How to make Gitmo prisoners love America? Stop them watching RT

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How to make Gitmo prisoners love America? Stop them watching RT
A Guantanamo Bay inmate’s correspondence with his lawyer was full of shocking revelations about his suffering at the hands of the American authorities. But one US tabloid instead decided to focus on the TV offerings at the prison.

In mainstream journalism, there’s a long-standing tradition of burying the lede – a practice that sees a story begin with details of secondary importance while postponing the essential ones. In fact, you could argue the entire news cycle since the election of Donald Trump has been one long exercise in distracting the public from what’s really going inside the US and around the world with the incessant talk about Russia, Russia and more Russia – and specifically the notion of Trump’s alleged collusion with the Kremlin, for which there is not yet any actual evidence to be presented.

The mention of absence of proof neatly brings us to Guantanamo Bay, a Cuban base where the US has long operated an infamous extra-judicial prison. And this week, the unfortunate hellhole featured in a somewhat sensationalist article published by the Daily Beast, a journal hardly noted for gentle nuance.

Strange Choices

Instead of focusing on the horrors of Gitmo, as it’s known, the tabloid focussed on how “the detention facility’s most notorious terror suspects have only one option for English-language television news: RT.” This seemed to upset the writer, one Spencer Ackerman, far more than run-of-the-mill Guantanamo activities like water-boarding and extrajudicial detention.

The journalist was especially outraged at how RT allegedly “loves to broadcast whatever makes America look terrible.” A statement which, by the way, is more true of the Daily Beast’s editorial line on Russia – which has brought us such ‘fake news’ gems as “Putin is giving ISIS an airforce” and "New Putin invasion (of Ukraine) coming this summer" (of 2015) – than this network’s approach to US issues. Unless, of course, Ackerman believes that legitimate stories the mainstream often chooses to ignore shouldn’t be covered in case they reflect badly on the United States? Thinking more suited to the old Soviet Union than the “land of the free.”

Anyway, the Daily Beast piece focuses on the letters from Muhammad Rahim al-Afghani, lifted from Pakistan in 2007 by the CIA and held in Gitmo’s notorious Camp 7, to his lawyer in which the prisoner expresses his bewilderment at the fact “it’s the only western news (sic) we get—and it’s from Moscow.”

Only later, when the ‘fun’ is over and the narrative’s been served, does the Beast mention the horrific set-up at Camp 7. “At least one detainee held at Camp 7 claims the U.S. continues to torture him with “noises and vibrations,” it concedes. “The U.S. military has blocked even the United Nations’ special rapporteur for torture from visiting the camp, as he would not agree to stay silent about what he would observe inside.” Not to mention how “six years after U.S. Navy SEALs killed bin Laden, Afghani remains at Guantanamo and has never been charged with a crime.” Thus, it seems restricting his TV news options to RT is the very least of the Gitmo victim’s troubles.

Wrong Message

The Beast also seems afraid that RT might cause the self-confessed architect of the 9/11 attacks to harden his views on the US, but does admit “men like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are unlikely to require additional reasons to view America negatively.”

The sad thing about his diatribe is that Ackerman seems to genuinely believe that removing RT from Gitmo could improve the prisoner’s opinion of Uncle Sam. And it ends with a bizarre justification which misrepresents Afghani’s remarkable ability to separate ordinary American people from their political leaders as with some sort of endorsement of the US government's actions:  

“But in another departure from RT’s editorial line, Afghani doesn’t hold much against the United States," he writes. Then quoting Afghani: “My legal situation is bad, but the camp commander is a good man who treats us humanely,” Afghani wrote in March. “Thank him and the new SJA [Staff Judge Advocate], I know many Americans are good."

The inmate goes on to explain how he “was tortured, hung from the ceiling until I was dead. I am not high-value. They call me high-value because the CIA tortured me... in 9 months the CIA tortured me like an animal – only animals were treated better. They did not let me shower or use the toilet for months, they fed me animal food. They would not let me pray unless I confessed to untruths and I was praying for my life.” This hardly suggests "he doesn’t hold much against the United States," as the Beast contends.

This last passage was the real meat in Afghani’s testimony. But the Daily Beast buried the lede and plumped for a nonsense RT angle to distract from the real issue – how prisoners are treated at Gitmo, not the TV channels they are offered by their captors.