Loading...

Guantánamo’s Final Days 

America prepares to shutter the infamous prison camp, and jihad looms

Thursday, Feb 26 2009
Comments

View photos from inside the detention camps in the Guantánamo slideshow.

 

The soldiers move through the wheat field, scanning the windswept plain for signs of trouble. There are six of them, dressed in fatigues and body armor, wearing the sunglasses and bushy beards popular among the Special Forces. The only thing they can hear is the rustling of wheat stalks.

click to flip through (4) 3100758.t.jpg
     
 

Related Stories

  • Stop the Anti-Immigration Hysteria: Murrieta's Obama Haters Need a Fact Check 61

    We're pleading here for straight talk on both sides of the illegal immigration debate, so we'll start this party with some brutal honesty: Illegal immigration isn't necessarily good for Latino Americans, and many of us don't always welcome it. Why would we ask for the clock on our U.S. assimilation...
  • Best Concerts This Weekend

    Be sure to check out our constantly updated concert calendar! Friday, August 29 Ty Segall THE ECHO On the title track of his seventh album, Manipulator, Ty Segall takes the punk fuzz guitars and garage-rock keyboards of his early days and braids them together into a newly psychedelic swarm of...
  • At Grand Central Market, a New Wave of Vendors Is Changing Up an L.A. Mainstay 3

    Many years later, as Grand Central Market faced the renovations that would once again shift its fortunes, Filomena Eriman remembered the day when she first arrived here, one of this country's oldest and largest public markets. It was 1969, and Eriman had been hired as an accountant for the family...
  • Immigrant Prison 13

    After nearly a decade of hard-line enforcement on illegal immigration under both the Bush and Obama administrations, one of the results is that Latinos now comprise about half of all new federally sentenced offenders. And drug and immigration crimes taken together now account for nearly two-thirds of all federal convictions,...
  • Our Water Obsession

    "Either you bring the water to L.A. or you bring L.A. to the water." - Chinatown Countless documentaries are released into theaters every year, the majority of which are info dumps that take the talking-head structure as a given. There's rarely much thought given to form, which is sometimes fine - not every...

They are a few miles outside Ab Khail, a small Afghan hill town near the Pakistani border, deep in Taliban territory. It’s a primitive village, a place of crumbling brick hovels, mud-walled huts, and open sewers lining the streets. This is one of the first battlefields in America’s War on Terror.

Today, the soldiers are looking for an al-qaeda explosives maker and Taliban sympathizers. Following GPS coordinates, they leave the field and cross a dirt road before arriving at a crude fort surrounded by mud walls. Inside, a group of bearded men is huddled in the shadows, clutching Kalashnikov rifles.

Those clearly aren’t Afghan farmers, thinks Staff Sgt. Layne Morris, a 40-year-old veteran soldier from Salt Lake City and one of the unit’s leaders.

Suddenly, shots come from a hole in the compound wall. The soldiers duck. Explosions rock the ground. Morris finds shelter behind a grain silo. After a few moments, he rises to launch a grenade from the M-4 strapped around his neck. The moment he pulls the trigger, something hot and hard slaps him in the eye. He hears a crunching sound in his head as white-hot pain spreads across his face. For a moment, he wonders if he is dead.

A piece of shrapnel has hit him in the nose, sliced into his skull, and severed an optic nerve. He crawls in the dirt, searching for his rifle, until medics pull him behind the silo to stanch the blood gushing from his face. The fighting rages for almost an hour.

When the gunfire finally stops, five soldiers charge into the compound. They find two Al-qaeda fighters under the rubble, their bodies badly burned and cloaked in dust. One has two gunshot wounds in his chest; he wears a pistol in a holster, and an AK-47 lies by his side.

Then a moaning sound comes from the back of the compound. The dust stirs, obscuring a child-size body. One of the Americans fires two rounds into the figure.

When the soldiers approach, they can see this is no hardened Al-qaeda foot soldier. His face is soft and free of stubble. His wrists are thin and his knees bony. No more than a boy, he is covered in soot and bleeding from shrapnel lodged in his chest. Two bullets have pierced his back.


After two American medics work to revive him, he moves his arms and legs and then looks up. “Kill me,” he whispers in English. “Please kill me.”

The soldiers refuse.

Today, more than six years later, the skinny 15-year-old who lay dying in the dust has become one of the most famous and controversial figures in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. His name is Omar Khadr, and he is the only Westerner held at the prison camp just across the Florida Straits from Miami. (He is a Canadian native.)

Now age 22, he is also its youngest detainee, accused of throwing the grenades that wounded Morris and killed Army medic Christopher Speer in that 2002 firefight. Though his trial at the camp was recently suspended, he stands to become the first child soldier tried by the United States. After years of torture and isolation, he is both a symbol of America’s many mistakes in the War on Terror and a breathing example of the reason for the camp’s existence.

Miami New Times was inside the Guantánamo Bay camps for both Khadr’s January 20 hearing, likely the last one to be held in Cuba, and President Obama’s order the next day to close the place. Cases like the child soldier’s represent perhaps the new president’s most difficult challenge: what to do with the men — now further radicalized by torture — who would almost certainly threaten Americans everywhere if released.

The danger is real. Just a few weeks ago, Saudi Arabian officials acknowledged that 11 men released from Guantánamo are now on the kingdom’s most wanted list because of alleged Al-qaeda connections. And this past December, the Pentagon reported 61 former detainees have re-engaged in terrorist activities. Among the attacks they might have carried out are destruction of a natural gas pipeline in Chechnya and bombing of an Islamabad Marriott.

“We can’t just let them go, and if we do, there’s going to be blood on somebody’s hands when they turn around and attack us again,” says Morris, who lost his right eye in the firefight with Khadr. “Most of them down there are hardcore admitted terrorists. Their loyalty is to a cause, and for that simple fact alone, they are a threat to Western society.”

Omar Khadr’s life and lineage epitomize that of a radical Muslim terrorist. He was born in Toronto in 1986, the fourth of seven children. In his first few years, the family lived with his mother’s parents in Scarborough, a dreary working-class suburb of Toronto defined by strip malls crammed with halal butcher shops and Pakistani travel agencies. His father, Ahmed — a broad-faced man with a heavy brow, thick neck, and long, scraggly beard — told his children he didn’t want to die an old man in bed. “If you love me,” he said, “pray that I get martyred.”
When Omar was just a toddler, his father quit a job as an engineer and moved the family to Peshawar, Pakistan, to join thousands of other radical Muslims, including Osama bin Laden, in the battle against the Soviets. Once there, Ahmed took charge of a Canadian charity that allegedly funneled money to Al-qaeda. He also ran schools for children who were reportedly taught a radical version of Islam.

Related Content

Now Trending

  • Venice Boardwalk Beat-Down Caught on Video

    A brutal beating next to the Venice boardwalk this week was captured on video (on the next page). Los Angeles Police Department detectives are asking for your help in tracking down not only the suspect, but the victim, who "we haven't been able to locate," Officer Nuria Venegas told us...
  • L.A. Porn Production Shuts Down Over HIV Report

    The adult video industry's trade group today called for a moratorium on production after a performer might have tested positive for HIV. The Los Angeles-based Free Speech Coalition said in a statement that one of the facilities used by porn stars under the industry's voluntary, twice-a-month STD testing protocol "reported...
  • Woman Fatally Struck by Vehicle at Burning Man

    A woman was fatally struck by a vehicle at Burning Man today, organizers said. The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office in Nevada identified the deceased as 29-year-old Alicia Louise Cipicchio of Jackson, Wyoming. Burning Man spokesman Jim Graham said she fell under a bus or "large vehicle" that was carrying participants early today. See...
Los Angeles Concert Tickets