Archive for April, 2010

Mustapha Labsi’s Story, In His Own Words

In a previous article, I wrote about Mustapha Labsi, an Algerian terror suspect, shuttled between various European prisons for the last nine years, who was deported from Slovakia last week “in clear violation of Slovakia’s international obligations,” as Amnesty International explained. Mustapha Labsi was held in Belmarsh until 2006, when he was extradited to France (and tried, convicted on charges related to terrorism, and then released on the basis of time served while awaiting extradition in the UK). He then ended up imprisoned in Slovakia, following an extradition request from the Algerian government, after he traveled there in search of his wife, who is Slovakian, and their young son. In the hope of shedding more light on Mustapha Labsi’s story, I reproduce below a personal account, written while he was held in Belmarsh pending deportation to France, which was published on the website of SACC (Scotland Against Criminalising Communities) in February 2005.

Mustapha Labsi’s story

I am an Algerian man, and my name is Mustapha. I am imprisoned in the British Guantánamo prison, Belmarsh, a high security prison. My prison number is GF6440. My story is close to fiction and I believe that a large number of people, in particular Britons, who will learn about my case, would doubt its credibility because it is strange. Too many people think that this country is ruled by law, but I would not be surprised if they are suspicious, as I would personally have doubted that this story has ever happened if I heard it before I experienced it myself, as I was hearing that this is a law-abiding and democratic country. I have met a number of inmates in the prison and they were extremely surprised when they heard what has happened to me. But the fact remains a fact, and it is up to the people to believe my story or reject it, but they have the right to know.

My case started when I was arrested on 13 January 2001, at six o’clock in the morning, when the door was smashed down and the British police stormed my home. My three-months pregnant wife and myself were there at the time; my wife is Slovakian. I was taken to Paddington [Green] police station and interrogated for one week. They had no evidence to accuse me with but they said, following the investigation, they found that I have links to a suspected terrorists group arrested in Germany and the evidence is my mobile number was found in one of the detainees’ notebook.

I was detained in Belmarsh for three months in connection to this allegation, then the case was dropped and I was told that I was being released. When I was about to approach the gate of Belmarsh prison, I was told that I was being rearrested for an extradition order to France. They said that you have no problems in this country. I was in Belmarsh prison for three years until all the prisoners in France have been released with whom I was allegedly connected. Yes, they have been released in France and I remained in Belmarsh without trial now for a continuing four years.

The courts were going to give me bail in 2003 because it was clear that I had already served all the time I would have to serve in France if I was extradited there. But the day before I would have been granted bail, I was told that the Home Secretary was making me subject to the 2001 Anti-Terrorism Crime and Security Act, which detains foreign nationals without trial.

My problems were transformed, when all the alleged allegations were dropped and I still continued to be detained without trial in Belmarsh, British Guantánamo, during which the British government practiced an appalling and the most horrific methods to destroy me and my family, and indeed they succeeded.

My wife, who is not from this country, was shocked mentally and psychologically, which made her mad, and she wanders in the streets without care or protection.

She was first shocked when I was arrested and they brutally entered our home, which terrified her. The second shock, when all the prisoners in connection with the case were released after three months, I telephoned her and told her that I am on my way home, but I was arrested again at the gate of Belmarsh, as I stated above, so her pain got worse and she started to suffer from a severe hallucination.

During the period of pregnancy and while I was in prison, they practiced on my powerless wife what a genuine human being cannot do.

She went to the hospital to have an ultrasound for her unborn baby, but they refused and said your husband is a terrorist. Who told them that? The answer is the security service of this country. My wife insisted to have the ultrasound just to make sure, but she was told that the ultrasound shows that your unborn baby is dead and that is it, then the powerless and poor woman burst into tears and screamed.

She told me what had happened when I contacted her, and I asked her to use the rest of the money she has and go to another hospital to check again. She went to another hospital and she was told the unborn baby is alive and what she was told in the previous hospital was just bad games of the security service.

After our son was born, the security service continued their plan against my wife. She was threatened to be evicted from her home to the street and indeed she was evicted and was without food or money until six o’clock in the evening and by Allah’s will she was spotted by one of the Muslims, as she was wearing a Muslim costume and he saw her condition, he took her to his home. But the police did not stop and approached this good Muslim and threatened him with prosecution if he continued to support her, so this man accepted that and asked my wife to leave his home. She contacted one of her friends and then went to her home where she stayed for three months.

Because of my problems and this case, which is not clear, I drove my wife to the state of complete madness and she neglected our son. She started behaving strangely and then the police intervened and took the child from her. I have been trying for a year and a half to find out what is the fate of my son as he is being moved from one family to another.

My wife became a human ghost, as she is walking in the streets without conscience and sense. Her mother came here two months ago to take her to Slovakia but she could not contact her.

Her mother, my son’s grandmother, applied to have the custody of our son and maybe then his mother would go with him. She won the case last summer and the court decided that she could take our son to Slovakia, but my wife is still in the same situation in this country.

My mother, who is Algerian national, applied for a visa more than five times, to look after the child or take him back home, but every time her application was refused.

Anyway, I thank Almighty Allah, as I suffered a number of psychological deteriorations, but I always get help from Allah not to terminate and take my life. Due to the stress and pressure I developed stomach ulcer and also anal bleed when I use the toilet and normally lose about one and half litres of blood every week.

I wonder, what this country wants from me? What is the wrong thing I did in this country or abroad to deserve this treatment?

Let me be honest with you, Prime Minister Tony Blair and the Home Secretary hate Muslims so much as there is no other explanation to their actions.

They violated all the laws and destroyed the human principles with their lies; such as, the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction lie.

Their game is clear and will destroy the people because of their ignorance and also the control of media concepts of provocation, which grew fear of Muslims in the hearts of their people. Every day they claim that they arrested new terror suspects but it turns up to be nothing.

There is currently no case connected to terrorism in courts despite the fact that more that one thousand Muslims have been arrested and detained. They lock up people and release others and if they do not like someone they would detain him under 2001 terrorism law without evidence, public trial or lawyers.

I thought that the people of this country understand the decisions of politicians and their practices but the fact is that what I saw is different, because the people are just concerned about their lives and they have nothing to do with general and political decisions.

What I could say now!

  • My wife is mentally ill
  • I do not know where my son will be
  • I am in prison without charge, trial and do not know my fate
  • A patient hoping to recover in inadequate circumstances

I did not dream of anything except that I wanted to live with a wife and children happily in a quiet home away from any troubles.

Finally, I say as every Muslim would say when injustice is imposed on him and he cannot find a supporter from earth: “We are created by God and we will return to Him.”

Signed: Mustapha Labsi

As SACC noted, after writing this, Mustapha re-established contact with his wife and son, but five years later, he is alone in Algeria, with no reports, as yet, about the conditions in which he is held. For an updated action page for Mustapha Labsi, please visit the SACC website.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

For other articles dealing with Belmarsh, control orders, deportation bail, deportations and extraditions, see Deals with dictators undermined by British request for return of five Guantánamo detainees (August 2007), Britain’s Guantánamo: the troubling tale of Tunisian Belmarsh detainee Hedi Boudhiba, extradited, cleared and abandoned in Spain (August 2007), Guantánamo as house arrest: Britain’s law lords capitulate on control orders (November 2007), The Guantánamo Britons and Spain’s dubious extradition request (December 2007), Britain’s Guantánamo: control orders renewed, as one suspect is freed (February 2008), Spanish drop “inhuman” extradition request for Guantánamo Britons (March 2008), UK government deports 60 Iraqi Kurds; no one notices (March 2008), Repatriation as Russian Roulette: Will the Two Algerians Freed from Guantánamo Be Treated Fairly? (July 2008), Abu Qatada: Law Lords and Government Endorse Torture (February 2009), Ex-Guantánamo prisoner refused entry into UK, held in deportation centre (February 2009), Home Secretary ignores Court decision, kidnaps bailed men and imprisons them in Belmarsh (February 2009), Britain’s insane secret terror evidence (March 2009), Torture taints all our lives (published in the Guardian’s Comment is free), Britain’s Guantánamo: Calling For An End To Secret Evidence, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (1) Detainee Y, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (2) Detainee BB, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (3) Detainee U, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (4) Hussain Al-Samamara, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (5) Detainee Z, Britain’s Guantánamo: Fact or Fiction? and URGENT APPEAL on British terror laws: Get your MP to support Diane Abbott’s Early Day Motion on the use of secret evidence (all April 2009), and Taking liberties with our justice system and Death in Libya, betrayal in the West (both for the Guardian), Law Lords Condemn UK’s Use of Secret Evidence And Control Orders (June 2009), Miliband Shows Leadership, Reveals Nothing About Torture To Parliamentary Committee (June 2009), Britain’s Torture Troubles: What Tony Blair Knew (June 2009), Seven years of madness: the harrowing tale of Mahmoud Abu Rideh and Britain’s anti-terror laws, Would you be able to cope?: Letters by the children of control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh, Control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh to be allowed to leave the UK (all June 2009), Testing control orders and Dismantle the secret state (for the Guardian), UK government issues travel document to control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh after horrific suicide attempt (July 2009), Secret evidence in the case of the North West 10 “terror suspects” (August 2009), Letting go of control orders (for the Guardian, September 2009), Another Blow To Britain’s Crumbling Control Order Regime (September 2009), UK Judge Approves Use of Secret Evidence in Guantánamo Case (November 2009), Calling Time On The Use Of Secret Evidence In The UK (December 2009), Compensation for control orders is a distraction (for the Guardian, January 2010), Control Orders Take Another Blow: Libyan Cartoonist Freed (Detainee DD) (January 2010), Control Orders: Solicitors’ Evidence before the Joint Committee on Human Rights, February 3, 2010 and Control Orders: Special Advocates’ Evidence before the Joint Committee on Human Rights, February 3, 2010 (both February 2010), Will Parliament Rid Us of the Cruel and Unjust Control Order Regime? (February 2010), Don’t renew control orders, CAMPACC, JUSTICE and the Joint Committee on Human Rights tell MPs (February 2010), Fahad Hashmi and Terrorist Hysteria in US Courts (April 2010).

Slovakia Deports Mustapha Labsi to Algeria in Violation of International Law

On April 19, Mustapha Labsi, an Algerian terror suspect shuttled around prisons in Europe since his arrest in the UK in February 2001, lost his struggle to resist being forcibly repatriated. Labsi was returned to Algeria from Slovakia, even though, as Amnesty International explained, this was “in clear violation of Slovakia’s international obligations.” Pointing out that, at the time of his expulsion, Labsi “was legally protected against return to Algeria by two very influential judicial bodies,” Amnesty added that it was concerned about “the Slovak’s government disregard for international law.”

The first of these “two very influential judicial bodies” is the European Court of Human Rights, which, as Amnesty explained, “issued an order for interim measures on 13 August 2008 requiring that the Slovak authorities refrain from extraditing Mustapha Labsi until the appeals on his new asylum claim had been completed.”

Labsi’s wife is Slovakian, and he had sought asylum in Slovakia after his earlier imprisonment in the UK and France. He was held in the UK until 2006, when he was extradited to France. There he was tried and sentenced to six years in prison after being linked to an attempted attack on an international summit in Lille in 1996. However, he was deemed to have served out his sentence whilst awaiting extradition in the UK and was again released from custody, but after making his way to Slovakia, in the hope of being reunited with his wife and his young son (even though his long detention had led to the breakdown of his marriage and the collapse of his wife’s mental health), he was imprisoned again, in May 2007, following an extradition request by the Algerian government. Despite this, he lodged a claim for asylum in Slovakia, but this was rejected in October 2008 and again in October 2009 on appeal to the regional court in Bratislava. He then fled from a refugee camp to Austria in December 2009 and was returned to Slovakia on March 11, 2010.

The second influential body that weighed in to prevent Labsi’s expulsion is the Constitutional Court of Slovakia, which, in June 2008, concluded that a previous Supreme Court decision allowing his extradition “would violate his human rights.” The Constitutional Court, as Amnesty explained, “reaffirmed the absolute duty of the Slovak authorities not to return people to countries where they face a real risk of torture or other ill-treatment.”

As a result, the Supreme Court reconsidered Labsi’s case and accepted the Constitutional Court’s verdict in August 2008, noting that Labsi faced the risk of torture and other ill-treatment, despite “diplomatic assurances,” arranged between the Slovakian and Algerian authorities, which purported to guarantee his humane treatment. I have covered the dangers of “diplomatic assurances,” in the context of the UK’s attempts to circumvent the UN Convention Against Torture, in a number of articles (see, for example, “Abu Qatada: Law Lords and Government Endorse Torture,” examining Britain’s “Memorandum of Understanding” with Jordan and its even less binding unwritten agreement with Algeria), and am pleased to recommend Amnesty International’s report, issued earlier this month, entitled, “Dangerous Deals: Europe’s Reliance on ‘Diplomatic Assurances’ Against Torture” (PDF), which features a section on Mustapha Labsi’s case.

Despite these rulings, however, when the Slovakian Supreme Court rejected Labsi’s final appeal regarding his asylum claim on March 30, the government stepped in to deport him, even though his lawyer was preparing to file a claim with the Constitutional Court seeking clarification of his status, and even though, on April 16, the European Court of Human Rights notified his legal representative, Maria Kolikova, that its August 2008 order “would remain in effect until Mustapha Labsi had the opportunity to file a claim with the Constitutional Court and that claim was ruled upon.”

Describing the circumstances of his return to Algeria, Amnesty also explained:

His lawyers and family members were not notified of the expulsion and Mustapha Labsi had no opportunity to challenge the decision of the Ministry of Interior to return him to Algeria. The Slovak Minister of Interior was reported to have justified the breach of the European Court’s order by invoking national security and claiming that the penalty for such a violation was only a “couple of thousand euros”.

In response, Maria Kolikova stated, “This justification amounts to incitement to a violation of a court decision”, and as Amnesty also noted, “In further defiance of the authority of the European Court, the Slovak authorities failed to inform the European Court of Mustapha Labsi’s expulsion, never mind its intention to do so.” The Court was only notified of Labsi’s expulsion by his legal representatives.

On Thursday, the Chairpersons of two Committees of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) expressed their shock and concern at the expulsion, which, as they noted, ignored the European Court’s interim measure, which was binding on the Slovakian government. Christos Pourgourides, the Chair of PACE’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, and John Greenway, the Chair of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population, said, “It is disgraceful to have extradited Mustapha Labsi to Algeria; this is a case in which there exists an imminent risk of irreparable damage to the applicant. Such action directly undermines the authority of the Strasbourg Court at a time when all member states have just reiterated their attachment to the Court. This is an unacceptable disregard of European Convention on Human Rights requirements.”

Amnesty International is concerned about Mustapha Labsi’s fate in Algeria, because he was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for “membership in a radical Islamist network,” and because the Algerian security service (the Département du renseignement et de la sécurité, or DRS) has a fearsome reputation for torture, which makes the “diplomatic assurances” signed by Slovakia, the UK and other countries — or variations on these “assurances” — absolutely worthless.

As Amnesty explained in its report on “diplomatic assurances”:

Such unreliable promises, made outside the international multilateral treaty regime that was created specifically to bind governments in a global effort to prevent torture, undermine the absolute ban on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, which includes the prohibition against sending persons back to places where they are at risk of such abuse (the non-refoulement obligation) … International and national human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have spoken virtually with one voice against reliance on diplomatic assurances against torture, largely based on reliable field research in many countries where torture is practiced …

[G]overnments are using diplomatic assurances in their own self-interest to rid themselves of foreigners alleged to be involved in acts of terrorism, instead of prosecuting those persons for any crimes of which they are accused. But under international law, the ban on torture and other ill-treatment, including sending a person to a place where he or she is at risk of such abuse, is absolute: the status of the person or crimes he or she might be suspected of committing is simply irrelevant and cannot be taken into consideration in assessing the risk.

It is too late now for Mustapha Labsi, but Amnesty’s analysis is absolutely correct. Whatever Mustapha Labsi and other terror suspects are alleged to have done, the solution is not for European governments to undermine their commitment to the absolute prohibition on torture through worthless agreements with states that routinely use torture, but rather to find ways to “prosecut[e] those persons for any crimes of which they are accused.”

To take action for Mustapha Labsi, please visit this page.

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, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

For other articles dealing with Belmarsh, control orders, deportation bail, deportations and extraditions, see Deals with dictators undermined by British request for return of five Guantánamo detainees (August 2007), Britain’s Guantánamo: the troubling tale of Tunisian Belmarsh detainee Hedi Boudhiba, extradited, cleared and abandoned in Spain (August 2007), Guantánamo as house arrest: Britain’s law lords capitulate on control orders (November 2007), The Guantánamo Britons and Spain’s dubious extradition request (December 2007), Britain’s Guantánamo: control orders renewed, as one suspect is freed (February 2008), Spanish drop “inhuman” extradition request for Guantánamo Britons (March 2008), UK government deports 60 Iraqi Kurds; no one notices (March 2008), Repatriation as Russian Roulette: Will the Two Algerians Freed from Guantánamo Be Treated Fairly? (July 2008), Abu Qatada: Law Lords and Government Endorse Torture (February 2009), Ex-Guantánamo prisoner refused entry into UK, held in deportation centre (February 2009), Home Secretary ignores Court decision, kidnaps bailed men and imprisons them in Belmarsh (February 2009), Britain’s insane secret terror evidence (March 2009), Torture taints all our lives (published in the Guardian’s Comment is free), Britain’s Guantánamo: Calling For An End To Secret Evidence, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (1) Detainee Y, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (2) Detainee BB, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (3) Detainee U, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (4) Hussain Al-Samamara, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (5) Detainee Z, Britain’s Guantánamo: Fact or Fiction? and URGENT APPEAL on British terror laws: Get your MP to support Diane Abbott’s Early Day Motion on the use of secret evidence (all April 2009), and Taking liberties with our justice system and Death in Libya, betrayal in the West (both for the Guardian), Law Lords Condemn UK’s Use of Secret Evidence And Control Orders (June 2009), Miliband Shows Leadership, Reveals Nothing About Torture To Parliamentary Committee (June 2009), Britain’s Torture Troubles: What Tony Blair Knew (June 2009), Seven years of madness: the harrowing tale of Mahmoud Abu Rideh and Britain’s anti-terror laws, Would you be able to cope?: Letters by the children of control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh, Control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh to be allowed to leave the UK (all June 2009), Testing control orders and Dismantle the secret state (for the Guardian), UK government issues travel document to control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh after horrific suicide attempt (July 2009), Secret evidence in the case of the North West 10 “terror suspects” (August 2009), Letting go of control orders (for the Guardian, September 2009), Another Blow To Britain’s Crumbling Control Order Regime (September 2009), UK Judge Approves Use of Secret Evidence in Guantánamo Case (November 2009), Calling Time On The Use Of Secret Evidence In The UK (December 2009), Compensation for control orders is a distraction (for the Guardian, January 2010), Control Orders Take Another Blow: Libyan Cartoonist Freed (Detainee DD) (January 2010), Control Orders: Solicitors’ Evidence before the Joint Committee on Human Rights, February 3, 2010 and Control Orders: Special Advocates’ Evidence before the Joint Committee on Human Rights, February 3, 2010 (both February 2010), Will Parliament Rid Us of the Cruel and Unjust Control Order Regime? (February 2010), Don’t renew control orders, CAMPACC, JUSTICE and the Joint Committee on Human Rights tell MPs (February 2010), Fahad Hashmi and Terrorist Hysteria in US Courts (April 2010).

Seven Days for Seven Years: A Week-Long Vigil for Aafia Siddiqui at the US Embassy in London

One month ago, I addressed the disturbing case of the Pakistani neuroscientist Aafia Siddiqui in an article marking “Aafia Siddiqui Day,” in which I ran through what I regarded as some of the particularly pertinent questions to ask regarding her disappearance for five years, the whereabouts of her three children (who disappeared with her in March 2003, when she was reportedly kidnapped in Karachi), and the alleged incident with US soldiers in Afghanistan in 2008 that led to her “rendition” to the US for a trial that ended with her conviction in February this year.

The case of Aafia Siddiqui is one of the murkiest in the whole of the “War on Terror,” as Declan Walsh explained in the Guardian after Dr. Siddiqui’s conviction. Walsh wrote:

Hard facts have been elusive in one of the most intriguing and murky cases to emerge from the Bush administration-era “war on terror.” It started in March 2003 when Siddiqui and her three children mysteriously disappeared from Karachi, probably picked up by Pakistani intelligence. What happened next is hotly contested. Siddiqui’s supporters, led by the British campaigner Yvonne Ridley, insist she was sent to Bagram airfield north of Kabul, where she was detained and tortured by US forces. Sceptics say she was probably on the run in Pakistan, associating with Islamist extremists. In 2004 the FBI named Siddiqui as one of seven senior al-Qaeda figures plotting to attack America, which earned her the nickname “Lady al-Qaeda” in the US media.

As Walsh also noted, however, “few of those events were examined in the trial,” which focused on her supposed capture in Afghanistan in July 2008, when she “dramatically resurfaced” and tried to shoot a US soldier, and which led to her conviction, even though the prosecution “could produce little forensic evidence to support its case, with experts unable to produce incriminating bullet cases or fingerprints on the weapon Siddiqui allegedly fired.” As Walsh also noted, “the jury appeared to have been swayed by statements from at least seven witnesses, including an Afghan translator and several US soldiers,” and “may also have been swayed by Siddiqui’s erratic behaviour.” After the verdict was announced, Dr. Siddiqui’s lawyer, Elaine Sharp, claimed that the case had been decided on “fear not fact.”

On Saturday May 1, the Justice for Aafia Coalition is launching a week-long vigil for Dr. Siddiqui outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, London. The vigil, entitled, “Seven Days for Seven Years,” was planned to coincide with her sentencing, although this has now been postponed until July 21.

However, it is clearly an appropriate time to keep her story in the news, because, just a week after the seventh anniversary of her disappearance, one of her children resurfaced, apparently after seven years in US custody in Afghanistan.

According to reports summarized by Mary on Firedoglake’s Empty Wheel blog, “a girl approximately 12 years old, who spoke only English and Persian and claimed her name was ‘Fatima,’ was dropped off in front of the home of Siddiqui’s sister. Some stories indicate an American named ‘John’ may have been with her.” In addition, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported that a senior policeman described how the girl was “wearing a collar ‘bearing the address of the house in case she wandered off.’”

A week later, “Fatima” was apparently identified, through DNA testing, as Dr. Siddiqui’s daughter Mariam, and an article on the Justice for Aafia Coalition’s website noted that she “claim[ed] she was kept in a ‘cold, dark room’ for seven years,” allegedly in the US prison at Bagram airbase.

With the re-emergence of Mariam, two of Aafia’s three children are now reportedly accounted for. As the article above also noted, in late August 2008, Michael G. Garcia, the attorney general of the southern region of New York, “confirmed in a letter to Siddiqui’s sister, Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui, that her son, Ahmed, had been in the custody of the FBI since 2003 and that he was currently in the custody of the Karzai government in Afghanistan,” even though the US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne W. Patterson, had previously claimed that Washington “had no information regarding the children.” The article added that Ahmed was finally released to the custody of Siddiqui’s family in Pakistan in September 2009, and later “gave a statement to police in Lahore that he had been held in a juvenile prison in Afghanistan for years.”

However, as has also been reported (by Robert Fisk, amongst others), doubts have been expressed as to whether the boy identified as Ahmed is really Aafia’s eldest child, and, of course, the whereabouts of Suleiman — a baby at the time of his capture — are still unknown, although it may be, as has been hinted at over the years, that he was killed during the initial kidnapping in April 2003.

While the fate of Suleiman must remain the number one priority for those seeking the truth about Dr. Siddiqui’s case, it is also imperative that pressure is exerted on the US and Afghan governments to explain whether there is any truth to Mariam’s claim that she was held for seven years in Bagram, where her mother was also reportedly held, and what the story is regarding the “children’s prison” where Ahmed was detained, which, according to some rumors circulating, also held — or still holds — other children of “terror suspects” seized in the “War on Terror.”

If this story concerns you, and you are in London, or within reach of the capital, please consider attending the vigil. Email the Justice for Aafia Coalition if you would like to register for the vigil, and please also note that speakers will address the vigil at 6.30 pm on Wednesday May 5, including Bruce Kent and, via phone link, Amina Masood Janjua, the wife of Pakistani “ghost prisoner” Masood Janjua, and the Chair of Defence of Human Rights Pakistan, which campaigns for justice for the thousands of Pakistani “ghost prisoner” who have disappeared in their home country. For further information, please visit the Justice for Aafia Coalition’s website.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Fahad Hashmi and Terrorist Hysteria in US Courts

In America’s post-9/11 zeal for elevating terror suspects to the status of supermen, existentially threatening the very life of the United States in an unprecedented manner (rather than managing one massive attack on the US through the intelligence agencies’ inability to communicate with one another), Guantánamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib and the CIA’s torture dungeons are not the only places where the rule of law was shredded.

With the exception of Guantánamo, none of the prisoners held in the facilities mentioned above had, or have had access to lawyers, or to the full protections of the Geneva Conventions, but even in dealing with the cases of the men in Guantánamo, who have secured three Supreme Court victories in their favor, judges are not empowered to order the release of prisoners who win their habeas corpus petitions, and justice for some will only be delivered, if at all, in a trial by Military Commission — a second-tier judicial system, exclusively for foreign terror suspects, that was recently revived by the Obama administration and by Congress, even though its earlier incarnations were an almost unmitigated failure.

Opponents of the Military Commissions have long pointed out that federal courts have a proven track record of successfully prosecuting terrorists. This is a powerful argument against the Commissions, of course, which look set to face innumerable unknown and unexpected hurdles as they stumble back to life this week. However, to cast a critical eye on the federal courts, for a change, terror suspects face a system that often seems to have been specifically designed to hand down punitive sentences for “associations” with terrorists that range from the flimsy to the risible. This was demonstrated on Tuesday, when Syed Fahad Hashmi, a US citizen, accepted a plea bargain and admitted to conspiring to provide material support to terrorism on the eve of his trial.

Describing the breadth of the material support charges endorsed by Congress, Jacob Sullum explained in the most recent edition of Reason magazine:

Under the law, it is a crime to provide an organization on the State Department’s [List of Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations] with “training,” defined as “instruction or teaching designed to impart a specific skill”; “expert advice or assistance,” defined as “advice or assistance derived from scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge”; “personnel,” which means any person, including oneself, who works under the organization’s “direction or control”; or “service,” which is not defined at all.

Or, as Jeanne Theoharis described it in an article in Slate on the eve of Hashmi’s intended trial:

Material-support laws are the black box of domestic terrorism prosecutions, into which all sorts of constitutionally protected activities can be thrown and classified as suspect. The law defines material support as the knowing provision of “any service, training, [or] expert advice or assistance” to a group designated by the federal government as a foreign terrorist organization. The prosecution need not show an actual criminal act, just the knowing “support” to a group designated a terrorist organization. It’s a prosecutor’s dream: You don’t need to show evidence of a plot or even a desire to help terrorists to win a conviction — a low bar the standards of traditional criminal prosecution would not allow.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations have relied on the statute’s vague nature — what the Bush Department of Justice described as “strategic overinclusiveness” — to criminalize a wide range of activities. Operating by the logic of preventive prosecution, material-support charges often target small acts and religious and political associations, which take on sinister meaning as ostensible manifestations of forthcoming terrorism.

In Hashmi’s case, it seems probable that he accepted a plea bargain on the eve of his trial because, as a result, he will receive a sentence of 15 years compared to the 70 years that he was facing if convicted. This is in spite of the fact that the only charges against him are that in 2004, while he was living in London as a student, Junaid Babar, an acquaintance of his from Queens, who stayed with him for two weeks, “had luggage containing raincoats, ponchos, and waterproof socks (what the government terms ‘military gear’) and that later Babar delivered these materials to the third-ranking member of al-Qaeda in South Waziristan, Pakistan. In addition, Babar borrowed Hashmi’s cell phone and then allegedly used it to call other conspirators in terrorist plots.”

The quote above is from the article by Jeanne Theoharis, who taught Hashmi in a seminar on human rights at Brooklyn College in 2002, prior to him receiving a B.A. and then traveling to London to take a master’s degree at London Metropolitan University. Theoharis also explained that Hashmi was “[a] critic of US foreign policy and its treatment of Muslims, [who] held the rather optimistic view that you could change people’s minds by talking and arguing with them. He could often be found in the hall before and after class debating other students. For my seminar, he wrote a research paper on the abridgement of the civil liberties of Muslim-American groups in the United States after 9/11.” She added, poignantly, “Now it is his rights that have been violated.”

Even if the government’s case was genuinely sound, rather than being a chilling demonstration of why offering hospitality to an acquaintance — any acquaintance — should be avoided after 9/11, there are serious doubts about the reliability of the supposed evidence incriminating Hashmi in providing space for his house guest’s luggage and allowing him to borrow his phone, because it comes directly from Junaid Babar, who, as Theoharis also explained, “was himself subsequently arrested on material support charges and has agreed to testify in a number of cases in exchange for a much-reduced sentence.”

Moreover, Hashmi has been treated appallingly since he was first arrested in the UK on June 6, 2006, after the US authorities requested his extradition. In the UK, he was imprisoned as a Category A, high security prisoner in Belmarsh prison (where other foreign terror suspects are held, pending deportation, on the basis of secret evidence) until March 2007, when the High Court approved his extradition. Since his arrival in the US, he has been held in conditions that are only marginally less severe those under which US “enemy combatants” Jose Padilla, Ali al-Marri and Yaser Hamdi were held during the Bush administration, when each was imprisoned without charge or trial in strict solitary confinement in the Consolidated Naval Brig in Charleston, South Carolina, and subjected to variations on the administration’s torture program that, in Padilla’s case, were so severe that he apparently lost his mind.

As Jeanne Theoharis explained:

Hashmi’s pre-trial detention — nearly three years of solitary confinement –has been served in severe isolation under Special Administrative Measures imposed by the Bush administration and then renewed by the Obama administration. The federal government created SAMS in 1996, at first to target gang leaders and mafia bosses in cases where “there is a substantial risk that an inmate’s communication or contacts with persons could result in death or serious bodily injury to persons.” After 9/11, the DoJ relaxed the standard for imposing a SAM and expanded their use. In Hashmi’s case, the government cited his “proclivity for violence” as the reason for these harsh measures — even though he has no criminal record and is not being charged with committing an act of violence.

The result is that Hashmi is allowed contact only with his lawyers and his immediate family — one visit by one family member every other week for one and a half hours. His cell is electronically monitored 24 hours a day, so he showers and relieves himself in view of the camera. He cannot receive or send mail except with his immediate family. He cannot talk to other prisoners through the walls or take part in group prayer. He is allowed one hour of exercise a day, in a solitary cage without fresh air. These conditions have degraded his health — in pre-trial hearings, he appears increasingly withdrawn and less focused — and have interfered with his ability to participate in his own defense.

Before the trial, Theoharis and Fayad Hashmi’s many supporters had pointed out how the prosecution was trying to rig the proceedings, with the government asking for jurors to be anonymous and kept under extra security (a request that was granted by Judge Loretta Preska) in a filing in which the government’s lawyers claimed that “jurors will see in the gallery of the courtroom a significant number of the defendant’s supporters, naturally leading to juror speculation that at least some of these spectators might share the defendant’s violent radical Islamic leanings.”

With this in mind, Fayad Hashmi may have decided that a plea bargain provided his only opportunity to avoid a 70-year prison sentence, but whatever the truth, his treatment over the last four years, and the paucity of the evidence against him, appears only to demonstrate that the overreaction of the Bush years in relation to the perceived terrorist threat is as exaggerated as ever.

Cross-posted on Common Dreams, CounterCurrents, Eurasia Review, Political Theatrics, and Uprooted Palestinians.

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, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Lawyer for Kuwaitis in Guantánamo Slams Obama over Ludicrous Security Demands

For the prisoners in Guantánamo, countless obstacles have been raised to prevent them from ever being freed. When the Supreme Court granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in June 2004, for example, the Bush administration responded by convening, instead, military tribunals whose main purpose was to justify their ongoing detention on the basis of classified evidence that was not disclosed to them, and which they could not challenge. These were later revealed as a sham by Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, a veteran of US intelligence who was part of the organization responsible for compiling the information presented as evidence in the tribunals.

The tribunals were allegedly empowered to call outside witnesses, but not a single outside witness was ever brought to Guantánamo to testify, and on a few occasions when the tribunal members ruled that a prisoner was not an “enemy combatant,” who could continue to be detained indefinitely, the tribunal members were dismissed, and “do-over” tribunals were held until the desired result was achieved.

For the Yemenis in Guantánamo, who make up half the current population of 183 prisoners, getting out of Guantánamo is all but impossible. Just 13 Yemenis were freed under George W. Bush, ostensibly because of fears about security and surveillance in Yemen, and President Obama has also been reluctant to break with this tradition. Although seven Yemenis were repatriated last year, the releases stopped abruptly after a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to blow up a plane on Christmas Day. When it was revealed that he had apparently been recruited in Yemen, President Obama bowed to criticism and suspended all releases to Yemen until further notice, even though his interagency Task Force had concluded that 60 of the Yemeni prisoners could be released.

These are just two examples out of many that I could have chosen to illustrate the often arbitrary nature of the detention policies at Guantánamo, but until two days ago, I had never heard of a government being threatened that its nationals would not be returned unless other nationals, previously released because their innocence had been demonstrated in a US court (after the US government was finally obliged to allow the prisoners’ habeas petitions to proceed in June 2008), were subjected to unfair and restrictive conditions on their liberty.

And yet this is what has happened with the Kuwaiti government, which has been told by the Obama administration that discussions regarding the release of the remaining two Kuwaitis in Guantánamo — Fawzi al-Odah, who lost his habeas petition last year, and Fayiz al-Kandari, whose case has not yet been heard — will not take place unless two men released last year after winning their habeas petitions — Khalid al-Mutairi and Fouad al-Rabiah — “have their passports taken away, be required to check in with local authorities regularly and be under surveillance by the Kuwaiti government for a period of time,” as one of their lawyers, David Cynamon, explained this week.

David Cynamon has just written a letter to President Obama, protesting about this latest disgrace, and it’s my pleasure to reproduce it in full below. The passage about Fouad al-Rabiah, whose extraordinary false confessions, produced as a result of torture and threats, were only finally exposed in a US court last September, are particular instructive, and the thought that the US is demanding that this poor man be subjected to any more restrictions on his liberty is frankly unforgiveable.

A letter to President Obama from David Cynamon

Dear Mr. President:

According to recent news reports, you are struggling to fulfill your commitment to close Guantánamo in part because you are having trouble finding other countries that will take detainees. I know a country that is ready, willing and able to take two: Kuwait.

Kuwait is our faithful ally. The US Ambassador to Kuwait has described the relationship between the two countries as “foundational” and has acknowledged that Kuwait’s logistical support has been “essential” to our military operations in Iraq.

Furthermore, Kuwait has established a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center and program to reintegrate detainees with their families and society. Yet the center stands empty, and its staff idle, while two Kuwaiti citizens languish in their eighth year of imprisonment at Guantánamo. Why?

Perhaps it has something to do with the two Kuwaiti detainees who were recently released by order of the US district court in Washington, D.C., which granted their petitions for habeas corpus after examining the evidence and concluding that the United States had no basis to detain them as enemy combatants. The case of one of them, Fouad al-Rabiah, is particularly instructive. At the time he was taken to Guantánamo, Mr. al-Rabiah was a middle-aged man with a wife and four children, twenty years in a job with the same employer, a documented record of volunteer relief work, and no connection with any extremist group. A CIA analyst who examined Mr. al-Rabiah’s case shortly after he arrived in Guantánamo concluded that it was the classic situation of someone who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Yet the US claimed that Mr. al-Rabiah was a high-level al-Qaeda financier and supply chief during the battle of Tora Bora. As the federal court found, however, these fantastic claims were based almost entirely on false “confessions” wrung out of Mr. al-Rabiah through the same abusive and coercive interrogation methods designed by the North Korean and Chinese Communists during the Korean War, and for the same purpose: to extract false confessions from American POWs that could be exploited for propaganda purposes. The court explained,

Al-Rabiah’s interrogators began using abusive techniques that violated the Army Field Manual and the Geneva Convention … [T]he use of these methods is likely to “yield unreliable results and can induce the source to say what he thinks the interrogator wants to hear.”

Not surprisingly, Mr. al-Rabiah’s statements given under these abusive conditions were so absurd and self-contradictory that, as the court pointed out, “even the Government’s own interrogators did not believe them.” Yet the Department of Justice — your Department of Justice — vigorously defended these interrogation techniques in court and argued that Mr. al-Rabiah should continue to be imprisoned based on the statements obtained through those methods.

Officials of your administration have now informed the Government of Kuwait that they will not even consider returning the last two Kuwaiti detainees unless Kuwait imposes restrictive conditions on Mr. al-Rabiah and the other Kuwaiti released by the federal court — as if they were paroled criminals instead of men who never should have been imprisoned in the first place. This makes no sense, either as a matter of justice or necessity. The remaining Kuwaiti detainees will be placed into the rehabilitation program, and Kuwait has promised that it will take all security measures necessary for the safety and security, not just of the United States and its citizens, but of Kuwait and its citizens as well.

The way to close Guantánamo, and to make America safer, is there. Allies like Kuwait are willing to help. Please give them the chance.

Respectfully,

David J. Cynamon
Attorney for the Kuwaiti Detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba

cc: The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.

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, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Review: “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” at the London International Documentary Festival

Outside the Law: Stories from GuantanamoI’m pleased to report that Monday night’s screening of the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” at the Free Word Centre on Farringdon Road was a great success. The screening took place as part of the London International Documentary Festival, and featured an excellent panel for the post-screening Q&A session — former prisoners Moazzam Begg and Omar Deghayes (who both feature in the film), Tara Murray, a US attorney who joined the legal action charity Reprieve (whose lawyers represent Guantánamo prisoners) in October 2009, and the film’s directors (Polly Nash and myself).

On a fine evening, I walked up to the venue from Reprieve’s offices near Blackfriars with Tara, who I hadn’t met before, and Omar, which gave us some time to compare notes on the current state of play at Guantánamo and to discuss my “Guantánamo Habeas Week” project, in which I’m attempting to raise awareness of the under-reported court cases in which 34 out of 47 prisoners have won their habeas petitions (demonstrating the incompetence of the Bush administration’s detention policies), but 13 others have been consigned to ongoing detention, despite, for the most part, being nothing more than insignificant foot soldiers in an inter-Muslim civil war that became a “War on Terror” when the US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001.

At the venue — a great new space founded by eight very sound organizations (Apples and Snakes, Article 19, Booktrust, English PEN, Index on Censorship, The Arvon Foundation, The Literary Consultancy and The Reading Agency), which received Arts Council funding and opened in June 2009 — we were warmly welcomed by Shreela Ghosh, the Centre’s Director, and General Manager Rachel Buchanan. After a coffee in the airy café, Omar, Moazzam and I had the opportunity to catch up on our latest news and plans while the film was showing, and although a technical hitch during the screening meant that our Q&A session was rather short, the film was very well received, as is apparent from a review, cross-posted below, which was written by Laura Jenkinson for the film festival’s website.

A review of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”
By Laura Jenkinson, LIDF

The Free Word Centre in Farringdon, just behind the Betsey Trotwood pub, is still under a year old but is establishing itself quickly as a centre for literature, literacy and free expression. Tonight’s film, the first at this venue, fits with the centre’s motto and provides a voice for ex-“detainees” of the most famous apparent non-prison on the planet.

Director-producers Polly Nash and Andy Worthington have put together a very eloquent story from 9/11 to present day; the film is simple, relying on the talking heads of legal and political experts, and Omar Deghayes and Moazzem Begg, who were “detained” at Guantánamo for several years, and still photographs representing the absent parties responsible for the atrocities of “enhanced interrogation techniques” practiced by a White House flouting the Geneva Conventions.

The film relies on not distancing its viewer with documentary techniques of voiceover and re-enactment — in fact it has been criticized by channel programmers for not fitting the style of television today, although Nash and Worthington both regard this as the film’s unfiltered strength.

It was a suitably modern film for this spacious and airy venue, which, despite a few early technical hitches, pleased its audience, who also found it suitably humbling to meet Begg and Deghayes at the panel discussion afterwards. It is hard to imagine these well-spoken, eloquent, charismatic and confident men suffering the abuses discussed and pictured. They looked so comfortable in themselves whilst answering the audience’s questions on the continuing fate of those left at the prison, and spoke factually rather than with emotion about the apparent new extra-judicial killings ordered by the new US government that are more “convenient” than extraordinary renditions. A remarkable evening.

About the film

[T]his is a strong movie examining the imprisonment and subsequent torture of those falsely accused of anti-American conspiracy. It avoids common conventions such as dramatic narration, music or use of archive footage, delivering frank and understated accounts from the victims and forming an intriguing and emotive cross-section of life at Guantánamo Bay.
Joe Burnham, Time Out

“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 Shaker Aamer, Binyam Mohamed 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.

“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” on tour in the UK

The screening at the London International Documentary Festival was part of an ongoing UK tour of the film, in which Omar Deghayes and Andy Worthington are travelling around the country attending post-screening Q&A sessions. On some dates, Omar, who is now the legal director of the Guantánamo Justice Centre, and Andy will be joined by Polly Nash, and, occasionally, other guests including former prisoner Moazzam Begg, the director of Cageprisoners.

Shaker Aamer and two of his childrenThroughout the tour, Omar, Andy and the other speakers will be focusing on the plight of Shaker Aamer, the only one of the film’s main subjects who is still held in Guantánamo, despite being cleared for release in 2007, and despite the British government asking for him to be returned to the UK in August 2007.

Born in Saudi Arabia, Shaker Aamer moved to the UK in 1994, and was a legal British resident at the time of his capture, after he had traveled to Afghanistan with Moazzam Begg (and their families) to establish a girls’ school and some well-digging projects. He has a British wife and four British children (although he has never seen his youngest child).

As the foremost advocate of the prisoners’ rights in Guantánamo, Shaker’s influence upset the US authorities to such an extent that those pressing for his return fear that the US government wants to return him to Saudi Arabia, the country of his birth, where he will not be at liberty to tell his story, and recent revelations indicate that, despite claims that it has been doing all in its power to secure his release, the British government may also share this view.

In December 2009, it emerged in a court case in the UK that British agents witnessed his abuse while he was held in US custody in Afghanistan, and in January 2010, for Harper’s Magazine, law professor Scott Horton reported that he was tortured in Guantánamo on the same night, in June 2006, that three other men appear to have been killed by representatives of an unknown US agency, and that a cover-up then took place, which successfully passed the deaths off as suicides.

At the screenings, the speakers will discuss what steps we can all take to put pressure on the British government to demand the return of Shaker Aamer to the UK, to be reunited with his family. To date, we have been asking audiences to send a letter to foreign secretary David Miliband calling for Shaker’s return. This letter will be updated on May 7, following the General Election, but in the meantime please feel free to adapt it as you see fit, to put pressure on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from the very first day of the new government.

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

“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” is a Spectacle Production (74 minutes, 2009), and copies of the DVD are now available. As featured on Democracy Now!, ABC News and Truthout. See here for videos of the Q&A session (with Moazzam Begg, Omar Deghayes, Andy Worthington and Polly Nash) that followed the launch of the film in London on October 21, 2009, and see here for a short trailer of the film.

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, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Col. Morris Davis Criticizes Obama on Guantánamo

Col. Morris DavisI’ve helped unleash a blogging monster! Two weeks ago, I was delighted to receive an email from Morris Davis, the retired Air Force colonel and former chief prosecutor for the Military Commissions at Guantánamo Bay, who resigned when placed in a chain of command under the Pentagon’s General Counsel William J. Haynes II. As he explained in December 2007, Haynes had been involved in “authorizing the use of the aggressive interrogation techniques” — in other words, torture — which conflicted with his own insistence that prosecutors in the Military Commissions “would not offer any evidence derived by waterboarding, one of the aggressive interrogation techniques the [Bush] administration … sanctioned.”

Moe asked if I had a contact at the Huffington Post for an op-ed he had just written defending the importance of the rule of law — and how it applies to everyone — which, as I explained at the time, was “written in a blistering style that America needs more of.” I was happy to provide Moe with a contact, and his op-ed was subsequently published on the Huffington Post, and was followed up yesterday with another excellent article dissecting the gulf between Presidential candidate Barack Obama’s rhetoric about Guantánamo, and the reality once he was in the White House.

I have a lot of time for Moe’s opinions, and for his direct, conversational style, and so I’m cross-posting his article below. His analysis of how Bush and Cheney “had their way with the country for 8 years,” Deliverance-style, is darkly hilarious, and I’m also in complete agreement with him about the need to decide, once and for all, whether al-Qaeda’s terrorist activities constitute a crime or a “war.” I also agree with his call for transparency regarding those prisoners whom the administration (preempting rulings in the courts on their habeas corpus petitions) has decided should continue to be held indefinitely without charge or trial, and his insistence that, in a broader sense, “transparency on all fronts is imperative,” and that “There needs to be greater access to the detainees, the detention facility, the military commissions, and the indefinite detention review process.”

My only caveat is with Moe’s discussion of whether Guantánamo is “the best place to hold alleged foreign terrorists.” Although he’s correct to point out that the facility is not the same as it was in the days of Camp X-Ray, with its open-air cages, and that it does not, materially, compare unfavorably with America’s shockingly harsh domestic prison system, every discussion of the prison should point out, over and over again, that what makes Guantánamo different is the fact that those held there have not been tried and convicted of any crimes and are still more cut-off from the world, and their families, than the most dangerous convicted criminals on the US mainland. “[G]reater access to the detainees [and] the detention facility” would improve this, but the aim, to my mind, must always be to continue to push for the closure of the prison, and to insist that nothing like it is ever contemplated again.

Obama and Change at Guantánamo: Believe It When You See It
By Morris Davis

“I’m asking you to believe.” That’s what it said at the top of the page on BarackObama.com, the wildly popular website for President Obama’s successful 2008 campaign. On a page entitled “Strengthen America Overseas,” candidate Obama said to believe that as president he would “restore America’s standing, reputation and authority in the world.” Given the shellacking we’d taken on those fronts during the Bush-Cheney years, his promise sounded like music to a great many ears. He said, “The first step to reclaiming America’s standing in the world has to be closing” the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. He told us to believe: “As president, Barack Obama will close the detention facility at Guantánamo” and “reject the Military Commissions Act.” He asked people to believe, and they took him at his word.

On Tuesday, April 27, 2010, a judge takes a seat on the bench and gavels court to order … in a military commission convened at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Nearly 18 months after believers elected Barack Obama president and more than 15 months after he raised his hand and took the oath of office, that which he promised to stop continues. Maybe the Obama 2012 re-election slogan should be “Believe it when you see it.”

I spent 25 years in the military where I was prohibited from active involvement in partisan politics; the military is, as it should be, apolitical. I retired from the military on October 1, 2008, and for the first time in my adult life I was able to get involved and actually do something in the weeks leading up to the election. I contributed money to the Obama campaign, I put an Obama-Biden sticker on my car, I put an Obama-Biden sign in my front yard (and after someone doused it in lighter fluid and set it on fire I put up another one), and on election day I volunteered with the Obama campaign and went door to door as part of the get-out-the-vote effort. Candidate Obama told me to believe and I did.

I don’t mean to sound too bitter about President Obama’s failure to do what he promised to do about Guantánamo and military commissions … he told me to believe that he’d do as he said and then he didn’t; I get it. I recognize the incredibly crappy hand President Obama inherited from the Bush-Cheney administration, and I take exception with those who blame Obama for not instantly turning things around. In the movie Deliverance a hillbilly has his way with Ned Beatty for about 8 seconds, and after the hillbilly’s demise Ned doesn’t instantly leap to his feet like nothing happened. Bush and Cheney had their way with the country for 8 years, so President Obama deserves some time to help us heal and recover. I’m willing to afford him some latitude for failing to do what he said we could believe he would do if we elected him as our President. I’m disappointed, not dissentient.

With that behind me, there are four areas where I believe President Obama could improve the handling of the detainee issue and, in the process, enhance our standing in the eyes of the world.

First, there is nothing wrong with the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. If it’s the best place to hold alleged foreign terrorists, fine. Before I was an attorney I worked as a bail bondsman, and over the years I’ve seen a lot of American jails and prisons. There are many American citizens currently behind bars who would trade their surroundings for Gitmo in a nanosecond if they could see Gitmo as it really is. Camp X-Ray was open from January to April 2002 and has been shuttered for more than 8 years. Those images — men kneeling near what look like dog cages in Camp X-Ray — reflect Gitmo as it was in early 2002, not as it is now, so the administration needs to devote more resources to dispelling the images of the past and showing the world the truth about conditions today. To the critics of Gitmo, if there’s a detention facility anywhere in the world that’s better for holding alleged terrorists then identify it so the administration has the benefit of seeing how it might improve Gitmo.

Second, if terrorism falls within the ambit of warfare rather than ordinary crime, then the Geneva Conventions are the basis of the rights the detainees enjoy, and fairly administered military commissions could meet or exceed the requirements of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Decide whether we’re at war with al-Qaeda and its affiliates or if their activities are manifestations of a crime spree, and pick the corresponding criminal forum. Fourteen high-value detainees got off the airplane at Gitmo in September 2006. Parsing an explanation for why Ghailani gets full constitutional rights in a trial in federal court while his fellow passenger Nashiri gets something less in a military commission does not enhance our standing in the eyes of the world. [Note: Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, one of the 14 “high-value detainees,” was transferred to New York in May 2009 to face a federal court trial that is scheduled to begin next year, whereas Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, another “high-value detainee,” was put forward for a trial by Military Commission last November. I analyzed this two-tier judicial system in an article at the time, “The Logic of the 9/11 Trials, the Madness of the Military Commissions”].

Third, deciding what to do with those that will face prosecution is a lot easier than deciding what process is due those that will be detained indefinitely without trial. Anyone who faces indefinite detention deserves the right to know the basis for that decision and a meaningful opportunity to confront the allegations and the evidence. The Bush-Cheney administration had the chance to implement robust review procedures in the Combatant Status Review Tribunals and the Administrative Review Boards but chose not to do so, which I believe was directly responsible for the Supreme Court affording detainees the constitutional right of habeas corpus in the Boumediene decision [in June 2008]. We can’t afford to screw this up again.

Fourth, after eight and a half years of secrecy and failure, transparency on all fronts is imperative. There needs to be greater access to the detainees, the detention facility, the military commissions, and the indefinite detention review process. There should be a concerted effort to open the windows and raise the shades to let the sunlight shine on Guantánamo. Conducting hearings this week in the [Omar] Khadr case before the administration has even published the rules for the military commissions does not aid that cause; instead, it perpetuates the notion that we’re making up the rules as we go along to stack the deck. Similarly, if closed hearings are required in any of the trials they should be the rare exception and transparency the general rule. When secrecy is absolutely essential the determination should be made at the very highest level … it needs to be clear where the buck stops and who is responsible.

Candidate Obama made promises that President Obama didn’t honor. He’s not the first politician and he won’t be the last to look into the camera and say “read my lips.” He started out his campaign asking me to believe, and I did. I still believe. I have the audacity to believe we can do better. I have hope that we will.

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, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Why Judges Can’t Free Torture Victims from Guantánamo

Note: This article is published as part of “Guantánamo Habeas Week” (introduced here, and also see the articles here, here and here), which has now been extended as “Guantánamo Habeas Fortnight.” This project also includes an interactive list of all 47 rulings to date (with links to my articles, the judges’ unclassified opinions, and more).

Last December, I wrote about the case of Saeed Hatim, a Yemeni in Guantánamo whose habeas corpus petition had been granted by Judge Ricardo Urbina. At the time, Judge Urbina’s unclassified opinion had not been made publicly available, so all I had to go on were Hatim’s own statements at Guantánamo. In publicly available documents, he told his interrogators that he wanted to find a way to fight in Chechnya but concluded that he needed to train in Afghanistan. However, although he admitted attending the al-Farouq camp (associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before 9/11), he said that he “did not like anything about the training,” that he faked a fever so that he could leave the camp, and, after some time hanging around behind the Taliban’s front lines, made his way to the Pakistani border, where he surrendered to the Pakistani police, and was then handed over to US forces.

As I also mentioned at the time, “I await Judge Urbina’s ruling with some interest, primarily … to discover whether this account bears any resemblance to the story uncovered by the judge in what, despite the persistent fog of classified evidence that clouds so many of the Guantánamo cases, will undoubtedly be the first time that something close to an objective analysis of his case has been undertaken, after eight years in US custody.”

As part of a project aimed at analyzing all the Guantánamo habeas cases, I have now had the opportunity to study Judge Urbina’s unclassified opinion (PDF). Although the broad outline of Hatim’s story was the same as he reported in Guantánamo, and Judge Urbina noted that “The government’s allegations rest[ed] almost entirely upon admissions made by the petitioner himself,” what was missing — and was only brought to light in Judge Urbina’s courtroom — was Hatim’s contention that he made these admissions “only because he had previously been tortured while in US custody.” In addition, the judge noted that “The government’s justification for detention also rests heavily on a third-party identification by a GTMO detainee whose reliability has been seriously called into question by the court as well as by GTMO intelligence officers.”

In dissecting and dismissing the government’s claims that Hatim “trained with, lived with, operated under the command of, and worked for al-Qaeda and Taliban forces and their affiliates,” Judge Urbina had to decide whether to accept Hatim‘s own claim that, although “he fled to Pakistan out of fear for his personal safety, [he] maintains that there is no basis for his detention because there is no evidence that he was connected to the September 11, 2001 attacks, was part of al-Qaeda or the Taliban or engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners.”

The government’s case relied on claims that Hatim trained at al-Farouq, stayed in al-Qaeda and Taliban guesthouses, “operated under the command of al-Qaeda and the Taliban at the battlefront against the Northern Alliance,” and was identified by a fellow prisoner as having fought at the battle of Tora Bora, a showdown between al-Qaeda and US forces in November and December 2001.

The unreliable witness, who made false claims against 60 prisoners

The last of these was easily dismissed, because the only statement presented by the government to justify its Tora Bora claim was made by one of Hatim’s fellow prisoners at Guantánamo, who, as Judge Urbina explained, “has exhibited an ongoing pattern of severe psychological problems while detained at GTMO.” The judge cited an interrogator, who, in May 2002, stated, “I do not recommend [redacted] for further exploitation due in part to mental and emotional problems [and] limited knowledgeability,” and also noted that he had attempted to hang himself in his cell in February 2003, and had again tried to commit suicide in March 2003, “saying that he had received ‘command hallucinations’ to do so.”

He also noted that the Guantánamo hospital record stated that the witness “had ‘vague auditory hallucinations’ and that his symptoms were consistent with a ‘depressive disorder, psychosis, post traumatic stress, and a severe personality disorder,’” and concluded by “refus[ing] to credit what is arguably the government’s most serious allegation in this case based solely on one statement, made years after the events in question, by an individual whose grasp on reality appears to have been tenuous at best.”

The use of unreliable witnesses is no surprise, sadly, as the records of the habeas cases to date are littered with claims made by witnesses whose unreliability was called into question by the authorities at Guantánamo but is still cynically used by the Justice Department.

However, this particular witness is noteworthy because, in June 2007, the Office of Administrative Review of the Detention of Enemy Combatants (OARDEC), which compiled the evidence against the prisoners for their tribunals and review boards, “warned that because [his] first-hand knowledge had come into serious question since 2005, all information provided by [him] should be adequately verified through independent sources,” because this statement was made in 2006, and because, as Judge Urbina also explained, “the personal representative of another GTMO detainee determined that none of the detainees that [the witness] had identified as having trained at al-Farouq were even in Afghanistan during the time that [he] said they attended the camp.”

This, rather shockingly, is a reference to the personal representative in the case of Farouq Ali Ahmed (aka Farouq Saif), a Yemeni released last December, who uncovered the extent of false claims made by the unreliable witness back in 2004, when he discovered that he had made false claims about attending al-Farouq in the cases of 60 prisoners in total — and the presumption, therefore, is that the government continues to rely on these discredited claims in dozens of other habeas cases that have not yet seen the light of day.

I confess that I find the repeated use of this discredited witness (and others identified in other habeas cases) to be alarming, because they indicate a deep cynicism on the part of the Justice Department, which appears to be hoping that it can manage to fool the judges, rather than dropping all the claims made by this man unless, as OARDEC advised, they can be “adequately verified through independent sources.”

Saeed Hatim’s torture claims

Just as disturbing, however, are Saeed Hatim’s claims that he only confessed to attending al-Farouq because he was tortured. As Judge Urbina explained:

The petitioner claims that after he was captured in Pakistan, he was held for six months at a military base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he was severely mistreated, including being beaten repeatedly, being kicked in the knees and having duct tape used to hold blindfolds on his head. To this day, he cannot raise his left arm without feeling pain. The petitioner also alleges that he was threatened with rape if he did not confess to being a member of the Taliban or al-Qaeda. As a result, he claims that the inculpatory statements that he made in Kandahar were made only because of these threats. He further alleges that after being transferred to GTMO in 2002, he repeated those inculpatory statements in 2004 because he feared that he would be punished if he changed his story.

This is not the first time that a prisoner has alleged that he made up a false story under torture and/or threats, and that he repeated it in his tribunal because he feared reprisals if he changed his story. Last September, I was genuinely disturbed — despite studying Guantánamo incessantly for four years — to discover that this had happened in the case of a Kuwaiti, Fouad al-Rabiah, who had been trained to repeat a false confession about meeting Osama bin Laden and running a supply counter at Tora Bora, even though he was, in fact, nothing more than a humanitarian aid worker caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In Saeed Hatim’s case, I had not expected such claims to surface, as it seemed plausible that he had attended al-Farouq, had managed to leave by feigning illness, and had then been captured after traveling independently to the Pakistani border. However, Judge Urbina made it clear that, because the government “does not refute the petitioner’s allegations of coercion or the widespread allegations of torture of other detainees prior to their arrival at GTMO”:

Hatim’s unrefuted allegations of torture undermine the reliability of the statements made subsequent to his detention at Kandahar. Thus, the government faces a steep uphill climb in attempting to persuade the court that the petitioner’s detention is justified based on the allegation that he trained at al-Farouq, given that the sole evidence offered in support of that allegation is tainted by torture.

Judge Urbina added that, even if Hatim had attended al-Farouq, there was “scant evidence” that he “actually participated in al-Qaeda’s command structure by receiving and executing orders,” and that this interpretation was reinforced by his departure from the camp, and also because no third-party witness “indicate[d] that [he] was even seen at al-Farouq, much less that he was seen following orders on al-Qaeda’s behalf.”

He then proceeded to dismiss claims that Hatim had participated in al-Qaeda’s command structure either behind the front lines or in the guesthouses in which he had stayed, concluding that “the government has offered the court an inherently flawed justification for detention.”

No escape from Guantánamo

Despite this, Saeed Hatim remains in Guantánamo, over four months after Judge Urbina told the government in no uncertain terms that it had “failed to carry its burden of persuading the court that [his] detention is lawful.” The government has not appealed Judge Urbina’s ruling, as it has in other cases it has lost, but this may well be because officials are secure that Saeed Hatim’s release from Guantánamo will not be happening anytime soon.

When Saeed Hatim won his habeas petition, on December 15, 2009, the prospects of release for Guantánamo’s Yemenis looked less bleak than they had for many years. Alla Ali bin Ali Ahmed, who had won his habeas petition in May 2009, had been successfully repatriated in September, breaking through a long-standing reluctance, on the part of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, to release any of Guantánamo’s population of nearly 100 Yemenis, which was based, apparently, on fears that the Yemeni government was unable to guarantee that they would be monitored adequately on their release.

Just before Christmas, it seemed that further progress had been made, as six more Yemenis were released, but when, on Christmas Day, a Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to blow up a plane, and it was revealed that he had apparently been groomed in Yemen, President Obama capitulated to the tsunami of hysteria that greeted this news by suspending the release of any more cleared prisoners to Yemen for the foreseeable future.

Almost immediately afterwards, the President’s interagency Task Force, which had been reviewing the prisoners’ cases all year in a parallel universe with scant regard for the judges in the prisoners’ habeas petitions, revealed that “at least 110 detainees” had been cleared for release, and that this number included about 30 Yemenis, who were “eligible for immediate repatriation or resettlement in a third country,” and about 30 other Yemenis, who were “placed in a category of their own, with their release contingent upon dramatically stabilized conditions in their home country.”

As a result of Obama’s capitulation, of course, not a single one of these 60 men is leaving Guantánamo anytime soon, and it seems clear, therefore, that it doesn’t matter whether Saeed Hatim — or any other Yemeni, for that matter — wins his habeas petition, as they will remain in Guantánamo until someone in the administration decides that releasing them is politically appropriate.

This not only makes a mockery of habeas corpus; it also demonstrates to the prisoners that, regardless of anyone’s best intentions, their fate is dependent not on notions of justice, but, as it was under George W. Bush, on the political winds that blow through Washington D.C. And if no one in the administration finds the will to do what is correct, rather than what is politically expedient, they may find that those winds are forever blowing against them, ensuring that the exit door out of Guantánamo remains firmly shut.

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, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), 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, Campaign for Liberty, CounterCurrents, Eurasia Review, Uruknet and Doom Daily.

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), Resisting Injustice In Guantánamo: The Story Of Fayiz Al-Kandari (October 2009), Justice Department Pointlessly Gags Guantánamo Lawyer (November 2009), Judge Orders Release Of Algerian From Guantánamo (But He’s Not Going Anywhere) (November 2009), Innocent Guantánamo Torture Victim Fouad al-Rabiah Is Released In Kuwait (December 2009), What Does It Take To Get Out Of Obama’s Guantánamo? (December 2009), “Model Prisoner” at Guantánamo, Tortured in the “Dark Prison,” Loses Habeas Corpus Petition (December 2009), Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Unwilling Yemeni Recruit (December 2009), Serious Problems With Obama’s Plan To Move Guantánamo To Illinois (December 2009), Appeals Court Extends President’s Wartime Powers, Limits Guantánamo Prisoners’ Rights (January 2010), Fear and Paranoia as Guantánamo Marks its Eighth Anniversary (January 2010), Rubbing Salt in Guantánamo’s Wounds: Task Force Announces Indefinite Detention (January 2010), The Black Hole of Guantánamo (March 2010), Guantánamo Uighurs Back in Legal Limbo (March 2010), Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: The Torture Victim and the Taliban Recruit (April 2010), An Insignificant Yemeni at Guantánamo Loses His Habeas Petition (April 2010).

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), Dark Revelations in the Bagram Prisoner List (January 2010), Bagram: Graveyard of the Geneva Conventions (February 2010).

TONIGHT: London International Documentary Festival screens “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” – plus report on Saturday’s Shaker Aamer protest

Outside the Law: Stories from GuantanamoI’ve already posted an article about the screening tonight of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” as part of the London International Documentary Festival at the Free Word Centre, 60 Farringdon Road, London EC1, so this is primarily a last-minute reminder, although it also gives me an opportunity to report on Saturday’s protest about the ongoing detention of Shaker Aamer (featured in the film), who is the last British resident in Guantánamo.

The screening, of the film described by Time Out as “a strong movie examining the imprisonment and subsequent torture of those falsely accused of anti-American conspiracy,” starts at 8 pm, tickets can be bought here, and the Q&A session, which provides one of the last opportunities to discuss the Labour government’s role in the “War on Terror” before the General Election, features myself, former prisoners Moazzam Begg and Omar Deghayes (both featured in the film), co-director Polly Nash and Tara Murray of Reprieve.

Sadly, it seems unlikely that the government will do anything about the plight of Shaker Aamer before the election, as Guantánamo — and Britain’s counter-terrorism policies in general — have slipped off the radar completely since the election was announced. As the Morning Star explained on Friday, “since the election was set, our telephone calls on stories such as the plight of Ahmed Belbacha [see below] or Shaker Aamer have met with a blank refusal of the main parties to comment, even to the extent of not returning the calls.”

On Saturday, I attended a protest opposite 10 Downing Street, at which members of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign delivered letters demanding Shaker’s immediate return to Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Ivan Lewis.

Speakers at the protest included Jean Lambert MEP, Martin Linton MP, Victoria Brittain, Yvonne Ridley, Joy Hurcombe of Brighton Against Guantánamo and myself, but although we attracted a decent amount of attention, our discussions focused largely on how to push the new government to establish a strong relationship with the US from the very beginning by demanding Shaker’s immediate return — or, if Labour returns to power, how to push them to finally do the right thing, and to do what they have failed to do since Shaker was cleared for release back in 2007, which, of course, involves getting him back to his British wife and British children as soon as possible.

As ever, I chose on Saturday not only to publicize the unacceptable plight of Shaker Aamer and his family, but also to stress that whoever is in 10 Downing Street on May 7 needs to press the US not only for Shaker’s return, but also to offer new homes in the UK to other cleared prisoners who cannot be repatriated because they face the risk of torture; in particular, Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian (represented by Reprieve and also cleared for release in 2007), who is terrified of returning to Algeria, and who lived in the UK for nearly three years until he was kidnapped in Pakistan and sent to Guantánamo, but also other cleared prisoners, who have no connection to the UK, but who will not be freed until third countries offer to help out, as has happened with Albania, Belgium, Bermuda, France, Georgia, Hungary, Ireland, Palau, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland.

Whoever is in 10 Downing Street on May 7 needs to understand that trying to take the moral high ground, as David Miliband has done by hectoring other countries to take cleared prisoners, while claiming that the UK has already played its part in helping to close Guantánamo, is both dishonest and disgraceful. Britain has only taken in its own citizens and residents, and should follow the example of the countries mentioned above, if only to show some willingness to atone for the government’s enthusiastic embrace of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” which has recently been exposed in the British courts.

Note: See here for further information about “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” click here to buy a copy of the film on DVD, and see here for information about the ongoing UK tour of the film. For a letter to David Miliband, demanding the return of Shaker Aamer and requesting the offer of new homes for Ahmed Belbacha and other cleared Guantánamo prisoners, see here. I’ll update this letter as soon as the results of the General Election are announced. For reports and photos from Saturday’s protest, see these articles on Press TV, Indymedia and Demotix. I also believe that it will soon be reported by Paul Cahalan of the Wandsworth Guardian (in Shaker’s home borough), who has done some great work in publicizing Shaker’s plight.

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, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Andy Worthington Discusses “Guantánamo Habeas Week” on Antiwar Radio

On our 13th outing, the ever-indignant Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio and I discussed my “Guantánamo Habeas Week” project (now expanded as “Guantánamo Habeas Fortnight”), in which I put together an interactive list of the 47 cases decided in the last 19 months (34 of which have been won by the prisoners), since the Supreme Court granted the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights back in June 2008, and have been examining, in detail, the unclassified opinions made by judges in these cases in recent months. See “With Regrets, Judge Allows Indefinite Detention at Guantánamo of a Medic,” “Mohamedou Ould Salahi: How a Judge Demolished the US Government’s Al-Qaeda Claims,” and “Judge Rules Yemeni’s Detention at Guantánamo Based Solely on Torture” for articles to date. More articles will follow in the coming week. It was a pleasure to talk to Scott, as ever, and the 51-minute interview is available here — and here as an MP3.

After explaining how the Supreme Court had first given prisoners habeas rights in June 2004, taking the unprecedented step of granting habeas rights to prisoners seized in wartime because the Bush administration had attempted to strip them of all rights, holding them in a legal black hole that prevented them from appealing to anyone at all if they claimed they had been seized by mistake, Scott and I discussed how the Supreme Court’s ruling was necessary because the men had largely been rounded up not “on the battlefield,” as the Bush administration claimed, but had, in fact, been handed over — or sold — to US forces by their Afghan and Pakistani allies, at a time when bounty payments, averaging $5,000 a head, were widespread, and also how they were never screened on capture, and given Article 5 competent tribunals to ascertain whether they had been seized by mistake.

Part of the Geneva Conventions, these were held close to the time and place of capture, and were designed to separate combatants from civilians caught up in the fog of war in the cases of men seized in wartime who were not part of a regular army, but although they had been used by the US military in every war from Vietnam onwards (and had led to nearly three-quarters of 1,200 prisoners seized in Iraq being released, because they had been seized by mistake), the Bush administration prevented the military from implementing them in Afghanistan. Predictably, this contributed enormously to the filling of Guantánamo with innocent men, but an even sadder truth is how difficult it has been to explain this, in the face of the obstinate and enduring appeal of the Bush administration’s unsubstantiated claim that those held in Guantánamo were “the worst of the worst.”

Scott and I spun off from this into discussing how torture was then introduced in an effort to extract “actionable intelligence” from prisoners who, for the most part, knew nothing but were regarded as having been trained to resist interrogation by al-Qaeda, and the overlooked importance of being able to recruit informers (as in the case of Mohamedou Ould Salahi, mentioned above), which is all but impossible when a torture program replaces the rapport-building, criminal prosecutions and witness protection programs favored by the FBI.

There was much more in the show. Scott asked me to recap the story of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who was sent by the CIA to Egypt, where he produced a false claim about connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq, and who was then sent back to Libya, where, last May, he conveniently died just three days before the US embassy reopened.

We also discussed the important moral stand taken by Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor for the Military Commissions at Guantánamo, who opposed the use of torture, but resigned in 2007 when he was put in a chain of command below the Pentagon’s senior lawyer William J. Haynes II (a key player in implementing the torture program), and this led to a general lament about the failure of Democrats in Congress to push for accountability for those who authorized and implemented the use of torture, the failure of the Obama administration’s policy of looking forward and not back, which has led to pragmatism taking precedence over principles, has only empowered Republican critics, who have seen how easily the administration caves in to criticism, and, most importantly, has allowed key elements of the post-9/11 Bush doctrine to survive.

For another synopsis of the show, here’s Scott’s description of it:

Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, discusses his website’s “Guantánamo Habeas Week” event that seeks to draw attention to government torture and lawlessness, the difficult-to-determine ratio of evil/incompetence at work in the Bush administration, the arbitrary roundup of “terrorists” in Afghanistan and Pakistan following the embarrassing bin Laden Tora Bora escape, the current score card of Guantánamo Habeas hearings, scaremongering Republican politicians and the end of Congressional oversight and checks and balances.

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, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and currently on tour in the UK), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

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

Afghans in Guantanamo Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington British prisoners CIA torture prisons Clive Stafford Smith Close Guantanamo David Cameron Donald Trump Four Fathers 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