Such is the prevailing disregard for the fate of the 183 prisoners remaining in Guantánamo that last week, when Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, the Chief of Staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, submitted a declaration in a case brought by a former prisoner, in which he stated, unambiguously, that George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld all knew — and didn’t care — that “the vast majority of Guantánamo detainees were innocent,” almost no one noticed that one of the remaining 183 men had just lost his habeas corpus petition in a US court.
Only JURIST mentioned the one-page ruling by Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr., denying the habeas petition of Yasin Qasem Muhammad Ismail, a Yemeni prisoner, even though it brought to 13 the victories secured by the government in the habeas litigation (in contrast to the 34 victories secured by the prisoners themselves).
Judge Kennedy’s unclassified opinion is not yet available, but this seems to me to be a poor excuse for not attempting to present something of Ismail’s story. Given that he was just 22 years old at the time of his capture in late 2001 (or 19, according to his lawyer, Marc Falkoff, who claimed that the government had incorrectly recorded the year of his birth as 1979 instead of 1982), it is highly unlikely that there is any truth to allegations that “An individual identified [him] as the Emir of the Bagram front in July 2001 and as being proficient with mines,” or that, as another unidentified “individual” stated, he was “a commander of a military group.”
These are the kinds of allegations that plague the government’s supposed evidence, and in the majority of the 34 habeas petitions decided in favor of the prisoners, judges have been swift to deride claims like these as unreliable, noting, after being given access to interrogation logs and other related material, that they were obtained through the torture, coercion or bribery of other prisoners or of the prisoners themselves.
This does not detract from the fact that Ismail was in Afghanistan at the time of his capture, and that he had, apparently, been there for around two years. Discerning the truth from the shifting allegations over the years — and from Ismail’s confusing appearances before a military tribunal and a military review board — is not easy, but it also seems probable that he attended the al-Farouq training camp, traveled with others to the Tora Bora mountains, where a showdown took place between al-Qaeda and US forces in November and December 2001, and where he was eventually captured, and, on three occasions while he was in Afghanistan, saw Osama bin Laden make speeches.
In his defense, however, Ismail claimed in his tribunal:
I was not in Tora Bora for more than one day. When the attacks took place, I was not in Kabul, I was in Kandahar. When I went to Kabul, my plan was to go back. I was going to go from Kabul back to Yemen in the hot season. The first day I got to Kabul, I went to the market. Some Afghani people picked me up and said they were security. They drove me to a city that I didn’t know. They took me to a house. I found out I was kidnapped and the people were not security. The house I stayed in was watched. I was told if I left they would kill me. From the first attack until the 26th day of Ramadan. They told me they would take me to a house with Arabs in it. They took me to an Afghani place in Tora Bora. I stayed there one day and they brought a wounded person and another guy called Khaled Egani. They were going to treat the wounded man and then we were all going to go back to Yemen. From there they sold me to the Americans.
This is an unlikely explanation of how Ismail came to be captured, but it is not completely implausible, as there are other documented examples of prisoners being seized by Afghans and held in houses until they were sold either to the Northern Alliance, who then sold them to the US, or to the US directly, and it was a predictable result of a bounty system that offered $5,000 a head for al-Qaeda or Taliban suspects in one of the poorest countries in the world.
In addition, there are problems of ill-treatment — and possibly torture — in Ismail’s case, even though it is probable that Judge Kennedy concluded that his own statements to his tribunal and to one of his annual review boards in Guantánamo were sufficient to find that he was connected to al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban and could continue to be held indefinitely.
At his tribunal in 2004, for example, almost his first words were, “I will talk with you as long as you guarantee me there will be no torture. If it will affect my safety I will say nothing.” He proceeded to explain how, “whenever we spoke to the interrogators we were punished,” and added:
We were hit and tortured. Not only did I get hit and punched, they broke my nose. The Americans did this to me. When I arrived in Cuba I got hit in the place where we eat. I got hit on the shoulder and it was very painful. It was dislocated or something. They threatened to break it monthly even when I got to Cuba. They told me I would be here for a long time.
Ismail also told Marc Falkoff that he was subjected to sexual humiliation in Guantánamo. An article in the Washington Post in February 2005, which discussed the Church Report, a military report into allegations of abuse at Guantánamo, including claims that female interrogators had used menstrual blood — or red ink — in interrogations, noted that:
[Ismail] said he had been interrogated more than 100 times since being “kidnapped” in a marketplace in Kabul, Afghanistan, and brought to Guantánamo Bay. He recounted to his lawyer that when he refused to talk in one interview, a female soldier entered wearing a tight T-shirt. “Why aren’t you married?” she reportedly asked [I]smail. “You are a young man and have needs. What do you like?” [I]smail said “she bent down with her breasts on the table and her legs almost touching” him. “Are you going to talk,” she asked, “or are we going to do this for six hours?”
Throughout his detention, Ismail has insisted that he only sought military training in Afghanistan, that he was not affiliated with either al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and that he never fought against anyone. As he asked at his tribunal, “Is this type of training forbidden internationally?” His intention may have been to fight in Chechnya, as has been suggested, but without any evidence that he fought anyone it seems, yet again, that the definition of “support” used to determine who can continue to be held indefinitely at Guantánamo is far too sweeping.
If anything, Ismail — and other prisoners who have lost their habeas petitions, like Ghaleb al-Bihani, who served as a cook for Arab forces supporting the Taliban — should have been held as prisoners of war and protected from ill-treatment according to the Geneva Conventions. On this basis, they could be held until the end of hostilities, and we would now be arguing about whether it is conceivable that an invasion to overthrow the Taliban, which began eight and a half years ago, and which met its immediate aims, leading to the fall of the Taliban as Afghanistan’s government and the election of Hamid Karzai as the Afghan President, is legitimately part of a “War on Terror” that might last forever, and that, as a result, even the most minor players in that initial conflict can be detained indefinitely.
As it stands, however, Yasin Ismail — a man who, by all accounts, never took up arms against anyone — remains imprisoned in Guantánamo on an apparently legal basis, and those of us who regard his continued detention as an overreaction, to put it mildly, must also reflect on the fact that, far from being treated humanely for the last eight years, he has been subjected to physical abuse and sexual humiliation for no justifiable reason, but that this is considered irrelevant to the case against him.
Moreover, as was explained last February in “Conditions of Confinement at Guantánamo: Still in Violation of the Law,” a report by the Center for Constitutional Rights, he continues to be subjected to violence in Guantánamo, along with any other prisoner who infringes the prison’s rules to even the smallest degree. Reporting on the activities of the Immediate Reaction Force (IRF), teams of five soldiers who respond to the most minor infractions of the rules with extreme violence, CCR explained:
On the afternoon of January 7, 2009, Yasin Ismail was in one of the outdoor cages of Camp 6 for “recreation” time. The cage was entirely in the shade. Mr. Ismail asked to be moved to the adjoining empty cage because it had sunlight entering from the top. The guards, who were outside the cages, refused. One guard told Mr. Ismail that he was “not allowed to see the sun.” Angered, Mr. Ismail threw a shoe against the inner mesh side of the cage, which bounced harmlessly back onto the cage floor. The guards, however, accused Mr. Ismail of attacking them and left him in the cage as punishment.
He eventually fell asleep on the floor of the cage, but hours later he was awakened by the sound of an IRF team entering the cage in the dark. The team shackled him, and he put up no resistance. They then beat him. They blocked his nose and mouth until he felt that he would suffocate, and hit him repeatedly in the ribs and head. They then took him back to his cell. As he was being taken back, a guard urinated on his head. Mr. Ismail was badly injured and his ear started to bleed, leaving a large stain on his pillow. The attack on Mr. Ismail was confirmed by at least one other detainee.
I await Judge Kennedy’s unclassified opinion with some expectation, but I sincerely doubt that he will have succeeded in justifying what happened to Yasin Ismail over the last eight years, or in presenting a valid case for his ongoing detention. Instead, I believe it will be another depressing example of how the Bush administration’s post-9/11 detention policies continue to make a mockery of justice by tarring certain individuals, who had no connection whatsoever with terrorism, neither as prisoners of war, nor as criminal suspects, but as a unique category of human being — formerly known as “enemy combatants” — that should have been done away with when President Obama came to power 15 months ago.
Note: In Judge Kennedy’s one-page ruling, Yasin Ismail was identified as Yasein Khasem Muhammad Ismael.
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 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).
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).
This is what a society consisting of small, immature, fearful, pathetic people dreams up, a society more motivated by its fears and prejudices than by anything resembling reality or facts (or Heaven help us, “justice”).
It was, I believe, Dostoevsky who suggested that the health of a society could best be determined by looking in its prisons; the United States’s most famous prison at Guantanamo Bay is a most unhealthy place, and hence, the society that created it must be peculiarly deranged.
In the somewhat imbalanced scale of justice that Judge Kennedy was using, and to be fair to him, just about every other habeas judge has been using (to wit, any evidence at all of any connection to Taliban or Qaeda, even if not “good” evidence in any other context), And hence, No. 522 had some remote connection to bad people and training in violence, and, under the perverse rules of the game, that’s good enough to hold him for the duration of hostilities, however long that takes, possibly up to the rest of his life.
The irony is, while the result is unfortunate, this was the fairest hearing No. 522 has had in over eight years… even if, alas, it’s likely to be the only one he gets. Indeed, he is in an elite group of only around 50 of the nearly 800 men to pass through GTMO to get such a fair hearing, and we won’t even count how many others have gone through Bagram and the other elements of the American Gulag Archipelago without anything at all.
The grim reality that the continued presence of No. 522 and so many other Muslims in American custody is pretty much the best recruiting sergeant for those who might want to commit violence against Americans and their nation… seems to elude most Americans. As I said… a most peculiarly deranged society.
Thank you, TD, for summing up what happens when “small, immature, fearful, pathetic people” take charge, and subvert the principles on which the US was founded. Sadly, what passes for discourse at present regarding justice — rather than the constant fog-horning of a message of fear — afflicts not just the US, but the rest of the so-called “civilized” West as well, although I wouldn’t want to suggest that the US doesn’t have the lead when it comes to establishing “a most peculiarly deranged society”!
Over on Facebook, Willy Bach wrote:
Thanks Andy, I am sure every time I read these stories, one thing sticks out a mile. All these judges that are elected on their popularity with government seem to have an unfortunate habit of ignoring the most obvious flaws in the supposed evidence and the undeniable fact that the detainee has been subjected to ill-treatment, brutality, humiliation and torture.
It seems the rule of law has become ‘quaint’ in the USA.
Jan Boeykens wrote:
You are right. These people seem to be trained in sadism. It’s remarkable.
Ghaliyaa Islam wrote:
Willy – the rule of law has become more than quaint, but non-existent here in the US…
This was my reply:
Interesting points, Willy, Jan and Ghaliyaa, although I’m finding that it’s actually rather more complicated than that. In the cases where the prisoners have won their habeas petitions, the judges have all recognized what you describe correctly, Willy, as “the most obvious flaws in the supposed evidence and the undeniable fact that the detainee has been subjected to ill-treatment, brutality, humiliation and torture.”
However, in the cases where the prisoners have lost, for the most part the judges have been following the rules, and the problem, therefore, is with these rules — and, specifically, the refusal to distinguish between al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
[...] of the latest result, overwhelmingly ignored by the mainstream media, in which an insignificant Yemeni, Yasin Ismail, lost his habeas petition: Throughout the rest of the week, I’ll be analyzing all the unclassified opinions issued in [...]
[...] has led to horrendous problems, as I have reported at length, because, in the first instance, the majority of those who have lost their habeas petitions were [...]
[...] has led to horrendous problems, as I have reported at length, because, in the first instance, the majority of those who have lost their habeas petitions were [...]
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