Archive for November, 2008

Why Guantánamo Must Be Closed: Advice for Barack Obama

Barack ObamaOn Sunday, in his first television interview since winning the Presidential election, Barack Obama repeated his campaign pledge to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay and to ban the use of torture by US forces. Speaking on 60 Minutes, he explained, “I have said repeatedly that I intend to close Guantánamo, and I will follow through on that. I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture. And I’m going to make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.”

Ever since Obama began meeting with his transition team, leaks, gossip and rumors concerning the new administration’s plans to close Guantánamo, and the hurdles they will have to surmount, have been filling the airwaves and the front pages of newspapers. In an attempt to separate fact from fiction and to provide useful information to the President-Elect, I’d like to offer my advice, based on the three years I have spent studying Guantánamo in unprecedented detail, as the author of The Guantánamo Files, the first book to tell the stories of all the prisoners, and as a commentator and analyst responsible for numerous articles on Guantánamo in the last 18 months.

As the President-Elect and his transition team are no doubt aware, there are three categories of prisoners at Guantánamo: around 50 prisoners cleared for release or approved for transfer after multiple military reviews; up to 80 prisoners regarded as eligible for trial by Military Commission (the system of “terror trials” conceived in the Office of the Vice President in November 2001); and another 125 prisoners who have long been regarded as “too dangerous to release but not guilty enough to prosecute.”

However, before looking in detail at what should be done with each of these groups of prisoners, it’s important to understand how the administration came to hold prisoners without charge or trial for nearly seven years, and how it came to put some of them forward for trial in a novel and untested system for “terror suspects,” and to examine the dangerously flawed manner in which the prisoners were seized, held, interrogated and appraised as a threat to the United States.

9/11: an excuse for unfettered executive power

George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick CheneyIn the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the nation’s response was mainly driven forward by Vice President Dick Cheney, former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and their close advisors (including, in particular, Cheney’s legal counsel, David Addington). According to the “new paradigm” dreamt up by these men, prisoners seized in the “War on Terror” were regarded neither as criminals nor as Enemy Prisoners of War protected by the Geneva Conventions, but as “illegal enemy combatants,” who could be held indefinitely without charge or trial. The primary justification for this was a military order drafted by Cheney and Addington in November 2001, which also created the Military Commissions. Approved with virtually no oversight whatsoever, the military order was followed by a number of secret legal opinions, which attempted to redefine torture, and approved the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (the administration’s chosen euphemism for torture) by both the CIA and the military in general.

This was repugnant enough, but what was even more disturbing was the theory that underpinned these innovations. The military order and the secret memos — and the “signing statements” that the President attached to a record number of laws passed by Congress, as recommended by Addington — served as a baleful example of the administration’s quest for unfettered executive power, based on “unitary executive theory.”

David AddingtonEmbraced by Cheney and Rumsfeld during their formative years in Richard Nixon’s White House, and also by Addington (left), who teamed up with Cheney to protect Ronald Reagan during the Iran-Contra scandal, the theory contends that, when he wishes, the President is entitled to act unilaterally, without interference from Congress or the judiciary. It is, of course, in direct contravention of the separation of powers on which the United States was founded, and critics have long insisted that it is nothing less than an attempt by the executive to seize the dictatorial powers that the Constitution was designed to prevent.

The “War on Terror” provided the supporters of “unitary executive theory” with an unprecedented opportunity to act without any oversight whatsoever, but what made it even more shocking in its execution was that it effectively allowed no questions to be asked about whether or not the administration’s policies were misguided, overzealous, or just plain wrong.

Buying prisoners for bounties and shredding the Geneva Conventions

Sticking to a mantra that whatever the President chose to do was a justifiable expression of his role as the Commander-in-Chief during wartime, the administration was unconcerned that, when it began collecting prisoners during the invasion of Afghanistan, many of those held as “enemy combatants” were seized not by US forces, but by their Afghan and Pakistani allies, who were encouraged by bounty payments, averaging $5000 a head, that were offered for “al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects.”

In his 2006 autobiography, In the Line of Fire, President Musharraf of Pakistan bragged that, in return for handing over 369 terror suspects (who were mostly transferred to Guantánamo), “We have earned bounty payments totaling millions of dollars.” When researchers at the Seton Hall Law School analyzed 517 Unclassified Summaries of Evidence for the prisoners (documents laying out the Pentagon’s case for holding them as “enemy combatants”), they discovered (PDF) that 86 percent were seized not by US forces but by their allies, which indicated that the probability of innocent men (or Taliban foot soldiers with no knowledge of al-Qaeda) being passed off as serious “terror suspects” was enormous.

Just as disturbing is the realization that, once they were in US custody in the prisons at Kandahar airport and Bagram airbase, the majority of the prisoners who ended up in Guantánamo were never even screened to determine whether they should have been held in the first place. A senior interrogator at Kandahar and Bagram, who wrote a book about his experiences (The Interrogators) under the pseudonym Chris Mackey, stated explicitly that, under orders handed down from senior figures in the US military and the intelligence agencies, who were sent the prisoner lists from Afghanistan, all “non-Afghan Taliban/foreign fighters” were to be sent to Guantánamo. As Mackey noted, “Strictly speaking, that meant every Arab we encountered was in for a long-term stay and an eventual trip to Cuba.”

The same was true of the majority of the 220 or so Afghans who were also transferred to Guantánamo. Although Mackey made it clear that only Afghans with “considerable intelligence value” were supposed to be sent to Guantánamo, it was not until June 2002, when around 600 prisoners in total 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 by the Pentagon and the intelligence agencies. 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. Even this, however, failed to stem the flow of wrongly detained Afghans who continued to be sent to Guantánamo until the industrial-scale rendition of prisoners ended in August 2003.

This whole process was in marked contrast to the Article 5 battlefield tribunals, enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, which had taken place in all other US wars since the Second World War. Held close to the time and place of capture, these enabled the military to separate soldiers from civilians caught up in the chaos of war by allowing prisoners to present their case to a military review board, and to call witnesses. During the first Gulf War, for example, the military held 1,196 battlefield tribunals, and in nearly three-quarters of them the prisoners were found to be innocent and were subsequently released.

Guantánamo’s deliberately flawed tribunals

A prisoner at GuantanamoWhen tribunals were finally allowed, they occurred up to three years after the prisoners were seized, and took place at Guantánamo, half a world away from the place of capture. They were, moreover, introduced solely as a rebuke to the Supreme Court. In June 2004, alarmed that prisoners seized in wartime were being held without any possibility of review (even if they maintained, as many did, that they were innocent men seized by mistake), the Supreme Court delivered an unprecedented ruling, granting the prisoners habeas corpus rights — the right to challenge the basis of their detention before an impartial judge, based on an 800-year old English law that was one of the foundation stones of US law.

As a mockery of the battlefield tribunals (and of the Supreme Court’s intentions), the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) at Guantánamo prevented the prisoners from having access to lawyers, gave them no opportunity to present evidence in their defense, and prevented them from either seeing or hearing the classified evidence against them.

In addition, although they were empowered to call witnesses from outside Guantánamo, the authorities responded to every single request by claiming that they had been unable to contact them, even when, as Carlotta Gall and I reported for the New York Times in February, the witness requested by one particular prisoner (Abdul Razzaq Hekmati, an Afghan who died in Guantánamo of cancer on December 26, 2007) was Ismail Khan, a minister in Hamid Karzai’s government.

Moreover, doubts about the quality of the information that was presented as evidence by the government were spectacularly confirmed in June 2007, when Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, a veteran of US intelligence who had worked on the tribunals, denounced them for being nothing more than a front to confirm the prisoners’ prior designation as “enemy combatants.” In detailed analyses of the tribunals’ failings (available here and here), Abraham explained, unambiguously, how the body set up to administer the tribunals, OARDEC (the Office for the Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants), was staffed for the most part by people with no expertise of analyzing intelligence, was not empowered to seek evidence from the intelligence agencies, and was obliged, for the most part, to rely on information “of a generalized nature — often outdated, often ‘generic,’ rarely specifically relating to the individual subjects of the CSRTs or to the circumstances related to those individuals’ status,” and on other information drawn from the interrogations of the prisoners themselves, in which their “confessions” about their own activities and those of other prisoners may have been — and frequently were — obtained through torture, coercion or bribery.

A hallmark of the Bush administration has been its refusal to concede that it has ever made any mistakes in the “War on Terror,” and this was also made clear during the CSRTs. Because of what one tribunal member called the “low evidentiary hurdle” for deciding that prisoners were “enemy combatants,” only 38 of the 558 prisoners held at the time were cleared for release, even though it has subsequently become apparent that many more innocent men were actually held. What makes this situation even more disturbing, however, is the knowledge that the administration insisted on reconvening tribunals on several occasions when it was not satisfied with the initial result.

This happened to Lt. Col. Abraham after he was asked to take part in a tribunal, when he and his fellow officers refused to conclude that Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi, a Libyan shopkeeper with an Afghan wife and a small child, was an “enemy combatant.” Abraham and his colleagues were dismissed, and a second, secret tribunal duly reversed their opinion. It also happened on other occasions, including the cases of two of Guantánamo’s 22 Uighurs (Muslims from the Xinjiang province of China, who had fled to Afghanistan to escape persecution by the Chinese government).

Forever tainted as “enemy combatants”

Moreover, as one of Lt. Col. Abraham’s colleagues noted last summer, the refusal to concede that any of the prisoners were innocent meant that, “after several detainees were found to be ‘not an enemy combatant,’ DoD took away that option and we had to start using the term ‘no longer an enemy combatant’ for those held for no apparent reason.”

By the time of the CSRT’s successors, the annual Administrative Review Boards (ARBs), whose stated aim was to determine whether the prisoners still constituted a threat to the United States, the authorities rapidly dispensed with the claim that prisoners were “no longer enemy combatants.” Of the 207 prisoners approved to leave Guantánamo after the first three rounds of the ARBs, only 14 were regarded as “no longer enemy combatants,” and the rest were still explicitly regarded as “enemy combatants,” who were only approved for transfer from Guantánamo — to the custody of their home country, or to a third country.

In a second article, I demonstrate the effects of this cynical semantic maneuvering on the 50 prisoners still held at Guantánamo who have been cleared for release or “approved for transfer,” but cannot be repatriated because of international treaties preventing the return of foreign nationals to countries where they face the risk of torture. I will suggest how Barack Obama can break this deadlock, and will also examine the gulf between rhetoric and reality concerning the Military Commissions, proposals to transfer prisoners to the US mainland, and what the new President should do with the prisoners considered “too dangerous to be released, but not guilty enough to prosecute.”

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 also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

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

Andy Worthington: Guantánamo events, November and December 2008

The Guantanamo FilesThe following is a list of Guantánamo-related events that Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, will be involved in for the rest of the year.

Saturday November 15, 2 to 6.30 pm: Under Siege: Islam, War and the Media, A Conference hosted by Media Workers Against the War.
Venue: London School of Economics, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE.

Speakers include journalists Nick Davies (Flat Earth News) and Peter Oborne, solicitor Louise Christian, and Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain. Workshops include a session on Afghanistan with Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, and Moazzam Begg, former Guantánamo prisoner and spokesman for Cageprisoners.

As the organizers state, “The ‘war on terror’ continues to have an intensely damaging effect on the mainstream British media — and in turn on British politics. This conference will examine what media workers and students can do to improve coverage of the ‘war on terror,’ to bring critical views into the mainstream, raise the profile of the anti-war movement, and create our own sources of critical news and comment.”

Admission is £15 (£10 concessions). For further information and to book a ticket, visit the website.

Monday November 17, 7.30 pm: The Guantánamo Files, hosted by Bristol University Amnesty International.
Venue: Bristol University Union, Training Suite (4th Floor).

Speaker: Andy Worthington.

Andy will be discussing his research for The Guantánamo Files, his shocking discoveries about the lack of evidence against the prisoners and the circumstances of their capture, and will also address the future of Guantánamo, in light of Barack Obama’s recent election victory.

For further information, please contact Clare Hayes.

Tuesday November 18: Guantánamo: What Next?

Andy will be discussing the future of Guantánamo as part of a panel discussion on Yvonne Ridley’s show, The Agenda, on Press TV.

Tuesday November 25, 7.30 pm: 60 Years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — How Much Has Been Achieved? Organized by Amnesty International Guildford Group.
Venue: Holy Trinity Church, High Street, Guildford.

Speakers: Bruce Kent (CND), Deborah Haynes, the Times’ Iraq correspondent, Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, Gill Hinchelwood of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture and Carole Seymour-Jones (PEN). This is a free event.

Tuesday December 2, 7.30 pm (tbc): Taxi to the Dark Side film showing, plus Q&A with Andy Worthington. Organized by SOAS Amnesty.
Venue: SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), Thornhaugh Street, Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG.

Speaker: Andy Worthington.

Andy will be discussing Bagram, Guantánamo and the CIA’s secret prison network following a screening of Alex Gibney’s Academy Award-winning documentary Taxi to the Dark Side, which tells the story of the “War on Terror” through the murder of Dilawar, an Afghan taxi driver, at the US prison at Bagram airbase, Afghanistan.

For further information, please contact Amy Beaumont.

Wednesday December 10, 6 pm: After 60 Years, Why Human Rights? Organized by CAMPACC, the London Guantánamo Campaign, London Against Injustice and People in Common.
Venue: London School of Economics, New Theatre, East Building, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE.

Speakers include: Professor A.C. Grayling, Vivienne Westwood and Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files. More to be confirmed.

A public meeting on International Human Rights Day, marking the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

For further information, please phone 07809 757176 or email.
Websites: CAMPACC (Campaign Against Criminalising Communities), London Guantánamo Campaign, London Against Injustice, People in Common.

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 also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

The Guantánamo Files: Additional Chapters Online – Captured in Afghanistan

The Guantanamo FilesI’ve just posted the eighth of 12 additional online chapters supplementing my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press/the University of Michigan Press, and available from Amazon here). This additional chapter complements Chapter 10 of The Guantánamo Files, looking at the stories of 11 prisoners not mentioned in the book.

Mostly foreign stragglers, picked up individually by opportunistic Afghan soldiers, or by US forces acting on dubious intelligence, they were amongst the 45 or so prisoners seized in Afghanistan in late 2001, who were not held in Sheberghan prison, which features in Chapters 3 and 9, and in the previous online chapter.

What is most notable about their cases — beyond a demonstrable lack of any involvement with terrorism — is that those who are still detained have mostly been cleared for release, but cannot be repatriated for a variety of reasons that I explain in the chapter. As Barack Obama begins working out how to fulfill his pledge to close Guantánamo, securing a new home for these men –- and many dozens more –- will be a major challenge.

I now have just four more online chapters to complete –- two looking at prisoners seized in Pakistan, and two looking at the mainly Afghan prisoners seized between January 2002 and July 2003, when the industrial-scale rendition of prisoners to Guantánamo came to an end. I hope to have these completed by the end of the year, and to follow it up with a definitive list of all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo.

Note: See the column on the left for the first seven online chapters, and the last four.

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 also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

On Veterans Day, my correspondence with Brandon Neely, Iraq war resister and former Guantánamo guard

Iraq war resister Brandon NeelyToday, to mark Veterans Day, two former soldiers and war resisters, Brandon Neely (photo, left) and Benjamin Lewis, have an article on AlterNet, This Veterans Day, U.S. Soldiers Say ‘Stop the War’, which I recommend.

Brandon Neely served as a military police officer from 2000 to 2005, and worked at Guantánamo for six months in 2002 before being sent to Iraq, where, he said, he saw “a lot of bad and horrible things and have done them too while over there. I came back in March of 04 to a wife and 3 kids I didn’t even know. Not a day goes by that I don’t re-live the war in my head one way or another. I have come to terms with this. But the reasons we went to Iraq are totally wrong and the reasons continue to be wrong while we are there.”

The Army attempted to recall Brandon from his Inactive Ready Reserve (IRR) status to active duty in May 2007, but this is his explanation of what happened next: “I ignored all letters to my house. I refused to sign for anything at the house and refused to pick up mail at the post office. I was sent threatening letters and emails stating that my discharge would be changed if I did not respond. Well, I never responded and on June 23rd 2008 I received my honorable discharge from IRR in the mail. My advice would be: if you are recalled just ignore it, they never once came to my house or job.” Today, Brandon is a vocal opponent of the war and president of the Houston chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War.

I recently received an email out of the blue from Brandon, and thought this would be a good opportunity to make his recollections more widely available.

Dear Mr. Worthington,
I just recently came across your web site and your book you wrote on Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and the prisoners that were held there. It’s nice to see that someone is helping to give a voice to these people who mostly were wrongfully held. I myself was at Camp X-Ray. I was with the 401st MP Company as a military police officer, the first company that was there that started the camp. I remember the day that they first arrived on the camp and remember a lot of the prisoners that were held — not by name but mostly by face. I just wanted to send you an email and let you know what you are doing is great and I hope one day Gitmo will be shut down.
Take care. Thanks, Brandon

This was my reply:

Brandon,
Thanks very much for getting in touch, and for providing such constructive comments. I thought your name was familiar, and have just Googled you and found out about your principled stand against the Iraq war. I noticed that you have been interviewed recently, and are presumably getting a lot of attention at the moment, so I wanted to say that I hope you get as much support as possible.
With best wishes,
Andy

And Brandon wrote back:

Thank you for the email and the support. I was recalled back to active duty in 2007 and just ignored it and in 2008 they just honorably discharged me from the army. I did that interview with Courage to Resist a couple weeks ago, not sure if you listened to it, but in the interview I talk a little about my time at Camp X-Ray and some of the talks I had with David Hicks. When I was in Gitmo I was 21. I was young and didn’t know what was going on really. You’re told one thing and go with it, but over time I realized that it was wrong. So many of those people were innocent. We as military police officers or guards never saw the interrogations — at least that’s how it was when I was there — but a lot of things that were really wrong happened in the camp from my point of view.

To complete this Veterans Day package, the following is a transcript of Brandon’s recollections of Guantánamo from his interview with Courage to Resist on October 8 (though the whole interview is worth listening to, as Brandon also explains what happened in Iraq to turn him against the war).

Courage to Resist: So you went to Guantánamo Bay, yes?

Brandon Neely: Yes, sir, we got there January [2002]. I can’t remember the exact date but it was about 48, 72 hours before any of the detainees showed up.

Courage to Resist: How long were you in Guantánamo?

Brandon Neely: About six months.

Courage to Resist: Were you troubled by anything you saw or experienced while you were there?

Brandon Neely: You know, when we first got there they put it into your head — I can remember them telling us, you know, these are the worst of the worst, these are the guys who plotted 9/11, these are the guys that, you know, raised all this havoc on your country. Being young, everybody was mad, upset, I guess you can say out to hurt, or for blood, or however you want to phrase it.

But after we were there a while and we started to get the detainees in — and I guess at first I didn’t think nothing about it — but after a while actually talking to some of these detainees — and there were a lot of young ones too — and some guys, they seemed like common people. And now I kind of keep up with the detainees’ [stories], and some of the guys that have been released, and they’re just common day folks, and I can remember when they came in.

You know, there was some stuff that happened there that wasn’t legit, that shouldn’t happen, but happened, and I really didn’t think too much about it. I thought about it, but I was young, I was doing what I was told, and I really just wanted to go home, and came home in June.

Courage to Resist: But it sounds like when you saw these guys coming in, they didn’t seem to be the stereotype of the evildoers you imagined.

Brandon Neely: No, and it was amazing because — I’m sure you’ve heard the story of David Hicks, one of the Australian guys. I remember when he first came in. As a matter of fact I was the guy that got him off the bus, took him through the whole process, and talking to him — I think it was him and two other British guys, and they also spoke real good English — and he told us, you know, that a lot of these guys in here aren’t guilty, and that the Northern Alliance captured and sold them to the US and they paid $1500 a head for them.

As it went along over the years, if you read in the papers — and all that stuff’s started coming to light now — all these guys are saying, yeah, well they captured me, because I was at the Pakistan/Afghanistan border and they sold me to the US for $1500.

Courage to Resist: Yes, well how many convictions have there been? Hasn’t there only been one conviction so far out of all of those hundreds of detainees?

Brandon Neely: One or two. I think David Hicks did actually plead guilty. And there was just a recent one. Other than that, there’s been nobody. [Note: See here for more on David Hicks’ plea bargain, here for the second trial (of Salim Hamdan), and here for the third and most recent trial].

Courage to Resist: Nobody else convicted.

Brandon Neely: And there’s another thing. When we got there, there was no SOP or Standard Operating Procedure. We were told, “This has never been done before. They’re not Enemy Prisoners of War. There’s no standard procedure of how to run it.” They were kind of writing the book as they went, kind of a trial and error thing.

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 also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

Release of three prisoners highlights failures of Guantánamo

Camp Delta, GuantanamoGuantánamo, it seems, is about to become a buzzword once more, as it is, in many ways, the most iconic symbol of Barack Obama’s challenge to undo the Bush administration’s zeal for unfettered executive power. Already, however, pundits are stepping forward to point out the difficulties involved in dismantling the system, whining about the dangerous terrorists held there, and neglecting to note that, above all, Guantánamo is a brutal and failed experiment, in which hubris and torture are tangled up with, on the one hand, a small group of terrorist threats and, on the other, many more examples of prisoners seized and held as a result of bungled intelligence and pointlessly abusive interrogations.

Behind the rhetoric, few commentators spare a thought for the victims of this sustained example of lawlessness, stupidity and cruelty, most of whom are still held in crushing isolation for 22 or 23 hours a day, despite never being charged or tried for any crime.

On the eve of the Presidential election, three prisoners — one from Kazakhstan, one from Tajikistan and one from Somaliland — were released from Guantánamo, and their stories neatly encapsulate many of the chronic failures relating to the prisoners’ initial arrest and detention that still plague the prison as the new administration begins considering how to shut it down.

The teenager from Kazakhstan

The last of four Kazakhs in Guantánamo, Abdulrahim Kerimbakiev was seized by Northern Alliance soldiers in a house raid in Kabul in December 2001, along with two compatriots from his home village. He was 18 years old at the time, as was one of his companions, Abdullah Magrupov, who had only been at the house for five days, after studying at a madrassa in Karachi. At his tribunal in Guantánamo, Magrupov said that they were captured by a Northern Alliance commander, who held them in “some kind of huge container” and “a place like a barn,” before transferring them to US custody.

During his tribunal, Kerimbakiev explained that he had traveled to Afghanistan in 2000 with ten family members, including his grandmother, his mother, and his sisters and brothers, but what interested the US authorities was his alleged status as a cook for the Taliban. Kerimbakiev denied the allegations, saying that he lived a simple life in a house in Kabul, where he spent most of his time growing vegetables. This was difficult for his tribunal to accept, and prompted one of its members to say, “We’re trying to understand why you’re here. The United States wouldn’t detain someone for more than two years for simply growing vegetables. Can you help us understand?”

Although it was quite possible to be imprisoned for growing vegetables, Kerimbakiev explained that the other man captured with him, Yakub Abahanov, “was a cook for the [Taliban] back-up forces,” and it seems likely, therefore, that Kerimbakiev was actually growing vegetables for the Taliban — although none of this explains why a teenager scraping a meager living from feeding the troops of the Afghan government should be transported halfway around the world to spend the next seven years of his life in a prison for terror suspects. Nevertheless, while Abdullah Magrupov and Yakub Abahanov were released in December 2006, Abdulrahim Kerimbakiev’s perceived lies led to him being held for another 23 months.

A 63-year old Somali refugee

The story of Mohammed Hussein Abdallah, a father of eleven who was 57 years old when he was dragged from his house in Peshawar, Pakistan, and transported to Guantánamo, is no less shocking. If Abdulrahim Kerimbakiev’s experience indicates misplaced zeal on the part of the United States’ Afghan allies, Mohammed Abdallah’s demonstrates similar failings on the part of the Pakistani authorities and the US agents who were advising them.

Mohammed Abdallah is one of dozens of Guantánamo prisoners seized in house raids in Pakistan — mostly between January and July 2002 — who were working for Gulf-based charities, which, in the eyes of the US authorities, were fronts for terrorist activities. The pursuit of these organizations began after Paul O’Neill, the Secretary of the US Treasury, blacklisted two organizations: the Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS), a Kuwait-based NGO, with branches around the world, whose stated aim was “to improve the condition of the Muslim community and develop an awareness and understanding of Islam amongst the non-Muslim communities, by concentrating on youth and education,” and the Afghan Support Committee (ASC), which, according to the US Treasury, had been established by Osama bin Laden in the 1980s.

In a statement, Paul O’Neill claimed that personnel in both groups, including two alleged directors, Abu Bakr al-Jaziri and Abdul Muhsin al-Libi, “defrauded well-meaning contributors by diverting money donated for widows and orphans to al-Qaeda terrorists.” This may or may not have been the case, but al-Jaziri and al-Libi were never caught, and those who took the blame instead were the organizations’ innocent workers, who were responsible for the lion’s share of their charitable work, which included running schools and orphanages, drilling wells and building mosques.

On 27 May 2002, five members of RIHS — one Jordanian and four Sudanese — were seized in house raids in Peshawar, and transported to Guantánamo. All were subsequently released (between November 2003 and December 2007), but one of them, Hamad Gadallah, an accountant who clearly impressed his tribunal with his descriptions of a competent and principled organization that “had nothing to do with any terrorist acts,” explained that his downstairs neighbour, Abu Mohammed — a teacher from Algeria who did not work for the RIHS — was arrested on the same day. This was indeed the case, but what Gadallah did not know was that two other teachers were also seized on the same day: Menhal al-Henali (a Syrian, who was released in November 2003), and Mohammed Hussein Abdallah.

In Guantánamo, Abu Mohammed (who was released in November 2006, but was sent to Albania because of fears that he would be tortured in his home country) explained how the three men used to travel to work together in a bus that was provided for the teachers, and Abdallah expanded on the story during his tribunal.

Refuting an allegation that he was “arrested in a raid on suspected al-Qaeda residences and support facilities connected to the Afghan Support Committee,” he pointed out that he had lived in Peshawar under UN refugee status since 1993, had never worked for the ASC, and had spent the two years prior to his capture teaching orphans in a Red Crescent school. He said that he rented a house where he lived with one of his daughters and her family, and denied having anything to do with any kind of terrorist organization. “If there is anybody here that should be called a terrorist,” he said, “it should be the people that came to my house that took me at two o’clock in the morning in front of my children and grandchildren. The women were crying and the children were terrorized, crying and screaming.” Called as a witness during his hearing, Abu Mohammed described Abdallah as “basically a family man [who] just goes from home to work and does not really associate with people, period. Very rarely do you see him with other people.”

The taxi driver from Tajikistan

The released Tajik, Zainulabidin Merozhev, was a relatively late arrival at Guantánamo. Seized by US forces in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif on July 3, 2003, when he was 25 years old, he was identified as “Jumma Jan,” and was accused, in Guantánamo, of being a high-ranking Taliban member, who “reportedly was assigned a mission in Tajikistan after 11 September 2001 as part of an al-Qaeda and Taliban operational plan.” It was also alleged that he had a “leadership role” in a rocket attack on US forces at the airfield in Mazar-e-Sharif, that he was “implicated” in an assassination attempt on General Dostum, one of the leaders of the Northern Alliance, and that he was a commander in Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), a ferociously anti-American militia controlled by the warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (who, ironically, was one the major beneficiaries of US backing during the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s).

In response, Merozhev, who had probably been identified by opportunistic US allies, availing themselves of the substantial bounty rewards available for “al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects,” explained that he was not “Jumma Jan,” and was nothing more than refugee from Tajikistan who had worked as a driver. He said that he had arrived in Afghanistan with his family as a refugee during the civil war in Tajikistan, when he was a teenager, and had then traveled to Pakistan, where he received an education.

Unfortunately, he then contracted tuberculosis, but when he tried to return to Tajikistan, he was befriended by an “Afghanistan gentleman” who provided him with a car, so that he could earn money as a taxi driver to pay for his medical treatment. He admitted that, during this period, at the end of the 1990s, he had also used the car to drive around a Taliban leader called Guli, a double amputee responsible for security, but he insisted that he only took the job because he needed the money to continue his treatment, and pointed out that before his capture he had spent several years driving a tractor and a bus.

The reality of Merozhev’s tuberculosis was apparently not in doubt, as he stated that he had received treatment in US custody — for four months at Bagram airbase, and for seven months in Guantánamo — where, he said, he had spent 48 days in an isolation ward, but it remains unclear why he was held for so long. As he explained in a review board in 2005, “Since I have been here in Cuba, they have just interrogated me for less than twenty minutes, once, only once. I don’t know how these accusations have come about. I have been here for one and a half years and only one time have they interrogated me.”

The fate that awaits Merozhev in Tajikistan is impossible to gauge. Although some of the eight Tajiks released from Guantánamo between November 2003 and March 2007 were freed without charge on their return home, two of the three prisoners released last March were subsequently put on trial and sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment in “high-security penal colonies” (labor camps) for “serving as mercenaries in Afghanistan” — where they were accused of aiding the Taliban by fighting for the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — and for taking part in “illegal border crossing.” After passing sentence, the judge announced that both men had maintained their innocence, and added, “In their last words, they said they didn’t expect such consequences for acts they committed.”

This was clearly something of an understatement, but while the Pentagon has no doubt been using their sentences as part of an unprincipled attempt to justify its detention policies, other observers might be more tempted to conclude that they simply exchanged one form of arbitrary imprisonment for another, and to focus on the stories of Abdulrahim Kerimbakiev, Mohammed Hussein Abdallah and Zainulabidin Merozhev as more representative of caliber of prisoners swept up in one of the most ill-conceived dragnets ever launched by a democratic country.

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 also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

This article, which draws on passages from The Guantánamo Files, was published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

Note:

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

ISN 521: Abdulrahim Kerimbakiev (Kazakh)
ISN 704: Mohammed Hussein Abdallah (Somali)
ISN 1095: Zainulabidin Merozhev (Jumma Jan) (Tajik)

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 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); September 2008 –- 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; 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).

Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice

Binyam MohamedThe case of Binyam Mohamed just gets weirder and weirder. For the last six months, the British resident and Guantánamo prisoner, who was seized in Pakistan in April 2002, has been engaged in a transatlantic struggle to secure evidence relating to his “extraordinary rendition” and torture, by or on behalf of the CIA, which involved his disappearance from July 2002 until his arrival at the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan in May 2004. Since September 2004, Mohamed has been held at Guantánamo, and in conversation with his lawyers has explained that he was sent to Morocco, where he was tortured for 18 months, and then spent another four months in the CIA’s “Dark Prison” near Kabul.

In June, a judicial review was triggered after the Treasury Solicitors turned down a request from Mohamed’s lawyers to release documents in the British government’s possession regarding his illegal detention in Pakistan and his subsequent disappearance. The lawyers pointed out that Mohamed was about to be put forward for a trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo (the system of “terror trials” conceived by the US administration in November 2001, and derided by Lord Steyn as a “kangaroo court”), and stated that the information was essential to his defence for two reasons: firstly, because the US government had refused to provide any information whatsoever about his whereabouts from July 2002 to May 2004; and secondly, because Mohamed claimed that the charges against him — primarily in connection with an alleged plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a US city — had been extracted, during this period, through the use of torture.

The judicial review took place in July, and Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones were clearly appalled by the behaviour of the British intelligence services. When they delivered a judgment at the end of August, they criticized the intelligence services for sending agents to interrogate Mohamed in May 2002, while he was being held illegally in Pakistan, and also for providing and receiving intelligence about him from July 2002 until February 2003, when they knew that he was being held incommunicado, and should not have been involved without receiving cast-iron assurances about his welfare. In the judgment, they stated explicitly that, “by seeking to interview BM [Mohamed] 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 judges also seized on an admission, made on behalf of the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, that Mohamed 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,” and ruled that, because the information obtained from Mohamed 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,” the British government was required to hand over the evidence — 42 documents in total — to his lawyers.

This was a remarkable result, but celebrations on the part of Mohamed’s lawyers and human rights groups were soon muted when the government responded to the only lifeline extended by the judges — that national security concerns might override the necessity for disclosure — by filing a Public Interest Immunity certificate which stated, in so many words, that the need to preserve the “special relationship” between the American and British intelligence services trumped the right of a man rendered to torture by one country — and with the complicity, to some extent at least, of the other — to have access to evidence that might help in his defence.

While this led to a temporary stalemate in the UK, Mohamed’s case then came up before a District Court judge in the United States, as part of a number of long-delayed habeas corpus claims, based on the 800-year old English law preventing arbitrary imprisonment. These had first been filed after the US Supreme Court granted the prisoners statutory habeas rights in June 2004, but had been blocked after Congress passed new laws in 2005 and 2006, and it was not until June this year, when the Supreme Court ruled again on the prisoners’ rights and granted them constitutional habeas corpus rights, that the cases were allowed to proceed.

As part of Mohamed’s habeas review, the American government was finally required to make the 42 documents provided by the British government available to his lawyers, but when the day of disclosure arrived, the Justice Department released only seven of the 42 documents — apparently so heavily redacted as to be useless — and then dropped the “dirty bomb” plot claim without explanation.

This was announced on October 15, and six days later Mohamed’s proposed trial by Military Commission was also dropped, although for different reasons. His prosecutor, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, had resigned in September, complaining noisily that he had gone from being a “true believer to someone who felt truly deceived” by the trials, when he discovered that evidence vital to the defence had been deliberately withheld. The Pentagon was clearly terrified that he would make further disturbing revelations in Mohamed’s case, and the cases of four other men whose trials were also abandoned, although, bizarrely, Mohamed’s military lawyer, Col. Yvonne Bradley, was told that the charges would be reinstated within 30 days.

The reverberations from these developments soon spread back across the Atlantic. After another High Court hearing, the British judges delivered a judgment on October 23 in which, while still begrudgingly respecting the government’s security claims in Mohamed’s case, they were more openly critical of the US government’s behaviour than they had been in August, when observers were required to read carefully between the lines.

Noting that the court “could see no rational basis for the refusal by the US government to provide the documents” to Mohamed’s lawyers, and adding that, after being given “ample time” to provide them, no explanation had been provided by the US government for its refusal to comply with an agreement reached between the High Court and the US administration, Lord Justice Thomas again refused to order disclosure, observing that “challenges made to the conduct of the United States Government and the legality of its actions should, save in the most exceptional circumstances, be determined by the judiciary of the United States,” and trusting that Judge Emmet Sullivan, the judge in Mohamed’s habeas case, was better placed to make a decision at the next habeas meeting on October 30.

However, he made it clear that, if a satisfactory conclusion was not forthcoming, the High Court would reconvene to order disclosure, and, after noting that the court regarded as significant the submission by Dinah Rose QC, one of Mohamed’s lawyers, that the US government “is deliberately seeking to avoid disclosure of the 42 documents,” he concluded, ominously, by stating, “We must record that we have found the events set out in this judgment deeply disturbing. This matter must be brought to a just conclusion as soon as possible, given the delays and unexplained changes of course which have taken place on the part of the United States Government.”

What was also noticeable, to those who were studying the case closely, was that the judges were barely able to conceal their regard for the significance of the 42 secret documents, which they had been able to scrutinize over the summer during an extraordinarily detailed cross-examination of one of the agents who had visited Mohamed while he was under US supervision in a Pakistani jail in May 2002.

The judges noted that it was the information contained in the 42 documents that persuaded them that disclosure to Mohamed’s lawyers was “essential” if Mohamed was to have his case “fairly considered” by  Susan Crawford, the “Convening Authority” overseeing the Guantánamo trials. They pointed out that they had only been able to make public some of their reasons for making this ruling — with the rest contained in a 33-page closed judgment — but that these at least made clear the “critical point” that the documents provided “the only support independent of BM in some material particulars for his general account of events that led to his confessions.”

Later in the judgment, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd-Jones revealed more about the information contained in the documents, noting that their closed judgment set out the passages that they considered “relevant to the allegation made by BM that his confessions had been the result of conduct that amounts to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.” They added that they “came to the view that the documents were relevant to all the charges made” — not just the “dirty bomb” plot, but other “allegations of participating in the war in Afghanistan and associating with al-Qaeda” — and criticized the US government for only revealing seven of the documents in heavily redacted form.

Explaining that they had “considered with the assistance of counsel in closed session whether the decision to provide only seven can be explained on the basis that only seven documents provide exculpatory evidence that supports BM’s account,” they stated that they were “satisfied that that cannot be so,” and, moreover, that “all the documents need to be read in sequence to see the proper context,” and they added, “As the United Kingdom Government has made clear since the time the documents were found and sent to the United States Government in June 2008, all are relevant and potentially exculpatory.”

What happened next came as a shock to everyone, but served to emphasize the significance of the allegations that CIA agents had been involved in the torture of Mohamed, and that the British intelligence services were at least partly complicit. On October 30, it was announced that the British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith had officially asked the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, to investigate possible “criminal wrongdoing” by MI5 and the CIA in Mohamed’s case. The announcement came on the same day that, in another hearing about Mohamed’s habeas review, the Justice Department finally turned over the remaining 35 documents to his lawyers, in a tense session for the US administration in which Judge Sullivan pointedly “asked why, after more than six years, the government had stepped away from its claims about a dirty bomb plot,” and stated, “That raises a question as to whether or not the allegations were ever true.”

Although Andrew Warden, a Justice Department lawyer, responded to a question from Judge Sullivan as to “whether the government stood behind its assertion of a dirty bomb plot,” by stating, “The short answer is yes,” the long answer is that it has been public knowledge since June 2002 that the plot never even existed. Speaking in June 2002, shortly after Mohamed’s alleged co-conspirator Jose Padilla was seized at a US airport, Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy to US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, admitted that “there was not an actual plan” to set off a “dirty bomb” in America, that Padilla had not begun trying to acquire materials, and that intelligence officials had stated that his research had not gone beyond surfing the internet.

It took another three and a half years for the allegations to be dropped against Padilla, who was held as an “enemy combatant” on the US mainland, in isolation so severe that it amounted to torture, before being tried and convicted on lesser — and largely spurious — charges of providing material support for terrorism, but Andrew Warden’s words show that, six and a half years after Wolfowitz’s admission, the Justice Department and the Pentagon are still furiously engaged in a blinkered denial of reality.

In spite of this, however, the crucial evidence establishing that Mohamed was tortured into making false confessions remains hidden to the public, awaiting either a decision by Judge Sullivan to dismiss his case, leading to his release from Guantánamo (as requested by the British government 15 months ago), or a decision by the Defense Department to reinstate his trial by Military Commission.

Unless, that is, the British judges insist that public disclosure is in the interests of justice. On November 5, in what the Daily Telegraph described as a move that is “believed to be legally unprecedented,” Lord Justice Thomas wrote to the Press Association inviting “written submissions from the media” about whether or not the court should make available a “summary of the circumstances of BM’s detention in Pakistan and the treatment accorded to him,” — consisting of “seven very short paragraphs amounting to about 25 lines” — which had been cut from the High Court’s August ruling at the government’s request.

Lord Justice Thomas noted that “the issue is one of considerable importance in the context of open justice,” referred to the Home Secretary’s decision to ask the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland, to investigate possible “criminal wrongdoing” by MI5 and the CIA in Mohamed’s case, and also drew on advice provided by two Special Advocates, Thomas de la Mare and Martin Goudie, who had represented Mohamed during the court’s closed sessions, when confidential material was being discussed. In September, the judges noted that, in the opinion of the Special Advocates, the government’s Public Interest Immunity Certificate “failed to address, in the light of allegations made by BM, the abhorrence and condemnation accorded to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” and in his request for submissions from the media, Lord Justice Thomas again referred to the Special Advocates’ advice, noting that:

The Special Advocates contended that no claim to public interest immunity could lie [i.e. be allowed] in respect of information which pointed to the commission of serious criminal offences, particularly those contrary to the rule of jus cogens in international law [fundamental principles, including a ban on the use of torture, from which no derogation is ever permitted]. The Defendant [the British government] accepted for the purposes of that argument, and subject to substantial caveats, that there was an arguable case of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. Further, given the fluid boundary between cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture, the Defendant did not wish to contend that on the limited information available a concluded view could be reached that there was not torture. Accordingly, the Court considered this issue on the basis that the material arguably disclosed cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and torture.

Lord Justice Thomas stated that those wishing to make submissions should notify the Court of their intention to do so by no later than Friday November 14, and must provide submissions by Monday December 1. He explained that the parties and the Special Advocates would then be given two weeks to reply to the submissions, and that the Court would then consider its judgment.

Submissions should be made to: Mrs. Jean Curtin, Clerk to Lord Justice Thomas, Royal Courts of Justice, Strand, London WC2 or by email to: Jean Curtin.

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 in the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

As published on Antiwar.com, ukwatch.net, CounterPunch and ZNet.

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 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), In a plea from Guantánamo, Binyam Mohamed talks of “betrayal” by the UK (September 2008), US Justice Department drops “dirty bomb plot” allegation against Binyam Mohamed (October 2008), 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).

The Guantánamo Files: Additional Chapters Online – From Sheberghan to Kandahar

The Guantanamo FilesI’ve just posted the seventh of 12 additional online chapters supplementing my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press/the University of Michigan Press, and available from Amazon here). This additional chapter complements Chapter 9 of The Guantánamo Files, looking at the stories of 21 prisoners not mentioned in the book.

They were amongst the 80 or so prisoners (including those in Chapter 3, The Convoy of Death), who were seized in northern Afghanistan, mostly in November 2001, in connection with the fall of Kunduz, the Taliban’s last stronghold in northern Afghanistan, and they were subsequently imprisoned in dire conditions in Sheberghan prison, which was featured in the film The Road to Guantánamo, before being transferred to the US prison at Kandahar, and on to Guantánamo.

Featuring stories that were excluded to keep the book at a manageable length, this additional chapter looks at a handful of stragglers from the Gulf, and two Tajiks, although the majority of the stories focus on Afghans and Pakistanis.

As Barack Obama begins planning his new administration, it will serve, I hope, as a reminder of the many wrongly imprisoned men — innocent men, and Taliban foot soldiers with no knowledge of al-Qaeda — who have been held at Guantánamo since the prison opened nearly seven years ago, and of the violence, arrogance and failures of intelligence that have underpinned the entire project. Almost all the men in this additional chapter have been freed, but of the 258 prisoners who remain at Guantánamo, there are many similar stories of individuals in the wrong place at the wrong time, seized and sold for money, and of lies and false confessions masquerading as evidence.

The architects of this colossal and chilling betrayal of justice are on their way out, and it is time to close Guantánamo as soon as is humanly possible.

Note: See the column on the left for the first six online chapters, and the last five.

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 also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

Top 20 Guantánamo Articles (October 2008)

The Guantanamo FilesIn a busy last month before Barack Obama’s stunning victory (in spite of competition from a collapsing economy and the election campaign itself), these are the Top 20 Articles based on site traffic in October, covering the most important stories relating to Guantánamo during this period. As usual, this analysis does not take into account the large numbers of readers who found the articles on other sites on which they were published: primarily, the Future of Freedom Foundation, for whom I have recently started writing, Antiwar.com, the Huffington Post, CounterPunch and AlterNet, and also Cageprisoners and others who regularly cross-post my articles. It also does not include visitor stats for my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (available from Amazon here), or the first six of 12 additional online chapters of The Guantánamo Files, available via the column on the left. Note: Figures in brackets indicate the positions last month.

1 (1): Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now, and What About the Torture? (February 2008)
A fixture at the top of the chart, this article followed the announcement that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and five others had been put forward for trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo, and seems to be a magnet for 9/11 conspiracy theorists. For those interested in the truth about the “War on Terror,” the article provides background information about the six men (later reduced to five — see here) and still-relevant doubts about how the US administration proposes to hide the uncomfortable truth that they were all tortured. For links to other articles chronicling my detailed coverage of the Commissions, see the links at the bottom of this article (and all other posts relating to the Military Commissions), and for the latest on the 9/11 trials, see 18, below.

2 (-): Dick Cheney Shreds Secret Documents (September 2008)
A bit of fun drawn from Philip Toledano’s new online installation, America: The Gift Shop, featuring clever takes on the “War on Terror” imagined as merchandise, this was largely picked up through a picture link on the last page of the news aggregator Cursor, which closed down through lack of funding last month, and is sorely missed. For a more heavyweight take on Dick Cheney’s role, see 7, below.

Dick Cheney3 (-): The Dark Heart of the Guantánamo Trials (October 2008)
A major review of the corrupt command structure of the Military Commissions, this article was inspired by the resignation of Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, the prosecutor for Mohamed Jawad (see 15, below), and the “reassignment” of Brig. Gen. Thomas Hartmann, the Commissions’ supposedly impartial legal adviser, after three judges disqualified him from taking part in trials because of his blatant pro-prosecution bias. I was particularly interested in the command chain that led from Hartmann (in many ways the scapegoat) to his boss, Susan Crawford, a close friend of Dick Cheney and his chief of staff David Addington, via the Pentagon to — surprise! — Cheney and Addington, the prime architects of the trials, directly presiding over a process that is supposed to fair. For follow-up articles, see 6, below, and here.

4 (2): Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008)
This article provided a detailed overview of the experiences of al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Haj, and was published just before he was released from Guantánamo. It features five powerful drawings by British artist Lewis Peake (based on censored drawings by Sami), which were commissioned by Sami’s lawyers. An archive of articles about Sami is here.

5 (-): From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008)
The tragic story of the Uighurs (or Uyghurs) in Guantánamo, oppressed Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province, who were cleared of being “enemy combatants” after a momentous court decision in June. In October, District Court Judge Urbina ordered their release into the United States, as it was unconstitutional to hold them, but the granting of their long-cherished freedom was then put on hold after a cynical and hypocritical government appeal. For updates on the story, see 17, below, and here and here.

6 (-) New Evidence of Systemic Bias in Guantánamo Trials (October 2008)
The follow-up to 3, above, this article looked in further detail at the roles played by Brig. Gen. Hartmann and Susan Crawford, following correspondence with Maj. David Frakt, the military defense lawyer for Mohamed Jawad (and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, convicted in a show trial the day before the US elections).

7 (-): Dick Cheney: More Horrors from the “Vice President for Torture” (June 2007)
A detailed analysis of Dick Cheney’s role as the actual Commander-in-Chief of the Bush administration, this article followed the publication of a ground-breaking Washington Post series on Cheney by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker.

Omar Khadr8 (8): The trials of Omar Khadr, Guantánamo’s “child soldier” (November 2007)
A detailed account of Omar’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, including the latest news about the postponement of his trial, is here.

9 (-): Seized in Pakistan, Two 50 Year Olds Are Released From Guantánamo (October 2008)
As part of my ongoing mission to chronicle the stories of all the prisoners released from Guantánamo (a mission which rarely engages the mainstream media), this article tells the stories of Mustafa Ibrahim al-Hassan, from Sudan, and the Algerian prisoner Mammar Ameur. An archive of articles about the release of prisoners is here.

10 (6): Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008)
Part of my ongoing, and uniquely detailed series of articles describing the faltering progress of the trials by Military Commission at Guantánamo, this article examined the problems facing the US administration in its attempts to conceal evidence of torture, and focused in particular on misguided attempts to prosecute two juveniles: Omar Khadr and Mohamed Jawad.

11 (-): US Justice Department Drops “dirty bomb plot” allegation against Binyam Mohamed (October 2008)
Another partial victory in the long struggle for justice of British resident and torture victim Binyam Mohamed. Since May, Binyam has been involved in a transatlantic tussle over the disclosure of potentially exculpatory evidence in his case, and this article followed the announcement that a long-discredited allegation that Binyam, along with US citizen Jose Padilla, was involved in a plot to blow up a US city using a radioactive “dirty bomb,” had been dropped by the Justice Department.

Binyam Mohamed12 (-): High Court shocked by US obstruction in Guantánamo torture case (October 2008)
Following on from the article above, this linked to a Guardian article I had written, in which I looked at the UK High Court’s latest ruling on Binyam’s quest for evidence of his rendition and torture. Further articles looked at how Binyam’s trial (and those of four others) were then dropped by the Defense Department, because of fears that Lt. Col. Vandeveld, the prosecutor in all the cases, had further evidence of prosecutorial wrongdoing, and the British Home Secretary’s extraordinary announcement that she had asked the Attorney General to investigate possible “criminal wrongdoing” by MI5 and the CIA in Binyam’s case. A detailed archive of articles about Binyam is here.

13 (10): A critical overview of Salim Hamdan’s Guantánamo trial and the dubious verdict (August 2008)
A comprehensive account of the first full Military Commission trial at Guantánamo — of Salim Hamdan, one of Osama bin Laden’s drivers. The article highlighted many of the problems that have plagued the Commissions since their conception in November 2001, and my views on the sentence — and its significance — are available here.

14 (14): Book review: Road From Ar Ramadi: The Private Rebellion of Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejía (January 2008)
The story of the first deserter from the Iraq war, Camilo Mejía, 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 desert. A few other articles about Iraq are here.

15 (20): The Afghan teenager put forward for trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo (October 2007)
The article that introduced Mohamed Jawad, the Afghan who was a teenager when seized, after he was put forward for trial by Military Commission last October, looking in detail at his testimony in Guantánamo.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed16 (5): In a Legal Otherworld, 9/11 Defendants Cry Torture at Guantánamo (June 2008)
Following 1, above, and preceding 18, below, this article looked at the arraignment of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-defendants in June, and, in particular, at Mohammed’s sly mentions of his torture by US forces.

17 (-): Guantánamo Uyhgurs Resettlement Prospects Skewered by Justice Department Lies (October 2008)
The story of how the Justice Department slandered the innocent Uyghurs in Guantánamo to prevent their release into the United States (see 5, above).

18 (-): Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Running the 9/11 Trials? (September 2008)
The update on the pre-trial hearings of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four alleged 9/11 co-conspirators, in which another facet of the Commissions’ extraordinary ineptitude was highlighted when Mohammed was allowed to use his right to self-representation as a platform to mock the judge and toy with the administration.

19 (-): Newly released Guantánamo manual confirms use of banned techniques (October 2008)
An article analyzing the importance of the disclosure of a short but previously classified Standard Operating Manual approving the use of techniques at Guantánamo adapted from counter-interrogation techniques taught by the US military at its SERE schools (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape).

20 (11): 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. As the torture debate rolls on, this was the moment — astonishingly — that torture by the United States was openly admitted, and still no one has been called to account.

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 also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

A bright new day – but what now, President Obama?

President Barack ObamaIn the end, the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States struck me as both more and less extraordinary than I had anticipated. I suppose I thought it was in the bag when right-wing pundits started defecting, acknowledging that they couldn’t stomach the idea of Sarah Palin as President if McCain were to die, and congratulating Barack Obama for being so cool and dependable during the economic crisis, while John McCain was flip-flopping horrendously.

And it is, of course, phenomenal that so many millions of Americans have proved that they are hungry for change, and have elected a president whose very identity bridges a divide in American society that did not end with the achievements of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

But what stuck me as most extraordinary was the realization that Dick Cheney and his chief of staff David Addington are on their way out. I had a recurring nightmare that, in the event of a McCain victory, Sarah Palin would enter the Vice President’s Office to find two men waiting for her. “I’m Dick,” one would say, “and this is David. We’re your new advisers.”

Despite their fervent wishes, however, the American people have spoken, and the democratic process that both men despised has finally removed the two individuals most responsible for elevating a proxy, puppet president to what they intended to be an unassailable dictatorial right to wage an endless, spectral war on terrorism, in which all opposition was crushed, politicians only existed to be manipulated and the highest court in the land was regarded with scorn.

It is on this point, however, that my euphoria this morning was tempered with immediate doubts. Barack Obama faces one of the most daunting tasks ever faced by an incoming president, and while I’m intrigued to see how he will deal with the meltdown caused by the most creative crooks in financial history, I’m most exercised by his planned response to the administration’s human right abuses and wholesale flight from the law.

His heart is clearly in the right place, as has been demonstrated by his opposition to the occupation of Iraq, his opposition to the use of torture, his profound respect for constitutional law, his robust defense of habeas corpus for prisoners seized in the Bush administration’s global war without end, and his opposition to the Military Commissions Act. This vile piece of legislation, passed in the fall of 2006, not only stripped the prisoners of the habeas rights that had been granted by the Supreme Court in June 2004, but also reinstated the “terror trials” at Guantánamo (in which, on the eve of the election, an al-Qaeda associate was sentenced to life in prison after a one-sided show trial) and attempted to grant the president — and anyone who had ever worked for him — immunity from any prosecution for war crimes.

In August 2007, Obama delivered a speech — to my mind the best speech he has ever delivered — in which he promised to address all these issues:

In the dark halls of Abu Ghraib and the detention cells of Guantánamo, we have compromised our most precious values. What could have been a call to a generation has become an excuse for unchecked presidential power. A tragedy that united us was turned into a political wedge issue used to divide us.

When I am President, America will reject torture without exception. America is the country that stood against that kind of behavior, and we will do so again … As President, I will close Guantánamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists … The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example to the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary.

These are the words that convinced me that Barack Obama would dismantle the arrogant and violent apparatus of the Bush administration. Like all the other policy decisions that he faces today, it will not be an easy task, but for America to be the “shining beacon on the hill” that he has so often mentioned, it is imperative that he works assiduously to fulfil these promises.

Barack Obama and his family

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 also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

Note: The photo at the top of the article is by Getty and the photo above is by Reuters/Gary Hershorn.

Life sentence for al-Qaeda propagandist fails to justify Guantánamo trials

Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, as drawn at a Guantanamo hearing in 2004In any credible court system, the eve-of-election conviction of an associate of Osama bin Laden for producing promotional material for al-Qaeda, which directly encouraged impressionable young men to join a violent jihad against the United States, would be a resounding victory for the Bush administration. It would stand, however belatedly, as a last-minute acknowledgment that the administration, whose conduct in the “War on Terror” has been widely criticized for its almost indiscriminate extra-legal brutality, was at least capable of trying, sentencing and imprisoning one important al-Qaeda insider for war crimes before handing over the reins of power to a new administration.

But this is Guantánamo, and the court system is anything but credible. After four hours’ deliberation on Friday, the military jury in the trial of Ali Hamza al-Bahlul (as presented, above, in a courtroom sketch in 2004, after his hair and beard had been shaved) announced today that it had convicted the 39-year old Yemeni on 17 counts of conspiracy, eight counts of solicitation to commit murder and 10 counts of providing material support for terrorism, and the judge, Air Force Col. Ronald Gregory, gave him a life sentence. However, when the trial began last Monday, I explained that, no matter what happened in the days that followed, the trial’s legitimacy had evaporated six months ago, when al-Bahlul refused to take part in what he regarded as a charade.

Under the rules laid down in the Military Commissions Act, which revived the trial system — conceived by Vice President Dick Cheney and his closest adviser, David Addington — after the Supreme Court ruled it illegal in June 2006, prisoners were allowed to represent themselves in the trials. This amendment arose because of ethical problems faced by defense attorneys who were required to represent unwilling clients, because, in the real world outside Guantánamo, compelled representation can lead to the lawyer being punished. As an article in GQ explained last summer, “The defendant can sue for malpractice, and the bar can impose sanctions, even take away his license to practice.”

The right to self-representation has already led to some bizarre incidents that have done nothing to improve the administration’s credibility (as, for example, when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had the opportunity to mock his judge in pre-trial hearings in September), but, more importantly, what no one foresaw — because the MCA was a hideously rushed piece of flawed legislation — was what would happen when prisoners decided to boycott the proceedings entirely.

As was revealed last Monday, in the event of a boycott, the judge would attempt to compel the prisoner’s military defense attorney to represent him, but as this raised the same ethical problems that had plagued the lawyers in the Commissions’ first incarnation, al-Bahlul’s lawyer, Maj. David Frakt, responded by refusing to cooperate. “I will be joining Mr. al-Bahlul’s boycott of the proceedings,” he said, “standing mute at the table.” Before the trial, he explained that he had obtained an ethics opinion from the New Jersey Bar Association, which stated that he was obliged to follow his client’s instructions, and was not allowed to cross-examine witnesses or offer any kind of legal argument.

As a result, the trial proceeded like a perfect facsimile of a show trial, with no mention of the torture that al-Bahlul had apparently suffered in US custody. As the Miami Herald reported, suspicions that al-Bahlul had been tortured had led two prosecutors to resign from the Commissions’ first incarnation rather than pursue the case, and in 2004 al-Bahlul’s first military defense lawyer, Maj. Tom Fleener, had explicitly told Col. Peter Brownback, the judge at the time, “I believe Mr. al-Bahlul was tortured,” adding that it was “going to be an issue” in any trial faced by his client.

Without any of these inconvenient distractions, the prosecution was free to show the film that al-Bahlul had reportedly made, and to present testimony from FBI special agent Ali Soufan, who declared that, in interrogations, al-Bahlul had told him that he “considered it one of the best propaganda videos al-Qaeda has to date,” and that Osama bin Laden was “so impressed” with it that he promoted al-Bahlul to become his media secretary.

The prosecution also introduced testimony by videolink from three members of a group of young men from Lackawanna, New York — the so-called “Lackawanna Six” — who had been encouraged to travel to an Afghan training camp before the 9/11 attacks, to “cleanse their sins and clear a straight path to heaven by training for jihad,” and had been shown the video. Sentenced in 2003, at the height of “War on Terror” paranoia, to jail sentences of between eight and ten years for providing “material support for terrorism,” the men shed more light on their own failure to embrace terrorism than anything else.

One of the three, Yassein Taher, said that the camp’s recruits “wept and shouted praise when they saw the video,” but added that he was shocked, surprised and afraid to discover that the camp was actively recruiting suicide bombers, and had “a martyrdom sign-up sheet.” Another of the men, Sahim Alwan, said that he was shown the video at guesthouses in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and was “horrified.” “I realized myself that I was in way over my head,” he explained, adding, “I wanted to get out of there.” Taher and Alwan then stated that they “feigned family emergencies and fled the camp,” and Reuters added that the third man, Yahya Goba, “completed the training but refused to pledge loyalty to bin Laden.”

What is particularly distressing about al-Bahlul’s trial is not the question of his involvement in al-Qaeda. This is something he has never denied, and as Reuters also reported, during the showing of the film, he “sat at the defense table beaming with pride at some segments and nodding in agreement at bin Laden’s words,” and also “pounded his fist on the table once at the mention of the defilement of Muslim women.” In addition, Ali Soufan testified that al-Bahlul had told him, “Everything I believe is in that tape,” and Soufan and a Navy investigator, Robert McFadden, testified that al-Bahlul had “told them American civilians were legitimate targets since they ‘are paying taxes and supporting the war against Muslims.’”

Without a case for the defense, however, the administration has been allowed to sidestep the question of al-Bahlul’s treatment in US custody, and has also been allowed to ignore Maj. Frakt’s assertion, made before the trial began, that al-Bahlul “was not an operational combatant,” “had no role in planning terrorist activities,” and “did not engage in terrorist activities.” The administration will crow that it has achieved a significant victory in the “War on Terror,” but al-Bahlul’s guilt should have been confirmed in a federal courtroom, where he would not have been able to score a propaganda victory for al-Qaeda by being convicted in a one-sided trial.

Breaking his silence before the sentence was announced, al-Bahlul made just this point by telling Col. Gregory, “Go ahead with your trial and I will continue with my boycott. You do whatever you want. You have orders from the politicians, and I will not accept 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.

As published on Antiwar.com, CounterPunch, ZNet 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), 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), 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).

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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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