Archive for September, 2008

Bush’s bitter legacy (on the seventh anniversary of 9/11)

President Goerge W. Bush“Bush’s Bitter Legacy” is the title of an article I wrote for the Guardian’s “Comment is free” section today, in which I briefly ran through the legal and moral desolation of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” and pointed out that, although both Barack Obama and John McCain have pledged to close Guantánamo (the most visible icon of the post-9/11 flight from the law), and Obama has also talked of a timetable for withdrawing US forces from Iraq, neither man has yet dealt with the unaccountable prison system that lies behind Guantánamo, or with the thorny details of how to actually close the prison.

With reference to the work of Reprieve, the legal action charity whose lawyers represent 31 prisoners in Guantánamo, I discussed the particular difficulties faced by a number of these men, who have been cleared for release, but who cannot be freed because of treaties preventing the repatriation of foreign nationals if they face the risk of torture, and other obstacles preventing the closure of the prison — not least the Military Commissions, the disgraceful trial system for terror suspects that was conceived by Vice President Dick Cheney and his close advisers just two months after the 9/11 attacks.

Andy Worthington was the Communications Manager for Reprieve 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.

In a plea from Guantánamo, Binyam Mohamed talks of “betrayal” by the UK

Binyam MohamedOn September 10, the Independent featured an article about Guantánamo prisoner and British resident Binyam Mohamed, which included exclusive extracts from a statement that Binyam made on August 11 during a visit by Cori Crider, staff attorney for Reprieve, the legal action charity whose lawyers represent 31 prisoners in Guantánamo.

An Ethiopian-born Londoner, Binyam spent his 30th birthday in isolation in Guantánamo just weeks before Ms. Crider’s visit. He has been imprisoned since April 2002, when he was seized in Pakistan during a particularly intense and paranoid phase of the “War on Terror.” Rendered to Morocco by the CIA in July 2002, he was tortured on behalf of the United States for 18 months, and was then flown to Afghanistan, where he spent another nine months in the “Dark Prison,” a CIA torture prison near Kabul, and the US military prison at Bagram airbase. He arrived in Guantánamo in June 2004.

In April this year, Binyam’s lawyers submitted a request for documents in the possession of the British government relating to knowledge of his rendition and torture, based, in particular, on a visit to Binyam that was made by British agents in May 2002, when he was in a Pakistani jail but evidently under US supervision, and on questions that were put to him by his Pakistani torturers about his life in London, which could only have come from the British intelligence services.

When the government’s lawyers refused to release this information, claiming that they had no responsibility to do so, Binyam’s lawyers sued the government, arguing that the need for this information was pressing because Binyam was about to be put forward for trial at Guantánamo in the Military Commissions (described, in 2003, as a “kangaroo court” by Lord Steyn, a British law lord), and the information was needed to mount an effective defence to allegations that were produced under torture.

This, in turn, led to a judicial review in the High Court at the end of July, and a spectacular ruling, delivered on August 22 by Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones, in which the judges ruled that David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary was “under a duty” to disclose the requested information “in confidence” to Binyam’s legal advisers. The judges stated that this was “not only necessary but essential for his defence” for three particular reasons: 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.”

Noting that there were possible implications for national security, however, the judges granted the government a week to submit a Public Interest Immunity (PII) Certificate. This was turned down on September 5, but the government was granted more time to submit another PII Certificate, in light of some begrudging concessions made by the US State Department regarding the provision of evidence should his case come to trial.

The judge’s ruling on this second PII Certificate is expected in the next week or so, but reproduced below is Binyam’s full statement in response to the judicial review, which concluded the week before Ms. Crider’s visit, as well as other comments and observations about the current situation in Guantánamo.

Described by Ms. Crider as “very frail and depressed,” Binyam told her, “I’m sick, and I don’t know it. We got so used to being sick that we scarcely notice. Like a person limping who stops noticing, my health problems are so chronic that I barely notice them anymore.” Speaking of conditions in general, he made the following observation: “I thought the US would at least say, ‘improve the conditions’, so they could take the pressure off from those pushing for the prisoners’ release.”

He proceeded to describe his daily life at Guantánamo, explaining that his “recreation time” (the only time he is allowed outside), which is often portrayed in media reports as taking place in a yard, actually takes place in a “small cage.” He said that he “tries to run in this cage”, but asked how he is supposed to “run in circles in a cage that is a three metre by four metre cell”? He added, “I turn so much that the nerves on the outside of my foot have frayed.”

He also spoke about the refusal of the authorities to provide adequate reading material. “I have asked for educational books from the library”, he said, “but there is nothing to read in the library.“ Explaining that he had already read the old National Geographic and sports magazines that were available, he added that he cannot read the books in Arabic, and desperately wants to read educational books in English — “maths, English, geography.”

Referring to the Australian prisoner David Hicks (released in May 2007), who apparently had a large library of books to read, Binyam asked, “Where did the 200 books that Hicks had go? If he could get it, why don’t I have it? Australia is less powerful than the UK, so why do I not have the same access to reading materials as David Hicks had?”

The following is Binyam’s statement in response to the judicial review:

Binyam Mohamed’s statement from Guantánamo, August 11, 2008

I have learned that the UK has refused to give my lawyers information to help me prove my innocence — and that the UK has taken the position in court that I will get all the information I could possibly need through the rigged military courts, or through the “habeas” process.

How can they possibly be taking this position? Lord Steyn himself called these commissions “kangaroo courts” years ago, and he was exactly right. And I understood the official UK position to be that the commissions were unfair, and illegal, and that Britons should never be forced to go through them.

So how, then, can they say that the very people who tortured me, rendered me, and now want to try me in a kangaroo court will just hand over the evidence of their own criminal acts? For the UK to say this is naïve, at best, and a betrayal, at worst.

And as for habeas –- I have been here for over six years, and I have yet to see a single scrap of proof come out of habeas. Why should I, or the UK, think it will be different now?

The UK has now spoken to me. The UK knows, I believe, what I go through every day. The UK should understand that no person could withstand this kind of treatment for much longer. To leave me in these conditions and, to add insult to injury, to defend the rigged process I am facing here, is a disgrace. I hope the UK government will reconsider its position before it is too late.

Signed this 11th day of August 2008.

Binyam Mohamed

Cori Crider (witness)

In addition, Binyam also talked about the testimony in his judicial review of “Agent B,” one of two British agents who had visited him in May 2002, when he was being held in Pakistan. In their ruling, the judges declared that Binyam’s imprisonment was illegal according to Pakistani law, and cross-examined “Agent B” in several days of closed sessions. What happened in these sessions was not revealed, of course, but it was inferred that the agent was being asked in great detail about his account of Binyam’s interrogation, and the fact that he brought his own lawyer with him indicated that what was under discussion may have involved the possibility of criminal charges.

Binyam particularly objected to a claim by “Agent B” that he had no recollection of the following story, as related to Clive Stafford Smith during a previous visit to Guantánamo:

They gave me a cup of tea with a lot of sugar in it. I initially only took one. “No, you need a lot more. Where you’re going, you need a lot of sugar.” I didn’t know exactly what he meant by this, but I figured he meant some poor country in Arabia. One of them did tell me I was going to get tortured by the Arabs.

During his meeting with Cori Crider on August 11, Binyam said, “I had two interrogators in Pakistan. ’B’ was interrogating, but it was the other unknown agent who made the threat about the tea. This person — we’ll call him ‘Agent X’ — walked in with ‘B’ at the start of the session. That was when he made the threat, and ‘B’ was there to hear it. A Pakistani had brought the tea. I told them, ‘one lump of sugar,’ and then ‘Agent X’ made the threat. In fact, ‘Agent B’ sat down as ‘X’ made the comment, and said, ‘just ignore him.’”

“Why would he lie?” Binyam continued. “Why not do what the Americans do and just change the meaning? If the Americans can change the meaning of torture, and you’re going to defend them, you might as well copy their tricks. They could at least argue that saying ‘sugar in tea’ wasn’t a threat, but they can’t claim that they didn’t say it at all.”

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 and ZNet.

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

Controversy still plagues Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

Salim HamdanOne month ago, when the jury in the first US war crimes trial since the Second World War found Salim Hamdan guilty of providing material support for terrorism, but not guilty of conspiracy, the US administration regarded it as a victory, even though numerous commentators — myself included — remained profoundly critical of the entire process.

Moreover, the “victory” touted by the administration was undermined by the brevity of the sentence handed down: just five and half years, as opposed to the 30-year sentence sought by the prosecution. Allowing for time served since he was first charged, this left Hamdan just five months to serve, but the administration was revealed in its true colors when Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman explained that “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.”

Another insignificant Afghan charged

Lost in the coverage of Hamdan’s trial, which dominated media reports about Guantánamo at the end of July and the start of August, was the fact that a twenty-third prisoner, an Afghan named Abdul Ghani, had been put forward for trial by Military Commission on July 28.

It was alleged that the 36-year old, who was charged (PDF) with conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and attempted murder in violation of the rules of war, had “fired rockets at US forces and bases,” had transported and helped plant “land mines and other explosive devices on more than one occasion for use against US and coalition forces,” had “participated in an attack on Afghan soldiers with small arms fire, in which one Afghan soldier was wounded,” and had “accepted monetary payments, including payment from al-Qaeda and others known and unknown, to commit attacks on US forces and bases.”

Apart from the inclusion of the magic words “al-Qaeda,” there was nothing in Abdul Ghani’s charge sheet to indicate that he should find himself in the same trial system as those accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, the African embassy bombings of 1998 or the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, or even, in fact, that he should have been sent to Guantánamo at all.

Perhaps, if his case goes to trial, more will be revealed about this alleged al-Qaeda connection (which Ghani denied in his tribunal at Guantánamo), but in the meantime he joins an ever-growing list of, at best, minor Afghan insurgents — Mohamed Jawad, Mohammed Kamin and Mohammed Hashim — who would never, at any other time in American history, have found themselves on trial as terrorists, having already endured four to five years of almost total isolation in an experimental prison half a world away from home.

After Hamdan’s sentence, with the charges against Abdul Ghani completely overlooked (primarily, it seems, because they were filed on the Pentagon’s website without any fanfare), there was a brief flurry of activity in the cases of the Canadian Omar Khadr, who was just 15 years old when he was seized in July 2002, Mohammed Jawad (also a teenager when he was seized), and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a Yemeni who is accused of producing videos for al-Qaeda and serving as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, before silence descended on Guantánamo once more.

More challenges in Omar Khadr’s case

Omar KhadrOn August 13, pre-trial hearings resumed for Omar Khadr, whose trial is scheduled to begin on October 8, as his indefatigable US military lawyer, Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, and his Canadian civilian lawyer, Dennis Edney, attempted once more to dismantle the case against their client, as they have been trying to do since his first pre-trial hearings last June.

As the Globe and Mail described it, Lt. Cmdr. Kuebler “asked the court to allow the defense to produce testimony from an expert on false confessions made by juveniles.” The prosecution did not object, but argued that the clinical psychologist and developmental psychiatrist requested by the defense team — who would cost $60,000 — were too expensive, and suggested that experts employed by the government would be an adequate substitute.

Lt. Cmdr. Kuebler also sought a favorable ruling regarding allegations of “unlawful influence” exercised over the Commission proceedings through the sudden removal from Omar’s case of Col. Peter Brownback, who had been the trial judge since last June. Col. Brownback was unexpectedly removed from the case in May, following a series of heated exchanges with prosecutors in which he refused to set a trial date before the prosecution handed over evidence to the defense and threatened to suspend proceedings,” as Lt. Cmdr. Kuebler explained in a press release.

Col. Morris DavisOmar’s hearing only really came to life during an exchange over another of the defense’s “unlawful influence” claims, when two bitter rivals clashed. The first was Col. Morris Davis (left), the Commissions’ former chief prosecutor, who resigned last fall, and has since become an outspoken critic of the politicization of the process and its efforts to use evidence obtained through torture. The second was Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, who took over last summer as the Legal Adviser to the Commissions’ Convening Authority (Susan Crawford, the retired judge and friend of Dick Cheney who oversees the Commissions), whose appointment set in motion the chain of events that led to Davis’ resignation.

Brig. Gen. Hartmann had already been excluded from one case, when, in May, Capt. Keith Allred, the judge in Salim Hamdan’s case, ruled that he had exerted “unlawful command influence” over the proceedings (in other words, that he had been biased in favor of the prosecution in what was supposed to be an impartial process), and Col. Davis clearly relished the opportunity to lash out at him once more. Speaking by teleconference from Washington, he explained that there was a sense of urgency within the administration to produce results before November’s election, which he characterized as follows: “If we didn’t get [the military commission] up and running and get the public behind it, it would implode. Cases like Khadr’s were going to bring political support and make it harder for the next commander-in-chief to stop the process.”

Col. Davis pointed out, as he has before, that for Hartmann the Khadr case was “sexy.” Hartman “liked the Khadr case,” he continued, describing it as “the kind of case the public’s going to get energized about.” Asked to describe Hartmann’s management style, he said it was “overbearing and tactless.”

As in May, when his testimony was credited with helping remove Hartmann from Hamdan’s case, Col. Davis also directed much of his vitriol at Defense Department general counsel William J. Haynes II, who explicitly supported the use of evidence through torture, and explained, “The influence that expedited the charging of Khadr came from Jim Haynes.”

For his part, Brig. Gen. Hartmann, who also spoke by teleconference, had little to say. Refuting Col. Davis’ allegations, he conceded only that he had told Col. Davis that the cases chosen ought to catch the public’s imagination, “or something to that effect.”

Unfortunately for Omar, the new judge in his case, Col. Patrick Parrish, had little time for the defense’s requests. In a brief ruling on August 14, as Lt. Cmdr. Kuebler stated in his press release, he “agreed that the defense should have the services of either a clinical psychologist or developmental psychiatrist” (but not both), although he then favored the prosecutors’ objections by directing them “to locate a ‘comparably qualified’ government substitute to the experts requested by the defense.”

In addition, as Lt. Cmdr. Kuebler noted ruefully, Col. Parrish “granted the prosecution’s request for a mental health evaluation by military doctors (with no special training in child psychology), ignoring defense claims that such an evaluation could set back months of rapport building by Omar’s defense team as part of efforts to get [Omar] to talk about his mistreatment and abuse at the hands of US authorities.” He added, as a further explanation of why this was a cynically counter-productive move, “Military mental health professionals have assisted in manipulating and exploiting Omar as a source of intelligence in the course of his detention by US authorities.”

Brig. Gen. HartmannCol. Parrish also refused to dismiss Brig. Gen. Hartmann (left) from the case, and rejected the defense’s claim of “unlawful influence” stemming from Col. Brownback’s removal, dismissing it as an “implausible conspiracy theory”, even though, as Lt. Cmdr. Kuebler explained, the Pentagon has “never adequately explained” the decision to “return Brownback to retired status in the middle of the Khadr case,” and has “issued contradictory and misleading explanations.” He added that just-released documents suggested that the decision was indeed political, as it “came within days of Brownback’s February decision to order a hearing on disclosure of evidence, thereby throwing off a previously scheduled May trial date.”

Omar’s pre-trial hearing was, therefore, a setback for the defense in almost all respects, with Col. Parrish’s decisions, for the most part, reinforcing suspicions that the unruly Col. Brownback (who, with Capt. Keith Allred, Salim Hamdan’s judge, had temporarily derailed the entire Commission process last June), was removed to make way for a judge who would be less critical of the prosecutors. His only moment of independence came when he criticized the prosecution for a long delay in handing over a report to the defense team, which, it must be said, is so frequent a complaint that it seems to be deliberate policy on the part of the government. Setting them a deadline, he stated that the process should “move faster than glaciers.”

Hartmann slammed in Mohammed Jawad’s hearing

Although Brig. Gen. Hartmann escaped exclusion from Omar’s case, he was not so lucky in another courtroom in Guantánamo. On the same day that Omar’s pre-trial hearing began, Mohammed Jawad, the Afghan teenager accused of throwing a grenade that wounded two US soldiers and an Afghan interpreter, was also in court, for another pre-trial hearing in which a new witness, Brig. Gen. Gregory Zanetti, the deputy commander of Guantánamo’s Joint Task Force, accomplished what Col. Davis had failed to achieve a second time around.

Brig. Gen. Gregory ZanettiAlso speaking from Washington, by telephone and teleconference, Brig. Gen. Zanetti launched into the first attack on Hartmann by an officer of equal rank, declaring that Hartmann’s demeanor, “as an attorney from a thousand miles away,” was “abusive, bullying and unprofessional … pretty much across the board.” In a memorable line, he described Hartmann’s approach as, “Spray and pray. Charge everybody. Let’s go. Speed, speed, speed. Charge ’em, charge ’em, charge ’em and let’s pray that we can pull this off.” As Carol Rosenberg put it in the Miami Herald, Brig. Gen. Zanetti “described struggling with Hartmann over who would run US forces working on trial logistics,” and said that he sought to discuss the concept of “command unity” with him. “As a principle, it’s really been around since Alexander The Great. Most military people understand this one,” he said, adding, however, that “Gen. Hartmann really wanted to run things.”

Like Omar Khadr’s lawyers, Mohamed Jawad’s lawyer, Maj. David Frakt, was seeking to have his charges dismissed on the grounds that Brig. Gen. Hartmann exerted “unlawful influence” on the trial. In his motion, he alleged that Hartmann “usurped the role of a prosecutor — rather than acting dispassionately — and pushed to get Jawad charged because the case involved battlefield bloodshed.” Maj. Frakt had obtained a court order from the judge, Col. Stephen Henley, to compel Brig. Gen. Zanetti’s testimony, but even he must have been surprised at how vigorously the Commissions’ legal adviser was attacked.

The result of Zanetti’s vigorous testimony was Brig. Gen. Hartmann’s exclusion from a second trial. Far from just pushing to get Jawad charged, it transpired, as Jane Sutton of Reuters described it, that Jawad’s defense team had pointed out to the judge that Hartmann had “failed to turn over defense documents” to his immediate boss, Susan Crawford, the Commissions’ Convening Authority, even though these documents “outlined mitigating circumstances that might have altered her decision to endorse the charges.”

In response, Col. Henley not only dismissed Brig. Gen. Hartmann from further involvement in Jawad’s case, but also “ordered the documents to be sent to Crawford along with other potentially exculpatory information.” Although he refused to order the charges to be dropped entirely, he made a request for Crawford to review the charges, indicating that it was up to her to decide whether to “drop or reduce them.”

This was, not for the first time, a significant blow to the Commission process, not only for the second exposure of Brig. Gen. Hartmann’s inappropriately controlling role, but also because it exposed the cavalier manner in which Hartmann withheld potentially exculpatory evidence from Susan Crawford, which revealed, explicitly, the rigged nature of the Commission process.

Maj. Frakt was, of course, delighted. “For the first time, she will be presented with a balanced portrait of the facts and the circumstances of this case,” he explained, pointing out that the mitigating factors which would now be presented to Susan Crawford were not only Mohamed Jawad’s age at the time of his capture (he was either 16 or 17), but also the fact that he had been drugged when he was recruited for what was described to him as a mine-clearing operation, that three people in total had confessed to throwing the grenade, that he was beaten and chained to a wall while in US custody in Afghanistan, and that he had been subjected, in Guantánamo, to the “frequent flier program.”

This was a process of extreme sleep deprivation, condemned as abusive in a report about conditions in Guantánamo by Lt. Gen. Randall Schmidt, in which prisoners were moved from cell to cell every few hours to prevent them from sleeping. Documents obtained by Maj. Frakt demonstrated that Jawad had been subjected to the program from May 7 to May 20, 2004, even though the authorities claimed that it had stopped in March 2004, and at Jawad’s pre-trial hearing an intelligence officer for the Joint Detention Operation Group (JTOG) admitted that it had actually “continued until at least April 2005 with the knowledge and concurrence of the JTF-GTMO and JODF Commanders.”

An alleged al-Qaeda operative exits center stage

After these developments, the last pre-trial hearing, on August 15, was something of an anti-climax, as Ali Hamza al-Bahlul walked away from his hearing. “You are the judge and I am the accused,” he told the judge, Col. Ronald Gregory, who had replaced Col. Brownback in his case, as well as that of Omar Khadr. “At the same time, you are my enemy. We don’t really accept this kind of logic.” Speaking through an interpreter, he added, “I do not have any trust in this legal farce. Continue this illegal play in any way you wish.” As Jane Sutton of Reuters described it, al-Bahlul “had intended to act as his own attorney but the judge ruled that he lost that right when he left the courtroom under escort.” Al-Bahlul added that “he would boycott further proceedings and return to hear his sentence after the trial ended, presumably with his conviction.”

Maj. Frakt, who was appointed to represent al-Bahlul as well as Mohamed Jawad, explained to reporters, “I think he thinks this circus has gone on long enough,” although he said that he would honor his request to put on no defense at all, and asked Col. Gregory for a “speedy trial.”

A speedy trial will no doubt please the administration in some respects, as it believes it has a strong case against al-Bahlul. According to the Commissions’ rules, it could begin within 90 days, meaning that a victory would occur after the election, but before the administration leaves office. However, the prospect of such a significant trial taking place “with no defendant and no defense,” as Reuters described it, would surely lack legitimacy in the eyes of all but the administration’s most fervent supporters. As Jennifer Turner of the American Civil Liberties Union explained, “To proceed without al-Bahlul, without mounting a defense, destroys any possibility of any appearance of legitimacy and fairness.”

Hartmann condemned again: three strikes and you’re out

With al-Bahlul’s exit, all activity in the Commissions ground to a halt until September 4, when, in his latest ruling in Omar Khadr’s case, Col. Parrish unexpectedly struck another blow against Brig. Gen. Hartmann. Although he ruled that Omar’s trial would go ahead as planned on October 8, he barred Hartmann from reviewing it, in the case of a conviction, because of what Carol Rosenberg described as “an appearance of pro-prosecution bias.”

Although there was no immediate response from the Pentagon, Charles “Cully” Stimson, a former deputy assistant secretary for detainee affairs, who famously resigned after directing grossly insensitive comments at law firms working pro bono on behalf of prisoners in Guantánamo (and who now works for the Heritage Foundation), suddenly stepped forward to suggest that, under a “three strikes and you’re out” philosophy, Hartmann should resign.

“If Hartmann continues in this role and soils each case that he touches,” Stimson said, “by definition it will result in reversal or it will result in the next judge removing Hartmann and the next judge removing Hartmann. How many times do you have to get kicked in the shins and say ouch?” He added that Hartmann should be “thanked and excused from his service,” and explained that he was particularly concerned about challenges and appeals frustrating the forthcoming trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks, which Hartmann “helped shepherd.” As Carol Rosenberg described it, Stimson also suggested that the Defense Department “should reorganize the role of legal advisor to separate the supervision of the Pentagon’s War Crimes Prosecutor from the legal authority that independently reviews the cases.”

This time, the Pentagon finally responded, wheeling out “war court spokesman” Joseph DellaVedova to support Hartmann, insisting that he “remains focused on doing his job as the Legal Adviser to the Convening Authority and he will continue to do it.” This was unsurprising, as the Pentagon has consistently supported both Brig. Gen. Hartmann and Susan Crawford, who remains, somehow, beyond criticism, but the maneuvering of the last month does little to reassure observers that the administration’s last-ditch attempts to secure its anti-terror legacy before the elections will run as smoothly as they had hoped.

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 and the Huffington Post.

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), High Court rules against UK and US in case of Binyam Mohamed (August 2008), Another Insignificant Afghan Charged (September 2008), Seized at 15, Omar Khadr Turns 22 in Guantánamo (September 2008), Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Running the 9/11 Trials? (September 2008), two articles exploring the Commissions’ corrupt command structure (The Dark Heart of the Guantánamo Trials, and New Evidence of Systemic Bias in Guantánamo Trials, October 2008), Meltdown at the Guantánamo Trials (five trials dropped, October 2008), The collapse of Omar Khadr’s Guantánamo trial (October 2008), Corruption at Guantánamo (legal adviser faces military investigations, October 2008), An empty trial at Guantánamo (Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, October 2008), Life sentence for al-Qaeda propagandist fails to justify Guantánamo trials (al-Bahlul, November 2008), Guilt by Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), 20 Reasons To Shut Down The Guantánamo Trials (profiles of all the prisoners charged, November 2008), How Guantánamo Can Be Closed: Advice for Barack Obama (November 2008), More Dubious Charges in the Guantánamo Trials (two Kuwaitis, November 2008), The End of Guantánamo (Salim Hamdan repatriated, November 2008), Torture, Preventive Detention and the Terror Trials at Guantánamo (December 2008), Is the 9/11 trial confession an al-Qaeda coup? (December 2008), The Dying Days of the Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns Chaotic Trials (Lt. Col. Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Torture taints the case of Mohamed Jawad (January 2009), Bush Era Ends with Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Chaos and Lies: Why Obama Was Right to Halt The Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Plea Bargain: Trading Torture For Freedom (March 2009).

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

Two Afghans released from Guantánamo: a farmer and a teenager

A prisoner at GuantanamoYou would think, perhaps, with over 500 prisoners released from Guantánamo, that the remaining 263 might conform, in some way or another, to the administration’s long-standing description of them as the “worst of the worst” terrorists.

Sadly, for the administration’s credibility, this is clearly not the case, as the stories of three recently released prisoners demonstrate. I have already written about the first of these men — Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni, a joint Pakistani-Egyptian national, who was seized in Indonesia and rendered to Egypt for torture, based on nothing more than a comment he made to a group of Islamists who had befriended him in Jakarta.

In addition, the stories of the two Afghans released with Madni — though involving slightly less brutality — do nothing to justify the United States’ detention policies in the “War on Terror.” Instead, they serve to confirm, as I have demonstrated before, both in my book The Guantánamo Files, and in several articles in the last year (examples here and here), that the basis for seizing Afghans and sending them to Guantánamo was both misconceived from the outset, and misapplied in practice.

It’s easy to forget that, in terms of the treatment of prisoners captured in wartime, Afghanistan was the precursor to Iraq, as the administration, ignoring all precedents, recklessly extended the definition of terrorism to prisoners who were defined as “enemy combatants” (or “security detainees” in Iraq), when they should have been held as Enemy Prisoners of War, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions. In practice, this disturbing policy was further undermined by ineptitude, as it led to the imprisonment of a large number of innocent men, who were either betrayed by opportunistic rivals or the United States’ own Afghan allies, or captured as a result of woefully poor intelligence, sometimes by indiscriminately rounding up large numbers of potential suspects.

In all cases, moreover, a robust screening process, which would have mitigated the worst effects of the above, was sacrificed in exchange for a belligerent insistence, on the part of those directing the United States’ military activities, that this was unnecessary. In contrast to all previous wars since the Second World War, in which battlefield tribunals were instigated (in accordance with the Geneva Conventions) so that witnesses could be called to identify those caught by mistake, no such procedure was enacted in Afghanistan.

Chris Mackey, the pseudonym of a military interrogator who worked in the Afghan prisons at Kandahar and Bagram that were used to process the prisoners for Guantánamo, wrote a book about his experiences, The Interrogators, in which he explained that those deciding what would happen to the prisoners (at Camp Doha in Kuwait) stipulated that every single Arab who ended up in US custody was to be sent to Guantánamo.

Mackey also made it clear that, although only Afghans with “considerable intelligence value” were supposed to be sent to Guantánamo, it was not until June 2002, when around 600 detainees had already been transferred, that those in charge on the ground in Afghanistan came up with a category of temporary prisoner, who could be held for 14 days without being assigned a number that entered the system overseen in Kuwait. It was, he explained, the only way that they could deal with at least some of the many innocent Afghans who ended up in their custody. As is demonstrated by the stories of the two Afghans just released, however, even this failed to stem the flow of wrongly detained Afghans who continued to be sent to Guantánamo until August 2003.

The farmer

On February 10, 2003, the day before Eid al-Adha (the Feast of Sacrifice, the biggest feast day in the Muslim calendar), the first of these men, Abdul Wahab, a 35-year-old farmer from the village of Lejay, in Helmand province, was traveling in a taxi with six other people when it was stopped by US soldiers. According to Abdul Wahab’s account, he was traveling to repay a debt owed by his brother, who had borrowed some money and had sold some donkeys to repay the debt.

To the Americans, however, who stated that they had been “viciously attacked” the day before by a 40-man pro-Taliban guerrilla unit led by Abdul Wahid, a local warlord, Abdul Wahab, and at least 70 other men seized in the vicinity of Lejay, were suspected of having been part of Wahid’s militia group. Most were released, but eight to ten of the men — including Wahab — were flown to Guantánamo, where the US authorities confidently claimed, in his tribunal, that he “suffered hearing loss when captured, which was caused by firing weapons,” that he “stated he used ‘klash-n-krors’ [Kalashnikovs] against US personnel,” and that he “was captured at a checkpoint in the same type vehicle and clothing that was witnessed leaving the site of [an] ambush against US forces.”

In the case of another of the men, Abdul Bagi (released in 2005 or 2006), the purported similarity of his clothing to that of the suspected insurgents was spelled out more explicitly. Bagi, it was claimed, was “apprehended wearing an olive drab green jacket consistent with the eyewitness accounts of the individual attacks.” For his part, Bagi was remarkable restrained in his response, stating simply, “The green jackets are in the shops, hundreds of them, everybody can buy them and wear them.”

Abdul Wahab also denied the allegations against him, which, in the case of the “klash-n-krors” allegation, had the taint of a confession produced under duress. He protested that he had not suffered hearing loss, had not raised arms against the US, and, like Abdul Bagi, was not wearing suspicious clothing at the time. “I am a poor man,” he told the tribunal. “I am innocent. I have nothing to do with Taliban [and] I have nothing to do with the al-Qaeda. I don’t know these people.”

He also denied another allegation — that one of the men captured with him was “an intelligence supporter (sic) of the former Taliban Chief of Intelligence,” and that another was “a Taliban commander who was attending a meeting with other senior Taliban officials” — saying that he did not know any of the people in the taxi, except a fellow villager.

It seems extremely unlikely, in fact, that any of those seized fulfilled the US military’s presumption that they had captured any military leaders. All the men seized on that day — except, inexplicably, a man called Kushky Yar, the uncle of Abdul Bagi, who was grabbed with his nephew in the street near their homes while heading to the bazaar to buy parts for a tractor — have been released, as the grand claims made against them (which, again, had the ring of coercion) melted away.

56-year old Alif Mohammed, for example, who was accused of orchestrating the attack using a satellite phone, said that he was just a poor tinsmith, and pointed out that he would never have worked for Abdul Wahid because the warlord had killed his nephew and his nephew’s pregnant wife. In his tribunal, Abdul Bagi spoke in his defense, saying, “Alif Mohammed is a drug addict and he is a very poor guy … The Taliban beat [him] too much because he is a drug addict and was close to killing him. How could he be their commander?”

Throughout his time in Guantánamo, Abdul Wahab maintained his innocence, frequently in the most heartfelt terms. “Whenever I eat here in the detention center,” he explained to his review board, “I am thinking about my children, what they have to eat. I wish you consider me as a normal person and send me home, please.” When asked what he would do if released, he said, “When I go home I will make some money to buy some food for my children if they are alive. If they [have not] died already.”

Although he did not speak much about his treatment in Guantánamo, he did make reference to a polygraph test, whose outcome, rather disturbingly, suggested that the administration was using the test solely in an effort to confirm guilt, and not to provide an opportunity for prisoners to prove their innocence. “When I passed [the test],” he explained, “the guy told me, ‘You [have passed the test by one] hundred percent and you are going home.’ I don’t know [if] the machine is lying or the guy who told me I passed everything [is] lying to me, I don’t know.”

The teenager

The second Afghan, Mahbub Rahman, was born in 1985, according to the Pentagon’s own records, and was, therefore, either 17 years old at the time of his capture, sometime around August or September 2003, or just 18 years old. If he was 17, then his treatment directly contravenes the terms of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to which the US is a signatory, which recognizes that juvenile prisoners — defined as those accused of a crime that took place when they were under 18 years of age — “are particularly vulnerable to recruitment or use in hostilities”, and requires its signatories to promote “the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict.”

If Mahbub Rahman was a child soldier, in other words, the US was supposed to promote his rehabilitation rather than hauling him off to Guantánamo, along with other, more well-known juveniles — including Omar Khadr and Mohamed Jawad, who are both facing a trial by Military Commission, and Mohammed El-Gharani, a Saudi resident and citizen of Chad, who was just 14 when he was seized.

It transpires, however, that there was no proof that Rahman was a child soldier at all. Although he was accused of spying on American forces, shooting an Afghan soldier and two civilians, and being caught with two automatic rifles, he denied all the allegations, insisting that his only crime — which had no impact on the United States whatsoever — was to shoot, in self-defense, an enemy of his family who was threatening him with a gun, and who had killed one of his brothers several years before. In a long and rambling story, he explained how, after the shooting, he had fled to the madrassa (religious school) at which he had been studying in Pakistan, and was captured after returning to Afghanistan to visit his family.

To complicate matters, three other prisoners were seized at the same time as Mahbub Rahman, although only one of these, Azimullah (who was released in April 2007), was also transferred to Guantánamo, where he too was ensnared in the “spying” allegation, which purportedly revolved around a plot to attack a US base, and was also accused of being involved in a firefight with Afghan soldiers. Azimullah, who knew Mahbub Rahman because they studied at the same madrassa, also denied the allegations against him, explaining to his tribunal, “I was walking towards the village with my friend and the Afghan soldiers were in there and they saw us and arrested us.” He said that he was not told why he was arrested at the time, but that “when they took me to the base they told me that I attacked them and that I did this and this.”

There is far more to this story than I can cover here (including, as an intriguing aside, the fact that Salim, the friend mentioned by Azimullah, was last heard of in Bagram, having somehow avoided the flight to Guantánamo), but what’s clear about the cases of Mahbub Rahman and Azimullah is that, even if the allegations about spying and being involved in a firefight with Afghan soldiers were true, these actions had nothing to do with terrorism, al-Qaeda or the 9/11 attacks.

Instead, their stories — like those of hundreds of other Guantánamo prisoners — serve only to demonstrate that there was no basis whatsoever for transferring them to a novel offshore prison devoted to endless interrogation and indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial, which was supposedly justified by the administration because it held the world’s most dangerous terrorists.

No happy ending

I wish I could say that this story has a happy ending, but since August 2007, when the US military finished refurbishing a wing of Kabul’s main prison, Pol-i-Charki, the Afghans released from Guantánamo have not been freed on their return, but have been held in this new prison wing, known as the Afghan National Detention Facility (ANDF), where the demarcation lines between Afghan and US control are far from clear.

Some of these men have subsequently been released following trials in Afghanistan, either because they were found to be innocent, or were judged guilty but freed because of time already served in Guantánamo, but it’s disturbing to note that these trials are regarded by outside observers as largely perfunctory affairs that have, shockingly, drawn on “evidence” provided by the US authorities, even though that same information was used to clear them for release from Guantánamo. Such is the discomfort about the situation in Afghanistan itself that President Karzai recently formed a Commission to look at the men’s cases, which approved further releases, but there is little about the process that would reassure an objective outsider that any of these men are finally receiving anything that resembles justice.

This article draws on passages in my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on and the Huffington Post.


The prisoners’ numbers (and variations on the spelling of their names) are as follows:

ISN 961: Abdul Wahab
ISN 1052: Mahbub Rahman

Since writing this article, I have discovered that Kushky Yar, mentioned above, was released in February 2006, and that therefore all the Lejay farmers have been freed.

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; August 2008 –- 2 Algerians; 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).

Rendered to Egypt for torture, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is released from Guantánamo

Mohammed Saad Iqbal MadniNews that three more prisoners have been released from Guantánamo is cause for celebration, as all three men should never have been held in the first place. In a report to follow, I’ll look at the stories of the two Afghans released — one a simple farmer, the other a juvenile at the time he was seized — but for now I’m going to focus on the extraordinary story of the prisoner released to Pakistan, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni, whose grotesque mistreatment involves “extraordinary rendition” and torture spanning several continents.

A Pakistani-Egyptian national and the son of an Islamic scholar, Madni was 24 years old when he was arrested in Jakarta by the Indonesian authorities on January 9, 2002, after a request from the CIA. He was then rendered to Egypt, apparently at the urging of the Egyptian authorities, working in cooperation with the CIA. In Egypt, he was tortured for three months, and was flown back to Afghanistan on April 12, 2002 with Mamdouh Habib, an Australian prisoner, seized in Pakistan, who was released in January 2005, and who has spoken at length about his torture in Egypt. Eleven months later, Madni was transferred to Guantánamo.

Although Madni did not speak about his treatment during any of his military reviews at Guantánamo, several prisoners confirmed that he was tortured by the Egyptians. Rustam Akhmyarov, a Russian prisoner released in 2004, said that Madni told him of his time “in an underground cell in Egypt, where he never saw the sun and where he was tortured until he confessed to working with Osama bin Laden,” and added that he “recalled how he was interrogated by both Egyptian and US agents in Egypt and that he was blindfolded, tortured with electric shocks, beaten and hung from the ceiling.”

Akhmyarov also said that Madni was in a particularly bad mental and physical state in Guantánamo, where he “was passing blood in his faeces,” and recalled that he overheard US officials telling him, “we will let you go if you tell the world everything was fine here.” Mamdouh Habib confirmed Akhmyarov’s analysis, recalling how Madni had “pleaded for human interaction.” He said that he overheard him saying, ”Talk to me, please talk to me … I feel depressed … I want to talk to somebody … Nobody trusts me.” On the 191st day of his incarceration, according to Madni’s own account, he attempted to commit suicide.

The Tipton Three — Rhuhel Ahmed, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul, British citizens released in 2004 — also recalled Madni in Guantánamo (PDF). They said that “he had had electrodes put on his knees: and that “something had happened to his bladder and he had problems going to the toilet,” but explained that he had been told by interrogators that he would not receive treatment unless he cooperated with them, in which case he would be “first in line for medical treatment.”

Quite what Madni was supposed to have done to justify this torture and abuse was never adequately explained at Guantánamo. The US authorities urged the Indonesians to arrest him after they claimed to have discovered documents that linked him to Richard Reid, the inept and mentally troubled British “shoe bomber,” who was arrested, and later received a life sentence, for attempting to blow up an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami in December 2001, but Madni persistently denied the connections. In his Combatant Status Review Tribunal — in which he pointed out that he is from a wealthy and influential family, is fluent in nine languages and is a renowned Islamic scholar — he maintained that he was betrayed by one of four radical Islamists whom he met by accident on a trip to Indonesia in November 2001 to sort out family business after his father’s death.

This account was backed up during an investigation by the Washington Post, who concluded that he rented a house in Jakarta, and did nothing more sinister than visiting the local mosque, handing out business cards “identifying him as a Koran reader for an Islamic radio station,” and spending “hours on end watching television at a friend’s house.” Succinctly summing up what happened to him, he told his tribunal, “After I went to Indonesia, I got introduced to some people who were not good. They were bad people. Maybe I can say they were terrorists. When someone gets introduced to someone, it is not written on their foreheads that they are bad or good.”

According to Ray Bonner of the New York Times, the entire basis for Madni’s capture, rendition and torture was that Madni, described by an uncle in Lahore as a young man who “had a childish habit of trying to portray himself as important,” had made the mistake of telling the men he had met — members of the Islamic Defender Front, an organization that espoused anti-Americanism, but had not been involved in any terrorist attacks — that bombs could be hidden in shoes.

The comment was picked up by Indonesian intelligence agents, who were monitoring the men, and was relayed to the CIA, who decided to pick him up after Richard Reid’s failed shoe bomb attack a few weeks later. Although a US intelligence official confirmed Madni’s uncle’s account, calling Madni a “blowhard,” who “wanted us to believe he was more important than he was,” and another thought that he would be held for a few days, “then booted out of jail,” more senior officials clearly had other plans. Madni’s six and a half year ordeal, therefore, was based on a single ill-advised comment.

If Madni’s family are sufficiently well connected, it may well be that we haven’t heard the last of this particular story of the gruesome impact of torture arrangements between the United States and Egypt, based on inadequate intelligence, and the quiescent role of the Indonesian authorities. On the other hand, Madni, if released in Pakistan, may just want to rebuild his life in seclusion. This would be understandable, of course, but his abominable treatment deserves to be more than a mere footnote in the history of the Bush administration’s vile and unprincipled policies of “extraordinary rendition” and torture.

This article draws extensively on passages in my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

Note: For an update, see Revealed: Identity Of Guantánamo Torture Victim Rendered Through Diego Garcia (June 2009).

As published on, CounterPunch, the Huffington Post, American Torture and ZNet.

Note: Madni’s prisoner number was ISN 743.

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; August 2008 –- 2 Algerians; 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).

For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s “black sites,” condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s “high-value” detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah?, CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval, Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low (all April 2009), Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison, Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence?, Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide”, Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq, In the Guardian: Death in Libya, betrayal by the West (in the Guardian here) (all May 2009), Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA), and WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (June 2009). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

For other stories discussing the use of torture in secret prisons, see: An unreported story from Guantánamo: the tale of Sanad al-Kazimi (August 2007), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), and also see the extensive Binyam Mohamed archive. And for other stories discussing torture at Guantánamo and/or in “conventional” US prisons in Afghanistan, see: The testimony of Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes: includes allegations of previously unreported murders in the US prison at Bagram airbase (August 2007), Guantánamo Transcripts: “Ghost” Prisoners Speak After Five And A Half Years, And “9/11 hijacker” Recants His Tortured Confession (September 2007), The Trials of Omar Khadr, Guantánamo’s “child soldier” (November 2007), Former US interrogator Damien Corsetti recalls the torture of prisoners in Bagram and Abu Ghraib (December 2007), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns “Chaotic” Trials in Case of Teenage Torture Victim (Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (Mohammed El-Gharani, January 2009), Bush Era Ends With Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), and the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

Top 20 Guantánamo Articles

The Guantanamo FilesA recent analysis of traffic on my site has revealed the most popular articles over the last five months (April to August 2008), since my redesign, which allowed me to look at which posts visitors to my site were reading. I thought I’d run the results here, even though they do not, of course, take into account the large numbers of readers who have found the articles on other sites on which they’ve been published: primarily, the Huffington Post, CounterPunch, and AlterNet, but also ZNet, Cageprisoners, Indymedia,, American Torture, Free Detainees and others.

1: Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now, and What About the Torture? (February 2008). A clear winner. This is the article that followed the announcement that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and five others had been put forward for trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo, in which I provided biographies, and wondered how the US administration proposed to hide the uncomfortable truth that they had all been tortured. As regards this article’s success, I have no idea if this is the case, but it is most easily found by Googling “Guantánamo 9/11” or “Guantánamo 9/11 torture” under “images.” Perhaps I should have added “conspiracy” to the title as well.

2: The Guantánamo Files: Andy Worthington’s US tour report (March 2008). A description of my week-long trip to the US to promote my book The Guantánamo Files. In praise of America, but not of the administration’s morally and legally corrosive policies.

One of Sami al-Haj's torture pictures3: Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008). Published just two weeks before al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Haj was released from Guantánamo, this article provided a detailed overview of Sami’s experiences in US custody, and featured five powerful drawings (based on censored drawings by Sami of the prisoners’ treatment, and of his 16-month hunger strike) by British cartoonist Lewis Peake, which were commissioned by Sami’s lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve. An archive of articles about Sami is here.

4: The Guantánamo Files: available now in the US (September 2007). A simple post, announcing the publication of The Guantánamo Files.

5: Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008). Warning: Prefaced with a disturbing photo of 15-year old Omar Khadr, severely wounded at the time of his capture in July 2002, this is part of an ongoing series of detailed articles describing the faltering progress of the trials by Military Commission at Guantánamo, looking at the problems facing the US administration in its attempts to conceal evidence of torture, and focusing in particular on misguided attempts to prosecute two juveniles: Omar Khadr and the Afghan prisoner Mohamed Jawad. An extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions is here.

Omar Khadr6: The trials of Omar Khadr, Guantanamo’s “child soldier” (November 2007). A detailed account of Omar Khadr’s story, from his capture to pre-trial hearings in his Military Commission, including psychological analysis, legal challenges to the Commissions, the shame of putting forward a child for a “war crimes” trial, and the disgraceful suppression of evidence. An archive of articles about Omar is here.

7: Book review: Road From Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejía (January 2008). The first deserter from the Iraq war, Camilo Mejía pitches his story perfectly, capturing the camaraderie of the soldiers, the deranged incompetence of many of their leaders, and the encounters with brutality, including his own, that led him to become the first deserter from the Iraq war. This is the only article on the list that is not related to Guantánamo, and its inclusion suggests that I should write more about Iraq — if only I had the time. A few other articles about Iraq are here.

8: A Chinese Muslim’s Desperate Plea from Guantánamo (March 2008). One of several articles about the Uyghurs (or Uighurs) at Guantánamo — Muslims from the oppressed Xinjiang province, who had no connection whatsoever with al-Qaeda or the Taliban — this article tells their story and focuses on a poignant letter by Abdulghappar, one of 17 Uyghurs still held because the US does not want to return them to China, but cannot find them a new home. An archive of articles about the Uyghurs is here.

9: Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008). A rebuke to Michael Hayden, the CIA’s director, after he admitted that three “high-value detainees” in Guantánamo had been waterboarded in secret prisons by the CIA, and two searching questions about other information that he did not admit. Even so, this was the moment — astonishingly — that torture by the United States was openly admitted, and still no one has been called to account.

Binyam Mohamed10: Guantánamo: Torture victim Binyam Mohamed sues British government for evidence (May 2008). Seized in Pakistan in April 2002, British resident Binyam Mohamed spent nearly two years being tortured by or on behalf of the US administration — in Morocco and in the CIA’s “Dark Prison” near Kabul. This article provides a detailed review of his case, and coincided with a lawsuit, filed by his lawyers at Reprieve and Leigh Day & Co., seeking access to information about his rendition and torture in the possession of the British government. An archive of articles about Binyam is here, which includes explosive developments in his case over the last few months.

11: Guantánamo’s ghosts and the shame of Diego Garcia (October 2007). Looking at the neo-colonial ethnic cleansing of Diego Garcia by the British government, so that the US could lease it as a military base, this article also probed allegations that the island had been used to house a secret “War on Terror” prison run by the CIA. An archive of articles looking at further revelations about the use of Diego Garcia in the “War on Terror” is here (and see 17, below, for the latest discoveries).

12: The US military’s shameless propaganda over Guantánamo’s 9/11 trials (April 2008). Another article looking at the Military Commissions, this followed the article at 5, above, updating developments in the pre-trial hearings, and exposing Pentagon propaganda regarding the forthcoming 9/11 trials.

Stephen Abraham13: Guantánamo whistleblowers: Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham is not the first insider to condemn the kangaroo courts (July 2007). The first of several articles focusing on the testimony of Stephen Abraham, a veteran of US intelligence who worked on the Combatant Status Review Tribunals at Guantánamo, exposing the system — ostensibly designed to evaluate the prisoners’ status as “enemy combatants” — as a sham. An archive of further articles is available here.

14: Guantánamo’s ridiculous underwear saga: the full correspondence (September 2007). The full text of Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith’s hilarious response to allegations, by the US military at Guantánamo, that he had smuggled underwear into the prison for two of Reprieve’s clients, Shaker Aamer and Mohammed El-Gharani.

15: Six Years Of Guantánamo: Enough Is Enough (January 2008). A detailed examination of the prison, its history and its future, published on the sixth anniversary of the prison’s opening.

16: Identification of ex-Guantánamo suicide bomber unleashes Pentagon propaganda (May 2008). The sorry tale of a released prisoner turned suicide bomber, and the lies peddled by the Pentagon after the story broke.

Diego Garcia17: Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008).
The latest episode in the ongoing saga of Diego Garcia, this article drew on recent research by TIME and El Pais to establish the identities of seven “high-value detainees” held by the CIA.

18: Gordon Brown urged to act for British residents in Guantánamo (January 2008). A report on a petition delivered to 10 Downing Street on the sixth anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, urging him to act on behalf of the remaining British residents: Shaker Aamer, Ahmed Belbacha and Binyam Mohamed.

19: Pants to Guantánamo: Agent Provocateur and Reprieve make a cheeky statement about detention without charge or trial (February 2008). Following the ridiculous Guantánamo underwear saga (at 14, above), a meeting between Clive Stafford Smith of Reprieve and Joseph Corre of Agent Provocateur led to the creation of these extraordinary “Fair Trial My Arse” knickers.

Adel Hamad and Salim Adem20: The Shocking Stories of the Sudanese Humanitarian Aid Workers Just Released From Guantánamo (December 2007). Innocence acclaimed. It took years — and an innovative YouTube campaign by his lawyers — but eventually hospital administrator Adel Hamad and his compatriot Salim Adem were released from Guantánamo. This is their story.

Bubbling under were articles dealing with the collapse of the Military Commissions last June, the release of Sami al-Haj, the release of 16 Saudi prisoners, the plight of Ahmed Belbacha, the arraignment of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators for the 9/11 attacks, the torture and trial of US “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla, the US Supreme Court’s ruling that the Guantánamo prisoners have constitutional habeas corpus rights, and the false confessions of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

I’m also reassured that the pages about my books, The Guantánamo Files, The Battle of the Beanfield and Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, were well-visited, and that readers also found their way to the first 4 of 12 additional online chapters of The Guantánamo Files, here, here, here and here.

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.

Bush’s proposed terror legacy: a legal basis for perpetual war

The first prisoners at Guantanamo, January 11, 2002Just when you think that there can be no more outrageous proposals from the current Lame Duck government, and that it’s down to a straight race between Barack Obama, a man with profound respect for the rule of law, and John McCain, who, I fear, may allow the malign spirits of Dick Cheney and David Addington to maintain a presence in the corridors of power, George W. Bush, the Least Popular President in History, has made a last-ditch attempt to secure his bellicose legacy by slipping an extraordinary passage into proposed legislation dealing with legal appeals filed by Guantánamo prisoners in the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Boumediene v. Bush.

As Eric Lichtblau described it in the New York Times, the President’s advisers, believing that “many Americans may have forgotten” that “the United States is still at war with al-Qaeda” — which is an easy mistake to make, given that it is both dangerous and deceitful to describe resistance to small bands of terrorist criminals as a “war” — “want Congress to say so” and to “acknowledge again and explicitly that this nation remains engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated organizations, who have already proclaimed themselves at war with us and who are dedicated to the slaughter of Americans.”

I must admit that I can’t actually understand why the President’s advisers should regard this commitment as particularly important, as legislation passed by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks — the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed on September 14, 2001 — has never been repealed, and states, unequivocally, that “the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

Notoriously, this is the legislation that launched the power-grab that is the main legacy of the “War on Terror” for the executive branch of the United States: the open-ended declaration of war that enabled the President and his advisers to start two wars, undermine the US Constitution, shred the Geneva Conventions, spurn habeas corpus, tear up the Bill of Rights, discard the Army Field Manual, create a system of show trials for terrorists out of thin air, spy on American citizens with impunity, and pour scorn on the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

I can only presume, therefore, that, like some sort of grotesque power couple ostentatiously renewing their wedding vows, Bush, Cheney and Addington have put forward this legislation in an attempt to renew their own deathly vows of unending horror with Congress and the American people. Myopic and arrogant to the last, they will presumably play this as an attempt to support John McCain and the Republican Party in the face of an assault on national security by backsliding liberals, whereas all clear-sighted Americans should see it for what it really is: another cynical attempt to absolve the administration of its vast catalog of war crimes by yet again attempting to fool the American public that they are America’s saviors rather than a dictatorial executive branch, serving only their lust for power and the coffers of their blood-stained corporate allies, and that as a result they require the American people to live in a permanent state of paranoid and xenophobic fear.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on the Huffington Post and

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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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