Archive for August, 2008

High Court rules against UK and US in case of Guantánamo torture victim Binyam Mohamed

Binyam MohamedAndy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, reports on the UK High Court’s significant judgment in favour of British resident Binyam Mohamed last week, in which the judges ruled that the British government had an obligation to hand over evidence in its possession relating to his rendition and torture, and the Court’s second judgment on Friday, in which the judges ruled that the government’s attempts to prevent disclosure for reasons of “national security” were insufficient –- but allowed the government one more week to comply.

In the lawless world of Guantánamo –- and the United States’ even murkier network of secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA –- it has taken six years and four months for British resident Binyam Mohamed to secure anything resembling justice.

Seized in Pakistan in April 2002, Binyam was rendered to Morocco three months later, where he was tortured on behalf of the US for 18 months, in sessions that regularly included having his genitals cut with a razor, and was then held for nine months in Afghanistan, first at the “Dark Prison,” a secret prison run by the CIA, where he was also tortured, and then at Bagram airbase. He has been held at Guantánamo since September 2004.

When justice finally came for Binyam, it was not at Guantánamo, but in London’s High Court, where, last Thursday, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones delivered a stinging rebuke to both the British and the American governments: to the British for the complicity of the UK intelligence services in the US administration’s post-9/11 policies of “extraordinary rendition” and torture, and to the Americans for the lawless conduct of the trials by Military Commission that were established in the wake of the 9/11 attacks to deal with “terror suspects” like Binyam (even though the judges professed in their ruling that they “did not consider it necessary to form any view about the overall fairness of the Military Commissions procedure”).

The road to the High Court opened up in May this year, when Binyam’s lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve, who represent over 30 Guantánamo prisoners, teamed up with solicitors at Leigh Day & Co. to sue the British government, seeking the release of information relating to British knowledge of Binyam’s rendition and torture, in preparation for his impending trial at Guantánamo.

In the event, this was prescient, as charges were leveled against Binyam on May 28, in connection with the spectral “dirty bomb” plot that was dropped years ago against US citizen Jose Padilla. It was, therefore, imperative that potentially exculpatory evidence –- which the British possessed, and which they had also handed over to the Americans –- was made available to his lawyers so that they could begin preparing a defence, and, preferably, discover evidence of torture, which would back up Binyam’s claims that the charges against him were based solely on confessions obtained through torture, and would, therefore, make the US administration call off his forthcoming trial.

It was an indication of how far removed the Military Commissions are from legal norms that, although Binyam’s lawyers contended that he had been tortured, and had discovered the records of “extraordinary rendition” flights that matched his accounts, the US administration had not only provided no information to enable them to defend him, but had also categorically refused to account for his whereabouts before his arrival at Bagram.

Whatever information they and the British possessed would, it was stated, be made available to Binyam’s military defense lawyer, Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley, at the discovery stage, should his trial go ahead, but as the trial of Salim Hamdan demonstrated in late July, some evidence was withheld from the defence until the last possible moment, and other evidence –- relating, for example, to coercive interrogations of Hamdan conducted by the CIA in Afghanistan –- was ruled off-limits by the military judge presiding over the trial, and was, essentially, regarded as though it didn’t exist at all.

In Binyam’s case, his lawyers sued the British government after an earlier attempt to secure potentially exculpatory evidence from the British government was turned down, when the Treasury Solicitors, acting on behalf of the government, attempted to brush aside British complicity in Binyam’s rendition, torture and false confessions by claiming 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 adding 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 his British lawyers.

Last Thursday, following a judicial review in the High Court that was triggered when Binyam’s lawyers sued the government, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones demolished the government’s defence of its actions in a 75-page judgment (also available as a five-page summary).

The judges made clear that, after Binyam was captured and US agents came to regard him as “a serious potential threat to the security of the United Kingdom,” the British intelligence services had “every reason to seek to obtain as much intelligence from him as was possible in accordance with the rule of law and to cooperate as fully as possible with the United States authorities to that end.” They concluded, however, that the actions of the intelligence services from May 2002, when a British agent visited Binyam in US-supervised Pakistani custody, until February 2003, when the British last received information from the US regarding his interrogations, had placed the British government in a position where it “was involved, however innocently, in the alleged wrongdoing,” which it had helped facilitate.

Regarding Binyam’s time in Pakistan, where the British agent who visited him on May 17, 2002 made it clear that the British government “would not help [him] unless he cooperated fully with the US authorities,” the judges ruled that Binyam’s detention was “unlawful” under Pakistani law, because he “was being detained by the United States incommunicado and without access to a lawyer.” Furthermore, the judges noted that the British intelligence services “provided further information to the United States and further questions to be asked of BM [Binyam]” for nine months after this visit, even though he “was still incommunicado and they must also have appreciated that he was not in a United States facility and that the facility in which he was being detained was that of a foreign government (other than Afghanistan).”

The judges noted that all of the above was particularly significant because the information obtained from Binyam was “sought to be used as a confession in a trial where the charges … are very serious and may carry the death penalty,” and that it is “a long-standing principle of the common law that confessions obtained by torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment cannot be used as evidence in any trial.” They therefore ruled that “by seeking to interview BM in the circumstances found and supplying information and questions for his interviews, the relationship between the United Kingdom Government and the United States authorities went far beyond that of a bystander or witness to the alleged wrongdoing.”

The gravity of this was brought home during the judicial review, when the agent who had interviewed Binyam in Pakistan was cross-examined for several days in closed sessions that were clearly so perilous for the agent, in terms of potential criminal liability for war crimes under the International Criminal Court Act of 2001, that he brought his own legal adviser with him, and, it was revealed in the judgment, initially refused to answer the judges’ questions, fearing self-incrimination. This, of course, is in marked contrast to the position held by the US administration, which has refused to sign up to the International Criminal Court, and which, in addition, maintains that it “does not torture” and continues to do all in its power to deny that it has been responsible for gross human rights abuses.

In the second part of their ruling, the judges took as their starting point an admission by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, which took place “after the commencement of this application but before the hearing,” that he had “identified documents which he considers could be considered exculpatory or might otherwise be relevant in the context of the proceedings before the Military Commission.” After stating that David Miliband had informed Binyam’s lawyers and had “provided these documents to the United States Government,” the judges added, “It is a matter of regret that the documents have not been made available in the proceedings under the Military Commissions Act in confidence to BM’s lawyers, who have security clearance from the United States authorities to at least secret level.”

This was not the judges’ only thinly-veiled criticism of the behaviour of the US authorities, but it was for three specific reasons that they proceeded to rule that the Foreign Secretary was “under a duty” to disclose “in confidence” to Binyam’s legal advisers the requested information, which was “not only necessary but essential for his defence”: firstly, because the Foreign Secretary had not made the documents available to Binyam’s lawyers; secondly, because the US authorities had also refused to do so; and thirdly, because the Foreign Secretary had accepted that Binyam had “established an arguable case” that, until his transfer to Guantánamo, “he was subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by or on behalf of the United States,” and was also “subject to torture during such detention by or on behalf of the United States.”

Having demolished the cases put forward by both the British and American governments, the judges nevertheless held out a lifeline for the Foreign Secretary, pointing out that they would “make no order for the provision of the information” until he “had an opportunity to consider the interests of national security in the light of these judgments,” and set a date for a second hearing on Wednesday August 27.

On the day, what was initially regarded as a straightforward hearing for the Foreign Secretary to announce his response to the judges’ ruling turned into another long session as the government responded to the security concerns mentioned by the judges by filing a Public Interest Immunity (PII) Certificate seeking to suppress disclosure of the documents on the grounds of national security, and the US State Department attempted to strike a deal through correspondence with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO).

John Bellinger, the US State Department’s Legal Adviser, claimed that public disclosure of the documents was “likely to result in serious damage to US national security and could harm existing intelligence information-sharing arrangements between our two governments.” His only concession to the judges’ ruling was to note that the Office of the Chief Prosecutor in the Office of Military Commissions had agreed to provide the British intelligence documents (44 in total) to the Commissions’ Convening Authority, Susan Crawford, if she requested them, “subject only to the condition that the names of American and British government officials and the locations of intelligence facilities will be redacted from the documents prior to their being provided.” He added that, if Binyam’s trial were to go ahead, the redacted documents would be made available to his military lawyer at the “normal discovery phase” of the process.

In a separate email to the FCO, Stephen Mathias, one of John Bellinger’s deputies, offered a further concession “by way of update,” in which he stated that the Legal Adviser had now decided to present the documents to Susan Crawford, without waiting for her to ask for them. Describing this as “a significant development,” Stephen Mathias proceeded to claim, with a degree of force that appeared rather intimidating, “Ordering the disclosure of US intelligence information now would have only the marginal effects of serious and lasting damage to the US-UK intelligence sharing relationship, and thus the national security of the United Kingdom, and of aggressive and unprecedented intervention in the apparently functioning adjudicatory processes of a longtime ally of the United Kingdom, in contravention of well established principles of international comity.”

As Ben Jaffey (for Binyam) argued in court, neither the State Department’s “carefully calibrated concessions” nor the British government’s claim of Public Interest Immunity were tenable. He pointed out, as the judges did in their ruling, that the case did not involve public disclosure of the documents, but only the confidential disclosure to Binyam’s lawyers, Lt. Col. Yvonne Bradley and Clive Stafford Smith, Reprieve’s Director, who both have US security clearance. He added that the supposed concessions demonstrated merely that the US government was determined to find any method possible to prevent disclosure, and added that nothing offered by the State Department addressed the “central question” relating to Binyam’s rendition and torture. “Where,” he asked, “was Mr. Mohamed between 2002 and 2004?”

Ben Jaffey was equally dismissive of the British government’s PII claims, noting, in particular, that David Miliband had effectively conceded that the British government was going to hand over the intelligence documents to Binyam’s lawyers until the State Department intervened, and calmly dismissing the government’s national security claims. His composure was in marked contrast to that of the government’s representative, Tim Eicke, who struggled to maintain a coherent argument, despite the best efforts of the many representatives of the government and the intelligence services at the back of the court, who kept slipping him notes suggesting new twists on the spurious national security case.

On Friday, the judges delivered their second judgment on Binyam’s case. Noting that the correspondence from the US State Department effected a “significant change” in the US position, they nevertheless refused to accept the British government’s position regarding its Public Interest Immunity Certificate. They were, it seemed, convinced in particular by submissions from the Special Advocates, Thomas de la Mare and Martin Goudie, who represented Binyam in the various sessions of the court that were closed to the public when confidential material was being discussed. In the opinion of the Special Advocates, the PII Certificate, and other proposals presented in a closed session on Wednesday, “failed to address, in the light of allegations made by BM, the abhorrence and condemnation accorded to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

Adding that this issue was something whose significance had been “accepted on behalf of the Foreign Secretary,” the judges proceeded to note that the Foreign Secretary “nevertheless contended that the issues arising out of BM’s allegations of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment were implicitly dealt with in his Certificate,” and in the documentation used in the closed session. “Having carefully considered this matter,” the judges wrote, “we do not consider that the issue arising out of the allegations made by BM is implicitly dealt with in these documents.”

Refusing to push the matter further, the judges commended the Foreign Secretary and the FCO’s Legal Adviser, Daniel Bethlehem QC, for having “gone to very considerable lengths to provide BM with assistance,” noting that it was “evident” that they had “been engaged in lengthy discussions which have led to the important changes” summarized in the second judgment. “This,” they added, “has been time-consuming and burdensome, and has rendered very real assistance to the interests of justice in this case.”

As a result, the judges concluded their second judgment by giving the Foreign Secretary another week to come up with a response to their initial ruling and the developments since. They suggested that this could be in the form of another security certificate, although I hope, of course, that, having been thrown another lifeline, the government might find it preferable — bearing in mind the Special Advocates’ description of “the abhorrence and condemnation accorded to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment” — either to give Binyam’s lawyers what they require, or, preferably, to convince the US administration that, in order to keep the door to the torture chambers firmly shut, the only available course of action is to drop the charges against Binyam and return him to the UK.

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 CounterPunch, Antiwar.com, the Huffington Post, ZNet, American Torture, ukwatch.net and Indymedia.

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), 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), 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), 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).

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).

For updates on Binyam’s case, see US Justice Department drops “dirty bomb plot” allegation against Binyam Mohamed, Guantánamo’s bleak farce, Contempt of court, Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice, British Torture Victim Binyam Mohamed To Be Released, 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).

Barack Obama’s Convention Speech: “The American Promise”

Barack ObamaExcerpts from “The American Promise,” Barack Obama’s Speech at the Democrats’ National Convention:

Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story — of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren’t well-off or well-known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to.

It is that promise that has always set this country apart — that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well.

It is why I stand here tonight. Because for two hundred and thirty two years, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary men and women — students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors — found the courage to keep it alive.

We meet at one of those defining moments — a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more.

Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can’t afford to drive, credit card bills you can’t afford to pay and tuition that is beyond your reach.

These challenges are not all of government’s making. But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed presidency of George W. Bush.

America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.

***

This moment — this election — is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive. Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look just like the last eight. On November 4th, we must stand up and say: “Eight is enough.”

Now let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and respect. And next week, we’ll also hear about those occasions when he’s broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need.

But the record’s clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush was right more than ninety percent of the time? I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to take a ten percent chance on change.

***

You see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country.

We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage; whether you can put away a little extra money at the end of each month so that you can someday watch your child receive her diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was President – when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush.

We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off to look after a sick kid without losing her job — an economy that honors the dignity of work.

The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great — a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight.

***

That’s the promise we need to keep. That’s the change we need right now. So let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am President.

Change means a tax code that doesn’t reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.

Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship our jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.

I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

I will cut taxes — cut taxes — for 95% of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.

Washington has been talking about our oil addiction for the last thirty years, and John McCain has been there for twenty-six of them. In that time, he’s said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil as the day that Senator McCain took office.

Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.

As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I’ll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I’ll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I’ll invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy — wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can’t ever be outsourced.

***

We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don’t tell me that Democrats won’t defend this country. Don’t tell me that Democrats won’t keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans — Democrats and Republicans — have built, and we are to restore that legacy.

As Commander-in-Chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm’s way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.

I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing so that America is once more the last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

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.

Clearing Out Guantánamo: Two More Algerians Transferred

Flag/map of AlgeriaAs part of its alleged “desire not to hold detainees any longer than necessary,” the Pentagon announced on Tuesday that two Guantánamo prisoners had been transferred to Algeria. This follows the repatriation of two other Algerians — Mustafa Hamlili and Abdul Raham Houari — at the start of July, who were the first Algerians to be released from the prison in its six-and-a-half year history.

Cynics could argue, with some justification, that the releases were less to do with benevolence than with the fact that the US administration has finally decided to clear out as much of the dead wood at Guantánamo as possible, following the US Supreme Court’s momentous decision, in June, that the prisoners have constitutional habeas corpus rights; in other words, that they have the right to challenge the basis of their long detention without charge or trial before an impartial judge.

Like Hamlili and Houari before them, the two men just released — Mohammed al-Qadir and Abdulli Feghoul — had been cleared for release, following what the Pentagon refers to as “a comprehensive series of review processes,” since the first round of the annual Administrative Review Boards, held in 2005-06, on the basis that they no longer constituted a threat to the United States and its allies and/or no longer had ongoing intelligence value. These have become such commonplace expressions in connection with the Guantánamo prisoners that it’s easy to forget that holding prisoners for over six years without charge or trial and then releasing them because they are no longer regarded as a threat or as a source of intelligence to be exploited like lab animals is utterly illegal.

To use rather less euphemistic terminology, both al-Qadir and Feghoul were released because the administration was unable to build a case against them, and, as I indicated above, because the authorities are anxious to scale down the challenge to executive power that was manifested by the Supreme Court in June’s ruling in Boumediene v. Bush. As a result, however, they are also, to some extent, guinea pigs in a hazardous experiment.

Although neither man was realistically accused of being a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or of raising arms against the United States, it’s probable that, as has happened with Hamlili and Houari, they will face charges of leaving the country without permission, traveling on false passports, and of being connected, in some nebulous manner, with terrorist organizations, which will either be dismissed or lead to jail sentences.

The method whereby the Algerian authorities reach their supposed judicial decisions is mysterious, to say the least, which is another of the reasons that it has taken so long for the Americans — and for their British allies, who have been similarly disposing of unwanted Algerian nationals from the UK — to bypass international treaties preventing the return of foreign nationals to countries where they face the risk of torture by negotiating vague “diplomatic assurances” with the countries in question that purport to guarantee that the returnees will be treated humanely.

In the case of Tunisia, where two cleared prisoners were returned last year, this has been an unmitigated disaster, as both men were summarily imprisoned, subjected to show trials and sentenced to jail sentences of three and seven years, and a US District Judge, Gladys Kessler, promptly intervened to prevent the return of a third cleared Tunisian, ruling that he could not be returned to Tunisia because he could suffer “irreparable harm” that the US courts would be powerless to reverse.

With Algeria, the approach may, perhaps, be more appropriately compared to the tossing of a coin, or, as I put it when Hamlili and Houari were repatriated, to a kind of Russian Roulette, which, though marginally better, is hardly appropriate after all these men have been through. Their “crimes,” after all, amounted to little more than traveling to Afghanistan at the wrong time, and being seized and sold by Pakistani forces after fleeing the death and destruction wrought by the US-led invasion of October 2001.

As I explain in my book The Guantánamo Files, al-Qadir, who was 25 years old at the time of his capture, had lived in Germany for seven years, but had spent some of that time in prison. Released on bail in 2000, he made his way to London, where he spent ten months before traveling to Afghanistan in June 2001 “to immigrate, make money, and find a wife.” He denied an allegation, produced under unknown circumstances by an alleged but unidentified “al-Qaeda operative,” that he had trained at the Khaldan military training camp, and explained that he had been staying in a house in the city of Jalalabad, but that, when the Northern Alliance were advancing on the city, the owner asked him to leave, and he then made his way to Pakistan with other refugees, even though he was ill with malaria.

Abdulli Feghoul, who was 41 years old when he was seized, had also lived in Germany, and had traveled to Afghanistan in 2001. He too had been staying in Jalalabad, and ran up against a similarly unsubstantiated allegation that he had trained at the Durunta military training camp. In an attempt to clear his name, Feghoul attempted to call a Belgian witness of Turkish origin to vouch for him, but the prisoner refused, and was released soon after, as the governments of Europe scrambled to repatriate their citizens. In April 2007, Feghoul told his lawyers, “It seems that I am buried in my grave,” and in February 2008, Human Rights Watch reported (PDF) that he had not been allowed a single phone call home in his more than six years of detention. In addition, he explained that the Red Cross had finally “brought him photos of his family in early 2008, but that the prison guards searched his cell and took two of the photos away.”

After so long in this most hideous form of limbo — cleared for release but still held in isolated cells as though they had actually been convicted of heinous crimes — I can only hope that both men gain some sort of justice in Algeria, and that suitable homes can be found for the dozens of other cleared prisoners — over 65, according to the Pentagon — who are also desperate to be freed from Guantánamo, but who do not wish simply to exchange one form of arbitrary and unjust imprisonment for another.

Note: For a detailed analysis of the UK’s policies regarding the return of Algerian nationals, see ‘Britain and Algeria: Problems of Return,’ a 2007 report by George Joffe for MIREM, the ‘Collective Action to Support the Reintegration of Return Migrants in their Country of Origin’ (PDF).

POSTSCRIPT (November 2009): On November 22, 2009, BBC News reported that both Abdulli Feghoul and Mohammed al-Qadir (described as Faghoul Abdelli and Mohamed Terari) had been acquited after a trial in which the prosecutor had called for prison sentences of 20 years. Both men denied having any connection to militant groups and said that they were “brutally tortured” in US custody.

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 Antiwar.com, the Huffington Post and CounterPunch.

Note:

The prisoners’ numbers are as follows:

ISN 284: Mohammed al-Qadir
ISN 292: Abdulli Feghoul

See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009, and the eleven prisoners released from February to June 2009, whose stories are covered in more detail than is available anywhere else –- either in print or on the Internet –- although many of them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Files: June 2007 –- 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (here, here and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 –- 16 Saudis; September 2007 –- 1 Mauritanian; September 2007 –- 1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans; November 2007 –- 14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; December 2007 –- 13 Afghans (here and here); December 2007 –- 3 British residents; December 2007 –- 10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (here, here and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians; July 2008 –- 1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; September 2008 –- 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); September 2008 –- 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 –- 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik; November 2008 –- 2 Algerians; November 2008 –- 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan) repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani), 4 Uighurs, 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here).

Guantánamo Suicide Report: Truth or Travesty?

A prisoner sits alone in GuantanamoTwo years and two months after three prisoners at Guantánamo died, apparently as the result of a coordinated suicide pact, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which has been investigating the deaths ever since the three long-term hunger strikers were found dead in their cells on June 10, 2006, issued a 934-word statement on Friday that purported to draw a line under the whole sordid affair.

The deaths of the three men — Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani — have been controversial from the moment that they were first announced, when Guantánamo’s then-Commander, Rear Adm. Harry Harris, attracted international opprobrium by declaring that they were an act of “asymmetric warfare,” and Colleen Graffy, the deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy, had similar scorn heaped upon her when she described the men’s deaths as a “good PR move.”

As I have explained previously, the administration soon assumed a slightly more placatory role, when Cully Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, declared, “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.”

In keeping with the unjustified rhetoric that concluded Stimson’s “apology,” the Pentagon proceeded to pump out propaganda portraying the men as terrorists, even though, like all the prisoners in Guantánamo, the majority of the information against them had come from interrogations in which torture and coercion were widespread, and none of the men had ever been screened adequately to determine whether or not there was any basis for their automatic designation as “enemy combatants” who could be held indefinitely without charge or trial.

Yasser al-ZahraniAl-Zahrani (left), who was only 17 years old at the time of his capture, was accused of being a Taliban fighter who “facilitated weapons purchases,” even though this scenario was highly unlikely, given his age. In al-Utaybi’s case, he was declared an “enemy combatant” because of his involvement with Jamaat-al-Tablighi, a vast worldwide missionary organization whose alleged connection to terrorism was duly exaggerated by the Pentagon, which had the effrontery to describe the avowedly apolitical organization as “an al-Qaeda 2nd tier recruitment organization.” The administration also admitted that al-Utaybi 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, who was captured in a guest house in Pakistan with over a dozen other prisoners, most of whom have persistently claimed that they were students, 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.”

Sadly, the NCIS statement (published in full here) does little to address long-standing concerns about the circumstances of the men’s deaths. The investigators unreservedly backed up the suicide story by reporting that “Autopsies were performed by physicians from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Naval Hospital Guantánamo on June 10 and 11. The manner of death for all detainees was determined to be suicide and the cause of death was determined to be by hanging, the medical term being ‘mechanical asphyxia.’”

Their major contribution to the story of the men’s deaths was to revive claims that they had left suicide notes. They wrote that “A short written statement declaring their intent to be martyrs was found in the pockets of each of the detainees,” and that “Lengthier written statements were also found in each of their cells.”

The contents of the alleged suicide notes were not revealed in the NCIS statement, but were part of “more than 3,000 pages of military investigative documents, medical records, autopsies, and statements from guards and detainees” obtained by the Washington Post. According to the NCIS, the “case file will be posted in its entirety on the DOD FOIA web site in the near future.”

Ali al-SalamiAs the Washington Post described it, Ali al-Salami (left) wrote, “I am informing you that I gave away the precious thing that I have in which it became very cheap, which is my own self, to lift up the oppression that is upon us through the American Government,” adding, “I did not like the tube in my mouth, now go ahead and accept the rope in my neck.” He also apparently criticized the International Committee of the Red Cross, accusing its representatives, who secure access to some of the world’s most notorious prisons primarily on the basis that they will not publicly disclose their findings, of “conspiring in the detainees’ suffering” because it had been “covering the American Government repugnance since the first day.”

In the Miami Herald, Carol Rosenberg reported that the other two prisoners had left notes that stated, “I turned in my Koran not insult … Now I’m turning in my body and sacred are so you not insult it,” and “I left out of the cage despite of you,” and wondered, with some justification, whether the report had “quoted awkward Arabic-English translations of the detainees’ notes,” or if the men had, in fact, “written in crude English.”

The rest of the NCIS statement essentially explained the long delay in submitting the report. “Due to similarities in the wording of the statements and the manner of suicides, as well as statements made by other detainees interviewed,” the investigators wrote, “there was growing concern that someone within the Camp Delta population was directing detainees to commit suicide and that additional suicides might be imminent. Representatives of other law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation were later told that on the night in question, another detainee (who did not later commit suicide) had walked through the cell block telling people ‘tonight’s the night.’”

They added, “The cells of other detainees were searched during the week following the suicides in an attempt to find evidence regarding whether the suicides had been part of a larger conspiracy which might result in additional detainees also taking their lives,” and explained that the searches produced 1,065 pounds of documents, including “additional handwritten notes found in cells other than those where the suicides took place.” These, they wrote, were then subjected to translation and analysis, and they went on to explain that the process was particularly time-consuming because a separate body had to be set up to ensure that documents relating to confidential correspondence between prisoners and their lawyers was not included.

Rather disturbingly, reporting on the story has been noticeably muted. In the Washington Post, Josh White painted a vivid picture of how the men apparently committed suicide, but was content to parrot the NCIS’s line about the deaths, noting that the NCIS investigation “and other documents reveal that the men took advantage of lapses in guard protocol and of lenient policies toward compliant detainees to commit what suicide notes described as an attack on the United States.”

He added, “Investigators found that guards had become lax on certain rules because commanders wanted to reward the more compliant detainees, giving them extra T-shirts, blankets and towels. Detainees were allowed to hang such items to dry, or to provide privacy while using the toilet, but were not supposed to be able to obscure their cells while sleeping. Guards told officials that it was not unusual to see blankets hanging in the cells and that they did not think twice when they passed several cells on the night of June 9, 2006, with blankets strung through the wire mesh. Authorities believe the men probably hanged themselves around 10 p.m., but they were not discovered until shortly after midnight on June 10.”

White’s most explosive revelation was reserved for the end of his article, where he explained that the documentation revealed that the military’s Criminal Investigation Task Force had “decided years earlier” that Ali al-Salami, “who was arrested near his college in Pakistan in March 2002 and was turned over to U.S. authorities on May 2, 2002, in Afghanistan, was not someone they could prosecute.” Far from being “a mid- to high-level al-Qaeda operative who had key ties to principal facilitators and senior members of the group,” as the Pentagon alleged after his death, what was described as “a previously ‘secret’ document” revealed that investigators had concluded instead that “Although many of the individuals apprehended during the raid have strong connections to al-Qaeda, there is no credible information to suggest Ahmed received terrorist related training or is a member of the al-Qaeda network.” This, of course, is a shockingly belated vindication of al-Salami’s innocence, which deserves far more publicity than it has so far received.

If Josh White was rather soft on the administration, Carol Rosenberg was more challenging, writing that the NCIS statement “shed little light” on the circumstances of the men’s deaths. She spoke to a “senior Pentagon official who read the report and provided details in exchange for anonymity,” who, she wrote, noted, as if reading from a script prepared by Dick Cheney, “that the Navy investigation found the simultaneous suicides to be acts of ‘defiance and martyrdom,’” and she pointedly asked why the report “left unexplained one key question — why guards had not checked on the men for two and a half hours before they were discovered hanging in their cells.” “For years,” she added, drawing on her long experience as Guantánamo’s most frequent visiting journalist, “tours of the prison camps have described a strict doctrine that had guards check on each detainee every few minutes.”

Perhaps when — or if — the full case file is released publicly, the documents it contains will shed more light on the deaths of Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani, but for now the investigation has the appearance of a whitewash. As al-Salami’s lawyer, David Engelhardt, explained to the Washington Post, “It’s simply astounding that it took the government over two years to conclude a so-called investigation of three men who died in a small cage under the government’s exclusive control. The investigation itself is what needs to be investigated, along with the people who’ve perpetrated the disgraceful, extra-constitutional detentions.”

Not mentioned in the current round of discussions are two of the most convincing explanations of the men’s apparent suicide, which I have also reportedly previously. In my book The Guantánamo Files, which features a chapter on the suicides and hunger strikes at Guantánamo, I cite an article by Tim Golden from the New York Times Magazine in September 2006, in which Guantánamo’s warden, Col. Mike Bumgarner, explained that the British resident Shaker Aamer had told him that “several of the detainees had had a ‘vision,’ in which three of them had to die for the rest to be freed.” As I also reported in a previous article, Aamer also seemed to endorse the view that the men had committed suicide, explaining that a guard had told him before the men’s deaths, “They have lost hope in life. They have no hope in their eyes. They are ghosts, and they want to die. No food will keep them alive now. Even with four feeds a day, these men get diarrhea from any protein which goes right through them.”

Even so, other burning questions about the men’s deaths remain unanswered. In an environment in which cell searches are notoriously frequent and access to pens and paper is strictly rationed, is it really plausible that the three men could actually have written and secreted the suicide notes they were alleged to have written? And, as Carol Rosenberg asked, is it also plausible that the regime had become so lax that three men who had been on painfully long hunger strikes would have been left unmonitored for at least two hours?

Murat KurnazOne person who is not convinced is Murat Kurnaz, the German-born Turkish citizen and German resident, who was released in August 2006. In his extraordinary account of his experiences, Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantánamo, Kurnaz wrote about the men’s deaths, specifically addressing these questions, providing a view of the prison’s security that is completely at odds with the blanket-shrouded cells and lax security described by the NCIS, and reaching a far darker conclusion.

Kurnaz was not present in the cell block — Block Alpha in Camp 1 — on the night the men died, but several weeks later some prisoners who were moved to cells near him explained their take on what had happened. These prisoners, who had been in Block Alpha, “said that dinner had come early that evening and that everyone in the block suddenly got tired and had fallen asleep — even though it was never quiet in the block at that hour, even when the guards left us in peace. There was always someone who couldn’t fall asleep, who wanted to pray or who kept waking up throughout the night.” Kurnaz added that Yasser’s last neighbor also noted, “The metal shutters in front of the windows had also been closed from the outside … as if a storm were approaching.”

This man explained that, although “he had been woken up in the middle of the night by a loud bang” and had seen a team of guards entering Yasser’s cell, he had thought nothing of it, as this was a regular occurrence. Some time later, however, the guards woke everyone up, and Yasser’s body was carried out of his cell on a stretcher, with a piece of sheet in his mouth, other pieces binding his arms and legs, and “more sheet around his neck, like a noose.”

The guards proceeded to explain that Yasser “had hung himself,” but, the man explained, “we didn’t think that could be true. He would have had to attach the noose to the sharp metal lattices with his hands and feet tied and with no chair to stand on. That was nearly impossible.” In addition, as Kurnaz noted, “It seemed highly unlikely that the guards would have failed to catch him in time.” Reinforcing Carol Rosenberg’s doubts, he explained, “They barely let us out of their sight for a minute.”

Kurnaz also noted, “The guards claimed he had covered the walls of his cage so that they hadn’t seen him do it. But what was he supposed to have used to cover the cage? The same sheets with which he allegedly hung himself?” He added, taking exception to the official claims that, at the time of the deaths, “it was not unusual to see blankets hanging in the cells,” “And what about the rule prohibiting us from hanging anything on the walls of our cells?”

He continued: “It seemed too much of a coincidence that the other two dead men had hung themselves at exactly the same time in exactly the same way in the same block, while all the other inmates had been sleeping like babies. When the guards were patrolling the corridors, it never took long before other guards came to ensure we were following the rules. The guards never took a break since they, too, were kept under surveillance to ensure that they too were carrying out their duties.” While this could, in theory, be explained by the report’s conclusion that security had slipped on the night in question, no one in authority addressed the next question posed by Kurnaz: “And what about the sharpshooters in the watchtowers? Hadn’t they noticed anything?”

After noting, poignantly, that Mani al-Utaybi had indeed been informed “a few days earlier” that he was going to be released — and that he was “[o]verjoyed,’ that he “had told everyone about it,” and that, consequently, he “didn’t seem to have much of a reason for killing himself” — Kurnaz presented the prisoners’ unavoidable conclusion about the men’s deaths: “No, we prisoners unanimously agreed, the men had been killed. Maybe they had been beaten to death and then strung up, or perhaps they had been strangled.”

He added that no one knew why, but that he and many others believed that it may have been because many of the guards in Guantánamo “were afraid of being sent to Iraq,” and that some of them thought that “if prisoners died in Guantánamo, it would create trouble for the Bush government, and they wouldn’t have to take part in the war.”

This strikes me as a far-fetched interpretation, but it’s clear that, although we may never know the truth about the deaths of Ali al-Salami, Mani al-Utaybi and Yasser al-Zahrani, the NCIS’s insistence that the investigation into the deaths is now closed is premature, despite the long delay in its production. Scorned in death, and hacked up and shipped home like packages of meat, these three men deserve much more than has so far been delivered in the way of justice.

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 Antiwar.com, the Huffington Post, CounterPunch, ZNet and AlterNet.

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), Second anniversary of triple suicide at Guantánamo (June 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).

NCIS Statement on the Guantánamo Suicides of June 2006

Composite image by TalkLeftOn Friday August 22, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) released a statement regarding the conclusion of its 26-month investigation into the deaths of three prisoners at Guantánamo on June 10, 2006. In an accompanying article, I look in detail at the NCIS’s investigation, and question whether or not it provides a satisfactory conclusion to one of the most depressing incidents in the prison’s long and brutal history, which has been deeply contentious ever since Guantánamo’s then-commander, Rear Adm. Harry Harris, responded to news of the men’s deaths by declaring that they were “an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us.”

What follows is a complete transcript of the NCIS statement, as first posted on the website of the Miami Herald:

NCIS closes investigation into the 2006 deaths of three Guantánamo Bay detainees; investigative reports released

On June 10, 2006 the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) was notified that three detainees being held in Camp Delta at Guantánamo Bay Cuba had been found unresponsive in their cells at approximately 12:30 a.m., apparently having taken their own lives by hanging themselves with braided rope made from bed sheets and tee shirts.

Five block guards were on duty at the time of the deaths. Blankets and sheets had been used to obstruct the guards’ views and to create the appearance that the detainees were asleep in their cells.

Two of the detainees — Ali Abdulla Ahmed, from Yemen (DOB Aug. 1, 1979) and Mana Shaman Allabard al Tabi of Saudi Arabia (DOB Jan. 1, 1976) — were determined to be dead at the scene.

Lifesaving attempts were begun on the third detainee –Yasser Talal al Zahrani of Saudi Arabia (DOB Dec. 26, 1983) — who was transported to Naval Hospital Guantánamo where he was pronounced dead a short time later.

The detainees had last been seen alive at approximately 10:00 pm on June 9, 2006.

NCIS Special Agents based at Guantánamo were notified when the deaths were discovered and were on scene in the cellblock by 1:00 a.m.

Five Special Agents from the NCIS Southeast Field Office Major Case Response Team based in Mayport, Florida, were dispatched and arrived on scene at approximately 3:30 p.m. on June 10.

Though there were three detainee deaths it was determined that the best course of action was to combine the three incidents into a single investigation.

Autopsies were performed by physicians from the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology at Naval Hospital Guantánamo on June 10 and 11. The manner of death for all detainees was determined to be suicide and the cause of death was determined to be by hanging, the medical term being “mechanical asphyxia.”

A short written statement declaring their intent to be martyrs was found in the pockets of each of the detainees.

Lengthier written statements were also found in each of their cells.

Due to similarities in the wording of the statements and the manner of suicides, as well as statements made by other detainees interviewed, there was growing concern that someone within the Camp Delta population was directing detainees to commit suicide and that additional suicides might be imminent.

Representatives of other law enforcement agencies involved in the investigation were later told that on the night in question, another detainee (who did not later commit suicide) had walked through the cell block telling people “tonight’s the night.”

The cells of other detainees were searched during the week following the suicides in an attempt to find evidence regarding whether the suicides had been part of a larger conspiracy which might result in additional detainees also taking their lives.

During those searches a number of documents were seized as evidence and taken from the cells for translation and analysis.

Those documents included additional handwritten notes found in cells other than those where the suicides took place.

Those documents filled 34 boxes and 1 bag. Their combined weight was 1,065 pounds.

Due to the volume of material seized, and concerns that numerous documents stamped with “ACP’” might possibly be protected by attorney-client privilege, the NCIS Special Agent in Charge of the Southeast Field Office directed that the documents be sealed and set aside until a process could be created to review the documents in a way that did not violate any attorney-client privilege.

With the assistance of the Department of Justice and consistent with orders of the federal District Court in Washington, D.C., the Department of Defense appointed a “walled off” team of individuals who were not involved in any other detainee cases or proceedings to determine whether any of these seized documents were relevant to the investigation and, if so, to provide them to investigators unless they were protected by an attorney-client privilege.

Although this team did provide documents to investigators, no attorney-client privileged materials were included and this team did not reveal any attorney-client material to anyone involved in the investigation.

That team was activated on Oct. 23, 2006 at the Regional Legal Service Office at Naval Air Station Mayport, Florida.

The team consisted of an NCIS Supervisory Special Agent from Cherry Point North Carolina, four Naval Officers from the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, two Naval Enlisted Administrative personnel, four foreign language translators, one NCIS evidence custodian from the NCIS Southeast Field Office and one additional NCIS Special Agent based at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia.

The NCIS investigation was conducted on behalf of the U.S. Southern Command (USSOUTHCOM).

It is not unusual for an NCIS death investigation to remain open for a year or more due to a number of factors. Those factors include but are not limited to: the number of parties involved in the case, any unique characteristics of the incident location and environment, the amount of evidence collected and the level of effort involved in analyzing that evidence, and the level of supervisory case review given each investigation.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service, as its name implies, is a fact-finding entity. It does not draw prosecutorial conclusions nor make recommendations regarding potential courses of action which could result from the investigative findings.

The NCIS case file, redacted consistent with applicable Freedom of Information Act exemptions, was provided to the Dickstein Shapiro law firm in response to their FOIA request.

The NCIS case file will be posted in its entirety on the DOD FOIA web site in the near future.

Note: The NCIS took the men’s names from lists maintained by the Pentagon. As with so much of the information pertaining to the prisoners, the transliteration of two of the names is widely regarded as inaccurate. Ali Abdulla Ahmed is generally referred to as Ali Abdullah Ahmed al-Salami, and Mana Shaman Allabard al Tabi as Mani al-Utaybi. Al-Utaybi’s name was also transliterated in some reports as Manei al-Oteibi, and al-Salami was also known as Salah al-Salami.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, which includes a chapter on “Suicides and Hunger Strikes” at Guantánamo. The book is 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.

Joe Biden’s the Man on Guantánamo, Iraq and the “War on Terror”

Barack Obama and Joe BidenIn the end, then, it came down to this: Barack Obama needed a vice-presidential candidate with well-established Washington credentials, foreign policy experience and an ability to connect with blue-collar workers.

And while Joe Biden — a 65-year old working class Irish Catholic, the Senator for Delaware since 1972, and the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — has a far from unblemished foreign policy record (most notoriously in his support for the invasion of Iraq, but also, arguably, in his strenuous support for armed intervention in Kosovo, which, like that of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, paved the way for justifying war on a basis other than that of self-defense), he has since recanted his position on the Iraq war, and has, for many years, also been unafraid to tackle other excesses of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 policies; in particular, through his persistent calls for the closure of the “War on Terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay.

Although he initially supported the invasion of Iraq (after trying, and failing, to persuade President Bush to first exhaust all diplomatic efforts), Sen. Biden has since become on of the war’s toughest critics in the Senate. He warned of the costs of a long occupation before the war even began, and in 2006 he proposed, with Leslie Gelb, the president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations, a five-point plan for the future of Iraq, which called for a federalized system of three regional governments (Kurd, Sunni and Shiite) plus a centralized government for the management of “truly common interests” like oil and border defense.

Sen. Biden also has a more personal connection to Iraq. His son Beau, the attorney general of Delaware, is a captain in the Army National Guard, and is set to be deployed to Iraq in the fall, even though, as Sen. Biden explained last year, “I don’t want him going. But I tell you what, I don’t want my grandsons or granddaughters going back in 15 years. So how we leave makes a big difference.”

Sen. Biden has also repeatedly cast doubt on the very notion of a “War on Terror,” declaring, in a speech in April 2008, in which he lambasted the Bush administration for making “fear the main driver of our foreign policy,” “Terrorism is a means, not an end, and very different groups and countries are using it toward very different goals. If we can’t even identify the enemy or describe the war we’re fighting, it’s difficult to see how we will win.”

Reassuringly, for those who care about the Bush administration’s assault on fundamental human rights, holding prisoners neither as Prisoners of War protected by the Geneva Conventions nor as criminal suspects to be tried in US courts, Sen. Biden has been unstinting in his opposition to the prison at Guantánamo Bay. In June 2005, he called for Guantánamo to be closed, telling ABC News that it had “become the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists around the world.”

Sen. Biden also voted against the much-criticized Military Commissions Act of 2006, which reintroduced military trials at Guantánamo after they were declared illegal by the US Supreme Court, and in May 2007 he co-sponsored the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility Closure Act, which not only called for the closure of Guantánamo, but also proposed moving prisoners against whom a case could be built to the maximum security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and releasing all those who had not been charged. In July 2007, he followed this with proposals for a National Security with Justice Act, which sought to “prohibit extraterritorial detention and rendition, except under limited circumstances, to modify the definition of ‘unlawful enemy combatant’ for purposes of military commissions, [and] to extend statutory habeas corpus to detainees.”

During his Presidential campaign (which ended in January), Sen. Biden repeatedly stressed his belief in the strength of the laws that existed prior to the 9/11 attacks. When asked, “Do you agree or disagree with the statement made by former Attorney General Gonzales in January 2007 that nothing in the Constitution confers an affirmative right to habeas corpus, separate from any statutory habeas rights Congress might grant or take away?” he replied, “I disagree categorically with Mr. Gonzales. The Constitution guarantees the right of habeas corpus unless in the case of rebellion or invasion it is suspended. My National Security with Justice Act reinforces this Constitutional right by extending by statute meaningful habeas review for all Guantánamo detainees.”

For Barack Obama, who has pledged to restore America’s standing both at home and abroad by “reestablishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law,” the addition of Sen. Biden should ensure not only that finding a solution to the debacle of Iraq will be a priority, but also that the generally less popular issue of holding foreign prisoners without charge or trial in Guantánamo and other locations will be dealt with. To quote Sen. Biden more fully from his speech in April, “[The Bush administration] has destroyed faith in America’s judgment. And it has devalued America’s moral leadership in the world. Instead, this administration has focused to the point of obsession on the so-called “war on terrorism” and produced a one-size-fits-all doctrine of military preemption and regime change ill suited to the challenges we face. It has made fear the main driver of our foreign policy. It has turned a deadly serious but manageable threat — a small number of radical groups that hate America — into a ten-foot tall existential monster that dictates nearly every move we make. Even if you look at the world through this administration’s distorted lens, you see a failed policy.”

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 and the Huffington Post.

Guantánamo: Andy Worthington discusses the Hamdan trial on KBOO FM

The Guantanamo FilesOn August 8, as I mentioned in a previous post, I was interviewed by Linda Olson-Osterlund for News and Public Affairs Special, a show on the progressive radio station KBOO FM in Portland, Oregon. The 28-minute interview is now available online here, and in it Linda and I discussed, at length, the meaning of the verdict in Salim Hamdan’s trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo, the conduct of the trial, the inherent lawlessness of the process, those scheduled to face trials in the coming months, and the urgent need for a new administration to repeal the dictatorial powers seized by the Bush regime and return the United States to the rule of law, on which it was founded.

The interview was a pleasure, as Linda is a thoughtful and patient host, who, I’m delighted to report, is prepared to devote time to issues that are not often dealt with in such depth, and I look forward to talking to her again in a few weeks’ time, on the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

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.

The Media’s Response to the Hamdan Trial: Due Process or Dictatorial Sideshow?

Salim HamdanAs the Olympics and the war in Georgia threaten to sweep all before them, the significance of the lenient sentence handed down by a military jury to Guantánamo prisoner Salim Hamdan in the first full US war crimes trial since the Nuremberg Trials — and the government’s response to it — is in danger of being overlooked.

There was, of course, a flurry of activity on Wednesday and Thursday when the military jury, in the system specifically designed by the White House to try “enemy combatants” in the “War on Terror,” first dismissed the charges of conspiracy against Hamdan, and then proceeded to hand down a sentence of just five and a half years for material support for terrorism. This leaves Hamdan with just five months to serve, taking into account the time he has already served since he was first charged in July 2003 under the first, failed version of the Military Commission system, which was ruled illegal by the US Supreme Court in June 2006.

Throughout the media, there was a widespread understanding that the government had overstated the case against Hamdan — in Newsweek, for example, Michael Hirsh asked incredulously, “Is driving a car a war crime?” — and that, despite the verdict, there remain fundamental flaws with a system that allows the use of coerced evidence and hearsay.

However, my major concern, as a journalist and author (of The Guantánamo Files), who has been studying these issues in detail for several years, was that the media would overlook the administration’s shocking response to the verdict: its assertion that it has the right to continue to hold Hamdan as an “enemy combatant” after his sentence has been served.

This is an assertion which, if allowed to proceed unchallenged, will demonstrate that the Commissions are nothing more than a sideshow, and that what propels the administration beyond all other concerns is its pursuit of dictatorial powers, defending its self-appointed right to seize anyone anywhere as an “enemy combatant,” and to imprison them indefinitely.

On this key issue, I’m pleased to note that the US media has seen fit to challenge the administration. Of particular relevance is the opinion of the Wall Street Journal, which, while mounting a stout defense of the Commission process, stated in an editorial, “Hamdan could be held indefinitely as an enemy combatant, but the political explosion that option would touch off makes it all but untenable.”

While the WSJ made sure that it couched its opinions in terms of what others’ response would be to holding Hamdan after his sentence ends, rather then the fundamental injustice of doing so, others were prepared to probe the issue more deeply. In the Washington Post, Josh White sought the Pentagon’s response, noting that the Department of Defense was aware of problems relating to the proposal to continue to hold Hamdan after his sentence runs out. “Defense Department officials said there are concerns about the public perception of holding Hamdan after his prison term runs out,” White wrote, “because it could label the military commissions a ‘show process’ with no meaning to its sentences.”

White also spotted a note of caution in a statement by Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman, who “said it has always been the Defense Department’s position that detainees could be held as enemy combatants even after acquittal at military commissions or after serving a prison sentence.” “That’s always been on our minds in terms of a scenario we could face,” Whitman said (emphasis added), although he then proceeded to reiterate the administration’s standard line: that Hamdan “will serve his time for the conviction and then he will still be an enemy combatant, and as an enemy combatant the process for potential transfer or release will apply.”

For balance, White spoke to Nancy Hollander, attorney for the “high-value detainee” Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri (accused of planning the attack on the USS Cole in 2000), who told him that “it would be ‘totally unfair’ for the government to hold Hamdan indefinitely.” “We had a court. We had a jury. It was a military jury. They heard the evidence. They gave him five months,” Hollander explained. “That ought to be his sentence. Either we believe in American justice or we don’t.”

In an editorial, the Post’s editors criticized the Commissions and called for the system to be brought to an end, and also laid out their own opinion about Hamdan’s continued detention. “The president may yet try to extend Mr. Hamdan’s detention,” the editorial stated, adding, “The Supreme Court has determined that the executive may hold without charge those, such as Mr. Hamdan, designated as enemy combatants.” While refusing to question this legislation, stating, “We support the executive’s prerogative to do so,” the editors proceeded to insist that “it would be unnecessary and unwise to exercise that power in Mr. Hamdan’s case. To hold a man who has been judged to be of minimal risk to the country would make a mockery of the legal proceedings just completed.”

In the New York Times, William Glaberson also reflected on the Pentagon’s response, noting that spokesman Cmdr. Jeffrey D. Gordon “pointedly declined to make any promises” after the sentence was announced. Glaberson explained that Cmdr. Gordon “said he ‘would not want to speculate’ about whether Mr. Hamdan would be released at the end of his sentence,” but added, “I can reassure you that the Defense Department is hard at work on this issue.”

On Sunday, a New York Times editorial only touched on the administration’s proposals to continue to hold Hamdan, but made it clear that the newspaper would continue to monitor the government’s proposals. “[I]n the twisted world of Mr. Bush’s prison camps,” the editorial stated, “it is unclear if Mr. Hamdan will be released after serving his sentence.”

The rest of the editorial was a considered hatchet job on the whole of the Commission process. Noting that Hamdan was “hardly a high value target,” the editors cited the comedian Stephen Colbert, noting that he “captured the absurdity of the proceedings perfectly on Thursday night when he called the trial ‘the most historic session of traffic court ever.’ It will not be long, Mr. Colbert added, ‘before we track down Ayman al-Zawahiri’s dermatologist.’”

The editorial concluded, “Mr. Bush’s hapless, and often unconstitutional, approach to combating terrorism will leave his successor a great deal of work to do. The rule of law, including fair and open trials, must be restored. Guantánamo needs to be shut down, as Mr. McCain has said many times. Detainees must be put on trial quickly in real courts, and those who are not guilty must be freed. Mr. Bush’s supporters have been crowing over the Hamdan verdict as if it were some kind of a triumph. In truth, it is a hollow victory in the war on terror, a blow to America’s standards of justice and image in the world.”

Elsewhere, explicit criticism of the proposals to continue to hold Hamdan peppered editorials across the United States. The Kansas City Star, for example, stated, unreservedly, “It has been suggested that this trial at least demonstrates that the commission system is fair. Unfortunately, though, the White House has left open the possibility that it will keep Hamdan in prison indefinitely even after he has completed his prison sentence. This sounds like some scenario out of a third-world dictatorship. It threatens to make a mockery out of the trial and those expected to follow. Once the government has submitted a case to a judicial process created by the Bush administration itself, the president should at least agree to abide by the results.”

The Salt Lake Tribune was similarly critical. After noting that the jury had “imposed a surprisingly lenient sentence” on Hamdan, because he was nothing more than a “bit player” in al-Qaeda, the editorial stated, “It follows that the government should release him after he completes his sentence by year’s end. To do otherwise, to continue to hold him as an enemy combatant for the duration of the so-called ‘war on terror,’ as the Bush administration has insisted it can, would be absurd. If the result of his trial and its sentence do not affect the term of his confinement, what was the point?”

Noting that “the rules in this game are not the same as in the civilian courts,” that they are “stacked in the government’s favor, and constitutional rights do not apply,” the Tribune concluded, “Nevertheless, the jury of officers weighed that evidence carefully and rejected the pleas of the government that Hamdan be convicted as a terrorist conspirator and sentenced to life in prison. These are military officers who must understand better than most that a terrorist released from custody could return to fighting the United States and killing Americans. By their verdicts and sentence they signalled that they believed the defense argument that Hamdan is a small fish, not a terrorist shark, who just wants to go back to his family in Yemen. The Bush administration should respect those officers’ judgment.”

While close scrutiny of the administration remains of paramount importance within the United States, it was also noticeable that the Times in London (which is not a bastion of liberalism) devoted a pointed editorial to the Pentagon’s proposals to hold Hamdan indefinitely. Having discussed the “legal doubts” over the Commissions’ fairness, the Times responded to Pentagon claims that Hamdan “could be held indefinitely as an ‘unlawful enemy combatant’ after finishing his sentence,” by stating, “This remark is as outrageous as it is unprincipled. As a US navy lawyer [Charles Swift] who first represented Hamdan said: ‘If he simply goes back to the same cell, why did we all come down here?’ The Pentagon stance appears motivated by defiance and anger at the verdict. As even the most hardline Administration officials must recognise, Guantánamo has inflicted huge damage on America’s reputation around the world, undermining the faith of its friends in US justice and giving America’s critics a propaganda gift. If the Pentagon now believes that it can override the verdict of the very courts it has set up, it mocks any pretence of a fair trial.”

Tempting though it is to move on to other topics, I can only hope that the media continues to question whether the administration actually believes in its own trial system at Guantánamo, or if it is, instead, committed solely to unfettered executive power. And US citizens should be just as vigilant, insisting that the next President of the United States relinquishes the dictatorial powers created by the current administration. It really is that important.

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.

A slightly edited version of this article was published on the Huffington Post.

Salim Hamdan’s sentence at Guantánamo: a military juror speaks

Salim HamdanIn the Wall Street Journal, Jess Bravin scored a media coup by securing the first interview with one of the jurors in the trial by Military Commission of Salim Hamdan, who decided, after the contentious two-week trial, that, although Hamdan was guilty of providing material support for terrorism, he was not guilty of the graver crime of conspiracy. Accordingly, the jury gave him a sentence of just five and a half years — leaving him just five months to serve, after taking into account time already served — which came as a genuine shock to all parties.

Speaking anonymously, the juror began by explaining, as Bravin put it, that the jury “intended no message to the Bush administration or comment on its military commission system.” Instead, he said, “the panel looked at the evidence against Salim Hamdan and found it simply didn’t support prosecutors’ depiction of a hard-core al-Qaeda terrorist who hates America and its way of life.”

“Salim Hamdan was working for a bad organization and he knew that,” the juror said. He added, however, that he and his fellow jurors “came to view him like other young people who get mixed up in criminal organizations because they are ignorant or lack other opportunities, rather than through a deep-seated ideology.”

Running through Hamdan’s story, as revealed during the trial, Bravin noted that his job “principally involved driving Mr. bin Laden and other al-Qaeda figures around Afghanistan,” and that he sometimes carried weapons and radios. He added that, although Hamdan “initially offered evasive and deceptive answers,” he “soon became cooperative and provided information to US interrogators about the al-Qaeda organization,” and also noted that prosecutors had “put on a slew of witnesses including some of its top counter-terrorism agents, mockups of surface-to-air missiles it said were found in Mr. Hamdan’s car and video of his initial interrogations in 2001.”

The juror revealed that a full presentation of the issues was certainly required, as he and his fellow jurors “were barely, if at all, aware of the case’s historic background.” He added that, “after years of contentious debate over detainee treatment it was good to finally see prisoners handled through ‘an organized process’ rather than ‘an indiscriminate way,’” although he pointed out that the jurors found it “necessary to keep feelings about 9/11 and other al-Qaeda attacks from interfering with their judgment,” explaining, “I think we all had to reconcile that before we got on the plane to Guantánamo.”

In addition, the juror noted, “From opening statement to sentencing argument, both the prosecution and defense were ‘very aggressive,’” but added that “[e]ach side played the part [they] expected.” Specifically, he explained, “The defense would say the accused made the mistake of being in the wrong place at the wrong time,” while “the prosecutors would give the image of him being a hardened terrorist.” Crucially, in accepting the defense’s portrayal of Hamdan as nothing more than a driver, the juror explained that “it came down to the evidence that we were allowed to see,” and, specifically, the fact that “[n]o evidence suggested Mr. Hamdan had any role in planning or organizing any terror attacks.”

The juror also explained that “Hamdan’s demeanor in court made an impression.” “He looked very mild mannered,” the juror said, adding that Hamdan’s unsworn statement, before the jury began considering the evidence, in which he “apologized to any who were harmed by his acts,” also affected their verdict. Although it was possible that this was “an effort to manipulate the jury,” the juror proceeded to suggest that Hamdan’s behavior after the sentence was announced — when he “stood and apologized again, and thanked the jury and judge” — confirmed the jurors’ opinion. “I thought it was unusual considering the crimes he was accused of,” he explained. “The reality is: he didn’t have to get up at all. He could have just sat there.”

Speaking about the jury’s response to prosecutor John Murphy’s request for a sentence that was “so significant that it forecloses any possibility that he renews his ties with terrorism,” the juror explained that he and his colleagues “didn’t accept the premise. Mr. Hamdan may have been guilty, but ‘where was his act along the spectrum’ of things one could do in support of terrorism?” It was, he said, “toward the less significant end.” He added that the prosecution’s argument was unacceptable “unless you can say, ‘We should have hanged him,’” and wondered if the administration was “going to make that same statement of every individual” captured by the United States.

As Bravin described it, the juror than stated, in a comment that was, however inadvertently, in opposition to the position taken by the administration since 9/11, that “American principles call for treating even enemies justly,” explaining that this was because “we adhere to the Geneva Convention and we try to set the standards with the sanctity of human rights.”

At the end of the interview, Bravin explained that the juror “seemed surprised to hear” that the government had the option of continuing to imprison Hamdan, after his sentence comes to an end, on the grounds that he remains a threat, “but said that continuing to hold Mr. Hamdan past his sentence was acceptable if officials so concluded.” “You have to trust the government to a certain degree,” he suggested, adding, “I would take their word for it, because, yes, I do believe in the government.” And finally, in response to a question from Bravin regarding the time when Hamdan’s sentence runs out — roughly when President Bush leaves office — the juror responded to the notion that “some trial observers wondered if the jury intended any message by selecting that date,” with apparent amusement, stating of the jury’s decision, “People probably are trying to read too much into it.”

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.

TV and radio: Andy Worthington responds to the verdict in Salim Hamdan’s Guantánamo trial

The Guantanamo FilesThe aftermath of Salim Hamdan’s trial at Guantánamo was a busy time, as TV and radio stations called Reprieve — and contacted me through my website — for comments on the verdict and its significance.

First up was Afshin Rattani of Press TV, who called on Wednesday shortly after the verdict was announced (but before Hamdan was sentenced), and interviewed me for a TV news feature that is available via YouTube below (a transcript is also available here). This was followed by an interview with Radio Netherlands Worldwide and another with CBS affiliate Newstalk 710 KIRO Radio in Seattle, where I spoke on the Dave Ross Show just after Guantánamo’s former Muslim chaplain James Yee, who was wrongly imprisoned on trumped-up charges of spying in 2003. The one-hour show, which tackled the issues in depth, is available here.

On Thursday I was interviewed on the phone for a news item that was broadcast on the Islam Channel in London, and then did a 20-minute interview with Lenny Charles in New York for a broadcast on the INN News World Report, which will, I suspect, be made available online soon (a previous interview with Lenny is available on YouTube here and here).

In the evening I spoke to the BBC’s Asian Network in Birmingham, and on Friday, after the sentence had been announced, I enjoyed a lengthy interview with Linda Olson-Osterlund for KBOO FM in Portland, Oregon. A previous interview with Linda is available here, and it was a pleasure to speak to her again, and to be involved in a wide-ranging discussion that went far beyond the specific issues relating to Salim Hamdan’s trial, although at present the show is not yet available online.

This is probably a good time to mention a few other interviews from the last few weeks, which are available online. On July 19, when the London Guantánamo Campaign began a six-day vigil outside the US embassy in London in the run-up to the 30th birthday of Binyam Mohamed, the British resident and torture victim who is still held at Guantánamo, I did a short filmed interview for a new website, Human Rights TV, which is available here.

And shortly after, I was interviewed by a Finnish radio station, Arenan, for a feature on Guantánamo aimed at young, Swedish-speaking listeners, which is not something I get to do everyday. Excerpts from the show are available here and here.

Andy Worthington was the Communications Manager for Reprieve, the legal action charity whose lawyers represent over 30 prisoners in Guantánamo, in 2008, and 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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