Archive for July, 2007

Return to torture: an update on the fate of Tunisian Guantánamo detainee Abdullah bin Omar

In the New Statesman, Clive Stafford Smith updates the story of Abdullah bin Omar, previously reported here and here, confirming that, as suspected, the Tunisian refugee has been imprisoned and tortured on his return to the country of his birth.

For those who missed the story the first time round, bin Omar had been living in Pakistan for 13 years until he was captured by opportunist soldiers in 2002 and sold to the Americans, who took five years to realize that he was innocent of any crime. His forced return to his home country, where, as Stafford Smith states, he “has already been tortured, and he has been told that if he does not confess falsely to crimes, his wife and daughters will be raped,” is a moral outrage, and should provoke all decent people to stand up and demand that the US government no longer tries to worm its way out of a humanitarian disaster of its own making by sending innocent men to imprisonment, torture or even death.

Shockingly, bin Omar’s repatriation to torture is just the start of what may be a disturbing trend. As Stafford Smith notes, “There is doubtless worse to come. There are many other Guantánamo prisoners facing bin Omar’s fate –- from Tunisia and from Algeria, China, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Syria and Uzbekistan. Like him, many have been cleared for release. Much as they want to get out of Guantánamo –- a purgatory of imprisonment without charge or trial –- repatriation may take these men to hell itself.”

For more on the Tunisian detainees in Guantánamo, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

“War on Terror” Abuses in Bosnia and Herzegovina: new Cageprisoners report

In an excellent new report from the human rights group Cageprisoners, Citizens No More: ‘War on Terror’ Abuses in Bosnia and Herzegovina, researcher Asim Qureshi travelled to the Balkans to investigate three strands of the “Global War on Terror” that have impacted on the area: the abduction, brutal imprisonment (and, in one case, “extraordinary rendition”) of two charity workers and a publisher in September 2001, just two weeks after 9/11; the plight of the six Algerian-born Bosnian citizens in Guantánamo (Qureshi conducted interviews with four of the men’s wives); and the recent pressure exerted on the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina –- by the United States –- to revoke the citizenship of hundreds of naturalized Bosnians from countries throughout North Africa and the Gulf, to tear them from their families, and to return them to the countries of their birth, where, unsurprisingly, many of them will face hardship and persecution.

While the story of the Guantánamo prisoners is an ongoing disgrace, and the currently unfolding deportation story is also extremely important –- as Fadhil al-Hammadani, an Iraqi facing deportation, explained, “When they extradite me to Iraq, they will do so as a terrorist, not like a man without papers” –- I’m going to focus in this article on the first of these stories, which has received little attention to date, concerning Nihad Karsic and Almin Hardaus, two charity workers for the Saudi High Commission for Relief (a charity that provides humanitarian aid to war orphans).

Abducted from their workplaces on 25 September 2001 by Italian carabinieri (part of the Italian peace-keeping force), Karsic and Hardaus were taken to an army base at Butmir, where they were hooded, held in cages and interrogated (and, in Hardaus’ case, interrogated by an American soldier), and then transported to a US army base in Tuzla, in a manner that would later become standard operating procedure for “terror suspects.”

Eagle base, Tuzla, Bosnia “They handcuffed me, hooded me and placed earphones over my ears,” Karsic said. “I had these ski glasses, but blacked out.” In Tuzla, the men were then subjected to a pattern of abuse that was also to become depressingly familiar: “held in solitary confinement, forcibly stripped naked, forcibly kept awake, repeatedly beaten, verbally harassed, deprived of food and photographed.” When they were released after a week, Karsic said that the Americans told him “they had made a mistake,” gave him 500 dollars and made him sign a document where he promised not to say a word about what had happened.

A corollary to the case of Karsic and Hardaus concerns the Egyptian-born Munich-based publisher Abdel Halim Khafagy, who travelled to Bosnia in September 2001 in order to distribute copies of the Koran. Although he was 69 years old at the time, Khafargy –- and a Jordanian companion, of whom, shockingly, nothing further has been heard –- was abducted by masked men from a hotel room in Sarajevo the night before Karsic and Hardaus were seized, beaten severely in the head, and also taken to Tuzla, where he was held for several weeks, before being “rendered” to Egypt and its notorious torture prisons.

When he was finally returned to Germany, two months after his initial abduction –- and largely, it seems, through pressure exerted on the German government by Walter Lechner, a lawyer hired by his family –- Lechner described meeting a “severely haggard elderly gentleman, who was under heavy shock. His nerves had been shattered and he was not fully aware of what had happened to him.” Khafagy has since left Germany, and, according to classified documents released to the press and described in a WSWS article in December 2006, was abducted because he had been “confused with another person,” rather like Khalid El-Masri, another German who was abducted because the US and German authorities had mistaken him for someone else, who was seized in Macedonia and transferred to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan for five months.

As WSWS noted, the abduction of Khafagy, just two weeks after 9/11, undermined the German government’s ludicrous claim that it “only became aware of US secret prisons in Europe through media reports.” As the article also made clear, German agents were summoned by the Americans to read documents and to help with the interrogation of Khafargy in early October 2001, and one German agent later told a German TV programme, “I can still remember that the majority of [the] seized documents were heavily covered in blood … The Americans were obviously proud of the fact that the head wound incurred during the arrest had needed 20 stitches.” In addition, as Cageprisoners noted, bringing the story of Nihad Karsic and Almin Hardaus back into the spotlight also focuses attention on the Italian government –- led at the time by Silvio Berlusconi –- which is already under scrutiny for its part in the abduction of the cleric Abu Omar from a street in Milan in February 2003, and his subsequent rendition to Egypt.

The struggle to dismantle the unprincipled post-9/11 world of vengeance, torture and criminally poor “intelligence” has, in many ways, only just begun, and will take years to unravel, but Cageprisoners are to be commended for resuscitating this early story of the murky involvement of European countries in the abduction, illegal imprisonment and “extraordinary rendition” of its citizens and residents.

For more on US torture policies, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

Desperate Pentagon files new charge against Omar Khadr, Guantánamo’s child soldier

Never ones to willingly admit defeat, officials at the Pentagon have responded to the recent collapse of the Military Commissions for Omar Khadr and Salim Hamdan by alleging that Khadr, who was just 15 years old at the time of his capture, after a gun battle in Afghanistan in July 2002, “related,” just a few weeks after, “that he had been told about a $1,500 reward being placed on the head of each American killed.” Although it was not made clear who had offered the bounty, Khadr allegedly replied to questions about how he felt about the reward by saying, “I wanted to kill a lot of American[s] to get lots of money.”

Astutely recognizing desperation when they see it, his lawyers have pointed out that this supposedly significant information has not been mentioned at all during the last five years, and have suggested, as Canada’s Globe and Mail reports, that it is “suspect, ‘superfluous’ to the appeal motion and designed to undermine public sympathy” for Khadr. His military lawyer, Lieutenant-Commander William Kuebler, told the Globe and Mail, “We’re not inclined to believe reports about what Omar said to interrogators,” adding that “the government seeks to vilify Omar based on information it coerced out of him as a 15-year-old boy recovering from critical wounds inflicted by US forces. It shows how desperate they are.”

Nathan Whitling, one of Khadr’s Canadian lawyers, has also spoken out, explaining to the Globe and Mail that his client’s companions had already been killed by US air strikes when a grenade –- allegedly thrown by Khadr –- killed a US soldier, Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer. He continued: “It is hardly convincing for the US to suggest that in the midst of this battle, and after the entire site had been flattened by 500-pound bombs and everyone else in the compound [had been] killed, Omar was lying under the rubble thinking about how to earn himself $1,500.”

As one respondent to the Globe and Mail’s article noted, “The case against Mr. Khadr, what there was of it, is descending into farce. He was a 15 year-old child soldier. He’s been incarcerated in solitary confinement for years, under heavy mental, emotional and physical strain. By now he’s probably confessed to assassinating JFK for the Cuban mob. If and when Mr. Khadr’s case gets into the civil courts, even the US civil courts, they will throw it so hard it will bounce.”

Omar Khadr's Military Commission in June 2007

Omar Khadr (left) during his aborted Military Commission hearing on 4 June 2007. The judge who threw out his case and has refused to reinstate it, Army Colonel Peter Brownback, sits on the far right (©AFP/Getty Images).

For more on Omar Khadr, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

Shaker Aamer, A South London Man in Guantánamo: The Children Speak

On Saturday 30 June 2007, to mark 2,000 days since the establishment of the illegal prison in Guantánamo Bay, the British human rights group Cageprisoners held a conference in Balham, specifically to discuss the case of Shaker Aamer, but also to press for the release of other British residents in Guantánamo, and to call for the closure of the illegal prison.

Shaker AamerBorn in Saudi Arabia, Shaker is a British resident, and is married with four children. He was captured in Afghanistan, where he had been involved in a project to build a school with the released British prisoner Moazzam Begg, after the US-led invasion in October 2001, and was sold to the Americans, who subjected him to torture in a secret CIA prison and in a prison at Bagram airbase, and then flew him to Guantánamo. An enormously charismatic man, Shaker has persistently campaigned for the rights of the prisoners in Guantánamo, and as a result is regarded, erroneously, as a senior figure in al-Qaeda by the American authorities.

Since August 2005, when he led a short-lived Prisoners’ Council, which negotiated with the authorities to provide better treatment, he has been held in solitary confinement, and in January 2007 he embarked on a hunger strike as the only method left to him to highlight his predicament and that of his fellow prisoners. For their pains, the hunger strikers –- and Shaker is one of dozens –- are restrained, using 16 separate straps, twice a day for an hour and a half in a special chair, and force-fed through a thick tube which is forced up their noses and into their stomachs. The procedure is extremely painful, but anaesthetics are rarely used, the military staff responsible for the force-feeding are untrained –- and sometimes force the tube into prisoners’ lungs instead of their stomachs –- and the tubes are removed after each feeding. Designed to “break” the prisoners, and to force them to abandon their campaign, the force-feeding effectively tortures prisoners who –- seeing no way out of their illegal imprisonment –- wish to die to end their suffering.

As long ago as November 2005, when he was taking part in a huge hunger strike, which, at its height, involved at least 200 prisoners, Shaker wrote, “I am dying here every day, mentally and physically. This is happening to all of us. We have been ignored, locked up in the middle of the ocean for years. Rather than humiliate myself, having to beg for water, I would rather hurry up the process that is going to happen anyway … I want to make it easy on everyone. I want no feeding, no forced tubes, no ‘help,’ no ‘intensive assisted feeding,’ This is my legal right.”

Speakers at the conference –- which was extremely well-attended –- included Zachary Katznelson, one of Shaker’s lawyers at Reprieve, human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, activist Bianca Jagger and former prisoner Moazzam Begg. The most poignant moments of the event, however, were when one of Shaker’s daughters, and one of Moazzam Begg’s daughters, addressed the audience. Their words are reproduced below.

My Life Without My Dad

Lines written by Johaina Aamer, the 9-year old daughter of Shaker Aamer, 29 June 2007.

After school, when I have reached home,
“I have a surprise for you,” says my mum.
I get excited. What if my dad has returned?
It would be the best thing that ever happened.
“A chocolate cake and some games for fun.”
How can I say, “Thanks mum, but I want none.”
I run to my room with my heart broken.
My dad in a cage, locked up in a prison.
He was sold to the people with no hearts or emotions.
Where is the justice, for my dad is innocent?
A long, long waiting but no sign of return.
Each day is same for my brothers, me and mum.
I miss you everyday, you are never forgotten.
I wish to say goodbye to the world of corruption
So we can be together and rejoice in heaven.
I hide my tears and smile for this reason.

Johaina Aamer

Imprisoned Fathers

Written and spoken by Marium Begg, daughter of released Guantanamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, at the Shaker Aamer conference, “A South London Man in Guantánamo,” 30 June 2007.

Bismillah al Rahman al Raheem. As salamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatu. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. I greet you all with the Muslim greeting of peace.

Before I start I would like to say I am not used to talking in public, like my father, so if I make any mistakes then you can blame him! I would like to begin by giving you a taste of how I felt during the three years whilst my father was not with me. Imagine one night you are playing with your father who is very close to you. The next morning you find he has disappeared. “Where to?” you ask your self. Why would your beloved father leave you without telling anyone? You ask your mum and she says your father’s in a bad situation and he had to go. But you don’t know what that means. And because you are the eldest daughter at the age of six you have to help your mother with her difficulties and you have to help your brothers’ and sisters’ progress. How hard would life be for you all the time your mother calls you to do this and do that and when you walk into your father’s office to play with him his not there? How would you feel?

My family and I were put in this situation for three years and Johaina and her family are still in this situation. When my father was taken away, once I had understood what had happened, I used to cry every night. When I thought about him whilst at school I burst out crying, and when I saw his picture I would imagine him reading me a bedtime story, or giving me a kiss good night or picking me up and throwing me in the air. When he finally came back, after many years, I was too old to be picked up or thrown in the air.

When your friend asks you why your father never picks you up from school and you tell your friend he is in jail, they automatically assume he is a bad person. But how do you explain to that friend that there is such a place as Guantánamo? How do you tell that friend there is such a place, where the rule is “guilty until proven innocent”? How does a mother explain to her daughter that she has no idea when her father is coming back or that he might never even come back? I know that it was very difficult for my mother to explain to us children what had happened. And it was even harder for us to understand. Before this we never thought Americans were bad –- we even liked watching American cartoons. But that notion began to change as we grew up without our father.

Both Johaina’s father and mine were kidnapped almost six years ago, but I am very fortunate because mine came back. He saw my youngest brother for the first time in 2005. Uncle Shaker is still in Guantánamo, who’s been there all this time. He has never seen Johaina’s youngest brother Farris. It’s about time he did. I ask you all to join the campaign by my dad, Cageprisoners and others to call for the return of Johaina’s dad to his family and for the closure of Guantánamo Bay, so that all the other children can be reunited with their missing fathers. Thank you.

Marium Begg and her father, Moazzam

To demand the return of Shaker Aamer and the other British residents in Guantánamo, write a letter to Jacqui Smith, the new Home Secretary. The full address is: Rt Hon Jacqui Smith MP, Secretary of State for the Home Office, Home Office, 50 Queen Anne’s Gate, London SW1H 9AT.

For more on Shaker Aamer, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

As published on Indymedia.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the hunger strikes at Guantánamo, see Guantánamo: al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj fears that he will die (September 2007), The long suffering of Mohammed al-Amin, a Mauritanian teenager sent home from Guantánamo (October 2007), Guantánamo suicides: so who’s telling the truth? (October 2007), Innocents and Foot Soldiers: The Stories of the 14 Saudis Just Released From Guantánamo (Yousef al-Shehri and Murtadha Makram) (November 2007), A letter from Guantánamo (by Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj) (January 2008), A Chinese Muslim’s desperate plea from Guantánamo (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), The forgotten anniversary of a Guantánamo suicide (May 2008), Binyam Mohamed embarks on hunger strike to protest Guantánamo charges (June 2008), Second anniversary of triple suicide at Guantánamo (June 2008), Guantánamo Suicide Report: Truth or Travesty? (August 2008), Seven Years Of Guantánamo, And A Call For Justice At Bagram (January 2009), British torture victim Binyam Mohamed to be released from Guantánamo (January 2009), Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), Who’s Running Guantánamo? (February 2009), Obama’s “Humane” Guantánamo Is A Bitter Joke (February 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), Guantánamo’s Long-Term Hunger Striker Should Be Sent Home (March 2009). Also see the following online chapters of The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras 2 (Ahmed Kuman, Mohammed Haidel), Website Extras 3 (Abdullah al-Yafi, Abdul Rahman Shalabi), Website Extras 4 (Bakri al-Samiri, Murtadha Makram), Website Extras 5 (Ali Mohsen Salih, Ali Yahya al-Raimi, Abu Bakr Alahdal, Tarek Baada, Abdul al-Razzaq Salih).

Terror in the UK: A response to the recent terrorist plots in London and Glasgow

To date, I have not written about the recent –- and recently foiled –- terrorist attacks in the UK, largely because I was struggling to comprehend how it was possible that doctors and medical students –- people dedicated to saving lives –- could embark upon plans to slaughter civilians in the mistaken belief that it would please their God. When doctors and medical staff in Guantánamo were revealed as complicit in torture and abuse, they faced the undiluted condemnation of their peers, and of all right-minded people, and this, surely, is how it should be.

Like many Britons who opposed the Iraq war –- and who are opposed to the lingering, and very real colonialism at the heart of British foreign policy –- I find it hard to stand in solidarity with those who led this country into the Iraq war (or who were complicit in it), as I don’t believe that it’s possible to take the high moral ground without first changing our policies –- with all the economic disadvantage and geopolitical “weakness” that this would entail. To be fair, Gordon Brown has at least begun to distance himself from his predecessor’s rhetoric, instructing his officials no longer to refer to the “War on Terror,” and refusing specifically to mention Muslims when referring to terrorists. In a BBC interview, he described al-Qaeda as “a terrorist cause that is totally unacceptable to mainstream people in every faith in every part of the world,” and wisely presented the challenge facing Britain as a police action against criminals, rather than a clash of civilizations. As Seamus Milne pointed out in the Guardian, however, the government’s continued denial that Britain’s foreign policy has anything to do with the UK’s status as a prominent terrorist target is both “delusional and dangerous.” Milne explained that, like Tony Blair before him, Gordon Brown had called the terror plot an attack on “our British way of life” and the “values that we represent,” which was “unrelated” to the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan or any other conflict.

Nevertheless, there is a profound difference between expressing anger about British foreign policy and attempting to kill British citizens as a result, and I am reminded, as are many British people who lived through this period, of the conflict between the British government and the IRA from the 1970s to the 1990s. Whilst it’s perfectly comprehensible to me that Guantánamo, and the secret prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere are the modern-day equivalent of the Maze, and that these prisons, and the control orders imposed by the British government on “terror suspects” in the UK, are the modern-day equivalent of internment, the corollary –- that these policies are a breeding ground for the massively increased recruitment of “soldiers” dedicated to the overthrow of the hateful enemy –- should also not blind us to the fact that, as in the 1970s and 1980s, many of these recruits, while legitimately angry, demonstrate through their actions neither a brave piety nor the noble cause of the “freedom fighter,” but rather a callous disregard for human life and a fanaticism that actually marks them out as psychopaths and criminals. There is no God in a car bomb, just as there is no God in carpet-bombing or caging men for five and a half years in Guantánamo.

If there is to be an effective response in the UK to the growth of homicidal criminals masquerading as religious martyrs, then it must come through dialogue rather than confrontation; through sincere attempts by decent people within all the UK’s communities to overcome Manichean suspicions of the “other,” and to confront individuals who represent their countries or their religions as weapons of vengeance or “justice” rather than as advocates of peace, whether these are false politicians defending mass murder in the name of freedom and democracy, or false imams defending mass murder in the name of Allah. As noted above, Gordon Brown has at least begun to make moves towards breaking with the style of his predecessor –- although much more remains to be done –- and representatives of Britain’s many and varied Muslim communities have also spoken out loudly against the latest plots, taking out full-page newspaper advertisements –- as they did after the 7/7 bombings –- condemning the perpetrators, rejecting any attempts to link criminal activities to the teachings of Islam, and calling for society to remain united. Speaking to al-Jazeera, Ihtisham Hibatullah, a spokesman for the British Muslim Initiative, one of the organizers of the campaign, said, “The overwhelming response has come from the medical profession. People in the profession want to be heard saying, ‘not in their name.’”

The need to react to the recent terror plots with a measured response has been highlighted over the last week in the reports of racist attacks on Muslim-owned properties in Scotland –- in particular an attack on an Asian-owned newsagent in Riddrie, in Glasgow’s East End, which was destroyed by what press reports described as a “massive fire and explosion” after being rammed by a car, an attack on an estate agent next to a mosque in Bathgate, in West Lothian, and damage inflicted on a shop in Alva, near Stirling, that is owned by the family of Mohammed Atif Siddique, a student facing trial for alleged terrorist offences, whose arrest in April 2006 has been criticized by the campaigning group Scotland Against Criminalising Communities and other organizations.

Another unfortunate side-effect of the fear and paranoia that follows terrorist attacks is a tendency to blur the distinctions between, on the one hand, the legitimate criminal investigation of suspects, and, on the other, excessive responses that make a mockery of the law, curtail civil liberties and lead to shocking miscarriages of justice. While Gordon Brown avoided a knee-jerk reaction to the recent plots, refusing to call immediately for an increase in the time that suspects can be held without charge from 28 to 90 days, he has already signalled his willingness to campaign for just such a move, pressing for an extension of the 28-day limit on detention without charge just a month ago, a move which, as the Observer described it, sent “a powerful signal that he will take a harder line on terrorism than Tony Blair.”

With this in mind, it remains to be seen whether the heightened tension caused by this summer’s terror plots will, eventually, see Brown push for three months’ imprisonment without charge, and whether it will also prevent him from addressing three other issues related to counter-terror operations in the wake of 9/11, which he has inherited from Tony Blair, and which urgently need addressing: the plight of the wrongly imprisoned British residents in Guantánamo Bay, the continuing, and illegal campaign by the Home Office to hold terror suspects without charge or trial, under the widely-reviled control orders that keep them under virtual house arrest, and the attempt to circumvent international safeguards preventing the return of non-citizens to countries where they face the risk of torture, imprisonment and even death.

All three of these issues –- which in many crucial ways are related to each other –- question the state’s ability to respond appropriately –- and with justice –- to the threats posed to the UK by terrorists, and Gordon Brown’s response to them will be as much an indicator of his desire to distance himself from his predecessor as his calm response to the recent terror plots. In an article to follow shortly, I will look in depth at these issues, examining the government’s motivations for its actions, highlighting the egregious human rights abuses for which it is responsible, and explaining why it is imperative that Gordon Brown returns to the rule of law.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

Murat Kurnaz: Five Years in Guantánamo

Murat Kurnaz's bookThe Washington Spectator has the first major American article on released Guantánamo prisoner Murat Kurnaz since the publication of his book Fünf Jahre meines Lebens: Ein Bericht aus Guantánamo (Five Years of My Life: A Report from Guantánamo), which will be published in the US in January 2008.

Of particular interest are Kurnaz’s claims that he saw a dead prisoner hanging from chains in Kandahar airbase, and that, while there, he was not only hung by his wrists for days, given electric shocks and beaten constantly (claims which are depressingly familiar from other released prisoners’ stories), but was also subjected to the reviled torture method known as waterboarding, which was only supposedly used on a handful of the most “high-value” prisoners, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, as opposed to being practiced on an apprentice shipbuilder from Germany, who had never set foot in Afghanistan, and was kidnapped by Pakistani police from a bus in Pakistan –- where he had gone to study his religion –- and sold to the Americans for $3,000.

As the article describes it, Kurnaz “theorize[d] that much of the torture was a result of the failure of the American soldiers and agents to capture any real terrorists in the initial sweeps.” “They didn’t have any big fish,” he said. “And they thought that by torture they could get one of us to say something. ‘I know Osama’ or something like that. Then they could say they had a big fish.”

Interestingly, the article also points out –- and I hadn’t noticed this before –- that “enhanced interrogation,” the phrase the US administration uses to sidestep the use of the word “torture,” is “a direct translation of verschärfte Vernehmung, a euphemism for torture the Gestapo coined in 1937.”

For more on Guantánamo, and torture and murder in the US prisons in Afghanistan, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

Two Americas, both unjust: “Scooter” Libby vs. the “enemy combatants”

News stories do not always collide with symbolic resonance –- and especially not in close proximity to such an esteemed event as America’s Day of Independence –- but two particular stories, in the last few days, have conspired to demonstrate the twin extremes of the Bush administration’s disregard for the law.

On the one hand, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, close adviser to Dick Cheney and convicted perjurer, had his two and a half year sentence –- for covering his boss’s ass and lying about the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame –- conveniently dismissed by the President, who called it “excessive.” Libby, sensitive news outlets informed us, will still have to pay a fine of $250,000 and suffer two years of probation, but while his story, which emerged on 2 July, was still dominating the media, Independence Day itself was marked by an Associated Press article which focused on those at the other end of Bush’s scale of justice: the “enemy combatants” of Guantánamo Bay, who, we learned from the recently installed prison commander Navy Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby, may, after 2,000 days of illegal imprisonment without charge and without trial, be allowed to watch a movie once a week.

Buzby explained that this privilege would initially be extended to the “best-behaved” prisoners, the 45 men –- mostly Afghans –- held in Camp 4, a communal block reserved for the “most compliant” prisoners, and explained that the authorities had recently started allowing these prisoners to watch soccer matches and other programs vetted for jihadi content, including nature documentaries and episodes of “Deadliest Catch,” a Discovery Channel series about crab fishing crews off the Alaskan coast. Buzby added that there were even plans to introduce TV-watching privileges to the 330 or so prisoners held in Camps 5 and 6, the blocks modeled on “Supermax” prisons on the mainland, where the prisoners are held in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day in windowless cells.

After describing plans to increase the almost non-existent recreational areas in both these camps, Buzby said that the authorities were considering a way to allow the prisoners in Camp 6 –- “and possibly Camp 5,” reserved for the “least compliant” prisoners, or those with purported “intelligence value” –- to watch some television, perhaps putting the TV set on a cart so that they could watch programs in the recreation area. “We’re proceeding cautiously forward with these initiatives and as long as everybody behaves themselves we will probably be able to provide these things,” the commander added.

There is, of course, more to this story than is at first apparent. What Buzby failed to mention was that those held in solitary confinement in Camps 5 and 6 include at least 80 prisoners who have been cleared for release for at least a year, and that, unlike prisoners on the US mainland –- say, for example, convicted mass murderers –- who are regularly allowed visits by family members, and, typically, have unlimited access to books, TV, music, pens and paper, the prisoners in Guantánamo have, for five and a half years, only been allowed to have a copy of the Koran, have never been allowed family visits, have persistently had all correspondence to and from their families either “misplaced,” delayed or heavily censored, have only had sporadic access to books, have had no access to TV, except when granted as a reward for cooperation by their interrogators, and have had no access to music –- with the exception of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” which was played every morning in the early days of Camp X-Ray, “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which, until 2005, was regularly broadcast to interrupt evening prayers, and, it should be noted, the songs by, amongst others, Eminem, Li’l Kim and Rage Against the Machine that were regularly played at deafening volume, and for many long hours, as part of the process of “setting the conditions” for interrogations that were introduced by Major General Geoffrey Miller during his tenure as the prison commander in 2002 and 2003, when this aural assault was frequently accompanied by strobe lighting, and took place in rooms where the prisoners were short-shackled in painful positions and frequently left alone until they soiled themselves.

Poems From GuantanamoAs for writing materials, a forthcoming book of poems by Guantánamo prisoners, Poems from Guantánamo: The Detainees Speak, edited and compiled by law professor Marc Falkoff, who represents 17 Yemeni prisoners, notes that poems written in Guantánamo by a wrongly imprisoned Afghan poet were scratched into a Styrofoam cup with a pebble and were then passed in secret from cell to cell. When the guards discovered what was happening, they smashed the cups and threw them away, fearing that it was a way of passing coded messages. As the military explained, poetry “presents a special risk, and DoD [Department of Defense] standards are not to approve the release of any poetry in its original form or language,” out of a fear that poetry’s allegorical imagery could be used to convey coded messages to militants outside.

Such is the military’s paranoia that when Clive Stafford Smith, the legal director of the charity Reprieve, who represents several dozen prisoners in Guantánamo, met with Ahmed Errachidi, the wrongly imprisoned Moroccan chef who was recently released, he realized that there was no way that the recipes that Errachidi eagerly wrote out for him during their meetings would get past the military censors. Because Errachidi dared to speak out about the prisoners’ treatment in Guantánamo, he was regarded, erroneously, as an al-Qaeda commander, and Stafford Smith realized that his recipes would undoubtedly be construed by the authorities as coded plans for the construction of a nuclear bomb.

Small wonder, then, that when asked by the Associated Press for comments on the latest developments at Guantánamo, Marc Falkoff declared, “These Band-Aid measures are going to do nothing to help alleviate the hopelessness and despair that many of our clients are fighting,” and added, “I hope that learning about these ‘improvements’ will help the public understand how harsh our clients’ lives have been for more than five years.”

For more on the conditions in Guantánamo, see my book Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

As published on CounterPunch.

2000 days of Guantánamo: a letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown on behalf of the British residents still held in Guantánamo Bay

Today, 2000 days after the prison in Guantánamo Bay first opened –- which, ironically, falls on the day that Americans celebrate their independence –- the UK’s National Guantánamo Coalition will deliver a letter to Gordon Brown requesting that he acts to secure the release of the British residents still imprisoned in Guantánamo: Shaker Aamer, Jamil El-Banna, Ahmed Belbacha, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohammed al-Habashi and Abdulnour Sameur. According to lawyers at Reprieve, two Algerians, Farhi Said bin Mohammed and Mohammed al-Qadir, are also British residents.

For further information about the shocking treatment of Shaker Aamer, Jamil El-Banna, Omar Deghayes and Binyam Mohammed al-Habashi, see the detailed Cageprisoners article, British Residents in Guantánamo Bay. For other information about Jamil El-Banna and Ahmed Belbacha, see my recent article The Perils of Return: Repatriated to Torture. Not mentioned in these articles is Abdulnour Sameur, and to mark 2000 days of Guantánamo I shall tell something of his story.

Abdulnour SameurA deserter from the Algerian army –- because, he said, he was ‘made to go in the streets and shoot innocent people’ –- Sameur, who was born in Algiers in 1973, sought asylum in the UK in 1999 and was granted leave to remain in 2000. After travelling to Afghanistan in summer 2001 –- primarily, it seems, to investigate what he had been told was a pure Islamic state –- he was captured crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001. In Guantánamo, he responded to an allegation that he had claimed that he had prior knowledge of 9/11 by saying, “I told them this in [the US prison in] Kandahar during the interrogations because the interrogators were dogs … I had an injury in my leg. I had metal sticking out of my leg and they would not clean the wound; they would not give me treatment. So I told them whatever they wanted to hear. They just wanted anything. Any information. I just told them anything, whatever they wanted to hear because I wanted them to treat my leg. I saw other people whose legs had to be cut off (amputated as a result of injuries). I did not want my leg to be cut off … If you were in my place, if you were in Kandahar you would have done the same thing. Just like a small child.”

This is the text of the letter, and its signatories:

Dear Prime Minister

We, the undersigned, relatives of British residents detained in Guantánamo Bay detention facility, former Guantánamo prisoners, lawyers for the prisoners, and concerned individuals, call upon you to use all means at your disposal to obtain the return to this country of all British residents illegally detained at Guantánamo Bay. All have made homes in this country; some, like Omar Deghayes after fleeing possible torture and death in Libya. They have now been detained for five years or more without charge or trial, in a prison where UN officials have documented torture and abuse. We are very concerned about their physical and mental well-being.

Today Americans celebrate their Independence Day, rightly highlighting the concepts of equality, liberty and rights enshrined in their Constitution. Today, the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay sadly celebrates its 2000th day. The Guantánamo Bay prisoners are denied those cherished rights: the ‘unalienable rights’ to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’, the rights to a speedy trial, humane treatment and due process contained in the US Bill of Rights. Instead, 375 people are still subjected to arbitrary and indefinite imprisonment, denied the rights that mark civilised society and the rule of law. This is having a devastating effect on the physical and mental health of the detainees. At least four detainees have died within the last 13 months. We are marking this day with the launch of an exhibition and public meeting on Guantánamo at the House of Commons and welcome you to attend.

Former US Secretary of State Colin Powell recently said he would have Guantánamo closed ‘this afternoon’ rather than tomorrow. We call for you, likewise, to add your voice to the calls for its closure.

No-one has been released from Guantánamo as a result of a legal process. The British government’s refusal to act on behalf of the British residents leaves them in a legal black hole. We ask that the British Government accept its moral responsibility for these men and negotiate for them to be reunited with their families here or in a safe place of their choosing.

We urge you to make this a priority in the first days of your premiership. To ignore such abuses will set back any ‘war on terrorism’. Please do everything you can to bring back the British residents before their health and lives are irretrievably damaged.

Yours sincerely

Moazzam Begg, former Guantánamo detainee, Cageprisoners
Ruhal Ahmed, former Guantánamo detainee
Bisher Al Rawi, former Guantánamo detainee
Airat Vakhitov, former Guantánamo detainee
Mourad Benchellali, former Guantánamo detainee
Shafiq Rasul, former Guantánamo detainee
Mrs El-Banna, wife of British Resident held in Guantánamo, Jamil El-Banna
Amani Deghayes, sister of British resident held in Guantánamo, Omar Deghayes
Mrs Aamer, wife of British resident held in Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer
Prof. Dr. Manfred Nowak, LL.M, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor for International Human Rights Protection, University of Vienna, Director, Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Human Rights
Baroness Sarah Ludford MEP
Lord Nazir Ahmed
Baron Dholakia
Baroness Helena Kennedy QC
Baroness Frances D’Souza
Dr. Adnan Siddiqui, Cageprisoners
Clive Stafford Smith, Legal Director, Reprieve (counsel to many prisoners)
Zachary Katznelson, Senior Counsel, Reprieve
Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK
Jean Lambert MEP
Sajjad Karim MEP
Caroline Lucas MEP
Clare Short MP
Salma Yaqoob MP
Geoffrey Bindman, Chair of the British Institute for Human Rights
John Pilger, Journalist, author & film-maker
Tahir Butt, Metropolitan Police, Spokesman for Association of Muslim Police
Professor Bill Bowring, Barrister, Professor of Law, Birkbeck College
Louise Christian, Christian Khan
Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty
Natalia Garcia, lawyer for British resident in Guantánamo, Tyndalwoods
Phil Shiner, Public Interest Lawyers
Vanessa Redgrave, Actress
Corin Redgrave, Actor, Guantánamo Human Rights Commission
Kika Markham, Actress
Liz Davies, Chair, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers
Yvonne Ridley, Journalist
Dr Azzam Tamimi
Tariq Ramadan, Senior Research Fellow, Oxford St Anthony’s College, Lokahi Foundation (London), Visiting Professor, Erasmus University, Holland, Doshisha University (Japan)
Ian Macdonald QC, Garden Court Chambers
Naim Malik, Birmingham Guantánamo Campaign
Nusrat Chagtai, Director, British Muslim Human Rights Centre
Richard Hermer, Doughty Street Chambers
Mudassar Arani, Arani & Co Solicitors
Javaid Rehman, Professor of International Law and Director of Research, Brunel University
Dr David Nicholl, Birmingham Guantánamo Campaign
Estella Schmid, CAMPACC
Dr A. Sivanandan, Writer, Institute of Race Relations
Ian Waller, Human Rights and Social Justice Research Institute, London Metropolitan University
Lindsey German, National Convenor, Stop the War Coalition
Imran Khan, Imran Khan & Partners
Victoria Brittain, Author and playwright
Matt Whitecross, Revolution Films, Director, The Road to Guantanamo
Aki Nawaz, Fun Da Mental
Andy Worthington, Author, The Guantánamo Files
Ruhul Tarafder, 1990 Trust
Naima Bouteldja, Journalist
Linda Rogers, Peace & Progress
Errol Walters, Director of Black Londoners Forum
Karen Chouhan, 1990 Trust
Helen Shaw, Co-Director, INQUEST

For more on the British residents in Guantánamo, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

Guantánamo whistleblowers: Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham is not the first insider to condemn the kangaroo courts

Jostling for media space in the last week –- and largely losing out to spurious claims that Guantánamo is about to close –- is the story of Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, an army intelligence officer with 26 years’ experience, who has bravely spoken out against the Guantánamo regime. In an affidavit filed with an Appeal Court petition on behalf of Kuwaiti detainee Fawzi al-Odah, Abraham delivered a damning verdict on the legitimacy of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which ran from July 2004 to March 2005, and were set up to determine whether the Guantánamo detainees had been correctly designated as “enemy combatants.”

Currently an army reservist and an attorney in California, Abraham worked at Guantánamo, from 11 September 2004 to 9 March 2005, in the Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants (OARDEC) as “an agency liaison, responsible for coordinating with government agencies, including certain Department of Defense (DoD) and non-DoD organizations, to gather or validate information relating to detainees for use in CSRTs.” He also served as a member of a CSRT, and, as he described it, “had the opportunity to observe and participate in the operation of the CSRT process,” and he concluded from his experience that the gathering of materials for use in the tribunals was severely flawed, and that the whole system was geared towards rubber-stamping the detainees’ prior designation as “enemy combatants.”

Specifically, Abraham complained that the OARDEC personnel –- mostly from the military reserves –- who were responsible for compiling the information used in the “Unclassified Summary of Evidence” against each detainee were woefully inexperienced, and that few of whom “had any experience or training in the legal or intelligence fields.” He also complained that the tribunals’ Recorders were similarly inexperienced, and were “typically relatively junior officers with little training or experience in matters relating to the collection, processing, analyzing, and/or dissemination of intelligence material,” and that those who actually aggregated the information –- the case writers –- “in most instances” had “the same limited degree of knowledge and experience relating to the intelligence community and intelligence products.” Given the shortcomings of the majority of the personnel involved, Abraham also noted that, although “large amounts of information” were received, the workers “often had no context for determining whether the information was relevant,” and frequently discarded information because it was “considered to be ambiguous, confusing or poorly written,” as well as “reject[ing] some information arbitrarily while accepting other information without any articulable rationale.”

Abraham expressed a similar disdain for the quality of the information produced by the various government agencies, which the largely unqualified workers were required to collate and aggregate. This information, he wrote, frequently consisted of intelligence “of a generalized nature –- often outdated, often ‘generic,’ rarely specifically relating to the individual subjects of the CSRTs or to the circumstances related to those individuals’ status,” and additional information, contained within the Detainee Information Management System and other databases, was equally “deficient,” typically “excluding information that was characterized as highly sensitive law enforcement information, highly classified information, or information not voluntarily released by the originating agency.” Neither the case writers nor the Recorders, Abraham asserted, had “access to numerous information sources generally available within the intelligence community.”

Further proof that the gathering of information for the tribunals was not geared towards justice and transparency came when, as “one of only a few intelligence-trained and suitably cleared officers,” Abraham was tasked with investigating aspects of the “evidence,” to confirm “in a statement to be relied upon by the CSRT board members that the organizations did not possess ‘exculpatory information’ relating to the subject of the CSRT.” When he approached the various agencies involved, however, he discovered that he was only allowed “limited access to information, typically prescreened and filtered,” was not permitted to request additional searches for information, and was rebuffed when he asked for written statements confirming that there was no exculpatory information. His experience confirmed that the agencies were largely providing or withholding information at their own discretion, without any process of outside scrutiny being available.

His bitterest experience, however, occurred when he was chosen –- along with an Air Force colonel and an Air Force major –- to take part in a CSRT. After reviewing the evidence, all three men “found the information presented to lack substance,” noting that supposedly specific factual statements “lacked even the most fundamental earmarks of objectively credible evidence,” that statements made by alleged witnesses “lacked detail,” and that generalized statements were presented “in indirect and passive forms without stating the source of the information or providing a basis for establishing the reliability or the credibility of the source.” In addition, Abraham wrote that statements by the interrogators, which were presented to the panel, “offered inferences” from which they were “expected to draw conclusions” that the detainee was an “enemy combatant,” but that when they subjected these statements to even the most cursory of questions, the Recorder’s only response was, “We’ll have to get back to you.”

Based on the “paucity and weakness of the information provided both during and after the CSRT hearing,” Abraham and his colleagues duly determined that there was “no factual basis” for concluding that the detainee was an “enemy combatant,” but that was not the end of the story. The director and deputy director of OARDEC “immediately questioned the validity” of the decision, ordering the tribunal members to prepare statements containing the specific questions they had raised to enable the Recorder to provide “further responses,” and reopening the hearing to allow the Recorder to “present further argument.” Refusing to bow to the pressure, Abraham and his colleagues failed to change their determination, and as a result, as he declared in a pithy conclusion to the affidavit, “I was not assigned to another CSRT panel.” He pointed out, however, that OARDEC’s response to the decision was “consistent with the few other instances” when the rigged system had been bucked. In meetings attended by Abraham that followed the sporadic decisions that detainees were not “enemy combatants” –- there were only 38 in total, out of 558 CSRTs –- he wrote that the focus of inquiry was always “what went wrong.”

Speaking after the affidavit was first publicized, Abraham said that he had first raised his concerns about the tribunals during his time at Guantánamo, but had decided to submit the affidavit because “the issues were not adequately addressed.” He told the Associated Press, “I pointed out nothing less than facts, facts that can and should be fixed,” adding that he had a responsibility to point out that officers “did not have the proper tools” to determine whether a detainee was in fact an “enemy combatant,” and explaining, “I take very seriously my responsibility, my duties as a citizen.”

David Cynamon, one of al-Odah’s lawyers –- who was put in contact with Abraham by his sister, after she attended a public lecture on Guantánamo given by Cynamon and his colleagues –- described Abraham’s affidavit as “prov[ing] what we all suspected, which is that the CSRTs were a complete sham,” while adding that he feared that his courage was “probably an assurance of career suicide.” Cynamon’s colleague, Matthew J. MacLean, who pointed out that Abraham was the first CSRT member who has been identified, let alone been willing to criticize the tribunals in the public record, declared, “It wouldn’t be quite right to say this is the most important piece of evidence that has come out of the CSRT process, because this is the only piece of evidence ever to come out of the CSRT process. It’s our only view into the CSRT.”

In fact, MacLean’s comments were not entirely accurate. Whilst it’s certainly true that Abraham was the first ex-tribunal member to criticize the CSRT process in public, his is not the first reported example of dissent amongst tribunal members. In September 2006, in a Boston Globe article, Detentions over charity ties questioned [mirrored here], Farah Stockman reported on the case of Adel Hassan Hamad, a Sudanese hospital administrator, who was captured in May 2002 in Pakistan –- where he had been working for 17 years –- and sold to the American forces. In his CSRT, Hamad was judged to be an “enemy combatant” because of exactly the kind of “generic” allegations described by Lt. Col. Abraham. The Saudi charity he worked for, the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, was described as an organization that “supports terrorist ideals and causes,” even though it has never appeared on a terrorism watchlist (despite being investigated by the US Senate), and was one of the favored projects of the late Saudi King Fahd bin Abdul Aziz, and another organization that he had worked for previously, the Kuwait-based Lajanat Dawa Islamiya (which also does not feature on any US terrorism watchlist), was described as “one of the most active” Islamic NGOs “providing logistical and financial support” to mujahideen operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which “may be” associated with Osama bin Laden.

An exasperated Hamad refuted all the allegations, at one point telling his tribunal, “arresting employees like myself [who] is not capable of supporting terrorists financially, is this justice? I am an employee who works for a living and I have no connection to the [organization’s] political views or its financial resources, so why do you punish me for a crime I did not commit. Why don’t you arrest the charities’ presidents or the people who support [them] financially instead of arresting a simple employee with no informational value?” Predictably, his tribunal judged that he had been correctly designated an “enemy combatant,” but although his pleas appeared to have been ignored, Stockman, who was allowed to examine the CSRT documentation, noted that one of the tribunal members –- an unidentified army major, whose name was redacted –- had issued a dissenting opinion.

Taking into account the fact that neither WAMY nor LDI appears on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations, he argued that, “even assuming all the allegations … are accurate, the detainee does not meet the definition of enemy combatant.” He added, “These NGOs presumably have numerous employees and volunteer workers who have been working in legitimate humanitarian roles. The mere fact that some elements of these NGOs provide support to “terrorist ideals and causes” is insufficient to declare one of the employees an enemy combatant.” Stockman noted, however, that the major was overruled by his colleagues, one of whom –- in a single line that discredits the whole tribunal process as effectively as Lt. Col. Abraham’s affidavit –- wrote that the case “passed the ‘low evidentiary hurdle’ set up by the rules of the hearings.”

In two other cases, the dissenting officer was not a tribunal member, but the detainees’ Personal Representative. In a majority of the CSRTs, the Personal Representative fulfilled his intended function as a pale shadow of a legitimate defense counsel, failing to “participate in any meaningful way,” as Lt. Col. Abraham noted of the Personal Representative in his tribunal. In February 2006, however, in two articles for the National Journal, Guantánamo’s Grip and Empty Evidence, Corine Hegland reported the story of an unidentified lieutenant colonel in the army (whose name was also redacted), who fought a brave, if unsuccessful battle for two of his detainees. Along the way, however, he demolished the tribunals’ legitimacy even more comprehensively than either Lt. Col. Abraham or Adel Hamad’s dissenting major.

The first case –- that of Farouq Saif, a young Yemeni who went to Afghanistan to teach the Koran –- is particularly noteworthy because Saif was judged as an “enemy combatant” because of two false allegations. The first –- that he was a bodyguard of Osama bin Laden –- was directed at 30 detainees in total, and was made under duress, and later retracted, by Mohammed al-Qahtani. One of several purported “20th hijackers” for the 9/11 attacks, al-Qahtani made the allegations during a seven-week period, from November 2002 to January 2003, when he was subjected to Pentagon-approved “extreme interrogation techniques” (otherwise known as torture).

The second allegation –- that Saif had been seen at Osama bin Laden’s private airport in Kandahar, where he was “wearing camouflage and carrying an AK-47” –- proved so intolerable to his Personal Representative that he submitted a written protest, in which he stated that the government’s sole evidence that Saif had been at bin Laden’s airport was the statement of another prisoner, who, according to an FBI memo that he presented to the tribunal, was a notorious liar. According to the FBI, he “had lied, not only about Farouq, but about other Yemeni detainees as well. The other detainee claimed he had seen the Yemenis at times and in places where they simply could not have been.” The Personal Representative wrote, “I do feel with some certainty that [the accuser] has lied about other detainees to receive preferable treatment and to cause them problems while in custody. Had the tribunal taken this evidence out as unreliable, then the position we have taken is that a teacher of the Koran (to the Taliban’s children) is an enemy combatant (partially because he slept under a Taliban roof).”

The “notorious liar” actually made false allegations against 60 prisoners in total, as was revealed after the tribunal of Mohammed al-Tumani. A young Syrian economic migrant, who had traveled to Afghanistan with other family members to join his father in Kabul, where he was working as a cook, al-Tumani and his father were captured in Pakistan after fleeing the chaos of post-invasion Afghanistan. In his tribunal, he denied an allegation that he had attended the al-Farouq training camp with such vigor that his Personal Representative decided to investigate the matter further. When he looked at the classified evidence, however, he found that only one man –- the same detainee mentioned above –- claimed to have seen him at al-Farouq, and had identified him as being there three months before he arrived in Afghanistan. As Corine Hegland described it, “The curious US officer pulled the classified file of the accuser, saw that he had accused 60 men, and, suddenly skeptical, pulled the files of every detainee the accuser had placed at the one training camp. None of the men had been in Afghanistan at the time the accuser said he saw them at the camp.”

The identity of the other 58 detainees falsely accused by the “notorious liar” are unknown, as the dissenting officer involved in unveiling this monstrous injustice –- perhaps unwilling to risk “career suicide” –- has not come forward to elaborate, but in my book, The Guantánamo Files, I report on numerous other examples of patently false allegations masquerading as “evidence,” which were ignored by compliant tribunal members accepting the “low evidentiary hurdle” of the process. While I wait to see if Lt. Col. Abraham’s principled stand will encourage other insiders to speak out, it’s worth pointing out that Adel Hamad, Farouq Saif and Mohammed al-Tumani remain in Guantánamo. Hamad has finally been judged to be “No Longer an Enemy Combatant” and is awaiting release, but Saif and al-Tumani are still damned by the false confessions of a “notorious liar.”

Note: The Pentagon refers to Farouq Saif as Farouq Ali Ahmed, and to Mohammed al-Tumani as Muhammad Khantumani. For the campaign to free Adel Hamad, visit the Project Hamad website, which is the source for the image below.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

Project Hamad

As published on CounterPunch.

See the following for a sequence of articles dealing with the crucial testimony of Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham and other Guantánamo whistleblowers: The Guantánamo whistleblower, a Libyan shopkeeper, some Chinese Muslims and a desperate government (July 2007), Guantánamo: more whistleblowers condemn the tribunals (August 2007), A New Guantánamo Whistleblower Steps Forward to Criticize the Tribunal Process (October 2007), Guantánamo whistleblower launches new attack on rigged tribunals (November 2007), Guantánamo and the Supreme Court: the most important habeas corpus case in modern history (December 2007), Guantánamo and the Supreme Court: What Happened? (December 2007), Guantánamo whistleblower Stephen Abraham addresses European Parliament (March 2008), The Supreme Court’s Guantánamo ruling: what does it mean? (June 2008), An interview with Guantánamo whistleblower Stephen Abraham (Part One) (December 2008), An interview with Guantánamo whistleblower Stephen Abraham (Part Two) (December 2008), Guantánamo: Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics (February 2009).

For an article on the release of Adel Hamad, see The Shocking Stories of the Sudanese Humanitarian Aid Workers Just Released From Guantánamo.

Guantánamo: judges deliver two more body blows to an embattled administration

The US Supreme CourtOn Friday, in two separate decisions, judges in the United States delivered stinging rebukes to the administration regarding its policies of holding around 300 prisoners in Guantánamo without charge or trial, and its plans to try around 80 other prisoners before Military Commissions, the widely-reviled trial system for terror suspects, which permit the use of secret evidence obtained through bribery, coercion and torture.

In a brief order released on Friday morning, the Supreme Court agreed to hear claims by two Guantánamo prisoners –- the Kuwaiti Fawzi al-Odah and the Bosnian Lakhdar Boumediene –- that they had a right to challenge their detention in American courts. It follows a previous Supreme Court ruling that the prisoners had the right to challenge their detention –- in June 2004 –- which was swept away in October 2006, when a barely sentient Congress passed the draconian Military Commissions Act, removing the prisoners’ right to file habeas petitions challenging the basis of their detention, and also reinstating the system of trial by Military Commission that was dismissed by the Supreme Court in June 2006 as illegal under US law and the Geneva Conventions.

Friday’s decision, by five of the nine Justices, reversed a decision made in response to an appeal by the prisoners in April. On that occasion, the Supreme Court turned down their request to be heard, although they failed to rule out further intervention: Justices John Paul Stevens and Anthony M. Kennedy pointed to the “obvious importance” of the cases, but said it would be premature to intervene, while three other members of the court –- Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and David H. Souter –- said that they wanted to act immediately.

The move is so unusual that court observers have struggled to recall the last occasion that the Supreme Court reversed an opinion, taking on a case that had previously been denied a hearing, and have concluded that it was 60 years ago. Although the Justices offered no explanation, lawyers for the prisoners have suggested that they may have been swayed by the affidavit submitted with one of the cases last week by Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, an army intelligence officer with 26 years’ experience, and the first ex-member of the tribunals to criticize the process in public, who testified that the gathering of materials for use in the tribunals was severely flawed, and that the whole system was geared towards rubber-stamping the detainees’ prior designation as “enemy combatants.”

The Supreme Court will not begin hearing the cases until autumn, but in the meantime, although the vote tally for the decision was not released, legal observers have been scrutinizing the Justices’ profiles, speculating that the opinion of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy was pivotal. Lawyers cited by the New York Times said it was “not possible to predict how he might eventually vote in what could be a divisive issue on the court,” but it’s noticeable that, in June 2006, he was unremittingly harsh in his verdict on the illegality of the Military Commissions, warning the administration that “violations of Common Article 3 [of the Geneva Conventions, which forbids ‘cruel treatment and torture’ and ‘outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment’] are considered ‘war crimes,’ punishable as federal offences, when committed by or against United States nationals and military personnel.”

On Friday afternoon, a second blow to the administration was delivered by Army Colonel Peter Brownback, the military judge presiding over the Military Commission of Omar Khadr, a Canadian who was just 15 years old when he was captured in Afghanistan in July 2002. Brownback –- and his colleague, Navy Captain Keith Allred, who was presiding over the Military Commission of Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni accused of being one of Osama bin Laden’s drivers –- surprised everyone four weeks ago by ruling that the Commissions could not proceed because, under the terms of the Military Commissions Act, those facing trial had to have been designated “unlawful enemy combatants” in the tribunals that qualified them for trial by Military Commission, whereas Khadr and Hamdan –- and, in fact, every other prisoner in Guantánamo –- had only been deemed to be “enemy combatants.”

Delivering a second opinion, in response to a renewed legal argument by the Pentagon, Col. Brownback refused to back down, ruling that the government had not resolved a lack of jurisdiction in Khadr’s case. Capt. Allred has yet to deliver a second opinion in Hamdan’s case, but in the meantime Navy Cmdr. Jeffrey Gordon, a spokesman for the Pentagon, declared that the administration was preparing to file a challenge to the Court of Military Commissions Review, an appeals court that was hastily set up after the Commissions were derailed on 4 June, and added, tellingly, “We’re disappointed with the judge’s decision in this matter.”

On the same day that these momentous decisions took place, 145 members of the House of Representatives –- 144 Democrats, led by James Moran of Virginia, and a lone Republican, Walter Jones of North Carolina –- sent a letter to President Bush urging him to close Guantánamo and move the prisoners to military prisons on the US mainland. “The closure of the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay would represent a positive first step toward restoring our international reputation as the leader of democracy and individual rights,” the Representatives stated in their letter, in which, like the lawyers for Fawzi al-Odah and Lakhdar Boumediene, they also called for the restoration of the prisoners’ habeas rights, explaining, “This will allow for the implementation of fair and transparent trials to bring enemies of our country to justice.” Quite how swiftly the administration will respond, however, is another matter. Wheeled out to provide a stop-gap reply, White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore said that the letter had been received and pointed out that the President had already declared that he wanted to close Guantánamo, adding, “A number of steps need to take place before that can happen, and we’re continuing to work on those.” Despite the escalating criticism, I wonder whether, privately, the obstinate cabal led by the President and Vice President Cheney has decided that one of those steps is the requirement that hell will first have to freeze over.

For more on Guantánamo and the Military Commissions, see my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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