weight; I was not sure how many of them were on me – perhaps three. I couldn’t move an inch. I felt the shackles being undone from the ankles, and then I felt a cold, sharp metal object against my legs: they were using a knife to slice off my clothes, and I felt the cold even more, though the humiliation was worse. With the trousers off, the shackles were replaced against my bare skin. The process was repeated with the shirt – my arms were twisted behind my back, until reshackling was complete. I was pulled up to a standing position and the hood was removed.”
Asim Qureshi, commenting on the Zelikowtorturememo, has already explained how sexualhumiliation has become a part of the instruments of the War on Terror, by preying on Muslim sensitivities. Coupled with physical violence, psychological abuse aims at stripping off the individual not just from his clothes but also from his dignity and humanity.
These are exactly the feelings described by Stéphanie Djato:
They have offended me, the Muslim women, Islam … There was a small piece of cloth hanging from my neck, the man who sat on me was pulling it back, he strangled me with that piece of my niqab. I had the impression I was dying, I was suffocating, I could not breathe, I was shaking and my eyes rolled back, I was panicking. I thought I would die. I screamed in panic, anxiety... I was so stressed that I shouted: “Stop, stop please, I’ll do what you want, but please stop, stop this torture I’m going to do what you want! You are going to kill me!”Then they replied: “You can die!” And then they were insulting me, they said things I can’t mention. At that point, I received so many blows that I fainted on the floor, I could not move, and I screamed so much that I couldn’t scream anymore …”
However, her plight did not end there.
When they realised that they had gone too far and they raised my pants back up and they covered me partially with a top that I had. They dragged me so I could get up and they dragged me by the police department in front of all their colleagues. The colleagues asked, “Who is this?” Which the police said: “This is a burqa, this is a burqa!” For me this was a triple humiliation because I was half naked and this was a big humiliation for me, because I felt how everyone stared at me, I felt dirty by their eyes that were focused on my body, this was a humiliation for me. They paraded me for five minutes or so across the police station. And they were screaming: “Look, look this is a burqa!” And to finish, they threw me in a cell for about 2 hours.”
She was eventually transferred to the nearest hospital, bare foot and half dressed, and immediately admitted into intensive care.
This case could be seen as an isolated and unfortunate incident, completely unrelated to the War on Terror. However, the reference to Guantanamo made by one of the police officers is indeed significant. Guantanamo has created a mentality which branches out beyond the detention camps and conflict zones. It has normalised the idea that Muslims can be treated under a separate regime. Legislation going against hundreds-year old legal tradition canbe adopted to restrict or annihilate their right to a fair trial or their freedom of religion alike. The implementation of these policies shall be ruthless for them to be taught a lesson with, at the end of the day, very little protest.
It is interesting that Stéphanie Djato was placed in a storage room and not in an office as she noticed. She was symbolically taken out of the normal system where no rule would apply, just like 779 men were kidnapped all around the world and brought to an Island where none of the existing laws would prevail.
If Guantanamo still needs to be physically closed down, the impalpable state of mind it has spread also needs to be reversed...
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