Archive for November, 2009

Andy Worthington Discusses “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” on KBOO FM

Outside the Law: Stories from GuantanamoLast week I was delighted to talk to Linda Olson-Osterlund on KBOO FM in Portland, Oregon, for her show, “A Deeper Look,” which was broadcast on Wednesday. The show is available online here, and Linda and I discussed the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (directed by Polly Nash and myself), following my recent visit to the United States to promote it in New York, Washington D.C. and the Bay Area.

In the course of our half-hour interview, Linda asked me about how the film came to be made, and we had the opportunity to speak about the role played by Omar Deghayes, who I regard as the heart of the film. Linda also played a clip in which Omar spoke about how he was told in Guantánamo that he would not be released until he was a broken man, and also spoke about how missing his son growing up was worse than all the torture and humiliation to which he was subjected during five and a half years in US custody.

We also spoke about the latest news from Guantánamo: the federal court trials for those accused of the 9/11 attacks, the second-tier judicial system planned for those put forward for trial by Military Commissions, and the implications of the Obama administration’s admission that it will fail to close Guantánamo by its deadline of January 22, 2010.

I was particularly happy to be able to talk about how, as a result of cowardice on President Obama’s part, plans to bring the Uighurs to the US mainland (a group of cleared prisoners who cannot be repatriated to China because of fears that they will be tortured) were dropped, allowing lawmakers to pass legislation preventing any cleared prisoner from being resettled in the United States, even if no other country will take them, which appears, therefore, to mean that they may remain imprisoned for the rest of their lives.

This discussion also allowed me to talk about the recent resolution passed by the town of Amherst, Massachusetts, to ask Congress to reverse its ban on bringing cleared prisoners to the US mainland, which has also involved specifically adopting two prisoners in Guantánamo, Ahmed Belbacha and Ravil Mingazov, and more information about how other communities can follow Amherst’s example can be found at Nancy Talanian’s site No More Guantánamos.

It was a pleasure to talk to Linda, as always, and I hope to have the opportunity to meet her one day, preferably after a screening of “Outside the Law,” somewhere in the Portland area!

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), and copies of the DVD are now available. For excerpts and extras, follow the links on the Spectacle website, and a short trailer is available 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 the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

UK Judges Compare Binyam Mohamed’s Torture To That Of Abu Zubaydah

Binyam Mohamed in July 2009, at the launch of the Guantanamo Justice CentreBinyam Mohamed is a British resident, seized in Pakistan in April 2002, who was held in Pakistani custody, supervised by US agents, until July 2002, when he was sent by the CIA to be tortured for 18 months in Morocco, and was tied in with a “dirty bomb plot” that never even existed. After his ordeal in Morocco, he spent four months in the CIA’s “Dark Prison” in Kabul, and was then flown to Guantánamo in September 2004.

For the last 15 months, Mohamed has watched as two British High Court judges have tried to release to the public information conveyed by the US intelligence services to their British counterparts regarding his torture in Pakistan, prior to his rendition to Morocco.

In this, they have been thwarted, time and again, by the British foreign secretary, David Miliband, who has repeatedly argued that the disclosure of a seven paragraph, 25-line summary of these documents, compiled by the judges themselves, would threaten Britain’s intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States.

Binyam Mohamed was still in Guantánamo, facing a trial by Military Commission, when the judges first attempted to make their summary available to the public last August. In the months that followed, the US Justice Department dropped its claim that he was involved in a “dirty bomb plot,” the Military Commission charges were also dropped, and in February this year, in a clear attempt by both the British government and the Obama administration to keep a lid on the leaking torture story, he was fast-tracked to the top of the pile of cases being reviewed by the Obama administration’s interagency Task Force, and released in the UK.

Undaunted, however, the judges — Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones — refused to back down, challenging the foreign secretary regarding the release of the information on four occasions between October 2008 and October 2009, and, in an apparently unprecedented move, asking the British media to become involved. Last Friday they issued a sixth judgment on the case (PDF), declaring that the treatment of Mohamed “could never properly be described as ‘a secret’ or an ‘intelligence secret’ or ‘a summary of classified intelligence,’” and, moreover, restoring two passages from their fifth judgment, which were removed at the request of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

These passages, it transpires, were restored at the insistence of the Special Advocates (lawyers appointed by the government to deal with secret evidence in court on Mohamed’s behalf), who have long maintained that the government has no grounds for hiding “information which pointed to the commission of serious criminal offences” on the basis of national security, and who told the foreign secretary that the previous redactions “were more extensive than was required.”

Although four other passages — and the elusive summary — remain redacted, the two reinstated after the FCO dropped its objections are significant, as they refer to the notorious memos issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel in August 2002 and May 2005, publicly released by the Obama administration in April this year, which purported to authorize the use of torture by the CIA.

The first passage stated, “One of those memoranda dated August 1 2002, from Mr. J.S. Bybee, Assistant Attorney-General, to Mr. John Rizzo, acting General Counsel of the CIA, made clear that the techniques described were those employed against Mr. Zubaydah, alleged to be a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda.”

The second stated, “As the paragraphs relate to the actions of the United States itself, disclosure of the redacted paragraphs is consistent with the publication of the CIA interrogation technique memoranda [referred to in the paragraph above] and does not publicize any information about foreign States.”

The judges proceeded to express their displeasure with the government’s insistence that the other four passages remained redacted, noting that “The entire content of the four passages [was] already in the public domain,” and adding, “No contention has or could be advanced to the contrary.”

They also reiterated their reasons for stating that their summary of the documents conveyed by US intelligence to their British counterparts should be made publicly available, pointing out, as they have many times before, that “What is contained in those seven paragraphs gives rise to an arguable case of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,” and that they contain “nothing secret or of an intelligence nature,” as they merely comprise “admissions by officials of the United States Government as to BM’s [Mohamed’s] treatment by them.”

This whole process is clearly nothing less than a long, slow circling around the dark truth of Binyam Mohamed’s torture by US agents in Pakistan (with the knowledge of the British authorities) before he was even sent to Morocco, and in this context, the judges’ decision to compare the still-undisclosed details of Mohamed’s treatment with the publicly available details of the treatment of Abu Zubaydah marks another small but extremely important step towards bringing into the open what the judges (and the Special Advocates) clearly regard as information that has no business being hidden.

As Clive Stafford Smith, Mohamed’s lawyer, explained in the Guardian:

I have had a copy of the infamous Bybee memo [PDF] for months, and this allows us to consider which of the “enhanced interrogation techniques” the British government would rather keep under wraps. As identified by Bybee, the 10 techniques are:

(1) attention grasp, (2) walling, (3) facial hold, (4) facial slap (insult slap), (5) cramped confinement, (6) wall standing, (7) stress positions, (8) sleep deprivation, (9) insects placed in a confinement box, and (10) the waterboard.

As Mohamed has never mentioned that he was subjected to waterboarding, and as it appears from the OLC memos that CIA operatives never actually placed insects into Abu Zubaydah’s “confinement box,” despite being authorized to do so, it seems that we are looking, instead, at some, or all of the other eight techniques.

Abu ZubaydahPerhaps this, then, is the reason that the British government remains so desperate not to have the details disclosed of what it knew about Mohamed’s treatment in Afghanistan, because it was complicit in the techniques that were being developed for the CIA’s “high-value detainee” program, whose first official guinea pig was Abu Zubaydah.

To be fair, most of these techniques later migrated to Guantánamo anyway, as part of defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s desire not to be excluded from the torture game by his old chum Dick Cheney. But what the British judges did last Friday was to take us back to April 2002.

Looking back to that feverish time, shortly after the capture of both Zubaydah and Mohammed, and nearly four full months before Jay Bybee and John Yoo attempted to redefine torture so that the CIA could indulge in its practice, the British judges have made two important points.

Firstly, they have reminded us that torture was, in fact, taking place long before it was supposedly authorized, with disturbing ramifications for those who ordered its use, which have not been adequately addressed by the Obama administration, and which are not addressed at all in Eric Holder’s decision to investigate only those agents who exceeded the indefensible guidelines for “enhanced interrogation” that were laid down by Bybee and Yoo in August 2002.

Secondly, by comparing the treatment of Binyam Mohamed with that of Abu Zubaydah, the judges have also reminded us that the use of torture was not confined to a select group of 14 “high-value detainees” — including Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — who were moved to Guantánamo in September 2006, but also to 80 other prisoners that the OLC acknowledged were held in secret CIA prisons, and the many dozens of others who had their torture outsourced to proxy torturers in countries including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Syria.

Binyam Mohamed was unfortunate enough to face both options — proxy torture in Morocco both before and after he received his own dose of “enhanced interrogation” at the hands of Americans — but last Friday, the tenacious judges in the UK’s High Court at least took one step further towards ensuring that information about these torture programs cannot be concealed by those who authorized it, or were complicit in it, on the spurious basis that disclosure would damage national security.

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 the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, 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).

Iraq Inquiry: Sir Christopher Meyer Confirms That Iraq War Was Illegal

Protestors outside the Chilcot Inquiry into the Iraq war (Photo: Lewis Whyld/PA)No matter how it ends up being spun, Sir Christopher Meyer’s testimony to the Chilcot Inquiry today demonstrated, without a shadow of a doubt, how “regime change” in Iraq was agreed between George W. Bush and Tony Blair in April 2002, and how the rush to war by the US meant that furious attempts to justify the plan were doomed to fail, “because there was no smoking gun.”

Meyer, who was Britain’s ambassador to the US between 1997 and 2003, was speaking about British and American policy towards Iraq between the 9/11 attacks and the invasion of March 2003. He explained how, before 9/11, the general feeling in the Bush administration was that Iraq was “running out of steam,” and that it was a low priority, but that, immediately after the 9/11 attacks, Iraq rose to the top of the US agenda.

As Meyer explained, “On 9/11 itself in the course of the day I had a telephone conversation with (then national security adviser) Condoleezza Rice and I said, ‘Who do you think did it?’ She said, ‘There’s no doubt it was an al-Qaeda operation.’ At the end of the conversation she said, ‘We’re just looking at the possibility that there could be any link to Saddam Hussein.’ That little reference to him, by the following weekend, turned into a big debate between Bush and his advisers.”

Meyer also focused on the neo-cons within the Bush administration who relied on faulty intelligence to bolster their claims that there was a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, stating that US deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz “was quite convinced that there was a strong connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. There was a constant reference to the fact that Mohammed Atta (one of the 9/11 hijackers) had met Iraqi intelligence agents in Prague. That wasn’t true, but you couldn’t dig it out of the bloodstream of certain members of the US administration. There was another idea that there was an al-Qaeda camp on the Iraqi border where Saddam would allow them to do things. That wasn’t true either.”

He also explained that the administration was so “irritated” by the CIA’s refusal to accept its claims that a “rival and replacement” intelligence unit was established by the White House.

Recalling his first meeting with George W. Bush in 1999, Meyer explained that the then-Presidential hopeful had told him, “I don’t know much about foreign policy. I’m going to have to learn pretty damn fast. I’m going to have to surround myself with good people.” Instead, his key advisors — the Vulcans — included Condoleezza Rice and Paul Wolfowitz.

Moving on to the relationship between George W. Bush and Tony Blair, Meyer said that they struck up a good relationship when they first met in 2001, and explained that Blair’s speech immediately after 9/11, in which he promised to support America in its hour of need, “sealed Tony Blair’s reputation in America, which remains sealed to this day. Wherever you went, people would rise to their feet and give you a warming round of applause. You had to be careful not to be swept away by this stuff.” He added that, at an international conference at a later date, “Condoleezza Rice once said to me that the only human being [Bush] felt he could talk to was Tony, and the rest were creatures from outer space.”

However, he also explained that Blair’s decision to support the US invasion of Iraq was not “as poodle-ish” as has been suggested, because he had been “a true believer about the wickedness of Saddam Hussein” since 1998, when, of course, Blair had first seized on humanitarian intervention in the case of Kosovo.

Speaking about the private meeting between Bush and Blair at the President’s ranch in Crawford, Texas in April 2002, Meyer spoke frankly about how he felt that, whatever conversations took place when the two men were alone, they set the seal on Britain’s involvement with the planned invasion. “I took no part in any of the discussions and there was a large chunk of that time when no adviser was there,” he said. “The two men were alone in the ranch so I’m not entirely clear to this day what degree of convergence (on Iraq policy) was signed in blood, if you like, at the Crawford ranch. But there are clues in the speech Tony Blair gave the next day, which was the first time he had said in public ‘regime change.’ He was trying to draw the lessons of 9/11 and apply them to the situation in Iraq, which led — I think not inadvertently but deliberately — to a conflation of the threat posed by Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. When I read that I thought, ‘This represents a tightening of the UK/US alliance and a degree of convergence on the danger Saddam Hussein presented.’”

Although Blair came out in support of regime change in April 2002, Meyer explained that, nevertheless, the UK hoped that Saddam Hussein would be removed by a combination of diplomatic pressure and threats, but that as soon as President Bush set out a timetable for an invasion, the shortage of time meant that “when you looked at the timetable for the [UN weapons] inspections, it was impossible to see how [Hans] Blix [chief weapons inspector] could bring the process to a conclusion, for better or for worse, by March,” and, as a result, “instead of Saddam proving his innocence we had to prove his guilt by finding a smoking gun. We have never really recovered from that because there was no smoking gun.”

So was Sir Christopher Meyer’s testimony significant? I certainly think so, and so does Chris Ames at the Guardian, who has just written:

The government’s version of events was always that it was taking action to deal with the threat of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Leaked documents, most notably the Downing Street documents, show that the policy was to go along with the US desire for regime change and use weapons of mass destruction as a pretext. This version of events was confirmed by what Meyer said this morning. I don’t think it could be more explosive.

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 the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Andy Worthington Discusses Obama’s Failure To Close Guantánamo On Antiwar Radio

Outside the Law: Stories from GuantanamoFollowing up on my US tour promoting the new documentary, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (directed by Polly Nash and myself) and my appearance on ABC News, plus the slew of developments in recent weeks regarding Guantánamo — federal court trials for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, Military Commissions for five other prisoners, and President Obama conceding that Guantánamo will not close by his deadline of January 22, 2010 — I was pleased to be invited to talk to Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio, for what, by my reckoning, is our eleventh interview, available here.

Scott was in a particularly indignant mood, fed up with the spinelessness of the Democrats when confronted by relentless Republican stupidity, and furious about the torture legacy of the Bush administration, and I was happy to run through the pressing issues just now: how the 9/11 trial is the right thing to do, but how the rest of the administration’s plans are a profound disappointment — Military Commissions for prisoners like Omar Khadr, the Canadian who was just 15 when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan, against whom the administration is less secure in its evidence, and no trials at all for those against whom the evidence is even weaker or tainted by torture; in other words, those against whom there is, in fact, nothing that resembles evidence, as District Court judges have been discovering in the prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions for the last 13 months.

I was also glad to have the opportunity to mention the case of Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed, an Algerian whose habeas corpus petition was granted last Friday by Judge Gladys Kessler (and was ignored by the mainstream media, with the exception of the Miami Herald). His victory brings to 31 the number of court victories secured by the prisoners (against just eight victories for the government), even though, of course, it means little or nothing, as over a dozen prisoners cleared by the courts are still at Guantánamo, and around 70 more, cleared by the administration’s own interagency Task Force, are also still held, as the administration fishes around for other countries prepared to take them, after failing to accept that it should have pushed to resettle them to the United States if no other country can be found.

There was much more in the half-hour show, as is clear from Scott’s description of it, which I leave as a final piece of bait to encourage you to listen in:

Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, discusses Obama’s broken promise to close Gitmo within a year, the enthusiastic US embrace of rendition and torture after 9/11, the extralegal indefinite detention of innocent prisoners, endemic racism that makes torture less objectionable, and the dangerous legal precedents established by failing to prosecute Bush administration crimes.

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), and copies of the DVD are now available. For excerpts and extras, follow the links on the Spectacle website, and a short trailer is available 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 the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Cruel Britannia: Human Rights Watch Exposes British Complicity In Torture In Pakistan

Cruel Britannia: Human Rights Watch report, November 2009Human Rights Watch has just issued a new report, “Cruel Britannia,” investigating British complicity in the torture of terror suspects in Pakistan, and calling for an independent inquiry into the British government’s behavior in Pakistan. The report could not come at a worse time for the British government, as it struggles to contain other evidence of complicity in the torture and abuse of seven British citizens and residents who were held in Guantánamo, and also struggles to contain two High Court judges who, for the last 15 months, have demonstrated their commitment to highlighting British complicity in the torture of former Guantánamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed by US agents in Pakistan in April and May 2002.

This latest report builds on some fine investigative reporting over the last two years by Ian Cobain of the Guardian, who first broke the story of British complicity in the torture of terror suspects in Pakistan in April 2008, and has doggedly pursued it ever since, whilst also reporting on British complicity in the torture of terror suspects in other countries.

What makes this particular report so powerful, however, are statements obtained by Human Rights Watch from Pakistani security officials, who confirmed that the accounts of torture are “essentially accurate,” and who, in one case, that of Salahuddin Amin, also implicated the US government, explaining that “the British and American desire for information from him was ‘insatiable.’” Human Rights Watch also secured confirmation from British government officials, speaking off the record, that their analysis was “spot on.”

I do not have time today to present my own analysis of the Human Rights Watch report, but I urge you to read it, and I reproduce below the informative press release announcing its publication that was issued yesterday by Human Rights Watch. To leave readers with just one question, however, I do wonder how the convictions in UK courts of Rangzieb Ahmed (who had his fingernails pulled out by his UK-backed torturers) and Salahuddin Amin (convicted in the “Crevice” trial) can be regarded as trustworthy, when they so clearly involved information that was extracted through the use of torture, which, lest we forget, should not only be spurned by civilized nations because of its barbarity, and because its use is illegal, but also because it is fundamentally unreliable.

UK: Set Judicial Inquiry on Complicity in Torture
Human Rights Watch news release, November 24, 2009

(London) — The UK government should immediately order an independent judicial inquiry into the role and complicity of British security services in the torture of terrorism suspects in Pakistan, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 46-page report, “Cruel Britannia: British Complicity in the Torture and Ill-treatment of Terror Suspects in Pakistan,” provides accounts from victims and their families in the cases of five UK citizens of Pakistani origin — Salahuddin Amin, Zeeshan Siddiqui, Rangzieb Ahmed, Rashid Rauf and a fifth individual who wishes to remain anonymous — tortured in Pakistan by Pakistani security agencies between 2004 and 2007. Human Rights Watch found that while there is no evidence of UK officials directly participating in torture, UK complicity is clear. “British intelligence and law enforcement colluded with and turned a blind eye to the use of torture on terrorism suspects in Pakistan,” said Ali Dayan Hasan, senior South Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “British officials knew that Pakistani intelligence agencies routinely used torture, were aware of specific cases and did not intervene.”

A well-placed official within the UK government told Human Rights Watch that allegations of UK complicity made by Human Rights Watch in testimony to the UK Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights in February 2009 were accurate. Another government source told Human Rights Watch that its research into this subject was “spot on.”

These officials said that the Pakistani intelligence services cooperated in specific cases by sharing information from abusive interrogations with British officials, which was used in prosecutions in UK courts and other investigations. UK law enforcement and intelligence officials passed questions to Pakistani officials for use in interrogation sessions in individual cases, knowing that these Pakistani officials were using torture.

Knowledgeable civilian and military officials in the Pakistani government have on numerous occasions told Human Rights Watch that British officials were aware of the mistreatment of the terrorism suspects in question.

“A key lesson from the past eight years of global efforts to combat terrorism is that the use of torture and ill-treatment is deeply counterproductive,” Hasan said. “It undermines the moral legitimacy of governments that rely on it and serves as a recruiting tool for terrorist organizations.”

Four of the victims described meeting British officials while detained in Pakistan. In some cases this happened shortly after sessions in which the individuals had been tortured, when clear and visible signs of torture were evident.

Rangzieb Ahmed, from Greater Manchester, England, was arrested in the North West Frontier Province in Pakistan on August 20, 2006 and accused of links with al Qaeda. On September 7, 2007, he was transferred to the United Kingdom. Ahmed told Human Rights Watch that while he was in detention in Pakistan, he was repeatedly tortured, beaten, deprived of sleep, and otherwise mistreated by Pakistani security agencies. His torturers pulled out three of his fingernails, he said.

Human Rights Watch spoke to members of Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies involved in processing Ahmed at various stages of his detention. These sources, from both civilian and military Pakistani agencies, confirmed what they described as the “overall authenticity” of his claims, including the claim that British intelligence services were aware of his detention and treatment at “all times.”

Zeeshan Siddiqui from Hounslow, London, was arrested in Pakistan on May 15, 2005, on suspicion of involvement in terrorism. He was deported to the United Kingdom on January 8, 2006. During his detention, Siddiqui said he was repeatedly beaten, chained, injected with drugs, and threatened with sexual abuse and further torture.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, Pakistani security officials confirmed to Human Rights Watch that Siddiqui was arrested on the basis of a tip-off from the British intelligence services and at their request. The Pakistani sources added that British intelligence agents were aware at all times that Siddiqui was being “processed” in the “traditional way” and the British were “effectively” interrogating Siddiqui even as Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau “processed” him. “Because no one could prove or get him to admit anything useful, that is probably why the green light was given to bring him into the [legal] system,” the source said.

Amin, of Edgware, was convicted in April 2007 in the “Crevice” trial for plotting attacks against several potential targets, including London’s Ministry of Sound nightclub. Amin gave himself up voluntarily to Pakistani authorities after assurances were given to his family that he would not be mistreated, but was then tortured repeatedly through 2004 and forced into false confessions.
Amin alleges that during his detention he was met by British intelligence officials on almost a dozen occasions. Amin was released by Pakistani authorities after a 10-month illegal detention, and then arrested upon arrival at Heathrow airport in 2005.

Pakistani intelligence sources said that Amin’s account of his detention and meetings with British and American intelligence personnel are “essentially accurate.” These sources told Human Rights Watch that Amin’s was a “high pressure” case and that the British and American desire for information from him was “insatiable.” The sources added that the British and American agents who were “party” to Amin’s detention were “perfectly aware that we were using all means possible to extract information from him and were grateful that we were doing so.”

“The evil of terrorism does not justify participating in or using the results of torture,” Hasan said. “Until an independent inquiry is held and those responsible held accountable, Britain’s reputation as a rights-respecting nation will stand tarnished.”

General denials of complicity in torture from the foreign and home secretaries have not addressed the specific allegations made by Human Rights Watch, the Guardian newspaper, and lawyers representing torture victims.

The government has also failed to respond adequately to the findings and recommendations of the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) and the Foreign Affairs Committee. The JCHR has called for an independent judicial inquiry. “The British government has stonewalled parliament, victims and the public alike in refusing to answer any questions about its behavior in Pakistan,” Hasan said. “It should immediately set up an independent judicial inquiry and put in place measures to ensure that its complicity in torture never happens again.”

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 the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Judge Orders Release Of Algerian From Guantánamo (But He’s Not Going Anywhere)

District Court Judge Gladys KesslerOn Friday, District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the release from Guantánamo of Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed, a 48-year old Algerian, after granting his habeas corpus petition. Her ruling has not yet been unclassified, so the reasons for her decision are not yet clear, but it is significant that the ruling now brings to 31 the number of prisoners who have successfully challenged the basis of their detention in US courts. In contrast, just eight prisoners have lost their habeas petitions, meaning that the success rate in the prisoners’ legal challenges now stands at 80 percent.

It is also likely that her ruling will, as in all the other successful petitions, involve lambasting the government for relying on statements made by other prisoners whose unreliability has been noted by the authorities, and who were either tortured, coerced or bribed, or on statements made by the prisoners themselves while subjected to grueling and often abusive conditions, It also seems probable that the ruling will refute the government’s claims that its rag-bag of hearsay, innuendo and snippets of intelligence is coherent enough to constitute real evidence.

As reported in the Miami Herald by Carol Rosenberg, who was the first journalist to write about the story, bin Mohammed has been represented for four years by Boston lawyer Jerry Cohen, who said that his client “fled his homeland and lived between Britain, France and Italy as an itinerant laborer in the 1990s before going to Afghanistan months before the 9/11 attacks. He fled the US invasion to Pakistan, where he was captured and sent to Guantánamo in February 2002.” Cohen added, “He’s an easy guy to like, and certainly not the worst of the worst and not even close to it.”

According to the Pentagon, bin Mohammed, who was a conscript in the Algerian army from 1981 to 1983, lived and worked illegally in Rome using a stolen French passport. As Rosenberg noted, he was also “fingered by another detainee for having stayed in an al-Qaeda safehouse in Afghanistan,” a typical, unsubstantiated allegation that has provoked skepticism in many of the habeas judges. The Pentagon also claimed that he trained in Afghanistan, after traveling there from Europe, but as Cohen maintained, “He never fought anyone anywhere, never handled a weapon since his service in the Algerian army.”

This is a fair précis of the government’s supposed case against bin Mohammed, which contained no actual allegations of militant activity when the first “Unclassified Summary of Evidence” was compiled in 2004. In that short document, it was noted that bin Mohammed stated that he traveled to Afghanistan to find a wife (apparently a Swedish woman recommended by a Moroccan friend in England), and, in an attempt to portray him as a danger, the Pentagon resorted to claiming that he visited two “known extremist mosques” in London.

It was only later that further allegations emerged, made by other prisoners whose reliability has presumably been called into doubt by Judge Kessler. His first annual Administrative Review Board, in March 2005, featured an unsubstantiated claim that he “received weapons training at the Bagram Front,” and another claim that he “saw Osama bin Laden” while attending a funeral in Kabul shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and in his review the following year it was reported that “Another detainee identified [him] as an individual who trained at the Algerian camp and they eventually traveled to Kandahar.” It was also noted, in this second review, that he only saw bin Laden because he and a friend “happened to be passing by on the street and stopped to attend the funeral.”

By the time of his third review, in March 2007, the authorities had evidently secured the services of another unreliable informer, and claimed that, even though bin Mohammed was only in Afghanistan for a few months before the 9/11 attacks, and had clearly spent time in both Jalalabad and Kabul, he “reportedly attended training at al-Qaeda’s Durunta and al-Farouq Training Camps,” and was, therefore, “a suspected member of al-Qaeda.”

Sadly for bin Mohammed, it is unlikely that his victory will lead to his release from Guantánamo anytime soon. Although Judge Kessler ordered the government “to take all necessary and appropriate diplomatic steps to facilitate petitioner’s release forthwith,” and also “ordered the Justice Department to give her an update on his status or release by Dec. 17,’” Carol Rosenberg added that, according to Jerry Cohen, he “fears return to his homeland,” and “seek[s] resettlement in a third country, where he would like to work in construction and marry.”

This is a depressingly familiar story. Of the 31 prisoners cleared in the last 13 months, 12 still remain at Guantánamo. Some, like the seven remaining Uighurs (Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province), cannot be repatriated because of fears that they will be tortured in their homeland, while others, like Fouad al-Rabiah, a Kuwaiti who was tortured until he made a false confession that was used by the government to justify his ongoing detention until a judge saw through it, remain only because the government is dragging its heels over his release. The Kuwaiti government would have him back tomorrow, and his lawyers have been obliged to threaten the government with contempt of court in an attempt to secure his release.

Judge Kessler’s ruling comes at an inconvenient time for the administration, which has just conceded that it will miss President Obama’s deadline of January 22, 2010 for the prison’s closure, although many Americans may not notice, as they are likely to remain transfixed by the unprincipled right-wing assault on the administration’s decision to bring five prisoners to New York to face a federal court trial for their alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind of the attacks. This is a shame, as Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed is a more typical prisoner than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his co-defendants.

Because of Congressional obstruction, the administration is currently prevented from bringing any Guantánamo prisoner to the US mainland for any reason other than to be put on trial, leaving around 175 of the remaining 215 prisoners in a disturbing limbo that closely resembles the conditions in which they were held throughout the long years of the Bush administration. Around half of these men have been cleared for release, and the others have been tarred by the administration as being “too dangerous to release,” but impossible to put on trial because of difficulties with the evidence against them (in other words, because it was obtained through torture or coercion, or is as unreliable as the supposed evidence against bin Mohammed).

It is not known to which category bin Mohammed belonged, although he had been cleared by an Administrative Review Board before the Bush administration left office, and it seems likely, therefore, that he was also probably cleared by the Obama administration’s interagency Task Force, which has been reviewing the prisoners’ cases all year, and which announced last month that seven of the remaining nine Algerians at Guantánamo had been cleared for release.

Sadly, however, his court victory, which probably means that he has now been cleared for release on three occasions, does not guarantee that he will finally regain his freedom. Like the Uighurs and dozens of other prisoners from countries including Algeria, China, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Uzbekistan, he cannot be repatriated because of fears that he will be tortured on his return, and must wait to see if another country can be found that is prepared to take him, while the government responsible for his long and unjust detention continues to wash its hands of all responsibility, hiding behind Republican fearmongering and refusing to allow cleared prisoners to be rehoused in the United States.

Without a concerted effort by the administration, by lawmakers or by the American people to address their responsibility for these men, Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed will be left to reflect that it actually makes no difference whether you have been cleared for release on three occasions, or whether you are still regarded as a threat, despite the lack of any credible evidence against you, as the end result is the same: you will, in the end, remain at Guantánamo, possibly for the rest of your life, while those who could do something about your plight either ignore the fact that there is no evidence against you, and continue to smear you as a terrorist, or remain paralyzed by inertia.

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 the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, 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 and United Progressives.

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), A Truly Shocking Guantánamo Story: Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False Confessions (September 2009), 75 Guantánamo Prisoners Cleared For Release; 31 Could Leave Today (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).

On ABC News, Andy Worthington Discusses New Film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”

Outside the Law: Stories from GuantanamoThis afternoon (UK time), I traveled to ABC News’ studios in west London for an interview with Rick Klein and David Chalian in Washington D.C. for ABCNews.com’s “Top Line,” to discuss the new Guantánamo documentary, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (directed by Polly Nash and myself) and also to talk about the latest developments at Guantánamo. This was a wonderful opportunity to showcase the film, and I’m delighted that ABC News chose to show a particularly poignant clip from the documentary featuring former prisoner Omar Deghayes talking about how he was told that he and other prisoners would not leave Guantánamo until they were “broken wrecks.”

A video of the interview is available here via YouTube (it starts a few minutes in):

Rick Klein also posted a blog entry about the film and the interview on “The Note,” described as “Washington’s Original and Most Influential Tipsheet,” under the heading, “’Top Line’ at the Movies: ‘Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,’” which also featured the following account/transcript of part of the interview:

Rick Klein: Worthington said President Obama is sorting through complicated baggage left by the previous administration:

“I think it’s a great thing that the people who are genuinely accused of these terrible atrocities are actually going to face justice in a federal court,” he told us. “I’m slightly less happy that the military commissions have been revived as what appears to be a second-tier justice system for people that the administration perhaps thinks it has less evidence against.”

Worthington, who joined us from London, based his film around extensive interviews with former Guantánamo detainees … Many detainees, he said, are caught in the same legal gray zone they were in under President Bush.

“Every day they wake up wondering when, if ever, they will be released. And this is still the same outcome of what the Bush administration set up, that it decided not to hold people as enemy prisoners of war or as criminals, but as this novel category of human being who really have no rights and can be held indefinitely — which is an extraordinary mental anguish.”

And Worthington said he’s disappointed that President Obama won’t meet his January 2010 deadline for closing Gitmo: “It seems that without some effort to set a new deadline and to put pressure on Congress, they could be languishing in Guantánamo for years. And we could be having this same conversation a year from now.”

A video of the show is also available here.

About “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”

“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” is a new documentary film, directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington (and inspired by Andy’s book, The Guantánamo Files). The film tells the story of Guantánamo (and includes 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 worldwide inquiries 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).

For excerpts and extras, follow the links on the Spectacle website. A short trailer is available here, and please visit this page for photos and reviews of the UK launch on October 21, 2009.

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 the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Andy Worthington Discusses The Closure Of Guantánamo (Or Not) With Peter B. Collins

Outside the Law: Stories from GuantanamoOn Thursday, I was interviewed by Peter B. Collins for a podcast (available here) on his listener-funded new media project, whose intention is 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. I’ve been interviewed several times before by Peter, and was glad when we met for the first time in Berkeley during my recent US tour, at a screening of the new documentary film “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and myself).

After some introductory comments about the film and the book, I discussed how both attempt to tell the story of how the prisoners, who were labeled as “the worst of the worst,” in a propaganda coup by the Bush administration that is shockingly resilient, were, in fact, largely rounded up by the US military’s allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, at a time when bounty payments were widespread, and, on instructions from the White House and the Pentagon, were never screened to determine whether they were terrorists, or whether they were innocent men or Taliban foot soldiers who had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or the 9/11 attacks.

Over the course of 70 minutes, Peter and I had the opportunity to discuss not only the back story of Guantánamo, but also how, this year, the Obama administration, through inertia, lost the advantage it had immediately on taking office, when President Obama announced that Guantánamo would be closed within a year, but then did nothing concrete for several months, allowing Republicans to revive Dick Cheney’s evil scaremongering about the “terrorists” in Guantánamo. This led to a revolt against the President, which included numerous members of his own party, and also led, after wrangling throughout the year, to the passing of laws which prevented the administration from bringing Guantánamo prisoners to the US mainland for any reason other than to face trials.

We also talked about Obama’s announcement, in China, that the deadline for the closure of Guantánamo would not be met, and the departure of Greg Craig as White House counsel, who, it seems, was the scapegoat for the administration’s failure. I explained, as I did in my recent article, “Obama’s Failure To Close Guantánamo By January Deadline Is Disastrous,” that the announcement that the deadline will be missed is particularly depressing news, because it appears to leave all the prisoners who will not be brought to the US mainland to face a trial stranded in Guantánamo, possibly for the rest of their lives.

These men are either cleared prisoners (around 90 in total), who, for the most part, cannot be repatriated, and others (around 75, apparently), who, disturbingly, are regarded as too dangerous to release, but who cannot be charged because there is insufficient evidence against them. In other words, they are regarded as dangerous because of evidence derived through the use of torture, or because of the kind of dubious allegations made by other prisoners, which have been dismissed by judges in District Courts in habeas corpus petitions over the last 13 months.

We also spoke about the administration’s announcement of trials for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks, in which Peter mentioned his concerns about statements made by Obama and by Attorney General Eric Holder, publicly guaranteeing convictions, and I spoke of the three levels of justice conceived by the administration, as demonstrated through its announcement: federal courts in clear-cut cases that the government is convinced it can win, Military Commissions for more dubious cases, and indefinite detention for those against whom, in essence, the government has no case at all.

We then moved on to talk about torture in the US prisons in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo, spurred by comments made by attorney Tom Wilner in the film, and Peter then asked me about the three men whose stories are the focus of the film — Shaker Aamer (who is still held), Omar Deghayes (released in December 2007), and Binyam Mohamed (released in February 2009) — and the stories of the many men (including Shaker Aamer) who had been in Afghanistan on humanitarian aid missions, but who were then given no opportunity to clear their names, and, in some cases, are still waiting for that elusive opportunity.

There’s more to the interview than I’ve managed to cover here (including some final discussions regarding the US prison at Bagram airbase), and, in closing, I’d like to thank Peter for providing the time for us to cover such important topics in such depth.

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 the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Justice Department Pointlessly Gags Guantánamo Lawyer

Prisoners in Camp 6, Guantanamo (Photo: Brennan Linsley)One of the saddest stories in Guantánamo is that of Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi, a Libyan married to an Afghan woman and with a newly-born baby daughter, who was running a small bakery in Jalalabad, Afghanistan at the time of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001. Fearing that he would be seized in the widespread anti-Arab sentiment that followed the collapse of the Taliban, he traveled with his family to the house of his wife’s parents, but instead of finding safety he was seized by bounty hunters and sold to US forces.

Al-Ghizzawi is clearly an innocent man. Back in 2004, when the Bush administration convened military review boards — the Combatant Status Review Tribunals — to review the prisoners’ cases, his panel of three military officers concluded that there was insufficient evidence to declare him an “enemy combatant,” and that he should therefore be released.

We know this because one of the members of this particular tribunal, Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, a veteran of US intelligence who also compiled the information used in the tribunals, and who memorably declared in 2007 that they were severely flawed, relying on intelligence “of a generalized nature — often outdated, often ‘generic,’ rarely specifically relating to the individual subjects of the CSRTs or to the circumstances related to those individuals’ status,” wrote about serving on al-Ghizzawi’s tribunal, explaining:

On one occasion, I was assigned to a CSRT panel with two other officers, an Air Force Colonel and an Air Force Major, the latter understood by me to be a judge advocate. We reviewed the evidence presented to us regarding the recommended status of [Mr. al-Ghizzawi]. All of us found the information presented to lack substance.

He added:

On the basis of the paucity and weakness of the information provided both during and after the CSRT hearing, we determined that there was no factual basis for concluding that the individual should be classified as an enemy combatant.

Lt. Col. Abraham also explained — as was backed up in October 2007 by a second whistleblower, an Army Major who had taken part in 49 tribunals — that unfavorable decisions were overruled by those in charge, who then convened a second tribunal to produce the desired result, and added that this is what had happened in the case of Mr. al-Ghizzawi. Lt. Col. Abraham and his fellow tribunal members were prohibited from taking part in any more tribunals, and a second, secret tribunal was held in Washington D.C., at which it was duly decided that Mr. al-Ghizzawi was an “enemy combatant” after all.

In the five years since this shocking demonstration of rigged justice, Abdul Hamid al-Ghizzawi has languished in Guantánamo, plagued with health problems, including, at one point, an apparently mistaken belief that he had been infected with AIDS, while his attorney, H. Candace Gorman, has waged a relentless campaign to try to secure justice for him, which she has chronicled on her website, The Guantánamo Blog, as well as for the Huffington Post and In These Times.

Last Tuesday, November 17, Candace finally had some good news about her client that she could announce to the world: he had finally been cleared for release, and she was at liberty to tell us, five months after first hearing about it, which she did in a blog post entitled, “The Muzzle Is Off.” This is reproduced below, as, for insane reasons described afterwards, the Justice Department has just ordered her to remove it from her blog (she has done so, but a cached copy is retained by Google here — the ironic italics in reference to the justice department are Candace’s):

The Muzzle Is Off
By Candace Gorman

In June of this year I received a call from a foreign reporter who asked if I could give her a profile of my client Al-Ghizzawi as he was on a list of men whom the US was looking for a new home and her country was considering accepting him. This was the first I had learned that Al-Ghizzawi had been “cleared” by the Obama review team for release. I gave her information about my client and for all I know a story was published about the plight of Al-Ghizzawi at Guantánamo, his status as “cleared” and why he needed a country in Europe to take him.

A few days later an attorney from the justice department called to tell me that Al-Ghizzawi was cleared for release and we laughed about the fact that I already knew the information. However the laughing stopped when the attorney told me that the justice department had designated the information as “protected” and I could not tell anyone except my client and those people who had signed on to the protective order (a court document that outlines the procedures for the Guantánamo cases) about his status as “cleared for release.” I told the attorney that he could not declare something “protected” that was already in the public domain. To make a long story short we were not in agreement and the attorney filed an emergency motion with the judge to muzzle me. Despite the fact that the information was in the public domain I was muzzled by the good judge who apparently doesn’t believe that the Constitution applies to me. I couldn’t even tell Mr. Al-Ghizzawi’s brother what I thought was good news (I didn’t know then that this was just another stall tactic by the justice department).

Not only was I muzzled but Mr. Al-Ghizzawi’s case was put on hold. The habeas hearing that we had been fighting to obtain literally for years was stayed by the judge despite the fact that the US Supreme Court held in June of 2008 that the men were entitled to swift hearings … So much for the Supreme Court! The president asked the judges to stop the hearings for those men who were “cleared” for release and the judges have fallen into lockstep, shamefully abandoning their duties as judges.

A few months later when I visited Al-Ghizzawi (at the end of August) he had just received word from his wife that she could no longer wait for his release and she asked him if she would sign papers for a divorce. Bad news is an everyday occurrence for Al-Ghizzawi and he was holding up well despite this latest blow.

When I returned from the base I asked the justice department to allow me to contact Al-Ghizzawi’s wife and tell her that he had been cleared for release. I hoped that if she knew he was to be released she would hang in there and not go through with the divorce. I was told they would get back to me. When they didn’t I asked again but they still would not give me the OK. In Court papers I pleaded with the judge to let me tell Al-Ghizzawi’s brother and wife, telling the judge about the wife’s request for a divorce, but the judge, the same judge who has apparently decided to ignore the Supreme Court’s directive for quick habeas hearings, ignored this plea as well.

I seriously thought about disobeying the order and trying to get word to Al-Ghizzawi’s wife and then taking whatever lumps were thrown my way … however, despite the fact that the judicial system has failed Al-Ghizzawi and most of the men at Guantánamo I could not bring myself to blatantly disobey a court order. For five months I have kept this information confidential despite the injustice to both my client, Mr. Al-Ghizzawi, and to what was our rule of law … until yesterday, when the muzzle was lifted.

*****

Four days later, and Candace has now reported that “The Muzzle Is Back On,” explaining:

On Tuesday I reported that the Government finally allowed me to discuss matters that had previously been “protected” in regards to my client Al-Ghizzawi. In fact the Government unclassified and allowed for public release a Petition for Original Habeas Corpus that I filed in the US Supreme Court. I released that Petition to the public in accordance with the Government’s designation of “unclassified.” On Friday the Department of Justice (DOJ) told me that it had made a mistake and that it had apparently violated the Protective Order (an Order that sets out the rules for the DOJ and Habeas counsel in regards to the Guantánamo cases) entered in the case when it “unclassified” and allowed for public release information in the Petition that it wanted to “protect” and that therefore I must remove my post of November 17 because of the DOJ’s mistake. I explained to the DOJ attorneys that the Petition and my Post of November 17 were widely distributed and are available at various sites on the web … they do not seem to care about that … they only care that I not report about what they are now trying to declare “protected information” … 5 days after they unclassified the material and made it available for public release.

This is of course outrageous conduct by the DOJ … in trying to declare something as “protected” after being clearly designated and distributed to the public, but what else is new? For those of you who either remember my November 17 post or have it available on your website, I originally learned of the so-called “protected” information from a public source and the judge in Al-Ghizzawi’s case still ruled that I could not discuss it. […]

This is not the end of this story. Under the Protective Order the Government must actually get the judge’s permission to retroactively keep me (and only me) from publishing and discussing the information that the Government now seeks to “protect.” The DOJ will have to file a document with the Court explaining why this now very public information should be “protected.” Ultimately it will be the judge’s decision. If you do not see my post back up that will mean that the judge agreed with the Government, that I alone cannot talk about those things that you are privy to discuss.

So there you have it. As I am not Candace, and am not prohibited from reproducing her words, I thought that this whole depressing saga was worth relating in full. I’d also like to include Candace’s parting words from the post that has been removed at the insistence of the Justice Department, as they shine a light on the Byzantine workings of the Guantánamo litigation. As Candace explained:

[I]f you hear from a habeas attorney that his or her case has been stayed you will know about the injustice that their client is continuing to suffer, you will know that the client has been cleared for release, that the attorney cannot discuss that fact and that the judge in that case has abandoned his or her duty to be a judge. You will also know that being cleared for release is just as meaningless as everything else that has been happening to these unfortunate men … because being cleared for release means nothing.

Or, as my good friend The Talking Dog explained just a few days ago:

For advocates of “hope and change” who foolishly think that with our young and handsome new President everything is somehow “better” now … I just want you to know that while the nomenclature has changed (Al-Ghizzawi is no longer an “enemy combatant” or “unlawful enemy combatant” … he is simply a poor schmuck we’re holding) … and he is “cleared for release” … the same great executive overreach with its very real and very tragic personal consequences just goes on … and on … and on …

Americans should look at Al-Ghizzawi’s story (he was simply a baker in Afghanistan, handed in to American forces for bounty money, and we just can’t bring ourselves to let him go, even as he suffers egregious medical problems) and ask ourselves, “What kind of people are we?” The fact that most of us are probably not capable of that level of introspection probably best answers the question, I’m afraid.

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 the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Cross-posted on The Public Record.

Obama’s Failure To Close Guantánamo By January Deadline Is Disastrous

Barack Obama arrives in China, November 2009President Obama’s admission in China that he will miss his self-imposed deadline for the closure of Guantánamo is disastrous for the majority of the 215 men still held, and for those who hoped, ten months ago, that he would move swiftly to close this bitter icon of the Bush administration’s lawless detention and interrogation policies in the “War on Terror.”

Despite announcing the closure of Guantánamo on his second day in office, as part of a number of executive orders rolling back the Bush administration’s executive overreach, Obama then failed to follow up with a detailed plan, missing the opportunity to bring a number of wrongly imprisoned men to the US mainland (the Uighurs, Muslims from China whose release into the US had been ordered by a District Court judge), and allowing Republican fearmongers to seize the initiative, mobilizing lawmakers (including some in Obama’s own party) to pass legislation preventing any cleared prisoner from being released into the United States.

Recently, lawmakers were even prepared to go so far as to prevent the administration from bringing prisoners to the US mainland for any reason, even to face trials. Senior officials successfully fought back against this proposal, and announced last week that ten prisoners, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the self-confessed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, were to be brought to the US mainland to face trials, either in federal courts or in a revamped version of the much-criticized Military Commissions, introduced in November 2001, and revived by Congress in 2006 after the US Supreme Court ruled that they were illegal.

However, administration officials have also explained, as the Washington Post described it, that the government does not intend to put more than 40 prisoners in total on trial, leaving 175 men in Guantánamo in a predicament that has been troubling since Congress rose up in revolt against Obama’s intentions, and which has suddenly become even more alarming.

While Obama’s deadline stood, there remained the possibility that the President could persuade lawmakers to drop their opposition to bringing these 175 men to the US mainland, so that Guantánamo could be closed as promised.

Now, however, with the President publicly conceding that this will not be possible, and refusing to set a new deadline, it is difficult to work out what pressure the administration can exert on lawmakers to persuade them to overturn their opposition to allowing any prisoners into the US unless they are to face trials.

The horrible truth is that, as a result, prisoners cleared by military review boards under the Bush administration, by the Obama administration’s interagency Task Force, established as part of his executive orders, or by the US courts, after successful habeas corpus petitions, who cannot be repatriated because of fears that they will be tortured in their home countries, have no alternative to remaining in Guantánamo, until, if possible, other countries can be found to accept them.

According to officials, around 90 prisoners cleared for release are still at Guantánamo, and a majority of these — from countries including Algeria, China, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Uzbekistan — cannot be repatriated. European countries have so far accepted a handful of cleared prisoners, but a major stumbling block to the acceptance of others has been the Americans’ refusal to accept cleared prisoners themselves.

The other group — numbering around 75, according to administration officials — are those whom the government does not wish to either charge or release, claiming that they are too dangerous to be released, but that not enough evidence exists to put them on trial, or that the evidence is tainted through the use of torture (or, as the Washington Post put it, “because of evidentiary issues and limits on the use of classified material”). This is deeply disturbing, as there is, simply, no excuse for holding people in what is essentially an identical form of “preventive detention” to that practiced by the Bush administration, and prisoners should either be charged or released.

For a small number of these men — eight, to date — the administration can justify its actions because they lost their habeas corpus petitions before District Court judges, who ruled that the government had established, by a preponderance of the evidence, that they were associated with al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban. As a result, the government can continue to hold them under the Authorization for Use of Military Force, the founding document of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” through which Congress authorized the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

It is difficult to see why administration officials mentioned the number of prisoners whom the administration intends to hold indefinitely without charge or trial, as their ongoing habeas corpus petitions will put these decisions in the hands of judges, where they belong. In the long run, it is uncertain how acceptable it is to hold prisoners on this basis, especially if it turns out that they may be held for the rest of their lives for “crimes” no more egregious than, for example, cooking for an Arab fighting force supporting the Taliban in 2001.

In a world unsullied by the Bush administration’s lawlessness, they would have been held as prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Conventions, who can be held until the end of hostilities (in which case they would still be held, as no one seems to have any idea when this particular war will come to an end). However, this didn’t happen, of course, and, as a result, the administration needs to do all in its power to facilitate the habeas corpus petitions of the majority of these 75 men, and to release those whose petitions succeed (as in 30 of the 38 cases so far decided).

Even so, it remains unacceptable that these men should have to stay in Guantánamo while their petitions proceed to court, just as it remains unacceptable that cleared prisoners should languish at Guantánamo for one minute longer, let alone for months, or possibly years beyond the deadline that has proven impossible for the administration to honor.

In an interview with Fox News that followed his announcement about Guantánamo, President Obama explained, “We are on a path and a process where I would anticipate that Guantánamo will be closed next year. I’m not going to set an exact date because a lot of this is also going to depend on cooperation from Congress.”

That last line sums up the problem succinctly, and I can only hope that this cooperation will be forthcoming, although one major problem, clearly, is that Republicans will delight in thwarting the President still further. If it does not happen, however, the failure to close Guantánamo will cast a dark shadow on Obama’s presidency, and an even darker one on the prisoners — whether cleared men, or others still held without charge or trial — who will rightly conclude that, for them, there really is no justice in the United States.

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.

Back to home page

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.
Email Andy Worthington

CD: Love and War

Love and War by The Four Fathers

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

RSS

Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium

XHTML & CSS

WordPress

Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:

Archives

In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

Andy's Flickr photos

Campaigns

Categories

Tag Cloud

Abu Zubaydah Afghans in Guantanamo Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington British prisoners CIA torture prisons Clive Stafford Smith Close Guantanamo David Cameron Donald Trump Guantanamo Hunger strikes London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Periodic Review Boards Photos President Obama Reprieve Shaker Aamer Torture UK austerity UK protest US Congress US courts Video We Stand With Shaker WikiLeaks Yemenis in Guantanamo