Archive for June, 2008

Six Years Late, Court Throws Out Guantánamo Case

The US District Court for the District of ColumbiaIn the history of legal challenges to the Bush administration’s assertion that it can hold “War on Terror” prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial, Parhat v. Gates has just joined a trio of Supreme Court verdicts — Rasul v. Bush (2004), Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (2006) and Boumediene v. Bush (twelve days ago) — as significant challenges to executive overreach.

In a one-page ruling in the case of Huzaifa Parhat, a Uighur (a Muslim from the oppressed Xinjiang province of China), the US Court of Appeals in Washington “held invalid a decision of a Combatant Status Review Tribunal that petitioner Huzaifa Parhat is an enemy combatant.” The court also “directed the government to release or transfer Parhat” (or, more worryingly, “to hold a new Tribunal consistent with the Court’s opinion”), and also “stated that its disposition was without prejudice to Parhat’s right to seek release immediately through a writ of habeas corpus in the district court, pursuant to the Supreme Court’s decision in Boumediene v. Bush.”

The verdict has been a long time coming. When Guantánamo opened in January 2002, the prisoners, who had been designated as “enemy combatants” on capture, were deprived of all rights until the Supreme Court ruled in Rasul that they had statutory habeas corpus rights. This ruling paved the way for the prisoners to meet with lawyers to build habeas cases, but in the meantime the administration subjected the prisoners to administrative reviews — the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) — which prevented them from having legal representation, relied upon secret evidence that could have been obtained through torture or coercion, and, as former insider Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham explained last year, were, in complete contrast to the purpose of Rasul, essentially designed to rubber-stamp their prior designation as “enemy combatants” without rights.

In a further blow to Rasul, Congress was persuaded to pass the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA) in 2005, which removed the prisoners’ habeas rights, and limited any review of their cases to the Circuit Courts (rather than the Supreme Court), apparently preventing any independent fact-finding to challenge the substance of the administration’s allegations, and mandating the judges to rule only on whether or not the CSRTs had followed their own rules, and whether or not those rules were valid. Since last summer, when the Supreme Court agreed to hear Boumediene, the DTA cases have been on hold, as the lower court judges awaited the Supreme Court’s verdict.

Given these limitations, the verdict of the DC Circuit Court judges is nothing short of astonishing. The full details are not yet clear, as the Court also noted that “the opinion contains classified information that the government had initially submitted for treatment under seal,” and that “a redacted version for public release is in preparation,” but, as the Los Angeles Times noted, “those familiar with the panel’s decision … said it suggested that other judges might follow its lead and challenge the government’s underlying reasons for keeping detainees like Parhat in military custody for so long.”

Underlining the triumph of the verdict, but also the long injustice that preceded it, Parhat’s lawyer, Sabin Willett, said, “It is a tremendous day. It is a very conservative court, but we pressed ahead and we won unanimously. But Huzaifa Parhat is now in his seventh year of imprisonment at Guantánamo Bay, and he doesn’t even know about this ruling because he’s sitting in solitary confinement and we can’t tell him about it. That’s what we do to people in this country — we put them in solitary confinement even when they are not enemy combatants.”

This is no exaggeration on Willett’s part. Twenty-two Uighurs were originally held in Guantánamo, and all but four were, like Huzaifa Parhat, seized by enterprising Pakistani villagers, who were no doubt eager for the substantial bounties offered by US forces for “al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects.” It has been established beyond a doubt that these 18 men had fled persecution in China, and were eking out a meager living in a run-down hamlet in Afghanistan’s eastern mountains, when they were bombed by US forces following the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, and subsequently fled to Pakistan, where they were seized and transferred to US custody.

Despite cynical attempts to portray them as separatist “terrorists” with links to al-Qaeda (which was part of a deal between the US and China to prevent Chinese opposition to the invasion of Iraq), US forces knew from at least 2003 that none of the men posed a threat to the US or its interests, that they only had one enemy — China — as they had all insisted repeatedly, and that they had no connection whatsoever with the Taliban or al-Qaeda.

And yet the Uighurs’ stories demonstrate some of the more egregious flaws in the tribunal system at Guantánamo. Although their stories were identical, some of the men were judged to be “enemy combatants,” while others were cleared for release. This infuriated the administration to such an extent that, in the cases of at least two of the men, Anwar Hassan and Hammad Mohammed, further tribunals were convened, on the orders of Matthew Waxman, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Detainee Affairs, which reversed the earlier verdicts. Hassan’s lawyers, Angela Vigil and George Clarke, noted that, “contrary to the government’s suggestion,” the change of determination between the first and second CSRTs was not based on “additional classified information,” (of which there was none) but was, instead, based solely on “communications” from Waxman “pressing for a reversal” of the first CSRT determination.

Although the administration pandered further to Chinese pressure by allowing Chinese interrogators to visit the men (and in some cases to threaten them) at Guantánamo, they drew the line at returning them to certain torture in their homeland. In May 2006, after trawling the world for suitable host countries, Albania was prevailed upon to accept five of the men, but the rest — Huzaifa Parhat included — remain in solitary confinement, as Sabin Willett noted, even though they are not “enemy combatants,” and never have been.

The following exchange comes from Huzaifa Parhat’s CSRT, which took place nearly four years ago. In it, he explains why he left his homeland, why he is opposed to Chinese rule, and why he is a supporter rather than an opponent of the United States. Sadly, although the Circuit Court’s ruling in Parhat v. Gates is legally significant, it cannot wipe away the scandal of Parhat’s horrific and ongoing isolation in Guantánamo, and nor can it provide him with a new home. Perhaps, as another of his lawyers, Susan Baker Manning, explained (in the Washington Post’s words), “the best option is to release them to the United States.”

An excerpt from Huzaifa Parhat’s Combatant Status Review Tribunal

Detainee: They are saying that we are against the United States. Is that right?

Tribunal President: Yes.

Detainee: That is not true because from the time of our great-grandparents centuries ago, we have never been against the United States and we do not want to be against the United States … Also, I can represent for 25 million Uighur people by saying that we will not do anything against the United States. We are willing to be united with the United States. I think that the United States understands the Uighur people much better than other people.

The reason we went into Pakistan was because in China there is torture and too much pressure on the Uighur people. Lately they have laid off the Uighur people from their jobs … and filled all the jobs with immigrant Chinese.

The Uighurs have families and need support to eat and if we don’t do something then how are we going to live? If they (fellow Uighurs) wanted to go and farm they would have to pay a lot of taxes. If they can’t pay the taxes, they would take away their property.

So many people are without an education because they (the Chinese) are asking too much money for an education. Now there are a great number of young people on the streets with no education. The Uighur people only have the privilege of having two children. If a female gets pregnant with a third child, the government will forcibly take the kid through abortion.

Lots of Uighur people are so poor that we can’t afford to eat meat weeks to months at a time. Turkistan [the Uighurs’ name for their homeland] has a lot of natural resources and they (the Chinese) don’t use one or two percent of it for Turkistan. They take the majority of the resources day and night to the mainland in China. If they torture us everyday and pressure us too much, then what are we going to do? How are we going to live? In the future, what will the next generation do? How will they survive? That is why I left my country to try to get something, get back and liberate my people and get our country independence … That is the reason we went to Afghanistan.

Andy 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, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on Antiwar.com, CounterPunch and the Huffington Post.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the Uighurs in Guantánamo, see: The Guantánamo whistleblower, a Libyan shopkeeper, some Chinese Muslims and a desperate government (July 2007), Guantánamo’s Uyghurs: Stranded in Albania (October 2007), Former Guantánamo detainee seeks asylum in Sweden (November 2007), A transcript of Sabin Willett’s speech in Stockholm (November 2007), Support for ex-Guantánamo detainee’s Swedish asylum claim (January 2008), A Chinese Muslim’s desperate plea from Guantánamo (March 2008), Former Guantánamo prisoner denied asylum in Sweden (June 2008), Guantánamo as Alice in Wonderland (July 2008), From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008), Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (October 2008), A Pastor’s Plea for the Guantánamo Uyghurs (October 2008), Guantánamo: Justice Delayed or Justice Denied? (October 2008), Sabin Willett’s letter to the Justice Department (November 2008), Will Europe Take The Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners? (December 2008), A New Year Message to Barack Obama: Free the Guantánamo Uighurs (January 2009), Guantanamo’s refugees (February 2009), Bad News And Good News For The Guantánamo Uighurs (February 2009), and the stories in the additional chapters of The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras 1, Website Extras 6 and Website Extras 9.

Italy’s Forgotten Residents in Guantánamo

In the second of an occasional series looking at prisoners in Guantánamo who have been cleared for release after multiple military reviews, but who are still held in the notorious offshore prison, Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, looks at the little-known stories of the Italian residents in Guantánamo.

Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity that represents 35 of the 273 prisoners still in Guantánamo, has just released a report, The Forgotten Italian Residents in Guantánamo Bay (also here in Italian), in an attempt to find a solution to the plight of six of its clients. The six men are Italian residents, who, with one exception, have been cleared for release from Guantánamo after multiple military reviews, but cannot be returned to the country of their birth, Tunisia, because of international treaties preventing the return of foreign nationals to countries where they face the risk of torture.

Adel al-HakeemyThe stories of the six men represented by Reprieve are typical of the random dragnets and lack of efficient screening that have so thoroughly undermined the US administration’s claims that the prison housed “the worst of the worst.” Adel al-Hakeemy, for example (photo, left), traveled to Pakistan to get married, and was living in Jalalabad, in Afghanistan, near his wife’s family, when the US-led invasion began in October 2001. Far from being a militant, he was in fact a chef, and had lived in Italy for eight years, working as a chef’s assistant in several hotels in Bologna. “I lived with Italians in their homes,” he told Cori Crider of Reprieve during a visit at Guantánamo last month. “I am used to their culture. The Italians worked alongside me, they respected me, they treated me as their brother.” Hedi Hamamy, who moved to Italy in 1987, worked as a porter in Bologna, and later worked in a restaurant. Like Adel al-Hakeemy, he also married in Pakistan, and was seized by opportunistic Pakistani police, far from the battlefields of Afghanistan.

Reprieve’s third Tunisian client, Lotfi bin Ali (known to the US authorities as Mohammed Abdul Rahman) has a pacemaker and is in poor health. Cleared for release in 2006, he explained to his review board in Guantánamo, “I have told my story five hundred times. I went to Pakistan for drugs. I was sick and I wanted to heal myself, so I went to Pakistan.” He also traveled, he said, “to get married and relax and to get out of what I was in.”

The last three men — Saleh Sassi, Adel Ben Mabrouk and Hisham Sliti — traveled to Afghanistan, but none of them so much as raised a finger against US forces. Sassi (known to the US authorities as Sayf bin Abdallah) lived in Italy from 1998 to 2001, and has family in Turin. Apparently persuaded to visit Afghanistan during a vacation from work, he was wounded when a truck he was traveling in was shot at. Hospitalized, first in Kabul, and then in Khost, he was transported to the Pakistani border, where he was seized by the Pakistani authorities. Ben Mabrouk, who lived in Italy from 1999 to 2001, working in restaurants in Naples and Rome, and as a barber in Milan, decided to visit Afghanistan because, as he explained in his tribunal at Guantánamo, he had heard that the Taliban “welcome all the Muslims.”

Hisham Sliti, who arrived in Italy in 1995, and spent time working on fishing boats, hoped to kick a heroin habit that he had picked up in Italy. “If I went to Afghanistan I would be a long way from the haunts where I could get drugs,” he explained in 2007. “It would be a chance to make a fresh start, a clean break. I thought I could study my religion, and hopefully I might be able to afford to get married and settle down. I emphatically did not go to Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban or for anyone else.” As Reprieve noted, Sliti was particularly disappointed by life in Afghanistan. “I hated life under the Taliban,” he explained, complaining, as the report describes it, that he “found the culture as oppressive as the heat: he couldn’t meet women, couldn’t smoke cigarettes — as an unmarried man, he couldn’t even rent a house.”

Hisham Sliti's parents

Hisham Sliti’s parents, from the front cover of Reprieve’s report.

With the exception of Hisham Sliti, who, as Reprieve notes, “is not an extremist, but has simply been a victim of his own outspokenness in criticizing the mistreatment of those held in Guantánamo” (and has been treated brutally as a result), all of these men have been cleared for release, which is as close as the notoriously unapologetic post-9/11 US administration gets to admitting that it has made mistakes in its colossally ill-informed hunt for “terror suspects” over the last six and a half years.

The stories of the Italian residents are part of a long and seemingly intractable problem faced by the authorities at Guantánamo: how to find homes for cleared prisoners who cannot be repatriated? The need to find safe havens for these men is of enormous significance. Although they have been cleared of posing a threat to the United States or its allies (including Italy), they are all victims of verdicts produced in absentia in the Tunisian courts of the dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, which only came about after other prisoners in Tunisia were tortured to provide false allegations against them.

If returned, these men would face show trials similar to those that resulted in prison sentences — of three and seven years — for two other Tunisians, Lotfi Lagha and Abdullah bin Omar, who were returned from Guantánamo last June. What made the verdicts even more shocking was the fact that the US government had signed a “memorandum of understanding” with Tunisia, which purported to guarantee that the men would receive “humane treatment.” The worthlessness of the agreement was highlighted last October, when, in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that Lotfi bin Ali “cannot be sent to Tunisia because he could suffer ‘irreparable harm’ that the US courts would be powerless to reverse.”

According to lawyers’ estimates, as many as 70 of the remaining prisoners — from human rights-abusing countries including China, Uzbekistan, Libya and Algeria, as well as Tunisia — are in this predicament, but although the Pentagon has been actively shopping around on behalf of 23 of these men — and has been doing so for several years — it has met with no success. With the exception of Albania, which was prevailed upon to accept five innocent Chinese Uyghurs, an Egyptian cleric, an Algerian teacher and a refugee from the Russian Federation in 2006, no other country has stepped forward to help the US administration clean up it own mess by offering asylum to foreign nationals captured by mistake and held for years at Guantánamo.

The Italian residents should, however, be a different matter. Although proposals within the EU to provide asylum to some of the cleared prisoners are moving at a snail’s pace, three countries have already acted successfully on behalf of their residents. This in itself is a major step forward, as there was initially no desire whatsoever to address the plight of European residents in Guantánamo after all the European nationals — 21 men from the UK, France, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and Spain — were repatriated in 2004 and 2005.

The first returned resident, Lahcen Ikassrien, was not accepted for benevolent reasons. A Spanish resident, of Moroccan origin, he was, essentially, extradited from Guantánamo in July 2005, to face trial in connection with allegations that he had links to the Syrian-born Spaniard Imad Yarkas, who was serving 12 years in prison for belonging to al-Qaeda, but on his return, when he finally entered a courtroom, as opposed to the lawless cells of Guantánamo, the case against him collapsed. When he was finally freed in October 2006, the Associated Press reported that the court concluded, “It has not been proved that the accused, Lahcen Ikassrien, was part of a terrorist organization of Islamic-fundamentalist nature, and more specifically, the al-Qaeda network created by Bin Laden.”

The other residents — Murat Kurnaz from Germany (released in August 2006), Bisher al-Rawi from the UK (released in March 2007), and Jamil El-Banna, Omar Deghayes and Abdulnour Sameur, also from the UK (released in December 2007) — are more representative of how European residents, cleared in Guantánamo, can be safely returned without posing any threat to their adopted countries. Murat Kurnaz’ problem was that, though born in Germany, his parents were Turkish “guest workers,” and he was not, therefore, granted citizenship. Although his case was shamefully ignored by the German government for many years (despite the fact that it was obvious from almost the moment he was captured that he was no terrorist), it was not until Angela Merkel became Chancellor that his return was negotiated. He has since written a book, Five Years of My Life, and travels widely to promote it.

For the British residents, threats of legal action were required to push the government into action — in particular in the cases of Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil El-Banna, who were seized during a business trip to the Gambia after the British intelligence services provided patently false intelligence to their American counterparts — but, like Murat Kurnaz, they too have all been freed, having been found to pose no threat whatsoever to the British state.

It remains to be seen if the Italian government will do the same for its forgotten residents, but as Reprieve notes throughout the report, the fact that Italian interrogators visited the men in Guantánamo in 2002 and 2003, and that they shared their information with the US authorities, makes the Italian government complicit in the abuse of the men at Guantánamo, and reinforces its “moral duty” to act on their behalf (the photo of Adel al-Hakeemy at the start of this article was part of the exchange of “intelligence,” and was provided to the Italians by the US authorities). In one of the most telling passages in the report, Adel al-Hakeemy explained to his lawyers, “I was in Camp Delta when the Italians came. I told them we were treated badly. One of them agreed with everything I said about my treatment, and said he knew what was happening here.”

With Berlusconi in charge — and racism, sadly, a prevalent issue — the release of the men to Italy may seem unlikely, but it was encouraging that, after Reprieve’s report was issued, and an article about the men, by Carlo Bonini, was published in the respected newspaper La Repubblica, 41 Italian Senators demanded an investigation into Italy’s role in interrogating the men, which indicates that there is, at least, some political will to address the plight of Italy’s forgotten residents in Guantánamo.

The Senators, to their credit, pointed out that the role played by the Italian secret services “would be in serious breach of the UN Convention Against Torture and the European Convention on Human Rights,” and added their dismay that, “between 2002 and 2003, ‘extraordinary renditions’ operations took place, to the detriment of six Tunisian citizens, for years living legally in Italy.” They also took note of another sign of the Italian government’s involvement with highly dubious US actions, pointing out, as was also mentioned in the report, that the men were delivered to Guantánamo “on flights made through Italian airspace, with the complicity — or at least the tacit consent — of the Italian authorities.”

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, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on the Huffington Post, CounterPunch and ZNet.

Stonehenge and the summer solstice: past and present

Before I became a chronicler of the men detained without charge or trial in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, I wrote a book about the British counter-culture, Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, which told the story of Britain’s most iconic ancient monument from the point of view of those who have sought to make it their own in the face of opposition from the government and the archaeological establishment: festival-goers, travellers, anarchists, eco-activists, Druids and other pagans.

I also compiled, edited and contributed chapters to The Battle of the Beanfield, produced to commemorate the 20th anniversary of that brutal day in June 1985, when, having destroyed Britain’s mining communities, Margaret Thatcher turned her jack-booted attention to another “enemy within”: the travellers and political activists who had replicated the Greenham Women’s anti-nuclear protest at Molesworth in Cambridgeshire, and who were viciously set upon by police from six counties — and the Ministry of Defence — as they tried to make their way to Stonehenge to establish what would have been the 12th annual free festival, an anarchic free-for-all, the likes of which are now but a distant memory.

As thousands gather at Stonehenge for this year’s solstice gathering, I thought this might be a good occasion to commemorate the long struggle for access to Stonehenge by offering The Battle of the Beanfield at a specially reduced price of £9.95 (normal price £12.95). Click on the link above for details.

And as a reminder of what all the fuss was about — and how despicable it was of successive governments, from Margaret Thatcher to John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, to use political protest and the demand for alternative lifestyles as an excuse to savage our civil liberties — I present below a gallery of Stonehenge solstices past and present, as featured in the books.

The summer solstice at Stonehenge, 1956

Revellers at the solstice in 1956. © The estate of Austin Underwood.

Druids at Stonehenge solstice, 1960

Druids at the solstice in 1960. © Gerald Ponting.

A ceremony at Stonehenge, 1974

A ceremony at the first Stonehenge Free Festival, 1974. © The estate of Austin Underwood.

The Stonehenge Free Festival 1978

A bucolic moment at the 1978 festival. © Roger Hutchinson.

The 1984 Stonehenge Free Festival

An aerial photo of the last Stonehenge Free Festival, 1984.

The Battle of the Beanfield

Police brutality at the Battle of the Beanfield, June 1, 1985. © Tim Malyon.

Stonehenge banner, 1988

A banner commemorating another police assault on the crowd excluded from Stonehenge at the 1988 solstice. © Jo Bradley. The solstice exclusion zone remained in place until 2000.

Defiance at the spring equinox, 1989

Defiance during an occupation of Stonehenge at the spring equinox in 1989. © Alan Lodge.

The V.E. Day occupation, 1995

An occupation on May 8, 1995, the 50th anniversary of V.E. Day, organized primarily by supporters of the massive anti-road protest movement of the mid-1990s. © Adrian Arbib.

The solstice at Stonehenge, 2003

The summer solstice in 2003.

For an update from 2009, see: It’s 25 Years Since The Last Stonehenge Free Festival.

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, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

Former Guantánamo prisoner denied asylum in Sweden

In a blow to hopes that Sweden could be persuaded to lead the way in offering asylum to some of the 70 or so prisoners in Guantánamo who have been cleared for release but who cannot be returned to their home countries because of international treaties preventing the return of foreign nationals to countries where they face the risk of torture, the Swedish Migration Board has just turned down an asylum claim from Adel Abdul Hakim, a Chinese Uyghur who was held in Guantánamo for over four years.

Adel Abdul Hakim (right)

Adel applied for asylum on November 20 last year, during a visit from Albania, where he had been living since he and four other cleared Uyghurs were sent there, to live in a UN refugee camp in the capital, Tirana, in May 2006. Albania was the only country that could be prevailed upon by the US administration to accept wrongly imprisoned men who could not be repatriated, but although life was better than in Guantánamo, Albania was not an adequate destination for the men. Although it is a Muslim country, no Uyghur community exists there, and the men had no opportunities to find work, and no hope of ever seeing their families again.

Last November, after NGOs and lawyers arranged a temporary visa for Adel, so that he could speak at a human rights conference and meet his sister and niece, who are both living in Sweden, Adel applied for asylum, reasonably confident that his application would be granted because Sweden fulfilled so many of the UN’s requirements for refugees that were not being met in Albania. According to the UNHCR Resettlement Handbook (2004), “resettlement as a durable solution must be accompanied by meaningful prospects for local integration, characterized in part by access to work that provides a living wage; education; fundamental medical (including necessary psychological) services; property; and family support or the support of a similarly situated refugee community.”

As a result, the Migration Board’s decision is a cruel blow. Although, technically, the Board is correct to assert that Adel “has a residence permit for Albania, where he does not risk deportation to China,” (as a Swedish paper, The Local, reported), the decision callously disregards the UN’s requirements, and condemns Adel to return to a country where, though safe, his quality of life is grossly inadequate.

“I thought I would be able to stay,” Adel said after the decision was announced. “I have clarified my reasons but got rejected.” His lawyer, Sten de Geer, also complained, reiterating that Albania will not permit Adel’s wife and three children to join him, calling the decision “an unparalleled scandal,” and adding, “This is a larger political question regarding developments in Guantánamo. There are 40-50 prisoners there who are clearly innocent and who may not be sent back to their home countries as they risk torture. But no other country wants to take them either, and that is why they remain there. Amongst them are 16 [actually 17] Uyghurs,” who, it should be noted, have also been cleared for release but cannot leave Guantánamo now that Albania’s largesse has dried up. Sten de Geer pointed out that the European Parliament has encouraged EU countries to grant asylum to prisoners like Adel, adding, poignantly, “Sweden has chosen not to be a leader in this case.”

Adel will, of course, appeal his decision, as Sten de Geer explained, and from Boston, Sabin Willett, who fought for years to secure Adel’s release from Guantánamo, sent me an even more inspiring message: “We have not yet begun to fight!”

Andy 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, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the Uighurs in Guantánamo, see: The Guantánamo whistleblower, a Libyan shopkeeper, some Chinese Muslims and a desperate government (July 2007), Guantánamo’s Uyghurs: Stranded in Albania (October 2007), Former Guantánamo detainee seeks asylum in Sweden (November 2007), A transcript of Sabin Willett’s speech in Stockholm (November 2007), Support for ex-Guantánamo detainee’s Swedish asylum claim (January 2008), A Chinese Muslim’s desperate plea from Guantánamo (March 2008), Six Years Late, Court Throws Out Guantánamo Case (June 2008), Guantánamo as Alice in Wonderland (July 2008), From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008), Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (October 2008), A Pastor’s Plea for the Guantánamo Uyghurs (October 2008), Guantánamo: Justice Delayed or Justice Denied? (October 2008), Sabin Willett’s letter to the Justice Department (November 2008), Will Europe Take The Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners? (December 2008), A New Year Message to Barack Obama: Free the Guantánamo Uighurs (January 2009), Guantanamo’s refugees (February 2009), Bad News And Good News For The Guantánamo Uighurs (February 2009), and the stories in the additional chapters of The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras 1, Website Extras 6 and Website Extras 9.

John McCain, Torture Puppet: Senator Ignores Mounting Evidence of Torture and Abuse in “War on Terror” Prisons, including Guantánamo

Sen. John McCainThis is clearly no time for being mealy-mouthed. After nearly seven years of ruinous warmongering, economic meltdown and the shredding of the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture, Sen. John McCain, who recently shelved his lifelong opposition to torture by voting against a bill banning the use of torture by the CIA, cemented his adherence to the bellicose policies of the Bush administration by declaring that last Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling, granting constitutional habeas corpus rights to the prisoners at Guantánamo, was “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.”

As conservative columnist George F. Will asked, pertinently, in a Washington Post column on Tuesday, “Does it rank with Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857), which concocted a constitutional right, unmentioned in the document, to own slaves and held that black people have no rights that white people are bound to respect? With Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which affirmed the constitutionality of legally enforced racial segregation? With Korematsu v. United States (1944), which affirmed the wartime right to sweep American citizens of Japanese ancestry into concentration camps?”

Beyond McCain’s stunted historical memory, his outburst, which is clearly intended to portray Barack Obama as anything other than the rock-hard soldier stallion that McCain is in his imagination, flies in the face of the ever-growing evidence that the entire “War on Terror” imprisonment program has been both chronically brutal and irredeemably flawed, and that Barack Obama is correct to call the ruling “an important step toward reestablishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law, and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus.”

Sen. Barack ObamaOn ABC News on Monday, Obama explained more, saying, “Let’s take the example of Guantánamo. What we know is that in previous terrorist attacks, for example, the first attack against the World Trade Center, we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial. They are currently in US prisons, incapacitated. And the fact that the administration has not tried to do that has created a situation where not only have we never actually put many of these folks on trial, but we have destroyed our credibility when it comes to the rule of law all around the world.”

When McCain’s team followed up by accusing Obama of having “a September 10th mind-set,” the response was both swift and accurate. Obama declared that it was clear that, while McCain was “going to use the Bush-Cheney political playbook that’s based on fear,” he believes that he is “very clear about the threats America faces … and I think, in fact, it’s the failed policies of the Bush administration and the unwillingness to look towards the future that is causing us so many problems around the world.”

On Sunday, in the first story to throw serious doubt on John McCain’s rhetoric, McClatchy Newspapers published the results of an eight-month investigation into the stories of 66 of the 501 prisoners released from Guantánamo, which demonstrated why the Supreme Court was correct to intervene in the cases of the prisoners. In an article introducing the profiles, lead researcher Tom Lasseter wrote that “the dozens of separate tales merge into one: Arrests — often without real evidence — brutality and mistreatment in US interrogations, years of their lives spent behind prison-camp wire in a system of justice that no American citizen would recognize.”

This was almost an understatement, as even the McClatchy report does not make entirely clear that the Guantánamo prisoners required the Supreme Court’s constitutional assistance because, in sidestepping the Geneva Conventions’ battlefield tribunals, which traditionally sort out soldiers from those wrongly detained, and in pressing ahead with alternative tribunals at Guantánamo that relied on generalized and generic unclassified evidence, and classified evidence, withheld from the prisoners, that was often obtained through torture or coercion, the prisoners at Guantánamo have never been screened adequately to determine if they actually do constitute a threat to the United States.

Further proof of the administration’s descent into barbarism came on Tuesday, when it was revealed that an investigation by the Senate Committee on Armed Services into “The Origins of Aggressive Interrogation Techniques” has discovered that senior Pentagon officials began planning to use abusive tactics at Guantánamo Bay in July 2002, three months earlier than has been previously acknowledged. The plan involved borrowing tactics from the military training program known as Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE), whose aim is to teach US soldiers counter-interrogation techniques by subjecting them, in controlled circumstances, to torture techniques including waterboarding (controlled drowning), sleep deprivation, forced nudity, sexual and religious humiliation, and forced standing in painful “stress positions.”

Sen. Carl LevinSpeaking as the story broke, Sen. Carl Levin, the committee’s chairman, said, “How did it come about that American military personnel stripped detainees naked, put them in stress positions, used dogs to scare them, put leashes around their necks to humiliate them, hooded them, deprived them of sleep, and blasted music at them. Were these actions the result of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own? It would be a lot easier to accept if it were. But that’s not the case. The truth is that senior officials in the United States government sought information on aggressive techniques, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality and authorized their use against detainees. In the process, they damaged our ability to collect intelligence that could save lives.” He added, “Some might say that if our personnel go through it in SERE school, what’s wrong with doing it to detainees? Well, our personnel are students and they can call off the training at any time. If we use those same techniques offensively against detainees, it says to the world that they have America’s stamp of approval.”

William J. Haynes IIDuring eight hours of hearings on Tuesday, William J. Haynes II, the former general counsel for the Department of Defense, who was singled out by the committee for investigating the use of SERE techniques in summer 2002, acknowledged that he had pressed for the use of more aggressive techniques, but claimed that the decisions were driven by the administration’s fear of another major terrorist strike. “What I remember about the summer of 2002,” Haynes said, “was a government-wide concern about the possibility of another terrorist attack as the anniversary of September 11” approached. While this was undoubtedly true, Haynes and other senior officials (including President Bush, Vice President Cheney and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld) ignored the many voices of others, trained in the use of interrogation, who pointed out that, as well as being morally repugnant, torture was not the way to secure worthwhile confessions.

At the forefront of these complaints, as I have repeatedly pointed out, was the FBI. A recent Department of Justice report (PDF) highlighted the FBI’s opposition to the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” and retired senior interrogator Dan Coleman, who worked on several high-profile terrorism cases before the 9/11 attacks without using torture, is on record as stating that “people don’t do anything unless they’re rewarded.” In an interview with the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, he acknowledged that brutality — “all that alpha-male shit” — may “yield a timely scrap of information,” but is “completely insufficient” in the longer fight against terrorism. “You need to talk to people for weeks. Years,” he explained. His colleague, Jack Cloonan, had another take on the self-defeating nature of brutality, telling Mayer that it would cut off “the possibility that other people with useful information about al-Qaeda [would] consider becoming informants.” As he explained, “You think all of this stuff about torture is going to make people want to come to us? That’s why I get upset when I hear people talking about stress positions, loud music, and dogs.”

With even less success, Haynes cited “widespread frustration” among Pentagon officials in the summer of 2002 about the slow progress of obtaining information from prisoners in Guantánamo, ignoring the fact that this was the period when some intelligence officials (including CIA representatives) were first concluding that this lack of “actionable intelligence” was unconnected with the prisoners’ supposed resistance to questioning, which was purportedly part of al-Qaeda training, and was, in fact, because the majority of the prisoners had no intelligence to withhold.

In August 2002, the Los Angeles Times reported that a senior intelligence official who had spent time at the prison said that “US authorities had netted ‘no big fish’ there,” and that “Some of these guys literally don’t know the world is round,” and in September 2002, a top-secret CIA study reported in a New York Times article in June 2004, “raised questions about [the prisoners’] significance, suggesting that many of the accused terrorists appeared to be low-level recruits who went to Afghanistan to support the Taliban or even innocent men swept up in the chaos of the war,” according to “current and former officials who read the assessment.” Or, as Lt. Col. Thomas S. Berg, a member of the first military legal team established to work on proposed prosecutions for prisoners at Guantánamo, told the New York Times in October 2004, “It became obvious to us as we reviewed the evidence that, in many cases, we had simply gotten the slowest guys on the battlefield. We literally found guys who had been shot in the butt.”

Reports on the hearings have focused on the widespread opposition to the administration’s policies from other law enforcement agencies. The Washington Post reported that “Haynes and other Pentagon officials acknowledged that the proposed methods faced opposition at the time from experts in military and international law,” and cited Mark Fallon, the deputy commander of the Defense Department’s Criminal Investigation Task Force, whose criticisms have been largely overlooked.

Mark FallonIn an October 2002 e-mail to colleagues in the Pentagon, Fallon warned that the techniques under discussion would “shock the conscience of any legal body” that might review how the interrogations were conducted. “This looks like the kind of stuff Congressional hearings are made of,” he wrote, adding, “Someone needs to be considering how history will look back at this.” In October 2006, when MSNBC ran a major feature on various agencies’ opposition to the administration’s tactics — which included a profile of Fallon — his boss, Col. Brittain P. Mallow, the commander of the task force from 2002 to 2005, also spoke out. “No. 1, it’s not going to work,” Col. Mallow said. “No. 2, if it does work, it’s not reliable. No. 3, it may not be legal, ethical or moral. No. 4, it’s going to hurt you when you have to prosecute these guys. No. 5, sooner or later, all of this stuff is going to come to light, and you’re going to be embarrassed.”

Alberto J. MoraEven more significant than the CITF’s criticisms, however, was the opposition to the administration’s policies that was waged by Alberto J. Mora, the head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which, like the CITF, was also involved in non-violent intelligence gathering at Guantánamo. When Mora was informed about the Pentagon-sanctioned abuse that was taking place, he took his complaints to the highest levels, confronting both Donald Rumsfeld and William Haynes. His principled struggle — which was ultimately unsuccessful — was first reported in detail in another extraordinary New Yorker article by Jane Mayer in February 2006, and Mora also features heavily in the Academy Award-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, and in my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison.

On Tuesday, Alberto J. Mora appeared before the Senate committee, condemning the policies now apparently supported by John McCain with a clarity and indignation that should serve as a rallying cry to all decent Americans. Mora declared:

[O]ur Nation’s policy decision to use so-called “harsh” interrogation techniques during the War on Terror was a mistake of massive proportions. It damaged and continues to damage our Nation in ways that appear never to have been considered or imagined by its architects and supporters, whose policy focus seems to have been narrowly confined to the four corners of the interrogation room. This interrogation policy — which may aptly be labeled a “policy of cruelty” — violated our founding values, our constitutional system and the fabric of our laws, our over-arching foreign policy interests, and our national security. The net effect of this policy of cruelty has been to weaken our defenses, not to strengthen them, and has been greatly contrary to our national interest.

He continued:

The United States was founded on the principle that every person — not just each citizen — possesses certain inalienable rights that no government, including our own, may violate. Among these rights is unquestionably the right to be free from cruel punishment or treatment, as is evidenced in part by the clear language of the Eighth Amendment and the constitutional jurisprudence of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. If we can apply the policy of cruelty to detainees, it is only because our Founders were wrong about the scope of inalienable rights. With the adoption of this policy our founding values necessarily begin to be redefined and our constitutional structure and the fabric of our legal system start to erode.

In conclusion, he added, “Albert Camus cautioned against nations fighting for their values against selecting those weapons whose very use would destroy those values. In this War on Terror, the United States is fighting for our values, and cruelty is such a weapon.”

Are you listening, John McCain?

Note: The testimony of the majority of speakers at the Senate committee meeting is available here (though sadly William Haynes neglected to offer a transcript). Timelines of the administration’s adoption of “Aggressive Interrogation Techniques” can be found on Salon, and on Sen. Levin’s website, linked above.

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, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on Anti-war.com, the Huffington Post and CounterPunch.

Report on ex-Guantánamo prisoners reveals systematic abuse and chronic failures of intelligence

On Sunday, just two days after the Supreme Court’s momentous ruling that the prisoners at Guantánamo have constitutional habeas corpus rights — and as John McCain started a right-wing backlash by declaring, with Cheney-like hyperbole, that it was “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country” — McClatchy Newspapers, whose 31 titles include the Miami Herald and the Kansas City Star, unveiled the timely results of an eight-month investigation into the stories of 66 of the 501 prisoners who have been released from Guantánamo since the prison first opened on January 11, 2002.

The results (in a series of articles, and in particular, through the prisoner profiles here) should be genuinely disturbing to anyone who still cherishes the illusion, persistently maintained by the administration, that the US military and intelligence services captured the majority of Guantánamo’s prisoners “on the battlefield,” that these men were thoroughly screened before ending up in Guantánamo as “the worst of the worst,” and that throughout their imprisonment they were treated humanely.

The Guantanamo FilesReinforcing the findings that I reported, with a wider scope, in my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, and the statistical analysis of the Pentagon’s own claims against the prisoners that featured in an influential 2006 report by the Seton Hall Law School, McClatchy’s reporters — led by Tom Lasseter — demonstrate that “the dozens of separate tales merge into one: Arrests — often without real evidence — brutality and mistreatment in US interrogations, years of their lives spent behind prison-camp wire in a system of justice that no American citizen would recognize.”

Although their focus is primarily on former prisoners from Pakistan and Afghanistan — including a few of the several dozen pro-American Afghan tribal leaders profiled in The Guantánamo Files, who were betrayed by rivals, and whose attempts to clear their names were shamefully ignored by the US authorities — the reporters also traveled to, or spoke by ’phone to ex-prisoners in nine other countries (Albania, Bahrain, France, Germany, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, the Russian Federation and the UK) to compile their report.

As well as confirming, from completely unrelated sources, that abuse in the US prisons in Afghanistan — primarily at Kandahar airport and Bagram airbase — was systematic, and that, for the most part, US forces had no idea who had ended up in their custody, the ex-prisoners also confirm that bounty payments offered by the US authorities added significantly to the failure to net worthwhile prisoners. To cite just one example, in the case of Abdul Haleem, a Pakistani known to the US authorities as Abdul Halim Sidiqi, who was freed in October 2006 after spending nearly five years attempting to persuade his captors that he was not, as they thought, a great leader who had “assembled some 2,000 Pakistani and Arab fighters to fight the United States and its allies,” Lasseter writes, “Like most other former detainees interviewed, Haleem wasn’t captured by US soldiers. He was rounded up by Afghan troops loyal to warlords who made a small fortune selling their prisoners to the American military. The higher the profile of the prisoner, the more money the warlords could demand. An al-Qaeda-affiliated commander, for instance, fetched a much higher price than an ordinary foot soldier.”

The stories uncovered by McClatchy’s reporters do not make for comfortable reading. Although they estimate that 52 percent of the men they interviewed had some sort of connection with militancy (these include Afghan conscripts, who had no choice), they also point out that only 11 percent appeared to have any connection “with high-level Taliban or insurgent leaders” — and al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks don’t even get a mention. These figures correspond roughly with the Seton Hall findings and also with the conclusions I drew in The Guantánamo Files: that, excluding a few dozen prisoners with genuine connections to al-Qaeda, around half the prisoners were completely innocent men, sold for bounties by opportunists or rivals, or seized through faulty intelligence, and the other half were Taliban foot soldiers, who had no knowledge of the workings of al-Qaeda, and were recruited to fight an inter-Muslim civil war against the Northern Alliance that began long before the 9/11 attacks. Sadly, the majority of the 273 prisoners who are still held in Guantánamo belong to one or other of these latter categories.

Guantanamo statistics

This is an important project, not only because it is thrusting the truth about Guantánamo into newspapers across the United States, but also because, even to those who are well-informed about the prison and the stories of those who have been held there, it reveals new stories that have never previously been reported at all. Although many of the 66 stories have been reported before — 45 are available in The Guantánamo Files, for example, and of these 45 men, three, Moazzam Begg, Murat Kurnaz and Mourad Benchellali, have written books about their experiences — others are reaching the world for the first time. Of the 21 stories not included in The Guantánamo Files, eight never made the final cut (for reasons of space), but the other 13 are genuinely new.

These stories — of eleven Pakistanis and two Afghans — are emerging now for one particular reason: the reporters’ hard work in tracking them down. The majority of the prisoners at Guantánamo went through an administrative review process (the Combatant Status Review Tribunals) to determine whether, according to laws passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, they had been correctly designated as “enemy combatants” who could be held without charge or trial. The entire process was corrupt, not only because it was reliant upon secret evidence that was withheld from the prisoners, but also because even its unclassified evidence was appallingly generalized and generic, as a former insider, Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, explained last year, in a court submission that is credited with swaying the opinion of the Supreme Court.

Despite these failings, it is largely through these reviews, whose transcripts were released to the public in 2006 and 2007, that the prisoners had the opportunity to tell their stories. The 13 men whose stories were unknown until now, however, were among the 200 prisoners released before the tribunal process began, and the Pentagon has never been obliged to reveal any information whatsoever about its reasons for holding them. Unless they spoke to the media on their release — or were traced afterwards by lawyers, human rights groups or reporters — their stories returned to their towns and villages with them.

It is to the credit of McClatchy’s reporters that these stories have finally surfaced to add more pieces to the Guantánamo jigsaw, and, crucially, to give voice to those who were brutalized, dehumanized and dismissed as “the worst of the worst.”

The 13 previously unknown prisoners are as follows:

Pakistanis: Asadullah Jan (ISN 47), Munir Naseer (ISN 85), Tariq Khan (ISN 97), Ijaz Khan (ISN 135), Hafiz Liaquat Manzoor (ISN 139), Hamoodullah Khan (ISN 145), Israr ul Haq (ISN 515), Mohammed Omar (ISN 540), Saji Ur Rahman (ISN 545), Abdul Majid Mahmoud (ISN 624) and Mohammed Irfan (ISN 1006).
Afghans: Mohammed Saduq (ISN 512) and Noor Habib (ISN 626).

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, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on the Huffington Post.

The Supreme Court’s Guantánamo ruling: what does it mean?

The US Supreme CourtThose who cherish the United States’ historical adherence to the rule of law — myself included — were delighted to hear that the US Supreme Court ruled on Thursday, in the case of Boumediene v. Bush, that the prisoners at Guantánamo “have the constitutional right to habeas corpus,” enabling them to challenge the basis of their detention, under the terms of the 800-year old “Great Writ” of habeas corpus, which prohibits the suspension of prisoners’ rights to challenge the basis of their detention except in “cases of rebellion or invasion.”

That this decision was required at all was remarkable, as it was almost four years ago, on 29 June 2004, that the Supreme Court ruled, in the case of Rasul v. Bush, that Guantánamo — chosen as a base for the prison because it was presumed to be beyond the reach of the US courts — was “in every practical respect a United States territory,” and that the prisoners therefore had habeas corpus rights, enabling the prisoners to challenge the basis of their detention.

The difference between then and now is that, in Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court ruled only that the prisoners had statutory habeas rights, and, following the ruling, the executive responded in two ways that completely undermined the Supreme Court’s verdict.

The first of these — as lawyers began applying to visit prisoners to establish habeas cases — was the establishment of Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) at Guantánamo, which were set up, ostensibly, to review the prisoners’ designation as “enemy combatants,” who could be held without charge or trial. In reality, they were a lamentable replacement for a valid judicial challenge. Although the prisoners were allowed to present their own version of the events that led up to their capture, they were not allowed legal representation, and were subjected to secret evidence that they were unable to see or challenge.

Last June, Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, a veteran of US intelligence, who worked on the CSRTs, delivered a damning verdict on their legitimacy, condemning them as the administrative equivalent of show trials, reliant upon generalized and often “generic” evidence, and designed to rubber-stamp the prisoners’ prior designation as “enemy combatants.” Filed as an affidavit in Al Odah v. United States, one of the cases consolidated with Boumediene, Lt. Col. Abraham’s testimony was regarded, by legal experts, as the trigger that spurred the Supreme Court, which had rejected an appeal on behalf of the prisoners in April 2007, to reverse its decision and to agree to hear the cases. The reversal was so rare that it had last taken place 60 years before.

The executive’s second response to Rasul was to remove the prisoners’ statutory rights, persuading the third strand of the American power base — the politicians in Congress — to pass two hideously flawed pieces of legislation: the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, and the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

The Detainee Treatment Act (DTA), which originated as an anti-torture bill conceived by Senator John McCain, was hijacked by the executive, who managed to get an amendment passed that removed the prisoners’ habeas rights, although the legislation was so shoddy that it was not entirely clear whether the prisoners had been stripped of their rights entirely, or whether pending cases would still be considered. What was clear, however, was that the DTA limited any review of the prisoners’ cases to the DC Circuit Court (rather than the Supreme Court), preventing any independent fact-finding to challenge the substance of the administration’s allegations, and mandating the judges to rule only on whether or not the CSRTs had followed their own rules, and whether or not those rules were valid.

In the fall of 2006, following a second momentous decision in the Supreme Court, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, in which the justices ruled that the proposed trials by Military Commission for those held at Guantánamo (which also relied on the use of secret evidence) were illegal under domestic and international law, the executive persuaded Congress to pass the Military Commissions Act (MCA), which reinstated the Military Commissions and also removed any lingering doubts about the prisoners’ habeas rights, stating, explicitly, “No court, justice or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.” In a further attempt to stifle dissent, the MCA defined an “enemy combatant” as someone who has either engaged in or supported hostilities against the US, or “has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the secretary of defense.”

The wheels of justice revolve so slowly that it has taken over a year and a half since the passing of the MCA for the Supreme Court to stamp its authority on the conceits of both the executive and Congress, and cynics can argue that all of this could have been avoided if the Supreme Court had insisted on the prisoners’ Constitutional habeas rights in June 2004. Nevertheless, Thursday’s ruling — however belatedly — comprehensively demolishes the habeas-stripping provisions of both the DTA and the MCA.

In no uncertain terms, Justice Anthony Kennedy, delivering the Court’s majority opinion, ruled that the “procedures for review of the detainees’ status” in the DTA “are not an adequate and effective substitute for habeas corpus,” and that therefore the habeas-stripping component of the MCA “operates as an unconstitutional suspension of the writ.” These judgments, which should soundly embarrass the nations’ politicians, could hardly be more clear, and although it is uncertain how the administration will respond in its dying days, it seems unlikely that the executive will be able to prevent a slew of habeas cases, which have, effectively, been held in a kind of legal gridlock for years, from progressing to court.

The only other obvious recourse, which will also help the prisoners to escape from the intolerable legal limbo in which they have been held for up to six and a half years, is that the administration will suddenly develop a previously undreamt-of diplomatic dexterity, and will make arrangements for the release of a large number of the 273 remaining prisoners without having to endure the acute embarrassment of justifying, in a proper courtroom, the hearsay, the innuendo, the generic information masquerading as evidence, and the fruits of torture, coercion and bribery that it has used to imprison these men for so many years.

Since 9/11, sadly, justice in the US has moved so slowly that on occasion it has appeared to be dead, but Thursday’s verdict is a resounding triumph for the importance of the law as a check on unfettered executive power and the caprice of politicians. As Justice Kennedy stated in his opinion, “The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times.” He added, “To hold that the political branches may switch the Constitution on or off at will would lead to a regime in which they, not this court, say ‘what the law is,’” a quote from an 1803 ruling, in which the Supreme Court explained its right to review acts of Congress, which, of course, reinforces the supremacy of the separation of powers that lies at the heart of the United States Constitution.

POSTSCRIPT: Please see Guantánamo Habeas Results: The Definitive List for the full story of how, after judges approved 38 Guantánamo prisoners for release, the D.C. Circuit Court gutted habeas corpus of all meaning.

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, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on AlterNet, the Huffington Post, CounterPunch and Antiwar.com.

See the following for a sequence of articles dealing with the crucial testimony of Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham and other Guantánamo whistleblowers: Guantánamo whistleblowers: Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham is not the first insider to condemn the kangaroo courts (July 2007), 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), 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 a sequence of articles dealing with the Guantánamo habeas cases, see: Guantánamo as Alice in Wonderland (Uighurs’ first court victory, June 2008), What’s Happening with the Guantánamo cases? (July 2008), Government Says Six Years Is Not Long Enough To Prepare Evidence (September 2008), From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008), Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), After 7 Years, Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo Kidnap Victims (November 2008), Is Robert Gates Guilty of Perjury in Guantánamo Torture Case? (December 2008), A New Year Message to Barack Obama: Free the Guantánamo Uighurs (January 2009), The Top Ten Judges of 2008 (January 2009), No End in Sight for the “Enemy Combatants” of Guantánamo (January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (January 2009), How Cooking For The Taliban Gets You Life In Guantánamo (January 2009), Bad News And Good News For The Guantánamo Uighurs (February 2009), The Nobodies Formerly Known As Enemy Combatants (March 2009), Farce at Guantánamo, as cleared prisoner’s habeas petition is denied (April 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Judge Condemns “Mosaic” Of Guantánamo Intelligence, And Unreliable Witnesses (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), Guantánamo: A Prison Built On Lies (May 2009), Free The Guantánamo Uighurs! (May 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part One): Exposing The Bush Administration’s Lies (July 2009), Obama’s Failure To Deliver Justice To The Last Tajik In Guantánamo (July 2009), Obama And The Deadline For Closing Guantánamo: It’s Worse Than You Think (July 2009), How Judge Huvelle Humiliated The Government In Guantánamo Case (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), As Judge Orders Release Of Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner, Government Refuses To Concede Defeat (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), Guantánamo As Hotel California: You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave (August 2009), Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Kuwaiti Charity Worker (August 2009). Also see: Justice extends to Bagram, Guantánamo’s Dark Mirror (April 2009), Judge Rules That Afghan “Rendered” To Bagram In 2002 Has No Rights (July 2009).

Supreme Court rules that Guantánamo prisoners have habeas corpus rights

The US Supreme CourtThe long awaited Supreme Court decision in Boumediene v. Bush, about whether or not the prisoners at Guantánamo have a Constitutional right to habeas corpus — the right to challenge the basis of their otherwise endless detention without charge or trial, which was granted by the Supreme Court in June 2004, but taken away by Congress in 2005’s Detainee Treatment Act and 2006’s Military Commissions Act — has just been announced, and the United States’ highest judges have ruled, by 5 to 4, that Congress “had not validly taken away habeas rights.”

At present, SCOTUSblog is one of the few outlets to report the story, as follows:

“In a stunning blow to the Bush Administration in its war-on-terrorism policies, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday that foreign nationals held at Guantánamo Bay have a right to pursue habeas challenges to their detention. The Court, dividing 5-4, ruled that Congress had not validly taken away habeas rights.

“The Court stressed that it was not ruling that the detainees are entitled to be released — that is, entitled to have writs issued to end their confinement. That issue, it said, is left to the District Court judges who will be hearing the challenges. The Court also said that “we do not address whether the President has authority to detain” the individuals at the U.S. Naval base in Cuba; that, too, it said, is to be considered by the District judges.”

More to follow soon. I’m reading the ruling NOW.

Note: See here for my more detailed response.

Andy 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, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As George Bush visits London, Reprieve tells Bush and Brown: Bring Binyam Back to Britain

Where: Trafalgar Square, in front of the National Gallery
When: 3 pm, Sunday 15 June
Who: Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith, former Guantánamo prisoners, Barney the Dinosaur and other special guests

On Sunday 15 June, US President George W. Bush is visiting London as part of his valedictory world tour, and will be having tea with the Queen and dinner with Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Binyam MohamedReprieve, the legal action charity that represents over 30 Guantánamo prisoners, is using this opportunity to highlight the suffering of Binyam Mohamed, the London resident who remains in Guantánamo Bay. The US military has announced that it wants to put him through its discredited Military Commission process, and a final decision will be made in the next two weeks. The commission system is so corrupt that Col. Morris Davis recently quit as the chief military prosecutor, because of the system’s many flaws, one being that evidence derived from torture was going to be used against the prisoners.

Nothing could be more true of Binyam, who was taken to Morocco where his genitals were razor-bladed for 18 months. After that he was rendered to more abuse in the CIA-run “Dark Prison” in Kabul, where he was tortured psychologically, hung up and subjected to incredibly loud music for 20 days at a time. He has been imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay since September 2004.

The timing of President Bush’s visit to London is fortuitous but only if his supporters can make sure that he gets the message. The “Bring Back Binyam” initiative starts at 3 pm outside the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square and Reprieve is working towards a finale outside the Southbank Centre, where Massive Attack are hosting a series of Reprieve events as part of Meltdown 2008, at 4.30pm.

Throughout this initiative, Reprieve will dramatize the torture-by-music that Binyam and other prisoners have suffered. Barney the Purple Dinosaur will be making a personal appearance, as the theme tune to this popular children’s show has been one of the US torturers’ favourite pieces of torture music. Reprieve is also hoping to involve other creative “cartoon characters”: Katy the Kangaroo Court, and even Roger the Razor Blade. Cosmetics firm Lush, who have been supporting the work of Reprieve, have kindly agreed to bring along their massive “Fair Trial My Arse” orange underpants, to highlight the nature of the unjust process that Binyam is facing. Brighton’s Save Omar campaigners — having effortlessly shifted their focus to Binyam’s plight — will be turning up with their typical creative energy, and Reprieve will also be supported by Cageprisoners and the London Guantanamo Campaign.

Reprieve notes that supporters of Binyam don’t have to sing the Barney theme song (although they’re welcome to), and also suggests that supporters can dress up in any outfit that they think dramatises Binyam’s torture over the past six years.

For further information, please contact Reprieve on 020 7353 4640.

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, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

“Human Cargo”: report details rendition and torture of Guantánamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed

Binyam MohamedYesterday, Reprieve, the legal action charity that represents over 30 prisoners in Guantánamo, issued a detailed and devastating report, Human Cargo: Binyam Mohamed and the Rendition Frequent Flier Programme, which presents compelling evidence of the rendition and torture of one of its clients, the British resident Binyam Mohamed.

Binyam’s horrific story has been in the public domain since 2005, when his lawyers first revealed his account of his 18-month torture in Morocco at the hands of proxy torturers working on behalf of the US, but the US administration has never seen fit to investigate the allegations.

Reprieve is submitting a more detailed version of the report to Representative Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), who is campaigning assiduously to uncover the truth about the administration’s “extraordinary rendition” policies, but is making a version of the report available to the public in an attempt to expose the extraordinary cover-up that has been taking place for years regarding Binyam’s renditions and the horrendous torture to which he was subjected, not only in Morocco, but also in the “Dark Prison,” a secret CIA-run prison near Kabul.

There is an urgency to this mission, as Binyam has just been put forward for trial by Military Commission, on long-discredited charges of plotting to detonate a “dirty bomb” in a US city, and there is a limited window of opportunity for Susan Crawford, the retired judge and associate of Vice president Dick Cheney, who is the Commissions’ “convening authority,” to proceed with the charges, or, as Reprieve hopes, to be persuaded to drop them, to prevent the full horror story from emerging in a trial at Guantánamo to embarrass both the American and the British governments.

In the report, Reprieve calls for a “full and open Congressional investigation into the crimes that have been committed against Binyam Mohamed,” and demands that the US administration “turn over all evidence of Binyam’s torture in Morocco, Afghanistan and Guantánamo to his lawyers, including photographs of his injuries,” which are known to be in the possession of the authorities, “interrogation logs and any other relevant material.” The organization, which recently filed a lawsuit seeking the release of relevant information that is held by the British government relating to its stated knowledge of Binyam’s rendition from Pakistan to Morocco, and its provision of materials relating to Binyam’s life in London that was used by his Moroccan torturers, also reiterates its call for British officials to provide “all information in their files about their involvement in the rendition and torture of Binyam Mohamed,” and also calls for a “full and public enquiry into British collusion in this process.”

The report not only revisits Binyam’s torture testimony, but also provides detailed analysis of the rendition flights that transported him around the world, and (in the full version) the identities of the CIA operatives and private contractors who undertook these grisly missions. In this it overlaps with the story of Khalid El-Masri, the innocent German who was seized by mistake in Macedonia (because his name resembles that of a man who reportedly aided the 9/11 hijackers) and rendered to the “Dark Prison,” until the CIA realized that it had made a mistake, when he was flown to Albania and abandoned. This week, El-Masri and his lawyers in Germany announced that they were suing the German government “to force it to issue extradition orders against 13 American intelligence agents involved” in his rendition to torture.

The difference, of course, is that Khaled El-Masri is no longer a prisoner in the “War on Terror” — although he continues to suffer enormously as a result of his horrific ordeal — whereas Binyam has now been held for over six years, and faces a trial in a system that is so legally deficient that it was described by Lord Steyn, one of Britain’s senior law lords (now retired), as nothing less than a “kangaroo court.”

Andy 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, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on Indymedia.

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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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