Archive for June, 2008

Second anniversary of triple suicide at Guantánamo

Eleven days ago, I wrote a brief article in remembrance of Abdul Rahman al-Amri, a Saudi prisoner at Guantánamo, and a long-term hunger striker, who died on May 30, 2007, apparently by committing suicide. Today is another bleak and overlooked anniversary, as it was exactly two years ago that the news was announced that the first three prisoners had died at Guantánamo.

Yasser al-ZahraniUnlike the death of al-Amri, which went almost unremarked at the time, the deaths of Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani (photo, left) — who, like al-Amri, were also long-term hunger strikers, and appeared to have taken the only form of protest available to them (although the suicide notes they reportedly left have never been released) — sparked international outrage after Rear Admiral Harry Harris, the commander of Guantánamo, said, “I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare committed against us,” and Colleen Graffy, the deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, described the suicides as a “good PR move to draw attention.”

The administration soon assumed a more placatory role, as Cully Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, was pushed forward to say, “I wouldn’t characterize it as a good PR move. What I would say is that we are always concerned when someone takes his own life, because as Americans, we value life, even the lives of violent terrorists who are captured waging war against our country.” However, as I explain in my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, the administration soon resumed the offensive, issuing claims about the men — as with al-Amri a year later — which were not only extraordinarily insensitive, but also undeniably contentious, given that all three men had, like al-Amri, died without having had the opportunity to test the allegations against them in a court of law:

In an attempt to stifle further dissent, and to bolster their view that the three men were hardened terrorists, the Pentagon released details of the allegations against them, which served only to highlight almost everything that was wrong with the system at Guantánamo … [A]l-Zahrani was accused of being a Taliban fighter who “facilitated weapons purchases,” but it was apparent that he was only 17 years old at the time of his capture [in Afghanistan], and that this scenario was highly unlikely. In al-Utaybi’s case, the only “evidence” that he was an “enemy combatant” was his involvement with Jamaat-al-Tablighi, the vast [and apolitical] worldwide missionary organization whose alleged connection to terrorism was duly exaggerated by the Pentagon, which had the effrontery to describe it as “an al-Qaeda 2nd tier recruitment organization.” Heartless to the last, the administration also admitted that he had actually been approved for “transfer to the custody of another country” in November 2005, although Navy Commander Robert Durand said he “did not know whether al-Utaybi had been informed about the transfer recommendation before he killed himself.” In the case of al-Salami, the Pentagon alleged that he was “a mid- to high-level al-Qaeda operative who had key ties to principal facilitators and senior members of the group.”

Although none of the men had taken part in any tribunals, more detailed allegations against al-Salami surfaced in the “evidence” for his CSRT [Combatant Status Review Tribunal, the military reviews convened to rubber-stamp the prisoners’ prior designation as “enemy combatants” without rights], although a close inspection of the allegations reveals that they were mostly made by unidentified “members” of al-Qaeda, either in Guantánamo or in other secret prisons: “a senior al-Qaeda facilitator” identified him, another senior al-Qaeda figure — a “lieutenant” — identified him as being “associated with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed,” the “al-Qaeda weapons trainer from Tora Bora” identified him from his time in Kabul and at Khaldan [a military training camp in Afghanistan], and he was also identified as “an al-Qaeda courier,” and as someone who “worked directly for Osama bin Laden’s family.”

Shorn of these allegations — which summon up images of various “significant” prisoners being shown the “family album” [of prisoner mugshots, which was shown to all the prisoners in interrogations] in painful circumstances — the only other allegation was that the “Issa” guest house [in Faisalabad, where he was seized with 17 other prisoners, who are all still in Guantánamo, even though the majority have made viable claims that they were students, seized by mistake], received the equivalent of jihadi junk mail: apparently, the residents of the house “routinely received endorsement letters from a well-known al-Qaeda operative” to attend the Khaldan camp.

Ali al-SalamiAlthough the deaths of Ali al-Salami (photo, left), Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani — and of al-Amri a year later — encouraged the Saudi government to apply increased leverage on the US administration in an attempt to secure the return of the remaining Saudi prisoners that was ultimately successful — 93 were repatriated from June 2006 (two weeks after the deaths) to December 2007, and only 13 now remain — the repercussions for the majority of the prisoners were truly dreadful. After riots broke out in Camp IV — the only part of the prison that bore any resemblance to conditions stipulated by the Geneva Conventions, where prisoners shared dormitories and were allowed a fair degree of social interaction — the military shelved plans to open up communal areas in a new block, Camp VI, which opened in December 2006, and instead held the camp’s relocated prisoners — including a number from Camp IV, and even the majority of prisoners who had, like Mani al-Utaybi, been cleared for release after military reviews — in strict solitary confinement for 22 or 23 hours a day. This intolerable situation prevails to this day, as Human Rights Watch conclude this week, in a detailed report, Locked Up Alone: Detention Conditions and Mental Health at Guantánamo, which profiles the sometimes chronic mental health problems of a number of prisoners. Two years on from the deaths of Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani, and the US administration’s unprincipled response, the conditions in which the majority of the 273 prisoners still in Guantánamo are held is a complete disgrace. At the very least, the administration should immediately move the 70 or so prisoners who have been cleared for release in to Camp IV, and should also reflect if it can find a valid explanation for holding the rest of the prisoners in conditions of such cruel and barbaric isolation that they are literally losing their minds.

Camp VI at Guantanamo

A photo of Camp VI, showing the communal areas that have never been used.

The great irony is that those put forward for trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo — as seen in last week’s arraignment of self-confessed 9/11 architect Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others accused of plotting and facilitating the 9/11 attacks — at least have the opportunity to speak in public, whereas those who have been cleared of wrongdoing — but who cannot be repatriated because of international treaties preventing the repatriation of foreign nationals to countries where they face the risk of torture — and those who, bizarrely, the administration regards as too dangerous to be released, but not dangerous enough to be charged, remain completely isolated from the outside world, slowly losing their sanity while Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and the few other prisoners facing trial by Military Commission who openly admit their allegiance to al-Qaeda, are rewarded with the opportunity to challenge the legitimacy of their detention — merrily reconfiguring the trial system as a circus, and defiantly celebrating their desire for martyrdom — in the full glare of the world’s media. How much longer, I wonder, before another of these hidden, forgotten prisoners — one of the many innocent men, or one of the purported “minor threats” — takes his own life, joining Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi, Yasser al-Zahrani and Abdul Rahman al-Amri in an action that, though proscribed in Islam, is perceived as the only escape from indefinite imprisonment without charge, without trial, and without hope?

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 and Antiwar.com.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the hunger strikes at Guantánamo, see Shaker Aamer, A South London Man in Guantánamo: The Children Speak (July 2007), 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), 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).

In a legal otherworld, 9/11 trial defendants cry torture at Guantánamo

Finally, almost seven years after the horrendous attacks of September 11, 2001, the arraignments of five prisoners allegedly responsible for orchestrating and facilitating the attacks took place at Guantánamo on June 5.

60 reporters from around the world were in attendance, as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Walid bin Attash emerged from the shadows in which they have been held for the last five to six years.

The defendants in the 9/11 trial at Guantanamo

The five defendants in the 9/11 trial at Guantánamo are shown this sketch by courtroom artist Janet Hamlin. They are, from top to bottom, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa al-Hawsawi.

Although all five were transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006, they were previously held in secret prisons run by the CIA — apparently in locations as diverse as Thailand and Eastern Europe — where they were subjected to what the administration euphemistically refers to as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” As these techniques include waterboarding, an ancient method of torture that involves controlled drowning, to which at least one of these men — Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — was subjected, it was unsurprising that both Mohammed and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali made a point of mentioning that they were tortured.

According to the reporters who attended the arraignment, Mohammed — often identified simply as KSM, who admitted during his tribunal at Guantánamo last year that he was “responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z” — effortlessly assumed a position of leadership within the group, as the men, who had all been held in total isolation for years before the arraignment, “laughed and chatted like old chums,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Clearly baiting the judge, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, KSM responded to a statement by Col. Kohlmann, who interrupted a session of chanting to remind him that he “was told what he can and can’t say,” by replying, “I know I can’t cross that red line. I know I can’t talk about torture,” as ABC News described it. At another point in the ten-hour hearing, KSM called the proceedings “an inquisition, not a trial,” and added, pointedly, “After five years of torturing … you transfer us to Inquisition Land in Guantánamo.” At yet another point, as London’s Times described it, he “accused the authorities of extracting his confession by force,” saying, “All of this has been taken under torturing. You know that very well.”

KSM’s nephew, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, who is accused of helping facilitate the attacks by transferring money to the 9/11 hijackers, also spoke about torture, while simultaneously mocking the proceedings. Speaking fluent English, he responded to Col. Kohlmann’s assurance of his right to legal assistance by stating, “Everything that has happened here is unfair and unjust.” He added, referring specifically to the offer of free legal representation, “Since the first time I was arrested, I might have appreciated that. The government is talking about lawyers free of charge. The government also tortured me free of charge all these years.”

Allegations of torture have haunted the arraignments and pre-trial hearings of other prisoners facing trial by Military Commission, but they are of particular concern to the administration in the cases of KSM and his co-accused. Evidence of torture would, of course, be inadmissible in a regular court, but although the judges in the Military Commissions are empowered to accept confessions obtained through “enhanced interrogations” (so long as they were obtained before the Military Commissions Act was passed in 2006), the authorities are so aware of how damaging revelations of torture would be to the Commissions’ reputation that they recently reinterrogated these men — and nine other “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo with them in 2006 — using “clean teams” of FBI agents to gain “new” confessions that are torture-free.

The idea that the history of post-9/11 US torture can be erased in this way is darkly risible, of course, and as the comments of KSM and Ali Abdul Aziz Ali make clear, it will be impossible to proceed with the trial without torture once more raising its ugly head to impugn America’s moral standing, and to cast grave doubts about the quality of the “evidence” obtained from these men.

It could all have been so different, as Dan Coleman of the FBI explained to the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer in 2006. Now retired, Coleman was a senior interrogator, who worked on high-profile terror cases in the years before 9/11 without resorting to violence, and he remains fundamentally opposed to torture, because it is unreliable, and because it corrupts those who undertake it.

Coleman told Mayer that “people don’t do anything unless they’re rewarded.” He explained that if the FBI had beaten confessions out of suspects with what he called “all that alpha-male shit,” it would have been self-defeating. “Brutality may yield a timely scrap of information,” he conceded. “But in the longer fight against terrorism,” as Mayer described it, “such an approach is ‘completely insufficient.’” Coleman added, “You need to talk to people for weeks. Years.”

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.

See the following for a sequence of articles dealing with the stumbling progress of the Military Commissions: The reviled Military Commissions collapse (June 2007), A bad week at Guantánamo (Commissions revived, September 2007), The curse of the Military Commissions strikes the prosecutors (September 2007), A good week at Guantánamo (chief prosecutor resigns, October 2007), The story of Mohamed Jawad (October 2007), The story of Omar Khadr (November 2007), Guantánamo trials: where are the terrorists? (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo charged with 9/11 attacks: why now, and what about the torture? (February 2008), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (ex-prosecutor turns, February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), African embassy bombing suspect charged (March 2008), The US military’s shameless propaganda over 9/11 trials (April 2008), Betrayals, backsliding and boycotts (May 2008), Fact Sheet: The 16 prisoners charged (May 2008), Four more charged, including Binyam Mohamed (June 2008), Afghan fantasist to face trial (June 2008), USS Cole bombing suspect charged (July 2008), Folly and injustice (Salim Hamdan’s trial approved, July 2008), A critical overview of Salim Hamdan’s Guantánamo trial and the dubious verdict (August 2008), Salim Hamdan’s sentence signals the end of Guantánamo (August 2008), High Court rules against UK and US in case of Binyam Mohamed (August 2008), Controversy still plagues Guantánamo’s Military Commissions (September 2008), Another Insignificant Afghan Charged (September 2008), Seized at 15, Omar Khadr Turns 22 in Guantánamo (September 2008), Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Running the 9/11 Trials? (September 2008), two articles exploring the Commissions’ corrupt command structure (The Dark Heart of the Guantánamo Trials, and New Evidence of Systemic Bias in Guantánamo Trials, October 2008), Meltdown at the Guantánamo Trials (five trials dropped, October 2008), The collapse of Omar Khadr’s Guantánamo trial (October 2008), Corruption at Guantánamo (legal adviser faces military investigations, October 2008), An empty trial at Guantánamo (Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, October 2008), Life sentence for al-Qaeda propagandist fails to justify Guantánamo trials (al-Bahlul, November 2008), Guilt by Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), 20 Reasons To Shut Down The Guantánamo Trials (profiles of all the prisoners charged, November 2008), How Guantánamo Can Be Closed: Advice for Barack Obama (November 2008), More Dubious Charges in the Guantánamo Trials (two Kuwaitis, November 2008), The End of Guantánamo (Salim Hamdan repatriated, November 2008), Torture, Preventive Detention and the Terror Trials at Guantánamo (December 2008), Is the 9/11 trial confession an al-Qaeda coup? (December 2008), The Dying Days of the Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns Chaotic Trials (Lt. Col. Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Torture taints the case of Mohamed Jawad (January 2009), Bush Era Ends with Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Chaos and Lies: Why Obama Was Right to Halt The Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Plea Bargain: Trading Torture For Freedom (March 2009).

And for a sequence of articles dealing with the Obama administration’s response to the Military Commissions, see: Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), Who’s Running Guantánamo? (February 2009), The Talking Dog interviews Darrel Vandeveld, former Guantánamo prosecutor (February 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Obama Returns To Bush Era On Guantánamo (May 2009), New Chief Prosecutor Appointed For Military Commissions At Guantánamo (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), My Message To Obama: Great Speech, But No Military Commissions and No “Preventive Detention” (May 2009), Guantánamo And The Many Failures Of US Politicians (May 2009), A Child At Guantánamo: The Unending Torment of Mohamed Jawad (June 2009), A Broken Circus: Guantánamo Trials Convene For One Day Of Chaos (June 2009), Obama Proposes Swift Execution of Alleged 9/11 Conspirators (June 2009), Obama’s Confusion Over Guantánamo Terror Trials (June 2009).

Binyam Mohamed embarks on hunger strike to protest Guantánamo charges

Binyam MohamedThis has been a disturbing week for British resident and Guantánamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed, who endured two and a half years of torture at the hands of Pakistani agents, the CIA, and the United States’ proxy torturers in Morocco, before being transferred to Guantánamo in September 2004.

Last Friday, it was revealed that he was to face a trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo — the “terror courts” invented by Dick Cheney and his advisers in November 2001, which are empowered to conceal classified information from the defendants and, at the judge’s discretion, to accept “evidence” obtained through coercion. This is, of course, particularly worrying in Binyam’s case, as every shred of the so-called evidence against him appears to have been extracted through torture, and would be inadmissible in a courtroom on the US mainland.

There was some brighter news for Binyam on Tuesday, when a judge, Mr. Justice Saunders, responded positively to his lawyers’ request for a judicial review, which, they hope, will require the British government to drop its claim that it is “under no obligation under international law to assist foreign courts and tribunals in assuring that torture evidence is not admitted” and that “it is HM Government’s position that … evidence held by the UK Government that US and Moroccan authorities engaged in torture or rendition cannot be obtained” by Binyam’s lawyers. His lawyers also hope that a favourable decision in the judicial review will compel the government to reveal whatever information it has regarding British knowledge of Binyam’s rendition to torture in Morocco, and information regarding his life in London, which, Binyam says, was presented to him by his Moroccan torturers.

Today, however, the Independent reports that Binyam is so distressed by the announcement of the charges against him that he has embarked on a hunger strike. In a letter to foreign secretary David Miliband, his lawyers at Reprieve, the legal action charity that provides legal assistance to over 30 Guantánamo prisoners, explain that Binyam “began not eating food on May 2, 2008, when he was 146 lbs (10 stone 6 lbs),” but that this went unnoticed, because “the US military does not count it as a ‘hunger strike’ if the prisoner does not actually refuse the tray.” On May 18, therefore, when his weight had already dropped to 128 lbs (9 stone 2 lbs), Binyam began refusing the trays.

Binyam stopped his strike temporarily, when Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s director, and Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley, his military lawyer, persuaded him to eat during the three days of their visit, but announced that he would resume on May 24. Stafford Smith explained, “Under the illegal procedures used by the US military in Guantánamo … they will consider him a ‘hunger striker’ and start force-feeding him when he reaches about 120 lbs (8 stone 8 lbs).” Stafford Smith thought that this might be on June 4 or 5.

From almost the moment that Guantánamo opened, in January 2002, hunger strikes have been used by the prisoners as the only way to protest the lawless conditions of their confinement — held without charge, with no family contact, with little or no social interaction, and with no inkling of when, if ever, their imprisonment will come to an end.

Persistent hunger strikers, however, are made to suffer even more, and are punished by being force-fed, a procedure that is monstrously cruel. Prisoners are strapped into a restraint chair using 16 separate straps — three across the head alone — and fed, twice a day, through a tube that is inserted into the stomach through the nose.

As well as being shockingly painful — and frequently unhygienic, as the tubes are not always cleaned after each use — force-feeding is also illegal, as the World Medical Association made clear in its Declaration of Tokyo in 1975: “Where a prisoner refuses nourishment and is considered by the physician as capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment concerning the consequences of such a voluntary refusal of nourishment, he or she shall not be fed artificially.”

The US administration ignores this requirement, as it is unwilling to let prisoners secure what it would regard as a PR victory if they starved themselves to death. Perhaps as a result, four long-term hunger strikers — three in June 2006, and another last May — took the only other action that was available to them, and committed suicide.

Binyam has not yet reached this state of desperation — although in a letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, on May 22, he wrote, “I have been next to committing suicide this past while. That would be one way to end it, I suppose.” Nevertheless, as Clive Stafford Smith points out, “The need for humanitarian intervention on behalf of Mr. Mohamed grows ever more urgent. Because no US court will hear his case, I am powerless to secure him the humane treatment that he needs. The British government is not powerless. It is crucial that this be top of the government’s agenda.”

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 CounterPunch and ukwatch.net.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the hunger strikes at Guantánamo, see Shaker Aamer, A South London Man in Guantánamo: The Children Speak (July 2007), 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), 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).

Binyam Mohamed: UK court grants judicial review over torture allegations, as US files official charges

Binyam MohamedOn Tuesday, the same day that the Pentagon officially filed charges against Guantánamo prisoner and British resident Binyam Mohamed, who will face a trial by Military Commission for “conspiracy” and “providing material support for terrorism,” a UK court approved his request for judicial review, requiring the British government to reveal whatever evidence it holds regarding the British security services’ knowledge of his rendition from Pakistan to Morocco for torture, and details of whatever information was also provided to his Moroccan torturers about his life in Britain.

Mr. Mohamed, 29, who sought asylum in the UK in 1994 and was later granted indefinite leave to remain, travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan in 2001 to overcome a drug problem that had plagued him in the UK, and, he said, to see Muslim countries “with his own eyes.” Seized in Pakistan in April 2002, as he attempted to fly back to the UK, he spent three months in Pakistani custody, where he was interrogated by agents of the US intelligence services — and on one occasion by British agents — and was then rendered to Morocco, where proxy torturers, working on behalf of the US, tortured him horribly in brutal “interrogations,” which regularly involved cutting his penis with a razor blade.

Despite this torture, Mr. Mohamed has stated that his lowest point came when his interrogators questioned him about his life in London, and he realized that they were privy to personal details that could only have been supplied by the British intelligence services. In Guantánamo, Mr. Mohamed explained to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith of the legal action charity Reprieve, “The interrogator told me, ‘We have been working with the British, and we have photos of people given to us by MI5. Do you know these?’ … To say that I was disappointed at this moment would be an understatement.”

Mr. Mohamed’s torture continued when he was flown to Afghanistan in January 2004, and held at the “Dark Prison,” a secret CIA-run prison near Kabul, which was, effectively, a medieval dungeon with the addition of extremely loud and repetitive music and noise, pumped into the cells 24 hours a day. He was then transferred to the US military prison at Bagram airbase, where the abuse was so severe that several prisoners were killed.

Mr. Mohamed arrived at Guantánamo in September 2004, and was put forward for trial by Military Commission in November 2005. However, after one memorable appearance before a judge, when he held up a hand-written sign declaring that the Commissions were actually “Con-missions,” the entire process was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006 — although it was revived by Congress later in the year.

Last summer, the British government requested Mr. Mohamed’s return to the UK, along with four other British residents, but although three of these men were freed in December, the US administration turned down the request for the return of Mr. Mohamed, evidently because it planned to press charges against him.

Responding to the Pentagon’s announcement, Reprieve issued a press release condemning the charges and highlighting criticisms of the Commission process by senior British officials. It was noted that the British government had denounced the Commissions — the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s 2004 Human Rights Annual Report stated, explicitly, that they “would not provide sufficient guarantees of a fair trial according to international standards” — and that Lord Steyn had described the trials as a “kangaroo court.”

It was also noted that the allegations against Mr. Mohamed “centred on a long-discredited ‘dirty bomb plot,’ in which US citizen Jose Padilla was meant to have planned to explode a nuclear bomb in a US city.” Reprieve added that the charges had been discredited within the Bush administration, and were dropped against Mr. Padilla, who “had the benefit of a civilian court.” It was, indeed, no less a figure than Paul Wolfowitz, then the deputy to defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who, in 2002, admitted that “there was not an actual plan” to set off a radioactive device in America, that Mr. Padilla had not begun trying to acquire materials, and that intelligence officials had stated that his research had not gone beyond surfing the internet. Jose Padilla, of course, was also made to suffer horribly despite the absence of an “actual plan” — and was held in solitary confinement in a US brig for three and a half years until he apparently lost his mind — but although it was scandalous that his brutal treatment as an “enemy combatant” held without charge or trial on the US mainland was excluded from his trial last year, it was at least appropriate that all mention of the spectral bomb plot had been dropped.

Reprieve also explained the significance of Binyam Mohamed’s judicial review. The decision for this to go ahead followed a previous request for intelligence relating to Mr. Mohamed’s case, which was recently turned down by the government’s lawyers on the grounds that “the UK is under no obligation under international law to assist foreign courts and tribunals in assuring that torture evidence is not admitted” and that “it is HM Government’s position that … evidence held by the UK Government that US and Moroccan authorities engaged in torture or rendition cannot be obtained” by the British lawyers who are trying to provide Mr. Mohamed with a fair trial.

Openly critical of the government lawyers’ response, Mr. Justice Saunders approved the judicial review (also demanding that the hearing be “expedited”), and explained, “If it is correct that in the course of an interrogation, in which material supplied by the Defendant [HM Government] was employed, the Claimant [Binyam Mohamed] was tortured, then it is arguable that there is an obligation to disclose material which may assist Claimant in establishing before the American Military Court that he was tortured. Whether the Court should exercise its discretion not to order disclosure can only be determined at a full hearing.”

This is, hopefully, a significant step forward in securing the return of Mr. Mohamed to the UK, where he will happily face any charges laid before him that were not obtained through the use of torture. Otherwise, as it stands at present, the US administration’s determination to press charges against Mr. Mohamed threatens only to lead to a highly visible trial, in one of the world’s most notorious prisons, in which evidence of Mr. Mohamed’s torture threatens to embarrass both the US and UK governments.

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.

For a sequence of articles relating to Binyam Mohamed, see the following: Guantánamo: Torture victim Binyam Mohamed sues British government for evidence (May 2008), Binyam Mohamed’s letter from Guantánamo to Gordon Brown (May 2008), Guantánamo trials: critical judge sacked, British torture victim charged (June 2008), Binyam Mohamed’s judicial review: judges grill British agent and question fairness of Guantánamo trials (August 2008), High Court rules against UK and US in case of Guantánamo torture victim Binyam Mohamed (August 2008), In a plea from Guantánamo, Binyam Mohamed talks of “betrayal” by the UK (September 2008), US Justice Department drops “dirty bomb plot” allegation against Binyam Mohamed (October 2008), Meltdown at the Guantánamo Trials (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Is Robert Gates Guilty of Perjury in Guantánamo Torture Case? (December 2008), British torture victim Binyam Mohamed to be released from Guantánamo (January 2009), Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), The betrayal of British torture victim Binyam Mohamed (February 2009), Hiding Torture And Freeing Binyam Mohamed From Guantánamo (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Coming Home From Guantánamo, As Torture Allegations Mount (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s statement on his release from Guantánamo (February 2009), Who Is Binyam Mohamed, the British resident released from Guantánamo? (February 2009), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Plea Bargain: Trading Torture For Freedom (March 2009), Guantánamo, Bagram and the “Dark Prison”: Binyam Mohamed talks to Moazzam Begg (March 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: Mixed Messages On Torture (includes the Jeppesen lawsuit, May 2009), UK Government Lies Exposed; Spy Visited Binyam Mohamed In Morocco (May 2009), Daily Mail Pulls Story About Binyam Mohamed And British Spy (May 2009), Government Bans Testimony On Binyam Mohamed And The British Spy (May 2009), More twists in the tale of Binyam Mohamed (in the Guardian, May 2009), Did Hillary Clinton Threaten UK Over Binyam Mohamed Torture Disclosure? (May 2009), Outsourcing torture to foreign climes (in the Guardian, May 2009), Binyam Mohamed: Was Muhammad Salih’s Death In Guantánamo Suicide? (June 2009), Miliband Shows Leadership, Reveals Nothing About Torture To Parliamentary Committee (June 2009).

9/11 trials: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed speaks of martyrdom and torture

As the 9/11 trials begin (the arraignment of five Guantánamo prisoners in connection with their alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks) and 60 reporters at Guantánamo tumble over each other in an attempt to get the story out first, ABC News reports that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who said in his tribunal at Guantánamo last year that he was “responsible for the 9/11 operation, from A to Z,” spoke publicly for the first time since his capture in Pakistan in March 2003.

ABC News stated that Mohammed and his four co-defendants — Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali and Walid bin Attash — walked into the courtroom shortly after 9 am, wearing turbans and white robes, and explained that when the judge, Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann, asked Mohammed if he understood that he could get the death penalty if convicted, he replied, “I wish to be martyred.”

Walid bin Attash and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (centre) and Walid bin Attash during their arraignment on June 5, 2008, as drawn by Janet Hamlin.

It was also reported that, when Col. Kohlmann asked Mohammed if he agreed to be represented by his lawyers, he “broke into a religious chant.” When Col. Kohlmann interrupted, telling Mohammed that “he was not responding to the question and told him he was told what he can and can’t say,” Mohammed replied, “I know I can’t cross that red line. I know I can’t talk about torture.”

Although the report continued by questioning whether Mohammed will accept his lawyers — noting that he said that he “can’t accept any lawyer not using Sharia law,” and added, “God is the real judge” — it is his shrewd mention of torture (in the context of not mentioning torture) that leaps out of this first report from the arraignment, even if most news outlets will probably focus on his stated desire for martyrdom.

Although Gen. Michael Hayden, the director of the CIA, publicly conceded in February that Mohammed was one of three prisoners subjected to waterboarding (an ancient torture technique that involves controlled drowning) in secret CIA custody, the administration is, in general, so anxious to conceal all mention of torture that it recently admitted that, in the last year, “clean teams” of FBI agents had reinterrogated prisoners who had previously been subjected to the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” (the official euphemism for torture), in an attempt to whitewash all mention of torture from post-9/11 history.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s comments — which can be added to an ever-growing catalogue of torture allegations made by prisoners facing trial by Military Commission — seem to indicate how futile this wish will be.

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.

Afghan fantasist to face trial at Guantánamo

The courthouse at GuantanamoNow here’s a weird one to ponder on the eve of the arraignments at Guantánamo of five prisoners — including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — who are charged with facilitating the 9/11 attacks.

I’ve always thought that there was something particularly perverse about charging minor Afghan insurgents in specially conceived “terror courts” at Guantánamo, as though there was any case whatsoever to be made that a national of a country at war with the United States could, by resisting foreign occupation, be regarded as a terrorist rather than as a soldier in a war.

I have my doubts about the entire Military Commission process, of course (which was conceived both in haste and as a blatant attempt to rewrite international law), as well as having doubts about some of the other cases put forward for trial by Military Commission, such as those of the Canadian child Omar Khadr and the British resident Binyam Mohamed (charged last week), who was flown around the world to have “confessions” extracted from him through torture, but the charges against the Afghans –- Mohamed Jawad, Mohammed Kamin and Abdul Zahir (charged in the first aborted incarnation of the Commissions, and not yet charged for a second time) –- have always struck me as even more ridiculously unjust and stupid. Mohamed Jawad, who was also a teenager at the time of capture, is accused of throwing a grenade that wounded two US soldiers and an Afghan interpreter in a US military vehicle, Abdul Zahir was accused of throwing a grenade at a vehicle containing foreign journalists, and, most feebly of all, Mohammed Kamin is accused of firing rockets at the city of Khost while it was occupied by US forces.

However, even with these precedents, the case of the latest Afghan to face a trial by Military Commission –- which was announced with so little fanfare that it was almost overlooked –- appears to plumb new depths of misapplied zeal. In its charge sheet, the Pentagon announced that it was charging 32-year old Mohammed Hashim with “providing material support for terrorism” and “spying,” based on allegations that, from December 2001 to October 2002, having been “schooled at terrorist training camps,” he “provide[d] material support and resources to al-Qaeda,” by “conducting reconnaissance missions against US and coalition forces, and by participating in a rocket attack venture on at least one occasion against US forces for al-Qaeda.” It is also claimed that he “wrongfully collect[ed] or attempt[ed] to collect information by clandestine means or while acting under false pretenses, for the purpose of conveying such information to an enemy of the United States, or to one of the co-belligerents of the enemy.”

While the charges against Hashim appear, on the surface, to line up with those against the other alleged Afghan insurgents, a glance at the transcript of his Combatant Status Review Tribunal (held in 2004 to establish that he had been correctly detained as an “enemy combatant” without rights) reveals that he is either one of the most fantastically well-connected terrorists in the very small pool of well-connected terrorists at Guantánamo, or, conversely, that he is a deranged fantasist. From the resounding silence that greeted his comments at his tribunal, I can only conclude that the tribunal members, like me, concluded that the latter interpretation was the more probable.

Hashim began by explaining that he had been with the Taliban for five years before his capture, but added that he only did it “for the money,” and then declared, “What evidence was brought against me, I admit to. I’ve been telling the same story and I’m not lying about it. I helped out [Osama] bin Laden.” After this attention-grabbing start, he claimed that he knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance, because a man that he knew, Mohammad Khan, “used to tell me all these stories and all the details about how they were going to fly airplanes into buildings. He didn’t tell me the details, that it was New York, but he said they had 20 pilots and they were going to orchestrate the act.” What rather detracted from the shock value of this comment was Hashim’s absolutely inexplicable claim that his friend Khan, who had told him about the 9/11 plan, was with the Northern Alliance, the Taliban’s opponents, who were also implacably opposed to al-Qaeda.

In what was clearly another flight of fancy, Hashim explained that he and another man, Abdul Razaq, had been responsible for facilitating Osama bin Laden’s escape from Afghanistan. Disregarding the large number of accounts which placed bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains in late November 2001 before his escape to Pakistan, Hashim said that bin Laden “took off” before Mazar-e-Sharif and Kabul were captured (i.e. in early November 2001, several weeks before the Tora Bora campaign), and claimed that he and Abdul Razaq had taken bin Laden directly from Jalalabad to the Pakistani border. “It’s a way that nobody knows,” he said, “it’s a secret, the official way we took him to the border. Haji Zaher was our guide. After that, we got into the car. We left them [Osama bin Laden and his wife] at the Pakistani border and we came back. They [Osama bin Laden and his wife] disappeared. They took a Russian jeep and a pick-up truck. This is the story about al-Qaeda, that I took part in.”

Undermining his story further, Hashim then said that and that he and Abdul Razaq made their way to Kandahar, where they met up with various warlords. “I was told a few days later I should work with these people as a spy,” he explained. “This is the story. I received stories and messages from different places. Weapons were coming from Syria to Iraq, when Saddam was President. Syria was sending them [weapons] to Iraq, via Iran to Afghanistan. This is how it worked. Ayman al-Zawahiri [al-Qaeda’s deputy leader] was organizing this.”

Although he added, “Even if I’m here 20 years, I am going to give the same story; I’m not lying and these things exist,” it’s impossible not to conclude that Hashim’s story was, if not the testimony of a fantasist, then a shrewd attempt to avoid brutal interrogations by providing his interrogators with whatever he thought they wanted to hear. This latter explanation is perhaps suggested by Hashim’s closing comments –- when asked what he thought of Americans, he said, “now I see Americans, they are nice people. I haven’t been beaten up or slapped or anything ” –- but then again this might have been irony.

Whatever the case, though, nothing about Mohammed Hashim’s story suggests that he should be standing trial in a court flagged up by the administration as an innovation required to prosecute “the worst of the worst,” who were directly responsible for the 9/11 attacks. As the world’s press gathers, and the spotlights are prepared for the 9/11 arraignments, it’s another example of how tawdry and incoherent the administration’s much-vaunted “terror trials” really are.

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, Antiwar.com and AlterNet.

See the following for a sequence of articles dealing with the stumbling progress of the Military Commissions: The reviled Military Commissions collapse (June 2007), A bad week at Guantánamo (Commissions revived, September 2007), The curse of the Military Commissions strikes the prosecutors (September 2007), A good week at Guantánamo (chief prosecutor resigns, October 2007), The story of Mohamed Jawad (October 2007), The story of Omar Khadr (November 2007), Guantánamo trials: where are the terrorists? (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo charged with 9/11 attacks: why now, and what about the torture? (February 2008), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (ex-prosecutor turns, February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), African embassy bombing suspect charged (March 2008), The US military’s shameless propaganda over 9/11 trials (April 2008), Betrayals, backsliding and boycotts (May 2008), Fact Sheet: The 16 prisoners charged (May 2008), Four more charged, including Binyam Mohamed (June 2008), 9/11 trial defendants cry torture (June 2008), USS Cole bombing suspect charged (July 2008), Folly and injustice (Salim Hamdan’s trial approved, July 2008), A critical overview of Salim Hamdan’s Guantánamo trial and the dubious verdict (August 2008), Salim Hamdan’s sentence signals the end of Guantánamo (August 2008), High Court rules against UK and US in case of Binyam Mohamed (August 2008), Controversy still plagues Guantánamo’s Military Commissions (September 2008), Another Insignificant Afghan Charged (September 2008), Seized at 15, Omar Khadr Turns 22 in Guantánamo (September 2008), Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Running the 9/11 Trials? (September 2008), two articles exploring the Commissions’ corrupt command structure (The Dark Heart of the Guantánamo Trials, and New Evidence of Systemic Bias in Guantánamo Trials, October 2008), Meltdown at the Guantánamo Trials (five trials dropped, October 2008), The collapse of Omar Khadr’s Guantánamo trial (October 2008), Corruption at Guantánamo (legal adviser faces military investigations, October 2008), An empty trial at Guantánamo (Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, October 2008), Life sentence for al-Qaeda propagandist fails to justify Guantánamo trials (al-Bahlul, November 2008), Guilt by Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), 20 Reasons To Shut Down The Guantánamo Trials (profiles of all the prisoners charged, November 2008), How Guantánamo Can Be Closed: Advice for Barack Obama (November 2008), More Dubious Charges in the Guantánamo Trials (two Kuwaitis, November 2008), The End of Guantánamo (Salim Hamdan repatriated, November 2008), Torture, Preventive Detention and the Terror Trials at Guantánamo (December 2008), Is the 9/11 trial confession an al-Qaeda coup? (December 2008), The Dying Days of the Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns Chaotic Trials (Lt. Col. Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Torture taints the case of Mohamed Jawad (January 2009), Bush Era Ends with Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Chaos and Lies: Why Obama Was Right to Halt The Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Plea Bargain: Trading Torture For Freedom (March 2009).

And for a sequence of articles dealing with the Obama administration’s response to the Military Commissions, see: Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), Who’s Running Guantánamo? (February 2009), The Talking Dog interviews Darrel Vandeveld, former Guantánamo prosecutor (February 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Obama Returns To Bush Era On Guantánamo (May 2009), New Chief Prosecutor Appointed For Military Commissions At Guantánamo (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), My Message To Obama: Great Speech, But No Military Commissions and No “Preventive Detention” (May 2009), Guantánamo And The Many Failures Of US Politicians (May 2009), A Child At Guantánamo: The Unending Torment of Mohamed Jawad (June 2009), A Broken Circus: Guantánamo Trials Convene For One Day Of Chaos (June 2009), Obama Proposes Swift Execution of Alleged 9/11 Conspirators (June 2009), Obama’s Confusion Over Guantánamo Terror Trials (June 2009).

Guantánamo trials: critical judge sacked, British torture victim charged

Like alcoholics queuing up drinks at closing time, the US administration is pressing charges against prisoners at Guantánamo at a frantic rate, anxious to be seen to be validating the chronic lawlessness of the last seven years before November’s Presidential election.

The courthouse for Guantanamo's Military CommissionsAt the end of last week, four more prisoners were put forward for trial by Military Commission (the show trials conceived by Dick Cheney in November 2001), bringing to 20 the total number charged — although one of the 20, David Hicks, opted for a plea bargain last year so that he could return home to Australia, and another, Mohammed al-Qahtani, had his charges dropped last month, when, it appears, the authorities realized that his torture in Guantánamo was far too publicly available to risk it being brought forward as evidence in a trial.

None of the cases has yet come to trial, as the business of arraignments and pre-trial hearings has been so time-consuming and fraught with problems that the fragile veneer of Congress-sanctioned legitimacy that cloaks the Commission process has been threatened on more than one occasion; in particular, last June, when Col. Peter Brownback and Capt. Keith Allred, the judges in the first two cases following that of David Hicks — of the Canadian Omar Khadr and the Yemeni Salim Hamdan — shut down the whole process after they realized that the Military Commissions Act (the legislation that had revived the Commissions after the Supreme Court had ruled the whole process illegal in June 2006) had only authorized them to try “unlawful enemy combatants,” whereas the tribunal process at Guantánamo, which, according to the terms of the MCA, had made them eligible for trial by Military Commission in the first place, had only found them to be “enemy combatants.”

Although this disruption was dealt with when the administration cobbled together an appeal court to dismiss the judges’ concerns, both Col. Brownback and Capt. Allred have since demonstrated that, although the Commissions themselves may be nothing more than show trials (“We can’t have acquittals,” was how the Department of Defense’s chief counsel William J. Haynes II, put it), the judges themselves were not prepared to be either ciphers or puppets, and were determined, instead, to do what judges are supposed to do, which is to assess the proceedings and the cases impartially.

Capt. Allred has featured more prominently in the media of late — first by endorsing former chief prosecutor Col. Morris Davis’ complaints about the unacceptable politicization of the Commissions process (complete with Haynes’ “no acquittals” comments, and Col. Davis’ disdain for the administration’s insistence on introducing evidence obtained through torture), and then by delaying the start of Salim Hamdan’s trial to allow time for the Supreme Court to deliver a long-awaited ruling on the prisoners’ rights.

However, Col. Brownback also weighed in recently, threatening to delay the start of Omar Khadr’s trial because of what he perceived as delaying tactics on the part of the prosecution (led by Maj. Jeffrey Groharing), who, he said, had failed to provide Khadr’s lawyers with records of his interrogations at Guantánamo, despite repeated requests to do so. “I have been badgered, beaten and bruised by Maj. Groharing since the 7th of November to set a trial date,” Col. Brownback exclaimed. “To get a trial date, I need to get discovery done.”

Whilst it’s possible that Col. Brownback’s sudden removal last Thursday as the judge in Omar Khadr’s case can be explained because he had actually come out of retirement to serve as a Commission judge, and had reached the end of his required involvement, the timing has struck many observers — myself included — as more than a little suspicious, especially as the administration has refused to elaborate on the reasons for Col. Brownback’s departure — or dismissal. It remains to be seen whether any comment will eventually be forthcoming from Col. Brownback himself, or, indeed, whether his replacement, Col. Patrick Parrish, will be more inclined to do his job without raising uncomfortable questions along the way.

Compared to this drama, the latest charges are, with one exception, rather less spectacular. The four men charged — Ghassan al-Sharbi, Jabran al-Qahtani (both Saudis), Sufyian Barhoumi (an Algerian) and Binyam Mohamed (a British resident) — have all been charged before, during the Commission’s first incarnation, which was struck down as illegal in 2006. Nevertheless, doubts remain about their suitability for trials as significant “terror suspects.”

Abu ZubaydahThe first three — who face charges of “conspiracy and material support for terrorism” (here, here and here) — were captured with Abu Zubaydah (left), the alleged senior al-Qaeda operative whose mental health has repeatedly been called into doubt, following well-chronicled conflicts between the FBI, who interrogated him after he was first seized in March 2002, and who concluded that he had a personality disorder and was nothing more than a minor logistician, and the CIA, who believed him to be a major player, and subjected him to various forms of torture including waterboarding (the ancient torture technique that is a form of controlled drowning).

Whilst it’s noticeable that Abu Zubaydah himself has not yet been put forward for trial by Military Commission, the charges leveled against three of his supposed associates (mainly for alleged crimes relating to the planned use of explosives) will ensure that he does not escape the picture. Although two of the three men — al-Qahtani and Barhoumi — have not publicly acknowledged a significant connection with either Abu Zubaydah or al-Qaeda, al-Sharbi — a leader in the short-lived Prisoners’ Council of 2005, who was befriended by Guantánamo’s warden, Col. Mike Bumgarner, and later became one of Guantánamo’s most persistent hunger strikers — has had no such qualms.

Al-Qahtani, a graduate in electrical engineering from King Saud University in Saudi Arabia, has, for example, had little to say about the allegations against him: that he traveled to Afghanistan after 9/11 “with the intent to fight the Northern Alliance and the American forces, whom he expected would soon be fighting in Afghanistan,” and that he was part of a group at Abu Zubaydah’s house who were provided with money to buy the components to make remote-controlled explosive devices. He refused to take part in his tribunal at Guantánamo (in 2004 or 2005), and spoke very little in April 2006, during the pre-trial hearing for his first, aborted Military Commission, when he was concerned only to refuse the services of his military lawyer.

Barhoumi, who is accused of being a trainer for the bomb-making group, has gone so far as to strenuously deny the allegations against him. In his tribunal at Guantánamo, he admitted traveling to Afghanistan for military training in 1999, but pointed out that this was long before 9/11, and insisted that, having been shown a video of atrocities in Chechnya at a mosque in the UK, where he lived for two years, his intention was to train to fight in Chechnya. He explained that, after leaving Afghanistan, he traveled “from house to house,” ending up at the safe house in Faisalabad where he was seized with Abu Zubaydah. He added, however, that he was only there for ten days before the raid, and claimed that the allegations were the result of “hearsay” and of “people testifying against me.” He claimed that his interrogators told him, “people are talking about you a lot,” and suggested that, because he was arrested with Abu Zubaydah, “they dumped everything on me and said I was al-Qaeda also.” At his pre-trial hearing in 2006, he also refused legal representation, but was only concerned with showing the courtroom his hand, which was severely damaged after a land mine accident in Afghanistan, and complaining about the conditions of his imprisonment.

Ghassan al-Sharbi, on the other hand, who speaks fluent English and graduated in electrical engineering from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Arizona, is one of very few Guantánamo prisoners to have publicly declared membership of al-Qaeda. In his tribunal, he accepted all the allegations against him, which included claims that he received specialized training in the manufacture and use of remote-controlled explosive devices to detonate bombs against Afghan and US forces, that he “was observed chatting and laughing like pals with Osama bin Laden,” and that he was known in Guantánamo as the “electronic builder” and “Abu Zubaydah’s right-hand man.” On April 27, 2006, when he appeared at a pre-trial hearing for his first, aborted Military Commission, he was equally open about his activities, telling the judge, “I came here to tell you I did what I did and I’m willing to pay the price,” “Even if I spend hundreds of years in jail, that would be a matter of honor to me,” and “I fought the United States, I’m going to make it short and easy for you guys: I’m proud of what I did.”

Binyam MohamedWhile no one appears to have stepped forward to make much of the cases against the three men described above, the fourth man to be charged last week — Binyam Mohamed — is a much more difficult prospect for the US administration, as his suffering at the hands of proxy torturers in Morocco, where he was sent by US operatives in 2002 (and where he regularly had his penis cut with a razor), and his additional torture at the “Dark Prison,” a secret, CIA-run prison near Kabul, have been well-chronicled since declassified accounts were first unveiled in the press in August 2005.

I have previously reported the story of Binyam Mohamed’s torture, and the fact that all the so-called “evidence” against him was extracted through torture — most recently here, after his representatives at Reprieve, the legal action charity, and solicitors at Leigh Day & Co. sued the British government, demanding that they turn over evidence that could help prove both his innocence and the extent of his torture. Astonishingly, the government’s lawyers responded by stating that “the UK is under no obligation under international law to assist foreign courts and tribunals in assuring that torture evidence is not admitted” and added that “it is HM Government’s position that … evidence held by the UK Government that US and Moroccan authorities engaged in torture or rendition cannot be obtained” by the British lawyers who are trying to provide Mr. Mohamed with a fair trial.

Responding to the gauntlets thrown down by both the UK government’s lawyers and the US administration, Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s Director, greeted the news that Binyam Mohamed was to face a trial by Military Commission by declaring, “I visited Binyam in Guantánamo just a week ago, and he is in a very bad state. Surely the least the British government can do is insist that no British resident be charged in a kangaroo court based on evidence tortured out of him with a razor blade. If Binyam’s trial by Military Commission proceeds, all it will produce is evidence not of terrorism, but of torture, which will embarrass both the British and the American governments.”

The last time Binyam Mohamed faced a Military Commission, he disrupted the entire proceedings, to his great advantage, by mocking both the process and the judge, humanizing himself in the eyes of the world’s media, and ending by holding up a hand-written sign that cheekily declared that the Commissions were “Con-missions” instead. It remains to be seen if — belittled by a further two years in Guantánamo, which has had a disturbing effect on his mental health — he would be able to come up with a similar display again. What his lawyers hope, however — as do his many supporters, who believe that, if there is any evidence against him, it should be tested through a fair trial in a recognized court of law — is that it will not come to this, and that the British government will indeed be persuaded to step up its remonstrations on his behalf, to avoid a torture scandal spanning the Atlantic.

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, Anti-war.com and AlterNet.

See the following for a sequence of articles dealing with the stumbling progress of the Military Commissions: The reviled Military Commissions collapse (June 2007), A bad week at Guantánamo (Commissions revived, September 2007), The curse of the Military Commissions strikes the prosecutors (September 2007), A good week at Guantánamo (chief prosecutor resigns, October 2007), The story of Mohamed Jawad (October 2007), The story of Omar Khadr (November 2007), Guantánamo trials: where are the terrorists? (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo charged with 9/11 attacks: why now, and what about the torture? (February 2008), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (ex-prosecutor turns, February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), African embassy bombing suspect charged (March 2008), The US military’s shameless propaganda over 9/11 trials (April 2008), Betrayals, backsliding and boycotts (May 2008), Fact Sheet: The 16 prisoners charged (May 2008), Afghan fantasist to face trial (June 2008), 9/11 trial defendants cry torture (June 2008), USS Cole bombing suspect charged (July 2008), Folly and injustice (Salim Hamdan’s trial approved, July 2008), A critical overview of Salim Hamdan’s Guantánamo trial and the dubious verdict (August 2008), Salim Hamdan’s sentence signals the end of Guantánamo (August 2008), High Court rules against UK and US in case of Binyam Mohamed (August 2008), Controversy still plagues Guantánamo’s Military Commissions (September 2008), Another Insignificant Afghan Charged (September 2008), Seized at 15, Omar Khadr Turns 22 in Guantánamo (September 2008), Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Running the 9/11 Trials? (September 2008), two articles exploring the Commissions’ corrupt command structure (The Dark Heart of the Guantánamo Trials, and New Evidence of Systemic Bias in Guantánamo Trials, October 2008), Meltdown at the Guantánamo Trials (five trials dropped, October 2008), The collapse of Omar Khadr’s Guantánamo trial (October 2008), Corruption at Guantánamo (legal adviser faces military investigations, October 2008), An empty trial at Guantánamo (Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, October 2008), Life sentence for al-Qaeda propagandist fails to justify Guantánamo trials (al-Bahlul, November 2008), Guilt by Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), 20 Reasons To Shut Down The Guantánamo Trials (profiles of all the prisoners charged, November 2008), How Guantánamo Can Be Closed: Advice for Barack Obama (November 2008), More Dubious Charges in the Guantánamo Trials (two Kuwaitis, November 2008), The End of Guantánamo (Salim Hamdan repatriated, November 2008), Torture, Preventive Detention and the Terror Trials at Guantánamo (December 2008), Is the 9/11 trial confession an al-Qaeda coup? (December 2008), The Dying Days of the Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns Chaotic Trials (Lt. Col. Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Torture taints the case of Mohamed Jawad (January 2009), Bush Era Ends with Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Chaos and Lies: Why Obama Was Right to Halt The Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Plea Bargain: Trading Torture For Freedom (March 2009).

And for a sequence of articles dealing with the Obama administration’s response to the Military Commissions, see: Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), Who’s Running Guantánamo? (February 2009), The Talking Dog interviews Darrel Vandeveld, former Guantánamo prosecutor (February 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Obama Returns To Bush Era On Guantánamo (May 2009), New Chief Prosecutor Appointed For Military Commissions At Guantánamo (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), My Message To Obama: Great Speech, But No Military Commissions and No “Preventive Detention” (May 2009), Guantánamo And The Many Failures Of US Politicians (May 2009), A Child At Guantánamo: The Unending Torment of Mohamed Jawad (June 2009), A Broken Circus: Guantánamo Trials Convene For One Day Of Chaos (June 2009), Obama Proposes Swift Execution of Alleged 9/11 Conspirators (June 2009), Obama’s Confusion Over Guantánamo Terror Trials (June 2009).

The Guantánamo Files: interviews on Antiwar Radio and KBOO FM

The Guantanamo FilesLast Thursday, the ever engaging — and mightily indignant — Scott Horton interviewed me for Antiwar Radio, which was a great pleasure. Scott interviewed me twice last year, and I was delighted to be invited back because we always have such fun trying to put the world to rights. The interview’s available here — and the MP3 is here — and I won’t try to improve on Scott’s blurb for the show:

“Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, discusses his recent article on the trials of sixteen Guantánamo detainees, how Australian David Hicks is too traumatized to tell his story, Omar Khadr, the Canadian child soldier being held despite international law, how Salim Hamdan’s legal case caused the Supreme Court to rule the original incarnation of the military commissions illegal, Mohamed Jawad, another minor, charged with harmlessly throwing a grenade … there’s Ahmed al-Darbi, who’s giving the commissions a hard time by refusing to play a part in his show trial, KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed], Ramzi bin al-Shibh, the reasons behind the dropping of the charges against [Mohammed] al-Qahtani, the “requestioning” of the tortured in a ridiculous attempt to wipe the torture slate clean, how the whole military commission system resembles a patchwork of lies to excuse lies, the hundreds of years it has taken to develop Anglo-American traditions of law to protect liberty, the shame of its abandonment and necessity of its return, the results of the fake terror scares tortured out of the innocent, half-wit, crazy man, Abu Zubaydah, the superiority of the FBI’s good cop approach to interrogation, the Department of Justice’s report (PDF) about the FBI’s “War Crimes” file on the Guantánamo interrogations and the sordid details of several of the other eleven trials now in process.”

On Friday, I spent another happy half-hour discussing The Guantánamo Files with Linda Olson-Osterlund for KBOO Radio in Portland, Oregon. The interview is available here, and I’m grateful to Linda for her insightful questions, and for endorsing my book with such enthusiasm, describing it as “compelling and important” and “unique in its breadth and depth.”

In a wide-ranging discussion, Linda asked me how I came to write the book, and also asked me about the number of juveniles held, about the suicides at Guantánamo in 2006 and 2007, and the death of a prisoner last December. We also talked about the Combatant Status Review Tribunals at Guantanamo, the authorities’ refusal to find witnesses requested by the prisoners, and the horrible truth — as compellingly exposed last year by Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, a veteran of U.S. intelligence who worked on the tribunals — that they were intended merely to rubber-stamp the authorities’ prior designation of the prisoners as “enemy combatants” without rights, even though no effective screening process had ever taken place prior to the tribunals to ascertain whether or not this was the truth. We also talked at length about the Military Commissions, which are, of course, of extraordinary importance now, as the administration struggles to validate its actions over the last seven years before November’s Presidential elections.

My thanks to both Scott and Linda — and I should finish by letting you both know that I’m happy to talk again anytime.

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.

Taxi to the Dark Side: screening at Frontline Club, discussion with Andy Worthington and Moazzam Begg

Taxi to the Dark SideOn Monday June 9, the Frontline Club, the excellent journalists’ club in west London, is screening Taxi to the Dark Side, Alex Gibney’s Academy Award-winning documentary about the “War on Terror,” which tackles the post-9/11 flight from domestic and international law — and the endorsement of torture as official policy from Guantánamo to Abu Ghraib — by focusing on the story of Dilawar, an innocent Afghan taxi driver who was murdered by US soldiers in December 2002 at the US-run prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. This is an extraordinary film, which is particularly powerful in the interviews with many of the soldiers who were working at Bagram when Dilawar was killed.

The screening coincides with the release of Taxi to the Dark Side on DVD, and Moazzam Begg (released Guantánamo prisoner, author of Enemy Combatant and spokesman for Cageprisoners) and I have been asked along to discuss Bagram, Guantánamo and the “War on Terror” after the screening.

The Frontline Club is at 13 Norfolk Place, London, W2 1QJ. The event starts at 7.30 pm and costs £5. To book tickets, please click here.

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.

Captivated: The Art of the Interned

On Monday June 16, the human rights organization Cageprisoners and Together, a charity that supports people with mental health needs, are launching an exhibition devoted to works of art created by prisoners in the UK who are imprisoned without charge or trial as part of Britain’s shameful contribution to the post-9/11 flight from domestic and international law driven by the United States.

Featuring works produced by men held under draconian control orders, which amount to virtual house arrest, and others facing deportation or extradition through unprincipled abrogations from internationally-binding treaties preventing the return of foreign nationals to countries where they face the risk of torture, Captivated: The Art of the Interned brings to life the people held in Britain’s versions of Guantánamo, and shines a light on the shadowy processes intended to dehumanize them.

Captivated: The Art of the Interned

The exhibition runs from Monday June 16 to Friday July 4 at Together, 12 Old Street, London EC1V 9BE. Daily opening times are from 9 am to 5 pm. Space on the opening night is limited, so please email contact@cageprisoners.com or phone 07973 264197 to reserve a place. Speakers on the opening night include former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce, and former UK control order prisoner Cerie Bullivant, whose story was discussed here.

For other articles relating to Britain’s anti-terror laws, click here.

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.

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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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