Archive for May, 2010

In the Guardian: Terror deportation debate misses the point

For the Guardian’s Comment is free, “An uncivilized society” is an article I wrote analyzing the new coalition government’s first major test of its commitment to long-established legal principles, and to Britain’s human rights obligations. As I also explained in a previous article, these were tested on Monday when, in the Special Immigration Appeals Commissions (SIAC), Mr. Justice Mitting ruled that two Pakistani students, Abid Naseer and Ahmad Faraz Khan, who were seized last April in connection with an alleged terror plot (for which no evidence of an actual plot was found) cannot be deported because they face the risk of torture in Pakistan, even though, in the judge’s opinion, they pose a threat to the national security of the UK.

As I explained in the Guardian article, the hysterical response of right-wing commentators to this ruling is unsurprising, given that the Labour government, by using secret evidence in terror cases and holding men without charge or trial, created a kind of legal black hole in which fearmongering, whipped up by innuendo, was allowed to thrive.

As I also pointed out, however, critics of the absolute prohibition on torture, to which Mr. Justice Mitting deferred, miss the point when they think that it has anything to do with soft options for terrorists enshrined in the Human Rights Act. The Act, which Labour introduced in 1998, has no power to undo the legally-binding agreement on which it was based — namely, the European Convention on Human Rights (PDF).

Certain Tories — and others of an authoritarian bent — have long had a mistaken belief that, as Peter Oborne described it last October, the Act is “part of an anti-democratic conspiracy that undermines the sovereignty of parliament and hands British liberties over to a foreign court.” In fact, as Oborne explained, the ECHR was introduced by Tories (Winston Churchill and David Maxwell-Fyfe), and contains “deeply Conservative” rights that are “absolutely fundamental to the British common law tradition”, including “the prohibition of torture, first enacted by the Long Parliament in 1640” and “the right to a fair trial, which dates back to Magna Carta.”

Moreover, the prohibition on returning people to countries where they face the risk of torture (the principle of “non-refoulement”) is enshrined in the UN Convention Against Torture, to which the UK — and every other country on earth that claims to be civilized — is a signatory.

As a result, behind the macho chest-beating by advocates for torture, the only plausible solution to a case like that of Abid Naseer and Ahmad Faraz Khan is for them to be kept under surveillance or put under control orders — and it seems, at present, that the former is the preferred option, as Nick Clegg explained yesterday. Although he conceded that it was a “source of great regret” that a lack of a formal agreement with Pakistan regarding the two men had led to the judge’s ruling, he also pointed out, “The law is very clear that it is wrong to deport people where there is risk they will be seriously mistreated, tortured or even killed, however uncomfortable it may be to defend them from time to time,” and added that Naseer and Faraz Khan would be “kept under surveillance … in a manner that means they cannot do harm to the British people.”

This was a remarkably refreshing — and, frankly, unprecedented — announcement by a senior politician regarding issues related to terrorism, but in the long run the only sensible response to this kind of perceived threat is for the government to put terror suspects on trial, and to do that they need to break the intelligence services’ opposition to the use of intercept evidence in courts. As I explained on Tuesday:

Outside of Britain’s particular myopia on this issue, the fact is that most of the world has taken this useful step, and there have been eight reports over the last 14 years in the UK on this very subject, including one by Sir John Chilcot. Moreover, suitable safeguards for protecting sensitive material and sources have also been proposed for many years, and in painstaking detail, by reputable organizations including JUSTICE, the all-party law reform and human rights organization (PDF).

As in the US, where defenders of the rule of law are up against torture advocates claiming that Miranda rights are inappropriate for terror suspects, who, in their opinion, should be waterboarded and sent to Guantánamo, those who believe in fair trials in the UK — facilitated by the admission of intercept evidence — are confronted by hysterical commentators who would prefer, instead, that we actively advocate the use of torture and withdraw from binding laws preventing it, while pretending — with no justification whatsoever — that we are “soft on terrorists.”

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).

Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo on Veracity Radio

Last week I was interviewed by Chris of CheneyWatch for his new project, Veracity Radio. The show, which aired on Saturday, is available here — and here as an MP3 –and my interview is in “Segment 1,” and starts about 37 minutes in, after a discussion about the BP disaster with a representative of the Seize BP campaign.

In the course of a great interview, which lasted about an hour, Chris and I began by discussing what we might expect from the new coalition government in the UK, especially in relation to immigration and terrorism, but also touching on Europe and the economy. We then moved on to Guantánamo, via the whitewash of the internal Justice Department report into John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee, the lawyers responsible for the notorious “torture memos,” which purported to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA, and later by the US military.

We also discussed the differences between the UK and US government’s post-9/11 approach to habeas corpus, which allowed me to run through the largely submerged story of Britain’s draconian anti-terror laws and the reliance on secret evidence, and also to summarize the confusion underpinning the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” in which soldiers were confused with terror suspects, and everyone was thrown into a legal black hole.

We also spoke about the “Dirty Thirty,” a group of men seized crossing from Afghanistan to Pakistan in December 2001, who have been subjected to allegations that they were all bodyguards for Osama bin Laden, even though it has been demonstrated, on at least two occasions, that these allegations were extracted through torture. This led to a discussion of how the “Dirty Thirty” were, in all probability, a group consisting of al-Qaeda operatives, foot soldiers for the Taliban and civilians — missionaries and humanitarian aid workers — who ended up being mixed up together, either as they left Afghanistan, or when they were held in Pakistani jails before being handed over to US forces, or when they were in US custody and the authorities decided to lump them all together.

Chris and I also talked about the pre-trial hearings in the trial by Military Commission of Omar Khadr, which I covered in depth in two recent articles, “Prosecuting a Tortured Child: Obama’s Guantánamo Legacy” and “The Torture of Omar Khadr, a Child in Bagram and Guantánamo,” and also discussed the case of Mohamedou Ould Salahi, a supposed 9/11 insider who recently won his habeas petition, to the dismay of those who prefer faith-based evidence to anything that can be tested in a court of law. I discussed Salahi’s case in two other recent articles, “Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: The Torture Victim and the Taliban Recruit” and “Mohamedou Ould Salahi: How a Judge Demolished the US Government’s Al-Qaeda Claims.”

Chris and I also discussed the case of Omar Mohammed Khalifh (aka Omar Abu Bakr), a Libyan who recently lost his habeas petition, as discussed in another recent article, “Judge Denies Habeas Petition of an Ill and Abused Libyan in Guantánamo,” and concluded by discussing a forthcoming project — an overview of all the men still held — as an attempt to revive the stories of the prisoners, which have largely slipped off the radar since President Obama failed to meet his self-imposed deadline of closing the prison by January 2010.

Please also note that, in “Segment 2” of the show, Chris spoke to former interrogator Matthew Alexander, author of How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq, and my colleague Jason Leopold, with audio clips from his recent interview with former CIA agent John Kiriakou.

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.

Judge Orders Release from Guantánamo of Russian Caught in Abu Zubaydah’s Web

On Thursday, a group of US citizens in Massachusetts were thrilled to hear that, in the District Court in Washington D.C., Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. had granted the habeas corpus petition of Ravil Mingazov, the last Russian prisoner in Guantánamo, who was seized in Pakistan in March 2002.

Few people in America have heard of Mingazov, but the residents of Amherst and Leverett know about him because, on November 4, 2009, and April 24, 2010, Town Meetings in both towns passed resolutions offering him a new home — and also offering a new home to Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian who was cleared for release in 2007. The resolutions also urged Congress to repeal legislation passed last year, preventing any former Guantánamo prisoner from entering the United States except for prosecution.

The resolutions were proposed by Amherst resident Ruth Hooke and Leverett resident Elizabeth Adams. Both are members of No More Guantánamos, “a coalition of concerned US residents, communities, organizations, and attorneys who are working together to ensure justice for the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Bagram air base in Afghanistan, and other offshore prison sites maintained by the CIA and the Pentagon around the world.” The organization’s director, Nancy Talanian, explained that the organization’s chapters around the country “choose one or two detainees and share the men’s stories through events, literature, and media to show the public that all Guantánamo detainees are human beings who deserve basic human rights, rather than the monsters that some government officials have described.”

“Our Pioneer Valley chapter chose Ravil Mingazov and Ahmed Belbacha last spring,” she added. “Although Ravil had not yet been cleared, our members were confident that he had done nothing wrong and should be released. We are very happy that the judge agrees.”

What the people of Amherst and Leverett had recognized was that Mingazov was an innocent man, seized as the result of an unfortunate chain of events, whose release from Guantánamo is long overdue. Although his story is unique, it shares similarities with the stories of other refugees who ended up in Guantánamo, and also sheds light on the stories of nine other prisoners, still held in the prison. Like Ravil Mingazov, their presence in Pakistan in 2002, for reasons unconnected with any kind of militant activity, has doomed them to eight long years in Guantánamo, because the US authorities erroneously concluded that there was a meaningful connection between the house they were staying in when they were seized, and the supposed “high-value detainee” Abu Zubaydah, who was seized on the same night.

Ravil Mingazov, a refugee from injustice in Russia

Born in 1967, Mingazov was a ballet dancer, who performed with a number of dance troupes. When he was 19, he was conscripted into the Russian Army, serving for two years in the Army’s ballet troupe. He then served as a volunteer until 1996, when he took a job in the military’s food supply section, transforming an ailing program into one that was recognized as “the best in all the Army’s.”

Mingazov’s troubles only began when he converted to Islam during his service, and discovered that there was widespread intolerance towards Muslim soldiers. When his requests for halal food and prayer time were denied, he took his complaints to his mayor and to a political party, provoking retaliation from his superiors. After the KGB stepped in, ransacking his house, he decided to seek a new country where he could live freely with his wife and his young child.

With his request for a passport denied without explanation, he traveled south to Afghanistan, intending to send for his wife and child once he had located a suitable place for them to live. This could have been Afghanistan, which, before the 9/11 attacks, provided sanctuary to numerous Muslim refugees fleeing religious persecution, but Mingazov’s quest was derailed following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, and his story took a dramatic turn for the worse after he fled with other refugees to a center in Lahore, in Pakistan, run by the vast missionary organization Jama’at-al-Tablighi, where he stayed from January to March 2002.

Although Mingazov was safe in the Tablighi center, he was anxious to return to his wife and child, but was prey to the prevailing opportunism regarding foreigners in Pakistan, who were being sold to the US military for bounty payments. It was at this point that he and two other refugees, Labed Ahmed (an Algerian) and Jamil Nassir (a Yemeni) were offered safe passage to a house in Faisalabad, where, they were told, it would be easier for them to leave the country.

Ahmed, a former drug dealer in Europe, who had been imprisoned several times in Germany and Italy, had ended up in Lahore after being recruited to fight with the Taliban, and had reached Lahore via a safe house in Bannu, in Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province. He was released from Guantánamo in November 2008, but during his detention he explained that, in Lahore, he had been told to go to Faisalabad, “where some people would come to give him his passport and send him back to Germany.” He added that he and two other people, a Russian (Mingazov) and a Yemeni (Nassir), decided to allow themselves to be taken to Faisalabad, but that, after they arrived, at a place called Shabaz Cottage, they were told that they had been brought there by mistake and would be moved to another house after the evening prayer.

The tenuous connection to “high-value detainee” Abu Zubaydah

What none of the men knew at the time was that Shabaz Cottage was being rented by Abu Zubaydah, the former gatekeeper of the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, and that the house was under surveillance. As Ahmed explained, however, his only concern was that the house was “big and nice” and “everybody had their own room,” whereas the previous houses he had stayed in had been crowded. As a result, when a vehicle arrived to move the three men elsewhere, Ahmed insisted on staying. He added that, several days later, “The guy from al-Qaeda, Daoud [identified in the hearing as Abu Zubaydah] questioned me as to who I was, what I was doing here and who brought me. I said I’m from Germany waiting on my passport. When I get it, I will leave. He said, no problem, you can stay here for a week. I stayed there for about 12 days and the Pakistani police came. They took us to prison. Daoud was arrested with us, you can ask him about us.”

For Ravil Mingazov and Jamil Nassir, their relocation was no more successful, because the house they were taken to — the Crescent Mill guest house (also referred to as the “Issa” guest house, after its owner, and “the Yemeni house,” after most of its guests) — was raided on the same night that Abu Zubayadah, Labed Ahmed and others were seized in a bloody raid on Shabaz Cottage, and Mingazov and Nassir were seized along with 13 others, who all ended up in Guantánamo, where one of them — Ali Abdullah Ahmed al-Salami — died in mysterious circumstances in June 2006, allegedly as part of a triple suicide.

Judge Kennedy’s unclassified opinion has not yet been made available, so it is unclear why he approved Mingazov’s release, but it is almost certain that he concluded that Mingazov had no connection to Abu Zubaydah. This should have been clear to the US government for some time, for two particular reasons. The first is that, during a military review board at Guantánamo, Labed Ahmed stated that, because he, Mingazov and Nassir “did not have a connection or relationship with Abu Zubaydah,” they “should have been placed in the Yemeni house.”

This indicates that, although Abu Zubaydah had some sort of contact with the house, it was not a place that had any connection with terrorism, and was, at best, a place where a few foreigners fleeing from Afghanistan could be concealed alongside a group of students. Moreover, this analysis was reinforced last May, when Judge Gladys Kessler granted the habeas corpus petition of Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, a Yemeni who was also seized in the house. Accepting that Ali Ahmed was a student, and that the government’s supposed evidence relied, to an intolerable degree, on statements made by unreliable witnesses in Guantánamo, Judge Kessler made a point of noting, “It is likely, based on evidence in the record, that at least a majority of the [redacted] guests were indeed students, living at a guest house that was located close to a university.”

Abu Zubaydah and a global web of tortured confessions

For the rest of the men seized in the Crescent Mill guest house, Judge Kessler’s ruling should have provided encouragement to the government to secure their release, but this has not been the case. In fact, the government hesitated about even releasing Ali Ahmed, explaining, as the New York Times described it last October, that officials had stated, “Even if Mr. Ahmed was not dangerous in 2002 … Guantánamo itself might have radicalized him, exposing him to militants and embittering him against the United States.” With this kind of mentality, no one would ever be released from Guantánamo under any circumstances, and it no doubt helps to explain why only three other survivors of the Crescent Mill raid have been released in the last year: Abdul Aziz al-Noofayee, a Saudi, who was released last June, and two other Yemenis, Mohammed Tahir and Fayad Yahya Ahmed, who were released in December.

Beyond highlighting the ongoing plight of the nine remaining men — all Yemenis, apart from one Palestinian — Judge Kennedy’s ruling is also noteworthy because it once more sheds light on the case of Abu Zubaydah. Despite the existence of evidence demonstrating that Zubaydah was nothing more than a mentally damaged training camp facilitator, and that the Khaldan camp had nothing more than a tenuous connection to al-Qaeda, the Bush administration decided that he was, in fact, a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda, and set about interrogating him using an experimental torture program. This was formalized on August 1, 2002, when John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee, lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which is charged with objectively interpreting the law as it applies to the executive branch, cynically attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA with some sort of legal cover.

Attempts to hold Yoo and Bybee to account for their actions have so far been unsuccessful, but what is even more shocking than the attempt to give legal cover to a torture program supported at the highest levels of the Bush administration is the fact that intelligence assessments of Abu Zubaydah’s significance were so mistaken. As the Washington Post explained last March, after talking to “former senior government officials who closely followed [his] interrogations,” the torture of Zubaydah — which included waterboarding (a form of controlled drowning), confinement in tiny, coffin-like boxes, extreme violence, prolonged isolation, and the use of sustained nudity and loud music and noise — was so worthless that “not a single significant plot was foiled” as a result of it. Instead, his false confessions, extracted through the use of torture, led only to a global web of false allegations — implicating men as far afield as Canada and Europe — that has not yet been unraveled, and whose scale is, as yet, unknown.

Ravil Mingazov and the remaining occupants of the Crescent Mill guest house were not directly implicated in Zubaydah’s torture, as they were seized on the same night as him, but they are victims of the hysteria that greeted and followed his capture. While Zubaydah himself remains in Guantánamo’s secretive Camp 7 for “high-value detainees,” even though there appears to be no way that he can ever be prosecuted, Ravil Mingazov may now be more fortunate. Eight years after he made false statements in Bagram about attending an al-Qaeda training camp and listening to a lecture on jihad by Osama bin Laden, which he did because he was fearful of being forcibly returned to Russia, the State Department must now find a new country that is prepared to accept him instead of his home country — and the government will, hopefully, also consider the cases of the men seized with him in Pakistan on that fear-charged night back in March 2002.

Given Congress’s ban on bringing any cleared prisoners to the US mainland, it is doubtful that officials will pay any heed to the offer made by the people of Amherst and Leverett, but this is a great shame. As Nancy Talanian explained on Thursday, “Congress’s blanket ban on allowing any of the men to live here is standing in the way of the prison’s closure, which we believe will make Americans safer. Guantánamo detainees who cannot safely return home are really no different than other refugees whom western Mass. communities have welcomed in the past. And if the US government, which has held the men for more than eight years, claims [they] would not pose any danger if they are sent to live in allied countries, that should be sufficient assurance that we can be safe with some of them living here.”

Logic and compassion, however, are in short supply in a country still bewitched by the Bush administration’s groundless but enduring rhetoric about Guantánamo containing “the worst of the worst.” Amherst and Leverett may not succeed in welcoming Ravil Mingazov or Ahmed Belbacha to live in Pioneer Valley, but their example should inspire other US citizens to join the movement to make America accountable for its own mistakes, and to call on Congress to allow other wrongly imprisoned men to settle in the United States.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, 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 Truthout. Digg the original here.

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 Mohamed’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).

UK Terror Ruling Provides Urgent Test for New Government

Today, the new coalition government faces its first major test regarding the confusing legacy of anti-terror laws inherited from the Labour government, after Mr. Justice Mitting, the judge in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), the body charged with handling terror cases involving deportation, refused to allow the government to deport two Pakistani students, despite concluding that they posed a threat to national security.

The men in question — Abid Naseer and Ahmad Faraz Khan — were seized in the north west of England last April, as part of “Operation Pathway,” an operation that was brought forward after Assistant Commissioner Bob Quick, the head of Scotland Yard’s counter-terrorism command, was photographed in Downing Street carrying classified documents relating to the operation. Quick resigned soon after.

Naseer and Khan were seized with ten other men (eight of whom were also Pakistani students), and soon became known as the “North West 10,” after the government held the Pakistani students for two weeks, on the basis that they were planning a bomb attack on targets in Manchester. They were then released without charge, but were immediately rearrested and told that they were to be deported.

After several months in prison, all but two of the men left the UK voluntarily, although they maintained that they were innocent, and that their reputations had been ruined. Naseer and Khan, however, chose to stay, and today, in a ruling that pitted Britain’s commitment not to deport foreign nationals to countries where they face the risk of torture against innovative measures relating to the proposed deportation of terror suspects, which, over the last eight years, largely united Labour and the Tories, Mr. Justice Mitting declared that, although he was “satisfied that Naseer was an al-Qaeda operative who posed and still poses a serious threat to the national security of the UK and that … it is conducive to the public good that he should be deported,” he could not allow his deportation because “the issue of safety on return” made it legally impossible to deport him. That “issue,” essentially, is Article 3.1 of the UN Convention Against Torture, to which the UK is a signatory, which stipulates that “No State Party shall expel, return (‘refouler’) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”

Without a trace of irony, which could be regarded as unusual given recent allegations of British complicity in the torture of British nationals in Pakistan, Mr. Justice Mitting also explained that “there is a long and well-documented history of disappearances, illegal detention and torture” in Pakistan.

He added that Ahmad Faraz Khan could “safely be taken to have been willing to participate” in Abid Naseer’s plans, but granted his appeal on the same basis. He also granted an appeal against exclusion from the UK that was lodged by a third man, Shoaib Khan, who had returned to Pakistan (which means that he can now apply to return to the UK), but refused the appeals of two other returnees, Abdul Wahab Khan and Tariq Ur Rehman.

Quite what the government will do now is as yet unknown. The new home secretary, Theresa May, wasted no time in announcing, “We are disappointed that the court has ruled that Abid Naseer and Ahmad Faraz Khan should not be deported to Pakistan, which we were seeking on national security grounds. As the court agreed, they are a security risk to the UK. We are now taking all possible measures to ensure they do not engage in terrorist activity.”

As the Times reported, the men are currently being held at immigration removal centres, “but are expected to be released later today.” The question, therefore, is whether the Times is also correct to suggest that “It is likely that both men will be put on control orders under which their movements, access to telephones and bank accounts can be restricted” — and whether, if this is the case, it will prove acceptable to Liberal Democrats in the coalition government, who voted en masse against the renewal of the control order regime just two month ago.

Just as important, however, is the question of whether Naseer and Khan are actually a threat to anyone. As the Guardian explained, “The suspicions over the group were founded on the belief that Naseer, a computing student at John Moores University in Liverpool, had links with al-Qaeda, and that emails he sent, in which he mentioned a nikkah, or Muslim marriage contract, were a signal that an attack was imminent.” In addition, Khan came under suspicion because he had taken photos of buildings in Manchester city centre. However, Naseer has always maintained that the emails did not contain coded messages at all, and Khan has stated that he took the photographs because of his interest in architecture. Moreover, investigations into the case have done nothing to suggest that there was an actual plot at all.

After a thorough investigation, Lord Carlile of Berriew QC, the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, was obliged to concede that none of the arrests had been made “on a full evidential foundation,” and that “the authorities had no specific information as to where the suspected terrorist event was to occur, nor any precise knowledge as to its nature” (PDF). He added that some of the men had essentially been arrested through guilt by association, but attempted to justify the operation by stating that the police were “probably right” to go ahead with it.

Lord Carlile can hardly be judged to have presented a compelling case for “Operation Pathway,” and before there is a right-wing stampede to condemn what former US Vice President Dick Cheney and his close advisers would no doubt have referred to as our “quaint” adherence to the UN Convention Against Torture, it should be noted that those calling for us to discrard our international treaty obligations – essentially by withdrawing from the Convention — should first ask why they are prepared to trust implicitly any information presented by the intelligence services and analyzed by a solitary judge in a secretive court, and not to have its merits debated in an open court.

The key to this apparent problem is to allow the use of intercept evidence in court. Outside of Britain’s particular myopia on this issue, the fact is that most of the world has taken this useful step, and there have been eight reports over the last 14 years in the UK on this very subject, including one by Sir John Chilcot. Moreover, suitable safeguards for protecting sensitive material and sources have also been proposed for many years, and in painstaking detail, by reputable organizations including JUSTICE, the all-party law reform and human rights organization (PDF).

Instead, however, the UK persists in defending a ludicrous and largely improvised legal system, dreamt up after 9/11 and reliant on the presumption of accuracy regarding secret evidence and a demeaning submission on the part of SIAC whenever the words “national security” are uttered, which only whips up xenophobic, Islamophobic and racist sentiment through fearmongering and innuendo, as can be seen from the vile comments below the Times article today.

I was pleased to notice that yesterday the Guardian reported that the government “will attempt to make intercept evidence admissible in court.” Afua Hirsch’s article also noted that “Officials are already looking into reversing the ban, after both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats supported a change in the law while in opposition.” A Home Office spokesperson explained, “The government supports the principle of using intercept as evidence in criminal proceedings. This is a complex area and the government will now consider how to build on the work of the privy council committee to bring about a workable solution.”

It is to be hoped, therefore, that the government moves fast. As Matthew Ryder QC, a barrister at Matrix chambers, explained, “Abolishing the rule about intercept [evidence] underpins the rhetoric of both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats about control orders and secret evidence. What the government does now will be a serious indicator of whether their views on civil liberties are going to be different, or whether they will accede to security service interests in the same way that Labour did.” Acknowledging that there are “practical problems, which are real,” another senior criminal barrister told the Guardian that intercept evidence “ought to be made admissible,” and that the problems “will have to be confronted and solved, as they are in other countries.”

In the meantime, however, the only winner in the case of the North West 10 appears to be Mr. Justice Mitting, who seems to have backed the government into a corner that, curiously enough, involves “acced[ing] to security service interests in the same way that Labour did.” Were I prone to conspiratorial thoughts, I’d be tempted to suggest that today’s outcome conveniently allows SIAC’s undercover work to continue — but that, surely, is not possible, is it?

Watch this space for further developments.

POSTSCRIPT 9 pm: The BBC reports that the government’s kneejerk response is to set up a Commission to review the Human Rights Act, which the Tories want to scrap, ludicrously (and it’s a plan that is ferociously opposed by the Lib Dems). Moreover, it’s all a smokescreen. At the heart of all this is the UN Convention Against Torture, and I don’t foresee Ministers trying to claim that we should opt out of that.

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

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

Send a letter to William Hague calling for the return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, and a public inquiry into British complicity in torture

Over the last few months of the Labour government, at screenings of the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,”  former prisoner Omar Deghayes and myself handed out copies of a letter to foreign secretary David Miliband requesting the return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and encouraged members of the audience to send them out in significant numbers, so that the government would pay attention.

With a change of government, the responsibility for securing Shaker’s return now rests with William Hague, and I have therefore drafted a letter to the new foreign secretary, which I encourage readers to cut and paste and send to him, and also to forward to any other interested parties. Given Mr. Hague’s impressive track record of calling for an investigation into allegations of British complicity in torture abroad, I have also included a request for him to launch a public inquiry, a move that was advocated by David Cameron just two months ago.

This letter, and a previous 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 “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” and to complete the picture, I will soon be drafting a letter to the new home secretary, Theresa May, dealing with secret evidence and control orders. I encourage readers not only to send the letter below to William Hague, but also to send the other letter to their local MP.

As I have noted previously, despite the occasional encouraging noise on these issues (especially on complicity in torture abroad), the Conservatives have a generally poor record when it comes to tackling the Labour government’s draconian anti-terror policies in the UK, but this is something that the Lib Dems must be encouraged to bring to the coalition negotiating table, and, in addition, is something that Labour MPs should be more willing to support now that they are not tied to the paranoid yoke of power.

A letter to William Hague

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 in connection with two particular topics: the closure of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, and British complicity in torture.

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. The government pressed for the return of the remaining resident, Shaker Aamer, who has a British wife and four British children, and was cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2007, but was unsuccessful in its 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.

On a related topic, I also ask you to maintain the position regarding British complicity in torture abroad, which you held so tenaciously in opposition. I have not forgotten that, in 2006, you told a meeting in the House of Commons organized by Human Rights Watch, “Reports of prisoner abuse by British and American troops — however isolated — and accounts, accurate or not, of the mistreatment of detainees at Guantánamo and extraordinary rendition flights leading to the torture of suspects, have led to a critical erosion in our moral authority. In standing up for the rule of law, we must be careful not to employ methods that undermine it.”

I have also not forgotten that, in February this year, after the Court of Appeal ordered David Miliband to release a summary of documents relating to the torture of Binyam Mohamed in Pakistan in 2002, which the foreign secretary had been attempting to suppress for 18 months, you told the House of Commons that the Conservative Party has “consistently argued for full investigation of all credible allegations of UK complicity in torture, and for the Government to find a way in this particular case to balance the needs of national security with the need for justice and accountability in our democratic society.”

As a result, I hope to hear that you will be ordering a public inquiry into the intelligence services’ involvement in torture, as called for by David Cameron on 11 March.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours faithfully,

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

Who is the Syrian Released from Guantánamo to Bulgaria?

On May 4, two prisoners were released from Guantánamo — one to Spain and one to Bulgaria. Spanish media revealed that the former prisoner offered a new life in Spain (following the arrival of Walid Hijazi, a Palestinian, in February) was a Yemeni, but no further information has yet been revealed regarding his identity. However, the identity of the ex-prisoner released in Bulgaria — the first to be offered a new home in the Balkan state — was revealed in the national media.

Soon after his arrival, RTT News explained, “Neither [Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan] Tsvetanov nor the Pentagon disclosed his identity, but local media reported that the man was a 38-year-old Syria-born Kurd named Masum Abda Mohammed.” The news report added that Tsvetanov has stated that Mohammed was “accompanied by his relatives,” which, if confirmed, will demonstrate a certain generosity of spirit on the part of the Bulgarian government, and will augur well for his psychological adjustment to life after Guantánamo in a new and unknown country.

While the release of prisoners in Western Europe — or even the suggestion of it — has generally provoked ferocious media attention, reporting in Eastern Europe has been noticeably more muted — as with the release of a prisoner in Hungary in November, and three prisoners in Slovakia in January this year, where the anonymity of the men appears to have been thoroughly preserved (although whether this is a good thing or not is difficult to ascertain, as, without outside scrutiny, there appears to be no way of knowing whether their resettlement is proceeding smoothly or not).

However, with the identity of the man released in Bulgaria exposed, I thought it would be useful to explain what is known of his story, to dispel any doubts that might linger, in Bulgaria or elsewhere, regarding whether or not he poses any threat. As I have learned though conversations with journalists in Georgia, Slovakia and Switzerland, it is easy for people in host nations to be influenced by the Bush administration’s enduring propaganda regarding the prisoners — that they were “the worst of the worst” — and not to appreciate that the majority of the men were sold to the US military by their Afghan and Pakistani allies, often very far from any battlefield, and that, moreover, the Obama administration would not release prisoners that officials regard as a threat to the US or to anyone else.

Part of the problem is that documents detailing the US authorities’ supposed evidence against the prisoners are readily available, without any editorial comment, even though they should be stamped with a warning, to indicate that much of the information is not necessarily accurate. This is because much of it — as judges have been discovering while examining prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions — is untrustworthy information, masquerading as evidence, which was extracted through the coercive interrogations of the prisoners themselves, or of their fellow prisoners.

In this, the case of Masum Abda Mohammed (who was identified in Guantánamo as Maasoum Abdah Mouhammad, but who stated that his name was Bilal) is typical. What is certain is that he and three other Syrians, who had been sharing a house in Kabul at the time of the US-led invasion in October 2001, were seized while crossing the Pakistani border in December 2001, and subsequently transferred to US custody.

After that, the US authorities began interrogating them — for “actionable intelligence,” as they did with all the prisoners — and, along the way, began collecting information, in a shockingly haphazard manner, which, essentially as a by-product of the interrogations’ main purpose, established narratives that purported to justify their detention. Discovering how much of this information is true is a puzzle that I have been deciphering for years, that judges have been grappling with in US courts for the last year and a half, and that the Obama administration’s interagency Task Force dealt with last year in Mouhammad’s case, when, while reviewing all the prisoners’ cases, they concluded that there was no reason for him to be held.

Whether the Task Force reached a similar conclusion about the other three men seized with him — 24-year old Ahmed Ahjam, 19-year old Ali Shaaban, and 20-year old Abu Omar al-Hamawe — is unknown, but it is possible, as three of the seven remaining Syrians in Guantánamo had been cleared by the Task Force last October, and several dozen more prisoners were cleared after that date, although to the best of my knowledge the other men are still held. Certainly, the impression given by Mouhammad, and by the other three men, is that they were essentially economic migrants, who had left Syria for the opportunities — spurious or otherwise — that were advertised in Afghanistan, and were caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

As Mouhammad explained at Guantánamo, and as I described it in my book The Guantánamo Files:

[He and the others] had been living together in a house in the Wazar Akbar Khan area of Kabul. This was one of the more upmarket areas of the capital, where most of the embassies and other grand houses had been taken over by senior figures in the Taliban and al-Qaeda, but although the Americans described their house as “a safe house where five to 20 personnel armed with AK-47 rifles could be found at any time,” which was used for “money and document forging operations” for al-Qaeda, Mouhammed described it as “a normal house, a place to eat, drink and sleep.” Al-Hamawe added that it was close to the Pakistani embassy and that their neighbors, who worked for the Red Cross, “knew that all of us were not fighters or Taliban, just refugees.”

As I also explained:

The four men certainly matched the profiles of economic migrants, drifting from country to country in search of employment, and drawn to Afghanistan by its Arab-influenced reputation for welcoming Muslims from all around the world. They said that only seven people lived at the house (themselves, the owner, and two other Syrians), and that they all put money in to keep the place running. Al-Hamawe worked at a store in Kabul, but planned to move to Pakistan when a friend sent him money from Syria, Mouhammed, who had been a policeman and a grocer in Syria, had saved some money while working, and planned to move on to Jordan, Shaaban had been an ironsmith in his father’s store and went to Afghanistan because he wanted to move there, and, according to US intelligence, Ahjam worked for al-Wafa [a Saudi humanitarian aid charity, which the Bush administration regarded as being tied to al-Qaeda, although no proof of this was ever forthcoming, and almost all of those who worked for the charity, including its Saudi director, were subsequently released].

In disputing Mouhammad’s story, the authorities not only alleged that the house was a safe house, which he “operated,” but also, over the years, built up a picture involving claims that he “trained in al-Qaeda camps” and “was a fighter in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan” (where a showdown between al-Qaeda and the US military took place around the time of his capture). These are typical allegations leveled against those seized crossing the Pakistani border, but in the courts — the only objective forum in which allegations like these have been tested — judges have often dissected them and found them to be unpersuasive.

In Mouhammad’s case, he was never given an opportunity to clear his name in a courtroom, because he was released before any ruling was delivered regarding his habeas petition. As a result, he remains, officially, tagged as an “enemy combatant,” but it is to be hoped that, in Bulgaria, if his story ever surfaces, those who try to construct a narrative from the collection of uncorroborated statements and allegations in his file realize that the best indicator of the reliability of the Bush administration’s supposed evidence is that Obama’s Task Force authorized his release, having concluded, presumably, that his own account was more reliable than the one concocted by the authorities in Guantánamo after years of pointless interrogations.

The Bulgarians are, moreover, to be congratulated for offering Maasoum Mouhammad a new home, and for recognizing that a Kurdish Syrian refugee, deprived of eight years of his life in Guantánamo, could only expect far worse treatment had he ended up back in Syria, whose prisons — full of the most ill-defined dissidents — are amongst the most feared, and least accountable in the world.

POSTSCRIPT: Today (May 17), Saba, the Yemen News Agency, reported that the Yemeni released in Spain is named Yasin, and that he was released after he “was found cooperative with the authorities.” This suggests that he may be Yasim Basardah (aka Yasin Basardh), who won his habeas case last March.

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

As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

See the following for articles about the 142 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 to January 2009, and the 57 prisoners released from February 2009 to March 2010, whose stories are covered in more detail than is available anywhere else –- either in print or on the Internet –- although many of them, of course, are also covered in The Guantánamo Files: June 2007 –- 2 Tunisians, 4 Yemenis (here, here and here); July 2007 –- 16 Saudis; August 2007 –- 1 Bahraini, 5 Afghans; September 2007 –- 16 Saudis; September 2007 –- 1 Mauritanian; September 2007 –- 1 Libyan, 1 Yemeni, 6 Afghans; November 2007 –- 3 Jordanians, 8 Afghans; November 2007 –- 14 Saudis; December 2007 –- 2 Sudanese; December 2007 –- 13 Afghans (here and here); December 2007 –- 3 British residents; December 2007 –- 10 Saudis; May 2008 –- 3 Sudanese, 1 Moroccan, 5 Afghans (here, here and here); July 2008 –- 2 Algerians; July 2008 –- 1 Qatari, 1 United Arab Emirati, 1 Afghan; August 2008 –- 2 Algerians; September 2008 –- 1 Pakistani, 2 Afghans (here and here); September 2008 –- 1 Sudanese, 1 Algerian; November 2008 –- 1 Kazakh, 1 Somali, 1 Tajik; November 2008 –- 2 Algerians; November 2008 –- 1 Yemeni (Salim Hamdan) repatriated to serve out the last month of his sentence; December 2008 –- 3 Bosnian Algerians; January 2009 –- 1 Afghan, 1 Algerian, 4 Iraqis; February 2009 — 1 British resident (Binyam Mohamed); May 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian (Lakhdar Boumediene); June 2009 — 1 Chadian (Mohammed El-Gharani), 4 Uighurs to Bermuda, 1 Iraqi, 3 Saudis (here and here); August 2009 — 1 Afghan (Mohamed Jawad), 2 Syrians to Portugal; September 2009 — 1 Yemeni, 2 Uzbeks to Ireland (here and here); October 2009 — 1 Kuwaiti, 1 prisoner of undisclosed nationality to Belgium; October 2009 — 6 Uighurs to Palau; November 2009 — 1 Bosnian Algerian to France, 1 unidentified Palestinian to Hungary, 2 Tunisians to Italian custody; December 2009 — 1 Kuwaiti (Fouad al-Rabiah); December 2009 — 2 Somalis, 4 Afghans, 6 Yemenis; January 2010 — 2 Algerians, 3 prisoners of undisclosed nationality to Slovakia, 1 unidentified Uzbek to Switzerland; February 2010 — 1 Egyptian, 1 Libyan, 1 Tunisian to Albania, 1 Palestinian to Spain; March 2010 — 1 Libyan, 2 unidentified prisoners to Georgia, 2 Uighurs to Switzerland.

Five new UK screenings of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”

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

Now that we have a new government — involving an unprecedented coalition between the Tories and the Liberal Democrats — the ongoing UK tour of the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (directed by filmmaker Polly Nash and myself), continues with renewed purpose. Throughout the election period, the screenings that took place were dogged with a sense of indecision that has now been swept away — and I’m relieved that former prisoner Omar Deghayes and myself, who are taking part in Q&A sessions following the majority of the screenings, will now be able to focus once more on asking the audiences to take action for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo (whose story features in the film).

Audiences — and readers of this article — can do this by writing to the new foreign secretary, William Hague (and also to David Cameron and Nick Clegg) to ask the government to do all in its power to secure his return from Guantánamo, to be reunited with his British wife and children as swiftly as possible.

I’ll shortly be drafting a letter to William Hague, which I’ll post here, and this — and a letter to MPs (which I made available on Friday, and which also includes questions about the use of secret evidence in UK courts, about control orders, and about British complicity in torture) — will be handed out at screenings, to encourage audiences to get involved, and, crucially, to demonstrate that there is action that can be taken. Omar is a living example of the success of political campaigning, as the high-profile campaign mounted in Brighton to secure his release undoubtedly played a part in securing his freedom.

Shaker Aamer was cleared for release from Guantánamo over three years ago, but remains held despite the Labour government’s claims that it persistently pushed for his release. His lawyers, however, have long wondered if this is strictly true, given that Shaker knows so much about the workings of Guantánamo (having been the foremost advocate of the prisoners’ rights within the prison) that, when he is finally released, his revelations may well be deeply embarrassing for both the British and the American governments.

With a change in leadership in the UK, now is a vital time for those who support Shaker’s return to renew pressure on the government, and to point out, if necessary, that his revelations — not only about Guantánamo, but also about conditions in the US prisons in Afghanistan, where prisoners were held before Guantánamo, and the involvement of British agents in interrogations in Afghanistan — concern the Labour government at the time, and do not reflect directly on the Conservative Party.

As I explained in a recent article, the Conservative Party has a poor record when it comes to supporting human rights while countering terrorism in the UK, and also has a poor record on calling for the closure of Guantánamo (I Googled in vain for a clear message). However, William Hague has made encouraging noises over the years. Back in 2006, he told a meeting in the House of Commons organized by Human Rights Watch, “Reports of prisoner abuse by British and American troops — however isolated — and accounts, accurate or not, of the mistreatment of detainees at Guantánamo and extraordinary rendition flights leading to the torture of suspects, have led to a critical erosion in our moral authority. In standing up for the rule of law, we must be careful not to employ methods that undermine it.”

Moreover, Hague has, on at least one occasion, addressed the return of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo. In March 2009, he submitted a written request in the House of Commons in February 2009, “To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, whether US officials have acceded to the request to return Mr Shaker Aamer to the UK; and if he will make a statement.”

In addition, he has maintained his opposition to British complicity in torture — and calls for accountability for those involved — telling the House of Commons in February, after the Court of Appeal ordered David Miliband to release information regarding the torture of British resident Binyam Mohamed, that “we [the Conservative Party] have consistently argued for full investigation of all credible allegations of UK complicity in torture, and for the Government to find a way in this particular case to balance the needs of national security with the need for justice and accountability in our democratic society.”

Hague may well find his principled stance evaporating now he is in office, but his record in opposition means that campaigners for Shaker Aamer’s return — and for accountability for British complicity in torture — at least have some leverage. Listed below are five new screenings of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” at which these topics and others will be discussed. I’ve also added this information to the dedicated page for the UK tour, to be updated as further screenings are added, and please also note that all screenings are free. Please feel free to publicize them, and I hope to see some of you at one or other event.

Friday May 21, 7.30 pm: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Followed by Q&A.
Christ Church College, Blue Boar Lecture Theatre, the University of Oxford, St. Aldates, Oxford, OX1 1DP.

With Omar Deghayes, Andy Worthington and Polly Nash.
This screening is organized by the Oxford University Amnesty International group, and a Facebook page is here. For further information, please contact Amnesty Oxford.

Thursday May 27, 7 pm: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Followed by Q&A.
The Broca, 4 Coulgate Street, Brockley, London, SE4 2RW.

With Andy Worthington.
This screening is organized by The Broca as a prelude to the annual Brockley Max arts festival. On Tuesday June 1, at 7 pm, Andy will also present a screening of “Operation Solstice,” a documentary about The Battle of the Beanfield, on the 25th anniversary of this often-overlooked confrontation between travellers/political activists and the State (under Margaret Thatcher). For further information, please contact Andy, or, for the Broca, by email here.

Friday May 28, 6.30 pm: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Followed by Q&A.
Arts A1 Lecture Theatre, The University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9RF.

With Omar Deghayes and Andy Worthington.
This screening is organized by the University of Sussex Amnesty International group. For a map of the campus, showing the Arts A1 Lecture Theatre (No. 22 on map), see here. For other maps, see here, and for further information, please contact Michael Fisher.

Saturday May 29, 2 pm: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Followed by Q&A.
Under the Bridge music studio, 7 Trafalgar Arches, Brighton, BN1 4FQ.

With Omar Deghayes and Andy Worthington.
This screening is organized by Under the Bridge (see the website here, and also see here for “Radio Free Brighton,” housed in the studios). For a map, see here (the studios are underneath the main railway station), and for further information, please contact Jackie Chase on 07799 564620.

Wednesday June 2, 6 pm: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Followed by Q&A.
Birkbeck College, University of London, Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HX.

With Omar Deghayes, Andy Worthington and Polly Nash.
This screening is organized by the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies. Please contact Barbara Zollner for further information. Also see MeetUp pages here and here.

About the film

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

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

Focusing on the stories of Shaker Aamer, Binyam Mohamed and Omar Deghayes, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” provides a powerful rebuke to those who believe that Guantánamo holds “the worst of the worst” and that the Bush administration was justified in responding to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 by holding men neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects with habeas corpus rights, but as “illegal enemy combatants” with no rights whatsoever.

Recent feedback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ask your MPs what they think about secret evidence, control orders, British complicity in torture, and the return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer

As a follow-up to my recent article, “98 MPs Who Supported Human Rights While Countering Terrorism,” in which I presented a list of current MPs who had supported the return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, had opposed the use of secret evidence in UK courts, and/or had voted against the renewal of control orders on March 1 this year, I have put together a template for a letter that those concerned with these issues — and with British complicity in torture — can cut and paste and send to their MPs, through very useful interactive lists on the party websites (Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative) or through TheyWorkForYou.

In addition, I would 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. This 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 (although on British complicity in torture, current foreign secretary William Hague has a decent track record).

The letter below is my own adaptation of a letter put together by the London Guantánamo Campaign, which dealt with the return of Shaker Aamer and with British complicity in torture, and I have added questions about secret evidence and control orders (and a question about accepting other cleared prisoners from Guantánamo) to ensure that it addresses the main issues of relevance to those who care about the maintenance of human rights while countering terrorism.

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.

I will shortly be drafting a letter to send to foreign secretary William Hague, which I’ll be posting here, and will also make sure that copies of both letters are available at future screenings of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which is currently on a UK tour. And as ever, please feel free to cross-post this letter and the accompanying article, and to print off copies for your own use. As with every new government, the first few months are crucial for getting our message across, so let’s make our voices heard!

A draft letter to your MP

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;
  • The involvement of the British government in extraordinary rendition and torture abroad.

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?

Prior to the election, calls were made for an independent judicial investigation into Britain’s role in extraordinary rendition and torture abroad, following damning revelations in the Court of Appeal in the case of Binyam Mohamed. Since then, new allegations have emerged of collusion in the torture and abuse of a British citizen in Bangladesh. The Liberal Democrats have pledged an inquiry, the Conservatives did not rule one out, and in March the cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights strongly urged that an inquiry take place. With court cases pending against the intelligence services for involvement in torture abroad and various parliamentary statements revealing ministerial knowledge of involvement in rendition and torture, do you believe there should be an inquiry, and if so, what measures do you think should be taken against public servants, of all levels, who knowingly colluded in breaches of international and domestic law?

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, this article on the Law Lords’ ruling on control orders last June, the JUSTICE report on secret evidence (PDF), and the latest Joint Committee on Human Rights report on Counter-Terrorism Policy and Human Rights (PDF). For the story of Gulam Mustafa, the British citizen allegedly tortured in Bangladesh, see this article in the Guardian.

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

98 MPs Who Supported Human Rights While Countering Terrorism

Just before the election, I created a list of 149 MPs (out of 650 in total), who had signed up to two important Early Day Motions over the previous 12 months. The first opposed the use of secret evidence in UK courts, particularly in the cases of terror suspects (both British and foreign nationals), where it is used as a pretext to hold them under control orders (a form of house arrest) or in prison pending deportation, or on deportation bail (again, a form of house arrest), without them being formally charged or tried. The other called for the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who was cleared for release by the US authorities in 2007, but has still not been reunited with his British wife and four British children, despite claims by the Labour government that it had done all in its power to secure his release since August 2007.

As I also noted at the time, the 149 MPs included just three Tories (less than 2 percent of the total number of Conservative MPs), 89 Labour, 43 Liberal Democrat, and 14 independents, or members of other parties.

Now that the election is over, I’ve been through this list again, identifying those who lost their seats (refining the previous list I made here) and those who stood down at the election, to provide the first list of the remaining MPs who, at some point in the last year, demonstrated concern about the Labour government’s draconian response to the perceived terrorist threat — or its dithering over securing the return to the UK of Shaker Aamer.

Crucially, I also added MPs who had voted against the annual renewal of control orders on March 1, 2010 (PDF), in which Liberal Democrat MPs (including Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Chris Huhne and Danny Alexander) came out in force, with almost every Lib Dem MP voting against the renewal of the legislation, and just one lone Tory — the maverick David Davis — joining them.

In the coalition government formed by the Tories and the Lib Dems, the gulf between both parties is particularly pronounced on these topics, and I hope, therefore, that this list provides a useful starting point for campaigners to write to MPs to encourage them to make their voices heard in the first few months of the new parliament.

They are not the only MPs who care about these issues, of course. In the new influx of MPs, those who care about justice and human rights include Caroline Lucas, Britain’s first Green MP, and, presumably, the handful of other new Lib Dem MPs and some Labour MPs too (who might feel less pressured to toe the party line now that they are no longer in power). I am, however, deeply concerned that, out of 306 Tory MPs, only two have demonstrated clear opposition to the Labour government’s draconian policies regarding terrorism, and I believe that, as a result, putting pressure on the Lib Dem MPs in particular is absolutely essential. If they stick to their principles, they must push for the abandonment of control orders and the use of secret evidence, and the return of Shaker Aamer. Otherwise, it will be revealed that they have sacrificed their principles for political gain, in a world not of their own devising, but of the Tory majority in their unusual coalition.

MPs can be contacted through very useful interactive lists on the party websites (Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative), or through the website TheyWorkForYou, and I will shortly be posting a template of a letter that can be used to address these issues with readers’ local MPs.

Note: In the list, CO refers to those who voted against the proposal to renew control orders on March 1, 2010, SA refers to the Shaker Aamer EDM, and SE refers to the secret evidence EDM. Please also note that, bizarrely, the 19 Labour MPs marked with an asterisk (*) voted for the renewal of control orders, even though, in some cases, they had supported the EDM opposing the use of secret evidence.

Conservatives (2)

Bottomley, Peter (SA, SE)
Davis, David (CO, SA, SE)

Labour (43)

Abbott, Diane (CO, SA, SE)
Anderson, David (SA)
Bayley, Hugh (SA)*
Betts, Clive (SA)*
Buck, Karen (SA)*
Campbell, Ronnie (SA)
Caton, Martin (SA, SE)*
Clark, Katy (CO, SA, SE)
Clwyd, Ann (SA)*
Connarty, Michael (SA)*
Corbyn, Jeremy (CO, SA, SE)
Crausby, David (SA)*
Cruddas, Jon (SA)*
Dobson, Frank (SA)*
Dowd, Jim (SA, SE)
Flello, Robert (SA)*
Flynn, Paul (SA, SE)*
Francis, Hywel (SA)*
Gerrard, Neil (SA, SE)
Gibson, Ian (SE)
Godsiff, Roger (CO)
Havard, Dai (SA, SE)
Heyes, David (SE)*
Hoey, Kate (SE)
Hopkins, Kelvin (CO, SA, SE)*
Hoyle, Lindsay (SE)*
Iddon, Brian (SA)
Illsley, Eric (SA, SE)
Jackson, Glenda (CO, SA, SE)
Lazarowicz, Mark (CO, SA, SE)
McCafferty, Christine (SE)
McDonnell, John (CO, SA, SE)
Mitchell, Austin (SA)*
Riordan, Linda (CO, SE)
Sarwar, Mohammad (SE)*
Sharma, Virendra (CO)
Singh, Marsha (SA)*
Skinner, Dennis (CO, SA)
Slaughter, Andy (SA)*
Thornberry, Emily (SA)
Vaz, Keith (SA)
Winnick, David (CO)
Wood, Mike (CO, SA)

Liberal Democrats (44)

Alexander, Danny (CO)
Baker, Norman (CO, SA, SE)
Beith, Sir Alan (CO)
Brake, Tom (CO, SA, SE)
Brooke, Annette (CO)
Browne, Jeremy (CO)
Bruce, Malcolm (CO, SA)
Burstow, Paul (CO)
Burt, Lorely (CO, SE)
Cable, Vincent (CO, SA, SE)
Campbell, Menzies (CO, SA)
Carmichael, Alistair (CO)
Clegg, Nick (CO)
Davey, Edward (SA)
Farron, Tim (CO)
Featherstone, Lynne (CO, SA, SE)
Foster, Don (CO, SA, SE)
George, Andrew (SA, SE)
Hancock, Mike (CO, SA, SE)
Harvey, Nick (CO, SA, SE)
Heath, David (CO)
Hemming, John (SA, SE)
Horwood, Martin (CO, SA, SE)
Hughes, Simon (CO, SE)
Huhne, Chris (CO, SE)
Hunter, Mark (CO, SA)
Kennedy, Charles (CO, SA)
Lamb, Norman (CO, SA, SE)
Leech, John (CO, SA, SE)
Moore, Michael (CO, SA)
Mulholland, Greg (CO, SE)
Rogerson, Dan (CO, SE)
Russell, Bob (CO)
Smith, Sir Robert (CO)
Stunell, Andrew (CO, SA, SE)
Swinson, Jo (CO, SE)
Taylor, Matthew (CO, SE)
Teather, Sarah (CO, SA, SE)
Thurso, John Sinclair, 3rd Viscount (CO)
Webb, Steve (CO)
Williams, Mark (CO, SA)
Williams, Roger (CO, SA)
Williams, Stephen (CO, SE)
Willott, Jenny (CO, SA, SE)

Independent (1)

Cook, Frank (CO, SA, SE)

Plaid Cymru (1)

Llwyd, Elfyn (SE)

Scottish National Party (5)

Hosie, Stewart (SE)
MacNeil, Angus (SE)
Robertson, Angus (CO, SE)
Weir, Mike (CO, SE)
Wishart, Pete (SE)

Social Democratic and Labour Party (2)

Durkan, Mark (SA, SE)
McDonnell, Alasdair (SE)

MPs who lost their seats

Labour: Barlow, Celia (SA)*, Berry, Roger (SA)*, Dismore, Andrew (CO, SA, SE), Drew, David (CO, SA, SE), Hall, Patrick (SE), Linton, Martin (SA)*, Mallaber, Judy (SA)*, McIsaac, Shona (SA)*, Morgan, Julie (SE)*, Prentice, Gordon (CO), Prosser, Gwyn (SA)*, Wright, Anthony D (SA)*
Liberal Democrat: Gidley, Sandra (CO, SA), Goldsworthy, Julia (CO, SE), Harris, Evan (CO), Holmes, Paul (CO, SA, SE), Kramer, Susan (SA, SE), Opik, Lembit (CO, SA), Rennie, Willie (CO, SA, SE), Rowen, Paul (CO, SE), Younger-Ross, Richard (CO)
Independent: Davies, Dai (CO, SA, SE), Pelling, Andrew (CO, SA), Taylor, Richard (CO, SE)
Respect: Galloway, George (SA, SE)
Scottish National Party: Mason, John (CO, SE)

MPs who stood down

Conservative: Wilshire, David (SE)
Labour: Austin, John (CO, SA, SE), Burgon, Colin (SA), Challen, Colin (SE), Chaytor, David (SE), Clapham, Michael (SA, SE), Cohen, Harry (SA, SE), Cousins, Jim (CO), Cryer, Ann (SA, SE)*, Dean, Janet (SA)*, Devine, Jim (SE), Etherington, Bill (SA, SE)*, Jones, Lynne (CO, SA, SE), Kilfoyle, Peter (CO), Lepper, David (SA, SE), Mackinlay, Andrew (SA, SE), Marshall-Andrews, Robert (CO, SE), Mullin, Chris (CO, SA), Naysmith, Doug (SE)*, Olner, Bill (SE), Simpson, Alan (CO, SA, SE), Stewart, Ian (SA)*, Strang, Gavin (SA, SE)*, Truswell, Paul (SE), Turner, Desmond (SA, SE)*, Vis, Rudi (SA, SE), Williams, Betty (SA)*, Wyatt, Derek (SA)
Lib Dem: Barrett, John (CO), Breed, Colin (CO, SE), Howarth, David (CO, SA, SE), Keetch, Paul (CO, SA, SE), Oaten, Mark (CO, SA), Willis, Phil (SA)
Independent: Wareing, Robert N (SA, SE)
Independent Labour: Short, Clare (SA, SE)

MPs who died

Labour: Taylor, David (SE)

Please also note that other MPs who may be worth contacting are Fiona Mactaggart (Labour), Richard Shepherd (Conservative) and Edward Timpson (Conservative), who were all members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights (PDF), although none of them voted against the renewal of control orders, or supported the secret evidence EDM, unlike the chair, Andrew Dismore, who lost his seat, and members Evan Harris (Lib Dem), who also lost his seat, and Virendra Sharma (who did vote against the renewal). Also of interest is Andrew Tyrie (Conservative), who established the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition.

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

The Torture of Omar Khadr, a Child in Bagram and Guantánamo

Are we so inured to the implementation of torture by the Bush administration that we no longer recognize what torture is? Torture, according to the UN Convention Against Torture, to which the US is a signatory, is “any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person.”

Under President Bush, however, John Yoo, an ideological puppet in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which is supposed to objectively interpret the law as it applies to the executive branch, purported to redefine torture, in two memos that have become known as the “torture memos,” as the infliction of physical pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” or the infliction of mental pain which “result[s] in significant psychological harm of significant duration e.g. lasting for months or even years.”

I ask this question about torture — and our attitude to it — because of what took place last week, in pre-trial hearings at Guantánamo preceding the trial by Military Commission of the Canadian prisoner Omar Khadr, who was just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002. A number of witnesses revealed details of Khadr’s mistreatment, in the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, which hinted at his inclusion in an abusive program that, before the 9/11 attacks, before Yoo’s memos and before a general coarsening of attitudes towards abuse and the mistreatment of prisoners, would have led to calls for that mistreatment to be thoroughly investigated, and, very possibly, for it to be regarded as torture or as cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment.

In Khadr’s case, these questions should not even need raising, for a number of other compelling reasons. The first concerns his age. Under the terms of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to which the US is also a signatory, juveniles — defined as those under the age of 18 when the crime they are accused of committing took place — “require special protection.” The Optional Protocol specifically recognizes “the special needs of those children who are particularly vulnerable to recruitment or use in hostilities,” and requires its signatories to promote “the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict.”

Instead, however, the US government is attempting, for the third time, to prosecute Khadr for war crimes in a special trial system for foreign terror suspects — the Military Commissions — which were first ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in 2006, were then revived by Congress but abandoned by President Obama on his first day in office (after they had succeeded in delivering just three dubious results), and were then revived again by President Obama, with the support of Congress, last summer.

Compounding the dark absurdity of Khadr’s proposed trial is an uncomfortable truth that has been particularly noted by Lt. Col. David Frakt, a former military defense attorney for the Commissions, who has regularly pointed out that the Military Commissions are fundamentally flawed because they contain “law of war offenses” invented by Congress, including “Providing Material Support to Terrorism” and “Murder in Violation of the Law of War.” Lt. Col. Frakt has recently expressed even graver concerns about how the new Military Commissions Act includes a passage which claims that “a detainee may be convicted of murder in violation of the law of war even if they did not actually violate the law of war.”

As I also explained in an article last week, “critics of Khadr’s trial have, from the beginning, recognized that there is something horribly skewed about redefining the internationally accepted laws of war so that one side in an armed conflict — the US — can kill whoever it wants with impunity, whereas its opponents are viewed as terrorists, or, when brought to trial, as those who have committed ‘Murder in Violation of the Law of War.’”

Nevertheless, as the Obama administration has decided to press ahead with Khadr’s trial, pre-trial hearings were held over the last two weeks in an attempt to address concerns raised by Khadr’s defense team. These largely skirted the issues discussed in the paragraphs above, but focused unerringly on Khadr’s alleged mistreatment, through a “Motion to Suppress Statements Procured Using Torture, Coercion and Cruel, Inhumane and Degrading Treatment” (PDF), in which his lawyers argued that any self-incriminating statements that Khadr may have made should be ruled out because of the manner in which they were extracted.

The torture of Omar Khadr

Over the years, and in an affidavit submitted in February 2008 (PDF), Khadr has described his mistreatment in detail, explaining how he was unconscious for a week after his capture, when he was severely wounded, and how, in Bagram, where he was taken after just two weeks in a hospital, his interrogations began immediately, at the hands of an interrogator who manipulated his injuries (the exact details were redacted from his affidavit). Crucially, he also explained how, as soon as he regained consciousness, “the first soldier told me that I had killed an American with a grenade,” and how, during his first interrogation at Bagram, “I figured out right away that I would simply tell them whatever I thought they wanted to hear in order to keep them from causing me [redacted].”

There is much more in the affidavit — casual cruelty, whereby guards made Khadr do hard manual labor when his wounds were not healed, and, significantly, threats “to have me raped, or sent to other countries like Egypt, Syria, Jordan or Israel to be raped.” He also noted, “I would always hear people screaming, both day and night,” and explained that other prisoners were scared of his interrogator. “Most people would not talk about what had been done to them,” he declared. “This made me afraid.”

Khadr also described what happened to him in Guantánamo, where, as I explained last week, he “arrived around the time that a regime of humiliation, isolation and abuse, including extreme temperature manipulation, forced nudity and sexual humiliation, had just been introduced, by reverse-engineering torture techniques, used in a military program designed to train US personnel to resist interrogation if captured, in an attempt to increase the meager flow of ‘actionable intelligence’ from the prison.”

At various points in 2003, while the use of these techniques was still widespread, Khadr stated that he was short-shackled in painful positions and left for up to ten hours in a freezing cold cell, threatened with rape and with being transferred to another country where he could be raped, and, on one particular occasion, when he had been left short-shackled in a painful position until he urinated on himself:

Military police poured pine oil on the floor and on me, and then, with me lying on my stomach and my hands and feet cuffed together behind me, the military police dragged me back and forth through the mixture of urine and pine oil on the floor. Later, I was put back in my cell, without being allowed a shower or a change of clothes. I was not given a change of clothes for two days. They did this to me again a few weeks later.

Crucially, when describing the interrogations that punctuated these experiences at Guantánamo, Khadr explained, “I did not want to expose myself to any more harm, so I always just told interrogators what I thought they wanted to hear. Having been asked the same questions so many times, I knew what answers made interrogators happy and would always tailor my answers based on what I thought would keep me from being harmed.”

Until two weeks ago, these claims — though well-known to those who have followed Khadr’s case — had, for the most part, not been aired in a courtroom. In response to the defense motion, however, the government attempted to refute Khadr’s claims, calling a female interrogator who stated that Khadr had voluntarily admitted that he threw the grenade that killed US Sgt. Christopher Speer, during sessions after his arrival at Guantánamo in October 2002 that were perfectly amicable, and an FBI agent, Robert Fuller, who stated that his interrogations of Khadr at Bagram earlier in October 2002 were also “conversational” and “non-confrontational,” and that Khadr had freely admitted to throwing the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer.

Whilst it was possible — if not probable — that both interrogators were telling the truth about interrogating Khadr non-coercively, the problem remains that Khadr has stated that, from the time of his very first interrogation, he regarded telling his interrogators what they wanted to hear as the best way of avoiding mistreatment, and so may not have been telling them the truth. As a result, last week’s witnesses were more significant because they shed light on the early days after he recovered consciousness in US custody, and, in particular, on his first interrogation and his subsequent interaction with that interrogator. Along the way, further witnesses cast shadows on the government’s otherwise clean picture of interrogations conducted in a non-coercive environment.

It would have remarkable had this not happened, as countless witnesses — including soldiers as well as current and former Guantánamo prisoners — have described the brutality at Bagram at the time Khadr was held there between August and October 2002, which led, just over a month after Khadr’s departure for Guantánamo, to the murder of two prisoners — and, very possibly, to other murders at the time he was held.

The medic’s testimony –- and “Palestinian hanging”

The first to reveal a glimpse of the regime at Bagram was, ironically, a medic called as a witness by the prosecution. “Mr. M,” as he was identified, who testified by video link from Boston, countered Khadr’s claims that, while he was at Bagram, “five people in civilian clothes would come and change my bandages,” and that they “treated me very roughly and videotaped me while they did it,” stating that he alone changed his bandages twice a day, and that no rough treatment was involved.

He did, however, note that, on one occasion, he found Khadr hooded and chained to a cage by his wrists with his arms “just above eye level,” and that when he lifted the hood, Khadr was visibly upset. The medic added, as Carol Rosenberg described it in the Miami Herald, that “he didn’t object to Khadr’s treatment, because chaining was an approved form of punishment” at Bagram, ”adding that he didn’t know the reason for the punishment nor how long Khadr had been chained.”

This rather nonchalant description of “chaining” may not have shocked the medic, especially as the chains were apparently “slack enough to allow Khadr’s feet to touch the floor,” but the only reason for this was because of the severity of his wounds, as Khadr explained in his affidavit, in which he also stated that he was chained up “several times.” Otherwise, like numerous other prisoners, including Dilawar (the subject of “Taxi to the Dark Side”) and Mullah Habibullah, the two prisoners who were killed at Bagram in December 2002, he would have been fully suspended by his wrists, in a torture technique more commonly known as the “strappado” technique or “Palestinian hanging.”

Nevertheless, as Barry Coburn, Khadr’s lead lawyer, explained, the medic’s testimony provided “critically important validation” of statements in his client’s affidavit, and another of his lawyers, Kobie Flowers, added, “Had this been an American soldier in North Korea, people would be outraged. Here we have a 15-year-old individual who was nearly killed with bullets in his back who was left up there to hang as punishment.”

“Interrogator No. 2” and Khadr’s first interrogation –- on a stretcher

However, while this was significant in establishing some context for the general and well-chronicled brutality at Bagram, which will no doubt emerge in unprecedented detail should Khadr’s trial proceed, it was not until Tuesday last week that previously unknown information emerged regarding Khadr’s first interrogation on arrival at Bagram, which, according to a master sergeant in the US Army, identified as “Interrogator No. 2,” who appeared in person, took place on the same day that Khadr was moved from the hospital to what Carol Rosenberg described as “the crude, putrid Bagram Air Base detention center.”

The interrogator, who was an observer at Khadr’s first interrogation on August 12, 2002, revealed that “the questioning took place while Khadr was on a stretcher — he couldn’t remember if Khadr was shackled to it — and that his notes included this detail: ‘Clarification was difficult due to the sedation and fatigue of the detainee.’” He also explained that no coercion was used on him, but just two approved techniques from the Army Field Manual: “fear down,” which is designed to play down a prisoner’s anxieties, and “fear of incarceration,” which encourages prisoners to tell the truth by pointing out that otherwise they may face extended imprisonment.

It is hard to tell if this controlled line of questioning strictly reflects reality, but even so, as one of Khadr’s military lawyers, Army Lt. Col. Jon Jackson noted, the testimony showed that Khadr “was first questioned within just 12 hours of his transfer from the US field hospital to the detention center.” Kobie Flowers was more forceful in his criticism. “You got a guy who is 15, seriously wounded, who has had multiple surgeries, and that’s the first time the United States government takes a statement from him to use in his prosecution,” he said, adding, “Now whether it is torture, cruel, inhumane, degrading treatment or simply involuntary … I don’t think any federal judge in the United States would allow that type of conduct.”

The testimony of Damien Corsetti

On Wednesday, a peripheral figure in Khadr’s story — but one who has achieved a certain notoriety — testified by video link from Arlington, Virginia. Damien Corsetti, who was known as “Monster” at Bagram, based on a tattoo on his chest, and also as “The King of Torture,” described himself as “a disabled veteran suffering post traumatic stress disorder as a result of his interrogation work in both Afghanistan and Iraq,” and explained how, on seeing Khadr on July 29, 2002, just two days after his capture, he was struck by how he was an injured “child” detained in “one of the worst places on Earth.” He added, “More than anything, he looked beat up. He was a 15 year-old kid with three holes in his body, a bunch of shrapnel in his face. That was what I remember. How horrible this 15 year-old child looked.”

Corsetti, who was cleared in 2005 of abuse charges relating to his conduct in Bagram and, later, at Abu Ghraib in Iraq, explained, back in 2007, how he was still haunted by “the cries, the smells, the sounds” of those whose torture he witnessed, when he was called upon to attend sessions in the basement of Bagram in which “high-value detainees” were tortured. “[T]hey are with me all the time,” he said.

Last Wednesday, Corsetti told the court that he was “not one of Khadr’s interrogators” but had befriended him in Bagram. He explained that the guards and interrogators, who identified all the prisoners as “BOB” (which stood for “Bad Odor Boys”), named Khadr “Buckshot BOB,” due to his injuries. He added that “there was the sound of screaming and yelling ‘continuously,” and also confirmed that threats were made to send prisoners to countries where they would be tortured, or raped. He specifically mentioned Israel and Egypt, but added, as Michelle Shephard explained in the Toronto Star, that he “did not know if Khadr had been told this.” As Khadr stated in his affidavit that he was indeed threatened with being sent to Israel or Egypt (or Syria or Jordan), Corsetti’s testimony therefore endorsed another of Khadr’s claims.

“Interrogator No. 1” and the rape threat

If Corsetti’s testimony, for the most part, did little more than add some more color to the story of Khadr’s early months in US custody, Thursday’s witness, Joshua Claus, provided potent testimony regarding the kind of threats to which Khadr was subjected, and also provided a disturbing link to the kind of violence in Bagram that led to the murders of Dilawar and Mullah Habibullah in December 2002. Claus, formerly a sergeant in the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion (of which Corsetti was also a member), was identified in court as “Interrogator No. 1,” and was Khadr’s main interrogator at Bagram, the “skinny blond” man with glasses (just 21 years old at the time) who also interrogated him while he was on a stretcher, on the day that he was moved to Bagram from the field hospital, and who, according to Khadr, mistreated him in an unknown manner (because the details are redacted) during his first interrogation.

Testifying by video link from Arizona, Claus recalled, in particular, using the technique described as “fear up harsh” in interrogations of Khadr, during which he would kick the furniture and scream at the young prisoner. He also admitted that he invented a rape story to scare him, explaining, as Spencer Ackerman described it in the Washington Independent:

“I told him a fictitious story we had invented when we were there,” Interrogator #1 said. It was something “three or four” interrogators at Bagram came up with after learning that Afghans were “terrified of getting raped and general homosexuality, things of that nature.” The story went like this:

Interrogator #1 would tell the detainee, “I know you’re lying about something.” And so, for an instruction about the consequences of lying, Khadr learned that lying “not so seriously” wouldn’t land him in a place like “Cuba” — meaning, presumably, Guantánamo Bay — but in an American prison instead. And this one time, a “poor little 20-year-old kid” sent from Afghanistan ended up in an American prison for lying to an American. “A bunch of big black guys and big Nazis noticed the little Afghan didn’t speak their language, and prayed five times a day — he’s Muslim,” Interrogator #1 said. Although the fictitious inmates were criminals, “they’re still patriotic,” and the guards “can’t be everywhere at once.”

“So this one unfortunate time, he’s in the shower by himself, and these four big black guys show up — and it’s terrible something would happen — but they caught him in the shower and raped him. And it’s terrible that these things happen, the kid got hurt and ended up dying,” Interrogator #1 said. “It’s all a fictitious story.”

Perhaps so, but as Ackerman also noted, every other interrogator who spoke to Khadr did so “after he heard a ‘fictitious story’ about a young Afghan who lied to US interrogators and as a result was raped and killed in jail.”

In many ways, the events of the last two weeks were inconclusive, and it remains to be seen how the judge, Army Col. Patrick Parrish, will interpret them. Certainly, there was much worse abuse at Bagram and at Guantánamo than that experienced by Omar Khadr, but he was just a child during his time at Bagram and the early years of his abuse at Guantánamo, and it may well be that, as his lawyers assert, any self-incriminating statements that he made (especially regarding the throwing of a grenade that may have taken place when he was face down and unconscious under a pile of rubble) were produced because rape threats and physical violence based primarily on exploitation of his wounds was enough to terrify him into acquiescence with whatever his captors wanted.

The Pentagon shoots itself in the foot: four reporters banned

Ironically, the biggest story in Guantánamo last week was not the reports of Khadr’s treatment but the banning of four reporters (including Michelle Shephard and Carol Rosenberg), after they revealed Claus’ name in newspaper reports. The Pentagon alleged that this violated an order stipulating that Claus’ real name was protected information, but this was patently ridiculous, because his name was already in the public domain, and, in 2008, he had even conducted an interview with Michelle Shephard.

Instead of protecting Claus, the Pentagon’s heavy-handed response served only to make other reporters wonder if the Pentagon was trying to prevent anyone from working out that, unlike Damien Corsetti, Claus served five months in prison for pleading guilty in a court martial to the abuse of an unidentified prisoner at Bagram, who was made “to roll back and forth on the floor and kiss the boots of his interrogator,” as Michelle Shephard described it, and for the assault of Dilawar. In Shephard’s words, “He admitted to forcing water down the throat of Dilawar and twisting a hood over the Afghan’s head.” Moreover, as another soldier explained in a military report into Dilawar’s death, “I had the impression that Josh was actually holding the detainee upright by pulling on the hood. I was furious at this point because I had seen Josh tighten the hood of another detainee the week before. This behavior seemed completely gratuitous and unrelated to intelligence collection.”

In his interview in 2008, Claus insisted that he wanted to set the record straight. “They’re trying to imply I’m beating or torturing everyone I ever talked to [at Bagram],” he said, adding that, with Khadr, “I spent a lot of time trying to understand who he was and what I could say to him or do for him, whether it be to bring him extra food or get a letter out to his family … I needed to talk to him and get him to trust me.”

Responding last Thursday to a question about his conviction posed by Barry Coburn, Claus insisted that he “lost control at a very slight moment. You’re talking about two-and-a-half minutes of my life.” This may not technically be correct, as there was clearly more than one incident, but it is obvious that his actions were part of an abusive program sanctioned at the highest level of the Bush administration, and moreover, as Damien Corsetti explained, “the pressure to get information from prisoner at Bagram was intense.” He told Col. Parrish, “This was less than a year after 9/11 so we’re all still pretty heated up about that. This was life and death stuff we were supposedly dealing with. There was just a ton of pressure on us to get information to save lives and generate reports.”

By banning the four reporters, the Pentagon has only succeeded in drawing attention to something it presumably wanted to hide: that Omar Khadr’s mistreatment in Bagram took place at time when the violence in the prison, sanctioned by the Bush administration, was so intense that prisoners died, and that his first interrogator was implicated in the murder of one of these men. It doesn’t prove that Khadr wasn’t coerced into making false confessions, but it doesn’t augur well for claims that everything about his treatment was “conversational” and “non-confrontational.”

The Obama administration has until July, when Khadr’s trial is scheduled to start, to extricate itself from a public relations disaster of its own making, by formulating an acceptable plea deal for Khadr and arranging his return to Canada. Too much about this story — from the trumped-up war crimes charges, to the doubts about Khadr’s guilt, to his age and the abuse to which, on occasion, he was undoubtedly subjected — makes proceeding with the trial an unpalatable and essentially pointless exercise. It is, I believe, time, after nearly eight years, for his punishment to come to an end, and for his long-delayed rehabilitation to begin.

Note: The courtroom sketches above, by Janet Hamlin, are courtesy of Janet Hamlin Illustration.

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

As published exclusively on Cageprisoners. Cross-posted on Common Dreams, Eurasia Review, Uruknet, United Progressives, Blog from Middle East and Roger Hollander.

See the following for a sequence of articles dealing with the stumbling progress of the Military Commissions: The reviled Military Commissions collapse (June 2007), A bad week at Guantánamo (Commissions revived, September 2007), The curse of the Military Commissions strikes the prosecutors (September 2007), A good week at Guantánamo (chief prosecutor resigns, October 2007), The story of Mohamed Jawad (October 2007), The story of Omar Khadr (November 2007), Guantánamo trials: where are the terrorists? (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo charged with 9/11 attacks: why now, and what about the torture? (February 2008), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (ex-prosecutor turns, February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), African embassy bombing suspect charged (March 2008), The US military’s shameless propaganda over 9/11 trials (April 2008), Betrayals, backsliding and boycotts (May 2008), Fact Sheet: The 16 prisoners charged (May 2008), Afghan fantasist to face trial (June 2008), 9/11 trial defendants cry torture (June 2008), USS Cole bombing suspect charged (July 2008), Folly and injustice (Salim Hamdan’s trial approved, July 2008), A critical overview of Salim Hamdan’s Guantánamo trial and the dubious verdict (August 2008), Salim Hamdan’s sentence signals the end of Guantánamo (August 2008), Controversy still plagues Guantánamo’s Military Commissions (September 2008), Another Insignificant Afghan Charged (September 2008), Seized at 15, Omar Khadr Turns 22 in Guantánamo (September 2008), Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Running the 9/11 Trials? (September 2008), two articles exploring the Commissions’ corrupt command structure (The Dark Heart of the Guantánamo Trials, and New Evidence of Systemic Bias in Guantánamo Trials, October 2008), The collapse of Omar Khadr’s Guantánamo trial (October 2008), Corruption at Guantánamo (legal adviser faces military investigations, October 2008), An empty trial at Guantánamo (Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, October 2008), Life sentence for al-Qaeda propagandist fails to justify Guantánamo trials (al-Bahlul, November 2008), 20 Reasons To Shut Down The Guantánamo Trials (profiles of all the prisoners charged, November 2008), How Guantánamo Can Be Closed: Advice for Barack Obama (November 2008), More Dubious Charges in the Guantánamo Trials (two Kuwaitis, November 2008), The End of Guantánamo (Salim Hamdan repatriated, November 2008), Torture, Preventive Detention and the Terror Trials at Guantánamo (December 2008), Is the 9/11 trial confession an al-Qaeda coup? (December 2008), The Dying Days of the Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns Chaotic Trials (Lt. Col. Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Torture taints the case of Mohamed Jawad (January 2009), Bush Era Ends with Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Chaos and Lies: Why Obama Was Right to Halt The Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Plea Bargain: Trading Torture For Freedom (March 2009).

And for a sequence of articles dealing with the Obama administration’s response to the Military Commissions, see: Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), Who’s Running Guantánamo? (February 2009), The Talking Dog interviews Darrel Vandeveld, former Guantánamo prosecutor (February 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Obama Returns To Bush Era On Guantánamo (May 2009), New Chief Prosecutor Appointed For Military Commissions At Guantánamo (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), My Message To Obama: Great Speech, But No Military Commissions and No “Preventive Detention” (May 2009), Guantánamo And The Many Failures Of US Politicians (May 2009), A Child At Guantánamo: The Unending Torment of Mohamed Jawad (June 2009), A Broken Circus: Guantánamo Trials Convene For One Day Of Chaos (June 2009), Obama Proposes Swift Execution of Alleged 9/11 Conspirators (June 2009), Predictable Chaos As Guantánamo Trials Resume (July 2009), David Frakt: Military Commissions “A Catastrophic Failure” (August 2009), 9/11 Trial At Guantánamo Delayed Again: Can We Have Federal Court Trials Now, Please? (September 2009), Torture And Futility: Is This The End Of The Military Commissions At Guantánamo? (September 2009), Resisting Injustice In Guantánamo: The Story Of Fayiz Al-Kandari (October 2009), Military Commissions Revived: Don’t Do It, Mr. President! (November 2009), The Logic of the 9/11 Trials, The Madness of the Military Commissions (November 2009), Rep. Jerrold Nadler and David Frakt on Obama’s Three-Tier Justice System For Guantánamo (November 2009), Guantánamo: Idealists Leave Obama’s Sinking Ship (November 2009), Chaos and Confusion: The Return of the Military Commissions (December 2009), Afghan Nobody Faces Trial by Military Commission (January 2010), Lawyers Appeal Guantánamo Trial Convictions (February 2010), When Rhetoric Trumps Good Sense: The GOP’s Counter-Productive Call for Military Commissions (March 2010).

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Andy Worthington

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