Archive for May, 2009

Transcript Of President Obama’s Speech About Guantánamo And Terrorism, May 21, 2009

“Protecting Our Security and Our Values”
Delivered at the National Archives Museum, Washington, D.C.

These are extraordinary times for our country. We are confronting an historic economic crisis. We are fighting two wars. We face a range of challenges that will define the way that Americans will live in the 21st century. There is no shortage of work to be done, or responsibilities to bear.

And we have begun to make progress. Just this week, we have taken steps to protect American consumers and homeowners, and to reform our system of government contracting so that we better protect our people while spending our money more wisely. The engines of our economy are slowly beginning to turn, and we are working toward historic reform of health care and energy. I welcome the hard work that has been done by the Congress on these and other issues.

In the midst of all these challenges, however, my single most important responsibility as President is to keep the American people safe. That is the first thing that I think about when I wake up in the morning. It is the last thing that I think about when I go to sleep at night.

This responsibility is only magnified in an era when an extremist ideology threatens our people, and technology gives a handful of terrorists the potential to do us great harm. We are less than eight years removed from the deadliest attack on American soil in our history. We know that al Qaeda is actively planning to attack us again. We know that this threat will be with us for a long time, and that we must use all elements of our power to defeat it.

Already, we have taken several steps to achieve that goal. For the first time since 2002, we are providing the necessary resources and strategic direction to take the fight to the extremists who attacked us on 9/11 in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We are investing in the 21st century military and intelligence capabilities that will allow us to stay one step ahead of a nimble enemy. We have re-energized a global non-proliferation regime to deny the world’s most dangerous people access to the world’s deadliest weapons, and launched an effort to secure all loose nuclear materials within four years. We are better protecting our border, and increasing our preparedness for any future attack or natural disaster. We are building new partnerships around the world to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its affiliates. And we have renewed American diplomacy so that we once again have the strength and standing to truly lead the world.

These steps are all critical to keeping America secure. But I believe with every fiber of my being that in the long run we also cannot keep this country safe unless we enlist the power of our most fundamental values. The documents that we hold in this very hall — the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights — are not simply words written into aging parchment. They are the foundation of liberty and justice in this country, and a light that shines for all who seek freedom, fairness, equality and dignity in the world.

I stand here today as someone whose own life was made possible by these documents. My father came to our shores in search of the promise that they offered. My mother made me rise before dawn to learn of their truth when I lived as a child in a foreign land. My own American journey was paved by generations of citizens who gave meaning to those simple words — “to form a more perfect union.” I have studied the Constitution as a student; I have taught it as a teacher; I have been bound by it as a lawyer and legislator. I took an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution as Commander-in-Chief, and as a citizen, I know that we must never — ever — turn our back on its enduring principles for expedience sake.

I make this claim not simply as a matter of idealism. We uphold our most cherished values not only because doing so is right, but because it strengthens our country and keeps us safe. Time and again, our values have been our best national security asset — in war and peace; in times of ease and in eras of upheaval.

Fidelity to our values is the reason why the United States of America grew from a small string of colonies under the writ of an empire to the strongest nation in the world.

It is the reason why enemy soldiers have surrendered to us in battle, knowing they’d receive better treatment from America’s armed forces than from their own government.

It is the reason why America has benefited from strong alliances that amplified our power, and drawn a sharp and moral contrast with our adversaries.

It is the reason why we’ve been able to overpower the iron fist of fascism, outlast the iron curtain of communism, and enlist free nations and free people everywhere in common cause and common effort.

From Europe to the Pacific, we have been a nation that has shut down torture chambers and replaced tyranny with the rule of law. That is who we are. And where terrorists offer only the injustice of disorder and destruction, America must demonstrate that our values and institutions are more resilient than a hateful ideology.

After 9/11, we knew that we had entered a new era — that enemies who did not abide by any law of war would present new challenges to our application of the law; that our government would need new tools to protect the American people, and that these tools would have to allow us to prevent attacks instead of simply prosecuting those who try to carry them out.

Unfortunately, faced with an uncertain threat, our government made a series of hasty decisions. And I believe that those decisions were motivated by a sincere desire to protect the American people. But I also believe that — too often — our government made decisions based upon fear rather than foresight, and all too often trimmed facts and evidence to fit ideological predispositions. Instead of strategically applying our power and our principles, we too often set those principles aside as luxuries that we could no longer afford. And in this season of fear, too many of us — Democrats and Republicans; politicians, journalists and citizens — fell silent.

In other words, we went off course. And this is not my assessment alone. It was an assessment that was shared by the American people, who nominated candidates for President from both major parties who, despite our many differences, called for a new approach — one that rejected torture, and recognized the imperative of closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay.

Now let me be clear: we are indeed at war with al Qaeda and its affiliates. We do need to update our institutions to deal with this threat. But we must do so with an abiding confidence in the rule of law and due process; in checks and balances and accountability. For reasons that I will explain, the decisions that were made over the last eight years established an ad hoc legal approach for fighting terrorism that was neither effective nor sustainable — a framework that failed to rely on our legal traditions and time-tested institutions; that failed to use our values as a compass. And that is why I took several steps upon taking office to better protect the American people.

First, I banned the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques by the United States of America.

I know some have argued that brutal methods like water-boarding were necessary to keep us safe. I could not disagree more. As Commander-in-Chief, I see the intelligence, I bear responsibility for keeping this country safe, and I reject the assertion that these are the most effective means of interrogation. What’s more, they undermine the rule of law. They alienate us in the world. They serve as a recruitment tool for terrorists, and increase the will of our enemies to fight us, while decreasing the will of others to work with America. They risk the lives of our troops by making it less likely that others will surrender to them in battle, and more likely that Americans will be mistreated if they are captured. In short, they did not advance our war and counter-terrorism efforts — they undermined them, and that is why I ended them once and for all.

The arguments against these techniques did not originate from my Administration. As Senator McCain once said, torture “serves as a great propaganda tool for those who recruit people to fight against us.” And even under President Bush, there was recognition among members of his Administration — including a Secretary of State, other senior officials, and many in the military and intelligence community — that those who argued for these tactics were on the wrong side of the debate, and the wrong side of history. We must leave these methods where they belong — in the past. They are not who we are. They are not America.

The second decision that I made was to order the closing of the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay.

For over seven years, we have detained hundreds of people at Guantánamo. During that time, the system of Military Commissions at Guantánamo succeeded in convicting a grand total of three suspected terrorists. Let me repeat that: three convictions in over seven years. Instead of bringing terrorists to justice, efforts at prosecution met setbacks, cases lingered on, and in 2006 the Supreme Court invalidated the entire system. Meanwhile, over five hundred and twenty-five detainees were released from Guantánamo under the Bush Administration. Let me repeat that: two-thirds of the detainees were released before I took office and ordered the closure of Guantánamo.

There is also no question that Guantánamo set back the moral authority that is America’s strongest currency in the world. Instead of building a durable framework for the struggle against al Qaeda that drew upon our deeply held values and traditions, our government was defending positions that undermined the rule of law. Indeed, part of the rationale for establishing Guantánamo in the first place was the misplaced notion that a prison there would be beyond the law — a proposition that the Supreme Court soundly rejected. Meanwhile, instead of serving as a tool to counter-terrorism, Guantánamo became a symbol that helped al Qaeda recruit terrorists to its cause. Indeed, the existence of Guantánamo likely created more terrorists around the world than it ever detained.

So the record is clear: rather than keep us safer, the prison at Guantánamo has weakened American national security. It is a rallying cry for our enemies. It sets back the willingness of our allies to work with us in fighting an enemy that operates in scores of countries. By any measure, the costs of keeping it open far exceed the complications involved in closing it. That is why I argued that it should be closed throughout my campaign. And that is why I ordered it closed within one year.

The third decision that I made was to order a review of all the pending cases at Guantánamo.

I knew when I ordered Guantánamo closed that it would be difficult and complex. There are 240 people there who have now spent years in legal limbo. In dealing with this situation, we do not have the luxury of starting from scratch. We are cleaning up something that is — quite simply — a mess; a misguided experiment that has left in its wake a flood of legal challenges that my Administration is forced to deal with on a constant basis, and that consumes the time of government officials whose time should be spent on better protecting our country.

Indeed, the legal challenges that have sparked so much debate in recent weeks in Washington would be taking place whether or not I decided to close Guantánamo. For example, the court order to release seventeen Uighur detainees took place last fall — when George Bush was President. The Supreme Court that invalidated the system of prosecution at Guantánamo in 2006 was overwhelmingly appointed by Republican Presidents. In other words, the problem of what to do with Guantánamo detainees was not caused by my decision to close the facility; the problem exists because of the decision to open Guantánamo in the first place.

There are no neat or easy answers here. But I can tell you that the wrong answer is to pretend that this problem will go away if we maintain an unsustainable status quo. As President, I refuse to allow this problem to fester. Our security interests won’t permit it. Our courts won’t allow it. And neither should our conscience.

Now, over the last several weeks, we have seen a return of the politicization of these issues that have characterized the last several years. I understand that these problems arouse passions and concerns. They should. We are confronting some of the most complicated questions that a democracy can face. But I have no interest in spending our time re-litigating the policies of the last eight years. I want to solve these problems, and I want to solve them together as Americans.

And we will be ill-served by some of the fear-mongering that emerges whenever we discuss this issue. Listening to the recent debate, I’ve heard words that are calculated to scare people rather than educate them; words that have more to do with politics than protecting our country. So I want to take this opportunity to lay out what we are doing, and how we intend to resolve these outstanding issues. I will explain how each action that we are taking will help build a framework that protects both the American people and the values that we hold dear. And I will focus on two broad areas: first, issues relating to Guantánamo and our detention policy; second, issues relating to security and transparency.

Let me begin by disposing of one argument as plainly as I can: we are not going to release anyone if it would endanger our national security, nor will we release detainees within the United States who endanger the American people. Where demanded by justice and national security, we will seek to transfer some detainees to the same type of facilities in which we hold all manner of dangerous and violent criminals within our borders — highly secure prisons that ensure the public safety. As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following fact: nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal “supermax” prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists. As Senator Lindsey Graham said: “The idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational.”

We are currently in the process of reviewing each of the detainee cases at Guantánamo to determine the appropriate policy for dealing with them. As we do so, we are acutely aware that under the last Administration, detainees were released only to return to the battlefield. That is why we are doing away with the poorly planned, haphazard approach that let those detainees go in the past. Instead, we are treating these cases with the care and attention that the law requires and our security demands. Going forward, these cases will fall into five distinct categories.

First, when feasible, we will try those who have violated American criminal laws in federal courts — courts provided for by the United States Constitution. Some have derided our federal courts as incapable of handling the trials of terrorists. They are wrong. Our courts and juries of our citizens are tough enough to convict terrorists, and the record makes that clear. Ramzi Yousef tried to blow up the World Trade Center — he was convicted in our courts, and is serving a life sentence in U.S. prison. Zacarias Moussaoui has been identified as the 20th 9/11 hijacker — he was convicted in our courts, and he too is serving a life sentence in prison. If we can try those terrorists in our courts and hold them in our prisons, then we can do the same with detainees from Guantánamo.

Recently, we prosecuted and received a guilty plea from a detainee – [Ali] al-Marri — in federal court after years of legal confusion. We are preparing to transfer another detainee [Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani] to the Southern District of New York, where he will face trial on charges related to the 1998 bombings of our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania — bombings that killed over 200 people. Preventing this detainee from coming to our shores would prevent his trial and conviction. And after over a decade, it is time to finally see that justice is served, and that is what we intend to do.

The second category of cases involves detainees who violate the laws of war and are best tried through Military Commissions. Military Commissions have a history in the United States dating back to George Washington and the Revolutionary War. They are an appropriate venue for trying detainees for violations of the laws of war. They allow for the protection of sensitive sources and methods of intelligence-gathering; for the safety and security of participants; and for the presentation of evidence gathered from the battlefield that cannot be effectively presented in federal Courts.

Now, some have suggested that this represents a reversal on my part. They are wrong. In 2006, I did strongly oppose legislation proposed by the Bush Administration and passed by the Congress because it failed to establish a legitimate legal framework, with the kind of meaningful due process and rights for the accused that could stand up on appeal. I did, however, support the use of military commissions to try detainees, provided there were several reforms. And those are the reforms that we are making.

Instead of using the flawed Commissions of the last seven years, my Administration is bringing our Commissions in line with the rule of law. The rule will no longer permit us to use as evidence statements that have been obtained using cruel, inhuman, or degrading interrogation methods. We will no longer place the burden to prove that hearsay is unreliable on the opponent of the hearsay. And we will give detainees greater latitude in selecting their own counsel, and more protections if they refuse to testify. These reforms — among others — will make our Military Commissions a more credible and effective means of administering justice, and I will work with Congress and legal authorities across the political spectrum on legislation to ensure that these Commissions are fair, legitimate, and effective.

The third category of detainees includes those who we have been ordered released by the courts. Let me repeat what I said earlier: this has absolutely nothing to do with my decision to close Guantánamo. It has to do with the rule of law. The courts have found that there is no legitimate reason to hold twenty-one of the people currently held at Guantánamo. Twenty of these findings took place before I came into office. The United States is a nation of laws, and we must abide by these rulings.

The fourth category of cases involves detainees who we have determined can be transferred safely to another country. So far, our review team has approved fifty detainees for transfer. And my Administration is in ongoing discussions with a number of other countries about the transfer of detainees to their soil for detention and rehabilitation.

Finally, there remains the question of detainees at Guantánamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.

I want to be honest: this is the toughest issue we will face. We are going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantánamo who pose a danger to our country. But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who have received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, commanded Taliban troops in battle, expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.

As I said, I am not going to release individuals who endanger the American people. Al Qaeda terrorists and their affiliates are at war with the United States, and those that we capture — like other prisoners of war — must be prevented from attacking us again. However, we must recognize that these detention policies cannot be unbounded. That is why my Administration has begun to reshape these standards to ensure they are in line with the rule of law. We must have clear, defensible and lawful standards for those who fall in this category. We must have fair procedures so that we don’t make mistakes. We must have a thorough process of periodic review, so that any prolonged detention is carefully evaluated and justified.

I know that creating such a system poses unique challenges. Other countries have grappled with this question, and so must we. But I want to be very clear that our goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for Guantánamo detainees — not to avoid one. In our constitutional system, prolonged detention should not be the decision of any one man. If and when we determine that the United States must hold individuals to keep them from carrying out an act of war, we will do so within a system that involves judicial and congressional oversight. And so going forward, my Administration will work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime so that our efforts are consistent with our values and our Constitution.

As our efforts to close Guantánamo move forward, I know that the politics in Congress will be difficult. These issues are fodder for 30-second commercials and direct mail pieces that are designed to frighten. I get it. But if we continue to make decisions from within a climate of fear, we will make more mistakes. And if we refuse to deal with these issues today, then I guarantee you that they will be an albatross around our efforts to combat terrorism in the future. I have confidence that the American people are more interested in doing what is right to protect this country than in political posturing. I am not the only person in this city who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution — so did each and every member of Congress. Together we have a responsibility to enlist our values in the effort to secure our people, and to leave behind the legacy that makes it easier for future Presidents to keep this country safe.

The second set of issues that I want to discuss relates to security and transparency.

National security requires a delicate balance. Our democracy depends upon transparency, but some information must be protected from public disclosure for the sake of our security — for instance, the movements of our troops; our intelligence-gathering; or the information we have about a terrorist organization and its affiliates. In these and other cases, lives are at stake.

Several weeks ago, as part of an ongoing court case, I released memos issued by the previous Administration’s Office of Legal Counsel. I did not do this because I disagreed with the enhanced interrogation techniques that those memos authorized, or because I reject their legal rationale — although I do on both counts. I released the memos because the existence of that approach to interrogation was already widely known, the Bush Administration had acknowledged its existence, and I had already banned those methods. The argument that somehow by releasing those memos, we are providing terrorists with information about how they will be interrogated is unfounded — we will not be interrogating terrorists using that approach, because that approach is now prohibited.

In short, I released these memos because there was no overriding reason to protect them. And the ensuing debate has helped the American people better understand how these interrogation methods came to be authorized and used.

On the other hand, I recently opposed the release of certain photographs that were taken of detainees by U.S. personnel between 2002 and 2004. Individuals who violated standards of behavior in these photos have been investigated and held accountable. There is no debate as to whether what is reflected in those photos is wrong, and nothing has been concealed to absolve perpetrators of crimes. However, it was my judgment — informed by my national security team — that releasing these photos would inflame anti-American opinion, and allow our enemies to paint U.S. troops with a broad, damning and inaccurate brush, endangering them in theaters of war.

In short, there is a clear and compelling reason to not release these particular photos. There are nearly 200,000 Americans who are serving in harm’s way, and I have a solemn responsibility for their safety as Commander-in-Chief. Nothing would be gained by the release of these photos that matters more than the lives of our young men and women serving in harm’s way.

In each of these cases, I had to strike the right balance between transparency and national security. This balance brings with it a precious responsibility. And there is no doubt that the American people have seen this balance tested. In the images from Abu Ghraib and the brutal interrogation techniques made public long before I was President, the American people learned of actions taken in their name that bear no resemblance to the ideals that generations of Americans have fought for. And whether it was the run-up to the Iraq War or the revelation of secret programs, Americans often felt like part of the story had been unnecessarily withheld from them. That causes suspicion to build up. That leads to a thirst for accountability.

I ran for President promising transparency, and I meant what I said. That is why, whenever possible, we will make information available to the American people so that they can make informed judgments and hold us accountable. But I have never argued — and never will — that our most sensitive national security matters should be an open book. I will never abandon — and I will vigorously defend — the necessity of classification to defend our troops at war; to protect sources and methods; and to safeguard confidential actions that keep the American people safe. And so, whenever we cannot release certain information to the public for valid national security reasons, I will insist that there is oversight of my actions — by Congress or by the courts.

We are launching a review of current policies by all of those agencies responsible for the classification of documents to determine where reforms are possible, and to assure that the other branches of government will be in a position to review executive branch decisions on these matters. Because in our system of checks and balances, someone must always watch over the watchers — especially when it comes to sensitive information.

Along those same lines, my Administration is also confronting challenges to what is known as the “State Secrets” privilege. This is a doctrine that allows the government to challenge legal cases involving secret programs. It has been used by many past Presidents — Republican and Democrat — for many decades. And while this principle is absolutely necessary to protect national security, I am concerned that it has been over-used. We must not protect information merely because it reveals the violation of a law or embarrasses the government. That is why my Administration is nearing completion of a thorough review of this practice.

We plan to embrace several principles for reform. We will apply a stricter legal test to material that can be protected under the State Secrets privilege. We will not assert the privilege in court without first following a formal process, including review by a Justice Department committee and the personal approval of the Attorney General. Finally, each year we will voluntarily report to Congress when we have invoked the privilege and why, because there must be proper oversight of our actions.

On all of these matters related to the disclosure of sensitive information, I wish I could say that there is a simple formula. But there is not. These are tough calls involving competing concerns, and they require a surgical approach. But the common thread that runs through all of my decisions is simple: we will safeguard what we must to protect the American people, but we will also ensure the accountability and oversight that is the hallmark of our constitutional system. I will never hide the truth because it is uncomfortable. I will deal with Congress and the courts as co-equal branches of government. I will tell the American people what I know and don’t know, and when I release something publicly or keep something secret, I will tell you why.

In all of the areas that I have discussed today, the policies that I have proposed represent a new direction from the last eight years. To protect the American people and our values, we have banned enhanced interrogation techniques. We are closing the prison at Guantánamo. We are reforming Military Commissions, and we will pursue a new legal regime to detain terrorists. We are declassifying more information and embracing more oversight of our actions, and narrowing our use of the State Secrets privilege. These are dramatic changes that will put our approach to national security on a surer, safer and more sustainable footing, and their implementation will take time.

There is a core principle that we will apply to all of our actions: even as we clean up the mess at Guantánamo, we will constantly re-evaluate our approach, subject our decisions to review from the other branches of government, and seek the strongest and most sustainable legal framework for addressing these issues in the long-term. By doing that, we can leave behind a legacy that outlasts my Administration, and that endures for the next President and the President after that; a legacy that protects the American people, and enjoys broad legitimacy at home and abroad.

That is what I mean when I say that we need to focus on the future. I recognize that many still have a strong desire to focus on the past. When it comes to the actions of the last eight years, some Americans are angry; others want to re-fight debates that have been settled, most clearly at the ballot box in November. And I know that these debates lead directly to a call for a fuller accounting, perhaps through an Independent Commission.

I have opposed the creation of such a Commission because I believe that our existing democratic institutions are strong enough to deliver accountability. The Congress can review abuses of our values, and there are ongoing inquiries by the Congress into matters like enhanced interrogation techniques. The Department of Justice and our courts can work through and punish any violations of our laws.

I understand that it is no secret that there is a tendency in Washington to spend our time pointing fingers at one another. And our media culture feeds the impulses that lead to a good fight. Nothing will contribute more to that than an extended re-litigation of the last eight years. Already, we have seen how that kind of effort only leads those in Washington to different sides laying blame, and can distract us from focusing our time, our effort, and our politics on the challenges of the future.

We see that, above all, in how the recent debate has been obscured by two opposite and absolutist ends. On one side of the spectrum, there are those who make little allowance for the unique challenges posed by terrorism, and who would almost never put national security over transparency. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who embrace a view that can be summarized in two words: “anything goes.” Their arguments suggest that the ends of fighting terrorism can be used to justify any means, and that the President should have blanket authority to do whatever he wants — provided that it is a President with whom they agree.

Both sides may be sincere in their views, but neither side is right. The American people are not absolutist, and they don’t elect us to impose a rigid ideology on our problems. They know that we need not sacrifice our security for our values, nor sacrifice our values for our security, so long as we approach difficult questions with honesty, and care, and a dose of common sense. That, after all, is the unique genius of America. That is the challenge laid down by our Constitution. That has been the source of our strength through the ages. That is what makes the United States of America different as a nation.

I can stand here today, as President of the United States, and say without exception or equivocation that we do not torture, and that we will vigorously protect our people while forging a strong and durable framework that allows us to fight terrorism while abiding by the rule of law. Make no mistake: if we fail to turn the page on the approach that was taken over the past several years, then I will not be able to say that as President. And if we cannot stand for those core values, then we are not keeping faith with the documents that are enshrined in this hall.

The Framers who drafted the Constitution could not have foreseen the challenges that have unfolded over the last two hundred and twenty two years. But our Constitution has endured through secession and civil rights — through World War and Cold War — because it provides a foundation of principles that can be applied pragmatically; it provides a compass that can help us find our way. It hasn’t always been easy. We are an imperfect people. Every now and then, there are those who think that America’s safety and success requires us to walk away from the sacred principles enshrined in this building. We hear such voices today. But the American people have resisted that temptation. And though we have made our share of mistakes and course corrections, we have held fast to the principles that have been the source of our strength, and a beacon to the world.

Now, this generation faces a great test in the specter of terrorism. Unlike the Civil War or World War II, we cannot count on a surrender ceremony to bring this journey to an end. Right now, in distant training camps and in crowded cities, there are people plotting to take American lives. That will be the case a year from now, five years from now, and — in all probability — ten years from now. Neither I nor anyone else can standing here today can say that there will not be another terrorist attack that takes American lives. But I can say with certainty that my Administration — along with our extraordinary troops and the patriotic men and women who defend our national security — will do everything in our power to keep the American people safe. And I do know with certainty that we can defeat al Qaeda. Because the terrorists can only succeed if they swell their ranks and alienate America from our allies, and they will never be able to do that if we stay true to who we are; if we forge tough and durable approaches to fighting terrorism that are anchored in our timeless ideals.

This must be our common purpose. I ran for President because I believe that we cannot solve the challenges of our time unless we solve them together. We will not be safe if we see national security as a wedge that divides America — it can and must be a cause that unites us as one people, as one nation. We have done so before in times that were more perilous than ours. We will do so once again. Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

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.

Out Of Guantánamo: African Embassy Bombing Suspect To Be Tried In US Court

In a move that seems to open up a route out of Guantánamo for prisoners accused of having an active involvement with international terrorism that does not involve reviving the much-criticized system of trials by Military Commission, the Justice Department announced today that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian, and one of 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo from a secret CIA prison in September 2006, will be put on trial in a federal court in New York, following a thorough review of his case that was conducted by the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by Barack Obama on his second day in office.

Ghailani, who is charged with “assist[ing] in the purchase of the Nissan truck as well as the oxygen and acetylene tanks that were used in the bombing of the US Embassy in Tanzania,” and who is “further alleged to have participated in loading boxes of TNT, cylinder tanks, batteries, detonators, fertilizer and sand bags into the back of the truck in the weeks immediately before the bombing,” admitted at a hearing in Guantánamo in 2007 that he “bought the TNT used in the bombing, purchased a cell phone used by another person involved in the attack and was present when a third person bought a truck used in the attack,” but apologized for his involvement, saying that he did not know that the supplies would be used to attack the embassy.

The decision to charge Ghailani in a federal court effectively repudiates his last five years of detention, since he was seized in Pakistan in 2004, as he was first indicted in New York in 1998 for “conspiring with Osama bin Laden and other members of al-Qaeda to kill Americans overseas and for his role in the Aug. 7, 1998, bombing of the US Embassy in Dar es Salam, Tanzania, which killed at least eleven people and caused injuries to at least 85 people,” and, as a result of superseding indictments, is now accused of 286 different charges, including participating in an al-Qaeda conspiracy “to murder, bomb, and maim US civilians anywhere in the world.”

The decision does not, however, address some uncomfortable facts about Ghailani’s last five years in US custody. As I wrote in an article when he was put forward for trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo in March 2008 (before the trials were suspended by Barack Obama, on his first day in office),

Ghailani did not allege, during his military tribunal, that he was tortured (unlike Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah and Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, whose torture by waterboarding was admitted by CIA director Michael Hayden), but during my research for my book The Guantánamo Files, I discovered a piece of information that indicated that, whether under duress, or by some other method, he had made a false allegation against one of the prisoners at Guantánamo.

One of the more disturbing aspects of the gathering of evidence used against the Guantánamo prisoners is the accumulation of allegations from [their tribunals and review boards, in which] an enormous number of claims are attributed to “a senior al-Qaeda operative” or “a senior al-Qaeda lieutenant.” With no names given, it has been impossible to establish the source of these claims, although they are frequently so at odds with a previously established chronology of the prisoner’s actions — placing them at training camps and in guest houses when they were not even in Afghanistan, for example — that it’s readily apparent that many, if not most of these allegations were produced under duress, probably when supposed “high-value detainees” were being shown the “family album” of prisoners that was used from the earliest days of the US-run prisons in Afghanistan, in late December 2001.

On one occasion only, I discovered that one of these “al-Qaeda” sources had been named, and was none other than Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. As I explained in Chapter 20 of The Guantánamo Files, “The Yemeni Mohammed al-Hanashi … admitted to his tribunal in 2004 that he arrived in Afghanistan eight or nine months before 9/11, and that he fought with the Taliban. By the time of his review in 2005, however, new allegations had been added, including the claim that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani ‘identified him as having been at the al-Farouq camp [the main training camp for Arabs, associated in the years before 9/11 with Osama bin Laden] in 1998-99 prior to moving on to the front lines in Kabul.’ In other words, although al-Hanashi admitted traveling to Afghanistan to serve as a foot soldier for the Taliban, a man who was held in extremely dubious circumstances in another part of the world was shown his photo and came up with a story about seeing him two or three years before his arrival in Afghanistan, which would, henceforth, be regarded as evidence against him.”

What’s particularly ironic about Ghailani’s case, however, is that while he was held in secret prisons and, presumably, subjected to all manner of “enhanced interrogation techniques” to persuade him to make dubious confessions about other prisoners, four of his alleged co-conspirators were put through the federal court system in 2001, after a process of interrogation that did not involve the use of secret prisons and torture, and, after being convicted in May 2001, were sentenced to life without parole in October 2001, just six weeks after the 9/11 attacks.

In another ironic twist, it is presumed that the African embassy bombings were actually perpetrated by al-Qaeda as revenge for US involvement in one of several dozen examples of the pre-9/11 use of “rendition” under the Clinton administration, after four members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the terrorist group of al-Qaeda’ s deputy leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were seized in Albania and flown to Egypt, where one of the men reported that he was tortured, and two others were hanged. On August 5, 1998, al-Zawahiri threatened retaliation against the US “in a language they will understand,” warning that America’s “message has been received and that the response, which we hope they will read carefully, is being prepared.” The bombings took place two days later.

While I hope that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani’s trial in a federal court proceeds smoothly, and that justice will be done — and will be seen to be done — if he was indeed involved in the dreadful attacks of August 1998, the sad truth remains that the ghost of rendition and torture, and of a long, dirty covert war between international terrorists and the CIA, which expanded after 9/11 to affect the whole of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” has cast a cloud over his case that will ensure that no possible outcome will represent a shining day for justice.

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

As published on CounterPunch, ZNet and Antiwar.com. Also cross-posted on Common Dreams.

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), Life sentence for al-Qaeda propagandist fails to justify Guantánamo trials (al-Bahlul, November 2008), Guilt by Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), 20 Reasons To Shut Down The Guantánamo Trials (profiles of all the prisoners charged, November 2008), How Guantánamo Can Be Closed: Advice for Barack Obama (November 2008), More Dubious Charges in the Guantánamo Trials (two Kuwaitis, November 2008), The End of Guantánamo (Salim Hamdan repatriated, November 2008), Torture, Preventive Detention and the Terror Trials at Guantánamo (December 2008), Is the 9/11 trial confession an al-Qaeda coup? (December 2008), The Dying Days of the Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns Chaotic Trials (Lt. Col. Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Torture taints the case of Mohamed Jawad (January 2009), Bush Era Ends with Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Chaos and Lies: Why Obama Was Right to Halt The Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009).

Guantánamo: A Real Uyghur Slams Newt Gingrich’s Racist Stupidity

In recent weeks, there has been an unsavory race to see which Republican can come up with the most scare-mongering drivel about the remaining 240 prisoners in Guantánamo. This competition, which has also drawn in Democrats to such an extent that, on Wednesday, they spinelessly voted to withhold the funds needed to close the prison, and also to prevent the transfer of prisoners to the US, has generally focused on NIMBYist (“Not In My Back Yard”) responses to proposals to move prisoners from Guantánamo and incarcerate them on the US mainland, and has, for the most part, involved politicians who think that Americans are the toughest people in the world, and who have a network of impregnable maximum-security prisons, but who, nevertheless, have been wailing like babies about the “threat” posed by a group of men who have never been adequately screened, or received a fair hearing, to ascertain whether they are in fact a “threat” to the US.

Last week, however, Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, hit a new low in the debate by lashing out at Guantánamo’s Uyghurs (also known as Uighurs), 17 men from China’s Xinjiang province, who, after a stunning court victory last June, are the only prisoners in Guantánamo to have persuaded the Bush administration to drop its claims that they were “enemy combatants.”

After this result, a vicious battle ensued between Judge Ricardo Urbina, of the District Court in Washington D.C., and Judges A. Raymond Randolph and Karen LeCraft Henderson in the appeals court. Judge Urbina ruled in October that the men’s continued detention was unconstitutional, and that they should be released into the care of communities in the US, because they cannot be returned to China (which has a history of human rights abuses with regard to the Uyghurs), and because no other country had been found that was prepared to accept them, but his ruling was reversed in February by Henderson and Randolph (who has a history of defending every major Bush administration detention policy that was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court), even though the dissenting judge, Judith W. Rogers, pointed out that when the Supreme Court granted Guantánamo prisoners “the privilege of habeas corpus to challenge the legality of their detention” last June, the Court also held that “a court’s power under the writ must include ‘authority to … issue … an order directing the prisoner’s release.’”

In an article for the Washington Examiner last week, and in an appearance on FOX News, Gingrich stated bluntly that he thought the Uyghurs should be returned to China. “Why is that our problem?” he asked. “Why are we protecting these guys? Why does it become an American problem?” “Send them to China,” Gingrich continued. “If a third country wants to receive them, send them to a third country. But setting this precedent that if you get picked up by Americans — I mean, the Somalian who was recently brought here who’s a pirate — I mean, if you get picked up by the Americans, you show up in the United States, a lawyer files an amicus brief on your behalf for free, a year later you have citizenship because, after all, how can we not give you citizenship since you’re now here, and in between our taxpayers pay for you — this is, I think — verges on insanity.”

Gingrich’s outburst was immediately criticized by Rep. Bill Delahunt, who, as Ryan Grim explained in the Huffington Post, “ripped into” Gingrich, “arguing that his recent comments about [the] Uyghurs held at Guantánamo Bay show that he is either ignorant of international law or bizarrely allying himself with communist China — or both.”

Answering Gingrich’s question, “Why does it become an American problem?” Delahunt, who serves on the House foreign affairs committee, answered, “Well, in this particular case, we bought it. We bought it literally because these detainees were a victim of some half-cocked initiative, put out by Cheney et al, where they were purchased for $5,000.”

Delahunt added that he was surprised that Gingrich — a fervent anti-Communist who condemned China for using torture in 1997 — would ally himself with China. ”I guess he is unaware of the [United Nations] Convention Against Torture which obligates us not to return them to China because it’s clear they would be persecuted and undoubtedly subjected to torture, incarceration and all sorts of degradation, given the history of the red, godless Chinese communist government,” he said, adding, “What I find particularly ironic is, here’s the former Speaker allying himself with the Chinese communists. Quite an interesting development. I guess his fervent anti-communism has abated somewhat.”

In response to Gingrich’s comments, the Uyghurs themselves sent a response from Guantánamo via their translator, Rushan Abbas, who has been working with them since 2002. “Why does he hate us so much and say those kinds of things?” they asked. “He doesn’t know us. He should talk to our attorneys if he’s curious about our background. How could he speak in such major media with nothing based in fact?”

Abbas proceeded to explain, “They just cannot understand. How come the media doesn’t even verify the story? How could they just publish something like that without checking whether what he says is true or not?” but as Ryan Grim noted, “The Uyghurs are apparently under the misconception that American columnists are fact-checked for accuracy.”

Today, a new commentator has stepped forward to defend the Uyghurs. In an article for Foreign Policy, “Meet The Real Uyghurs,” Nury A. Turkel, a Uyghur American attorney, who has been involved in the resettlement plans that were scuppered by the Justice Department and Judges Randolph and Henderson, presented a much-needed antidote to Gingrich’s unjustified assault on the Uyghurs from the perspective of someone with first-hand knowledge of the Uyghurs’ predicament in China, under the sub-heading, “Newt Gingrich needs to read up before he defames my entire ethnic group,” and I’m cross-posting it here as an important piece of work from someone I have been glad to correspond with over the last few years.

Meet the Real Uyghurs
by Nury A. Turkel

Writing in the Washington Examiner last week, former speaker of the US House of Representatives Newt Gingrich warned the Obama administration that a group of 17 Uyghurs, held in Guantánamo Bay since 2002, would be a threat to US national security if transferred to American soil. “[T]hey are trained mass killers instructed by the same terrorists responsible for killing 3,000 Americans on September 11, 2001,” he wrote. “They have no place in American communities.”

These claims are irresponsible and untrue. And the title of his work, “Let’s NOT meet the Uyghurs” extends the accusation to all Uyghur people. Uyghurs are not terrorists; nor are they a threat. In fact, Uyghurs could be a natural US ally.

Uyghurs are the Tibetans you haven’t heard about. Ethnic Turkic people from the Chinese Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, Uyghurs have long faced discrimination and persecution as a minority — a fact recognized repeatedly by the US Congress and State Department, which has noted China’s insidious strategy of using the US war on terror as pretext to oppress independent religious leaders and peaceful political dissenters. Uyghurs’ struggle for self-rule is one against dictatorship and communism, not one to establish a sharia state through violence (as Gingrich claims, in a curious echo of Chinese government propaganda).

Nothing about the Uyghur cause involves hostility toward the United States or association with terrorist groups. In the case of the detained Uyghurs, this too has been recognized by the United States. In June 2008, a DC Circuit Court unanimously ruled that the US government’s designation of Huzaifa Parhat, one of the 17 Uyghurs at Guantánamo, as an enemy combatant was invalid. The US government’s case, they concluded, was insufficient, unreliable, and based on attenuated guilt-by-association reasoning. The panel found no evidence that Parhat was a member of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), that ETIM was associated with either al-Qaeda or the Taliban, or that ETIM had ever fought against the United States. Supposed proof that detainees had undergone “terrorist training” is dubious at best. The detainees were able to break down and reassemble a single Kalashnikov rifle. To classify this experience as “terrorist training” would require a radical logic leap.

Every one of the 17 Uyghur detainees at Guantánamo has repeatedly denied being part of ETIM, or of being sympathizers of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. They should remain innocent — both legally and in public discourse — unless proven guilty.

As the discussion about the fate of these men goes forward, it is not the danger that the Uyghur detainees pose to the United States that is of greatest concern, but the danger China poses to detainees. Were it not for the grave threat of persecution that these men face from the Chinese government, they would have been returned home years ago. In just one example from 2002, a US Department of Justice report (PDF) cites claims that US agents at Guantánamo collaborated with Chinese counterparts in the rough treatment of Uyghur detainees prior to scheduled interviews with the Chinese agents.

Finding a new home for the displaced Uyghurs is the US government’s duty. Gingrich finds preposterous the idea of relocating them to a place like, as he put it, “Fairfax Country Virginia, where there is already a sizable (non-terrorist) Uyghur community.” But why is the idea so preposterous? The Uyghurs are not a threat to US communities. Just look at the five Uyghur companions who were released from Guantánamo in 2006 and have lived peaceably and productively in Europe for three years now.

I am a new citizen of the United States, but I know enough about the shining ideals that brought me — and millions of other immigrants — here to know that fear-mongering rhetoric like Gingrich’s is the real threat to America.

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

Cross-posted on Foreign Policy Journal.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the Uighurs in Guantánamo, see: The Guantánamo whistleblower, a Libyan shopkeeper, some Chinese Muslims and a desperate government (July 2007), Guantánamo’s Uyghurs: Stranded in Albania (October 2007), Former Guantánamo detainee seeks asylum in Sweden (November 2007), A transcript of Sabin Willett’s speech in Stockholm (November 2007), Support for ex-Guantánamo detainee’s Swedish asylum claim (January 2008), A Chinese Muslim’s desperate plea from Guantánamo (March 2008), Former Guantánamo prisoner denied asylum in Sweden (June 2008), Six Years Late, Court Throws Out Guantánamo Case (June 2008), Guantánamo as Alice in Wonderland (July 2008), From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008), Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (October 2008), A Pastor’s Plea for the Guantánamo Uyghurs (October 2008), Guantánamo: Justice Delayed or Justice Denied? (October 2008), Sabin Willett’s letter to the Justice Department (November 2008), Will Europe Take The Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners? (December 2008), A New Year Message to Barack Obama: Free the Guantánamo Uighurs (January 2009), Guantanamo’s refugees (February 2009), Bad News And Good News For The Guantánamo Uighurs (February 2009), Obama’s “Humane” Guantánamo Is A Bitter Joke (February 2009), A Letter To Barack Obama From A Guantánamo Uighur (March 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), Guantánamo: A Prison Built On Lies (May 2009), and the stories in the additional chapters of The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras 1, Website Extras 6 and Website Extras 9.

Government Bans Testimony On Binyam Mohamed And The British Spy

On Sunday, David Rose, in the Mail on Sunday, broke an extraordinarily significant story about Binyam Mohamed, the British resident, seized in Pakistan in April 2002, who was subsequently rendered by the CIA to be tortured in Morocco. In Rose’s story, the British authorities’ long-standing claim that they did not know where Mohamed was being held and had only cooperated with the US intelligence services in a distant and rather abstract manner was revealed as a tissue of lies.

Rose revealed the existence of previously unknown informant — a British citizen of Moroccan descent, known only as Informant A — who had been seized in Afghanistan or Pakistan in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, and had been recruited as a spy. According to Mohamed, Informant A, who knew him in London and had, apparently, helped arrange his travel to Pakistan, was sent to Morocco by the British intelligence services in September 2002 — when Mohamed was regularly being subjected to horrendous torture — in an attempt to persuade him to cooperate with the CIA’s proxy torturers.

The existence of Informant A was backed up by Tarek Dergoul, another former Guantánamo prisoner, who was released in 2004. Dergoul, a British citizen, told Rose that he had been held in the US prison at Bagram airbase at the same time as Informant A, and explained that “The fact he’d agreed to become a grass was all over the jail. One of the guards was saying, ‘We’ve got another 007.’” His existence was also confirmed by another source, speaking anonymously, who said that, after he had been exploited in Bagram, he had been allowed to return to the UK.

Three days after Rose reported the story of Informant A, his full article is still not available on the Daily Mail’s website (it was replaced, on Sunday afternoon, by an edited version attributed to Vanessa Allen, although a mirror of the article can be found here), and, more importantly, only one major media outlet — the Guardian — has seen fit to follow up on the story, in spite of the fact that, as I explained in an article on Sunday, a crucial question raised by Rose’s article “involves asking whether Mohamed’s rendition to Morocco, a country with which he had no connection, was the direct result of information provided by Informant A.” As I also explained,

Given his Moroccan background, I can only conclude that this seems very likely, and that it also shines an even more uncomfortable light on the British government’s persistent attempts to claim that it was never directly involved in Mohamed’s rendition and torture than the revelation that Informant A was sent to Morocco to persuade him to cooperate. I state this for two reasons: firstly, because it suggests that the British and American intelligence services were in extremely close contact in the three months following Mohamed’s capture, when he was held in Pakistan, and secondly, because it suggests, bluntly, that the CIA’s decision to render Mohamed to Morocco only came about because of British input.

Today, I thought that Informant A’s story would be taken up by the media in a big way, as Clive Stafford Smith, Mohamed’s lawyer and the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, was due to deliver testimony to the Commons Committee on Foreign Affairs about the significance of Informant A. Instead, however, the story took a new and unexpected twist. As Stafford Smith arrived at Portcullis House, ready to take the Committee on a journey to the “Dark Side,” which revealed hitherto untold evidence of British complicity in torture, he was informed that the Committee would be unable to hear his testimony because someone — an unidentified official in an unidentified government department — had decided that it was sub judice.

As the Guardian described it, Mike Gapes, the Committee’s chairman, said that “he had received advice that the cases due to be raised fell ‘wholly within the house sub judice resolution,’” which states that “cases in which proceedings are active in United Kingdom courts shall not be referred to in any motion, debate or question” (PDF), and that Stafford Smith’s testimony could therefore not be heard because the police, on the advice of the Attorney General, are investigating “possible criminal wrongdoing” by an MI5 agent who visited Mohamed while he was held in Pakistan, and also because, as I have reported at length before, Mohamed’s case is still part of a tug-of-war between two high court judges and the government regarding the disclosure of a short summary, written by the judges, describing what happened to him in Pakistan, before his rendition to Morocco.

This is convenient for the government, of course, although it is surely only postponing the inevitable, as the story of Informant A, although unable to compete with stories about MPs and the cost of cleaning their moats, is not going to disappear, much as certain government officials might wish it would.

As a knock-on effect, the cancellation of today’s meeting also prevented Stafford Smith from revealing other new information about the use of the British Overseas Territory of Diego Garcia as part of the CIA’s global network of “extraordinary rendition” and torture prisons –- but that’s another story, which I will be reporting about in the next couple of days.

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

For a sequence of articles relating to Binyam Mohamed, see the following: Urgent appeal for British resident Binyam Mohamed, “close to suicide” in Guantánamo (December 2007), 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), Meltdown at the Guantánamo Trials (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Is Robert Gates Guilty of Perjury in Guantánamo Torture Case? (December 2008), British torture victim Binyam Mohamed to be released from Guantánamo (January 2009), Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), The Betrayal of British Torture Victim Binyam Mohamed (February 2009), Hiding Torture And Freeing Binyam Mohamed From Guantánamo (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Coming Home From Guantánamo, As Torture Allegations Mount (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s statement on his release from Guantánamo (February 2009), Who Is Binyam Mohamed? (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 (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), 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).

Guantánamo: A Prison Built On Lies

As the Obama administration prepares to relaunch Dick Cheney and David Addington’s reviled Military Commissions (with claims that they will be used for less than 20 of the 240 prisoners still held), senior officials have been largely silent about the eventual fate of the rest of the prison’s population, with the exception of a few recent remarks indicating that they are also thinking of pressing for a form of “preventive detention” for 50 to 100 of the prisoners.

The irony — that all the prisoners have been enduring a form of “preventive detention” for over seven years — is apparently lost on the government, which has also maintained a resolute silence in response to a handful of habeas corpus cases (in which the prisoners are seeking to have their cases dismissed by the courts, as mandated by the Supreme Court last June) that have resulted in judges pouring scorn on the government’s supposed evidence.

In an article last week, “Judge Condemns ‘Mosaic’ Of Guantánamo Intelligence, And Unreliable Witnesses,” I analyzed a devastating ruling by District Court Judge Gladys Kessler in the habeas corpus hearing of Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed. A Yemeni, Ali Ahmed has always maintained that he was a student, staying in a guest house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, and that, when he was seized in a raid on the house, on March 28, 2002, he had no knowledge that the house was, apparently, tangentially connected to the alleged senior al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah. Furthermore, in response to the government’s other allegations, he has also “denie[d] ever going to Afghanistan, training at an al-Qaeda camp, fighting against anyone, or being a member of a terrorist group.”

Authorizing Ali Ahmed’s habeas claim, Judge Kessler demolished the government’s case against him, painting a disturbing picture of unreliable allegations made by other prisoners who were tortured, coerced, bribed or suffering from mental health issues, and a “mosaic” of intelligence, purporting to rise to the level of evidence, which actually relied, to an intolerable degree, on second- or third-hand hearsay, guilt by association and unsupportable suppositions.

This follow-up article looks in depth at Ali Ahmed’s story, and those of the 15 men seized with him in the “Issa” guest house in Faisalabad, with the aim of encouraging the Justice Department to abandon its cases against these other men, either as part of its secretive Executive review of the prisoners in Guantánamo (with its uncomfortable echoes of the Bush administration’s love of Executive decisions made without consulting Congress or the judiciary) or by refusing to contest their habeas cases in the District Courts.

I propose this course of action because the cases against these other men demonstrate a similar reliance on dubious allegations, and a similar “mosaic” of inferences that will not stand up to outside scrutiny, as was noted by Judge Kessler in her ruling, when she wrote, “It is likely, based on evidence in the record, that at least a majority of the [redacted] guests were indeed students, living at a guest house that was located close to a university.”

Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed’s testimony at Guantánamo

Ali Ahmed, who was just 17 years old at the time of his capture (although the Pentagon claims that he was 18), repeatedly explained at Guantánamo that he was seized and held by mistake. His statements were made in his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, convened to assess whether, on capture, he had been correctly designated as an “enemy combatant” who could be held without charge or trial, and in the subsequent annual Administrative Review Boards, convened to assess whether he still posed a threat to the US or its allies.

As I have explained at length in my book The Guantánamo Files, and in numerous articles over the last two years, these hearings were monstrously unjust, as they relied on classified evidence that was not disclosed to the prisoners, and also prevented them from having legal representation. In addition, as Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, a veteran of US intelligence, has explained, based on his involvement in the tribunals in 2004 and 2005, the body responsible for compiling the information to be used as evidence had little or no access to the databases of the relevant intelligence agencies, and, as a result, relied largely on “generic” information that did not specifically relate to the prisoners, and, in most cases, on “information obtained during interrogations of other detainees,” which, as Judge Kessler’s recent ruling confirms, were often made by prisoners who were tortured, coerced, bribed or suffering from mental health issues.

Nevertheless, the transcripts of these hearings are often the only means by which we know anything about the prisoners at Guantánamo, and in his most recent publicly available review (made available by the Pentagon four months ago, and dating from 2007), Ali Ahmed made it clear that, after five years in Guantánamo, he was still struggling to understand why he was being held, as the following exchange makes clear:

Presiding Officer: Can you tell us why you were arrested?
Detainee: I learned about why after I was arrested. They told me that this house is for the al-Qaeda and the Taliban … They told us after we were arrested in the house and in the interrogations.
Presiding Officer: Do you have any idea why they would think that?
Detainee: I do not know.

After refuting the allegations against him, it was unsurprising that, when Ali Ahmed was given the opportunity to make a statement, he delivered the following plea:

Detainee: What is the main accusation against me that kept me here for five years? What is the main accusation? Is it my travel to Pakistan? Is that an accusation? True, I went during a very difficult situation, but is that an accusation that would keep me here for five years?

The following exchange then took place:

Presiding Officer: The purpose of this board is for an administrative review. To determine whether you should be released, transferred, or continue to be detained. Your status as an enemy combatant has already been determined.
Detainee: I don’t even know why they made that decision when I don’t have a problem with Americans. I’ve never fought Americans, I’ve never fought anybody. I’ve never ever participated in any wars, any, anything else. Why would I be an enemy combatant?
Presiding Officer: We understand and take your statements on board and will consider those in our decision.
Detainee: I know an enemy combatant is someone who participates in the war and helps the war, or someone who is a threat and dangerous to the United States, but I was 17 years old, I’ve never done anything. [W]hat makes me dangerous to the United States at that time?

Although the review board had no response to Ahmed’s questions, the officers involved refused to approve his release from Guantánamo, and it has taken another two years, and the Supreme Court ruling granting habeas corpus rights to the prisoners last June, for him to be able to test the government’s allegations against him in a court of law, and to secure the resounding legal victory that was delivered by Judge Kessler last week.

Even so, it should be noted that judges do not actually have the power to order the government to release prisoners, even if, as in Ali Ahmed’s case, they have established, “by a preponderance of the evidence,” that he should never have been detained in the first place. This is because of a truly disturbing appeals court ruling in the case of 17 Uighurs at Guantánamo (Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province), which took place in February, after the government dropped its claims that they were “enemy combatants,” and a District Court judge ordered their release into the United States last October. As lawyer Jana Ramsay explained, two judges — although ostensibly dealing with the right of the Uighurs to be admitted into the United States — stated that “the due process clause does not apply to detainees at Guantánamo,” because it is “not sovereign territory of the United States,” and that “the right to be released” was not “a necessary corollary to unlawful detention or compensation for such detention.”

The stories of the other prisoners seized with Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed

Moving beyond Ali Ahmed’s story, an analysis of the stories of the 15 other men seized in the raid on the “Issa” guest house — mostly Yemenis, and mostly aged between 18 and 24 — reveals that the majority of them have also maintained, throughout their long imprisonment, that they never set foot in Afghanistan, never trained or fought with al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and had no connection whatsoever with terrorism. This analysis also reveals that the government’s allegations against them rely, for the most part, on similar witnesses and a similar “mosaic” of intelligence as those dismissed so comprehensively by Judge Kessler in Ali Ahmed’s case.

Although one of the 15, Ali Abdullah Ahmed al-Salami, was one of three prisoners who died in Guantánamo in June 2006, apparently by committing suicide, nine of the surviving 14 prisoners have maintained that they were students at Salafia University, run by the vast missionary organization Jamaat-al-Tablighi, two have stated that they traveled to receive medical treatment, and another, Fahmi Ahmed, said that he went to Pakistan to buy fabrics, taking money that he had borrowed from his mother, but explained that he actually spent most of his time “like a wild man,” drinking and smoking hashish. Another young man, Mohammed Hassen, was not even living at the house, and was caught up in the raid after visiting for dinner and staying the night, and two others — a Russian and a Yemeni — arrived at the house just two weeks before the raid.

In hearings at Guantánamo, several of the men have pointed out that they were told shortly after their capture that they had been seized by mistake. Mohammed Tahir, one of the Yemeni students, explained,

The army translator and the interrogator from the Pakistani intelligence said, “yes, all of what this man said … about his story in Pakistan is correct, and therefore that is why we are going to give him back his passport that we took” … I was really surprised that the American intelligence refused all of these proofs and they said no. “We still need him,” they said, and then they took me.

Another Yemeni student, Emad Hassan, who stated that he was near the end of a seven-month trip to the university to study the Koran when he was seized, said that, while in Pakistani custody, “the person who was in charge came and told us we didn’t have anything to worry about,” and that “our sheet was clean.”

Fayad Ahmed, also a Yemeni student, told his tribunal four years ago that he had recently been told in Guantánamo that he would be released. “The interrogator and the investigator about a month ago that met with me told [me] that there was nothing against me and that I am an innocent man and should [be] released,” he said.

Of the two prisoners who said that they had traveled to Pakistan to receive medical treatment, Abdul Aziz al-Noofayee, a Saudi, said that he went to receive treatment for a back problem, and Mohammed Salam, a Yemeni, said that he went for treatment on his nose. After explaining that a “generous person” paid for his trip, the following exchange took place, which demonstrated a cultural gap between the US military and Muslims from the Gulf:

Tribunal Member: I don’t know your culture very well, but … in our culture people just don’t step up and say, “I’ll pay for the trip for you.”
Detainee: In our culture, in Islam, there is such a thing … Indeed, it is an obligation for any Muslim who is rich to pay for someone who is poor.

Despite the protestations of these prisoners, the authorities at Guantánamo have persistently claimed that Jamaat-al-Tablighi was “used to mask travel and activities of terrorists” — even though this allegation has never been regarded as legitimate outside Guantánamo — but what should be troubling the Justice Department right now, after Judge Kessler’s ruling, is the extent to which the cases against these other 15 men rely, as with Ali Ahmed, not on confessions made by the prisoners themselves, but on statements made by other prisoners which appear to be just as dubious as those derided by Judge Kessler.

The weakness of the supposed evidence

To give just a few examples, the transcripts of the most recently publicly available ARBs (from 2007) include the sweeping statement that “Students at Salafia University are encouraged to fight in the Jihad against the West,” and, to cite just one case, Emad Hassan, who denied ever being in Afghanistan or attending a training camp, “was identified as an al-Qaeda recruiter and travel facilitator who helps ‘fund other individuals’ travel’ to Afghanistan,” as “a member of al-Qaeda who swore bayat [an oath of loyalty] to Osama bin Laden,” and as “one of 50 men” at the al-Farouq training camp in Afghanistan, who were identified as bin Laden’s bodyguards.

In the case of Mohammed Hassen, who was only visiting the house when he was seized (and who is one of only two of the “Issa” guest house prisoners to be cleared for release after a military review), the allegations in the previous round of ARBs consisted of precisely three allegations: that “An individual who was in Afghanistan identified [him] as a fighter who traveled between Kandahar and Khost, Afghanistan,” that “A student who trained at al-Farouq identified [him] as a Yemeni who trained at al-Farouq,” and that “A senior al-Qaeda operative noted that a photo of the detainee may be a Yemeni and that he may have seen him at one point ‘inside,’ meaning Afghanistan.”

In the case of Abdul Aziz al-Noofayee (also cleared for release after an ARB, but, like Hassen, still held), the only allegations were that “A senior al-Qaeda operative stated that [he] attended the Khaldan camp in approximately 1997,” and that he “was captured with a Casio F-91W watch,” allegedly “used in bombings that have been linked to al-Qaeda and radical Islamic groups with improvised explosive devices” (and this, believe it or not, is an allegation that has been leveled at dozens of prisoners over the years).

In some of the other cases, no allegations whatsoever have been made publicly available beyond the “guilt by association” of staying in the guest house, and although in a handful of cases the government claims to have secured confessions that the men “admitted to fighting with enemy forces,” doubts about the circumstances in which these confessions were produced indicate that, under scrutiny in a court, even these allegations may be less clear-cut than they appear. As a result, I hope to have demonstrated, as I stated at the start of this article, that the Justice Department would be well advised to abandon its cases against these other men before it suffers similar defeats in future habeas hearings.

The bigger picture regarding false allegations

Moreover, the Justice Department also needs to take a long, hard look at the information it is relying on as evidence in numerous other cases. With one exception, the identities of the four unreliable witnesses in Ali Ahmed’s case were redacted by the government, but enough evidence is publicly available, from the statements of released prisoners, to demonstrate that the coercive techniques that were widely used at Guantánamo between 2002 and 2004 (and derived from the US military’s SERE program) caused numerous prisoners to make false confessions in order to bring an end to their suffering.

In addition, further publicly available information also demonstrates that certain witnesses at Guantánamo — whether through torture-induced fear, in one case, or bribery, in others — made false allegations against dozens of their fellow prisoners, which, crucially, are still used by the government as part of its supposed evidence.

The first example to surface in public — who appears to be one of the men whose testimony was dismissed by Judge Kessler, and by another judge in the case of another prisoner, Mohammed El-Gharani — was described by Corine Hegland in February 2006, in an article for the National Journal. Hegland described how, in the tribunal of a Yemeni prisoner, Farouq Ali Ahmed, his personal representative (an officer assigned in place of a lawyer) had discovered, by investigating his case files, that a key allegation against him had been made by a prisoner described in an FBI memo as a notorious liar. In another case, of a Syrian prisoner, Mohammed al-Tumani, the personal representative discovered that this same prisoner had made false allegations against 60 of his fellow inmates, placing each of them in Afghanistan before they even arrived in the country.

The prisoner who made all these false allegations is Yasim Basardah, who was cleared for release after a habeas review six weeks ago. Profiled in the Washington Post in February, a disturbing picture emerged of a man who, “with other informers,” lives in a group of cells away from the other prisoners. As the Post described it, “he has received a CD player, chewing tobacco, coffee, library books and other perks, according to court documents,” including a video game console, even though the man described by some officials at Guantánamo as their “star witness” has, in the opinion of other officials, been the subject of “reservations about [his] credibility” since 2004.

As the Post’s article made clear, Basardah is not the only liar whose false confessions have infected the government’s “evidence.” An Iraqi, repatriated in January, was also well-known in Guantánamo, as is Abdul Rahim al-Ginco, a Syrian “rescued” by US forces from a Taliban jail. Tortured by al-Qaeda operatives, because they thought he was a spy, al-Ginco suffers from severe mental health problems (and may also be one of the witnesses dismissed by Judge Kessler), but although he has renounced some of his false confessions, others remain, locked forever in the case files of the prisoners, with no way of challenging them except in a court.

Most importantly, however, false allegations are not the exclusive preserve of a handful of industrious informants. As I mentioned above, almost any prisoner could be persuaded to make up false stories when they could no longer bear the grueling interrogations, or the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” to wear them down, and, as the few examples of the Faisalabad guest house prisoners cited above also indicate, the case files are also littered with allegations made by “senior al-Qaeda operatives” — individuals like Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the other “high-value detainees” who were held (and tortured) for years in secret CIA prisons before their transfer to Guantánamo in September 2006, and others, like Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who died in a Libyan prison last week, who were held in a network of secret prisons and proxy prisons around the world.

In all these prisons — and in Guantánamo, and in the prisons in Afghanistan — prisoners were shown what Chris Mackey, the pseudonym of a senior interrogator in Afghanistan, referred to in his book The Interrogators as the “family album,” which featured photos of other prisoners. And from all these places, therefore, it is difficult to see how much of the “evidence” against the prisoners can be anything other than a tissue of lies, extracted using the same techniques of torture, coercion, bribery, and the exploitation of mental illness that Judge Kessler identified in the case of Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed.

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 and ZNet. Also cross-posted on Common Dreams.

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

Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA)

Ray McGovern, who served in all four directorates of the CIA, mostly as an analyst, is now an activist and political commentator. He works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour, and is a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). Yesterday he was in touch with me regarding some background to the story of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (whose death I reported here, in the first of several articles examining the significance of a lie he produced under torture that was used by the Bush administration to justify the invasion of Iraq) for use in an article he was writing about the willful manipulation of intelligence in the run-up to the war, which has now been published at Consortium News.

Of particular interest are new comments by Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s chief of staff, who wrote an excellent blog post last week in which he stated that the Bush administration’s “principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the US but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qaeda.” In an email exchange with McGovern, Col. Wilkerson explained exactly what happened in the days before the Secretary of State’s notorious UN Security Council presentation on February 5, 2003, in which he attempted to drum up support for the impending invasion of Iraq by presenting examples of the dangers posed by Saddam Hussein. These included a claim that al-Qaeda operatives had been meeting the Iraqi leader to discuss the use of chemical and biological weapons, which, as we now know, was a lie produced by al-Libi in a torture dungeon in Egypt, where he had been sent by the CIA.

Col. Wilkerson expands on the CIA’s crucial “torture” briefing

Describing what happened on February 1, 2003, four days before the presentation, McGovern writes that Col. Wilkerson explained to him,

Powell and I had a one-on-one — no one else even in the room — about his angst over what was a rather dull recounting of several old stories about al-Qaeda-Baghdad ties [in the draft speech]. I agreed with him that what we had was bulls*it, and Powell decided to eliminate all mention of terrorist contacts between AQ and Baghdad. Within an hour, [CIA Director George] Tenet and [CIA Deputy Director John] McLaughlin dropped a bombshell on the table in the [CIA] Director’s Conference Room: a high-level AQ detainee had just revealed under interrogation substantive contacts between AQ and Baghdad, including Iraqis training AQ operatives in the use of chemical and biological weapons.

Col. Wilkerson explained that Tenet and McLaughlin wouldn’t give Powell the identity of the source (and added that he only later learned that it was al-Libi, that the information had been extracted through the use of torture, that it had first been extracted over a year before, and that it had been disputed at the time by a Defense Intelligence Agency report), but he went on to note that Powell, who did not know that the new intelligence was tainted, “changed his mind and this information was included in his UNSC presentation, along with some more general information … about Baghdad’s terrorist tendencies.”

He added,

As you can see, nowhere were we told that the high-level AQ operative had a name, or that he had been interrogated [in Egypt] with no US personnel present or much earlier rather than just recently (the clear implication of Tenet’s breathtaking delivery). And not a single dissent was mentioned (later we learned of the DIA dissent) … All of this was hidden from us — the specific identity, we were informed, due to the desire to protect sources and methods as well as a cooperative foreign intelligence service … As for me in particular, I learned the identity of al-Libi only in 2004 and of the DIA dissent about the same time, of al-Libi’s recanting slightly later, and of the entire affair’s probably being a Tenet-McLaughlin fabrication — to at least a certain extent — only after I began to put some things together and to receive reinforcement of the “fabrication” theme from other examples.

Powell and Wilkerson are isolated by Cheney, Rumsfeld and the CIA

To establish more information about the context in which George Tenet and John McLaughlin delivered the “bombshell” to Colin Powell, McGovern asked him, “Were there no others from the State Department with you at CIA headquarters on Feb. 1, 2003? Was INR [The Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the State Department’s very professional, incorruptible intelligence unit] not represented?”

This was Col. Wilkerson’s response:

When I gathered “my team” — some were selected for me, such as Will Toby from Bob Joseph’s NSC [National Security Council] staff and John Hanna from the VP’s office — in my office at State to give them an initial briefing and marching orders, I asked Carl [Ford, head of INR] to attend. I wanted Carl — or even more so, one of his deputies whom I knew well and trusted completely, Tom Fingar — to be on “my team.” Carl stayed after the meeting and I asked him straightforwardly to come with me or to send someone from INR. Carl said that he did not need to come nor to send anyone because he had the Secretary’s ear (he was right on that) and could weigh in at any time he wanted to. Moreover, he told me, the Secretary knew very well where INR stood, as did I myself (he was right on that too). As I look back, I believe one of my gravest errors was in not insisting that INR send someone with me.

Fascinating and completely puzzling at first was the total absence of a Department of Defense representative on my team; however, after 3-4 days and nights I figured out … DoD was covering its own butt, to an extent, by having no direct fingerprints on the affair — and being directly wired into Cheney’s office, Rumsfeld’s folks knew they were protected by Toby and Hanna.

When we all arrived at CIA, we were given the NIC [National Intelligence Council] spaces and staff. [But] I could not even get on a computer! Protests to Tenet and McLaughlin got me perfunctory CIA-blah blah about security clearances, etc. — and me with 7 days and nights to prepare a monumentally important presentation! … [It took] 24 hours before George or John acknowledged I could be on a computer … From there on, it was a madhouse. But at the end of the day, had I had an INR rep, had I had better support, had I been more concerned with WHAT I was assembling rather than HOW on earth I would assemble it and present it on time, I’m not sure at all it would have made any difference in the march to war.

This is valuable material, shedding new light on how George Tenet and John McLaughlin, the CIA’s Director and Deputy Director, manipulated and isolated Colin Powell and Col. Wilkerson in the run-up to the invasion, and I find it particularly interesting how Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld maintained a deliberate distance from the whole affair, with Cheney hidden behind his representative John Hanna, and Rumsfeld not even represented at all, hiding behind Cheney, and “covering [the Defense Department’s] butt.”

Other lies

McGovern and Wilkerson are also good on other examples of false intelligence used to justify the invasion. Expanding on the “other examples” that persuaded him that “the entire affair” was probably “a Tenet-McLaughlin fabrication — to at least a certain extent,” Wilkerson mentioned Curveball, the supposed Iraqi “defector,” who supplied false intelligence about mobile labs for making biological and chemical weapons, “and various Iraqi walk-ins who spun bogus stories about an Iraqi nuclear weapons program,” also certainly “after being recruited by the pro-invasion exiles of the Iraqi National Congress.”

McGovern goes on to note,

Mention of Carl Ford and Tenet and McLaughlin reminds me of another episode that has gone down in the annals of intelligence as almost equally contemptible. This one had to do with CIA’s furious attempt to prove there were mobile biological weapons labs of the kind Curveball had described. Remember, Tenet and McLaughlin had been warned about Curveball long before they let then-Secretary of State Powell shame himself, and the rest of us, by peddling Curveball’s wares at the UN Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003.

But the amateur attempts at deception did not stop there. After the war began, CIA intrepid analysts, still “leaning forward,” misrepresented a tractor-trailer found in Iraq outfitted with industrial equipment as one of the mobile bio-labs. On May 28, 2003, CIA analysts cooked up a fraudulent six-page report claiming that the trailer discovered earlier in May was proof they had been right about Iraq’s “bio-weapons labs.” They then performed what could be called a “night-time requisition,” getting the only Defense Intelligence Agency analyst sympathetic to their position to provide DIA “coordination,” (which was subsequently withdrawn by DIA).

On May 29, President George W. Bush, visiting Poland, proudly announced on Polish TV, “We have found the weapons of mass destruction.” When the State Department’s Intelligence and Research (INR) analysts realized that this was not some kind of Polish joke, they “went ballistic,” according to Carl Ford, who immediately warned Powell there was a problem. Tenet must have learned of this quickly, for he called Ford on the carpet, literally, the following day. No shrinking violet, Ford held his ground. He told Tenet and McLaughlin, “That report is one of the worst intelligence assessments I’ve ever read.”

As McGovern also explains, “This vignette — and several like it — are found in Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War by Michael Isikoff and David Corn, who say Ford is still angry over the fraudulent paper. Ford told the authors: ‘It was clear that they [Tenet and McLaughlin] had been personally involved in the preparation of the report … It wasn’t just that it was wrong. They lied.’”

He concludes, “Too bad Carl Ford made the incorrect assumption that he could rely on his credibility and entrée with Secretary Powell to thwart the likes of Tenet and McLaughlin, as they peddled their meretricious wares at CIA headquarters — with Col. Wilkerson left to twist in the wind, so to speak.”

My thanks to Ray McGovern and Col. Wilkerson for helping to keep alive the most important story of our times — how Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and other senior figures within the Bush administration used torture to justify an illegal war.

Note: For an excellent interview with Ray McGovern on The Real News Network yesterday, see here, and for an analysis of the fraudulent CIA/DIA report about mobile weapons labs, see here.

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

For an update on the al-Libi story, see: WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi.

Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government

Although I reported last week about an important court case in favor of Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantánamo, there was little in the way of progress, during the first 115 days of the Obama administration, for the men who are still held, despite the President’s pledge to close the prison within a year. Just one prisoner, Binyam Mohamed, had been released, out of the 241 prisoners still in Guantánamo, but that, it was clear, was simply because his well-chronicled torture in Morocco and Afghanistan had become a persistent irritant to both the British and American governments in court rooms on both sides of the Atlantic.

It was, therefore, no surprise that, as Tim Reid reported for London’s Times on Friday, after a recent visit to the prison, the mood of many of the prisoners is angry, despairing, and suicidal. Reid explained how one prisoner’s face “appeared at the narrow cell window, eyes dark and raging,” and how, with “his arms gesticulating wildly, he made violent slashing motions across his wrists, pounded the side of his head, and jammed imaginary feeding tubes up his nose.”

“Alpha-3,” he kept mouthing as he tried to tell us that the inmate in Alpha-3 cell was suicidal and on hunger strike. Then he began to place family pictures up against the glass, including two little boys staring at the camera clutching a fluffy toy deer. Soon another face appeared at another cell window — he covered his face with the Koran and disappeared from view — and another, screaming: “What is freedom? Ask them, what is freedom?”

Reid went on to explain that, on the night of the Presidential election, “a celebratory chant of ‘Obama! Obama! Obama!’ spread through the jail,” as the prisoners learned that he had won, and that when, on his second day in office, he issued his Executive Order stating that he would close Guantánamo, “detainees were excited, shouting at guards: ‘Have you heard? We’re getting out of here!’

Now, however, as lawyers for the prisoners explained, “All the excitement of January has gone,” and “a joke is making the rounds among the detainees, told with gallows humor: ‘At least Bush released people.’”

Obama finally releases a second prisoner

As Reid’s article was published, there was, at least, good news for one prisoner in Guantánamo, Lakhdar Boumediene. A 43-year old Algerian, and a former resident of Bosnia, Boumediene will always be known for the case named after him, Boumediene v. Bush, which led, last June, to the Supreme Court ruling for the second time — after setbacks imposed, unconstitutionally, by Congress — that the prisoners at Guantánamo had habeas corpus rights; in other words, the right, six years and five months after Guantánamo opened, to challenge the basis of their detention in a court of law.

In November, this led to another significant victory for Lakhdar Boumediene, when the judge in his habeas case, Bush appointee Richard Leon, demolished the government’s case against him — and against four of the five other men seized with him in Bosnia in January 2002 in connection with a non-existent plot to blow up the US embassy in Sarajevo — and ordered their release (as I explained in a detailed article at the time, “After 7 Years, Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo Kidnap Victims”).

However, although three of the men — Mustafa Ait Idr, Hadj Boudella and Mohammed Nechla — were released soon afterwards, to be reunited with their families in Bosnia, Boumediene and the other man, Sabir Lahmar, remained in Guantánamo, apparently because neither man had Bosnian citizenship.

The limbo in which Boumediene found himself was finally resolved when, in a gesture of support for the Obama administration, the French government agreed to accept him. After his kidnapping in Bosnia, Boumediene’s wife and two children returned to Algeria, but he was accepted by the French government because he has relatives in the south of France. On May 6, when a French Foreign Ministry spokesman stated that Boumediene had been “cleared of all charges relative to participation in eventual terrorist activities,” the government also announced that, as well as accepting Boumediene, it was prepared to offer residency to his wife and children.

Rob Kirsch, one of Boumediene’s lawyers, who explained that he had been meeting with French officials for the last two months, and that a French diplomat had spoken to Boumediene by phone in recent weeks, declared, “The French have just taken an amazing leadership role here. [They] have looked at a real humanitarian disaster and have taken steps to address it.”

Kirsch also explained that, on Wednesday, when he and a French diplomat arrived at Guantánamo to sort out the documentation required for Boumediene’s arrival in France, his client, who had been on a hunger strike for 18 months, tried to eat some French food that he had requested, but was unable to cope with it, and, instead, symbolically broke his hunger strike by eating rice and beans, bought from a restaurant on the naval base.

However, while Boumediene’s release is another tiny step towards the closure of Guantánamo, it will do little to reassure those still held that their bleak joke about the Obama administration’s inability to release prisoners has any less weight.

Paralysis in government

Boumediene leaves behind not just Sabir Lahmar, for whom no third country has been found that is willing to accept him, but also the 20 other prisoners cleared for release by the US courts: Mohammed El-Gharani, a Saudi resident and Chadian national, who was just 14 years old when he was seized in a random raid on a mosque in Pakistan, two Yemenis (Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, whose case was comprehensively demolished two weeks ago, and Yasim Basardah, whose release was ordered six weeks ago), and, most controversially of all, 17 Uighurs, Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province.

In October, after an appeals court had dealt the first major blow to a specific Guantánamo case, ruling in June that the government’s supposed evidence against one of the Uighurs, Huzaifa Parhat, was akin to a nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered the Uighurs to be released into the United States, because their continued detention was unconstitutional, because it was unsafe to return them to China, and because no other country had been found that was prepared to accept them.

Shamefully, this ruling was appealed by the government, and the appeal was upheld by two of the three judges, A. Raymond Randolph and Karen LeCraft Henderson. Judge Randolph, in particular, has a long history of backing up Bush administration “War on Terror” detention policies in cases that were finally overturned by the Supreme Court, and, as a result, a Supreme Court ruling may well be required yet again to deliver both justice and freedom to the Uighurs.

Nevertheless, it is profoundly disappointing that the Obama administration did nothing to counter its predecessor’s abysmal disregard for the Uighurs’ unacceptable plight when the case was finally decided in February, and it is no less troubling that, ever since, despite tentatively proposing that the government may be required to accept at least some of the Uighurs into the US to encourage other countries to accept prisoners cleared for release who, like the Uighurs, cannot be repatriated, both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have failed to turn their words into actions.

In this, moreover, their apparent paralysis reflects their failure to act on behalf of any of the other prisoners at Guantánamo who believed, last November, that change they could believe in was about to be delivered at Guantánamo. I have recently written two articles examining the new administration’s general failure to comprehensively overturn the Bush administration’s policies of detention and interrogation in the “War on Terror,” and to hold those responsible to account, in which I expressed dismay that the government is entertaining plans to legitimize the policy of “preventive detention,” in the cases of 50 to 100 prisoners, that is at the heart of Guantánamo’s unjust existence.

In addition, although the government has not yet made public the fine print of its decision to reintroduce a sanitized version of the Military Commissions, the system of “terror trials” conceived by former Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff David Addington, I note that reports anticipate that they will apply to less than 20 of the prisoners — those, presumably, who were actually involved in the terrorist attacks on the United States that were supposed to justify Guantánamo’s existence, and not the teenagers, like Omar Khadr and Mohamed Jawad, the irrelevant minor Afghan insurgents, and others previously charged, whose activities, even if proven to have taken place, should never have been regarded as “war crimes.”

As ever, the Obama administration needs to show that it has been listening to officials in the intelligence agencies who have been stating, for many years, that no more than a few dozen prisoners had any meaningful connection to al-Qaeda, and that, with the exception of most, or all of the 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006, none “could possibly be called a leader or senior operative of al-Qaeda,” and to Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s former Chief of Staff, who recently stated that “no more than a dozen or two of the detainees” had any worthwhile intelligence.

Obama and Holder also need to listen to the judges who, little by little, and despite willful obstruction by the Justice Department, are, as Judge Gladys Kessler demonstrated in the case of Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, destroying the cases against the majority of the prisoners, for one simple reason. In the absence of any knowledge about them when they first came into US custody (because they were mostly bought from the US military’s Afghan and Pakistani allies, because the military was prohibited from screening them in Afghanistan to ascertain whether they were combatants or civilians, and because the Bush administration equated Taliban foot soldiers with al-Qaeda terrorists) the cases against them are, for the most part, built on a web of lies produced by prisoners who were tortured, coerced or bribed into making false confessions, and on a “mosaic” of intelligence that is based on second- or third-hand hearsay, guilt by association and unsupportable suppositions.

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 exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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

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 –- 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik; November 2008 –- 2 Algerians; November 2008 –- 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan) repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani), 4 Uighurs, 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here).

Anti-torture Coalition Files Disciplinary Complaints Against 12 Bush Administration Lawyers

The following is a statement issued today by Disbar Torture Lawyers, a newly-formed organization that has just filed disciplinary complaints against the twelve Bush administration lawyers who were most closely involved with “violat[ing] the rules of professional responsibility by advocating torture, which is illegal under both United States and international law.”

On Monday, May 18, 2009, a broad coalition of organizations dedicated to accountable government, and representing over one million members, filed disciplinary complaints with state bar licensing boards against twelve attorneys who advocated the torture of detainees during the Bush Administration. These detailed complaints with over 500 pages of supporting exhibits have been filed against John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Stephen Bradbury, Alberto Gonzales, John Ashcroft, Michael Chertoff, Alice Fisher, William Haynes II, Douglas Feith, Michael Mukasey, Timothy Flanigan, and David Addington. The complaints, filed with the state bars in the District of Columbia, New York, California, Texas and Pennsylvania, seek disciplinary action and disbarment. Copies of the complaints and exhibits are available on the Disbar Torture Lawyers website.

The 12 lawyers targeted in the disciplinary complaints filed by Disbar Torture Lawyers.

The individually tailored complaints allege that the named attorneys violated the rules of professional responsibility by advocating torture, which is illegal under both United States and international law. Specifically, the Geneva Convention, UN Convention Against Torture, the Eighth Amendment, the Army Field Manual and the United States Criminal Code against torture and war crimes all prohibit torture of detainees. The memos written and supported by these attorneys advocating torture have now been repudiated by the Department of Justice, the White House, the Department of Defense and other experts in the field. The recently released Senate and Red Cross reports on detainee treatment provide uncontroverted evidence that the torture techniques advocated by the attorneys were used on human beings over an extended period of time.

In testimony at a Senate hearing on Wednesday, Former State Department counselor Philip Zelikow told a committee panel that Bush administration officials engaged in a “collective failure” on detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists. He called the torture memos “unsound” because “the lawyers involved … did not welcome peer review and indeed would shut down challenges even inside the government.” Another witness [law professor David Luban] testified that the legal policy constituted “an ethical train wreck” because it violated constitutional, statutory and international law.

Kevin Zeese, the attorney for the coalition who signed the complaints, said, “It is time to hold these lawyers accountable for violating their legal oath. Just as the bar would suspend an attorney who advised a police officer to torture and brutalize a detained immigrant or criminal defendant, the bar must suspend these attorneys for advocating and causing the torture of war detainees. The disciplinary boards that hear these complaints must act or they will be seen as complicit in the use of torture. This is an important step toward the ultimate accountability of criminal prosecution.”

The coalition expects these twelve complaints to be followed with others after the involvement of additional attorneys is confirmed.

In addition, the coalition is asking other organizations to sign on to this campaign by sending an email to Disbar Torture Lawyers. Individuals can sign on using a form on the campaign’s website.

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.

Daily Mail Pulls Story About Binyam Mohamed And British Spy

Yesterday’s Mail on Sunday featured a fascinating article by David Rose about a previously unknown British prisoner, seized in the first few months of “Operation Enduring Freedom,” who was persuaded to become a spy. “Informant A,” as he is known, then turned up in the US prison in Bagram airbase, Afghanistan, where the prisoners swiftly established his role, and, most significantly, was also sent to Morocco, in September 2002, in an attempt to persuade British resident Binyam Mohamed, who was then in the third month of his 18 months of CIA-sponsored torture, to cooperate with his torturers.

In an article yesterday, UK Government Lies Exposed; Spy Visited Binyam Mohamed In Morocco, I stressed the significance of this revelation, which, of course, comprehensively demolishes the British government’s persistent claims that ministers did not know where Mohamed was being held, until he surfaced at Bagram in May 2004, and quoted a passage from David Rose’s article in which Mohamed’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, explained that, in a letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, requesting an immediate inquiry, he had written, “The suggestion that British officials simply lost track of Mohamed for more than two years and did not know that he had been rendered to Morocco for torture is implausible. They had their own agent in Morocco who had seen Mohamed there and that person was back in the UK while the razor blades were still being taken to Mohamed’s genitals.”

In my article, I also suggested that other revelations in Rose’s article — that the informant was Moroccan, and that he “knew Mohamed in London and helped him plan the fateful journey in the spring of 2001 that took him first to Pakistan, then to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan” — also indicated that it was likely that the British authorities were intimately involved with their American counterparts in deciding the country to which Mohamed was sent to be tortured.

This type of complicity is, of course, far more grave than the verdict in an existing judgment against the government, following a judicial review last summer, when the judges, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones, responding to an acknowledgment by senior officials that they had been involved in exchanging intelligence with their US counterparts, even though they had not been told where Mohamed was being held, ruled that “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.”

I still stand by this interpretation of the significance of David Rose’s revelations about “Informant A,” but while I wait to see if other media outlets will pick up on this extremely important story, which takes us clearly into the realm of “war crimes,” Ben Six, on the website Back Towards The Locus, has noted that Rose’s original article was replaced on the Mail on Sunday’s website yesterday afternoon, with an edited version credited to Vanessa Allen. The revised version still contains the revelation about the existence of “Informant A,” but contains significantly less background detail, and, as I await an explanation of why the original article was pulled, I thought it was worthwhile to reproduce it here:

MI5 ‘Used Muslim 007’ to Turn British Torture Victim in Moroccan Prison
by David Rose, Mail on Sunday, 17 May 2009

LONDON — British security agents sent an undercover mole dubbed the ‘Muslim 007’ to convince Al Qaeda suspect Binyam Mohamed to turn informant if he wanted his torture to end, it was claimed last night.

The new allegations suggest Britain’s involvement in the ‘medieval’ treatment of the former Guantánamo Bay prisoner goes much deeper than previously thought.

Ministers and MI5 have insisted they had no idea that Mohamed was the subject of an ‘extraordinary rendition’ to Morocco, nor that he was tortured there on the orders of the CIA.

However, last night Mohamed told how the mole, known only as Informant A, tried to persuade him that giving intelligence to the British would end his ordeal — suggesting MI5 agents were complicit in his treatment.

Mohamed said that his torturers brought the mole, a UK citizen of Moroccan descent, to see him in early September 2002, nearly two months after he arrived in Morocco, where he had been subjected to horrific abuse, including the cutting of his genitals with a scalpel.

‘It was one of my lowest points,’ he said. ‘The really bad stuff had already been going on for weeks. I thought he was a friendly face who might get the British to help me — but it was just another way of putting on pressure.’

Mohamed’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, added: ‘The Moroccans told Mohamed that Informant A was working with the British Government and pressed Mr Mohamed to do the same if he wanted to end his torture.’

Mr Stafford Smith has written to Gordon Brown demanding an immediate inquiry, calling on the Government to come clean about British involvement in the case and ‘quit working with the US to hide evidence of criminal acts’.

The official line is that the British authorities had no idea that Mohamed was taken to Morocco three months after his capture in Pakistan in April 2002 — and became aware of him again only when he arrived at Guantánamo Bay more than two years later.

Mr Stafford Smith’s letter says: ‘The suggestion that British officials simply lost track of Mohamed for more than two years and did not know that he had been rendered to Morocco for torture is implausible.

‘They had their own agent in Morocco who had seen Mohamed there and that person was back in the UK while the razor blades were still being taken to Mohamed’s genitals.’

Mohamed told Mr Stafford Smith about Informant A when they first met in Guantánamo four years ago but it is only recently that new sources have come forward to support his account.

One is Tarek Dergoul, who was held at a US base in Afghanistan in 2002 at the same time as Informant A.

He said yesterday: ‘The fact he’d agreed to become a grass was all over the jail. One of the guards was saying, “We’ve got another 007.”’

Another is Shaker Aamer, a British-resident Saudi, who was captured with Informant A. He told Mr Stafford Smith that although he was flown to Guantánamo, where he is still a prisoner, Informant A was taken elsewhere by the British.

A third source said Informant A had been allowed to return to London after his capture, despite his suspected links to the Taliban and his militant views.

Informant A knew Mohamed in London and helped him plan the fateful journey in the spring of 2001 that took him first to Pakistan, then to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

After Mohamed had fled the conflict, the mole was wounded fighting alongside Osama Bin Laden in the caves of Tora Bora. Months after that, Mohamed saw Informant A again in Pakistan shortly before both men were separately captured.

After his release from Guantánamo earlier this year, Mohamed told The Mail on Sunday he was interrogated by MI5 in Pakistan after being beaten and hung by his wrists. Later he suffered ‘medieval’ tortures in Morocco.

The Americans were convinced he was planning to build a ‘dirty’ radioactive bomb and detonate it in New York — an allegation that has now been abandoned. The British Government is currently fighting a legal battle to keep secret a summary of CIA documents that describe Mohamed’s treatment.

On Friday, Foreign Secretary David Miliband signed a new demand for a gagging order, arguing that publication of the High Court judges’ summary would cause irreparable harm to Britain’s relationship with America.

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

For a sequence of articles relating to Binyam Mohamed, see the following: Urgent appeal for British resident Binyam Mohamed, “close to suicide” in Guantánamo (December 2007), 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), Meltdown at the Guantánamo Trials (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Is Robert Gates Guilty of Perjury in Guantánamo Torture Case? (December 2008), British torture victim Binyam Mohamed to be released from Guantánamo (January 2009), Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), The Betrayal of British Torture Victim Binyam Mohamed (February 2009), Hiding Torture And Freeing Binyam Mohamed From Guantánamo (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Coming Home From Guantánamo, As Torture Allegations Mount (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s statement on his release from Guantánamo (February 2009), Who Is Binyam Mohamed? (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 (May 2009), UK Government Lies Exposed; Spy Visited Binyam Mohamed In Morocco (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).

UK Government Lies Exposed; Spy Visited Binyam Mohamed In Morocco

Binyam Mohamed, the British resident who was tortured in Morocco on behalf of the CIA, has been free from Guantánamo for nearly two months, but the struggle for access to documents proving his rendition and torture — both in Morocco and in the CIA’s own “Dark Prison” in Afghanistan — continues. The US government has never explained where he was held between May 2002, when British agents last saw him in Pakistan, where he was initially seized, and May 2004, when he surfaced in the US prison at Bagram airbase, and although the British government has conceded that it received intelligence reports about him from July 2002 to February 2003, officials have always maintained that the US authorities did not inform them about where he was being held.

Last summer, after a judicial review of Mohamed’s case in the UK, two high court judges — Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones — ruled that the British government’s decision to be involved in an exchange of intelligence about Mohamed, without knowing where he was being held, or receiving assurances that he was not being subjected to ill-treatment or torture, meant that “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.”

However, despite this and other trenchant criticisms, the British government has, to date, prevented the judges from either ordering the release of 42 documents in its possession, which deal with Mohamed’s interrogations in Pakistan, or even releasing a seven-line summary of those documents, even though the judges have clearly stated that they believe the summary should be released in the interests of “open justice,” and because there is “nothing in the redacted paragraphs that would identify any agent or any facility or any secret means of intelligence gathering. Nor could anything in the redacted paragraphs possibly be described as ‘highly sensitive classified US intelligence.’”

On Friday, reiterating a well-worn but disputed argument that releasing the summary would cause “real harm to the national security and international relations of the United Kingdom,” Foreign Secretary David Miliband again sought to prevent the judges from releasing the summary, but in today’s Mail on Sunday, David Rose reports that Binyam Mohamed has now stated that a British spy — or a “mole,” as Rose calls him — was sent by the British authorities to Morocco in September 2002, in an attempt “to persuade him that giving intelligence to the British would end his ordeal.”

“It was one of my lowest points,” Mohamed told Rose. “The really bad stuff [the torture which included having his penis regularly cut by razorblades] had already been going on for weeks. I thought he was a friendly face who might get the British to help me — but it was just another way of putting on pressure.”

Mohamed’s lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, added that the Moroccans told Mohamed that the man, a British citizen of Moroccan descent, identified only as Informant A, “was working with the British Government and pressed Mr. Mohamed to do the same if he wanted to end his torture.”

Stafford Smith also explained that he had written to Gordon Brown demanding an immediate inquiry, calling for the government to finally reveal its involvement with the case, and to “quit working with the US to hide evidence of criminal acts.” Pouring scorn on the British authorities’ claim that they did not know that he had been rendered to Morocco by the Americans, Stafford Smith added that, in his letter, he had written, “The suggestion that British officials simply lost track of Mohamed for more than two years and did not know that he had been rendered to Morocco for torture is implausible. They had their own agent in Morocco who had seen Mohamed there and that person was back in the UK while the razor blades were still being taken to Mohamed’s genitals.”

What is even more fascinating about this story, however, is the report of Binyam’s relationship with Informant A before his capture, and the fact that other Guantánamo prisoners were also aware of the “mole.”

As Rose described it, Informant A “knew Mohamed in London and helped him plan the fateful journey in the spring of 2001 that took him first to Pakistan, then to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. After Mohamed had fled the conflict, the mole was wounded fighting alongside Osama Bin Laden in the caves of Tora Bora. Months after that, Mohamed saw Informant A again in Pakistan shortly before both men were separately captured.”

In addition, Tarek Dergoul, a British citizen who was released from Guantánamo in 2004, said that he was “held at a US base in Afghanistan in 2002 at the same time as Informant A,” and he told David Rose on Saturday, “The fact he’d agreed to become a grass was all over the jail. One of the guards was saying, ‘We’ve got another 007.’”

According to Stafford Smith, who said that Mohamed told him about Informant A in Guantánamo in 2005, but that it was “only recently that new sources have come forward to support his account,” Shaker Aamer, a British resident who is still held in Guantánamo, was actually seized with Informant A in Afghanistan, and he told Stafford Smith that, when he was flown to Guantánamo, Informant A was “taken somewhere else by the British.” Rose added that another, unidentified source explained that Informant A “had been allowed to return to London after his capture.”

While the revelation of the role played by Informant A will undoubtedly renew the pressure on the British authorities to reveal the extent of their involvement in Mohamed’s interrogations in Morocco, two other important questions also need to be raised.

The first involves trying to ascertain what information was provided by the newly-recruited agent, who was presumably desperate to please his new masters, when he was planted amongst the prisoners in Afghanistan; and in particular, whether any of this information has been used by the US authorities to justify the detention of prisoners who are still held in Guantánamo, including, of course, Shaker Aamer. The Saudi-born resident traveled to Afghanistan with another former Guantánamo prisoner, Moazzam Begg, to establish a girl’s school, funded by a Saudi charity, and also to pursue a number of well-digging projects that they had funded separately, but over the years he has been subjected to several suspicious claims — including an allegation that he “lived on stipends in Afghanistan paid by [Osama] bin Laden” — whose provenance has never been explained.

The second question, however, is even more explosive, as it involves asking whether Mohamed’s rendition to Morocco, a country with which he had no connection, was the direct result of information provided by Informant A. Given his Moroccan background, I can only conclude that this seems very likely, and that it also shines an even more uncomfortable light on the British government’s persistent attempts to claim that it was never directly involved in Mohamed’s rendition and torture than the revelation that Informant A was sent to Morocco to persuade him to cooperate. I state this for two reasons: firstly, because it suggests that the British and American intelligence services were in extremely close contact in the three months following Mohamed’s capture, when he was held in Pakistan, and secondly, because it suggests, bluntly, that the CIA’s decision to render Mohamed to Morocco only came about because of British input.

I doubt that David Miliband is getting much rest today …

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

For a follow-up article, see Daily Mail Pulls Story About Binyam Mohamed And British Spy, and for a sequence of articles relating to Binyam Mohamed, see the following: Urgent appeal for British resident Binyam Mohamed, “close to suicide” in Guantánamo (December 2007), 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), Meltdown at the Guantánamo Trials (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Is Robert Gates Guilty of Perjury in Guantánamo Torture Case? (December 2008), British torture victim Binyam Mohamed to be released from Guantánamo (January 2009), Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), The Betrayal of British Torture Victim Binyam Mohamed (February 2009), Hiding Torture And Freeing Binyam Mohamed From Guantánamo (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Coming Home From Guantánamo, As Torture Allegations Mount (February 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s statement on his release from Guantánamo (February 2009), Who Is Binyam Mohamed? (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 (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).

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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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