Archive for May, 2010

The Third Anniversary of a Death in Guantánamo

Exactly three years ago, having recently finished the manuscript for my book The Guantánamo Files, I began working on a full-time basis as a freelance journalist. My inspiration was the death in Guantánamo of a 34-year old Saudi prisoner, Abdul Rahman al-Amri, who died, reportedly by committing suicide, on May 30, 2007. In the course of my research, I had built up profiles of the majority of the prisoners in Guantánamo, and when al-Amri died, I thought it was worth pointing out a few facts about his story, as revealed in documents made publicly available by the Pentagon.

I approached a few reputable media outlets with this story, but when they expressed no interest, I decided to write an article and publish it on my blog, which until that point, I had used only to publicize my first two books, Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield, and to cross-post a review of Mark Danner’s Torture and Truth (about Abu Ghraib), which I had written for the website Nth Position in 2006, and which provided part of my inspiration to begin researching and writing about Guantánamo.

104 people visited my site on that first day, but once I had begun responding to the news emerging from Guantánamo I found it impossible to stop. I now receive nearly 8,000 page visits a day, and would like to thank everyone who has begun following my work in the last three years. However, every year, on May 31, I remember how it was the death of Abdul Rahman al-Amri — and the mainstream media’s general lack of interest in his story — that prompted me to start writing articles about Guantánamo on an almost daily basis (five chronological lists, with links, are here, covering the period from May 2007 to December 2009), and every year I mark his passing.

I know little about the man beyond what was made available by the Pentagon, as he was not represented by a lawyer, and even my conversations with former prisoners have elicited little information. Omar Deghayes recalled a devout man who was deeply troubled by the kinds of humiliation that were used on him at Guantánamo, but the rest is only what the Pentagon or al-Amri himself supplied. An admitted fighter with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, he maintained that he had no intention of fighting Americans. In his tribunal at Guantánamo in 2004, he pointed out that “Americans trained him during periods of his service” with the Saudi army, and insisted that, “had his desire been to fight and kill Americans, he could have done that while he was side by side with them in Saudi Arabia. His intent was to go and fight for a cause that he believed in as a Muslim toward jihad, not to go and fight against the Americans.”

In his last review, in June 2006, the following statement was included in “Factors favoring release or transfer”:

When asked about the events on 11 September 2001 and the devastation that the World Trade Center attacks caused, the detainee was very upset that so many civilians were killed. The detainee believes, as a fighter, it is unfair to kill civilians. If someone came at him with a weapon then the detainee would fight, but he would not kill any civilians or unarmed individuals. The detainee went to fight for jihad because it is every good Muslim’s duty.

Despite this, the US military responded to his death by producing ludicrous allegations about his purported activities in Afghanistan, which not only made no sense, but also revealed them as nothing short of callous. As I explained three years ago:

In a statement  … US Southern Command claimed, “During his time as a foreign fighter in Afghanistan, he became a mid-level al-Qaeda operative with direct ties to higher-level members including meeting with Osama bin Laden. His associations included (bin Laden’s) bodyguards and al-Qaeda recruiters. He also ran al-Qaeda safe houses.” Quite how it was possible for al-Amri, who arrived in Afghanistan in September 2001, to become a “mid-level al-Qaeda operative” who “ran al-Qaeda safe houses” in the three months before his capture in December has not been explained, and nor is it likely that an explanation will be forthcoming. Far more probable is that these allegations were made by other prisoners — either in Guantánamo, where bribery and coercion have both been used extensively, or in the CIA’s secret prisons. In both, prisoners were regularly shown a “family album” of Guantánamo prisoners, and were encouraged — either through violence or the promise of better treatment — to come up with allegations against those shown in the photos, which, however spurious, were subsequently treated as “evidence.”

As a result of these allegations — and because he was a long-term hunger striker, whose weight dropped, at one point, to just 88 pounds — al-Amri was held in the maximum security Camp V, reserved for what a military spokesman described as the “least compliant and most ‘high-value’ inmates.” How he managed to kill himself in a block where the cells were constantly monitored has never been adequately explained, and, to my knowledge, the only explanation about the circumstances of his death that has ever been provided by the authorities came in October 2007, when Navy Capt. Patrick McCarthy, the senior lawyer on Guantánamo’s management team, declared that al-Amri had fashioned “a string type of noose” to kill himself.

Perhaps this is the case, although it was noticeable that, on June 10, 2007, after al-Amri’s body was sent back to Saudi Arabia, the human rights organization Alkarama reported that his brother stated that his body “presented no trace that would lead to the conclusion of suicide.” Alkarama also reported that “The Saudi Ministry of the Interior spokesman Gen. Mansour Al-Turki declared that a special medical committee would undertake an autopsy” and that “A report would then be sent back to the US authorities.”

Despite this promise, no report has ever surfaced, and the questions about Abdul Rahman al-Amri’s death remain. In the hope of keeping his story alive, I will be reporting over the next nine days on four other deaths at Guantánamo, which have also not been addressed adequately. The first is that of Muhammad Salih, a Yemeni who died on June 2 last year, reportedly by committing suicide, and the other three — Salah Ahmed al-Salami, a Yemeni, Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, a Saudi, and Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, also a Saudi — died on June 9, 2006.

All, like Abdul Rahman al-Amri, were long-term hunger strikers, and all died in circumstances that provide more questions than answers. In the case of Muhammad Salih, despite apparently being in sound mental health, he was removed to a secure psychiatric unit several months before his death, where he reportedly died, even though these units are designed to prevent all access to any item that might be used to commit suicide, and in the cases of the three men who died in June 2006, the authorities’ claims that they hung themselves simultaneously as part of a suicide pact were undermined in January this year in a deeply disturbing article in Harper’s Magazine, which I discussed here.

In the article, Scott Horton added to doubts about the official narrative that had been exposed in a study of the men’s deaths by researchers at the Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey (and see here for a follow-up report in February this year). Horton’s article drew on the accounts of a number of military eyewitnesses, who provided compelling explanations of why the official story was a cover-up, and also explained that, on the night of the men’s deaths, a feasible chronology could be established that involved the men being transported off-site to a secret prison outside the perimeter fence, where they were subjected to torture that, accidentally or otherwise, led to their deaths.

Despite its gravity, this story was almost entirely overlooked in the mainstream US media, and I hope, therefore, that reviving it at this particular time will not only provide some impetus for calls for a thorough investigation, but will also allow questions to be asked about the deaths of Muhammad Salih and Abdul Rahman al-Amri.

Please watch this space, and, if you have a few moments today, spare a thought for Abdul Rahman al-Amri.

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), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Cross-posted on The Public Record, Uruknet and United Progressives.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the hunger strikes and deaths at Guantánamo, see Suicide at Guantánamo: the story of Abdul Rahman al-Amri (May 2007), Suicide at Guantánamo: a response to the US military’s allegations that Abdul Rahman al-Amri was a member of al-Qaeda (May 2007), Shaker Aamer, A South London Man in Guantánamo: The Children Speak (July 2007), Guantánamo: al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj fears that he will die (September 2007), The long suffering of Mohammed al-Amin, a Mauritanian teenager sent home from Guantánamo (October 2007), Guantánamo suicides: so who’s telling the truth? (October 2007), Innocents and Foot Soldiers: The Stories of the 14 Saudis Just Released From Guantánamo (Yousef al-Shehri and Murtadha Makram) (November 2007), A letter from Guantánamo (by Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Haj) (January 2008), A Chinese Muslim’s desperate plea from Guantánamo (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), The forgotten anniversary of a Guantánamo suicide (May 2008), Binyam Mohamed embarks on hunger strike to protest Guantánamo charges (June 2008), Second anniversary of triple suicide at Guantánamo (June 2008), Guantánamo Suicide Report: Truth or Travesty? (August 2008), The Pentagon Can’t Count: 22 Juveniles Held at Guantánamo (November 2008), Seven Years Of Guantánamo, And A Call For Justice At Bagram (January 2009), British torture victim Binyam Mohamed to be released from Guantánamo (January 2009), Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), Who’s Running Guantánamo? (February 2009), Obama’s “Humane” Guantánamo Is A Bitter Joke (February 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), Guantánamo’s Long-Term Hunger Striker Should Be Sent Home (March 2009), Guantánamo, Bagram and the “Dark Prison”: Binyam Mohamed talks to Moazzam Begg (March 2009), Forgotten: The Second Anniversary Of A Guantánamo Suicide (May 2009), Yemeni Prisoner Muhammad Salih Dies At Guantánamo (June 2009), Death At Guantánamo Hovers Over Obama’s Middle East Visit (June 2009), Guantánamo’s Hidden History: Shocking Statistics of Starvation (June 2009), Binyam Mohamed: Was Muhammad Salih’s Death In Guantánamo Suicide? (June 2009), Torture In Guantánamo: The Force-feeding Of Hunger Strikers (for ACLU, June 2009), Murders at Guantánamo: Scott Horton of Harper’s Exposes the Truth about the 2006 “Suicides” (January 2010), Torture in Afghanistan and Guantánamo: Shaker Aamer’s Lawyers Speak (February 2010), Omar Deghayes and Terry Holdbrooks Discuss Guantánamo (Part Three): Deaths at the Prison (June 2010).

Also see the following online chapters of The Guantánamo Files: Website Extras 2 (Ahmed Kuman, Mohammed Haidel), Website Extras 3 (Abdullah al-Yafi, Abdul Rahman Shalabi), Website Extras 4 (Bakri al-Samiri, Murtadha Makram), Website Extras 5 (Ali Mohsen Salih, Ali Yahya al-Raimi, Abu Bakr Alahdal, Tarek Baada, Abdul al-Razzaq Salih).

An interview with Andy Worthington for Labour Briefing: Guantánamo, Torture and “Outside the Law”

The following interview, conducted by Louise Whittle, is published in the June 2010 issue of Labour Briefing (see here for subscription details, and/or a free copy of the current issue), and was cross-posted yesterday on Louise’s site, Harpymarx.

Labour Briefing: What made you (and Polly Nash) make the film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”?

Andy Worthington: The film arose as a follow-up to my book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, published by Pluto Press. Polly, who has worked in film and TV production for 20 years, is an old friend, and when the book was published I thought that its central themes would translate well to film: specifically, about how prisoners were not “the worst of the worst,” seized by US forces “on the battlefield,” but were, instead, mostly innocent men or low-level Taliban recruits, sold to the US military by their Afghan and Pakistani allies, and how some of the men were in Afghanistan or Pakistan as missionaries or as humanitarian aid workers.

Polly agreed, and so we put together a structure for the film, telling these stories by focusing on the cases of three particular British prisoners — Shaker Aamer (who is still held) and Binyam Mohamed and Omar Deghayes (both released) — and I then approached contacts I had established for the interviews that tell the story: in particular, lawyers Tom Wilner, Clive Stafford Smith and Gareth Pierce, and former prisoners Omar Deghayes and Moazzam Begg, with myself providing some of the commentary and interpretation.

Labour Briefing: What reaction have you received so far from the mainstream media and from the anti-war movement?

Andy Worthington: Sadly, there has been silence for the most part from the mainstream media, although in March the BBC in Kent and in Scotland took an interest in the ongoing UK tour of the film undertaken by myself and Omar Deghayes, and we have had successful screenings everywhere we’ve been, including at Amnesty International’s HQ in London, at the National Film Theatre, and as part of the London International Documentary Festival in April. There has been stronger support from the anti-war movement, and several screenings have been organized by various Stop the War groups.

Unfortunately, the mainstream seems to think that Guantánamo is an old story, even though Obama has reached a state of paralysis in his attempts to close the prison, and 181 men are still held, with no sign of when — or how — this aberrant experiment will actually be brought to an end. It would be nice to think that a distributor will pick up on the film, and realize that there is an audience for the film, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

Labour Briefing: What reaction have you had from other countries?

Andy Worthington: I took the film on a short US tour in November, but I have to say that, after an initial flurry of optimism in the wake of Obama’s election, something close to despair has set in amongst progressives and liberals — or people are still fooling themselves that Obama has waved a magic wand and thoroughly repudiated the crimes of the Bush years, which, of course, he has not. Polly and I are discussions with an American distributor, and I hope something comes of that, because the film really needs to be seen widely in the US.

In February, Polly and I were invited to take part in a film festival in Oslo (the Human Rights, Human Wrongs Festival), which was very successful. We’re also waiting to hear from various film festivals around the world, and volunteers are currently translating it into various other languages, so I’m hopeful that it will eventually be seen by international audiences.

Labour Briefing: To what extent do you think you were only able to scrape the surface in making “Outside the Law”? Do you think it is possible to lift the lid on the system of secret prisons and the use of rendition states to do the West’s dirty work in torturing people in secret?

Andy Worthington: There are obviously other stories to be told — particularly about the whole program of “extraordinary rendition” and secret prisons, and about the complicity of other countries in the “War on Terror,” including the UK, which was deeply involved, as recent court cases have shown. Part of the problem is that countries are fighting tooth and nail to prevent these stories coming out, as they provide evidence of complicity in war crimes, but another problem is the Obama administration, which is maintaining that it wants to “look forward and not back.” I think that the truth will eventually be revealed, but it will take many more years, and in the meantime I think we all need to also focus on making sure that our governments are cleaning up their acts.

Labour Briefing: What impact has the experience had on the men released from Guantánamo, such as psychological and political effects?

Andy Worthington: I think it depends. The former prisoners that I have come to know have mostly shown extraordinary resilience, though their faith and through the bonds they established in Guantánamo to help them survive their ordeal, but I know that not everyone has been so strong, or so fortunate. Former prisoners in the West have access to psychological counseling, but this is not available elsewhere, even though many other former prisoners need it. In addition, of course, very few former prisoners can find work after being held at Guantánamo, unless they can find a way to be become involved in human rights. I recommend people to look at the work of the Guantánamo Justice Centre, founded by former prisoners, which is attempting to raise money for the welfare of former prisoners, and also to establish court cases against those who authorized or facilitated their detention, rendition and torture.

Labour Briefing: To what extent has the political culture within Britain changed so that questions of legality and illegality and human rights issues are seen as marginal?

Andy Worthington: I think the UK is less fooled than the US when it comes to swallowing the fear-filled rhetoric of the “War on Terror,” but it is sadly true that Islamophobia has taken hold, and that it has not only infected popular discourse, but has also infected the government and the intelligence services. I don’t doubt that there are threats out there, but the approach is to tell Muslims to shut up and not to discuss, let alone be angered by Britain’s foreign policy. In addition, Britain has its own version of Guantánamo, in the cases of the men — all Muslims — who are detained under control orders, or on deportation bail, on the basis of secret evidence that they are unable to challenge adequately. If this were happening to any other group, there would be a public outcry, but because it’s happening to Muslims, it is somehow regarded as acceptable. That, in a nutshell, tells you how far we have drifted from respect for the law, and for the fundamental principle that no one should be deprived of their liberty except in a court of law, and by a jury of their peers.

Labour Briefing: What do you think the new government should be doing in dealing with the whole issue of illegal imprisonment and torture?

Andy Worthington: The new government needs to look very closely — and urgently — at existing anti-terror legislation: the use of secret evidence, control orders and deportation bail, in particular, but also the idiotic attempt to outlaw the “glorification of terrorism,” which runs the very real risk of criminalizing thought crimes.

For me, this is all tied in with the increase in racism and xenophobia over the last 15 years, so I hope that the new government will also uphold Britain’s obligations to refugees, and will recognize that there is something truly appalling about the way in which failed asylum seekers are held, and will also recognize that we need a grown-up debate about how to stop criminalising asylum seekers and pretending that we don’t need to address the problem of the many, many thousands of failed asylum seekers who are living in poverty below the radar, hiding out from a society whose only response to them, though illegal under the terms of the UN Convention Against Torture, is, “Send them all back!”

Politics being as it is, however, I doubt that the new government will do any of this willingly.

Labour Briefing: Shaker Aamer is still detained in Guantánamo. What can activists do to highlight and campaign against this injustice?

Andy Worthington: Push the new government for his return. Shaker is the last British resident in Guantánamo, who was cleared for release in 2007, but is still held. I advise activists to send letters to the Prime Minister and the foreign secretary [a letter is here] asking them to demand Shaker’s return, and also to ask for the UK to accept Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian who lived here for three years. Ahmed was also cleared for release in 2007, but is terrified of returning to Algeria.

I also believe that the UK government should accept other cleared prisoners, like Ahmed, who cannot be returned to their home countries, but who, unlike Ahmed, have no connection with this country. This is the least that Britain should be doing, after being so intimately involved with the crimes of the “War on Terror,” and it is unacceptable that the UK has been standing by, while Albania, Belgium, Bermuda, Bulgaria, France, Georgia, Hungary, Ireland, Palau, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland have all helped out by taking cleared prisoners who have no previous connection with them, in order to close Guantánamo and to bring to an end these men’s undue suffering.

Note: Please also see here for a letter that readers can send to MPs asking them to take action for Shaker Aamer, and to oppose the use of control orders and secret evidence.

“Outside the Law”: reviews and feedback

“[T]his is a strong movie examining the imprisonment and subsequent torture of those falsely accused of anti-American conspiracy.”
Joe Burnham, Time Out

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

“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

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.

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

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), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

The Battle of the Beanfield: 25th Anniversary Events

Tuesday June 1 is the 25th anniversary of a brutal and pivotal event that signalled the start of a serious assault on civil liberties in the UK, leading to the passage of two horrendous pieces of legislation — the Public Order Act of 1986 and the Criminal Justice Act of 1994 — and paving the way for the excesses of the authoritarian regime presided over by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

That event on June 1, 1985 — a notoriously violent, one-sided confrontation between 450 unarmed travellers and a quasi-military police force of over 1,300 police and MoD personnel — is known as the Battle of the Beanfield. Further information can be found in The Battle of the Beanfield, the book I compiled and edited in 2005 for the 20th anniversary, and in the documentary “Operation Solstice,” directed by Gareth Morris and Neil Goodwin for Channel 4 in 1991. In addition, some indication of the significance of the Beanfield can hopefully be gleaned from this article I wrote for the Guardian last year — and the accompanying article here.

As I explained at the time:

[At the Battle of the Beanfield] a convoy of new age travellers, peace activists, anti-nuclear campaigners and free festival goers were ambushed en route to Stonehenge, to set up the 12th annual Stonehenge free festival, and subjected to a brutal display of State aggression.

On that dreadful day for civil liberties in the UK, when Margaret Thatcher, having crushed the miners, turned her attention to a new “enemy within,” the one-sided Battle of the Beanfield was followed up by legislation (the 1986 Public Order Act) that legitimized the government’s attempts to crush the way of life of travellers and Gypsies, curtailed the British public’s traditional right to gather freely without prior permission, and paved the way for a further assault on civil liberties (in the 1994 Criminal Justice Act), which was precipitated by the last large free festival in the UK, at Castlemorton, in May 1992.

And as I added in the Guardian:

[T]he 1994 Criminal Justice Act not only repealed the 1968 Caravans Sites Act, criminalising the entire way of life of gypsies and travellers by removing the obligation on local authorities to provide sites for gypsies, but also amended the Public Order Act by introducing the concept of “trespassory assembly.” This enabled the police to ban groups of 20 or more people meeting in a particular area if they feared “serious disruption to the life of the community,” even if the meeting was non-obstructive and non-violent, and the act also introduced “aggravated trespass,” which finally transformed trespass from a civil to a criminal concern.

Both had disturbing ramifications for almost all kinds of protests and alternative gatherings, and were clearly ramped up after the government failed to secure convictions after the Battle of the Beanfield using an ancient charge of “unlawful assembly.” Moreover, as protestors have been discovering in the years since the passing of the Criminal Justice Act, the groundwork laid by the Public Order Act and the Criminal Justice Act provided the Labour government, which has passed more legislation directed at civil liberties than any previous government, to start from a presumption that there were few, if any instances when a peaceful protest by just two people could not be suppressed.

To mark the anniversary, three screenings of “Operation Solstice” are taking place on Tuesday, in Bradford, Brighton and London, and a new play, based on the dreadful events of that day, starts a three-week run in Exeter. There have also been rumours that there will be some sort of Beanfield reunion at the actual site, beside the A303 in Wiltshire, and for further information on this please see this Facebook page.

The details of the film screenings and the play are as follows:

London, Tuesday June 1, 7 pm: Screening of “Operation Solstice” at The Broca, 4 Coulgate Street, Brockley, London, SE4 1XY.
Introduced by Andy Worthington, plus a post-screening Q&A session. Also see here for Andy’s other current events, involving screenings of the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” directed by Polly Nash and Andy. For The Broca, see the website here.

Bradford, Tuesday June 1, 7.30 pm: Screening of “Operation Solstice” at the 1in12 Club, 21-23 Albion Street, Bradford, BD1 2LY.
From the publicity: “Bolstered by a mandate from on high — and some dodgy injunctions, preventing 83 named individuals from approaching Stonehenge — the police brought to a violent end the 11th annual Stonehenge Free Festival, and set about “decommissioning” the new Travellers’ movement. We’ll be remembering these events at the 1in12 Club with a showing of “Operation Solstice” and considering the links between the attacks on the counterculture in 1985 and organised labour in 1984 (miners) and 1986 (printworkers) and how that set the pre-conditions for the acquiesce-or-else debt-based consumerist experiment which has now culminated in the return to power of the architects of some of the 1980s most shameful episodes.”

Brighton, Tuesday June 1, 8 pm: Screening of “Operation Solstice” at the Cowley Club, 12 London Road, Brighton, BN1 4JA.
Organized by SCHMovies (part of the excellent SCHNews collective). See the Cowley Club Facebook page here.

Exeter, Tuesday June 1 to Saturday June 19: “Beanfield,” a new play by Shaun McCarthy at The Bike Shed Theatre, St Olaves Close, Mary Archers Street, Exeter, EX4 3AT.
Produced by the Particular Theatre Company, “Beanfield” is described as follows: “Produced to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Battle of the Beanfield, this beautiful play looks at the human cost of the tragedy, both at the time and for us now. Seen through the lens of a love story between Steamer, a veteran of the convoy, and Annie, the well-to-do daughter of a newspaper editor, and taking in an array of characters from policemen to English Heritage committee members, ‘Beanfield’ tells an epic story with a lightness of touch.”
Following the opening run in Exeter, “Beanfield” will be performed at the Tobacco Factory, Bristol, from August 24 to September 4.
See here for the Particular Theatre Company website, and here for the Bike Shed Theatre.

For further information on the Beanfield and civil liberties in the UK, see my book Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, and two other articles here and here (and also see here for information about a book of photos from the 1994 Solsbury Hill road protest). I’ll also be posting an excerpt from the Beanfield book on the actual anniversary.

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), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

More “Congressional Depravity” on Guantánamo

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On Monday, in an article entitled, “House Kills Plan to Close Guantánamo,” I described my despair at the House Armed Services Committee’s unanimous refusal to provide $350 million (out of a war budget of $726 billion) so that President Obama can close Guantánamo by moving prisoners to a facility in Illinois.

As I explained in the article, I was not upset that the administration’s plan to replicate Guantánamo in Illinois was being turned down, because I have nothing but contempt for President Obama’s assertion that 48 of the remaining 181 prisoners can continue to be held indefinitely without charge or trial, and simply moving them from Guantánamo to the US mainland would only make matters worse. However, what distresses me about the Committee’s refusal to back the President’s plan is that its only purpose is to keep Guantánamo open forever.

However, my criticism of lawmakers does not stop with this decision, which is likely to receive formal House approval this week, and approval in the Senate soon after. In its summary of the funding bill that contained the prohibition on buying a new prison on the US mainland, the House Armed Services Committee also laid down a set of demands regarding the release of prisoners, which encroaches further on the President’s ability to release anyone from Guantánamo than was achieved last year, when lawmakers first rose up in revolt, passing legislation preventing any prisoner from being brought to the US mainland except to face trials, and insisting that they be given two weeks’ notice before any prisoner — even those cleared by the courts after successful habeas corpus petitions — could be released.

In this latest assault on the Executive and the judiciary, the House Armed Services Committee’s summary requires the President to submit “a comprehensive disposition plan and risk assessment” for any future release (or transfer) of a prisoner, and allows Congress “120 days to review the disposition plan before it could be carried out.” In addition, the two weeks’ notice demanded by Congress before any prisoner is released is to be extended to a 30-day review period.

This has clearly been set up as a national security concern — and is just as clearly influenced by the overreaction to the Christmas arrest of the would-be plane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who had apparently trained in Yemen, with a handful of Saudis who had been released from Guantánamo by George W. Bush. Critics of Obama were silent regarding this particular fact, and were also silent when it was pointed out that the men in question had been released by President Bush as part of a diplomatic deal with the Saudi government, in spite of the recommendations of the intelligence services. However, having effortlessly transferred all the blame for Bush’s mistakes onto Obama’s shoulders, the Senate Armed Services Committee had no qualms about inserting into its summary of the bill a requirement for defense secretary Robert Gates to tell Congress that any release or transfer must meet “strict security criteria to thoroughly vet any foreign country to which a detainee may be transferred.”

Perhaps this sounds reasonable. After all, when Obama came to power, he chose to work more closely with Congress, and not to insist that he could unilaterally do whatever he wanted because of the allegedly limitless powers available to the Commander-in-Chief in wartime, as President Bush had maintained. However, what it means in practice is that, if the administration wishes to release a prisoner who has been cleared by a US court, after winning his habeas corpus petition, that prisoner can actually be held “in the status of ‘Congressional prisoner,’ a status for which there is no Constitutional authority,” for a period of 30 days.

The quote above is from Lt. Col. David Frakt, who wrote these words last October, with reference to the 15-day period which, at the time, Congress had granted itself to review the cases of prisoners before release — even those cleared by a US court. At the time, Lt. Col. Frakt refused to mince his words about Congress’ unconstitutional activities. As the military defense attorney for the Afghan prisoner Mohammed Jawad, who won his habeas petition last July, but was not released for another 22 days because “[t]he Department of Justice said they needed a week to prepare the notice and then he couldn’t be released until 15 days after that,” he included the quote above in a more detailed criticism of Congress, in which he stated:

I consider this Congressional notification requirement to be blatantly unconstitutional as a violation of the separation of powers. In Jawad’s case, it meant that after the Executive Branch and the Judiciary had concluded there was no lawful basis for the military to detain Mohammed Jawad (after the Department of Justice ultimately conceded the habeas corpus petition), the military was required to continue to detain him at Guantánamo at the order of the legislature, Congress. As I explained in Federal District Court, this placed Jawad in the status of “Congressional prisoner,” a status for which there is no Constitutional authority.

He added:

This provision, coupled with the refusal to authorize funds for detainees to be resettled in the United States — even those determined to be innocent of any wrongdoing who should qualify for political asylum — shows the extent of Congressional depravity on any issues related to detainees.

With the House Armed Services Committee now intent on doubling the amount of time that any prisoner — even those cleared for release by a US court — can be held as a result of this “Congressional depravity,” I wrote again to Lt. Col. Frakt to ask for his opinion about this latest development, and received a reply by email in which he told me that “the unanimous vote on this committee report and the minimal level of publicity that it has generated” reflect two current aspects of US thinking, both of which are, to be blunt, depressing. The first, as Lt. Col. Frakt explained, is “a reversion in the mood of the country to the post 9-11 terrorist hysteria resulting from the failed Christmas Day and Times Square bombing attempts, and the fearmongering of politicians and the press surrounding these incidents.” As he also explained, “With every seat in the House of Representatives up for election in November, the incumbent members of Congress are desperate not to give their opponents any potential ammunition to claim that they are soft on terrorists, or are ‘bringing terrorists to American soil.’”

This is certainly true, and reflects badly on a political system in which mid-term elections ensure that, just a year after the Presidential Election, the lowest common denominator of political campaigning takes precedence over anything else, but Lt. Col. Frakt also pointed out that the second reason is President Obama’s own inability — or refusal — to make the reversal and thorough repudiation of Bush-era “national security” policies central to his administration’s aims. As he explained, “the difficulty the administration is having following through on the President’s pledge to close Guantánamo, including opposition within his own party, reflects the President’s near-total lack of leadership on this issue since his inaugural pledge to shut Guantánamo.” He added:

Since his first week in office, he has made it clear, through his inaction, and other direct and indirect signals, that closing Guantánamo is not a priority of the Administration. Having finally won one significant legislative victory with the health care reform bill, he wants to keep the momentum going and try to tackle some other major initiatives such as an energy/environment bill, financial market reform, and immigration reform. All of these will take some bipartisan cooperation, and he probably rightfully fears that a divisive fight over Guantánamo will derail his domestic agenda. On the other hand, if he made it clear that he considered the closure of Guantánamo to be a national security imperative and part of his overall war strategy, it is hard to imagine Congress openly defying the Commander-in-Chief during wartime on a military matter.

Unfortunately, by refusing to demonstrate leadership on the issues, the President has indeed played into the hands of his opponents — both in the Republican Party, and in his own party — and, moreover, seems to have failed to gain any political advantage from doing so. The losers are not just the Democrats, who look set to suffer heavy losses in November, but also the prisoners at Guantánamo, who now seem more abandoned than at any time since the first few years of Guantánamo’s existence. Or, as Lt. Col. Frakt described it, “Sadly, the detainees at Guantánamo, both the guilty and the innocent, continue to be mere pawns in a drawn-out political chess game with no clear end in sight.”

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), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published on the Huffington Post and AlterNet. Cross-posted on Common Dreams, CounterCurrents and New Left Project.

The Black Hole of Bagram

On Friday, the Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. delivered a genuinely disturbing ruling (PDF) regarding prisoners in the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, which has turned the clock back to the darkest days of the Bush administration, before prisoners seized in the “War on Terror” had any recourse to justice if they claimed they had been seized by mistake.

Ruling in the case of three foreign prisoners — Redha al-Najar, a Tunisian seized in Karachi, Pakistan in 2002, Amin al-Bakri, a Yemeni gemstone dealer seized in Bangkok, Thailand in 2003, and Fadi al-Maqaleh, a Yemeni seized in 2004 — who were seized outside Afghanistan and transferred to Bagram via a number of secret CIA prisons, the Court of Appeals reversed a ruling last March by District Judge John D. Bates, granting the men the right to ask a US court why they were being held.

In January 2009, during a hearing before he delivered his final ruling, Judge Bates had recognized that Bagram was “a ‘black hole’ for detainees in a ‘law-free zone,’” and in his ruling he concluded — correctly — that the habeas rights granted by the Supreme Court to the Guantánamo prisoners in June 2008, in Boumediene v. Bush, also extended to foreign prisoners seized in other countries and rendered to Bagram, because, as he explained succinctly, “the detainees themselves as well as the rationale for detention are essentially the same.”

My own understanding was that it was only an administrative accident — or some as yet unknown decision that involved keeping a handful of foreign prisoners in Bagram, instead of sending them all to Guantánamo — that prevented these three men (and several dozen other foreign prisoners) from joining the 779 men in the offshore prison in Cuba.

This should have been the end of the story, especially as Judge Bates made no suggestion that similar rights should extend to foreign prisoners captured in Afghanistan, and also because, in June 2009, he accepted that a fourth man who had submitted a habeas petition — Haji Wazir, an Afghan seized in the United Arab Emirates — had no right to access a US court. Although there was undoubtedly a case to be made that an Afghan rendered to Afghanistan from another country was in same position as a foreigner when it came to asking why they were being held, Judge Bates accepted the government’s argument that granting habeas rights to any Afghan would cause “friction” with the Afghan government, because of ongoing negotiations regarding the transfer of Afghan prisoners to the custody of their own government, and refused to grant Haji Wazir’s habeas petition.

However, this was not the end of the story. As soon as Judge Bates delivered his ruling last March, the government announced that it would appeal, and, in September, submitted a 76-page argument (PDF), which, as a sweetener to the Court of Appeals, also addressed a problem that Judge Bates had highlighted, even though it was beyond his remit to suggest any remedy.

The problem highlighted by Judge Bates was the review process at Bagram, and in making his ruling about the foreign prisoners rendered to the prison, he had compared it unfavorably to the review process in operation at Guantánamo, noting that the Unlawful Enemy Combatant Review Board (UECRB) at Bagram was both “inadequate” and “more error-prone” than the Combatant Status Review Tribunals at Guantánamo (which were condemned as nothing more than a rubberstamp for executive detention by former officials who worked on them, including, in particular, Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham), and concluding that the US military’s control over Bagram “is not appreciably different than at Guantánamo.”

In an analysis of the UECRB process, Judge Bates noted that prisoners were not allowed to have a “personal representative” from the military in place of a lawyer (as at Guantánamo), and were obliged to represent themselves, and also explained, “In addition, Detainees cannot even speak for themselves; they are only permitted to submit a written statement. But in submitting that statement, detainees do not know what evidence the United States relies upon to justify an “enemy combatant” designation — so they lack a meaningful opportunity to rebut that evidence.” He also noted that, unlike at Guantánamo, where Administrative Review Boards were convened on an annual basis, “Bagram detainees receive no review beyond the UECRB itself.”

It was no wonder that Judge Bates concluded that this process “falls well short of what the Supreme Court found inadequate at Guantánamo,” but in highlighting the review process at Bagram, he also touched on the biggest problem of all — that everyone at Bagram was held with less rights than the largely powerless “enemy combatants” of Guantánamo, and that they were, in particular, not being held as prisoners of war according to the Geneva Conventions. This would have involved them being screened on capture, to determine whether they were combatants or civilians seized by mistake, and would then have involved them being held unmolested until the end of hostilities. It certainly would not have involved them not receiving adequate screening on capture, and then being subjected — at some undetermined point after capture — to a review process conjured up out of thin air.

When the government appealed Judge Bates’ ruling, the Justice Department’s submission included an attachment from the Defense Department, announcing that the UECRB process at Bagram was being replaced with a system that closely matched the tribunal process at Guantánamo — the one that, as Judge Bates noted, was “found inadequate” by the Supreme Court.

Under this new system, prisoners are assigned personal representatives (as at Guantánamo), are allowed to call witnesses (as at Guantánamo, although not a single witness from outside the prison was ever located by the officials in charge), and have their cases reviewed every six months. This certainly addressed the main problems identified by Judge Bates, although, as I explained at the time, by importing the CSRT process to Bagram and refusing to reinstate the Geneva Conventions, Obama and his administration “have, essentially, accepted the Bush administration’s aberrant changes regarding the detention of prisoners in wartime as a permanent shift in policy, with profound implications for the Conventions in general.”

On Friday, sadly, none of these concerns registered with the three judges responsible for reviewing the government’s appeal. Instead, Chief Circuit Judge David B. Sentelle, supported by Senior Circuit Judge Harry T. Edwards and Circuit Judge David S. Tatel, discarded Judge Bates’ ruling, after disagreeing with his interpretation of three tests required to ascertain the extent to which Boumediene applied beyond US territory. As SCOTUSblog explained, the three tests involved “the process for deciding who is to be detained, the nature of the site where detention occurs, and practical problems of having courts decide the validity of detention.”

On the first test, the Circuit Court agreed with Judge Bates that the review process at Bagram “afford[s] even less protection to the rights of detainees in the determination of status than was the case with the CSRT.” However, on the second and third tests, the Circuit Court ruled that the nature of the site — leased from the Afghan government, but not under long-established US control like Guantánamo — “weighs heavily in favor of the United States,” and also ruled that, because “[i]t is undisputed that Bagram, indeed the whole nation of Afghanistan, remains a theater of war,” the right of the courts to interfere was not appropriate, and the balance of the argument therefore tipped “overwhelmingly” in the government’s favor.

This was noticeably different from Judge Bates’ interpretation of the potential obstacles to habeas review. As he stated in his ruling last March, although Bagram is “located in an active theater of war,” and this may pose some “practical obstacles” to a court review of their cases, these obstacles “are not as great” as the government suggested, are “not insurmountable,” and are, moreover, “largely of the Executive’s choosing,” because the prisoners were specifically transported to Bagram from other locations.

This latter point ought to have been significant, but it was played down in the Circuit Court, where the judges stated that, although they were not ignoring the prisoners’ argument that “the United States chose the place of detention and might be able ‘to evade judicial review of Executive detention decisions by transferring detainees into active conflict zones, thereby granting the Executive the power to switch the Constitution on or off at will,’” this is “not what happened here.”

The judges did throw a warning shot the government’s way, suggesting that a review might be appropriate if a case arises “in which the claim is a reality rather than a speculation,” but remained adamant that this had not happened, because it would have required a decision to hold prisoners deliberately at Bagram, rather than at Guantánamo, knowing that, in the future, the Boumediene decision would occur.

This was an interesting point, but looking at it the other way, the judges’ argument actually fails to explain why, when “the detainees themselves as well as the rationale for detention are essentially the same,” as Judge Bates explained, those at Guantánamo, who were deliberately moved to a place where the Executive hoped to “switch the Constitution on or off at will,” but were then granted the right to judicial review, differ from those at Bagram, who have been denied the right to a judicial review and seem, therefore, to be very much in a place where the Executive has been able to “switch the Constitution on or off at will.”

What will happen next is at present unknown, although it is probable that lawyers for the men will approach the Supreme Court. However, with the retirement of Justice John Paul Stevens, who played a crucial role in swinging the Court in favor of the the Guantánamo prisoners in a series of important rulings between 2004 and 2008, culminating in Boumediene v. Bush, it is uncertain whether a majority would rule in the Bagram prisoners’ favor — especially as Elena Kagan, if confirmed as his replacement in the Court, would have to recuse herself from the case, having represented the government in the litigation to date as Solicitor General. Moreover, there is no guarantee that the Supreme Court will even take the case, as the Court of Appeals ruling was unanimous, and also covered a broad political spectrum, with the judges comprising a conservative (Sentelle) and two liberals (Edwards and Tatel).

Alarmingly, then, the prisoners at Bagram may have just found themselves consigned once more to the legal black hole that the Bush administration intended for them when they were first seized, with no hope of ever challenging the basis of their detention. For anyone who has understood the reasons behind Judge Bates’ ruling last March, this is disgraceful, and those who defend it should recall the words of the Supreme Court in Boumediene, when the justices’ majority opinion made clear how habeas rights were a necessary check on the kind of unfettered Executive power that the Court of Appeals has just attempted to justify at Bagram. “At its historical core,” the opinion stated, “the writ of habeas corpus has served as a means of reviewing the legality of Executive detention, and it is in that context that its protections have been strongest.”

If this ruling is allowed to stand, the Supreme Court will have abdicated its responsibility to ensure that no one can be kidnapped anywhere in the world and held indefinitely, without charge or trial, and with no way of challenging the basis of their detention in a satisfactory manner, either in Bagram, or, for that matter, in any other US facility in a foreign land. Moreover, the Bush administration, from beyond the electoral grave, will have won its most significant battle, which was supposedly lost; namely, maintaining that people can, in fact, be seized anywhere in the world and held without any means of judicial review, and without the obligation to face either a criminal trial or detention as a prisoner of war according to the Geneva Conventions.

This is a dark day indeed for America.

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), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation. Cross-posted on Eurasia Review, The World Can’t Wait and Uruknet.

For other articles relating to Bagram, see: Justice extends to Bagram, Guantánamo’s Dark Mirror (April 2009), When Torture Kills: Ten Murders In US Prisons In Afghanistan (July 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), Andy Worthington Discusses Bagram on al-Jazeera (September 2009), A Letter From Afghanistan: Bagram, Afghan suffering and the futility of war (October 2009), Dark Revelations in the Bagram Prisoner List (January 2010), Bagram: Graveyard of the Geneva Conventions (February 2010). Also see: Bagram: The First Ever Prisoner List (The Annotated Version).

House Kills Plan to Close Guantánamo

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President Obama’s hopes of closing Guantánamo, which were already gravely wounded by his inability to meet his self-imposed deadline of a year for the prison’s closure, now appear to have been killed off by lawmakers in Congress.

Although the House Armed Services Committee was happy to authorize, by 59 votes to 0, a budget of over $700 billion for war ($567 billion for “defense spending” and $159 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) for the fiscal year beginning in October, lawmakers unanimously saw through — and turned down — a fraction of this budget for what the administration had labeled a “transfer fund” — money intended to close Guantánamo and buy a new prison in Illinois for prisoners designated for trials or for indefinite detention without charge or trial.

The administration had attempted to hide its intentions behind this vague wording, because senior officials were acutely aware of ferocious opposition in Congress to the closure of Guantánamo. Fueled by opportunistic Republicans and backed by cowardly Democrats, Congress had only been prevented at the last minute from passing an insane law last year, which would have prevented the administration from bringing any prisoner to the US mainland for any reason (even to face a trial) and had only relented in October, allowing prisoners to be brought to the US mainland for trials, but not for any other purpose.

Despite this, the House Armed Services Committee is now trying to withdraw from even this concession to the administration’s aims, including, in a summary of the bill, a prohibition on using even the tiniest fraction of the war budget (around $350 million) to buy a new detention facility. As Spencer Ackerman explained in the Washington Independent:

According to the bill summary, the bill now requires Defense Secretary Robert Gates to give Congress a report that “adequately justifies any proposal to build or modify such a facility” if it wants to move forward with any post-Guantánamo detention plan. “The Committee firmly believes that the construction or modification of any facility in the US to detain or imprison individuals currently being held at Guantánamo must be accompanied by a thorough and comprehensive plan that outlines the merits, costs, and risks associated with utilizing such a facility,” the summary text read. “No such plan has been presented to date. The bill prohibits the use of any funds for this purpose.”

This is a depressing example of how even a morally and ethically flawed attempt to close Guantánamo is unacceptable to both Republican and Democrat lawmakers, who have retreated to a position that the Bush administration, at its most extreme, would have been proud of.

For those of us who don’t mind prisoners being brought to the US mainland to face trials (35 in total, according to Obama’s Guantánamo Task Force), but who are implacably opposed to the administration’s contention that it can hold some prisoners indefinitely (48 of the remaining 181 prisoners), it is by no means a tragedy that the plan to replicate some of Guantánamo’s most unpalatable innovations on American soil has been prevented.

In my more optimistic moments, it strikes me that, with the option of transferring prisoners to the US mainland denied, the administration will — if it remains committed to the closure of Guantánamo — have to rethink its plans, and that one way of doing this would be to give up on its intention to hold 48 men indefinitely, which, to put it bluntly, is unconstitutional.

In truth, the claim that 48 men should be held indefinitely has always been something of a deception, because these men have outstanding habeas corpus petitions in the District Court in Washington D.C., where judges, rather than an unaccountable Task Force, are making their own decisions about whether they are, as President Obama explained in a major national security speech last May, a special category of prisoner who “cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.”

So far, the judges have ruled that just 14 men can continue to be held indefinitely, although it’s noticeable that, in denying their habeas petitions, they have generally not concluded that they “pose a clear danger to the American people,” but have, instead, found that they were minor players in the Taliban, or in al-Qaeda forces supporting the Taliban. However, according to the detention policies they are required to follow, the judges are not allowed to distinguish between the terrorists of al-Qaeda and the foot soldiers of the Taliban when it comes to consigning men, on an apparently sound legal basis, to endless incarceration.

This problem relates to the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks, which authorizes the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001” (or those who harbored them). Combined with a Supreme Court ruling (in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, in 2004) that “Congress has clearly and unmistakably authorized detention” of individuals covered by the AUMF, this is the rationale used by the administration to justify the prisoners’ detention, and, although different judges have expressed different opinions about who these individuals are, they have broadly agreed that, to qualify as an “enemy combatant” — or, in Obama’s new world, an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent” — the government is required to prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that these individuals supported al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban.

This lack of distinction between al-Qaeda and the Taliban is clearly ridiculous, as was noted last year by two judges, Judge James Robertson and Judge Thomas Hogan, who made a point of stating, when refusing to grant the habeas petitions of two Yemenis, Adham Mohammed Ali Awad and Musa’ab al-Madhwani, that they did not regard either man as an ongoing threat. Regarding Ali Awad, Judge Robertson noted, “It seems ludicrous to believe that he poses a security threat now,” and in al-Madhwani’s case, Judge Hogan stated that he “did not think Madhwani was dangerous,” noted that he has been a “model prisoner” since his arrival at Guantánamo in October 2002, and added, “There is nothing in the record now that he poses any greater threat than those detainees who have already been released.”

Moreover, this inability to make a distinction between al-Qaeda and the Taliban — or al-Qaeda forces supporting the Taliban in military operations in Afghanistan, rather than in activities related to terrorism — is one that I have been railing against for some time now, for the simple reason that the former should be put forward for trials, whereas the latter — if they should continue to be held at all — should be held as prisoners of war according to the Geneva Conventions.

I don’t see this happening anytime soon, of course, because no one even wants to talk about it, but when the House Armed Services Committee moves so decisively to prevent the closure of Guantánamo — and every sign is that the House will approve their amendment this week, and the Senate Armed Services Committee will follow suit at the end of the month — the closure of Guantánamo now requires a new kind of thinking.

To my mind, this should involve, first of all, more respect for the District Court’s habeas rulings than has been shown to date. Over the last 20 months, judges have granted the habeas petitions of 35 prisoners, and along the way have done more to demolish claims that Guantánamo holds “the worst of the worst” than any other forum, exposing how much of the government’s supposed evidence consists of unreliable statements made by the prisoners themselves or by their fellow prisoners, and also exposing how torture, coercion and the bribery of prisoners with better living conditions have played a major role in making these statements unreliable. Despite this, the administration has failed to take advantage of these rulings in its dealings with Congress, and has preferred to either appeal them, or to release those who have won their petitions with extreme reluctance.

In addition, rethinking the closure of Guantánamo should involve highlighting the fact that 96 of the 181 men still held have been cleared for release, reviving plans for returning dozens of cleared men to Yemen (which were shelved in the most cowardly manner after it was revealed that the would-be Christmas Day plane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had trained in Yemen), and — although I expect hell to freeze over before this comes to pass — renewing calls for cleared prisoners who cannot be repatriated because they face the risk of torture to be allowed to settle in the US, as was planned last year by White House Counsel Greg Craig, supported by Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton, until Obama got cold feet.

This could best be achieved by allowing US citizens access to the stories of cleared prisoners released in other countries who are living peaceful lives, and, if it’s of any use, I’m happy to help on this front, as I’ve spent much of the last three months traveling around the UK with a former prisoner, Omar Deghayes, showing “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (a film I co-directed, in which Omar plays a major part), and can guarantee that giving people the opportunity to meet Omar (after they have seen his pained and eloquent testimony about his ordeal) is a perfect way to demonstrate that colossal mistakes were made — and continue to be made — at Guantánamo, that many innocent men were seized, and that many of these innocent men are still held.

And finally, to return to the confusion between al-Qaeda and the Taliban that is at the heart of Guantánamo’s detention problem, rethinking the closure of Guantánamo should involve a recognition that the failure to distinguish between al-Qaeda terrorists and Taliban foot soldiers is unfairly consigning men to indefinite detention as terrorists when they should be held as prisoners of war. In addition, it should also provide an opportunity to reflect on the more fundamental question of whether, over eight years after most of the men who are still held at Guantánamo were first seized, the Authorization for Use of Military Force is a valid reason for detention at all, when the Geneva Conventions and the criminal justice system should suffice.

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), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published on the Huffington Post, AlterNet, Antiwar.com and CounterPunch. Cross-posted on The Public Record, The World Can’t Wait and Dandelion Salad.

For an overview of all the habeas rulings, including links to all my articles, and to the judges’ unclassified opinions, see: Guantánamo Habeas Results: The Definitive List. For a sequence of articles dealing with the Guantánamo habeas cases, see: Guantánamo and the Supreme Court: the most important habeas corpus case in modern history and Guantánamo and the Supreme Court: What Happened? (both December 2007), The Supreme Court’s Guantánamo ruling: what does it mean? (June 2008), Guantánamo as Alice in Wonderland (Uighurs’ first court victory, June 2008), What’s Happening with the Guantánamo cases? (July 2008), Government Says Six Years Is Not Long Enough To Prepare Evidence (September 2008), From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008), Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), After 7 Years, Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo Kidnap Victims (November 2008), Is Robert Gates Guilty of Perjury in Guantánamo Torture Case? (December 2008), A New Year Message to Barack Obama: Free the Guantánamo Uighurs (January 2009), The Top Ten Judges of 2008 (January 2009), No End in Sight for the “Enemy Combatants” of Guantánamo (January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (January 2009), How Cooking For The Taliban Gets You Life In Guantánamo (January 2009), Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics (February 2009), Bad News And Good News For The Guantánamo Uighurs (February 2009), The Nobodies Formerly Known As Enemy Combatants (March 2009), Farce at Guantánamo, as cleared prisoner’s habeas petition is denied (April 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Judge Condemns “Mosaic” Of Guantánamo Intelligence, And Unreliable Witnesses (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), Guantánamo: A Prison Built On Lies (May 2009), Free The Guantánamo Uighurs! (May 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part One): Exposing The Bush Administration’s Lies (July 2009), Obama’s Failure To Deliver Justice To The Last Tajik In Guantánamo (July 2009), Obama And The Deadline For Closing Guantánamo: It’s Worse Than You Think (July 2009), How Judge Huvelle Humiliated The Government In Guantánamo Case (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), As Judge Orders Release Of Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner, Government Refuses To Concede Defeat (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), Guantánamo As Hotel California: You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave (August 2009), Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Kuwaiti Charity Worker (August 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part Two): Obama’s Shame (August 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part Three): Obama’s Continuing Shame (August 2009), No Escape From Guantánamo: The Latest Habeas Rulings (September 2009), First Guantánamo Prisoner To Lose Habeas Hearing Appeals Ruling (September 2009), A Truly Shocking Guantánamo Story: Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False Confessions (September 2009), 75 Guantánamo Prisoners Cleared For Release; 31 Could Leave Today (September 2009), Resisting Injustice In Guantánamo: The Story Of Fayiz Al-Kandari (October 2009), Justice Department Pointlessly Gags Guantánamo Lawyer (November 2009), Judge Orders Release Of Algerian From Guantánamo (But He’s Not Going Anywhere) (November 2009), Innocent Guantánamo Torture Victim Fouad al-Rabiah Is Released In Kuwait (December 2009), What Does It Take To Get Out Of Obama’s Guantánamo? (December 2009), “Model Prisoner” at Guantánamo, Tortured in the “Dark Prison,” Loses Habeas Corpus Petition (December 2009), Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Unwilling Yemeni Recruit (December 2009), Serious Problems With Obama’s Plan To Move Guantánamo To Illinois (December 2009), Appeals Court Extends President’s Wartime Powers, Limits Guantánamo Prisoners’ Rights (January 2010), Fear and Paranoia as Guantánamo Marks its Eighth Anniversary (January 2010), Rubbing Salt in Guantánamo’s Wounds: Task Force Announces Indefinite Detention (January 2010), The Black Hole of Guantánamo (March 2010), Guantánamo Uighurs Back in Legal Limbo (March 2010), Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: The Torture Victim and the Taliban Recruit (April 2010), An Insignificant Yemeni at Guantánamo Loses His Habeas Petition (April 2010), With Regrets, Judge Allows Indefinite Detention at Guantánamo of a Medic (April 2010), Mohamedou Ould Salahi: How a Judge Demolished the US Government’s Al-Qaeda Claims (April 2010), Judge Rules Yemeni’s Detention at Guantánamo Based Solely on Torture (April 2010), Why Judges Can’t Free Torture Victims from Guantánamo (April 2010), How Binyam Mohammed’s Torture Was Revealed in a US Court (May 2010), Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: Consigning Soldiers to Oblivion (May 2010), Judge Denies Habeas Petition of an Ill and Abused Libyan in Guantánamo (May 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).

New letter to MPs asking them to oppose the use of secret evidence in UK courts, and to support the return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer

Just ten days ago, I drafted a letter for readers to send to their MPs, asking for their opinions on four particular topics: the closure of Guantánamo and the return to the UK of British resident Shaker Aamer; the use of secret evidence in UK courts; the continued existence of control orders for British and foreign terror suspects; and the involvement of the British government in extraordinary rendition and torture abroad.

With William Hague’s announcement on Thursday that there will be a judicial inquiry into British complicity in torture, there is no longer a need to ask MPs if they support an inquiry, although it is still worth asking them what they believe the scope of the inquiry should be, and also to point out that any inquiry will be worthless if Shaker Aamer remains imprisoned at Guantanamo while it takes place, because the Metropolitan Police are investigating claims, first aired in a UK court in December, that MI5 agents were present in Afghanistan while he was being tortured by US operatives.

As a result, I have amended the letter as presented below.

Please also note that, with the recent hysteria regarding a ruling that two Pakistani terror suspects cannot be repatriated because they face the risk of torture, which was made by a judge who heard their case in closed sessions involving the use of secret evidence, this particular topic — and the fundamental conflict it raises with regard to the principles of open justice on which the UK prides itself — is once more up for discussion. It is, therefore, enormously important that MPs are told about the work of JUSTICE, the all-party law reform and human rights organisation (PDF), and others who have been pressing for years for fair trials using intercept evidence, instead of the shambolic, cruel and unjust situation created by the Labour government.

As before, I urge readers to cut and paste and send the letter to their MPs, which they can do through very useful interactive lists on the party websites (Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative) or through TheyWorkForYou.

In addition, I still recommend sending it to as many Liberal Democrat MPs as possible, given that almost all their MPs (including Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Chris Huhne and Danny Alexander) voted against the renewal of control orders on March 1, and that many of them also supported the return of Shaker Aamer and a ban on the use of secret evidence, and signed up to Early Day Motions on both subjects in the last 12 months. This — despite William Hague’s swift action to tackle British complicity in torture — was in marked contrast to their Tory allies in the new coalition government, who have a dismal record on these issues, with just two MPs prepared to support any of these causes, compared to 43 current Labour MPs and 44 Lib Dems, as I explained in a list of 98 MPs that I published on May 14.

As I also explained when I published my initial draft letter to MPs, please note that, although the majority of MPs (551 of them) have no track record on these issues, the 98 mentioned in my previous article do, to at least some extent, and if any of these are your local MPs it may be worth tailoring the letter to reflect their previous concerns. Please also feel free to let myself and the London Guantánamo Campaign know when you have sent a letter (and when/if you receive a reply), and we will monitor the responses (the LGC drafted a letter originally, which I then adapted).

Please also note that a letter to foreign secretary William Hague regarding Shaker Aamer, Guantánamo and the scope of the judicial inquiry is available here, and that copies of both letters will be available at future screenings of the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which features the story of Shaker Aamer, and is currently on a UK tour.

A letter to MPs regarding secret evidence, control orders, and the return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer

Dear

I am writing to you to ask what measures you will take in this new parliamentary session with respect to four specific matters relating to terrorism: the closure of Guantánamo and the return to the UK of British resident Shaker Aamer; the use of secret evidence in UK courts; the continued existence of control orders for British and foreign terror suspects; and the scope of the judicial inquiry into British involvement in torture, which was announced by foreign secretary William Hague on 20 May.

With respect to Guantánamo, I would like to know if you support the release of Shaker Aamer, a British resident from Battersea, who has a British wife and four British children. Mr. Aamer was cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2007, and the Labour government sought his return to the UK for nearly three years, but with no success. According to his lawyers, the government did not advocate strongly enough for his return. Will you take steps to ensure Mr. Aamer’s safe return to the UK, and will you also ask the government to follow the example of other countries (including Belgium, France, Portugal and Spain) in offering new homes to cleared prisoners from Guantánamo who cannot be repatriated because of fears that they will face torture on their return?

On the use of secret evidence in UK courts, the Law Lords ruled last year that the current system of testing allegations in cases related to terrorism — involving special advocates who represent detainees in closed sessions, but are not allowed to discuss anything that takes place in these sessions with their clients — breaches Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to a fair trial. Nevertheless, secret evidence continues to be used. Do you believe that the use of secret evidence is incompatible with the fundamental principles of open justice that underpin British society, and that alternative methods of protecting sensitive information in open court can, and should be used instead, as proposed by JUSTICE, the all-party law reform and human rights organisation?

Related to this issue are control orders, under which terror suspects — both British and foreign nationals — are held under a form of house arrest, and often subjected to a form of “internal exile” on the basis of secret evidence. The legislation supporting control orders is renewed annually, and on March 1 this year was passed by 206 votes to 85 in the House of Commons, opposed by the Liberal Democrats, but overwhelmingly supported by Conservatives, even though the party recognizes that control orders are “inherently objectionable” and have stated that they want a review. Will you support calls for the control order system to be scrapped?

In addition, with regard to the judicial inquiry into British complicity in torture abroad (which involves dozens of allegations relating to the intelligence services’ involvement in torture from 2001 to the present day), I would like to know what measures — if any — you think should be taken against public servants, of all levels, who knowingly colluded in breaches of international and domestic law. I would also like to ask you to let Mr. Hague know that this inquiry will be hollow if Mr. Aamer remains in Guantánamo while it takes place, because his allegations that MI5 agents were present while he was tortured in Afghanistan (which were revealed in a UK court last December) are being investigated by the Metropolitan Police (as was announced in February), and it would be shocking if his case was investigated by an inquiry while he remains unjustly deprived of his liberty.

I look forward to your response.

Yours faithfully,

Note: I have not included links in the template letter above, but for further information please see this archive of articles about prisoners released from Guantánamo in other European countries, and this article on the Law Lords’ ruling on control orders last June.

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), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

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

Bring Shaker Aamer Home from Guantánamo! Protest at State Opening of Parliament, May 25, 2010

From 10 am onwards on Tuesday May 25, to coincide with the State Opening of Parliament, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign (with the support of the London Guantánamo Campaign) has organized a protest in Parliament Square calling for the immediate return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. The protest, which may well last throughout the day, will, according to the organizers, “involve everyone wearing orange jumpsuits with individual placards held high and continuously slow walking around the square,” and those attending are encouraged to bring “orange jumpsuits, banners, placards, whistles and a picnic.”

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be attending the protest, and will be making my own call for the new coalition government to bring to an end Shaker’s long and unjust imprisonment (as well as calling for the UK to accept other cleared prisoners who cannot be repatriated, including Ahmed Belbacha, who lived here for nearly three years). Although Shaker was cleared for release in 2007, it is obvious that, as the foremost advocate of the prisoners’ rights, and as someone who has received harsh punishment as a result, he knows too much about Guantánamo — and about British complicity in torture — for either the US or UK government to want him freed.

In light of William Hague’s recent announcement that he is launching a judicial inquiry into British complicity in torture, I’ll be pointing out that such an inquiry will be worthless if Shaker is not released, as the Metropolitan Police are currently investigating claims that British agents were complicit in his torture in Afghanistan (as revealed in a UK court in December). As a result, securing Shaker’s return is not only essential for Mr. Hague’s inquiry, but will also send out another clear message that the new coalition government has made a clean break with the policies of its predecessors.

I aim to be at Parliament Square at around noon, and hope to see a number of the other speakers invited by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, who include: the journalist, author and playwright Victoria Brittain; Yvonne Ridley, the patron of Cageprisoners; Jean Lambert MEP; Jeremy Corbyn MP; Kate Hudson, Chair, CND; George Galloway, former MP; Bruce McKenzie, Wandsworth Green Party; Joy Hurcombe, Brighton Against Guantánamo; John Clossick, Chair, Wandsworth Stop the War Coalition; and Chris Nineham, National Officer, Stop the War Coalition. Also invited are the new Battersea MP Jane Ellison (Conservative), former MP Martin Linton (Labour) and Layla Moran (Battersea Liberal Democrat candidate).

Please come along for this protest, if you can, and let other people know about it. As the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign notes, “It is likely that many more people will be in the area than usual for the State Opening, so there will be ample opportunity for publicising our campaign.”

Note: For further information, please contact Ray Silk of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign on 07756 493877 or 020 7223 0234, and please see here for a letter to William Hague, calling for Shaker’s return. There is also a feedback form for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office here, should you wish to send your letter via the web.

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), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

New letter to William Hague, asking him to secure the return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer

With the welcome news that foreign secretary William Hague has ordered a judicial inquiry into allegations of British complicity in torture, I’ve amended the letter to him that I drafted just four days ago, which, in addition to calling for the return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (and also calling for the UK to accept cleared prisoners from other countries who cannot be safely repatriated), also urged him to follow through on his impressive track record of calling for an investigation into allegations of British complicity in torture abroad.

While the scope of this inquiry has yet to be established, it is clearly no longer appropriate to ask Mr. Hague to follow through on his promise to launch an inquiry, and as a result an amended letter below now focuses primarily on Shaker Aamer and other prisoners in Guantánamo, although I also thought it was important to include an amended paragraph asking Mr. Hague to ensure that the scope of the inquiry will be as wide as possible, and pointing out that no credible inquiry can take place while Shaker Aamer is still held, because, as was revealed in a UK court case in December, he has alleged that MI5 agents were present while he was being tortured in US custody in Afghanistan, and, in February, the Metropolitan Police announced that they were investigating these allegations.

As before, please cut and paste it and send it to Mr. Hague, and also feel free to cross-post it, and to circulate it widely. There is an FCO feedback form here, should you wish to send your letter via the web.

A letter to William Hague calling for action on Guantánamo, and the return of Shaker Aamer

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

Dear Foreign Secretary,

I am writing to you regarding the closure of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, and to ask you to do all in your power to secure the return to the UK of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison — and also to take other cleared prisoners who cannot be sent back to their home countries.

As you know, between 2004 and 2007, the Labour government secured the release of all the British nationals held in Guantánamo, and all but one of the British residents. That man is Shaker Aamer, who has a British wife and four British children, and was cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2007. However, although government officials pressed for his return for over three years, they were ultimately unsuccessful in their endeavours. Given our special relationship with the US, which, as you recently stated, should be “solid not slavish”, I urge you to do all in your power to secure his immediate release.

As well as securing the release of Shaker Aamer, I would also like to ask you to help President Obama close Guantánamo by offering homes in the UK to other prisoners cleared for release by the President’s Task Force, out of the many dozens of men who cannot be repatriated because of fears that they will be tortured or subjected to other ill-treatment, and who, as a result, are effectively stateless.

One suitable candidate is Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian man who lived in Bournemouth and cannot return to Algeria for fear for his life. 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 Labour government, which could so easily have offered him a new home, turned its back on him.

By offering a home to Mr. Belbacha, the UK would join an illustrious list of other European countries — Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland — who have accepted cleared 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.

In addition, while congratulating you on your commitment to launch a judicial inquiry into allegations of British complicity in torture, I urge you to ensure that its scope will be as broad as possible, given the dozens of allegations relating to the intelligence services’ involvement in torture from 2001 to the present day.

I must also stress that this inquiry will be hollow if Mr. Aamer remains in Guantánamo while it takes place, because his allegations that MI5 agents were present while he was tortured in Afghanistan (which were revealed in a UK court last December) are being investigated by the Metropolitan Police (as was announced in February), and it would be shocking if his case was investigated by an inquiry while he remains unjustly deprived of his liberty.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,

Note: As before, this letter, and an updated version of a related letter to MPs (which also calls for action on the use of secret evidence and control orders in the UK) will be handed out at future screenings of the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (directed by Polly Nash and myself, and with a focus on Shaker’s story), to continue the campaign for Shaker’s release that I undertook, primarily with former prisoner Omar Deghayes, but also with other guests, including Polly and former prisoner Moazzam Begg, during screenings of the film between February and the day of the General Election.

Please also note that I have not included links in the template letter above, but see here for information about Ahmed Belbacha, and see here for articles dealing with the other European countries who have taken cleared prisoners from Guantánamo, even though they have no previous connection with that country.

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), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

William Hague Orders a Judicial Inquiry into British Complicity in Torture

Some horrors may await us on the economic front when George Osborne, the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, finishes sharpening his scythe, but for those of us who care about human rights and civil liberties, and who have been aghast for the last 13 years at the Labour government’s paranoid, cruel and chaotic anti-terror legislation, its obsession with secret evidence, control orders and imprisonment without charge or trial, its authoritarian contempt for legitimate protest, and its Big Brother approach to surveillance, the arrival of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government has so far been a breath of fresh air.

Beyond the easy targets — the hated ID card scheme, for example — the new government has reacted well to two early tests of its promise to tackle Labour’s record on terrorism. This was a significant target for the Liberal Democrats (who actively opposed the use of secret evidence and control orders, and called for an inquiry into British complicity in torture at their conference last autumn), and this latter topic was also a personal obsession of William Hague’s, even if the party as a whole — with a few other notable exceptions (David Davis and Andrew Tyrie, for example, and Baroness Neville-Jones in the Lords) — supported Labour’s domestic anti-terror agenda rather enthusiastically.

The first test: not overreacting to a difficult decision regarding the deportation of two terror suspects

On Tuesday, the government passed its first test, responding with admirable restraint to the thorny problem of a judge refusing to allow the deportation of two Pakistani terror suspects, because they face the risk of torture in Pakistan.

On the campaign trail, David Cameron had made repealing the Human Rights Act one of his major manifesto pledges (and replacing it with a BNP-sounding British Bill of Rights), but when every misguided xenophobe with access to a newspaper column (or a comments page) began wailing about repealing the HRA immediately, the government refused to be drawn.

Home Secretary Theresa May promised a commission to investigate the HRA, while Nick Clegg warned that the Act was “an absolute constitutional cornerstone” and a “fundamental guarantor of rights to the British citizen,” adding, bluntly, “Any government would tamper with it at its peril.” Crucially, however, the government did not threaten to appeal the decision, seemed content to keep the men in question under surveillance, and no doubt quietly accepted that bashing the HRA as an election tool was not the same as having to deal with the real issues.

These, to be clear, are that the legally binding European Convention on Human Rights (PDF) and the UN Convention Against Torture are the documents that prohibit any involvement whatsoever with torture (including sending foreign nationals back to countries where they face the risk of torture) and the HRA (which largely attempted, with some success, to keep ECHR issues in-house rather than having cases perpetually being referred to Strasbourg) is not to blame.

As a result, although we can no doubt expect the government to attempt to follow Labour’s dubious policy of establishing “memoranda of understanding” with human rights-abusing regimes (which purport to guarantee the humane treatment of those returned, even though that is scarcely credible), we will also, hopefully, see real movement (as signalled on Sunday) regarding putting terror suspects on trial, by allowing the use of intercept evidence in regular courts.

This is what numerous legal experts have been advising for years (PDF), and it is clearly time that we joined the rest of the world in finding a way to do this while protecting intelligence agents and sources, rather than continuing to rely on the use of secret evidence, on special advocates who represent the accused in closed sessions, but are unable to tell their clients anything that they have heard, and on the whims of judges in a special terror court.

The second test: a judicial inquiry into British complicity in torture

On Thursday, the government passed its second test, when William Hague, evidently preempting attempts by FCO and intelligence officials to cajole him into silence, announced that he was ordering a judicial inquiry into British complicity in torture and rendition since September 11, 2001. As the Guardian explained, his remarks “appear to have caught the Foreign Office by surprise, as no details were yet available on how the inquiry will be conducted, its terms of reference or when it will start work.” In a follow-up article, also in the Guardian, Ian Cobain laid out what might be hoped for from the inquiry. “It is expected to expose not only details of the activities of the security and intelligence officials alleged to have colluded in torture since 9/11,” he wrote, “but also the identities of the senior figures in government who authorised those activities.”

As was revealed last June, any detailed inquiry will be required to follow a chain to the very top of government, because, as the Guardian explained at the time, Tony Blair “was aware of the existence of a secret interrogation policy which effectively led to British citizens, and others, being ­tortured during counter-terrorism investigations.”

The Guardian added that Britain’s post-9/11 policy “offered ­guidance to MI5 and MI6 officers ­questioning detainees in Afghanistan whom they knew were being mistreated by the US military,” providing intelligence agents with written instructions that they could not “be seen to condone” torture and must not “engage in any activity yourself that involves inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners,” although “they were also told they were not under any obligation to intervene to prevent detainees from being mistreated.” As stated in the policy, “Given that they are not within our custody or control, the law does not require you to intervene to prevent this.”

The Guardian proceeded to explain that the policy, which was “set out in written instructions sent to MI5 and MI6 officers in January 2002,” also informed them that they “might consider complaining to US officials about the mistreatment of detainees ‘if circumstances allow,’” and noted that Tony Blair had “indicated his awareness of the existence of the policy” in 2004, shortly after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke.

The exact form the inquiry will take has not yet been established. William Hague stated only, “We will be setting out in the not-too-distant future what we are going to do about allegations that have been made into complicity in torture. We will make a full announcement that we are working on now. We want a judge-led inquiry.” It is, for example, not known how much of the evidence will be presented publicly. The Daily Mail suggested that “Much of the evidence will be taken behind closed doors and it is is not clear whether a full report will be published — though a summary is expected to be made public.”

However, even with these limitations, an inquiry that focuses, as anticipated, on cases including that of Binyam Mohamed would be extraordinary, given the extent to which the Labour government tried to hide its knowledge of the British resident’s torture in Pakistan, as well as the persistent denials by senior officials, and by the heads of MI5 and MI6, that any collusion in torture took place.

Set against this are the grave concerns and criticism expressed by two High Court judges, Lord Justice Thomas and Mr. Justice Lloyd Jones, who chastised the government for complicity in “wrongdoing” after a judicial review in August 2008, and then spent 18 months arguing that the public had the right to know what was contained in 42 documents sent to the British by their counterparts in US intelligence, and the criticism levelled at MI5 in February this year by Lord Neuberger, the Master of the Rolls, in a Court of Appeal hearing that finally led to the release of a summary of those documents. On that occasion, Lord Neuberger accused MI5 of having “deliberately misled parliament.”

There is much more to Binyam Mohamed’s case alone, of course, especially regarding the extent to which the government knew about his imprisonment for 18 months in Morocco — and, as has been alleged, sent both a spy and an informer to talk to him — as well as British complicity in the rendition and torture of other men who ended up in Guantanamo,  including Shaker Aamer, the British resident who is still held, and Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil El-Banna, who were seized by the CIA in the Gambia on a business trip, after an exchange of intelligence between the US and the UK.

There are also many other cases, primarily in Pakistan, but also in other countries, including Bangladesh, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, that have surfaced over the last few years, in which the torture of British citizens appears to have been very deliberately sub-contracted to foreign torturers. Ian Cobain exposed many of these stories for the first time, I have also discussed them (see, for example, here), and they have also been examined by Human Rights Watch and by Cageprisoners, in a report, “Fabricating Terrorism II” (PDF) that was published in April 2009.

Another champion of accountability, David Davis MP, played a major role in exposing British complicity in torture, when, last July, he used the protection of parliamentary privilege to tell the House of Commons how, in 2006, the government and the security services allowed Rangzieb Ahmed, a British citizen, to travel to Pakistan, where they “suggested” to the Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Pakistan’s most notorious intelligence agency, that he should be arrested. As he explained, Pakistani intelligence would have been “aware that ‘suggesting’ arrest was equivalent to ‘suggesting’ torture.” Ahmed was later returned to the UK to face a trial, at which evidence of his torture — including having three of his fingernails ripped out — was concealed, and Davis was not only appalled by this particular cover-up, but also told the House, bluntly, “I cannot imagine a more obvious case of the outsourcing of torture.”

For now, those of us who have been calling for an inquiry can only hope that its revelations will not be drowned in the secrecy that was such a hallmark of the Labour government, and that, as Philippe Sands urged yesterday, it will be “deep and broad and as open as possible.” After eight years of largely hidden complicity in the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” and the recent and compelling evidence of Britain’s own policy of outsourcing torture, we need answers, and we need them to be both frank and clear.

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), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Cross-posted on The Public Record, Eurasia Review and Uruknet.

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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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