Archive for October, 2009

FILM LAUNCH TONIGHT: Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

Poster for "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo"

So the time has finally arrived when the project that filmmaker Polly Nash and I began two years ago has its first public screening. “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” has its UK premiere this evening at the Cochrane Theatre, in London’s West End. I hope to see some of you there, and to see others in the States, between November 4 and 13. Details of my US itinerary will follow very soon, and a short trailer is available here.

About the film

“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” is a new documentary film, directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, telling the story of Guantánamo (and including sections on extraordinary rendition and secret prisons) with a particular focus on how the Bush administration turned its back on domestic and international laws, how prisoners were rounded up in Afghanistan and Pakistan without adequate screening (and often for bounty payments), and why some of these men may have been in Afghanistan or Pakistan for reasons unconnected with militancy or terrorism (as missionaries or humanitarian aid workers, for example).

The film is based around interviews with former prisoners (Moazzam Begg and, in his first major interview, Omar Deghayes, who was released in December 2007), lawyers for the prisoners (Clive Stafford Smith in the UK and Tom Wilner in the US), and journalist and author Andy Worthington, and also includes appearances from Guantánamo’s former Muslim chaplain James Yee, Shakeel Begg, a London-based Imam, and the British human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce.

Focusing on the stories of three particular prisoners — Shaker Aamer (who is still held), Binyam Mohamed (who was released in February 2009) and Omar Deghayes — “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” provides a powerful rebuke to those who believe that Guantánamo holds “the worst of the worst” and that the Bush administration was justified in responding to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 by holding men neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects with habeas corpus rights, but as “illegal enemy combatants” with no rights whatsoever.

For further information, interviews, or to inquire about broadcasting, distributing or showing “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” please contact Andy Worthington or Polly Nash.

“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” is a Spectacle Production (74 minutes, 2009).

About the directors and the production company

Andy Worthington is a journalist, and the author of three books, including The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (Pluto Press). Visit his website here.

Polly Nash is a lecturer at the London College Of Communication (LCC), part of the University of the Arts, London, and has worked in film and TV for 20 years. Core funding for the film was provided by LCC.

Spectacle is an independent television production company specializing in documentary, community-led investigative journalism and participatory media. Spectacle programs have been broadcast across Europe, Australia and Canada and have won international awards. Visit their website here.

For excerpts and extras, follow the links on the Spectacle website. I’m also maintaining a main page for the film here, which will be updated regularly.

Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison is published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, and if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Justice At Last? Guantánamo Uighurs Ask Supreme Court For Release Into US

Two Uighur prisoners in Guantánamo protest their continued detention, June 2009One year and two weeks ago, District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina ordered that 17 Uighur prisoners at Guantánamo be released into the United States. Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province, the Uighurs were seized and sold to US forces by Pakistani villagers in December 2001, after they had fled a settlement in the Afghan mountains, where they had ended up after fleeing Chinese oppression.

One of the men had secured a resounding court victory last June, when appeals court judges ruled that the government had failed to prove that he was an “enemy combatant,” involved in any way with either al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and in the wake of this ruling the government abandoned all pretense that any of other 16 men were “enemy combatants” either.

Last October, reviewing the habeas corpus petitions of these 17 men, Judge Urbina ordered their release into the United States for three compelling reasons: firstly, because they could not be returned to China, where there were fears that they would be subjected to ill-treatment, torture or worse; secondly, because no other country had been found that would accept them, despite the State Department scouring the globe; and thirdly, because it was unconstitutional for the United States to be holding innocent men at Guantánamo.

After years of indifference — or worse — on the part of the US authorities, who knew that these men were innocent almost from the moment that they were seized, this was a proud moment for US justice, and appeared to provide the remedy that the Supreme Court intended for prisoners at Guantánamo who were found to be innocent by a court, when the nation’s most important judges granted them constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights in June 2008, in Boumediene v. Bush.

However, the Bush administration disagreed, appealing the ruling and persuading a notoriously Conservative bench of the Court of Appeals to rule that, on questions regarding the immigration of aliens into the United States (even those who had been wrongly detained in an experimental prison camp for over six years), the decision was in the hands of the Executive, and not the courts.

In what I regard as one of the weakest moments of the Obama presidency regarding Guantánamo, the Justice Department maintained the same line as the Bush administration in February this year, when the Court of Appeals reconvened en banc (with a full panel of judges) to make a final ruling, in which they officially reversed Judge Urbina’s principled decision to order the men’s release into the United States.

Had the government backed down, the four Uighurs who took up residence in Bermuda in June — where they soon demonstrated to any open-minded local that they were not, and had never been terrorists — would have performed the same remarkable task on the streets of Washington D.C. instead, and even Americans seduced by the Bush administration’s unsubstantiated rhetoric about the “terrorists” of Guantánamo would have been able to discover, first hand, that the Bush administration made mistakes at Guantánamo, and that innocent men were held.

Salahidin Abdulahad and Khalil Manut, photographed by Michelle Shephard for the Toronto Star, enjoy their new-found freedom by fishing in the ocean

Salahidin Abdulahad and Khalil Manut, photographed by Michelle Shephard for the Toronto Star, enjoy their new-found freedom by fishing in the ocean in Bermuda, June 2009.

Instead, lawmakers of both parties — spurred on by the dark rumblings of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who ghoulishly reappeared, encouraged by the mainstream media, who behaved as though he was still in power — reinforced the Court of Appeals’ ruling, passing legislation preventing the release of any Guantánamo prisoner (however innocent) onto the US mainland.

Betrayed by the Executive branch, Congress and the Court of Appeals, the Uighurs’ lawyers were obliged to appeal to the Supreme Court, which they did in April, asking that the justices address the following question (PDF):

Whether a federal court exercising its habeas jurisdiction, as confirmed by Boumediene v. Bush, has no power to order the release of prisoners held by the Executive for seven years, where the Executive detention is indefinite and without authorization in law, and release into the continental United States is the only possible effective remedy.

In the meantime, the government found a new home in Bermuda for four of the men, and began the negotiations that, to date, appear to have secured the agreement of six of the remaining 13 men that they will be resettled on the remote Pacific island of Palau.

In June, the Supreme Court deferred a decision on the Uighurs — perhaps to allow the government time to find new homes for the men — but on Tuesday the justices unexpectedly agreed to hear the case, Kiyemba v. Obama, which, of course, touches on the very territory that they last visited in June 2008.

Oral argument in the case is not expected until next year, and in the meantime the government may find new homes for the remaining 13 Uighurs, rendering the case moot, but in briefs the battle lines have been drawn.

On the one hand is the government, endorsing Bush-era policies, and stating, via Solicitor General Elena Kagan, that the Uighurs’ remedy has been granted by a court, and that they are “free to go to any country that is wiling to accept them,” but that “there is a fundamental difference between ordering the release of a detained alien to permit him to return home or to another country, and ordering that the alien be brought to and released in the United States without regard to immigration laws.”

And for the Uighurs, there is Sabin Willett, a Boston-based attorney, and his team, who argue that the Court of Appeals’ ruling made a mockery of the habeas rights extended to the prisoners by the Supreme Court, and transformed Judge Urbina’s ruling into nothing more than an empty gesture. Willett explained that it made courts “powerless to relieve unlawful imprisonment, even when the executive brought the prisoners to our threshold, imprisons them there without legal justification, and — as seven years have so poignantly proved — there is nowhere else to go.”

In a statement issued via the Center for Constitutional Rights, he added, “We now have asked the Supreme Court to hear the Uighur cases, and rule that the writ of habeas corpus guarantees to the innocent not just a judge’s learned essay, but something meaningful — their release.”

As the eighth anniversary of the men’s wrongful capture approaches, they surely deserve nothing less.

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 I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published on the Huffington Post.

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), 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), Guantánamo: A Real Uyghur Slams Newt Gingrich’s Racist Stupidity (May 2009), Free The Guantánamo Uighurs! (May 2009), Who Are The Four Guantánamo Uighurs Sent To Bermuda? (June 2009), Guantánamo’s Uighurs In Bermuda: Interviews And New Photos (June 2009), Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo on Democracy Now! (June 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part One): Exposing The Bush Administration’s Lies (July 2009), Is The World Ignoring A Massacre of Uighurs In China? (July 2009), Chair Of The American Conservative Union Supports The Guantánamo Uighurs (July 2009), Three Uighurs Talk About Chinese Interrogation At Guantánamo (July 2009), House Threatens Obama Over Chinese Interrogation Of Uighurs In Guantánamo (July 2009), A Profile of Rushan Abbas, The Guantánamo Uighurs’ Interpreter (August 2009), and the stories in the additional chapters of The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras 1, Website Extras 6 and Website Extras 9.

UK Judges Order Release Of Details About The Torture Of Binyam Mohamed By US Agents

Binyam Mohamed at the launch of the Guantanamo Justice Centre, July 30, 2009In August 2008, while British resident Binyam Mohamed still languished in a prison cell in Guantánamo, two British High Court judges attempted to inform the public about what, in May 2002, the CIA had told their British counterparts about how they had treated him while he was being held in Pakistani custody, shortly before a British agent interrogated him.

The judges were Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones, and their attempt to inform the public came in a judgment that followed a judicial review of Mohamed’s case during the summer of 2008, which was itself triggered by the British government’s refusal to release 42 documents in its possession regarding his detention in Pakistan.

August 2008: The quest to reveal information about US torture begins

In their judgment last August, the judges made it clear that they were appalled by the global torture program in which they had found themselves unexpectedly immersed. In one of the most extraordinary stories in the “War on Terror,” Mohamed, a British resident picked up in Pakistan in April 2002, had been rendered by CIA agents to Morocco in July 2002, where he had spent 18 months being tortured, had then been rendered to Afghanistan, to the “Dark Prison” outside Kabul, a secret prison run by the CIA, where he had spent another four months, and had then been flown to Guantánamo, where he remained while the judges grappled with the largely classified evidence of a global web of kidnapping and torture.

In a remarkable ruling, the judges roundly condemned the British government for sending an agent to Pakistan to interview Mohamed in May 2002, when he was being held incommunicado (which was illegal), and for providing and receiving intelligence about him for at least eight months after his disappearance from Pakistan, even though the British intelligence services claimed not to know where he was being held, and should not have been involved without receiving cast-iron assurances about his welfare. In the judgment, they stated explicitly that, “by seeking to interview BM [Mohamed] in the circumstances found and supplying information and questions for his interviews, the relationship between the United Kingdom Government and the United States authorities went far beyond that of a bystander or witness to the alleged wrongdoing.”

As I explained in an article last November:

The judges also seized on an admission, made on behalf of the foreign secretary, David Miliband, that Mohamed had “established an arguable case” that, until his transfer to Guantánamo, “he was subject to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by or on behalf of the United States,” and was also “subject to torture during such detention by or on behalf of the United States,” and ruled that, because the information obtained from Mohamed was “sought to be used as a confession in a trial [by Military Commission at Guantánamo] where the charges … are very serious and may carry the death penalty,” and that it is “a long-standing principle of the common law that confessions obtained by torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment cannot be used as evidence in any trial,” the British government was required to hand over the evidence — 42 documents in total — to his lawyers.

In the end, however, the judges stopped short of ordering the government to release the 42 documents — and also stopped short of including in their judgment a seven paragraph summary of these documents — bowing to pressure from David Miliband, who, in the absence of any other straws to which to cling, urged them not to order disclosure of the documents because of national security concerns; specifically, that to do so might damage the intelligence-sharing relationship between the UK and the US.

Developments in the US, and an unusual request from the British judges

Much has changed in the 14 months since this initial judgment. Last October, in the United States, the Justice Department responded to similar pressure to release the documents, applied by a judge in Mohamed’s habeas corpus petition, by dropping the central allegation against him — that he was involved, with US citizen Jose Padilla, in a plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in New York — and, in November, the Defense Department shelved Mohamed’s proposed trial by Military Commission, which focused on the same spurious claims.

To anyone who had been studying the case closely, this was a relief, as, back in June 2002, before Mohamed’s rendition to Morocco, and just a month after Padilla’s capture (and before his long isolation and torture on the US mainland), Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy to US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, admitted that “there was not an actual plan” to set off a “dirty bomb” in America, that Padilla had not begun trying to acquire materials, and that intelligence officials had stated that his research had not gone beyond surfing the Internet.

Despite these developments in the US, the British judges found themselves engaged in a far more intractable struggle with their own government. In two hearings that followed their August judgment, the foreign secretary produced correspondence from US State Department officials, clearly threatening the intelligence-sharing arrangement between the US and the UK should the documents be released.

In a first letter, dated August 21, 2008, John Bellinger, the US State Department’s Legal Adviser, stated that disclosure of the documents — or of the information they contained — was “likely to result in serious damage to US national security and could harm existing intelligence sharing arrangements between our two governments,” and in a second letter, dated September 5, 2008, Stephen Mathias, the State Department’s Assistant Legal Adviser, went one step further, suggesting that there would be “serious and lasting damage to the US-UK intelligence sharing relationship,” should the documents — or the information they contained — be disclosed.

Even so, the judges were reluctant to give up, and, in November, took the highly unusual step of soliciting responses from the media regarding their decision to bow to pressure from the government and not release their summary of the documents, by stressing that “the issue is one of considerable importance in the context of open justice,” and noting that, in the opinion of the Special Advocates (lawyers assigned to represent Mohamed in the closed sessions of the judicial review, which included most of the cross-examination of the British agent who had interviewed him in Pakistan), the government’s Public Interest Immunity Certificate (the document urging non-disclosure) “failed to address, in the light of allegations made by BM [Mohamed], the abhorrence and condemnation accorded to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.”

In seeking to reopen their judgment, the judges recognized that the requirements of “open justice” needed to be offset against two factors in the government’s favor. The first, as they described it in their most recent judgment last Friday (PDF), was the “principle of control over evidence,” and, as they explained:

There can be no doubt that there is a general principle or convention that intelligence information received by one State from another will not be released into the public domain or otherwise used without the consent of the state supplying it.

However, as they also noted, although States would “normally be expected to resist the making of a court order for disclosure,” the “principle of control over evidence … cannot be considered an absolute principle,” because “court ordered disclosure is well understood by the Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom to be an exception to the principle of control.”

The second factor that needed to be considered was the explicit threat provided by the United States, regarding the intelligence sharing relationship between the US and the UK, and it is on this point that, since the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, the British government has, to be blunt, struggled to establish that the new administration has made the same threats as the Bush administration.

The key question of how the Obama administration regards the disclosure of US torture

In response to the judges’ request for input from the media regarding the seven paragraph summary, the journalist David Rose made a submission on November 30, in which he “pointed out that the position had changed significantly with the election of ‘a US President avowedly determined to eschew torture and inhuman and degrading treatment,’” and added that the new administration was “unlikely to protest at further confirmation that its predecessor saw the inhuman and degrading treatment of detainees as acceptable.”

On December 18, the foreign secretary responded, stating that “the situation has not changed since the election of Barack Obama.” He added, “The concern relates to the disclosure of closed information,” and also claimed, “The Secretary of State’s assessment of the likelihood of and severity of the damage to national security has not changed.”

Mohamed’s lawyers then responded by stating that the foreign secretary’s assertion “needed to be proved by evidence,” but, as the judges noted, “Unfortunately, the letter [from Mohamed’s lawyers] was not copied to the court. No response was made by the Treasury Solicitor on behalf of the Foreign Secretary. That omission proved, in the event, to be regrettable.”

As a result — unaware that the government’s assertions had been challenged — the judges issued a fourth judgment on February 4, 2009, in which, yet again, they reluctantly defended the government’s position. However, it appears, from last Friday’s judgment, that they almost immediately regretted making this decision, for the following reasons.

Firstly, David Rose responded immediately by asking the Foreign and Commonwealth Office “how the Foreign Secretary could know that the threat made by the Bush Administration … was being maintained by the Obama Administration.” In response, a spokesman for the foreign secretary conceded, “We have not approached the new Administration about these paragraphs,” leading the judges to conclude, as they explained last Friday, that:

… when questions were asked of the Foreign Secretary, both in the media and in Parliament, as to whether there was any change of position of the Obama Administration, his response was made in relation to the general principle of control over intelligence and not in relation to the specific statement made by the Bush Administration that it would reconsider its intelligence sharing relationship.

In the meantime, in a move that appeared to have been designed to take the heat off both the British and American governments, Binyam Mohamed was actually released from Guantánamo, arriving back in the UK on February 23, but the case, of course, had a lumbering legal life of its own, and refused to go away.

As the judges noted, statements made by spokesmen on behalf of President Obama in this period never “went beyond restating the general principle of control over intelligence,” and they cited a letter dated March 24, 2009, in which Daniel Bethlehem QC, the FCO’s Legal Adviser, referred to a statement made by the Press Office of the National Security Council on February 4, in which it was stated, “The United States thanks the UK government for its continuing commitment to protect sensitive national security information and preserve the long-standing relationship that enables both countries to protect their citizens.”

As the judges added, “No statement reiterated the position taken by the Bush Administration that if we did make the seven redacted paragraphs public, then there would be consequences in the form of a reconsideration of the intelligence sharing relationship.”

Moreover, by April 22, during another hearing, it became clear to the judges that, “despite the meetings that had taken place between officials and Ministers of the United Kingdom and United States, no one on behalf of the United Kingdom Government had, in the period between the handing down of our [fourth] judgment on 4 February 2009 and the hearing before us on 22 April 2009, asked the Obama Administration whether, in the event of our making the information in the redacted paragraphs public, his Administration would reconsider the intelligence sharing relationship.” In the most crucial lines, they added, “It appears to be the position that it was assumed, in the absence of a statement by the Obama Administration, that the position had not changed, but no one sought any confirmation.”

As a result, the judges stated that, in response to David Rose’s submission on November 30, 2008, “all the Foreign Secretary could properly have stated to the court (because he had no basis for saying any more) was that he did not expect there would be any change in the position of the Obama Administration,” adding, “He should have informed the court that he did not know what the position of the Obama Administration was as to the specific consequences of publication.”

The judges’ decision to reopen their judgment

This, in turn, led to the judges’ decision to reopen their fourth judgment on May 6, and, through a discussion of other submissions made during the April 22 hearing (in last Friday’s judgment), they also made it clear that they had been persuaded that “President Obama had publicly expressed very different views on issues of torture, interrogation techniques and transparency from those of officials of the Bush Administration, including Mr. Bellinger, legal adviser to the State Department, and Secretary of State Rice.”

They also attached particular importance to Obama’s decision, on April 16, to release “a number of memoranda issued by the United States Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel dealing with the treatment of al-Qaeda detainees” (generally known as the “torture memos”), clearly agreeing with Mohamed’s lawyers, who told the court on April 22 that, “in the light of the making public of these memoranda, it was quite impossible to contend that the Obama Administration would ever have contemplated reconsidering the intelligence sharing relationship with United Kingdom if we made the redacted paragraphs public.”

It also transpired that the judges had been influenced by “an interim statement” made by the Obama administration, which “made clear that the United States Government was ‘considering the decision on the public disclosure of the US intelligence information that is summarized in the seven paragraphs,’” but had not yet made a decision.

However, just before the judges decided to reopen their judgment, the Treasury Solicitor, acting on behalf of the foreign secretary, submitted a two paragraph summary of a letter, dated April 30, “from an entity of the United States Government to an entity of the United Kingdom Government (the details were redacted), which, it was claimed, established that the Obama administration was following its predecessor’s line, and maintaining that disclosure of the judges’ summary would have serious consequences for the intelligence sharing relationship between the US and the UK.

Even at the time, based on the limited information available, Mohamed’s lawyers established that, in fact, “the two paragraphs stated what could happen, [and] did not state what would happen,” and, in the months since, this interpretation has become even clearer. Despite requests by the judges for disclosure of the identity of the agency that sent the letter, and for disclosure of the full contents of the letter, which, in their opinion, could not justifiably be suppressed due to national security concerns, it took until July 15 for the FCO to admit that the letter had been sent by the CIA to the British intelligence services, and it took until the judgment last Friday for the full contents of the letter to be revealed, in which, as the judges explained succinctly, “no threat was made.”

In a key passage, the CIA letter stated:

The seven paragraphs at issue are based upon classified information shared between our countries. Public disclosure of this information reasonably could be expected to cause serious damage to the United Kingdom’s national security. Specifically, the disclosure of this information may result in a constriction of the US-UK relationship, as well as UK relationships with other countries.

This reinforced what Mohamed’s lawyers had stated back in May, but in the most shocking passage in the whole judgment, the judges explained that representatives of the foreign secretary and the intelligence services had told the judges that they “were better placed in interpreting the letter than other persons and the court,” and, remarkably, that the foreign secretary’s view, “based on such advice, was that ‘could’ should be read as meaning ‘would,’” and that, therefore, the letter “contained an explicit statement of consequences.”

This, of course, was too much for the judges, who responded by stating that both the CIA’s letter — and a follow-up, dated June 30, from General James L. Jones, the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, to his British counterpart, confirming that the CIA’s April 30 letter “reflected the views of the United States Administration” — were “written in plain English,” and that they “do not require expert interpolation to be placed between the drafter and the court.”

With this dismissal of the government’s claims, it remained only for the judges to dismiss an additional claim that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had stated that “there was no difference between the position of the Bush and Obama Administrations as to the consequences that would follow,” should the judges’ summary be released. This they did by pointing out that the minutes of a meeting on May 12, which were relied upon by the government for its claim, actually demonstrate that Secretary Clinton had been discussing the 42 documents, “which contain intelligence information,” and not the judges’ seven paragraph summary, which, as they have maintained all along, “do not contain anything of an intelligence or secret nature.”

And so, with further mention of “the exceptional circumstances of the present case,” with its “unprecedented” proceedings, concerning “matters of great public importance,” the judges ruled that, following President Obama’s release of the “torture memos,” it “is now impossible to contend that details of the interrogation methods are themselves matters of intelligence,” and that, because no threat had been demonstrated by the British government, “a vital public interest requires, for reasons of democratic accountability and the rule of law in the United Kingdom, that a summary of the most important evidence relating to the involvement of the British security services in wrongdoing be placed in the public domain in the United Kingdom.”

They concluded, “We shall therefore re-issue our first judgment with the paragraphs restored.”

Devastating admissions beyond the scope of the judgment

This is not the end of the story, of course. The government, predictably, has appealed yet again, but whilst it is, of course, vital for “open justice” that the judge’s redacted paragraphs are restored, it should be noted, in conclusion, that the entire sordid story of cooperation between the US and the UK in the torture of Binyam Mohamed goes deeper than this judgment allowed the judges to delve.

As they noted in passing (and as I explained at length in an article in August, “What The British Government Knew About The Torture Of Binyam Mohamed”), new revelations this summer confirm that the British intelligence services had been sharing intelligence with their US counterparts until May 2004 (and not February 2003, as previously stated), and that, far from not knowing where Mohamed was being held between July 2002 and January 2004, the British government had actually sent an agent to Morocco to interview him. In their judgment, the judges noted, with apparent regret, that, had these facts surfaced earlier, they would have led to further cross-examination of the agent who interviewed Mohamed in Pakistan, and that it was “inevitable that we would have made further findings, some of which we would have put into the open judgment.”

This is perhaps something of an understatement. This summer it also transpired that the British government had sent a spy to Morocco to interview Mohamed, as well as a British agent. As the government struggles to continue its 14-month mission to suppress evidence of US torture in Pakistan (and its complicity in it), it should also be bracing itself for fresh challenges regarding the apparent perjury of the agent who was cross-examined by the judges in the summer of 2008, and for further challenges regarding its increasingly obvious complicity in the long ordeal of Binyam Mohamed in Morocco and Afghanistan, which indicate that much more “wrongdoing” is at stake than was conceived of by Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones, when they wrote last August 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.”

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 I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on Truthout.

For other 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), 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), 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), US Torture Under Scrutiny In British Courts (July 2009), Former prisoners launch the Guantánamo Justice Centre in London (August 2009).

“Respect My Anonymity,” Says Guantánamo Prisoner Released in Belgium

On October 9, as I reported here, two prisoners were released from Guantánamo, several months after they had successfully challenged the basis of their detention through habeas corpus petitions in the US courts. One, Khalid al-Mutairi, was repatriated to Kuwait, while the other, who was not identified, was released to begin a new life in Belgium.

On Sunday, the Belgian foreign ministry released the following statement from the unidentified prisoner, in which he briefly explained his long suffering and asked the press to respect his privacy while he attempts to rebuild his shattered life. It is for this reason that I shall refrain from identifying him, and I hope, instead, that he is provided with the care and support that he needs to come to terms with his bitter and damaging experiences in US custody, and that one day he will feel secure enough — both mentally and materially — to tell the world his story in his own words.

A statement by the former Guantánamo prisoner released in Belgium

I was held for seven years in the prison at Guantánamo. I didn’t have any connection to any terrorist acts. The American judicial system confirmed that in a ruling earlier this year. I was nothing more than a student who was trying to find his way in life. I found myself in a bad place at a bad time and my life took a dramatic turn for the worse. In an atmosphere of menace and fear, I was a victim of people who did not want to listen to me and I suffered enormously as a result, both mentally that physically.

I am grateful to the Belgian government for giving me the opportunity to make a new start in my life. I really hope to be able to seize this chance to have possibilities in my life again. It is for this reason that I ask the press to respect my anonymity so that I have time to come to terms with all these events. As a result, I do not wish, at the moment, to have any contact with journalists.

The original version of this statement, in French, can be found 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 I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash, launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Andy Worthington Is In Technorati’s Top 100 World Politics Blogs

I was delighted to hear, via my colleague Jason Leopold (Truthout, The Public Record), that Technorati, one of the leading analysts of the blogosphere, has recently revamped its appraisals of the blogging community, introducing Top 100 lists, and that this site, Andy Worthington, now features in the Top 100 World Politics Blogs (as I write, it’s ranked 46, but sites are reappraised on a daily basis, so it could go up or down).

My thanks to all the readers who have helped to get this site noticed, and to all those who have linked to and cross-posted my articles. As I recently explained in an article marking my 600th blog post:

Although the Internet has no quality control, those who genuinely have something to say — and who know how to get their message across — will discover that it rewards perseverance and specialization, and that it favors cooperation over self-absorption. Linking, networking, communication: the Internet positively embraces all these, and remains resistant to corporate attempts to raise tollbooths on its highways.

To this I would only add that, when it comes to favoring cooperation over self-absorption, what this means in particular is that the Internet is genuinely democratic, favoring those who willingly share their information, rather than jealously guarding it, and that, so long as links are provided, cross-posting articles invariably raises bloggers’ profiles, and their visibility to search engines.

So please feel free to join in this ongoing experiment. As ever, I ask cross-posters only to link to my site and to preserve internal links. And if you’re new to the site, you could, if you like, begin by looking at my latest article, “Resisting Injustice At Guantánamo: The Story Of Fayiz al-Kandari,” originally published on Truthout, which provides an unprecedented glimpse into the life story of a Kuwaiti prisoner at Guantánamo, seized after traveling to Afghanistan to provide humanitarian aid, and reveals what happens when — as with al-Kandari — prisoners refuse to bow to the prevailing pressure in Guantánamo to demonstrate that “there is no innocent person here,” by refusing to cooperate with the authorities.

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 I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed with Polly Nash, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Resisting Injustice In Guantánamo: The Story Of Fayiz Al-Kandari

Fayiz al-Kandari, in a photo taken by representatives of the International Red Cross in Guantanamo, February 2009At Guantánamo, as was recently revealed in the ruling of a District Court judge in the habeas corpus petition of one of the remaining 222 prisoners, the authorities’ view about the prisoners, back in 2003 or 2004, was that “there is no innocent person here.” The man who spoke these words was an unidentified senior interrogator, and he was not explaining the truth, but was explaining the prevailing attitude that passes for the truth in Guantánamo.

The truth is that hundreds of innocent men have been held at Guantánamo. Many have been released, and many are still held, but as far as the authorities are concerned, the situation that existed five or six years ago, when these words were spoken to a Kuwaiti prisoner, Fouad al-Rabiah, still exists today.

The impossibility of being innocent in Guantánamo

Fouad al-Rabiah was a humanitarian aid worker caught up in the chaos of Afghanistan following the US-led invasion in October 2001, and his own protestations of innocence came to an end when he was subjected to some of the notorious “enhanced interrogation techniques” used in Guantánamo. These were torture techniques reverse engineered from those taught in US military schools to train US personnel to resist interrogation if captured, and were modeled on techniques used on captured US pilots during the Korean War to produce false confessions.

After being subjected to techniques including a form of prolonged sleep deprivation — known, euphemistically, as the “frequent flier program” — which involved being moved from cell to cell every few hours over a period of several weeks, al-Rabiah accepted a false narrative produced by a number of his fellow prisoners (who may themselves have been subjected to “enhanced interrogation”) and confessed that he had met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and had been involved with al-Qaeda in the battle of Tora Bora, a showdown between al-Qaeda and US forces in December 2001.

It was all lies, but it was not until a month ago, after his case had been examined by a District Court judge for his habeas corpus petition, that the truth was revealed and his innocence was finally restored. In a 65-page ruling, which was devastating for the government, and which I wrote about here, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly concluded, witheringly, “If there exists a basis for al-Rabiah’s indefinite detention, it most certainly has not been presented to this Court.”

However, although Fouad al-Rabiah regained his innocence (if not yet his freedom, as, astonishingly, the government is considering whether to appeal Judge Kollar-Kotelly’s ruling), the dark charade of Guantánamo, conceived by Dick Cheney and his close advisors, whose arrogance and disdain for the law allowed them to construct a detention policy in which it was impossible to be innocent, has not come to an end for numerous other men held in Guantánamo, and has, in fact, continued under President Obama.

Obama’s motives are different, to be sure. Spooked by the inflexible opposition with which his decision to close Guantánamo and “regain America’s moral stature in the world” has been received by Republican lawmakers and by members of his own party, the President and his advisors have approached Guantánamo with extreme caution.

Instead of seizing the initiative, the administration has generally been content to behave as though Bush was still in power, opposing the prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions in the District Courts, and letting judges expose the tortured lies, false confessions and feeble intelligence that the Bush administration passed off as evidence. It has been left to the courts to reveal how the Bush administration attempted to use this generally dismal material in an attempt to justify its contention that the prisoners in Guantánamo were all associated with al-Qaeda or the Taliban, simply because the President said they were, even though it has been demonstrated conclusively over the years that they were largely seized by the US military’s Afghan and Pakistani allies, when bounty payments for “al-Qaeda suspects” were widespread, and were never adequately screened in an attempt to ascertain whether they were soldiers or terrorists.

Time moves slowly in the world of the habeas petitions, even though the outcome for the prisoners has generally been worth the wait. Despite the fact that Justice Department lawyers have been doing all in their power to obstruct the prisoners’ defense teams, judges have ruled on 38 petitions, and in all but eight have found that the government failed to establish that the men in question were either al-Qaeda terrorists or soldiers for the Taliban. However, 185 prisoners have not had their cases heard, and although the government has attempted to make the habeas petitions unnecessary in 56 of these cases, by clearing the prisoners for release, it remains apparent that, amongst the remaining 129 prisoners, other difficult cases — of prisoners who insist on maintaining their innocence, in spite of the unwritten law that “there is no innocent person here” — are still waiting to be heard.

One of these men, who has maintained his innocence throughout nearly eight years in US custody, is Fayiz al-Kandari, a 30-year old Kuwaiti, from a wealthy family, who has always maintained that he was a humanitarian aid worker who arrived in Afghanistan in August 2001, was caught up in the chaos following the 9/11 attacks and the US-led invasion of October 2001, and was seized by Afghan forces and sold to the US military in December 2001, as he tried to cross the mountains to Pakistan.

Fayiz al-Kandari’s history of charitable deeds

Does this sound implausible? It certainly does to the US military, but it is important to note that many dozens of prisoners released from Guantánamo were humanitarian aid workers or missionaries, and that two other Kuwaiti humanitarian aid workers — Khalid al-Mutairi as well as Fouad al-Rabiah — recently had their habeas petitions granted because Judge Kollar-Kotelly accepted that they were indeed in Afghanistan to help the poor and needy. In light of conversations that Fayiz al-Kandari has had in the last year with Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, an Air Force Judge Advocate General, who is his military defense attorney, I believe that his story is no different.

In several email exchanges, Lt. Col. Wingard explained to me that al-Kandari has always taken the charitable obligations of Islam very seriously, and, in their many conversations at Guantánamo, has spoken about the role that charity has played in his life from an early age. He recalls his father giving him money in the market to give to the poor when he was a child, for example. As he explained, his father could have given the money to the poor himself, but he chose instead to teach his children that helping the poor is not only a religious requirement, but also that giving help personally is particularly satisfying.

He also recalls how his mother — particularly at Ramadan — cooked large amounts of food and instructed him and his siblings to deliver it to all the neighbors, especially those who were in particular need of additional help, even though he regularly delivered the food to the wrong people so that his mother had to label the plates he was to deliver to make sure that the food ended up in the right hands.

As a teenager, aged 15, al-Kandari lived through the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein, which taught him more about generosity, and also about cooperation. He recalls working with other teenagers in his neighborhood to deliver food to his fellow citizens, who were afraid to leave their houses because, during the occupation, rape, robbery, kidnapping and murder were experienced on a daily basis. Every morning, before sunrise, al-Kandari and his friends would take a truck to a warehouse in the desert and, for a small sum paid to a local official, would receive flour, rice, tomato sauce, and baby milk, to be delivered to those in need. He has spoken of carrying 80 lbs bags of flour and rice to central locations in his neighborhood for others to use.

After the food was delivered, he and the other teenagers would load the truck with garbage and would accompany the driver to the desert to burn it. He has explained that this same process was repeated every day throughout the long months of the occupation, and that he has never forgotten that it was the Americans who liberated his country. “The Americans and Kuwaitis have had a mutual relationship ever since,” he told Lt. Col. Wingard recently, “which is why this whole thing is even more strange.”

When al-Kandari was 20, he recalls seeing on TV the horrific aftermath of the war in Bosnia: people without homes, suffering from hunger and with their loved ones missing. He perceived it as being very similar to what the Kuwaiti people had gone through during the Iraqi occupation, and so, in between semesters at the Kuwait University School of Engineering, he took a ten-day trip to Sarajevo to visit the various Kuwaiti charities that had been established to help the poor, the wounded, the homeless and the orphans, taking several duffel bags of clothes with him. In Bosnia, he noted many similarities between the occupation of Kuwait and and the siege of Sarajevo.

Life in Afghanistan

With this history of charitable deeds, it was unsurprising that al-Kandari’s interest finally turned to Afghanistan. As he recently explained to Lt. Col. Wingard, for many years prior to his visit in August 2001 he had contributed money to various charities, “but it is not the same as being there to provide muscle.” After realizing that Afghanistan was one of the poorest countries in the Islamic world, and that its people might benefit from his assistance, he decided to visit, to provide assistance to the Afghan people, but was shocked to discover, on the ground, that “those people had less than anyone I had ever met.”

In a village, he met up with local officials, and agreed to provide work for some of the local people, building two wells and repairing a mosque. Life was peaceful and productive for two months — and the dreadful events of September 11, 2001 were far away, and of little import in this remote location — but in October, after the US-led invasion began, he recalls hearing the sounds of explosions in the distance and was surprised when the village erupted in celebration, as the locals were overcome with joy that they were again at war.

The reason was not to do with fighting, but with the opportunity to make money from the war’s fallout. As al-Kandari explained to Lt. Col. Wingard, in the days that followed, the local people clambered onto trucks and drove towards the places where bombs had dropped the day before, hoping to gather shrapnel to sell as scrap metal before rival villages beat them to it. Because they were short of manpower, the villagers sometimes took their children and sent them out to watch for explosions across the mountains, and al-Kandari recalls the children demonstrating how they would handle metal that was still hot by bouncing it between their hands.

However, one day in particular will always stands out for Fayiz al-Kandari; a day when the locals came back with a leaflet that had a picture of an Afghan holding a bag with a dollar sign on it, accompanied by some text, which, in essence, said: turn in Arabs and this will be you. Although the wells were finished, the mosque was not, but al-Kandari knew that it was time to leave. He paid the locals for their labor and set off for Pakistan. After all, he thought, even if I am seized by the Americans, they are an old ally of Kuwait, and with their courts and system of justice I will be cleared within a few weeks.

This is not what happened, of course. Al-Kandari was seized in the mountains by Afghan forces, and became one of the victims of the leaflet he had seen in the village: sold for money to US forces, who had no interest in his innocence, nor in the long-standing bonds of friendship between the United States and Kuwait.

Resistance in Guantánamo

In Guantánamo, Fayiz al-Kandari’s refusal to accept that “there is no innocent person here” has marked him out as a particularly resistant prisoner — and resistant prisoners are given a particularly hard time. Over the years, he has been subjected to a vast array of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which, as Lt. Col. Wingard described them, “have included but are not limited to sleep deprivation, physical and verbal assaults, attempts at sexual humiliation through the use of female interrogators, the “frequent flier program,” the prolonged use of stress positions, the use of dogs, the use of loud music and strobe lights, and the use of extreme heat and cold.”

Despite all this, he has not been “broken,” and has been able, unlike Fouad al-Rabiah and numerous other prisoners, to resist making false confessions about his own activities. He has also refused to make false confessions about the activities of other prisoners, despite being offered many opportunities to do so, and despite being told about others who have made false allegations against him.

As a result, the allegations against him consist almost entirely of unsubstantiated claims made by other prisoners, but to the authorities, in the absence of his own confessions, these have been sufficient not only to hold him for nearly eight years, but also, in November 2008, for the Bush administration to put him forward for a trial by Military Commission (the “terror trials” supposedly reserved for the most significant prisoners in Guantánamo), along with Fouad al-Rabiah, the Kuwaiti whose supposed significance was recently dismissed so comprehensively by Judge Kollar-Kotelly.

In this version of reality, concocted almost exclusively from the multiple levels of hearsay provided by other prisoners, the Pentagon alleged, in al-Kandari’s charge sheet for his Military Commission, that, between August and December 2001, he visited the al-Farouq training camp (the main training camp for Arabs in the years before 9/11) and “provided instruction to al-Qaeda members and trainees,” that he “served as an adviser to Osama bin Laden,” and that he “produced recruitment audio and video tapes which encouraged membership in al-Qaeda and participation in jihad.”

Over the years, he has faced an even lengthier list of allegations, including claims that he attended two training camps, fought on the Taliban front lines against the Northern Alliance, was with Osama bin Laden in Tora Bora, was a religious leader for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and was associated with al-Wafa, a Saudi charity that the US authorities regarded as being associated with terrorism.

These particular allegations were not included in his Military Commission charge sheet, but even so, the government has never attempted to explain how he “provided instruction to al-Qaeda members and trainees” at al-Farouq, when the camp closed less than a month after his arrival in Afghanistan, and, more importantly, how he was supposed to have undertaken all this training, provided all this instruction and advice, and produced videos and audiotapes during the small amount of time that he actually spent in Afghanistan. As he stated during a military review in 2005:

At the end of this exciting story and after all these various accusations, when I spent most of my time alongside bin Laden as his advisor and his religious leader … All this happened in a period of three months, which is the period of time I stayed in Afghanistan? I ask, are these accusations against Fayiz or against Superman?

It remains to be seen, when Judge Kollar-Kotelly examines the government’s evidence against Fayiz al-Kandari (in a hearing scheduled to begin next week), whether she too will be unimpressed by the Superman-style allegations leveled against him. Certainly, she will have her work cut out. As al-Kandari recently explained to Lt. Col. Wingard, he has been interrogated over 400 times by at least 70 different interrogators and translators in various combinations.

It is to be hoped that, throughout the many thousands of pages of interrogation logs and interrogators’ reports, Judge Kollar-Kotelly will discover that the allegations against him were made by the same unreliable witnesses whose implausible confessions have undermined so many other habeas cases. Perhaps she will also discover that, as an educated man with a decent command of the English language, he regularly caught interrogators and translators misinterpreting his answers to questions. And perhaps she will even discover information related to the following anecdote, which, although darkly amusing, captures for me the absurd lengths to which the authorities are prepared to go to prove that “there is no innocent person” in Guantánamo. As Lt. Col. Wingard explained it to me:

Fayiz recalled being shown a doctored photo of himself and Osama bin Laden in Africa. As he had never met bin Laden, had never been to Africa, and had no intention of cooperating with the interrogators’ treacherous games, he refused to play along, and the interrogators eventually stopped using the doctored photo as it became the focus of ridicule for everyone involved.

In July, when Lt. Col. Wingard wrote an op-ed about Fayiz al-Kandari for the Washington Post, he noted:

Each time I travel to Guantánamo Bay to visit Fayiz, his first question is, “Have you found justice for me today?” This leads to an awkward hesitation. “Unfortunately, Fayiz,” I tell him, “I have no justice today.”

When Judge Kollar-Kotelly announces her ruling, I hope that she can finally deliver the justice that Lt. Col. Wingard and Fayiz al-Kandari’s civilian attorneys have been unable to deliver for many long years, and that al-Kandari himself expected from the US government when he was first seized nearly eight years ago.

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 I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on Truthout.

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), Judge Condemns “Mosaic” Of Guantánamo Intelligence, And Unreliable Witnesses (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (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), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part Two): Obama’s Shame (August 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part Three): Obama’s Continuing Shame (August 2009), No Escape From Guantánamo: The Latest Habeas Rulings (September 2009), First Guantánamo Prisoner To Lose Habeas Hearing Appeals Ruling (September 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), Bagram Isn’t The New Guantánamo, It’s The Old Guantánamo (August 2009), Obama Brings Guantánamo And Rendition To Bagram (And Not The Geneva Conventions) and Is Bagram Obama’s New Secret Prison? (both September 2009).

A full house for the launch of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”

Outside the Law: Stories from GuantanamoThe 300 free tickets for the UK launch of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” have all been booked a week before the event. The launch is taking place on Wednesday October 21 at the Cochrane Theatre, Southampton Row, London WC1, and while this is great news for all involved in the film, it may be slightly less so for those who hadn’t yet reserved a ticket and were hoping to see it. However, as there will undoubtedly be returns on the night, please don’t be discouraged, and come along next Wednesday at 6 pm.

Also, if you reserved a place but can’t come, please call the Cochrane to remove your reservation (020 7269 1606), so that we can free up more places. And if you don’t get to see it, we’re currently scheduling another showing in late November. We’re also in discussions with other venues and organizations in London, and are also in the early stages of planning various showings around the UK.

About the film

“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” is a new documentary film, directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, telling the story of Guantánamo (and including sections on extraordinary rendition and secret prisons) with a particular focus on how the Bush administration turned its back on domestic and international laws, how prisoners were rounded up in Afghanistan and Pakistan without adequate screening (and often for bounty payments), and why some of these men may have been in Afghanistan or Pakistan for reasons unconnected with militancy or terrorism (as missionaries or humanitarian aid workers, for example).

The film is based around interviews with former prisoners (Moazzam Begg and, in his first major interview, Omar Deghayes, who was released in December 2007), lawyers for the prisoners (Clive Stafford Smith in the UK and Tom Wilner in the US), and journalist and author Andy Worthington, and also includes appearances from Guantánamo’s former Muslim chaplain James Yee, Shakeel Begg, a London-based Imam, and the British human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce.

Focusing on the stories of three particular prisoners — Shaker Aamer (who is still held), Binyam Mohamed (who was released in February 2009) and Omar Deghayes — “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” provides a powerful rebuke to those who believe that Guantánamo holds “the worst of the worst” and that the Bush administration was justified in responding to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 by holding men neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects with habeas corpus rights, but as “illegal enemy combatants” with no rights whatsoever.

For further information, interviews, or to inquire about broadcasting, distributing or showing “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” please contact Andy Worthington or Polly Nash. Andy will also be in the United States from November 5 to November 12, 2009, showing the film in New York, Virginia, Washington DC and California, in association with the Center on Law and Security at NYU School of Law, World Can’t Wait, the Future of Freedom Foundation and the New America Foundation. Details to follow soon.

“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” is a Spectacle Production (74 minutes, 2009).

About the directors and the production company

Andy Worthington is a journalist, and the author of three books, including The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (Pluto Press). Visit his website here.

Polly Nash is a lecturer at the London College Of Communication (LCC), part of the University of the Arts, London, and has worked in film and TV for 20 years. Core funding for the film was provided by LCC.

Spectacle is an independent television production company specializing in documentary, community-led investigative journalism and participatory media. Spectacle programs have been broadcast across Europe, Australia and Canada and have won international awards. Visit their website here.

For excerpts and extras, follow the links on the Spectacle website. I’m also maintaining a main page for the film here, which will be updated regularly.

Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison is published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, and if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Finding New Homes For 44 Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners

Prisoners line up for dawn prayers in a recreation yard at Guantanamo, September 2, 2009In a recent article, “75 Guantánamo Prisoners Cleared For Release; 31 Could Leave Today,” I examined the implications of an announcement that 75 of the remaining 223 prisoners in Guantánamo have been cleared for release. This came by way of a list posted in the prison, identifying the prisoners by nationality, and a statement by a military spokesman, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Brook DeWalt, who explained, “It was an opportunity to just provide better communication. There’s a lot of information out there and you get a lot of things from a lot of different angles. It helps put it in a more succinct context for them [the prisoners].”

The list is based on the deliberations of an interagency Task Force, established by President Obama on his second day in office, to determine who should be released, and who should continue to be held, and in my article I looked at the cases of 31 of the prisoners (26 Yemenis, three Saudis and two Kuwaitis, one of whom has since been released), pointing out that, in theory, there was no reason for them not be released immediately.

However, I also pointed out that members of Obama’s own administration had told the New York Times that the government was afraid of releasing the Yemenis (even though they had been cleared for release), because Guantánamo itself might have radicalized [them], exposing [them] to militants and embittering [them] against the United States,” and I should also have added, as former military defense attorney Maj. David Frakt pointed out to me in an email, that the men’s release is also dependent on the whims of Congress, where lawmakers “passed a law this summer that requires the administration to give Congress 15 days notice before releasing anyone from Guantánamo.”

Nevertheless, although Congressional obstruction may well be an additional complication (which I discussed in another article last week, “Lawyer Blasts ‘Congressional Depravity’ On Guantánamo”), it remains apparent that the route out of Guantánamo for these 30 men ought to be easier than it is for the other 44 prisoners cleared for release, as these are men who cannot be repatriated either because of fears that they will face torture or other ill-treatment (including arbitrary detention and show trials) on their return, or because (in the cases of two Palestinians) they are, effectively, stateless refugees.

Who are the 44 prisoners?

Of these 44 prisoners, 15 had their release ordered by judges in US District Courts, as a result of the habeas corpus petitions that were authorized by the Supreme Court in an extraordinarily important ruling in June 2008. 13 of these men are Uighurs — Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province, whose release was ordered by Judge Ricardo Urbina a year ago, and whose plight I have written about extensively (particularly here and here) — and the others are an Algerian, Sabir Lahmar, whose release was ordered last November, and Abdul Rahim al-Ginco, a young Syrian, tortured and imprisoned by al-Qaeda and the Taliban, whose release was ordered in June this year.

The other 29 are as follows: nine Tunisians, six more Algerians, three more Syrians, two Egyptians, two Uzbeks, two Palestinians, an Azerbaijani and a Tajik. Although their names have not been provided, the identities of the majority of these men can be deduced by a process of elimination (there are, for example, only two Egyptians, two Uzbeks, and one Azerbaijani in Guantánamo), and, in addition, the decision to release the Tajik prisoner, Umar Abdulayev, is known about because it was announced in July.

As I explained at the time, this decision was distressing to Abdulayev and his lawyers for two reasons: firstly, because when government lawyers announced that they would “no longer defend his detention,” they also announced that they “want[ed] US diplomats to arrange to repatriate him,” even though Abdulayev is terrified of returning to Tajikistan, because he was threatened by Tajik agents who visited him in Guantánamo; and secondly, because the Task Force’s decision also led the Justice Department to ask a judge to drop Abdulayev’s habeas petition, prompting his lawyers to point out that the Task Force’s decision was “not a determination that [Abdulayev’s] detention was or was not lawful,” and that it therefore “does nothing towards removing the stigma of being held in Guantánamo or being accused of being a terrorist by the United States.”

This is actually a widespread problem for those cleared for release who fear repatriation, not only because recent rulings by the Court of Appeals have removed a number of judicial safety nets established by judges to prevent the enforced repatriation of a number of prisoners in Guantánamo (for whom the “stigma” of “being accused of being a terrorist by the United States” is of grave importance), but also because, in a wider sense, the Obama administration is unwilling to state openly that any prisoner was seized by mistake (as one of the prisoners’ lawyers recently explained to me, no lawyer would advise admitting responsibility, as it would open the floodgate to compensation claims). As a result, the administration is doing nothing to facilitate the work of Daniel Fried, the senior diplomat employed in March 2009 as the Special Envoy to Guantánamo, whose unenviable task it is to persuade other countries to accept released prisoners from Guantánamo.

Even putting aside for a moment the difficulties caused by the refusal of the Court of Appeals and Congress to accept cleared prisoners into the United States (which fuels a reluctance to help in European countries, as Fried acknowledged in a recent interview with the BBC), there are disturbing signs that this reticence on the part of the administration to state openly and categorically that colossal mistakes were made by the Bush administration is also undermining the very decisions made by Obama’s own Task Force.

Recently, for example, when Swiss officials visited Guantánamo to investigate the cases of four men cleared for release, in an attempt to work out if they would be prepared to accept any of these men, they returned, not with an honest appraisal, but with weighted conclusions that could only have been presented to them by the US military, who had, in effect, opened up their files and shown them material which purported to be evidence, but which, in other prisoners’ habeas petitions, has been demonstrated, time and again, to be nothing more than false allegations made by other prisoners (under duress or as a result of bribery) or by the prisoners themselves, multiple levels of unacceptable hearsay, and “mosaics” of intelligence that do not stand up to independent scrutiny.

According to reports in the Swiss media, the government representatives concluded that, of the four men they investigated, two Uighurs were “low-risk,” even though they are no risk at all, having persuaded the Bush administration to drop its claims that they were “enemy combatants,” and having been cleared by military review boards under the Bush administration, by a US District Court, and by the Obama administration’s Task Force, and two other men, an Uzbek and a Palestinian — also cleared by Bush-era military review boards and by Obama’s Task Force — were considered “medium-risk” and “high-risk.”

What has the Task Force been doing for eight months?

Beyond these absurd discrepancies, which do nothing to help Obama’s cause, the other conclusion I draw from an analysis of the Task Force’s figures is that, after eight months of reviewing the prisoners’ cases, it has made very little progress, despite detailed consultations with lawyers and other experts, despite detailed searches for information relating to the men, which was scattered throughout numerous departments and agencies in a disturbingly incoherent manner, and despite the establishment of a database bringing all the available information together in one place.

Although exact numbers are impossible to work out, it is clear that, of the 29 men cleared by the Task Force, all but nine (at most) were actually approved for transfer, between 2006 and 2008, by Administrative Review Boards at Guantánamo. When Obama came to power, eight Tunisians, five Algerians, four Uzbeks, three Palestinians, an Egyptian, a Libyan, and Umar Abdulayev, the Tajik, had all been approved for transfer. Some tweaking has taken place — a Palestinian has been removed from the list, and the Azerbaijani, Poolad Tsiradzho, has been added, plus an Algerian, an Egyptian, two Libyans and three Syrians — and, in addition, it is possible that the Task Force has shifted position on a few of those approved for transfer under Bush.

However, when added to the 14 or so Yemenis discussed in the last article, this figure of 25 or so prisoners is hardly a triumph for the Task Force, and indicates, yet again, that when it comes to Guantánamo, the President’s bold start in January, when he issued his executive order regarding the closure of the prison, has been steadily eroded by confusion, extreme caution and indecision.

If this damned icon of the dark years of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and their close advisors is ever to close, it is time for Barack Obama, Eric Holder and Robert Gates to regroup and to accept that confusion plays only into the hands of those haunted by the ghost of Dick Cheney, and that clarity is required. Moreover, despite lawyers’ fears of new waves of litigation, this clarity has to involve the nation’s leaders acknowledging why the District Courts have ruled, in 79 percent of the habeas petitions before them, that the men in question are neither terrorists nor soldiers and should be released.

The truth is out there — and I am only one of many writers who have been explaining it for the last four years — but I will spell it out again: the majority of the prisoners were seized for bounty payments by US allies, were never screened according to the Geneva Conventions to determine whether or not they were combatants of any kind, and are held not because of anything resembling evidence, but through a shamefully poor attempt to build up a case against them in the isolation of Guantánamo, through a combination of torture, coercion and bribery, and the use of raw intelligence masquerading as facts.

Everyone in Guantánamo deserves better than this: both the few dozen men who are genuinely accused of involvement with al-Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks and other acts of international terrorism, who should face trials for their alleged crimes, and the majority of the prison’s population, whose release is still being prevented, or made horrendously complicated, by both the Executive and the lawmakers in Congress — some innocent men, and others who were soldiers in a now almost forgotten civil war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, whose ongoing detention is based not on any notions of justice, but on the lingering legacy of the Bush administration’s mistaken decision to equate al-Qaeda with the Taliban.

Note: For more information on the prisoners cleared for release, see my article, “Guantánamo’s refugees,” and also see the following profiles on the Reprieve website: Ahmed Belbacha (Algeria), Nabil Hadjarab (Algeria), Said Farhi (Algeria), Adel Fattough Ali El-Gazzar (Egypt), Sherif El-Mashad (Egypt), Ayman al-Shurafa (Palestine), Adel Hakeemy (Tunisia), Hedi Hammamy (Tunisia) and Saleh Sassi (Tunisia).

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 I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation. Cross-posted on The Public Record.

A Letter From Afghanistan: Bagram, Afghan suffering and the futility of war

Last year, I received one of those special emails out of the blue, from someone wise and compassionate, who, to my great delight, wished to thank me for the courage of my writing. This woman, who has worked in rural development and post-disaster rehabilitation for 20 years, mostly in Africa, has spent the last few years in Afghanistan, and last week I unexpectedly received the following letter by email, which was so perceptive and so informative that I asked for her permission to reproduce it here, and was delighted when she said yes.

A letter from Afghanistan

I’m making a valiant attempt at watching your al-Jazeera interview on YouTube, but at this pace (about three minutes in two hours) it’ll take all night. Since our last correspondence I have, via your website, also started following the ACLU. Together, you’re making one of my dearest hopes come true: international attention and lawsuits for the Bagram victims. I do hope that not only the foreigners will benefit, but also, and maybe mostly, the perfectly innocent random Afghans, stopped at checkpoints and too poor to bail themselves out, denounced by a neighbor who has an eye on their land or their daughter, sold for a “reward,” or others who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. According to the ACLU, there are some 50,000 persons, who, over the past years, have been arrested in Afghanistan by the foreign armies. Their fingerprints were taken on those occasions and transmitted to US security forces as “potential terrorists.” How many of them were released, how many have been imprisoned in some black hole, how many have died there?

Below, a “delation box”* (for whatever else can it be? After all, army field posts must have gone out with the First World War). It is placed just outside Aliabad, on the road to Kunduz, close to where some mental case from ISAF [NATO’s International Security Assistance Force] recently dropped bombs on two fuel tankers, a crime his conscience will have to live with for the rest of his life. It’s placed along the road, but in between two big announcement boards (with unrelated contents), which would conveniently shelter from public view whoever would be slipping a sheet of paper into it. The slot is too narrow for anything else:

A checkpoint in Afghanistan, with a "delation box"

How many poor buggers will have disappeared through that slot into Bagram or other such places? And whenever I pass by it, I realize that there are some advantages to having a high illiteracy rate … Later I saw another one in Kunduz bazaar, but did not have time for a picture and won’t have anymore; the area is out of bounds now, too dangerous.

Bagram military base by night:

A view of Bagram airbase by night

And this is roughly the same view, by day:

A view of Bagram airbase by day (from a distance)

Most of the local detainees are NOT persons caught red-handed at the scene of the crime, who need to be “held off the street” after “bombing poor women and children.” If the bloody ISAF and US armies would stop moving around at rush hour, when scores of innocent civilians are going to school or to work, then the “Taliban” would have no reason to detonate bombs there!

The prime targets are army targets; UN or other ex-pats are rarely targeted and usually by mistake, although that is unfortunately changing, thanks to our own aggressive attitude. As for Afghans, some schools for girls are targeted in remote areas, but mostly those who supposedly (delations work both ways) or truly (though not necessarily voluntarily) are collaborating with the foreign armies. So yes, its the “terrorists” who ignite the bomb, but the armies are co-responsible for provoking it in densely populated areas, at rush hours in the cities, going in their Rambo outfits to bazaars in country towns, etc. Sometimes I wonder whether they do that on purpose, as the civilian “collateral damage” gives them excuses to further incriminate the “Taliban.” If they traveled by night and were attacked, they would be the only victims; no women and children, because they are not out in the street at night.

An armored vehicle on the streets of Kabul

Incidentally, the Turks who left their armored vehicles so carelessly parked on one of Kabul’s main thoroughfares at rush hour, are in fact probably the most decent of all the foreign armies, as they walk around in shirtsleeves with just a handgun on their hip: no helmet, bulletproof vest or machine gun, as the other nationalities do. And, sure enough, they have fewer victims than the other nations … Aggression invites aggression. Trust invites trust.

As for the situation in Bagram now, we are TOLD that there’s no more torturing, but who’s to check that? Only the ICRC has (scarce) access, and what guarantee do we have that they have access to ALL prisoners? If there never had been any abuse there, I might agree that there probably is not any now either, but there is hard evidence that there was torture, even lethal, so now it is up to the torturers and their superiors to prove to us that these practices have stopped. They can not claim to be “presumed innocent,” as we know they are not.

And one way of showing improvement is by opening the prison(s), at least letting in UN human rights representatives, providing regular admission for the ICRC, a full list of all the prisoners, how long they’ve been there, what they are accused of, etc.

So far, the procedure apparently is that every six months a prisoner’s file is opened and they either let him go or add another six months. He himself is not heard. In the last year or so, some of them have had contact with their families, who can communicate with them through telephone and video located in ICRC HQ in Kabul. And that already is huge progress.

Even the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, who was here a year ago, was not able to ascertain who some of the uniformed Rambos were who raided houses at night, etc. No army would acknowledge them as theirs. Yet their – surviving — victims are among the prisoners. And surely Bagram is not the only lawless foreign prison here.

Tragically, even semantics are a basic problem here, for traditionally a war is either between two or more countries/states, or a civil war within one given country. This is neither. Actually it is not a war at all. Afghanistan, apart from being the more or less random victim of Bush’s need to show that he was avenging 9/11, is a live training camp for NATO and the US, as well as a huge source of income for some. Some governments with little experience of democracy and the diplomacy that goes with it, candidly say that they send their armies here in order for them to gain hands-on experience in warfare, and to gain more importance within NATO. It is cheaper and more effective than organizing training camps at home.

So there is no real war, rather an oversized militarized secret service operation, with the civil population as a hostage between the armies and the ever-increasing number of militants. And depending on our needs, we either tell them that we are here to protect them, to increase security, to stabilize the country, to introduce democracy, to rid the world of al-Qaeda (whom they thoroughly loathe) and other politically correct bullshit. However, when we are accused of prisoner abuse, then suddenly this is a country at war, which allows us to play it dirty.

But who’s the adversary? Surely not the “average Afghan” whose most ardent dream is to finally have peace, rebuild his house, plant some fruit trees, send his kids to school, enjoy something called a “normal life.” This is seemingly an extremely modest wish, but here it is more and more Utopian. Yet scores of such “average Afghans” are detained without accusation let alone a trial, and their wives and kids are literally in danger. This is not a good place for abandoned women.

Stating that you cannot have it both ways — increased security as well as humane treatment of prisoners — is too cynical for words, for in spite of the increased numbers of soldiers, sophisticated equipment etc., security is steadily decreasing, and the downward curve is getting steeper and steeper. And it is decreasing precisely because of our boundless stupidity and arrogance, because for each of the local prisoners in Bagram or elsewhere, particularly the many innocent ones, scores of new insurgents rise, often nolens volens, but if your brother has already spent long years in one of those black holes, I dare anyone to suggest what argument you could use to refuse to support the insurgents, when one night they come to claim you. They’re all over the country, they have been quietly infiltrating over the years, while our generals and politicians were holding success speeches about battles won, hearts and minds conquered.

And McChrystal is dead right when he says that our armies, by sacrificing civilians in order to save their own skins, will never win the war (provided we assume that there is a war to win, see above). However, he is tragically wrong when he thinks that victory can be achieved by pumping billions of dollars of “development” funds into those armies and to let them pretend to be Santa Claus, here to rebuild the country. If that was ever possible at all, it is certainly way too late for that now. Afghans are all but stupid, and they see through all those fairy-tales (this apart from the impossibility of having the same army killing and distributing candies).

McChrystal thinks it’s possible because he can distinguish between the different units, but the villagers cannot, as both categories appear out of the same camp gate every day. Schizophrenia must be heaven compared to that. It is true that this country desperately needs development, foremost employment (I remember in 1999 in Kosovo watching a silent march in Pristina — hundreds of young men evidently desperate for action, any action, a potential time-bomb) to fill the stomachs of their extended families and to keep them too busy to think about fighting.

At the same time this military “development” surge (absurd to start with, of course, because development is a profession, and just like I could not become a military professional after a one-week crash course, the average soldier — who, in addition, never stays longer than a maximum of six months — will still not have a clue about development even after his three or six months here) even further blurs the line between civil assistance and military interference and will make civilian work very soon completely impossible, to be replaced by military pseudo-development specialists or a handful of civilians who, for a fortune, will let themselves be hired by the armies, and won’t be able to achieve anything, as they will not be allowed to go anywhere without a bullet-proof vest, helmet and armed escort, which does not exactly facilitate functional communication with the development beneficiaries. Not to mention the fact that their “civilian” candidates will mostly be those who cannot find a decent “normal” job, and go for the outrageous income and/or CV credits, not for professional and ethical quality. The field work will be carried out by Afghans, who will be sitting ducks for the insurgents but will have no choice, as they usually need to feed extended families of some 25 persons.

Add to this the fact that, no matter what exactly the outcome of the “elections,” Karzai comes out of them as a wounded lion, with little credit from his countrymen, and publicly abandoned by his foreign supporters. And when the lion king is wounded, the hyenas, which laid low when he had strong backing, will come out. They have already started. And that’s how a beautiful country, with beautiful people, is mangled, over and over again. The only real hope left is not McChrystal’s sweet talk, but the fact that the Afghans are so utterly fed-up with war. However, will that be enough to stop them, when their stomachs are empty and someone offers “employment” in yet another war?

I’ve only been in Bagram once and swore never to set foot there again. It was for the presidential elections in 2005, when we did not yet have an embassy in Kabul.

A sprawling “village” (some 14,000 troops), with barracks, streets with regular names, a stubby female soldier in shorts walking down one of them with a machine gun over her shoulder and licking an ice-cream, McDonalds, 7-Eleven, Afghan souvenir shops: an outlandish place, completely cut-off from the reality of Afghanistan.

In those times Poland did not have a real army here, and the 50-odd Polish de-miners (only for the enlargement of the base, not for civilian territory) would invite the handful of Polish civilians for Christmas Eve. I never went. The mere idea that I would sit there stuffing myself with imported goodies and singing Christmas carols, while at that very moment somewhere on the same compound severe suffering or outright torture was inflicted on other people, made my stomach turn. Many of them will have children like these hard working kids: courageous, smiling, with great dignity, never asking for hand-outs.

Children in Kabul

It’s such kids that you are working for. They say thank you, for caring for their fathers or uncles, forgotten by the rest of the world.

* Delation: An accusation by an informer (Webster’s Dictionary).

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 I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Andy Worthington And Jason Leopold Discuss Guantánamo And Torture With Peter B. Collins

Three months ago, veteran progressive radio host Peter B. Collins interviewed me for an in-depth podcast on his website, where, as I described it at the time, he is “pioneering a listener-funded new media project to make hard-hitting political interviews available online without editorial interference from networks and without the often extensive advertising breaks that do so much to disrupt the flow of so many shows.”

On Friday, I was delighted to talk to Peter B. again, in the company of Jason Leopold. Jason and I were introduced by email several months ago by the truth-seeking psychologist and blogger Jeff Kaye, and Jason has been cross-posting my articles on The Public Record ever since, but, surprisingly, this was actually the first time we’d spoken.

The hour-long show is available here (and the MP3 is here), and this is how Peter described it:

Jason Leopold and Andy Worthington, two fine independent journalists, with important updates on closing Guantánamo and the remnants of the Bush-Cheney detention and torture program. Leopold has just rejoined Truthout as deputy managing editor, and has been featuring Worthington’s reporting at The Public Record. Worthington joined us from London, where he writes almost daily at [his website] Andy Worthington and published The Guantánamo Files, which covers all of the 779 men who have been held there. Worthington is a producer and principal in a new documentary film, Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.

First topic is the announcement of Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize, which PBC refers to as a “premature ejaculation.” Leopold details recent court action in the [Mohammed] al-Qahtani case: an order to produce video tapes of his interrogations, confirmation of Rumsfeld’s direct role in approving torture, and flat confirmation that he was tortured from military judge Susan Crawford, [the Convening Authority of the Military Commissions]. Worthington describes the case of the Kuwaiti, [Fouad] al-Rabiah, an innocent man who, [under torture], told interrogators what they wanted to hear and has been ordered released by a US court. And we talk about the softening of the irrational position Congress has taken on closing Gitmo and bringing prisoners to US courts and prisons.

Peter and I also discussed the difficulties the Obama administration has in releasing Yemenis from Guantánamo, even if they have been cleared for release not only by Bush-era military review boards, but also by Obama’s own interagency Task Force, which has been studying the Guantánamo cases for the last eight months (and which I wrote about in a recent article, “75 Guantánamo Prisoners Cleared For Release; 31 Could Leave 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 I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

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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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