Archive for April, 2010

Time Out reviews “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”

Outside the Law: Stories from GuantanamoAhead of Monday’s screening of the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (directed by Polly Nash and myself) at the London International Documentary Festival, Joe Burnham has given the film a great review in Time Out:

[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

I was particularly pleased that the Time Out review picked up on the impact of our deliberate old-school approach, which involved having no narrator (it makes a film much more intimate, although often viewers aren’t aware of why it’s more intimate) and also no music and no archive footage. The lack of the latter was initially through necessity, but, again, it allows viewers to focus solely on the interviewees and the stories they tell, and when it came to music, Polly and I were happy not to bother with the gothic ambience that usually accompanies films about terrorism and torture.

About the film

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

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

Focusing on the stories of 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 is 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. For the LIDF screening, Omar, Andy, Moazzam and Polly will all be attending the post-screening Q&A session, and will be joined by Tara Murray of Reprieve.

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 get involved now, please visit this Amnesty International action page, to find details of how you can write to David Miliband and Gordon Brown, asking them to demand Shaker’s return. You can also cut and paste a letter to David Miliband here. Please also visit this page for a video of Shaker’s daughter Johina handing in a letter to Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street on January 11, 2010.

Recent feedback

““Outside the Law” is essential viewing for anyone interested in Guantánamo and other prisons. The film explores what happens when a nation with a reputation for morality and justice acts out of impulse and fear. To my mind, Andy Worthington is a quintessential force for all things related to the journalism of GTMO and its inhabitants. As a military lawyer for Fayiz al-Kandari, I am constantly reminded that GTMO is ongoing and that people still have an opportunity to make history today by becoming involved. “Outside the Law” is a fantastic entry point into the arena that is GTMO.”
Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, attorney for Guantánamo prisoner Fayiz al-Kandari

“I thought the film was absolutely brilliant and the most powerful, moving and hard-hitting piece I have seen at the cinema. I admire and congratulate you for your vital work, pioneering the truth and demanding that people sit up and take notice of the outrageous human rights injustices perpetrated against detainees at Guantánamo and other prisons.”
Harriet Wong, Medical Foundation for Care of Victims of Torture

“[T]hought-provoking, harrowing, emotional to watch, touching and politically powerful.”
Harpymarx, blogger

“Last Saturday I went to see Polly Nash and Andy Worthington’s harrowing documentary, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” at London’s BFI. The film knits together narratives so heart-wrenching I half wish I had not heard them. Yet the camaraderie between the detainees and occasional humorous anecdotes … provide a glimpse into the wit, courage and normalcy of the men we are encouraged to perceive as monsters.”
Sarah Gillespie, singer/songwriter

“The film was great — not because I was in it, but because it told the legal and human story of Guantánamo more clearly than anything I have seen.”
Tom Wilner, US attorney who represented the Guantánamo prisoners before the US Supreme Court

“The film was fantastic! It has the unique ability of humanizing those who were detained at Guantánamo like no other I have seen.”
Sari Gelzer, Truthout

“Engaging and moving, and personal. The first [film] to really take you through the lives of the men from their own eyes.”
Debra Sweet, The World Can’t Wait

“I am part of a community of folks from the US who attempted to visit the Guantánamo prison in December 2005, and ended up fasting for a number of days outside the gates. We went then, and we continue our work now, because we heard the cries for justice from within the prison walls. As we gathered tonight as a community, we watched “Outside the Law,” and by the end, we all sat silent, many with tears in our eyes and on our faces. I have so much I’d like to say, but for now I wanted to write a quick note to say how grateful we are that you are out, and that you are speaking out with such profound humanity. I am only sorry what we can do is so little, and that so many remain in the prison.”
Matt Daloisio, Witness Against Torture

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.

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, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Judge Rules Yemeni’s Detention at Guantánamo Based Solely on Torture

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

On February 24, as I reported in an article entitled, “The Black Hole of Guantánamo,” Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. granted the habeas corpus petition of Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, a Yemeni who was seized crossing the border from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001. In the absence of the judge’s unclassified opinion explaining why he had ordered his release, I provided only a brief explanation of what was publicly known of his story, stating:

As I explained in my book The Guantánamo Files, Uthman, who was 22 years old at the time of his capture, “said that he had traveled between Kabul and Khost teaching the Koran from March to December 2001.” Although he “admitted that he had stayed at a Taliban house in Quetta, Pakistan, which was the normal entry point for volunteers who had come to fight with the Taliban,” he stated that this was “only because he had been told that it was the only way for him to enter Afghanistan.”

Judge Kennedy’s opinion was released a month ago (PDF), but was then abruptly withdrawn, and, perhaps with unnecessary delicacy, I held off from analyzing it, waiting for it to be reissued, as I was uncertain how much would be redacted. When the revised opinion was finally released on April 21 (PDF), I realized that the name of a criminal investigator with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service had been removed, as had other named operatives, but that other key elements had not; specifically, the names of two other prisoners who alleged that Uthman “acted as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.” These two men are Sharqwi Abdu Ali al-Hajj and Sanad Yislam Ali al-Kazimi, and in the most important part of the opinion, Judge Kennedy stated:

The Court will not rely on the statements of Hajj or Kazimi because there is unrebutted evidence in the record that, at the time of the interrogations at which they made the statements, both men had recently been tortured.

The torture of Sharqwi Abdu Ali al-Hajj

This, alarmingly, was something of an understatement. Al-Hajj (also identified as Abdu Ali Sharqawi, but more commonly known as Riyadh the Facilitator) was seized in a house raid in Pakistan in February 2002 and was then rendered to Jordan, one of at least 15 prisoners whose torture was outsourced to the Jordanian authorities between 2001 and 2004, where he was held for nearly two years before being transferred to the CIA’s “Dark Prison” near Kabul, and then, via Bagram, to Guantánamo.

As Judge Kennedy explained, he told his lawyer, Kristin B. Wilhelm, that, “while held in Jordan, he ‘was regularly beaten and threatened with electrocution and molestation,’ and he eventually ‘manufactured facts’ and confessed to his interrogators’ allegation ‘in order to make the torture stop.’” In the “Dark Prison,” he added, he was “kept in complete darkness and was subject to continuous loud music.”

Al-Hajj’s descriptions of the “Dark Prison” correspond with those of numerous other prisoners, including the British resident Binyam Mohamed, whose descriptions were included in my article, “A History of Music Torture in the ‘War on Terror.’” However, what is missing from the analysis of his time in Jordan is a more sustained narrative of torture, false confessions and his torturers’ regular contact with the CIA, which emerged in a letter given to Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch during a visit to Jordan in 2008, which had been written by al-Hajj during his detention, around October 2002. In this note, which was smuggled out of the prison, he explained that he “was held as a secret prisoner by the Jordanian intelligence service: unregistered, cut off from all communication and hidden during visits by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross,” and gave the following “short summary of my sufferings,” as reported by Mariner:

“They beat me up in a way that does not know mercy,” Sharqawi wrote, referring to his Jordanian captors, “and they’re still beating me. They threatened me with electricity, with snakes and dogs … [They said] we’ll make you see death.” Sharqawi described his interrogations, explaining that the Jordanians were feeding his responses back to the CIA. “Every time that the interrogator asks me about a certain piece of information, and I talk,” Sharqawi said, “he asks me if I told this to the Americans. And if I say no he jumps for joy, and he leaves me and goes to report it to his superiors, and they rejoice.”

In Human Rights Watch’s final report, “Double Jeopardy,” the extent to which he was interrogated about other men — using photos that, in Afghanistan and Guantánamo, were apparently described as “the family album” — was revealed in the following passage, which not only explains the pressures that led to him providing a false allegation against Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman in Bagram, but also indicates how hundreds — or thousands — of other false allegations may have been extracted:

I was being interrogated all the time, in the evening and in the day. I was shown thousands of photos, and I really mean thousands, I am not exaggerating … And in between all this you have the torture, the abuse, the cursing, humiliation. They had threatened me with being sexually abused and electrocuted. I was told that if I wanted to leave with permanent disability both mental and physical, that that could be arranged. They said they had all the facilities of Jordan to achieve that. I was told that I had to talk, I had to tell them everything.

The torture of Sanad al-Kazimi

The story of Sanad al-Kazimi’s false confession is just as distressing. Seized in the United Arab Emirates in January 2003, he was subsequently handed over to US forces, who rendered him to an unidentified secret CIA prison, and then to the “Dark Prison” and Bagram, and, as Judge Kennedy explained, he told his lawyer, Martha Rayner, that, “while [he] was detained outside the United States, his interrogators beat him; held him naked and shackled in a cold dark cell; dropped him into cold water while his hands and legs were bound; and sexually abused him. Kazimi told Rayner that eventually “[h]e made up his mind to say ‘Yes’ to anything the interrogators said to avoid further torture.”

After this he was relocated to the “Dark Prison,” where, he said, “he was always in darkness and … was hooded, given injections, beaten, hit with electric cables, suspended from above, made to be naked, and subjected to continuous loud music. Kazimi reportedly tried to kill himself on three occasions. He told Rayner that he realized ‘he could mitigate the torture by telling the interrogators what they wanted to hear.’”

At Bagram, he continued, “he was isolated, shackled, ‘psychologically tortured and traumatized by guards’ desecration of the Koran’ and interrogated ‘day and night, and very frequently.’ [He] told Rayner that he ‘tried very hard’ to tell his interrogators in Bagram the same information he had told his previous interrogators ‘so they would not hurt him.’”

This is damning enough, but back in August 2007, Jane Mayer of the New Yorker spoke to Ramzi Kassem, another of al-Kazimi’s lawyers, who, as I explained in an article at the time, added further details, telling her that:

[Al-Kazimi] was “suspended by his arms for long periods, causing his legs to swell painfully … It’s so traumatic, he can barely speak of it. He breaks down in tears.” He also said that al-Kazimi “claimed that, while hanging, he was beaten with electric cables,” and explained that he also told him that, while in the “Dark Prison,” he “attempted suicide three times, by ramming his head into the walls”: “He did it until he lost consciousness. Then they stitched him back up. So he did it again. The next time he woke up, he was chained, and they’d given him tranquillizers. He asked to go to the bathroom, and then he did it again.” On this last occasion, Kassem added, he “was given more tranquillizers, and chained in a more confining manner.”

The story of Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman

These accounts, sadly, fit a pattern of torture and false confessions that only becomes clearer as time passes and more evidence is revealed, and they also confirm that the two men described above were amongst the 94 prisoners — many still unaccounted for — who were held in secret CIA prisons and subjected to particularly brutal treatment (PDF). Compared to them, Uthman’s own story is easily overshadowed.

This is perhaps understandable, as nothing in the government’s supposed evidence thoroughly refutes his own assertions that he was in Afghanistan as a missionary, because the entire case against him is based on allegations made by other prisoners (in addition to al-Hajj and al-Kazimi), or attempts to infer guilt by association on the part of the government that make him something of a cipher in his own case.

Throughout the rest of the judge’s opinion, further attempts by the government to prove that Uthman was a bodyguard for bin Laden, that he trained in an al-Qaeda camp and was present at the battle of Tora Bora (where al-Qaeda and the Taliban fought the US military and its Afghan proxies in November and December 2001) are bedeviled with identifications based on a photograph and a variety of kunyas (nicknames) that Judge Kennedy found unconvincing. The only allegations given any substantial weight are claims that an individual who “supported jihad” financed his trip, that he followed a route that was typically used by al-Qaeda recruits, and that he was seen in two guesthouses in Afghanistan that were reportedly associated with al-Qaeda.

Other prisoners drift in and out of this narrative — Abdul Hakim Bukhari, a Saudi (released from Guantánamo in September 2007) who arrived in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks for jihad but was imprisoned as a spy, who unconvincingly alleged that Uthman “was a member of the Osama bin Laden … security detail” before 9/11, when Bukhari wasn’t in the country and could have had no such knowledge; and Richard Belmar, a British citizen (released in January 2005), who was seized in Pakistan in February 2002, and who, “when shown a picture of Uthman,” stated that he “’may have been a lower amir,’ or leader, ‘in the Kandahar guest house,’” even though, as seems apparent, Belmar was not in Kandahar at the same time as Uthman.

The judge refused to disregard this statement entirely, but, to be honest, it is difficult to see why not, as its basis in reality appears to be as flimsy as everything else thrown at Uthman by the government in the hope that some of it would stick, and, moreover, Belmar stated on his release that, on one occasion in Bagram, “a handgun was forced into his mouth,” and he explained, “It tasted cold, bitter. I thought, ‘Yeah, this is getting serious, there’s a good chance they will pull the trigger.’”

Elsewhere, the government resorted to trying out guilt by association, claiming that, because Uthman was seized in the vicinity of Tora Bora with approximately 30 other men, “a few of whom he knew from Yemen,” who “were admitted — or at least, alleged, al-Qaeda members, some of whom were likely coming from Tora Bora,” the Court should draw an inference that Uthman’s missionary story was a lie.

The truth, to be honest, is difficult to establish, as Judge Kennedy recognized. The group of approximately 30 men with whom Uthman was seized have long been referred to by the government as the “Dirty Thirty,” and portrayed, as in Uthman’s case, as bodyguards for bin Laden. Until this case came to court, it had been presumed that the bodyguard allegations came solely from Mohamed al-Qahtani, the supposed 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, whose torture at Guantánamo is well-known (and was admitted by Pentagon official Susan Crawford in January 2009), but al-Qahtani is mysteriously absent from Uthman’s case, as are alleged al-Qaeda member Ibrahim al-Qosi (currently facing a trial by Military Commission) and convicted al-Qaeda member Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who were also captured at this time.

It may dismay the government to have to concede that it is all but impossible to establish that everyone seized at this time was part of al-Qaeda, and that some of the men may have been missionaries or humanitarian aid workers, attempting to flee the chaos of post-invasion Afghanistan as part of general Arab exodus, but it is not beyond the bounds of reason that this is the case, as Judge Kennedy accepted in his conclusion, when he stated:

In sum, the Court gives credence to evidence that Uthman (1) studied at a school at which other men were recruited to fight for al-Qaeda; (2) received money for his trip to Afghanistan from an individual who supported jihad; (3) traveled to Afghanistan along a route also taken by al-Qaeda recruits; (4) was seen at two al-Qaeda guesthouses in Afghanistan; and (5) was with al-Qaeda members in the vicinity of Tora Bora after the battle that occurred there.

Even taken together, these facts do not convince the Court by a preponderance of the evidence that Uthman received and executed orders from al-Qaeda. Although this information is consistent with the proposition that Uthman was a part of al-Qaeda, it is not proof of that allegation. As explained, the record does not contain reliable evidence that Uthman was a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden or fought for al-Qaeda. Certainly, none of the facts respondents have demonstrated are true are direct evidence of fighting or otherwise “receiv[ing] and execut[ing] orders” … and they do not, even together, paint an incriminating enough picture to demonstrate that the inferences respondents ask the Court to make are more likely accurate than not. Associations with al-Qaeda members, or institutions to which al-Qaeda members have connections, are not alone enough to demonstrate that, more likely than not, Uthman was part of al-Qaeda.

In granting Uthman’s habeas petition, Judge Kennedy added that, “at first blush,” some of the government’s evidence was “quite incriminating of Uthman and supportive of the position that he is lawfully detained,” but that, on close examination, there was “reason to not credit some of it at all and reason to conclude that what remains is not nearly as probative of respondent’s position as they assert.”

An alarming conclusion

This is indeed the case, but what is missing from Judge Kennedy’s conclusion, but is glaringly obvious from his opinion as a whole, is that the shadows that surround the barely fleshed-out figure of Uthman are populated not by reliable witnesses, but by a procession of torture victims or other prisoners worn out by endless interrogation, who, when shown photographs, invented stories to get the torture to stop, or to get the interrogators off their back.

As a demonstration of how to produce false confessions to incriminate insignificant prisoners at Guantánamo, it would be hard to find a document that more perfectly expresses the brutal pointlessness of the “War on Terror” than this opinion, and when the bigger picture is examined — Sharqwi Abdu Ali al-Hajj‘s statement that, in Jordan, “I was shown thousands of photos, and I really mean thousands” — the scale of this shocking witch-hunt is explicitly revealed.

Beyond Guantánamo, where habeas judges are not empowered to tread, who knows how many other men were seized because of false confessions made through the use of torture?

(‘DiggThis’)

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 on the Huffington Post, AlterNet, CounterPunch, Antiwar.com and ZNet. Cross-posted on Prison Planet, Uruknet, Deep Journal, New Left Project, BreaktheChains, Doom Daily, Truth is Contagious and Grande Strategy.

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).

Technical problems during “Guantánamo Habeas Week”

POSTSCRIPT: I’ve finally managed to post the article mentioned below, “Judge Rules Yemeni’s Detention at Guantánamo Based Solely on Torture.” This is part of my ongoing “Guantánamo Habeas Week” project, but it’s now more like “Guantánamo Habeas Fortnight,” as I still have articles to write about five more opinions, but lost most of today to the gremlins (see below).

*****

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I’m unable to post anything substantial at present, as gremlins are sabotaging attempts to post full-length articles. I had hoped to post the latest installment of my “Guantánamo Habeas Week” project, but for now you’ll have to go elsewhere to find my analysis of the unclassified opinion in the habeas corpus petition of Yemeni prisoner Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, entitled, “Judge Rules Yemeni’s Detention at Guantánamo Based Solely on Torture.” It’s available at the Huffington Post, CounterPunch and AlterNet, and was cross-posted on Prison Planet, and I’m pleased to note the following comment on the Huffington Post, where GrumpyGrandpa wrote:

I have read Andy’s reporting on the inappropriately named “War on Terror” as long as I can remember. I have never commented on it before because it usually left me so nauseated and sick that I had to go lie down. I think that a better name for this whole Bush/Cheney butchery would have been the “War Using Terror.”

Some may say that Andy has been obsessive about Guantánamo and the other disgusting hell-holes around the world that have committed such atrocities. I am not one of them. The truth must be told no matter how ugly. And this is so ugly that the subsequent president refused to release the photographs of the victims of these barbaric acts because he feared that the photographs would spark massive worldwide retaliation against all US citizens. That tells you that the photographs must be horrendous, let alone what the atrocities were like to live through.

Andy deserves to have a Pulitzer Prize. If the Pulitzer people ever wake up and realize that the new media is going to drive their little club out of business, maybe they will include electronic media. I commend Andy and the Huffington Post for having the intestinal fortitude to publish what government undoubtedly wishes would just go away. This is a classic example of speaking truth to power.

I’m hoping that normal service will resume soon.

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” with Peter B. Collins

The Peter B. Collins ShowOn Tuesday I was delighted to talk once more to Peter B. Collins, the independent progressive radio host whose podcasts, uninterrupted by ad breaks, provide a great opportunity to discuss serious issues without interruption. The interview is available here — and as an MP3 here.

I met Peter on my trip to the US last November to promote the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (directed by Polly Nash and myself), and it’s always great to talk to him. This time round, we dealt mainly with my ongoing “Guantánamo Habeas Week,” featuring my interactive list of the 47 habeas petitions to date, 34 of which have been won by the prisoners, and my analyses of the most recent unclassified opinions in these cases – to date, “With Regrets, Judge Allows Indefinite Detention at Guantánamo of a Medic,” about the Yemeni, Mukhtar al-Warafi, and “Mohamedou Ould Salahi: How a Judge Demolished the US Government’s Al-Qaeda Claims,” about a man subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and torture, in the mistaken belief that he was involved in the 9/11 attacks.

I spoke to Peter about the sad story of Mukhtar al-Warafi, and we also discussed my respect for the District Court judges, despite their obligation to deny the habeas petitions of medics and cooks working for the Taliban, because of the existing legislation, passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, equating al-Qaeda with the Taliban. We also discussed my hope that one day, when we are looking back on this period of hysteria and overreaction (unless the Cheneyites win), the role played by the judges, who have painstakingly exposed the extent to which the supposed evidence actually consists of false confessions extracted through torture, coercion or bribery, will be celebrated, rather than being ignored (by those who should care) or belittled (by those who are trying to keep Cheney’s violent and paranoid worldview alive).

We also spoke, as Peter put it, “about the role of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel in the management of these issues and the departure of [White House] Counsel Greg Craig, as well as Obama’s withdrawal of the nomination of Prof. Dawn Johnsen to Office of Legal Counsel — a victory for the Cheneys.”

I’m always interested in examining how Craig — who pushed for a thorough repudiation of the Bush administration’s policies, and who established the now-defunct deadline for the closure of Guantánamo and tried to resettle cleared prisoners in the US — was squeezed out, particularly, it seems, by Emanuel. Distressingly, it seems, Emanuel’s obsession with cutting deals with Republicans and putting pragmatism before principles appears to be doing nothing but alienating Obama’s base and empowering increasingly hysterical Republicans every time the administration bows to pressure –- as it has on numerous occasions, and now threatens to do with replacing federal court trials for the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators with trials by Military Commission.

On that note, after presuming that Dawn Johnsen’s moral compass must have derailed her nomination, and bewailing the lack of convincing strong men, or women, with inviolable principles, in the administration and in Congress, our discussion came to an end with Peter mentioning Scott Horton’s extraordinary exposé of the “suicides” at Guantánamo in June 2006, which, according to witnesses from the military at the prison, including Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, could not have been suicides, and how the story was suppressed by the Justice Department, and largely ignored in the mainstream US media, to my mind because it was too big and too shocking to contemplate.

It was a pleasure to talk to Peter, as ever, and I hope you enjoy the show.

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.

3000 Days in Guantánamo: Shaker Aamer Protest at 10 Downing Street, Saturday April 24, 2010

Shaker Aamer and two of his childrenAt 12 noon on Saturday April 24, 2010, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign is holding a protest opposite 10 Downing Street to mark a sad occasion — 3000 days since British resident Shaker Aamer, who was cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2007, first arrived at the prison.

Speakers include: author and journalist Victoria Brittain; Andy Worthington, journalist, author of The Guantánamo Files and co-director of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”; Yvonne Ridley, patron of Cageprisoners; Martin Linton, Labour MP for Battersea (Shaker’s home borough); Wandsworth Parliamentary candidates Layla Moran (Liberal Democrats) and Bruce McKenzie (the Green Party); and Joy Hurcombe from Brighton Against Guantánamo.

The protest lasts until 2 pm, and the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign encourages those attending to wear orange or an orange jumpsuit, and to bring banners and placards. As part of the event, the SSAC will hand in a petition to Prime Minister Gordon Brown calling for Shaker’s return, and will also hand in a letter to Ivan Lewis, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister at the FCO.

Please come along and show your support for Britain’s last resident in Guantánamo, still unjustly detained over three years since he was cleared for release.

For further information, please call Ray Silk on: 07756 493877.

3000 Days in Guantanamo: A Protest for Shaker Aamer

About Shaker Aamer

3000 days after his arrival at Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer continues to be held, 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.

Shaker’s story features prominently in the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (directed by filmmaker Polly Nash and myself), and, since February, former prisoner Omar Deghayes and I have been touring the UK showing the film, taking part in post-screening Q&A sessions, and encouraging audiences to send a letter to foreign secretary David Miliband asking him to do all in his power to secure Shaker’s release. That letter can be cut and pasted here, and there is also an Amnesty International campaign page, where interested parties can send a letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown and can email David Miliband. The film tour is ongoing, and further details can be found here. Please also visit this page for a video of Shaker’s daughter Johina handing in a letter to Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street on January 11, 2010.

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.

Noam Chomsky Delivers Warning to the US About the Perils of Fascism + Video

Noam ChomskyI’m cross-posting an article about Noam Chomsky by Chris Hedges, originally published on Truthdig, because I was struck by the power of his statement, “I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime,” referring to the current state of politics in the US, and his warning, “It is very similar to late Weimar Germany,” and also because of something Norman Finkelstein, quoted in the article, explained, when he mentioned people “who suddenly get an e-mail from Noam Chomsky. It breathes new life into you. Chomsky has stirred many, many people to realize a level of their potential that would forever been lost.”

This struck a chord with me because, over the years, I too have received e-mails from Professor Chomsky, which have provided great encouragement. When I updated my definite Guantánamo prisoner list in January, for example, I received a message saying, “Glad to know you are keeping at it. Won’t be the last updating, I’m afraid.” When I sent him a link to my annotated Bagram prisoner list, he wrote back, saying, “Could be a revealing project. Wish I had something to contribute,” and just a few days ago, when I sent a link to my interactive list of the Guantánamo habeas cases, I received notification that it “[s]hould be a very valuable resource.” I’m not short of supporters, but when you’re swimming against the tide, as is the case with raising awareness of the crimes, cruelty and incompetence of the “War on Terror,” Professor Chomsky’s supportive messages are a real boost.

At the end of this article, I’ve also posted a video of a speech, “The Role of the Radical Intellectual: Some Personal Reflections,” delivered at the Orpheum Theater, Madison WI on April 8, when Professor Chomsky received the A.E. Havens Center’s Award for Lifetime Contribution to Critical Scholarship, which touches on some of the same themes. A transcript of this speech was posted on Truthout, as “Remembering Fascism: Learning From The Past.”

Noam Chomsky Has “Never Seen Anything Like This”
By Chris Hedges, Truthdig, April 19, 2010

Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite and the myths they perpetrate. Chomsky has done this despite being blacklisted by the commercial media, turned into a pariah by the academy and, by his own admission, being a pedantic and at times slightly boring speaker. He combines moral autonomy with rigorous scholarship, a remarkable grasp of detail and a searing intellect. He curtly dismisses our two-party system as a mirage orchestrated by the corporate state, excoriates the liberal intelligentsia for being fops and courtiers and describes the drivel of the commercial media as a form of “brainwashing.” And as our nation’s most prescient critic of unregulated capitalism, globalization and the poison of empire, he enters his 81st year warning us that we have little time left to save our anemic democracy.

“It is very similar to late Weimar Germany,” Chomsky told me when I called him at his office in Cambridge, Mass. “The parallels are striking. There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over.”

“The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen,” Chomsky went on. “Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like McCarthy or Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response. What are people supposed to think if someone says ‘I have got an answer, we have an enemy’? There it was the Jews. Here it will be the illegal immigrants and the blacks. We will be told that white males are a persecuted minority. We will be told we have to defend ourselves and the honor of the nation. Military force will be exalted. People will be beaten up. This could become an overwhelming force. And if it happens it will be more dangerous than Germany. The United States is the world power. Germany was powerful but had more powerful antagonists. I don’t think all this is very far away. If the polls are accurate it is not the Republicans but the right-wing Republicans, the crazed Republicans, who will sweep the next election.”

“I have never seen anything like this in my lifetime,” Chomsky added. “I am old enough to remember the 1930s. My whole family was unemployed. There were far more desperate conditions than today. But it was hopeful. People had hope. The CIO was organizing. No one wants to say it anymore but the Communist Party was the spearhead for labor and civil rights organizing. Even things like giving my unemployed seamstress aunt a week in the country. It was a life. There is nothing like that now. The mood of the country is frightening. The level of anger, frustration and hatred of institutions is not organized in a constructive way. It is going off into self-destructive fantasies.”

“I listen to talk radio,” Chomsky said. “I don’t want to hear Rush Limbaugh. I want to hear the people calling in. They are like [suicide pilot] Joe Stack. What is happening to me? I have done all the right things. I am a God-fearing Christian. I work hard for my family. I have a gun. I believe in the values of the country and my life is collapsing.”

Chomsky has, more than any other American intellectual, charted the downward spiral of the American political and economic system, in works such as On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures, Rethinking Camelot: JFK, the Vietnam War, and US Political Culture, A New Generation Draws the Line: Kosovo, East Timor and the Standards of the West, Understanding Power: The Indispensable Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent and Letters From Lexington: Reflections on Propaganda. He reminds us that genuine intellectual inquiry is always subversive. It challenges cultural and political assumptions. It critiques structures. It is relentlessly self-critical. It implodes the self-indulgent myths and stereotypes we use to elevate ourselves and ignore our complicity in acts of violence and oppression. And it makes the powerful, as well as their liberal apologists, deeply uncomfortable.

Chomsky reserves his fiercest venom for the liberal elite in the press, the universities and the political system who serve as a smoke screen for the cruelty of unchecked capitalism and imperial war. He exposes their moral and intellectual posturing as a fraud. And this is why Chomsky is hated, and perhaps feared, more among liberal elites than among the right wing he also excoriates. When Christopher Hitchens decided to become a windup doll for the Bush administration after the attacks of 9/11, one of the first things he did was write a vicious article attacking Chomsky. Hitchens, unlike most of those he served, knew which intellectual in America mattered. [Editor’s note: To see some of the articles in the 2001 exchanges between Hitchens and Chomsky, click here, here, here and here.]

“I don’t bother writing about Fox News,” Chomsky said. “It is too easy. What I talk about are the liberal intellectuals, the ones who portray themselves and perceive themselves as challenging power, as courageous, as standing up for truth and justice. They are basically the guardians of the faith. They set the limits. They tell us how far we can go. They say, ‘Look how courageous I am.’ But do not go one millimeter beyond that. At least for the educated sectors, they are the most dangerous in supporting power.”

Chomsky, because he steps outside of every group and eschews all ideologies, has been crucial to American discourse for decades, from his work on the Vietnam War to his criticisms of the Obama administration. He stubbornly maintains his position as an iconoclast, one who distrusts power in any form.

“Most intellectuals have a self-understanding of themselves as the conscience of humanity,” said the Middle East scholar Norman Finkelstein. “They revel in and admire someone like Vaclav Havel. Chomsky is contemptuous of Havel. Chomsky embraces the Julien Benda view of the world. There are two sets of principles. They are the principles of power and privilege and the principles of truth and justice. If you pursue truth and justice it will always mean a diminution of power and privilege. If you pursue power and privilege it will always be at the expense of truth and justice. Benda says that the credo of any true intellectual has to be, as Christ said, ‘my kingdom is not of this world.’ Chomsky exposes the pretenses of those who claim to be the bearers of truth and justice. He shows that in fact these intellectuals are the bearers of power and privilege and all the evil that attends it.”

“Some of Chomsky’s books will consist of things like analyzing the misrepresentations of the Arias plan in Central America, and he will devote 200 pages to it,” Finkelstein said. “And two years later, who will have heard of Oscar Arias? It causes you to wonder would Chomsky have been wiser to write things on a grander scale, things with a more enduring quality so that you read them forty or sixty years later. This is what Russell did in books like Marriage and Morals. Can you even read any longer what Chomsky wrote on Vietnam and Central America? The answer has to often be no. This tells you something about him. He is not writing for ego. If he were writing for ego he would have written in a grand style that would have buttressed his legacy. He is writing because he wants to effect political change. He cares about the lives of people and there the details count. He is trying to refute the daily lies spewed out by the establishment media. He could have devoted his time to writing philosophical treatises that would have endured like Kant or Russell. But he invested in the tiny details which make a difference to win a political battle.”

“I try to encourage people to think for themselves, to question standard assumptions,” Chomsky said when asked about his goals. “Don’t take assumptions for granted. Begin by taking a skeptical attitude toward anything that is conventional wisdom. Make it justify itself. It usually can’t. Be willing to ask questions about what is taken for granted. Try to think things through for yourself. There is plenty of information. You have got to learn how to judge, evaluate and compare it with other things. You have to take some things on trust or you can’t survive. But if there is something significant and important don’t take it on trust. As soon as you read anything that is anonymous you should immediately distrust it. If you read in the newspapers that Iran is defying the international community, ask who is the international community? India is opposed to sanctions. China is opposed to sanctions. Brazil is opposed to sanctions. The Non-Aligned Movement is vigorously opposed to sanctions and has been for years. Who is the international community? It is Washington and anyone who happens to agree with it. You can figure that out, but you have to do work. It is the same on issue after issue.”

Chomsky’s courage to speak on behalf of those, such as the Palestinians, whose suffering is often minimized or ignored in mass culture, holds up the possibility of the moral life. And, perhaps even more than his scholarship, his example of intellectual and moral independence sustains all who defy the cant of the crowd to speak the truth.

“I cannot tell you how many people, myself included, and this is not hyperbole, whose lives were changed by him,” said Finkelstein, who has been driven out of several university posts for his intellectual courage and independence. “Were it not for Chomsky I would have long ago succumbed. I was beaten and battered in my professional life. It was only the knowledge that one of the greatest minds in human history has faith in me that compensates for this constant, relentless and vicious battering. There are many people who are considered nonentities, the so-called little people of this world, who suddenly get an e-mail from Noam Chomsky. It breathes new life into you. Chomsky has stirred many, many people to realize a level of their potential that would forever been lost.”

Below is the video of Professor Chomsky’s speech on April 8, “The Role of the Radical Intellectual: Some Personal Reflections”:

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.

Mohamedou Ould Salahi: How a Judge Demolished the US Government’s Al-Qaeda Claims

A prisoner at Guantanamo (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)Note: This article is published as part of “Guantánamo Habeas Week” (introduced here), which also features an interactive list of all 47 rulings to date (with links to my articles, the judges’ unclassified opinions, and more).

Despite the Bush administration’s fearsome rhetoric regarding Guantánamo — that it contained “the worst of the worst” terrorists, who, as a result, should be held indefinitely without charge or trial — attempts to back up these allegations with evidence have, for the most part, failed dismally. This is partly because the majority of the men held were not seized by US forces on the battlefield, as alleged, but were rounded up by the US military’s allies, in Pakistan as well as Afghanistan, at a time when bounty payments averaging $5,000 a head were being paid for al-Qaeda or Taliban suspects. However, the failures can also be ascribed to overreaction on the part of the Bush administration, and to a system of torture and coercion — and, in some cases, bribery — designed to produce confessions that, as a result, are overwhelmingly unreliable.

By the time George W. Bush left office in January 2009, 532 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo had been released, and only three men had been tried and convicted of any crimes. These took place in the Military Commission trial system established by Vice President Dick Cheney in November 2001, which was revived by Congress in 2006 after the Supreme Court ruled it illegal, and the results were as follows:

  • David Hicks, an Australian, accepted a plea bargain in March 2007, admitting to “providing material support to terrorism” in exchange for dropping his well-documented claims that he was abused in US custody. As a result, he received a nine-month sentence and was returned to Australia, where he is now a free man.

In addition, by the time Bush left office, judges in the US District Courts had also begun considering the habeas corpus petitions of the prisoners. The prisoners’ right to ask a judge why they were being held was unprecedented in wartime, but the Supreme Court granted the prisoners habeas rights in June 2004, because the justices recognized that they were not being held as prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Conventions, but as “enemy combatants,” who had been given no way of challenging their detention if they claimed that they had been seized by mistake. Congress subsequently stepped in to take away these rights, but they were reaffirmed in June 2008, when the Supreme Court ruled that Congress had acted unconstitutionally.

The first rulings were made in the four months before Bush left office, and the District Court judges empowered to rule on the prisoners’ detention had more bad news for the government. The Courts delivered rulings on the habeas corpus petitions of 26 prisoners, granting the petitions of 23 of these men, and only refusing them in three cases.

Under President Obama, the Courts have delivered 21 more rulings, and although the balance has swung slightly less against the government, with the prisoners winning eleven of these petitions, and the government winning ten, the only valid conclusions that can be drawn again reflect badly on the government (see “Guantánamo Habeas Results: Prisoners 34, Government 13” for links to all these rulings).

In the cases won by the prisoners, judges have demonstrated, time and again, that the government’s supposed evidence is largely unreliable, and consists primarily of information extracted through the torture or coercion of the prisoners themselves, or through the torture, coercion or bribery of other prisoners. Moreover, even in the cases won by the government, little evidence has been produced to demonstrate that the men in question were anything more than low-level Taliban recruits, who had traveled to Afghanistan to take part in a long-running civil war (in which the enemy was the Northern Alliance, who were also Muslims), and who should, as result, have been held as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions from “cruel treatment and torture” and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.”

Despite the government’s many setbacks, senior officials in the Obama administration, which has largely been content to consider the Bush administration’s body of tortured, coerced or bribed evidence against the men as somehow reliable, must have been hoping for confirmation of its policies on March 22, when Judge James Robertson delivered his ruling on the habeas corpus petition of Mohamedou Ould Slahi (described in court documents as Mohamedou Ould Salahi).

The case of Mohamedou Ould Salahi

Mohamedou Ould Salahi (aka Slahi)A Mauritanian, Salahi had been seized by the Mauritanian authorities in November 2001, at the request of the US, and had then been rendered by the CIA to a prison in Jordan, as part of a project of outsourcing torture to allies in the Middle East and North Africa (including Egypt, Morocco and Syria) that was prevalent until the CIA brought torture in-house, and established its own secret torture prisons.

After eight months in Jordan, he was flown to Guantánamo (via Bagram, in Afghanistan), where he was subjected to another round of torture between June and September 2003, after which he became so compliant that, as the Washington Post reported last month, he has come to be regarded by the authorities as one of “the most significant informants ever to be held at Guantánamo,” living in his own well-equipped cell, where he has a television and “a well-stocked refrigerator,” and access to a garden, which he shares with another informer, Tarek El-Sawah (identified as Tariq al-Sawah), where the two men reportedly “grow mint for tea.”

Despite the torture, and the well-known fact that, in May 2004, Lt. Col. Stuart Couch of the Marine Corps, who had been assigned his case as a prosecutor the year before, resigned rather than pursuing the case, stating that, “in addition to legal reasons, he was ‘morally opposed’ to the interrogation techniques” used on Salahi, the Obama administration — and, specifically, the Justice Department — was confident that it had a case.

Once described as the “highest-value detainee at the facility,” Salahi was obviously no stranger to al-Qaeda. His cousin and brother-in-law is Mahfouz Walad al-Walid (better known as Abu Hafs al-Mauritania), a religious scholar regarded by US authorities as a spiritual advisor to Osama bin Laden, and he also lived in Germany, where he met Ramzi bin al-Shibh (who reportedly helped Khalid Sheikh Mohammed plan the 9/11 attacks) and several of the 9/11 hijackers, and, briefly, in Canada, where he moved in circles that included Ahmed Ressam, the failed “Millennium Bomber.” He was also in contact, at various points in the 1990s, with a handful of other men who were later convicted for terrorist activities.

However, as Judge Robertson explained in his unclassified opinion (PDF), issued on April 9, “Associations alone are not enough … to make detention lawful.” Although he accepted, as Salahi himself admitted, that “he traveled to Afghanistan in early 1990 to fight jihad against communists and that there he swore bayat to al-Qaeda,” he also, essentially, accepted Salahi’s assertion that “his association with al-Qaeda ended after 1992, and that, even though he remained in contact thereafter with people he knew to be al-Qaeda members, he did nothing for al-Qaeda after that time.” This was in marked contrast to the government’s claim that he “was so connected to al-Qaeda for a decade beginning in 1990 that he must have been ‘part of’ al-Qaeda at the time of his capture.”

No knowledge of “Millennium Plot,” no knowledge of 9/11

In dealing with the various components of the government’s allegations, Judge Robertson’s unclassified opinion contains two particularly important concessions by the government. The first is that, although Salahi was originally seized in connection with Ahmed Ressam’s thwarted “Millennium Plot,” the government now “does not allege that Salahi participated in the Millennium Plot.” The second — even more extraordinarily, given how Salahi has been sold to the public over the years — is that the government now “acknowledg[es] that Salahi probably did not even know about the 9/11 attacks.”

These are crucial concessions, of course, which fatally undermine any claim that Salahi was a significant al-Qaeda operative, but in granting his habeas petition, Judge Robertson was also obliged to dismiss a number of other allegations. He began by noting that the case “relies heavily on statements made by Salahi himself, but the reliability of those statements — most of them now retracted by Salahi ­– is open to question.” He added that, “until very recently, the government has focused entirely on its assertion that Salahi was ‘part of’ al-Qaeda, relying on evidence of Salahi’s pre-capture support of al-Qaeda only to bolster that assertion,” but that, “In an eleventh hour brief, the government has invoked the ‘purposeful[] and material[] support’ standard that was approved in Al-Bihani v. Obama [PDF].”

This is a reference to a disturbing Court of Appeals ruling in January, in which two of the three judges on the panel denied the appeal of Ghaleb al-Bihani, a Yemeni cook for Arab forces supporting the Taliban, who lost his habeas petition in January 2009. In this contentious ruling, the two judges claimed that the President’s war powers are not “limited by the international laws of war,” provoking dissent from the third judge, who noted that, in 2004, Justice Souter of the Supreme Court had explicitly stated, “[W]e understand Congress’ grant of authority for the use of ‘necessary and appropriate force’ to include the authority to detain for the duration of the relevant conflict, and our understanding is based on longstanding law-of-war principles.” In addition, the judges insisted that the government’s power to detain “includes those who are part of forces associated with al-Qaeda or the Taliban or those who purposefully and materially support such forces in hostilities against US Coalition partners” (emphasis added).

However, Judge Robertson ruled that this latter claim was “a non-starter,” stating that, “although Salahi may very well have been an al-Qaeda sympathizer, and the evidence does show that he provided some support to al-Qaeda, or to people he knew to be al-Qaeda, [s]uch support was sporadic … and, at the time of his capture, non-existent.” He added, “In any event, what the standard approved in Al-Bihani actually covers is ‘those who purposefully and materially supported such forces in hostilities against US Coalition partners,’” and “The evidence in this record cannot possibly be stretched far enough to fit that test.”

As a result, Judge Robertson examined the evidence submitted by the government to ascertain whether it met the existing test, first formulated by Judge John D. Bates in another habeas case (PDF): “whether the individual functions or participates within or under the command structure of the organization — i.e., whether he receives and executes orders or directions.”

After noting that “the question of when a detainee must have been a ‘part of’ al-Qaeda to be detainable is at the center of this case,” and pointing out that the government “had to show that he was still (or again) within its command structure when he was captured in November 2001,” Judge Robertson noted, almost in passing, that “the al-Qaeda that Salahi joined in 1991 was very different from the al-Qaeda that turned against the United States in the latter part of the 1990s,” and proceeded to dismiss the government’s claim that it was up to Salahi to prove that he had dissociated himself from al-Qaeda after 1992. In doing so, he took another swipe at the Court of Appeals’ ruling in Al-Bihani, in which the court indicated that “there is nothing unconstitutional about shifting the burden to a detainee to rebut a credible government showing ‘with more persuasive evidence,’” by stating, with palpable incredulity:

If that is the rule, one might reasonably ask, how can Guantánamo detainees — locked up for years on a remote island, cut off from the world, without resources, with only such access to intelligence sources and witnesses as the government deigns to give them — how can such people possibly carry the burden of rebuttal, even against weak government cases? The answer, unfortunately for detainee petitioners, is that they are indeed at a considerable disadvantage, and that successful rebuttals of credible government cases will be rare events. The Court of Appeals has acknowledged this imbalance and approved it: “[P]lacing a lower burden on the government defending a wartime detention — where national security interests are at their zenith and the rights of the alien petitioner at their nadir — is permissible.”

In response, Judge Robertson made a point of noting that a habeas court must, since the Al-Bihani ruling, “consider the government’s factual showing of probable cause and look to the petitioner for rebuttal when that showing is both credible and significant,” but added, “It is only fair to the petitioner, however — and, considering the government’s built-in advantage, not unfair to the government — to view the government’s showing with something like skepticism, drawing only such inferences as are compelled by the quality of the evidence.”

Dissecting the evidence

Judge James RobertsonThat evidence, as Judge Robertson noted at the outset, “relies heavily on statements made by Salahi himself,” and, as he explained, there is “ample evidence in this record that Salahi was subjected to extensive and severe mistreatment at Guantánamo from mid-June 2003 to September 2003,” as I explained in a recent article, “Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: The Torture Victim and the Taliban Recruit.” He added that “Salahi made most, if not all, of the statements that the government seeks to use against him during the mistreatment or during the 2 years following it.” and that, as a result, Salahi’s own position is that “every incriminating statement he made while in custody must therefore be disregarded.”

While not entirely agreeing that every statement must be disregarded, Judge Robertson was clearly skeptical of the government’s claim that some statements should be acceptable because there was “a clean break” after the acknowledged abuse, and was also skeptical of an allied claim that some statements were corroborated by “the statements of other persons (some of them detainees).” After noting that Salahi attacked these corroborating statements as “unreliable hearsay, or subject to the same coercive tactics described above, or both,” the judge explained that his approach was “to formally ‘receive’ all the evidence offered by either side, and to give it the weight I believe it deserves.”

In a timeline, running from 1998, when Salahi began studying at the University of Duisberg in Germany, until his capture in November 2001, Judge Robertson accounted for the years in Afghanistan (1990-92) Salahi’s return to Germany to compete his studies in March 1992, when his wife joined him, and his employment during that period, with various companies in Germany. He also laid out every other claim that, between March 1993 and the time of his capture, he traveled with Abu Hafs to Sudan (in 1993) and twice transferred sums of $4,000 for him (in 1997 and 1998), was involved with Ramzi bin al-Shibh and some of the 9/11 hijackers, and with Ahmed Ressam and other terrorist suspects in Canada (during his brief stay there from November 1999 to January 2000), and that he had some involvement with individuals who were later convicted of charges related to terrorism, including Karim Mehdi, a Moroccan convicted of an alleged bomb plot on the French island of Réunion in 2003, who received a nine-year prison sentence in France in October 2006, Christian Ganczarski, a Polish-born German citizen, who received an 18-year sentence in France in February 2009, in connection with the bombing of a synagogue in Tunisia in April 2002, and Christopher Paul, a US citizen who received a 20-year sentence in Ohio, on charges related to terrorism, in February 2009.

This is an impressive list, of course, and one that, on the surface at least, seems to implicate Salahi in a number of terrorist plots, and to give weight to the government’s claim that he “actively recruited” for al-Qaeda from 1991 until at least 1999, but on examining the evidence Judge Robertson was not convinced.

In dealing with the “most damaging allegation” against Salahi — that, “in October 1999, he encouraged Ramzi bin al-Shibh, [and 9/11 hijackers] Marwan al-Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah to join al-Qaeda” — Judge Robertson drew less than expected on bin al-Shibh’s dubious role in fostering this claim (during the four years that he was held in secret CIA prisons and subjected to the US torture program), and more on the unreliability of Salahi’s own statements, and those of Karim Mehdi.

As Judge Robertson explained, “Under coercive interrogation, Salahi confessed to facilitating travel for ‘several of the 9/11 hijackers to Chechnya,’ justifying his assistance as ‘just’ jihad.” As I explained in my book The Guantánamo Files, “even if it were true, it proves only that he was a recruiter for a war in Chechnya that was regarded by many Muslims as a legitimate struggle, who sent would-be recruits for training in long-established training camps in Afghanistan, and does not connect him in any meaningful way to 9/11.” However, as the judge noted, “Salahi’s testimony now is that he did nothing more than give bin al-­Shibh and his friends lodging for one night.”

Further evidence is supposed to have come from Karim Mehdi, who alleged that Salahi “encouraged them to travel to Afghanistan for training ­– rather than Chechnya as they had intended; that he housed them for at least one night [and] that he gave them instructions for traveling to Afghanistan and contacts for their arrival; and that he drove them to the train station the next morning.”

However, Salahi countered by stating that “the two men accompanying bin al-Shibh were not al-Shehhi and Jarrah, and that he did not convince bin al­Shibh to travel to Afghanistan instead of Chechnya,” and also by arguing that Mehdi’s statements “are too unreliable to serve as corroboration,” because they were “coerced by mistreatment,” including sleep deprivation, and because Mehdi “was fed information by his interrogators” and “has admitted to lying.”

In an explanation of this latter point, Judge Robertson noted that “some of Mehdi’s information is inconsistent with the statements of Salahi … Mehdi said that they [Salahi, bin al-Shibh and the hijackers] met more often than twice, including a meeting that took place at Salahi’s house at a time when Salahi was in custody. Upon learning that fact, Mehdi withdrew his statement about the meeting.” He added that “Mehdi’s statements indicate only that Salahi knew bin al-Shibh and Jarrah were going to Afghanistan for training, not that Salahi encouraged them to do so.”

Beyond this central claim, dismissed by the judge, the most persuasive other piece of evidence is a fax sent by Salahi to Christopher Paul in January 1997, asking this “man of great respect in al-Qaeda” for advice on how to “facilitate getting brothers to fight.” Although Salahi rather feebly tried to claim that he had not sent this fax, Judge Robertson found that it “appears to be authentic,” but refused to draw an inference from it beyond stating that it demonstrated that Salahi “continued to be in touch with people he knew to be al-Qaeda members, and that he was willing to refer would-be jihadists to them when the opportunity arose.”

After concluding that the government “has not credibly shown Salahi to have been a ‘recruiter,’” Judge Robertson turned his attention to claims that he had been involved in al-Qaeda telecommunications projects — for Abu Hafs in Sudan, and for Christian Ganczarski in Afghanistan. However, the judge did not give much weight to either allegation, and also dismissed allegations of his involvement with Karim Mehdi, Christopher Paul and two “important figures in al-Qaeda’s Montreal cell” as “too brief and shallow to serve as an independent basis for detention,” adding that much of Salahi’s behaviour “tend[s] to support [his] submission that he was attempting to find the appropriate balance — avoiding close relationships with al-Qaeda members, but also trying to avoid making himself an enemy.”

Moreover, although Judge Robertson acknowledged that there were “unanswered questions” about Salahi’s relationship with Abu Hafs, and noted that he once stated, under interrogation, that he “would have done almost anything that was asked of him,” he dismissed claims that the two money transfers were significant, noting, “Two money transfers in modest amounts a year apart would not even amount to material support (if support were the issue here, which it is not),” and also recognized that, around November 1999, when Abu Hafs “encourag[ed] him to return to Afghanistan, and sent him two passports and money for the trip,” he refused, because he was about to travel to Canada. It should also be noted — although Judge Robertson did not pick up on it — that, according to the 9/11 Commission Report (PDF, p. 252), Abu Hafs was opposed to the 9/11 attacks and “wrote Bin Laden a message basing opposition to the attacks on the Qur’an.”

Judge Robertson’s conclusion

In a final statement, Judge Robertson summed up his findings as follows:

The government’s problem is that its proof that Salahi gave material support to terrorists is so attenuated, or so tainted by coercion and mistreatment, or so classified, that it cannot support a successful criminal prosecution. Nevertheless, the government wants to hold Salahi indefinitely, because of its concern that he might renew his oath to al-Qaeda and become a terrorist on his release. That concern may indeed be well-founded. Salahi fought with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan (20 years ago), associated with at least half-a-dozen known al-Qaeda members and terrorists, and somehow found and lived among or with al-Qaeda cell members in Montreal. But a habeas court may not permit a man to be held indefinitely upon suspicion, or because of the government’s prediction that he may do unlawful acts in the future — any more than a habeas court may rely on its prediction that a man will not be dangerous in the future and order his release if he was lawfully detained in the first place. The question, upon which the government had the burden of proof, was whether, at the time of his capture, Salahi was a “part of” al-Qaeda. On the record before me, I cannot find that he was.

What will happen to Salahi now?

Despite Judge Robertson’s thorough repudiation of the government’s claims, it is clear that Salahi will not be released anytime soon — if at all. Almost as soon as the ruling was announced, Attorney General Eric Holder responded to shrieks of alarm raised by Republican lawmakers (who couldn’t care what a judge had actually decided based on the evidence) by announcing that the government would appeal, and it may well be that, whatever happens, Salahi will remain as one of 47 prisoners that President Obama’s interagency Task Force recommended should be held indefinitely without charge or trial.

The very fact that this is being contemplated is a disgrace, of course, but what Salahi’s case reveals, above all, is how the Bush administration’s detention policies have fundamentally warped notions of justice, so that even those who claim to respect the rule of law are happy to hold a man forever, even if he wins a habeas petition, and also how they have had a baleful effect on the United States’ ability to recruit and protect informers.

On this first point, Judge Robertson explained that, although there was insufficient evidence to justify Salahi’s ongoing detention, the evidence of his activities in Canada “might well be enough to support a criminal charge of providing material support to al-Qaeda, if Salahi were criminally charged, and if the evidence were admissible in a criminal proceedings.” That is a big “if,” of course, given the inadmissibility of most of Salahi’s statements, but it should demonstrate, above all, how counter-productive was the use of torture on a man who was no more than a peripheral figure in al-Qaeda, beyond the easily-obscured fact that such treatment is illegal under domestic and international law.

Just as significant, however, are the revelations about Salahi (and Tarek El-Sawah) contained in the Washington Post article mentioned above. After noting, “The US government has rewarded them for their cooperation but has refused to countenance their release,” the Post’s reporter, Peter Finn, wrote, “Some military officials believe the United States should let them go — and put them into a witness protection program, in conjunction with allies, in a bid to cultivate more informants.” Finn spoke to W. Patrick Lang, a retired senior military intelligence officer, who explained, “I don’t see why they aren’t given asylum. If we don’t do this right, it will be that much harder to get other people to cooperate with us. And if I was still in the business, I’d want it known we protected them. It’s good advertising.”

Good advertising, indeed, and a point that echoes what veteran FBI interrogator Jack Cloonan told Jane Mayer of the New Yorker back in 2006. Reflecting on the self-defeating nature of brutality, Cloonan, an old school interrogator, who succeeded in securing confessions without the use of torture, told Mayer that resorting to such tactics would cut off “the possibility that other people with useful information about al-Qaeda [would] consider becoming informants.” As he explained, “You think all of this stuff about torture is going to make people want to come to us? That’s why I get upset when I hear people talking about stress positions, loud music, and dogs.”

Had he known what we know now, he would surely have added that publicizing the fact that Salahi was one of “the most significant informants ever to be held at Guantánamo,” but then insisting that he be held forever, is even more counter-productive. In Guantánamo, however, common sense has evaporated, and all that is left for those who have aided the United States are illusory escape routes that lead only to indefinite detention.

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 Cageprisoners. Cross-posted on The Public Record.

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).

Urgent appeal for the UK to offer refuge to Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian in Guantánamo

Ahmed BelbachaThe case of Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian who sought asylum in the UK, and lived here for nearly three years, has long been a source of concern for human rights activists. Although he was cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2007, he is terrified of returning to Algeria, and with good reason. Although he left Algeria for the UK in 1999, because he had received threats from the GIA (the Groupe Islamique Armé), he is now a marked man by the government, which convicted him in absentia in a court last November and sentenced him to 20 years in prison for belonging to an “overseas terrorist group.”

His lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity, explained that no lawyer was appointed to defend him at the trial, and that, despite “repeated requests and extensive investigation,” they had been unable to discover what he was supposed to have done. No evidence was produced to support his conviction, and they concluded that it “appears to be retaliation against Ahmed for speaking out about the inhumane treatment he would be subjected to if sent to Algeria.”

Since 2008, Ahmed has been protected from being forcibly repatriated to Algeria, through an injunction put in place by a US District Court. However, that injunction was dissolved in February. His lawyers immediately asked for the decision to be reversed, citing the fact that the US Supreme Court was, at that time, considering a related case, Kiyemba v Obama (known as Kiyemba IIsee here for an explanation), in which the Court of Appeals had ruled that US courts could not prevent the Obama administration from sending prisoners to other countries — including, in theory, the forcible repatriation of prisoners like Ahmed to countries where they face the risk of torture or other ill-treatment.

On March 22, the Supreme Court decided not to review Kiyemba II, hurling Ahmed and other prisoners once more into a dangerously unprotected limbo. Reprieve immediately submitted a plea on his behalf to the District Court, and followed this up with an emergency motion over the Easter weekend, following a visit to Algeria by Attorney General Eric Holder to sign a “mutual legal assistance treaty” with the Algerian Minister of Justice, which raised legitimate fears that Ahmed would soon be repatriated against his will.

On April 20, a judge turned down Ahmed’s plea, and Reprieve immediately repeated its long-standing call for other countries to offer him a new home. In negotiations over the last few months, Reprieve, in conjunction with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Amnesty International, has tried to secure a new home for Ahmed in the UK, Ireland or Luxembourg, but without success. Ironically, the only place to offer him a home is Amherst, Massachusetts, where residents voted last year to take in Ahmed and a Russian prisoner, Ravil Mingazov, but will need to persuade Congress to repeal legislation passed last year preventing the resettlement of any Guantánamo prisoner on the US mainland.

In light of these new developments, the need for another country to offer Ahmed a home is greater than ever — and no country is better suited to accept him than the UK.

As Amnesty International’s UK director Kate Allen explained last week, “It is totally understandable that Ahmed Belbacha is concerned that a new US-Algeria deal could mean he’s sent to Algeria despite the human rights dangers. As with other Guantánamo prisoners, we’re insisting that Mr. Belbacha shouldn’t be exposed to fresh danger by being sent where his human rights may be placed at risk. This is certainly the case with Algeria. And there should be no question of the US and Algerian authorities producing ‘diplomatic assurances’ supposedly guaranteeing safe treatment. These, as we’ve seen in other cases, simply can’t be trusted. As someone who has previously lived in the UK, the best solution is that the UK authorities end the deadlock and uncertainty by offering a safe haven to Mr. Belbacha.”

I encourage readers to write to the foreign secretary David Miliband, asking him to offer Ahmed a new home in the UK. A template for a letter, which also asks the UK to act decisively to secure the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, is available below, for readers to cut and paste and adapt as they see fit:

A letter to David Miliband

David Miliband MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London, SW1A 2AH

Dear Foreign Secretary,

You will be aware that, as of 22 January this year, the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay was still open, despite the fact that one of President Obama’s first pledges as President was to close it by this date. 183 prisoners are still held there, and many of those men, cleared for release by the President’s own task Force, cannot be repatriated because of fears that they will be tortured or subjected to other ill-treatment, and are effectively stateless.

The government has succeeded over the past six years in securing the release of all the British nationals held there, and all but one of the British residents. Given our strong relationship with the US, there is far more that the British government could — and should — be doing. You have asserted your commitment to closing Guantánamo Bay, but this has yet to be demonstrated in the case of the final British resident, Shaker Aamer, who was cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2007.

We have been told that the return of Shaker Aamer to his British wife and four British children is being sought, and that discussions between the UK and the US are ongoing. Nevertheless, Shaker is still held, and intervention must be made at the highest levels to secure his release, as happened with other prisoners.

Other European countries have demonstrated over the past year that it is possible to offer new homes to cleared prisoners, even when they have no prior ties to the country. France, for example, having secured the return of its own nationals, accepted two Algerian nationals last year, as well as the family of one of these men, and Albania, Belgium, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland have also accepted prisoners on a purely humanitarian basis. There are no reasons for the British government not to accept a small number of prisoners on a humanitarian basis to help close Guantánamo Bay.

Over the past eight years, for example, you have argued that there is no basis to accept Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian man who lived in Bournemouth and cannot return to Algeria for fear for his life, because he was a failed asylum seeker. Mr. Belbacha was also cleared for release in 2007, and yet he remains in Guantánamo because no other country will take him, and because the British government, which could so easily offer him a new home, has turned its back on him.

The British government must demonstrate its commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law by helping to close down Guantánamo Bay, and it can — and should — do this by pressing for the return of Shaker Aamer, accepting Ahmed Belbacha and accepting other prisoners on a humanitarian basis.

Yours faithfully,

Ahmed’s story (via Reprieve)

Ahmed was born in Algiers in 1969. He comes from a middle class family with eleven children. After high school, Ahmed trained from 1988 to 1989 as an accountant for Algeria’s premier oil company, Sonatrach, where he made an impression as a star player on the company’s famous football team. He was then called up for a term of national service. When he finished, Ahmed returned to Sonatrach for approximately four years (until 1997), working in its commercial division.

Then a fateful turn of events changed Ahmed’s quiet life: he was recalled by the army. Shortly afterwards, the major terrorist group in Algeria — the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) — began to threaten Ahmed’s life. The GIA’s stated mission was to overthrow the secular Algerian regime and install an Islamist one in its place. They threatened to murder Ahmed if he rejoined the army, and told him to quit his job at Sonatrach, as it was a government company. These were no empty threats: the GIA were notorious for killing people after their military service, and had carried out violence against Sonatrach employees.

In an effort to lie low Ahmed went to work for his father’s business, rather than returning to Sonatrach. But the threats continued; the GIA visited Ahmed’s family and menaced them as well. Fearing for their safety, Ahmed decided to leave Algeria.

He travelled via France to England, where he headed for Bournemouth and started life as an asylum seeker working in a launderette. He then worked at the Swallow Royal Hotel while the 1999 Labour Party conference was taking place. Ahmed was in charge of cleaning Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s room during the conference and received a personal thank you note and a healthy tip from Mr Prescott.

In 2001 Ahmed was invited to the Home Office to discuss his asylum application. Unfortunately, his application for asylum was refused. He appealed, but the procedure dragged on for months. He was having increasing difficulty finding steady work and greatly feared deportation. He decided to travel to Pakistan, where he could take advantage of free educational programs to study the Koran. He hoped after a few months the economy would be better and his job prospects would improve.

Ahmed left the UK for Pakistan with a friend in June 2001. He had a return ticket to come back six months later, to pursue his asylum appeal. After some time in Pakistan, Ahmed’s friend suggested they see what life was like in Afghanistan, a Muslim country. This was well before September 11 and Afghanistan at the time was relatively peaceful.

Ahmed crossed into Afghanistan and spent a few months there in an Algerian guest house. After the US invaded and the Northern Alliance began rounding up Arabs, he realized it was not safe for him to stay. He spent 20 days in the Afghan mountains before being taken to the Pakistani border by Afghans.

Ahmed hoped to reach Islamabad, from where he would fly back home to the UK. He did not make it. After crossing the border from Afghanistan in December 2001, Ahmed was seized in a small village and taken briefly to a border prison. He was then transferred to another prison six or seven hours’ drive away, where he was held for about two weeks and interrogated by the CIA. He was then moved to Kandahar, where he underwent further interrogation and suffered beatings and other physical abuse. In March 2002 he was transferred to Guantánamo. He has remained there ever since.

Meanwhile, in January 2002, while Ahmed was in Guantánamo, his final asylum appeal was denied. The main reason: he did not turn up for the appeal hearing. The appeals judge did not know that Ahmed was a prisoner at the time, as the US kept Guantánamo prisoners’ identities secret.

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.

With Regrets, Judge Allows Indefinite Detention at Guantánamo of a Medic

A guard tower at GuantanamoNote: This article is published as part of “Guantánamo Habeas Week” (introduced here), which also features an interactive list of all 47 rulings to date (with links to my articles, the judges’ unclassified opinions, and more).

On March 25, as I explained in a recent article, “Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: The Torture Victim and the Taliban Recruit,” Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the District Court in Washington D.C. denied the habeas corpus petition of Mukhtar al-Warafi, a Yemeni who was 27 years old when he was seized in northern Afghanistan in November 2001. As I explained in that article, according to the available records:

[Al-Warafi] survived a massacre in a mud-walled fortress, Qala-i-Janghi, where hundreds of prisoners — mostly, but not all foot soldiers for the Taliban — had been taken after surrendering to the Northern Alliance. According to a statement read out by a military officer assigned to represent him at a review board at Guantánamo, al-Warafi studied medical procedures in Yemen, “had nothing to do whatsoever with the Taliban,” and went to Afghanistan “to help provide medical assistance to the poor and the public.”

As I also noted, “It is certain that Judge Lamberth will not have been convinced by al-Warafi’s story, and will not have accepted his statement that, although he admitted traveling to Khawaja Ghar in Afghanistan and carrying an AK-47, he said that he had it for self-defense and that it was given to him by a doctor he worked with at a clinic, nor his statement that he provided first aid at the al-Ansar clinic in Kunduz, for all types of people, but not ‘to wounded soldiers.’”

Now that Judge Lamberth’s unclassified opinion has been made publicly available (PDF), it is indeed fair to say that he was not entirely convinced by al-Warafi’s explanation of how he came to be in Afghanistan, and what he was doing there. It remains, nonetheless, a depressing outcome, for a variety of reasons that I will elucidate below, but which, to provide a brief flavor of what is wrong with much of the existing framework for detaining men at Guantánamo on a legal basis, involves a familiar failure to distinguish between those involved with al-Qaeda (a terrorist organization) and the Taliban (the government of Afghanistan at the time of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan).

More shockingly, the ruling also relies on a refusal to exclude from detention those who worked as medical personnel, because of legislation passed by Congress under George W. Bush (which still applies under Barack Obama), and which prevents those seeking habeas relief from calling upon the protections of the Geneva Conventions.

In addition, in his concluding remarks, Judge Lamberth also echoed another judge who, last December, made a point of injecting dissent into his own ruling by stating that he did not believe that the man whose ongoing detention he had just approved constituted a threat to the security of the United States.

For the judges ruling on the habeas cases, the advice — or lack of it — given to them by the Supreme Court, when, in June 2008, it granted the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights, has led to certain difficulties, particularly regarding the extent of involvement with al-Qaeda or the Taliban that is required to continue to deprive prisoners of their liberty.

Different definitions have been put forth, but in common with many other judges, Judge Lamberth explained that he was drawing on the detention standard put forward by Judge John D. Bates in Hamlily v. Obama (PDF), which only authorizes the ongoing detention of prisoners who were “part of the Taliban, al-Qaeda or associated enemy forces.”

Mukhtar al-Warafi’s story

Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth (photo by Beverly Rezneck)To establish that al-Warafi fit this description, Judge Lamberth (photo, left) ran through more of his story than has previously been revealed, explaining how he was born in Taiz, Yemen, and how he “has only a few years of formal education and has worked since a young age” in “a variety of odd jobs, including stints as a waiter, a dishwasher, a custodian, and, for a short while, a lab assistant at his brother’s medical clinic in Taiz,” where “he learned several basic medical skills, including how to administer IVs and take blood samples.”

In the spring of 2001, he “read two fatwas at the Jamal al-Din Mosque in Taiz,” which “discussed the Taliban and its victories in Afghanistan and encouraged individuals to assist the Taliban,” and in August 2001, after borrowing $400 from his father (telling him that he was making a pilgrimage to Mecca), he set off, locating the Taliban office in Quetta, Pakistan (as advised by one of the fatwas) and entering Afghanistan, where he made his way to the front line at Khawaja Ghar in northern Afghanistan.

He only “spent approximately one to two weeks” at the front, where “he received training on an AK-47, but did not engage in any active combat,” and then, when “A superior … sought volunteers to serve as medics at a nearby clinic,” he “volunteered and was transferred to a clinic run by a Saudi doctor, Dr. Abdullah Aziz,” who taught him “how to clean wounds, draw blood, and recognize the symptoms of malaria.”

After 25 days at the clinic, where he “treated approximately six to seven sick and wounded Taliban fighters per day,” he was transferred to the al-Ansar clinic in Kunduz, also run by Dr. Aziz, where he “treated wounded and sick Taliban fighters.” He then spent a month at a hospital, “because the area in which the al-Ansar clinic was located had become too dangerous as the Northern Alliance advanced toward Kunduz,” and on November 23, 2001, as the Taliban surrendered, traveled to Mazar-e-Sharif with other men, as part of a deal negotiated by a man named Thakker, described as his “Taliban commander,” whereby he and the others were led to believe that they would be returned to their home countries.

Instead, they were taken to Qala-i-Janghi by the Northern Alliance’s General Dostum, and, when the prisoners staged an uprising, Dr. Aziz and hundreds of other prisoners were killed, and al-Warafi was shot in the arm and only survived because he hid in the basement with about 100 other men. When these men finally surrendered, after being bombed and flooded, they were taken to the shockingly cruel and overcrowded Sheberghan prison, and al-Warafi was then taken by US forces to Kandahar, where he remained for three months until his transfer to Guantánamo.

Justifiably detaining a medic

At the heart of Judge Lamberth’s contention that al-Warafi can continue to be detained is a cluster of contradictions in his own statements, essentially undermining claims that he “traveled to Afghanistan to provide medical assistance” because of other statements admitting that he “went to Afghanistan to fight against the Northern Alliance after reading two fatwas in Yemen.”

To these can be added the judge’s perhaps understandable conclusion that, even while working as a medic, al-Warafi was still working “within the command structure of the Taliban,” and that his surrender at Mazar-e-Sharif was also undertaken as part of the same command structure. As a result, Judge Lamberth was entitled — indeed, obliged — to conclude that he can be considered as “part of the Taliban”.

This may well be the case, but it is still depressing that a man who, at most, spent a week with a gun on the front line and “did not engage in combat” can continue to be deprived of his liberty in Guantánamo after more than eight years of imprisonment without charge or trial.

Even more depressing, however, is the fact that, under Article 24 of the First Geneva Convention (Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field), medics like al-Warafi are supposed to qualify as “non-detainable medical personnel.” The Convention explicitly states that medical personnel “exclusively engaged in … treatment of the wounded or sick, or in the prevention of disease” are not detainable, except as necessary to treat other prisoners.

However, as Judge Lamberth explained, this provision was eradicated in Section 5 of the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (PDF, p. 32), passed by Congress under George W. Bush, which cynically insists, “No person may invoke the Geneva Conventions … in any habeas corpus proceeding … as a source of rights in any court of the United States.”

As he added in a footnote, “In Boumediene v. Bush, the Supreme Court declared Section 7 of the Military Commissions Act … unconstitutional because it ‘effects an unconstitutional suspension of the writ [of habeas corpus.]’” However, “The Court left the remaining provisions of the act intact,” and therefore, “Section 5 of the Military Commissions Act remains constitutional and does not effect a suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.”

There is, of course, a dark irony to the fact that the limitless detention of a medic is justified on the basis of legislation passed by Congress under George W. Bush (and retained, largely intact, by Obama), because stripping prisoners of the protections of the Geneva Conventions was one of the hallmarks of the Bush administration’s extraordinary arrogance, and was supposed to have been banished.

Moreover, the realization that the Bush administration’s lawlessness lives on, and, for the first time, has explicitly prevented a medic from receiving anything approaching justice, is even more darkly ironic when one considers that US medical personnel at Guantánamo — and elsewhere in the “War on Terror” — have been involved in torture, but, unlike Mukhtar al-Warafi, who tended to soldiers in wartime, appear not to be regarded as remotely accountable for their actions.

In that analogy, however, is contained the kernel of the injustice of the phony “War on Terror” — not the criminal side of things, which should have involved the detention and prosecution of genuine terrorist suspects in federal courts, but the manner in which warfare itself has been refashioned, so that those on one side — the US military and its allies — can do no wrong, whereas those on the other side are not afforded the most minimal rights, and even a medic becomes a terrorist.

To be fair to Judge Lamberth, it’s clear that he was not entirely happy with following the letter of the law to reach his conclusion that Mukhtar al-Warafi can continue to be detained indefinitely at Guantánamo. In his concluding remarks, he echoed comments made in December by Judge Thomas E. Hogan, when he denied the habeas petition of Musa’ab al-Madhwani, a Yemeni seized in Karachi, Pakistan, in September 2002, who was tortured in the CIA’s “Dark Prison” before his transfer to Guantánamo.

On that occasion, Judge Hogan noted that he was “not convinced that it is more likely than not that [p]etitioner is a threat to the security of the United States.” After quoting Judge Hogan, Judge Lamberth added, pointedly:

Petitioner was a low-level member or associate of the Taliban. He spent no more than a few weeks at the front line, and there is no evidence that he “planned in, participated in, or knew of any terrorist plots.” The Court hopes that this Memorandum does not foreclose the government from continuing to review petitioner’s file and assess whether he continues to pose a threat to the national security of the United States.

Anyone interested in justice — and not in the perpetuation of a flawed system based on the Bush administration’s cruel and inept overreaction to the 9/11 attacks — must be hoping that Judge Lamberth’s words have been noted in the corridors of power.

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.

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).

Guantánamo Habeas Results: Prisoners 34, Government 13

A prisoner at Guantanamo

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NOTE: This list has now been superseded by a dedicated page, “Guantánamo Habeas Results: The Definitive List,” which will be used to monitor the ongoing habeas rulings.

As part of my series, “Guantánamo Habeas Week” (introduced here, and expanded, on April 23, to become “Guantánamo Habeas Fortnight”), it’s my pleasure to present a list of the 47 habeas corpus rulings made to date, with links to the articles I have written over the last 19 months analyzing the judges’ rulings.

As I explained in the introduction to this series, I remain impressed that the judges involved have ruled in the prisoners’ favor in 34 of the 47 cases, particularly because they have revealed the alarming flimsiness of most of the material presented by the government as evidence — primarily, confessions extracted through the torture or coercion of the prisoners themselves, or through the torture, coercion or bribery of other prisoners, either in Guantánamo, the CIA’s secret prisons, or proxy prisons run on behalf of the CIA in other countries.

However, as I also explained, I remain deeply troubled about the justification for continuing to hold the majority of the prisoners who lost their habeas petitions, because the basis for doing so — the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and maintained as a justification by President Obama — was, and is a deeply flawed document, which fails to distinguish between a small group of genuine terrorists (al-Qaeda) and a considerably larger group of men (and boys) associated with the Taliban. The result is that men continue to be consigned to indefinite detention, on an apparently sound legal basis, even though they were only peripherally involved with the military conflict in Afghanistan to secure the fall of the Taliban, and should, all along, have been held (if at all) as prisoners of war, and protected by the Geneva Conventions.

Please note that, although 23 of the prisoners who won their habeas petitions have been released, eleven are still held. With the exception of the Uighurs, the government has appealed the rulings (or appears intent on appealing). In the cases of prisoners who lost their habeas petitions, a number of appeals have also been filed. See the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Habeas Scorecard for further information on the status of the various appeals.

The 47 Guantánamo Habeas Corpus Results

October 2008

The four Uighurs released in Bermuda, June 20091 WON: Abdul Helil Mamut (aka Abdul Khalil Manut, Abdul Nasser, Abdulnassir) (Uighur, ISN 278)
Released in Bermuda, June 2009.
2 WON: Abdullah Abdulquadirakhun (aka Abdulla Abdulqadir, Jalal Jalaladin) (Uighur, ISN 285)
Released in Bermuda, June 2009.
3 WON: Emam Abdulahat (aka Salahidin Abdulahad, Abdul Semet) (Uighur, ISN 295)
Released in Bermuda, June 2009.
4 WON: Huzaifa Parhat (aka Hozaifa Parhat, Ablikim Turahun) (Uighur, ISN 320)
Released in Bermuda, June 2009.
5 WON: Nag Mohammed (aka Edham Mamet) (Uighur, ISN 102)
Released in Palau, October 2009.
6 WON: Ahmad Tourson (Uighur, ISN 201)
Released in Palau, October 2009.
7 WON: Anwar Hassan (aka Hassan Anvar) (Uighur, ISN 250)
Released in Palau, October 2009.
8 WON: Abdulghappar Abdul Rahman (Uighur, ISN 281)
Released in Palau, October 2009.
9 WON: Dawut Abdurehim (Uighur, ISN 289)
Released in Palau, October 2009.
10 WON: Adel Noori (Uighur, ISN 584)
Released in Palau, October 2009.
11 WON: Arkin Mahmud (Uighur, ISN 103)
Released in Switzerland, March 2010.
12 WON: Bahtiyar Mahnut (Uighur, ISN 277)
Released in Switzerland, March 2010.
13 WON: Abdul Razak (Uighur, ISN 219)
Still held.
14 WON: Yusef Abbas (Uighur, ISN 275)
Still held.
15 WON: Saidullah Khalik (Uighur, ISN 280)
Still held.
16 WON: Hajiakbar Abdulghupur (Uighur, ISN 282)
Still held.
17 WON: Ahmed Mohamed (Uighur, ISN 328)
Still held.

For my analysis of the ruling, see: From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs.
For Judge Ricardo Urbina’s unclassified opinion, see here. And see here for a transcript of the hearing.
For the releases in Bermuda, see: Who Are The Four Guantánamo Uighurs Sent To Bermuda?
For the releases in Palau, see: Who Are The Six Uighurs Released From Guantánamo To Palau?
For the releases in Switzerland, see: More Dark Truths from Guantánamo, as Five Innocent Men Released.
For the Supreme Court’s refusal to consider the case of the last five Uighurs held, see: Guantánamo Uighurs Back in Legal Limbo.

November 2008

Lakhdar Boumediene, photographed after his release18 WON: Mohammed Nechle (Bosnian Algerian, ISN 10003)
Released in Bosnia, December 2008.
19 WON: Mustafa Ait Idr (Bosnian Algerian, ISN 10004)
Released in Bosnia, December 2008.
20 WON: Boudella al-Haj (Bosnian Algerian, ISN 10006)
Released in Bosnia, December 2008.
21 WON: Lakhdar Boumediene (Bosnian Algerian, ISN 10005)
Released in France, May 2009.
22 WON: Sabir Lahmar (Bosnian Algerian, ISN 10002)
Released in France, November 2009.
1 LOST: Belkacem Bensayah (Bosnian Algerian, ISN 10001)
Still held.

For my analysis of the ruling, see: After 7 Years, Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo Kidnap Victims.
For Judge Leon’s unclassified opinion, see here.
For the releases in Bosnia, see: Freed Bosnian Calls Guantánamo the “worst place in the world”.
For the release of Boumediene in France, see: Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government.
For the release of Lahmar in France, see: Four Men Leave Guantánamo; Two Face Ill-Defined Trials In Italy.
For Bensayah’s appeal, see: First Guantánamo Prisoner To Lose Habeas Hearing Appeals Ruling. And also see this New York Times article examining conflict within the Obama administration on prisoner cases, including that of Bensayah.

December 2008

2 LOST: Hisham Sliti (Tunisia, ISN 174)
Still held.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: No End in Sight for the “Enemy Combatants” of Guantánamo.
For Judge Richard Leon’s unclassified opinion, see here.

January 2009

3 LOST: Muaz al-Alawi (aka Moath al-Alwi) (Yemen, ISN 28)
Still held.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: No End in Sight for the “Enemy Combatants” of Guantánamo.
For Judge Richard Leon’s unclassified opinion, see here.

Mohammed El-Gharani23 WON: Mohammed El-Gharani (Chad, ISN 269)
Released June 2009.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child.
For Judge Richard Leon’s unclassified opinion, see here.
For El-Gharani’s release, see: Guantánamo’s Youngest Prisoner Released To Chad.

4 LOST: Ghaleb al-Bihani (Yemen, ISN 128)
Still held.
Al-Bihani appealed, and lost his appeal in January 2010.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: How Cooking For The Taliban Gets You Life In Guantánamo.
For Judge Richard Leon’s unclassified opinion, see here.
For my analysis of the verdict in the appeal, see: Appeals Court Extends President’s Wartime Powers, Limits Guantánamo Prisoners’ Rights.
For the Circuit Court’s unclassified opinion, see here.

March 2009

24 WON: Yasim Basardah (aka Yasin Basardh) (Yemen, ISN 252)
Still held.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: Guantánamo And The Courts (Part Two): Obama’s Shame.
For Judge Ellen Huvelle’s unclassified opinion, see here.

April 2009

5 LOST: Hedi Hammamy (aka Abdulhadi bin Haddidi) (Tunisia, ISN 717)
Still held.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: Farce at Guantánamo, as cleared prisoner’s habeas petition is denied.
For Judge Richard Leon’s unclassified opinion, see here.

May 2009

25 WON: Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed (Yemen, ISN 692)
Released September 2009.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: Judge Condemns “Mosaic” Of Guantánamo Intelligence, And Unreliable Witnesses.
Also see: Guantánamo: A Prison Built On Lies.
For Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s unclassified opinion, see here.
For Ali Ahmed’s release, see: Three Prisoners Released From Guantánamo: Two To Ireland, One To Yemen.

June 2009

Abdul Rahim al-Ginco26 WON: Abdul Rahim al-Ginco (aka Abdul Rahim Janko) (Syria, ISN 489)
Released.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: Why Did It Take So Long To Order The Release From Guantánamo Of An Al-Qaeda Torture Victim?
Also see: Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo on Democracy Now!
For Judge Richard Leon’s unclassified opinion, see here.

July 2009

27 WON: Khalid al-Mutairi (Kuwait, ISN 213)
Released October 2009.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Kuwaiti Charity Worker.
Also see: Guantánamo And The Courts (Part Three): Obama’s Continuing Shame.
For Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s unclassified opinion, see here.
For al-Mutairi’s release, see: Two More Guantánamo Prisoners Released: To Kuwait And Belgium.

Mohamed Jawad, photographed after his release28 WON: Mohamed Jawad (Afghanistan, ISN 900)
Released August 2009.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: As Judge Orders Release Of Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner, Government Refuses To Concede Defeat.
Also see: How Judge Huvelle Humiliated The Government In Guantánamo Case.
For Judge Ellen Huvelle’s unclassified opinion, see here. And see here for a transcript of the hearing.
For Jawad’s release, see: Reflections On Mohamed Jawad’s Release From Guantánamo.

August 2009

6 LOST: Adham Ali Awad (Yemen, ISN 88)
Still held.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: No Escape From Guantánamo: The Latest Habeas Rulings.
For Judge James Robertson’s unclassified opinion, see here.

29 WON: Mohammed al-Adahi (Yemen, ISN 33)
Still held.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: No Escape From Guantánamo: The Latest Habeas Rulings.
For Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’’s unclassified opinion, see here.
For my analysis of the government’s subsequent appeal, and Judge Kollar-Kotelly’s response to it, see: What Does It Take To Get Out Of Obama’s Guantánamo?

Fawzi al-Odah7 LOST: Fawzi al-Odah (Kuwait, ISN 232)
Still held.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: No Escape From Guantánamo: The Latest Habeas Rulings.
For Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s unclassified opinion, see here.

September 2009

8 LOST: Sufyian Barhoumi (Algeria, ISN 694)
Still held.
For information about Barhoumi, see:
Guantánamo trials: critical judge sacked, British torture victim charged.
For the 2-page ruling by Judge Rosemary Collyer, see here. The unclassified opinion has not been released.

Fouad al-Rabiah30 WON: Fouad al-Rabiah (Kuwait, ISN 551)
Released December 2009.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: A Truly Shocking Guantánamo Story: Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False Confessions.
For Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s unclassified opinion, see here.
For al-Rabiah’s release, see: Innocent Guantánamo Torture Victim Fouad al-Rabiah Is Released In Kuwait.

November 2009

31 WON: Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed (Algeria, ISN 311)
Still held.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: Judge Orders Release Of Algerian From Guantánamo (But He’s Not Going Anywhere).
For Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s unclassified opinion, see here.
For an analysis of the significance of Judge Kollar-Kotelly’s ruling with reference to statements made by torture victim Binyam Mohamed, see: Binyam Mohamed: Evidence of Torture by US Agents Revealed in UK.
For a more detailed article, based on an analysis of Judge Kessler’s unclassified opinion, see: How Binyam Mohamed’s Torture Was Revealed in a US Court.

December 2009

9 LOST: Musa’ab al-Madhwani (Yemen, ISN 839)
Still held.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: “Model Prisoner” at Guantánamo, Tortured in the “Dark Prison,” Loses Habeas Corpus Petition.
For Judge Thomas Hogan’s unclassified opinion, see here. And see here for a transcript of the hearing.

32 WON: Saeed Hatim (Yemen, ISN 255)
Still held.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Unwilling Yemeni Recruit.
For Judge Ricardo Urbina’s unclassified opinion, see here.
For a more detailed article, based on an analysis of Judge Urbina’s unclassified opinion, see: Why Judges Can’t Free Torture Victims from Guantánamo.

February 2010

10 LOST: Suleiman al-Nahdi (Yemen, ISN 511)
Still held.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: The Black Hole of Guantánamo.
For Judge Gladys Kessler’s unclassified opinion, see here.
For a more detailed article, based on an analysis of Judge Kessler’s unclassified opinion, see: Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: Consigning Soldiers to Oblivion.

11 LOST: Fahmi al-Assani (Yemen, ISN 554)
Still held.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: The Black Hole of Guantánamo.
For Judge Gladys Kessler’s unclassified opinion, see here.
For a more detailed article, based on an analysis of Judge Kessler’s unclassified opinion, see: Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: Consigning Soldiers to Oblivion.

33 WON: Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman (Yemen, ISN 27)
Still held.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: The Black Hole of Guantánamo.
For Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr.’s unclassified opinion (March 2010), see here.
For Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr.’s revised unclassified opinion (April 2010), see here.
For a more detailed article, based on an analysis of Judge Kennedy’s unclassified opinion, see: Judge Rules Yemeni’s Detention at Guantánamo Based Solely on Torture.

March 2010

Mohamedou Ould Slahi34 WON: Mohamedou Ould Slahi (aka Salahi) (Mauritania, ISN 760)
Still held.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: The Torture Victim and the Taliban Recruit.
For Judge James Robertson’s unclassified opinion, see here.
For a more detailed article, based on an analysis of Judge Robertson’s unclassified opinion, see: Mohamedou Ould Salahi: How a Judge Demolished the US Government’s Al-Qaeda Claims.

12 LOST: Mukhtar al-Warafi (Yemen, ISN 117)
Still held.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: The Torture Victim and the Taliban Recruit.
For Judge Royce C. Lamberth’s unclassified opinion, see here.
For a more detailed article, based on an analysis of Judge Lamberth’s unclassified opinion, see: With Regrets, Judge Allows Indefinite Detention at Guantánamo of a Medic.

April 2010

13 LOST: Yasin Qasem Muhammad Ismail (Yemen, ISN 522)
Still held.
For my analysis of the ruling, see: An Insignificant Yemeni at Guantánamo Loses His Habeas Petition.
Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr.’s unclassified opinion is not yet available

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.

The introduction to “Guantánamo Habeas Week” was discussed in detail by Jeff Kaye on Firedoglake and Invictus, by Kelly Vlahos at Antiwar.com, which also posted a link on its front page, and by Jeff Farias, and was cross-posted on The Public Record, Eurasia Review, The World Can’t Wait, War Criminals Watch, Campaign for Liberty, Global Research, The Lift: Legal Issues in the Fight against Terrorism, Uruknet, Cageprisoners, New Left Project, Political Theatrics, Countercurrents, Zinmag Chronicle and The Ruthless Truth. It was also mentioned in a round-up of news on Foreign Policy’s website, by Reprieve, and on Democratic Underground. In addition, the full list was cross-posted on The Public Record, The World Can’t Wait, New Left Project and War Criminals Watch, and was linked to in a banner headline on Cageprisoners’ front page.

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).

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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