Archive for June, 2010

Write to the Forgotten Prisoners in Guantánamo

Sometimes the idea for a campaign arrives out of the blue, and this is the case with a project to write to all the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo, which was launched last week by Shahrina Ahmed-Amatullah, a friend on Facebook.

Shahrina had a list of 24 prisoners provided by Amnesty International (mirrored here), and approached me to ask if I had a list of all the prisoners still held. I explained that I didn’t have a specific list of the remaining prisoners, but that she could extract their names from my definitive prisoner lists (available here, here, here and here), which she then did, announcing the project via a Facebook note entitled, “What if YOU were tortured … and no one knew about it??!”

As Shahrina explained in her note, announcing a deadline of July 12 for writing to all the remaining prisoners, and asking her friends to nominate prisoners to whom they would write, “A single letter to these prisoners is a huge ray of light in their lives. Think about it — why can we not even do just that?! Is that how busy and occupied we are with life?”

As she also explained, “It will be nice if you could leave your name and address as you sign off the letter — as some brothers like to write back. This also gives the brothers hope that they do have support — and gives them the opportunity to talk about their lives to someone. It gives them the opportunity to lighten their hearts. You have the honour of lifting their weights and giving them the chance to speak about what it is REALLY like in there. If you still wish not to disclose any information — then please do not let this put you off. It’s not compulsory that you disclose such information — it is just comforting for the brothers to know they have someone else to communicate with — who really cares.”

I thought this was such an excellent idea — as did my colleagues at Cageprisoners — that the team at Cageprisoners also put together a campaign page, entitled, “Do not forget to write to the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo,” which contained the following information:

Guantánamo Bay may be off the radar screens, with some people actually believing the place has been closed down simply because Obama had promised to do so within a year of his presidency, but how can the men held there for so many years simply be erased from our memories? The campaign against the US prison may not have achieved the ultimate goal of acquiring justice for all the prisoners, but it has ensured that the men of Guantánamo are not forgotten. At least that’s what it should have done.

A practical part of any campaign is to engage those whom it affects most — in this case the prisoners (and their families).

A letter can literally go a long way in helping to relieve the ordeal of men who have been incarcerated in the world’s most notorious prison for close to a decade, without charge or trial in any fair or recognised legal system. After years of neglect, torture, abuse, cruel and unusual treatment the remaining prisoners at Guantánamo Bay still have no light at the end of the tunnel. Their strength and resilience has been in their faith, whilst their patience has been tested to the extreme.

Writing a letter to them might not secure their release or replace their lost years, but it can give a person who feels abandoned by the world a little solace and hope. Testimony from released prisoners bears witness to that.

Former Guantánamo prisoner and Al-Jazeera journalist Sami Al-Hajj said:

There were very few moments in Guantánamo that would give us joy. One of those moments was when we received letters from our families; but we were even happier knowing that some — who we didn’t even know — had written to us for no other reason than to show their support and care for us.

Former Guantánamo prisoner and Cageprisoners’ researcher Feroz Abbasi said:

The odd letter from a person I didn’t know in the outside world gave me a lot of strength, particularly because I felt we had been abandoned by the world — especially the Muslim world.

Former Guantánamo prisoner and Cageprisoners director Moazzam Begg said:

Letters and messages of support and solidarity are just as important now as they were when we first received them, even when they were heavily redacted. In a place where all hope of justice seems so far removed letters from unseen faces and unknown names are a breath of fresh air and a ray of hope.

So, please remember the prisoners in your prayer and follow through with actions that might bring a little smile to those who have undergone unimaginable tribulations over the years.

The Cageprisoners campaign page also linked to an earlier page providing advice about writing letters. There are many different points of view regarding what is appropriate, and what may or may not get through to prisoners. Amnesty International, for example, point out that simple messages of good will are best, and that anything that can be construed as political should be avoided, as it will almost certainly not be delivered. Their “Greeting Cards Campaign” page, for example, provides the following advice: “Simple messages of solidarity and good will are enough, especially if you are not writing in the recipient’s first language. For example: ‘Wishing you peace and happiness for the future’ or ‘Thinking of you.’ Never advance your political opinions or discuss politics.”

This is certainly sound advice, but for Muslim readers — or, indeed, for non-Muslims who want to reach out to prisoners in a manner they will understand — Cageprisoners also provides the following suggestions:

  • Encourage them to be patient, and to have faith in Allah.
  • Remind them that this life is filled with trials, and that those whom Allah loves will be tested again and again.
  • Remind them of their purpose in life, and the promise of Jannah.
  • Quote Qur’anic verses and hadith that mention the above, which will help increase their faith and strengthen their relationship with Allah.
  • Encourage them to read the Qur’an often and engage in a lot of Dhikr.
  • Whether you write a few words, or a long letter, it is important to keep on writing on a regular basis. As it is told in a hadith of the Prophet, sallallahu alayhi was sallam, “The most beloved deeds to Allah are those which are regularly done even if they were little.”

Cageprisoners also notes that writing to prisoners “lets prison staff know that people out there care, and are concerned about them,” and that this “may decrease the chances that the prisoners [are] mistreated.”

So please, go ahead and write. If you are an Arabic speaker, or speak any other languages spoken by the prisoners besides English, feel free to write in those languages, and if you want any more encouragement about the significance for prisoners of receiving letters, then please visit this Amnesty International page, which features a short film of former prisoner Omar Deghayes showing letters he received in Guantánamo and explaining how much they meant to him — and to his fellow prisoners, which was filmed as part of an interview with Omar that is featured in the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (directed by Polly Nash and myself), and available on DVD here. Also, please feel free to let me know if you have written a letter, and also if you receive a reply.

Please write to the remaining 181 prisoners in Guantánamo!

When writing to the prisoners please ensure you include their full name and ISN (internment serial number) below (the numbers before their names, i.e. Shaker Aamer ISN 239) and address to:

U.S. Naval Station
Guantánamo Bay
Washington, D.C. 20355
United States of America

Also please note that the list includes five prisoners who have been released, but who I have been unable to identify, because their names have not been publicly disclosed: three unidentified prisoners released in Slovakia in January 2010, and two unidentified prisoners released in Georgia in March 2010.

POSTSCRIPT July 29, 2010: The three prisoners released in Slovakia have now been identified, and since this list was compiled five other prisoners have been released (four of these have been identified).

POSTSCRIPT January 19, 2011: An Algerian released in January 2011 has also been noted.

1) 004 Wasiq, Abdul-Haq (Afghanistan)
2) 006 Noori, Mullah Norullah (Afghanistan)
3) 007 Fazil, Mullah Mohammed (Afghanistan)
4) 026 Ghazi, Fahed (Yemen)
5) 027 Uthman, Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed (Yemen)
6) 028 Al Alawi, Muaz (Yemen)
7) 029 Al Ansi, Mohammed (Yemen)
8) 030 Al Hakimi, Ahmed (Yemen)
9) 031 Al Mujahid, Mahmoud (Yemen)
10) 033 Al Adahi, Mohammed (Yemen)
11) 034 Al Yafi, Abdullah (Yemen)
12) 035 Qader Idris, Idris (Yemen)
13) 036 Idris, Ibrahim (Sudan)
14) 037 Al Rahabi, Abdul Malik (Yemen)
15) 038 Al Yazidi, Ridah (Tunisia)
16) 039 Al Bahlul, Ali Hamza (Yemen)
17) 040 Al Mudafari, Abdel Qadir (Yemen)
18) 041 Ahmad, Majid (Yemen)
19) 042 Shalabi, Abdul Rahman (Saudi Arabia)
20) 043 Moqbel, Samir (Yemen)
21) 044 Ghanim, Mohammed (Yemen)
22) 045 Al Rezehi, Ali Ahmad (Yemen)
23) 054 Al Qosi, Ibrahim (Sudan)
24) 063 Al Qahtani, Mohammed (Saudi Arabia)
25) 088 Awad, Adham Ali (Yemen)
26) 089 Tsiradzho, Poolad (Azerbaijan) RELEASED IN SLOVAKIA
27) 091 Al Saleh, Abdul (Yemen)
28) 115 Naser, Abdul Rahman (Yemen)
29) 117 Al Warafi, Muktar (Yemen)
30) 128 Al Bihani, Ghaleb (Yemen)
31) 131 Ben Kend, Salem (Yemen)
32) 152 Al Khalaqi, Asim (Yemen)
33) 153 Suleiman, Fayiz (Yemen)
34) 156 Latif, Adnan Farhan Abdul (Yemen)
35) 163 Al Qadasi, Khalid (Yemen)
36) 165 Al Busayss, Said (Yemen)
37) 167 Al Raimi, Ali Yahya (Yemen)
38) 168 Hakimi, Adel (Hakeemy) (Tunisia)
39) 170 Masud, Sharaf (Yemen)
40) 171 Alahdal, Abu Bakr (Yemen)
41) 174 Sliti, Hisham (Tunisia)
42) 178 Baada, Tareq (Yemen)
43) 189 Gherebi, Salem (Libya)
44) 195 Al Shumrani, Mohammed (Saudi Arabia)
45) 197 Chekhouri, Younis (Morocco)
46) 200 Al Qahtani, Said (Saudi Arabia)
47) 202 Bin Atef, Mahmoud (Yemen)
48) 219 Razak, Abdul (China)
49) 223 Sulayman, Abdul Rahman (Yemen)
50) 224 Muhammad, Abdul Rahman (Yemen)
51) 232 Al Odah, Fawzi (Al Awda) (Kuwait)
52) 233 Salih, Abdul (Yemen)
53) 235 Jarabh, Saeed (Yemen)
54) 238 Hadjarab, Nabil (Algeria-France)
55) 239 Aamer, Shaker (UK-Saudi Arabia)
56) 240 Al Shabli, Abdullah (Saudi Arabia)
57) 242 Qasim, Khaled (Yemen)
58) 244 Nassir, Abdul Latif (Morocco)
59) 249 Al Hamiri, Mohammed (Yemen)
60) 251 Bin Salem, Mohammed (Yemen)
61) 254 Khenaina, Mohammed (Yemen)
62) 255 Hatim, Said (Yemen)
63) 257 Abdulayev, Omar (Tajikistan)
64) 259 Hintif, Fadil (Yemen)
65) 263 Sultan, Ashraf (Libya)
66) 275 Abbas, Yusef (Abdusabar) (China)
67) 280 Khalik, Saidullah (Khalid) (China)
68) 282 Abdulghupur, Hajiakbar (China)
69) 288 Saib, Motai (Algeria)
70) 290 Belbacha, Ahmed (UK-Algeria)
71) 307 Al Tumani, Abdul Nasir (Syria) RELEASED IN CAPE VERDE
72) 309 Abdal Sattar, Muieen (UAE)
73) 310 Ameziane, Djamel (Algeria)
74) 311 Bin Mohammed, Farhi Said (Algeria) RELEASED
75) 321 Kuman, Ahmed Yaslam Said (Yemen)
76) 324 Al Sabri, Mashur (Yemen)
77) 326 Ajam, Ahmed (Syria)
78) 327 Shaaban, Ali Hussein (Syria)
79) 328 Mohamed, Ahmed (China)
80) 329 Al Hamawe, Abu Omar (Syria)
81) 331 Al Shurafa, Ayman (Saudi Arabia-Palestine) RELEASED IN GERMANY
82) 369 El Gazzar, Adel Fattough Ali (Egypt) RELEASED IN SLOVAKIA
83) 434 Al Shamyri, Mustafa (Yemen)
84) 440 Bawazir, Mohammed (Yemen)
85) 441 Al Zahri, Abdul Rahman (Yemen)
86) 461 Al Qyati, Abdul Rahman (Yemen)
87) 498 Haidel, Mohammed (Yemen)
88) 502 Ourgy, Abdul (Tunisia)
89) 506 Al Dhuby, Khalid (Yemen)
90) 508 Al Rabie, Salman (Yemen)
91) 509 Khusruf, Mohammed (Yemen)
92) 511 Al Nahdi, Sulaiman (Yemen)
93) 522 Ismail, Yasin (Yemen)
94) 535 El Sawah, Tariq (Al Sawah) (Bosnia-Egypt)
95) 537 Al Ali, Mahmud (Syria) RELEASED IN GERMANY
96) 549 Al Dayi, Omar (Yemen)
97) 550 Zaid, Walid (Yemen)
98) 552 Al Kandari, Faiz (Kuwait)
99) 553 Al Baidhani, Abdul Khaliq (Saudi Arabia)
100) 554 Al Assani, Fehmi (Yemen)
101) 560 Mohammed, Haji Wali (Afghanistan)
102) 564 Bin Amer, Jalal (Yemen)
103) 566 Qattaa, Mansoor (Saudi Arabia)
104) 569 Al Shorabi, Zohair (Yemen)
105) 570 Al Qurashi, Sabri (Yemen)
106) 572 Al Zabe, Salah (Saudi Arabia)
107) 574 Al Wady, Hamoud (Yemen)
108) 575 Al Azani, Saad (Yemen)
109) 576 Bin Hamdoun, Zahir (Yemen)
110) 578 Al Suadi, Abdul Aziz (Yemen)
111) 579 Khairkhwa, Khairullah (Afghanistan)
112) 675 Kasimbekov, Kamalludin (Uzbekistan) PROBABLY RELEASED IN LATVIA
113) 680 Hassan, Emad (Yemen)
114) 681 Hassen, Mohammed (Mohammed Hassan Odaini) (Yemen) RELEASED
115) 682 Al Sharbi, Ghassan (Saudi Arabia)
116) 684 Tahamuttan, Mohammed (Palestine)
117) 685 Ali, Abdelrazak (Algeria)
118) 686 Hakim, Abdel (Yemen)
119) 688 Ahmed, Fahmi (Yemen)
120) 689 Salam, Mohamed (Yemen)
121) 690 Qader, Ahmed Abdul (Yemen)
122) 691 Al Zarnuki, Mohammed (Yemen)
123) 694 Barhoumi, Sufyian (Algeria)
124) 695 Abu Bakr, Omar (Omar Mohammed Khalifh) (Libya)
125) 696 Al Qahtani, Jabran (Saudi Arabia)
126) 702 Mingazov, Ravil (Russia)
127) 707 Muhammed, Noor Uthman (Sudan)
128) 708 Al Bakush, Ismael (Libya)
129) 713 Al Zahrani, Mohammed (Saudi Arabia)
130) 717 Bin Hadiddi, Abdulhadi (Hedi Hammamy) (Tunisia)
131) 722 Diyab, Jihad (Syria)
132) 728 Nassir, Jamil (Yemen)
133) 744 Naji, Aziz Abdul (Algeria) RELEASED
134) 753 Zahir, Abdul (Afghanistan)
135) 757 Abdul Aziz, Ahmed Ould (Mauritania)
136) 760 Slahi, Mohamedou Ould (Salahi) (Mauritania)
137) 762 Obaidullah (Afghanistan)
138) 766 Khadr, Omar (Canada)
139) 768 Al Darbi, Ahmed Mohammed (Saudi Arabia)
140) 782 Gul, Awal (Afghanistan)
141) 832 Omari, Mohammed Nabi (Afghanistan)
142) 836 Saleh, Ayoub Murshid Ali (Yemen)
143) 837 Al Marwalah, Bashir (Yemen)
144) 838 Balzuhair, Shawki Awad (Yemen)
145) 839 Al Mudwani, Musab (Musa’ab Al Madhwani) (Yemen)
146) 840 Al Maythali, Hail Aziz Ahmed (Yemen)
147) 841 Nashir, Said Salih Said (Yemen)
148) 892 Al Hami, Rafiq (Alhami) (Tunisia) RELEASED IN SLOVAKIA
149) 893 Al Bihani, Tawfiq (Saudi Arabia)
150) 894 Abdul Rahman, Mohammed (Tunisia)
151) 899 Khan, Shawali (Afghanistan)
152) 928 Gul, Khi Ali (Afghanistan)
153) 934 Ghani, Abdul (Afghanistan)
154) 975 Karim, Bostan (Afghanistan)
155) 1008 Sohail, Mohammed Mustafa (Afghanistan)
156) 1015 Almerfedi, Hussein (Yemen)
157) 1017 Al Rammah, Omar (Zakaria al-Baidany) (Yemen)
158) 1045 Kamin, Mohammed (Afghanistan)
159) 1094 Paracha, Saifullah (Pakistan)
160) 1103 Zahir, Mohammed (Afghanistan)
161) 1119 Hamidullah, Haji (Afghanistan)
162) 1453 Al Kazimi, Sanad (Yemen)
163) 1456 Bin Attash, Hassan (Saudi Arabia)
164) 1457 Sharqawi, Abdu Ali (Yemen)
165) 1460 Rabbani, Abdul Rahim Ghulam (Pakistan)
166) 1461 Rabbani, Mohammed Ghulam (Pakistan)
167) 1463 Al Hela, Abdulsalam (Yemen)
168) 10001 Bensayah, Belkacem (Bosnia-Algeria)
169) 10011 Al Hawsawi, Mustafa (Saudi Arabia)
170) 10013 Bin Al Shibh, Ramzi (Yemen)
171) 10014 Bin Attash, Waleed (Saudi Arabia)
172) 10015 Al Nashiri, Abdul Rahim (Saudi Arabia)
173) 10016 Zubaydah, Abu (Palestine-Saudi Arabia)
174) 10017 Al Libi, Abu Faraj (Libya)
175) 10018 Al Baluchi, Ammar (Ali Abdul Aziz Ali) (Pakistan-Kuwait)
176) 10019 Isamuddin, Riduan (Hamlili) (Indonesia)
177) 10020 Khan, Majid (Pakistan)
178) 10021 Bin Amin, Modh Farik (Zubair) (Malaysia)
179) 10022 Bin Lep, Mohammed (Lillie) (Malaysia)
180) 10023 Dourad, Gouled Hassan (Somalia)
181) 10024 Mohammed, Khalid Sheikh (Pakistan-Kuwait)
182) 10025 Malik, Mohammed Abdul (Kenya)
183) 10026 Al Iraqi, Abdul Hadi (Iraq)
184) 10028 Al Afghani, Haroon (Afghanistan)
185) 10029 Inayatullah (Afghanistan)
186) 10030 Rahim, Muhammad (Afghanistan)

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. 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, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo, Obama’s Failures and the UK’s Anti-Terror Laws with Chuck Mertz on This is Hell!

On Saturday, I was delighted to be interviewed by Chuck Mertz for This is Hell! in Chicago. Chuck was one of the first radio hosts to pick up on my work, back in July 2007, and it was great to talk again after our last interview, which, if I recall correctly, was way back in 2008. Our interview begins about 75 minutes into Chuck’s four-hour show, and is available here as an MP3.

Chuck always does thorough research for his interviews, and in our 35-minute discussion, we began by talking about his opening question: has there been any progress in rolling back the horrors of the Bush administration’s vile “War on Terror” policies (and their lesser-known British counterparts) either in the US or the UK?

I began by explaining how the case of Mohammed Hassan Odaini exemplifies much that has gone wrong, as this Yemeni student, seized by mistake, has still not been released, despite being cleared on three occasions — by a military review board under the Bush administration (in 2006), by Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force last year, and by a US judge three weeks ago, who granted Odaini’s habeas corpus petition and delivered a deeply critical analysis of the government’s behavior. As I also explained, Odaini cannot, at present, be released because of a moratorium on the release of any Yemenis that was introduced by President Obama in January, which, in turn, was only introduced because the President refused to stand up to scaremongering and hysteria in the wake of the failed Christmas Day bomb plot.

Seemingly content that this was my way of saying that nothing has substantially changed, Chuck then asked me about the Uighurs, and the significance of Obama’s failure to bring any of these wrongly seized Muslims from Xinjiang province to live in the US, as was planned last year by White House Counsel Greg Craig, until Obama got cold feet. He also wondered why the message of fear — propagated so successfully by the Bush administration — is still with us, and is so difficult to dislodge.

In response, I explained that at least part of the reason is that American citizens were sold a lie, which they appear to have embraced willingly in large numbers. In this lie, soldiers are regarded as terrorists, and terrorists are not regarded as criminals, and this, in turn, has led to a ludicrous and confusing situation — still, essentially, maintained by the Obama administration — in which it is far too easy to portray anyone opposed to US policies as terrorists.

Drawing me back to a topic that I forgot to address, Chuck then asked me to elaborate on the national security situation in the UK, and to explain if the apparent similarities with the US are as real as they appear. In response, I explained that the UK didn’t fall quite so completely for the confusions of the “War on Terror,” but did embrace imprisonment without charge or trial, on the basis of secret evidence, until the Law Lords ruled that system illegal in December 2004, when it was replaced by a form of house arrest that is still in force. I also explained to Chuck — and the listeners of This is Hell! — that it is by no means certain that the new government will return to the fundamental basis of not imprisoning anyone unless they have been tried and convicted in a court of law.

Chuck also asked me about the problems with moving Guantánamo prisoners to a new facility in Illinois, which has met with ferocious opposition in Congress — and I was delighted to note that he also picked up on Congress’s unconstitutional decision to grant itself the power to interfere with the proposed release of prisoners, which I wrote about here and here (with thanks to Lt. Col. David Frakt). This allowed me not only to talk about how Obama’s plan to bring prisoners to the US mainland to face indefinite detention without charge or trial is totally unacceptable, but also to talk about the administration’s other failures — including the failure to generally accept the rulings made by judges in the District Court in Washington D.C. — which have done so much to poison the President’s early promise.

There was much more in the interview that I haven’t touched on here, but I’ll close by reiterating what a pleasure it was to talk to Chuck, and to hope that it won’t be quite so long until we speak again.

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. 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, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

An open letter to David Cameron demanding the return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer

Yesterday, I wrote about how the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, based in the home borough of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, had handed in an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron on Friday, asking the PM and foreign secretary William Hague “to make the strongest representations possible to the US administration to secure Shaker Aamer’s release and return to this country,” and reproducing a press statement issued by the SSAC.

I also mentioned my recent article, “Murders at Guantánamo: The Cover-Up Continues,” and explained how it “provides a distressing insight into what may be one of the reasons why Shaker Aamer has not yet been released” — despite being cleared for release over three years ago — “because he was tortured in Guantánamo on the same night in June 2006 that three other prisoners died, in circumstances that have never been adequately explained.”

I also mentioned how Shaker’s story is featured in the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and myself) — and available here on DVD — and urged readers to write letters to William Hague — and to their MPs — which are available here and here.

I’m delighted to say that I have now received a copy of the letter handed in the David Cameron, which is posted below. As well as stressing the injustice of his ongoing detention, the letter also draws the Prime Minister’s attention to the recent report published by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, regarding the “disposition” of the remaining prisoners, including Shaker Aamer, and clearly seeks information about what the Task Force decided in his case, and it also refers to a recent appeal for Shaker’s release that was made by the former hostage Terry Waite.

An open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron

Dear Prime Minister,

We are writing again to request that you act immediately to secure Shaker Aamer’s release and return home to the UK. It is difficult for anyone to imagine the level of suffering undergone by Shaker Aamer — a father-of-four from Battersea — who has been the victim of mercenary kidnapping, unjust detention, and brutal torture. Shaker has been deprived of his freedom and human rights and incarcerated in Guantánamo for more than eight years without being charged with any offence.

In the past, Mr. Cameron, you have spoken highly of Britain’s “proud tradition of providing a safe haven for those fleeing persecution” and, it would seem, you have a genuine respect for due legal process. Shaker too has been persecuted and has been held in solitary confinement. He has been subject to abuse and torture, and to the constant agony of not knowing when his unjust imprisonment and torment will end.

I am sure you agree that someone wholly innocent, who has never been charged or brought to trial for any offence, has every right to family life. Shaker was failed by the previous government and left unprotected. You and the new British government now have the means to bring about a positive resolution of the situation.

The Save Shaker Aamer Campaign (SSAC) welcomes foreign secretary William Hague’s statements with respect to an inquiry into UK complicity in torture. It would be a travesty of justice if such an inquiry took place while, at the same time, Shaker Aamer continues to be subjected to torture in Guantánamo. His story of abusive interrogations and torture must be heard. Any inquiry must be full and open and have the widest possible remit.

An important and relevant document, the “Final Report of the Guantánamo Review Task Force,” published on 22nd Jan. 2010, decided on the “proper disposition” — transfer, prosecution, or continued detention — of all 240 detainees subject to review. As you will be aware, the purpose of the review was to collect and examine information from across the US government to determine which detainees the US should transfer or release from custody, prosecute, or detain.

The previous UK government was unable to clarify the situation for us in Shaker’s case — they simply reiterated the view that any decision rested with the US. In other words, the UK government’s approaches to the US have been weak and characterised by long periods of silence and inaction resulting in the unacceptable situation that we are still in the dark regarding what is happening to Shaker.

It is our view that Shaker poses no threat to the national security of the US administration. Nothing should stand in the way of Shaker being returned to the UK, especially as he has already been cleared for release back in 2007. All other British former detainees have been released and returned to Britain after having suffered lengthy and horrific traumatic experiences and have re-engaged with British society in a wholly positive way. We have no reason to think Shaker would be any different. He has the love of his family and friends as well as the significant support of his local community.

Former hostage, humanitarian and writer Terry Waite CBE, who, as you know, in 1987 travelled to Lebanon as an envoy for the Church of England, to try and secure the release of four hostages, was kidnapped himself and held captive until 1991. Pledging his support for Shaker’s release, Terry has said, “I am writing this brief note in support of the British resident Shaker Aamer who was cleared for release in 2007 by the former President of the USA, George W. Bush, but continues to remain in detention in Guantánamo Bay … The fact that individuals have been detained for years in Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere, on suspicion, is disgraceful and ought to have no place in the procedures of any country that prides itself on respect for the rule of law … I add my voice to the many thousands of people who are profoundly disturbed by the detention of Mr. Aamer and others and would urge that he be released forthwith.”

SSAC calls upon you, Prime Minister, along with foreign secretary William Hague and the British government, to take up Terry Waite’s advice, to make the strongest representations possible to the US administration to secure Shaker’s release and return to this country. It is time for Britain to be seen again as a country that cares about justice, protects the innocent and shows a respect for others. High-level diplomatic, legal and medical delegations must be sent to the US and Guantánamo to secure Shaker’s release and re-instate his human rights.

We would appreciate receiving your views on all that is stated above.

Sincerely,

Ray Silk, Save Shaker Aamer Campaign
Jean Lambert MEP
Victoria Brittain, author and playwright
Moazzam Begg, director, Cageprisoners
John Clossick, Wandsworth Stop the War Coalition
Bruce McKenzie, Wandsworth Green Party

Note: For my analysis of the “Final Report of the Guantánamo Review Task Force,” please see my article, “Does Obama Really Know or Care About Who Is at Guantánamo?

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. 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, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Obama Thinks About Releasing Innocent Yemenis from Guantánamo

Three weeks ago, I wrote a bitter commentary about the repeated failures of the US government to release an innocent Yemeni prisoner in Guantánamo — a student, Mohammed Hassan Odaini, now aged 26, but just 18 when he was seized — even though he was cleared for release by a military review board under President Bush in 2006, and, to the best of my knowledge, had also been cleared for release last year by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force.

I wrote my bitter commentary just after Odaini was cleared for release for a third time, by a District Court judge who granted his habeas corpus petition, and I railed against the callous indifference of the President, who appeared content to let an innocent man rot in Guantánamo, having capitulated to pressure from critics in Congress and the media, when, in January, he announced a moratorium on all further releases of Yemeni prisoners for an unspecified amount of time.

The moratorium, illogically, was put in place because a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who had failed to set off a bomb in his underwear on a flight to the US on Christmas Day, had reportedly been recruited in Yemen. No one — least of all the President — cared that this act of political expediency appeared to justify the kind of paranoia that thereby insinuated that all Yemenis were terrorists. Similarly, no one cared that a Saudi, released from Guantánamo, who had allegedly played a part in Abdulmutallab’s recruitment, had been released by President Bush, despite the advice of the intelligence services, just as no one cared that innocent men held for eight years had no connection with a recently established al-Qaeda offshoot in their homeland, and that it was ludicrous and unjust to attempt to insist that no Yemenis should be freed from Guantánamo — even one cleared on three occasions, like Mohammed Hassan Odaini — in case they might ever do something bad in the future.

The mainstream media generally pays far too little attention to the District Court’s rulings on the Guantánamo prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions, even though they have led to 36 victories for the prisoners, out of 50 cases to date, and even though, as I explained in the introduction to my “Guantanamo Habeas Week” project, two months ago, they represent “the single most important collection of documents analyzing the failures of the Bush administration’s ‘War on Terror’ detention policies — and Obama’s refusal, or inability to thoroughly repudiate them.”

Judge Kennedy thoroughly demolishes the government’s case

Despite this general lack of interest, the judge’s ruling in Odaini’s case was so clear that more media outlets than usual paid attention. In a 36-page unclassified opinion (PDF), made public on June 10, Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. dismissed the government’s pitiful allegations against Odaini, noting that “From the first time he was interrogated in American captivity to the declaration he created for use in this litigation, Odaini has told the same story” — that his father “wanted [him] to pursue religious studies in Pakistan after his graduation from high school in 2001” at the age of 17, that he provided him “with a passport, a visa for travel to Pakistan, a plane ticket to Lahore, Pakistan via Karachi, Pakistan and money to take with him on his journey,” and that Odaini enrolled in Salafia University in Faisalabad in November 2001.

Odaini has also maintained throughout his detention that he was seized in a house raid on March 28, 2002, after visiting a guesthouse (the Issa guesthouse) occupied by a number of his fellow students, where he had dinner, and “after spending the evening talking to other Yemeni Salafia University students who lived there about religion as well as ‘their past and where they lived in Yemen,’ he decided to spend the night.”

To confirm that Odaini was a student seized by mistake, Judge Kennedy drew not only on his own account, but also on the accounts of a number of the 15 other men seized with him, who, as the Washington Post explained last week, “independently and consistently identified Mr. Odaini as a student who came to the house for that one night.”

In addition, Judge Kennedy also drew on what he described as “several indications in the record that respondents themselves [i.e. the government] have repeatedly concluded that Odaini is not part of al-Qaeda.” Although it was known that Odaini “was told shortly after being taken into custody … that he would be released within two weeks,” it was not until Judge Kennedy’s unclassified opinion was made public that it was revealed that Odaini had also been told “upon arrival at Guantánamo Bay that he would be released within two weeks,” or that another recommendation for his release had been made in 2004.

With access to the government’s own documents, Judge Kennedy was able to demonstrate that:

In June 2002, just after Odaini’s arrival at Guantánamo Bay, based on the assessment that Odaini “appeared to be telling the truth,” an interrogator’s report indicated: “Recommend [Odaini] be utilized to identify individuals at house in Faisalabad [redacted]. Pending [redacted], [Odaini] should be considered for repatriation.”

No indication has ever been provided of how long anyone thought it appropriate to hold an innocent man to exploit him for any information he might be able to provide about his fellow prisoners (or, indeed, why anyone should regard such activities as legitimate), but two years later this exploitation had apparently been concluded. As Judge Kennedy noted:

In April 2004, nearly two years after Odaini’s arrival at Guantánamo Bay, an employee of the Criminal Investigative Task Force (“CITF”) of the Department of Defense reviewed five interrogations of Odaini and wrote that “[t]here is no information that indicates [he] has clear ties to mid or high level Taliban or that he is a member of al-Qaeda.” … The employee reported that “CITF believes that further investigation is unlikely to produce new information relevant to his case” and, “in the absence of further information,” he “recommend[ed] the release of [Odaini] under a conditional release agreement.”

Following this report, a memorandum issued by the Joint Task Force Guantánamo in June 2004 “summarize[d] information collected about Odaini, [and] indicate[d] that ‘[t]here is no information to confirm Taliban or al-Qaeda ties on his part,’ and conclude[d] that Odaini ‘may be transferred to another country or released.”

For some reason, Judge Kennedy was not informed (as one of Odaini’s lawyers explained in 2007), that he “was first recommended for release in June 2005, although his transfer was not approved by a military review board until the spring of 2006,” and that “On June 26, 2006, Gordon England, the deputy secretary of defense, signed off on his transfer.” However, he did discover that, in February 2007, “a Staff Judge Advocate for the Department of Defense, Office for the Administrative Review for the Detention of Enemy Combatants, sent an email to Odaini’s counsel,” which declared that he had “been approved to leave Guantánamo, subject to the process for making appropriate diplomatic arrangements for his departure.”

Judge Kennedy also confirmed what I had previously been unable to ascertain with any certainty; namely, that, “In June 2009, an attorney representing respondents in this case sent an email to Odaini’s counsel indicating that “[t]he Guantánamo Review Task Force has completed its review of [Odaini’s] case” and “[a]s a result of that review, [Odaini] has been approved for transfer from Guantánamo Bay.”

He added that, “In November 2009, the Ambassador of the Republic of Yemen to the United States signed a declaration indicating that [t]he government of Yemen is ‘willing to accept’” Odaini, as well as other Yemenis held at Guantánamo Bay, “back to their home country of Yemen.” However, after six Yemenis were released in December (including two other men seized in the house with Odaini), the saga of the failed plane bomber overwhelmed all common sense and decency, and President Obama declared his moratorium on any further Yemeni releases on January 8.

Undeterred by any of this, Judge Kennedy concluded his ruling by stating, in very forceful terms:

Respondents have kept a young man from Yemen in detention in Cuba from age eighteen to age twenty-six. They have prevented him from seeing his family and denied him the opportunity to complete his studies and embark on a career. The evidence before the Court shows that holding Odaini in custody at such great cost to him has done nothing to make the United States more secure. There is no evidence that Odaini has any connection to al-Qaeda. Consequently, his detention is not authorized by the AUMF [the Authorization of the Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks, and used to justify the detentions at Guantánamo]. The Court therefore emphatically concludes that Odaini’s motion must be granted.

The Washington Post gets involved

Last Wednesday, picking up on the story, the Washington Post ran an editorial entitled, “Meet one Gitmo inmate who can’t be described as ‘the worst of the worst,’” which, helpfully, highlighted Odaini’s plight with reference to some of the “roughly 10 bills or amendments pending in Congress” with “some nexus” to Guantánamo, the “most extreme” of which “aim to ban transfer or release altogether.” The Post continued:

Most in the latter group are based on the premise that those still being held at Guantánamo are the “worst of the worst” — committed terrorists intent on doing damage to the United States and its interests. A recently declassified judicial opinion in the case of one of those detainees puts the lie to this assertion.

After pointing out that, despite being cleared for release by both the Bush and Obama administration, Odaini “inexplicably and inexcusably continued to languish behind bars,” the Post proceeded to note that, although the moratorium on transfers to Yemen “generally is sensible, given that the Yemeni government is probably incapable of keeping tabs on detainees who do pose a risk,” President Obama “should consider making an exception for Mr. Odaini, a young man from what is believed to be a good family and whose only crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Alternatively, officials should do everything in their power to find a suitable third country. Whatever the approach, the administration must correct this injustice.”

This was a high-level condemnation, despite the unnecessary caveats about the security situation in Yemen, and it was followed, on Saturday, by an article in the Washington Post explaining that Odaini’s case had “become so pressing” that senior administration officials will discuss it this week. The official who spoke to the Post stressed that any decision “should not be viewed as a reflection of a broader policy for other Yemeni detainees,” and added, “What isn’t being considered is lifting, in a blanket fashion, the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen.”

However, this assertion was immediately undermined when the Post noted that the administration “may come under further pressure to quickly release Yemenis besides Odaini,” because “As many as 20 more Yemenis could be ordered released by the courts for lack of evidence to justify their continued detention,” according to a second official, who told the Post, “There is a group of Yemenis who are going to win their habeas cases. Some of them will not be as clear as this case, but some will be, and that poses a real dilemma.”

Noting that Odaini’s case “presents a particular challenge to the administration, and to those on Capitol Hill who are opposed to any transfers to Yemen,” the Post added that the second administration official had stated that, although the government has appealed successful habeas petitions in the cases of other Yemenis, it would be “unconscionable” to appeal Odaini’s case. “This is a bad case to argue,” the official stated. “There is nothing there. The bottom line is: We don’t have anything on this kid. The judge wants a progress report by June 25th. We have to be able to report something other than we are thinking about it.”

Outside of Capitol Hill, where political paralysis is so prevalent that senior administration officials — up to and including the President — have become incapable of standing up to unprincipled complaints by their opponents, Odaini’s case is such a clear example of injustice that any rational human being would advise the administration to send him home today. However, while it is reassuring that the administration official who spoke to the Post recognized this, it remains disturbing that, in the cases of other prisoners who have won their habeas petitions (including two other Yemenis, Mohammed al-Adahi and Saeed Hatim), that same official spoke approvingly of appeals lodged by the government, because they, in turn, reveal a general unwillingness to accept the court’s rulings which, at present, means that 12 of the 34 prisoners who have won their habeas petitions are still imprisoned.

Three reasons why Mohammed Hassan Odaini — and other Yemenis — should be released immediately

Whether the administration will act with some urgency to released Mohammed Hassan Odaini — and will, in addition, consider releasing other men who have won their habeas petitions, instead of automatically considering appeals against successful petitions — depends, ultimately, on whether President Obama can discover, or rediscover some necessary moral fiber, and some fighting spirit. I certainly hope that he can, not just because his reluctance to stand up to criticism regarding Guantánamo has done nothing but play into the hands of opponents who delight in deeply cynical fearmongering, but also because a resolution to the Yemeni problem is urgently required for three reasons.

The first relates to the moratorium on releases to Yemen, introduced during an artificially created political crisis, which is now nearly six months old and shows no sign of being brought to an end, even though, when viewed objectively, the refusal to release 59 of the remaining 90 Yemenis (as recommended by the Task Force) is based on nothing more than blanket guilt by nationality.

The second, as hinted at in the Washington Post article, is that other Yemenis “are going to win their habeas cases.” Reading between the lines, some of the men referred to by the official who spoke to the Post are undoubtedly others seized in the house raid with Odaini. After all, four have already been released, and one of the four, Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, won a resounding habeas victory last May. Moreover, of the eleven still held, another, Ravil Mingazov, recently won his habeas petition, and as the judge in Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed’s case explained over a year ago, “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.”

In Odaini’s case, Judge Kennedy was slightly more cautious, noting that “there may have been Issa House residents whose activities before arriving at the house were questionable and perhaps render them detainable under the AUMF,” but “may” and “perhaps” are appropriate words to use, given that some of the other men seized were also obviously students — and, in some cases, were also told shortly after their capture that they would soon be freed.

The third reason, as should be obvious, is that holding Mohammed Hassan Odaini for one day longer is completely unjustifiable. As one of his lawyers, David Remes, explained to the Washington Post, “Why the government fights so tenaciously to keep men such as Mr. Odaini in prison unless and until the government sees fit to release them is the great mystery of this litigation, especially since President Obama took office. They seem unable to admit they’ve ever made a mistake.”

This is sadly true, and those primarily responsible for overseeing important decisions about Guantánamo and justice — President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder — need to think long and hard about what they are doing, because the main questions that any opponent of arbitrary detention will be asking right now are: “Will you release Mohammed Hassan Odaini today?” and “Why did the Justice Department go to court to attempt to defend a patently innocent man’s detention in the first place?”

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. 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, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation. Cross-posted on Eurasia Review, and The Public Record.

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), Judge Orders Release from Guantánamo of Russian Caught in Abu Zubaydah’s Web (May 2010), No Escape from Guantánamo: Uighurs Lose Again in US Court (June 2010), Does Obama Really Know or Care About Who Is at Guantánamo? (June 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), The Black Hole of Bagram (May 2010), What is Obama Doing at Bagram? (Part Two): Executive Detention, Rendition, Review Boards, Released Prisoners and Trials (June 2010).

Stonehenge Summer Solstice 2010: Remembering the Battle of the Beanfield

On a fine morning at Stonehenge, an estimated 20,000 people turned up to watch the midsummer sun shine into the heart of Britain’s most celebrated ancient monument. Numbers were down on last year, when the solstice took place on a weekend, presumably because so many revellers had to be at work this morning, but those who made the journey were rewarded with the kind of sunrise that the temple’s builders obviously had in mind when they first shaped and raised its giant sarsen stones over 4,000 years ago.

I haven’t attended the summer solstice at Stonehenge for five years, as my work on Guantánamo and related issues has taken over my life, but the summer solstice at the temple still fascinates me, as it did 26 years ago, in 1984, when I first witnessed it during the last Stonehenge Free Festival. As I explained in my book Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, a counter-cultural history of Stonehenge:

[O]n solstice morning the fences came down, the sun shone out in all its summer glory, and the Druids and the festival-goers were once more at the stones together. There were pagan weddings, children were blessed, there was nakedness, and all manner of other rituals were performed, from the profound to the impenetrable. For myself, the occupation of Stonehenge was an opportunity to appreciate for the first time the sheer scale of the monument and the skill of its construction, giving me a visceral rush of astonishment and admiration that has not left me to this day, despite the fact that, behind the scenes, the authorities responsible for the temple and its immediate environment — the government, English Heritage (a quango that took over management of the monument on 1 April 1984), the National Trust, local landowners and the police — were already working on plans that would deny access to the stones at the summer solstice for the overwhelming majority of people for another sixteen years.

The anarchic annual gathering in the fields opposite Stonehenge, which began in 1974, was brutally crushed the year after my visit — 25 years ago — at the Battle of the Beanfield, when over 1,300 police from six counties and the Ministry of Defence, with the approval of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, used unprecedented violence, in a civil context, savagely attacking 450 new age travellers, green activists and festival-goers as they attempted to make their way to Stonehenge to establish the 12th festival.

Police violence at the Battle of the Beanfield, June 1, 1985 (Photo copyright Tim Malyon).

As I explained on June 1, on the 25th anniversary of the Battle of the Beanfield, this “notoriously violent, one-sided confrontation … crippled the New traveller movement in the UK, brought to an end the annual Stonehenge Free Festival, and marked the start of a concerted effort to curtail civil liberties in the UK, particular as they related to protests and gatherings without prior consent.”

To mark the occasion, I’m reproducing below a short excerpt from Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, dealing with the distressing aftermath of the Beanfield. I hope that those celebrating at Stonehenge last night and this morning know that the open celebrations at Stonehenge, which began in 2000, only came about after 15 years of exile, which began with the Beanfield, and was followed, for over a decade, by the imposition of an exclusion zone around Stonehenge that was brutally enforced until the Law Lords finally ruled in 1999 that it was illegal.

Stonehenge summer solstice 1985: the aftermath of the Beanfield
From Chapter 8 (“Suppression”) of Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion by Andy Worthington

After the Beanfield, the travellers and hard-core festival-goers tried to regroup themselves. Some of the battered survivors fled to Glastonbury, where they received a welcome in the orchard of Greenlands Farm in the nearby village of Wick. Bruce Garrard, part of the Rainbow Village Peace Camp at Molesworth, commented that “Glastonbury was the only place that seemed to offer any kind of sanctuary at all.” Others limped back to Savernake Forest [from where the convoy ambushed in the Beanfield had originally set off], where more travellers, oblivious to the carnage occurring down the road, had continued to gather. The police approached the Earl of Cardigan [the owner of Savernake Forest, who subsequently spoke out in defence of the travellers, having witnessed the police’s brutality] for permission to evict the site. “They said they wanted to go into the campsite ‘suitably equipped’ and ‘finish unfinished business,’” the Earl told Squall magazine. “Make of that phrase what you will. I said to them that if it was my permission they were after, they did not have it. I did not want a repeat of the grotesque events that I’d seen the day before.” With the police rebuffed, the travellers had a few days to recuperate before a legal eviction order was raised, but it was clear that the area around Stonehenge was to remain off-limits to them throughout the solstice period.

On the morning of the solstice, the great sarsens of Stonehenge were guarded, imprisoned and alone. Even the Druids were banned. The Ancient Druid Order [who had been celebrating at Stonehenge, on and off, for nearly 80 years] performed a midnight ceremony at the familiar “double circle” on Normanton Down, before heading down to Maiden Castle in Dorset for the solstice dawn. Pagans for Peace, a group of fifty people who had walked to Stonehenge from London, were the only observers of the solstice dawn at the monument, strung out along the perimeter fence like refugees catching a glimpse of forbidden freedom. The Times ran a report: “Shivering beneath their protective blankets they held hands and chanted ‘I am at one with the infinite sun,’” although “The object of their worship remained hidden behind the cloud which dispensed unremitting rain.”

In the end, 2,000 people held a reconvened Stonehenge Solstice Celebration at Bratton Castle, an Iron Age hill-fort and, appropriately enough, a former Neolithic ritual site, complete with a long barrow, above the Westbury White Horse just twelve miles north west of Stonehenge. Hawkwind turned up to play, and the police stayed off-site. To this extent it was a triumph, although the fall-out from recent events was still readily apparent. Margaret Greenfields, a festival regular and welfare volunteer, recalled, “It was like a refugee camp — mud, rain, wind, people shocked and dazed, a man with a broken leg in plaster hauling water in the mud, people with dysentery.”

The alternative Stonehenge festival at Bratton Castle hill-fort, June 1985 (Photo copyright Alan Lodge)

Throughout the summer, the travellers attempted to hold their lives together. In late July, some of the Convoy made it to Cleeve Common in Gloucestershire, where an impromptu free festival took place, comprising a few hundred people at most. Others held a festival at Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, and in August the survivors moved onto the Cantlin Stone festival, which must have seemed like a rare and dependable oasis. In September, a brave collective of agitators on the south coast organized the first Torpedo Town free festival, at which Hawkwind made another appearance, and as the season came to an end, many of the travellers returned to rest in the welcoming orchard of Greenlands Farm. The worst year of their lives was over, but the violence and intimidation was not yet complete.

For what happened next, see Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion or The Battle of the Beanfield, a second book that I compiled and edited in 2005, to mark the 20th anniversary of the Beanfield.

For now, however, I’d simply like to wish everyone a happy solstice, and to leave you with a handful of photos from summer solstice at Stonehenge over the last 100 years!

Summer solstice at Stonehenge, 1910.

Summer solstice at Stonehenge, 1963 (Photo copyright the estate of Austin Underwood).

Summer solstice at Stonehenge, 1976.

Summer solstice at Stonehenge, 1984 (Photo copyright Alan Lodge).

Summer solstice at Stonehenge, 1985 (Photo copyright Alan Lodge).

Summer solstice at Stonehenge, 2001 (Photo copyright Stuart Henderson).

Summer solstice at Stonehenge, 2003 (Photo by Andy Worthington).

Note: For further information about the Beanfield and its impact on civil liberties, see this article I wrote for the Guardian last year, and this accompanying article, and also see the articles here and here, written to mark the 25th anniversary. Also see these articles about Stonehenge here and here (and also see here for information about a book of photos from the 1994 Solsbury Hill road protest). Also see the website of Alan Lodge, and the Festival Zone website.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. 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, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Campaigners Ask David Cameron to Secure Return to UK of Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo

On Friday, unnoticed by the mainstream media, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, established by concerned citizens from the borough of Wandsworth, where Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, has his home, and where his wife and children still live, handed in an open letter to Prime Minister David Cameron, asking Mr. Cameron and foreign secretary William Hague “to make the strongest representations possible to the US administration to secure Shaker Aamer’s release and return to this country.” The following is a press statement issued by the SSAC:

Save Shaker Aamer Campaign press statement

The Save Shaker Aamer Campaign will be handing in an open letter today to 10 Downing Street, calling upon the Prime Minister David Cameron, along with foreign secretary William Hague and the British government to make the strongest representations possible to the US administration to secure Shaker Aamer’s release and return to this country. It is time for Britain to be seen again as a country that cares about justice, protects the innocent and shows a respect for others. High-level diplomatic, legal and medical delegations must be sent to the US and Guantánamo to secure Shaker’s release and re-instate his human rights.

The SSAC notes President Obama’s wish to close Guantánamo and his appeal to European countries to take in released detainees, and also the British foreign secretary William Hague’s recent statement that there is to be an inquiry into claims of British complicity in torture, which is most welcome. However, this inquiry will be incomplete and of limited value and validity, if British resident Shaker Aamer is still detained in Guantánamo.

Shaker has been detained in Guantánamo for over eight years without trial or charge; he is known to have been brutally tortured and has throughout that time been stripped of his human rights. The US cleared him for release in 2007 but he remains incarcerated in the hideous concentration camp. He was a UK resident before his detention and his wife and four children have always lived in this country. He must be released from Guantánamo and returned immediately to his home and family in the UK.

It would be a travesty of justice if an inquiry into UK complicity in torture takes place while, at the same time, Shaker Aamer continues to be subjected to torture in Guantánamo. His story of abusive interrogations and torture must be heard, together with the statements of so many others whose human rights were violated by torture techniques that breached all international laws. Those who authorised these torture policies and practices must be made accountable. Any inquiry must be full and open and have the widest possible remit.

The truth must be told about this shameful period. Those who were subjected to torture will be reliving very painful, traumatic memories in order to tell their stories. They must be treated with care and respect. They have suffered great wrongs. They must not suffer more injustice.

SSAC calls upon the British foreign secretary William Hague and the British government to make to make the strongest representations possible to the US administration to secure Shaker’s release and return to this country.

Note: For copies of letters to William Hague, and to MPs, which can be cut and pasted, please see here and here. Also see my recent article, “Murders at Guantánamo: The Cover-Up Continues,” which provides a distressing insight into what may be one of the reasons why Shaker Aamer has not yet been released — because he was tortured in Guantánamo on the same night in June 2006 that three other prisoners died, in circumstances that have never been adequately explained.

For further information, see the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and myself), which focuses on Shaker Aamer’s story, along with those of two other British residents formerly held in Guantánamo — Omar Deghayes and Binyam Mohamed — and watch this space for details of forthcoming campaigns.

Also, please consider writing to William Hague and/or your MP about Shaker Aamer, and don’t forget: any attempt by the new coalition government to claim that it represents an improvement on New Labour when it comes to human rights will be undermined while Shaker Aamer is still held.

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. 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, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: 2 Years, 50 Cases, 36 Victories for the Prisoners

For the first two and a half years that the “War on Terror” prison at Guantánamo was open, the men held there had no recourse to justice if, as many of them claimed, they had been seized by mistake, as part of a largely indiscriminate dragnet involving substantial bounty payments to the Bush administration’s allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This was compounded when the US authorities refused to screen them according to the Geneva Conventions to ascertain whether they were combatants or civilians, in spite of the fact that, in the first Gulf War, the US military screened 1,196 men, via what are known as competent tribunals, held close to the time and place of capture, and subsequently concluded that 74 percent of them — 886 men in total — had been wrongly seized. In Afghanistan, in contrast, where the prisoners were processed before the long flight to Guantánamo, the instructions handed down from the military leaders, stationed in Kuwait, were that every single Arab who came into US custody was to be sent to Guantánamo.

It was not until June 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, that the US Supreme Court ruled that the prisoners had habeas corpus rights — in other words, the right to ask a judge why they were being held. This allowed them access to lawyers for the first time, but, although habeas petitions were filed, Congress soon stepped in to help the President preserve his disturbing and unprecedented policy of indefinite detention without charge or trial, passing two pieces of legislation — the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 — which purported to strip the prisoners of the habeas rights granted to them by the Supreme Court.

It took until June 2008, in Boumediene v. Bush, for the Supreme Court to revisit its original habeas ruling, and the Court duly decided that the habeas-stripping sections of the DTA and MCA were unconstitutional, and proceeded to grant the Guantánamo prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights.

In the two years since Boumediene — the second anniversary was on June 12 — judges in the District Court in Washington D.C. have ruled on 50 prisoners’ habeas petitions, and, in 36 of those cases, have concluded that the government failed to establish that the men in question were involved with either al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

Progress has been slow, despite the Supreme Court stating that “the costs of delay can no longer be borne by those who are held in custody,” and adding that the prisoners were “entitled to a prompt habeas corpus hearing,” primarily because of obstruction by the Justice Department officials charged with preparing the government’s cases. Disturbingly, those dealing with the cases under President Bush are, for the most part, still in place under President Obama, pursuing cases whether or not there seems to be any sense in doing so.

Judges and lawyers support the habeas litigation in a new report

Nevertheless, as was demonstrated last week in “Habeas Works: Federal Courts’ Proven Ability to Handle Guantánamo Cases” (PDF), a 56-page report published by Human Rights First and The Constitution Project, the judges in the District Court have risen above the obstructions, and have demonstrated, over the last two years, that they are more than capable of separating fact from fiction in the allegations against the prisoners.

As stated by the 16 former federal judges who endorsed the report — and who, it should be noted, were appointed by Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Clinton:

Habeas is working … As former federal judges, many of us expressed our confidence as amici in Boumediene v. Bush that courts are competent to resolve these cases. We write now to affirm that our confidence has been vindicated. [A] review of the District Court’s treatment of the Guantánamo litigation convinces us that the court has effectively developed a consistent, coherent, and stable jurisprudence.

The report primarily analyzes the methodology used by the judges, beginning with the Case Management Order drafted by Judge Thomas Hogan shortly after Boumediene, which established “a cautious and coherent set of procedural and evidentiary rules,” giving prisoners “access to three categories of evidence: 1) exculpatory evidence; 2) evidence relied on by the government to justify its detention; and 3) additional evidence if and only if the detainees can show good cause.”

As the authors also explained:

For the first category, the CMO directs the government to disclose to the petitioner “all reasonably available evidence in its possession that tends materially to undermine the information presented to support the government’s justification for detaining the petitioner.” Over a series of cases, the District Court has settled on the interpretation that “reasonably available” means information in one of three databases compiled by the government. The District Court judges have also arrived at uniform interpretations of what evidence “tends materially to undermine” the government’s case. They agree, for instance, that it includes evidence that a witness was subjected to “abusive treatment [or] torture.”

The authors also noted that, for the third category of “additional evidence,” the District Court judges have been “quick to reject broad requests and ‘fishing expeditions,’ but [have] granted narrow and specific requests, such as requests for medical records and evidence of torture.” They also addressed further aspects of the evidence, noting that “the government generally enjoys a rebuttable presumption that its evidence is authentic, but not that its evidence is accurate” — a key point throughout the cases — and also covered the use of hearsay (generally evaluated by judges based on its place in the entire record), and other difficult problems addressed by the judges: whether the circumstances in which involuntary statements were made (either through torture or coercion) is affected by the passage of time; what is required for a relationship with al-Qaeda or the Taliban to lapse; and difficulties with the government’s “mosaic theory” of intelligence as a basis for detention.

In addition, the report’s authors, and the retired judges, steered carefully away from making any value judgments about individual rulings. This is important, as one of the report’s key aims — perhaps its single, overriding aim — is to silence prominent critics who have argued that the courts have failed to deal coherently with the cases, and that new legislation, specifically aimed at authorizing indefinite detention for terror suspects, is required.

Silencing the critics

Those critics are, primarily, a team of researchers at the Brookings Institution, led by Benjamin Wittes, and the Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. As the authors of “Habeas Works” noted, the Brookings report, “The Emerging Law of Detention: The Guantánamo Habeas Cases as Lawmaking” (PDF), issued in January, argued that the habeas judges “are serving as ‘default legislators’ who are drafting ‘the substantive law of detention itself.’” This, of course, is nonsense, as the authors explained in the following response:

But the courts are doing no such thing. Instead, they are doing what courts in this country are uniquely qualified to do and what they do everyday — namely, interpreting and applying a substantive standard that has been given to them by the political branches.

That standard is the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress within days of the 9/11 attacks, which authorizes the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001” (or those who harbored them). As interpreted by the Supreme Court in June 2004, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the authorization in the AUMF to use “‘necessary and appropriate force’ includes the power to detain combatants subject to such force” when captured on the battlefield, and it is, therefore, erroneous to suggest that the habeas judges “are serving as ‘default legislators’ who are drafting ‘the substantive law of detention itself,’” when what they are clearly doing, as they do every day of their working lives, is interpreting existing laws.

Even more worrying, however, is the Brookings report’s attempt to claim that the habeas judges “have reached inconsistent results,” and its call for a legislative solution, which has been echoed by Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has claimed that Congress needs to “change our laws [and] come up with better guidance” for judges.

This is truly ridiculous, as the authors of “Habeas Works” explained, noting that “close examination of the jurisprudence reveals that what some critics describe as inconsistent applications is, rather, the consistent application of the same standard to different fact patterns” [emphasis in original]. To Benjamin Wittes and the team at Brookings, it was alarming and unacceptable that “some detainees freed by certain district judges would likely have had the lawfulness of their detentions affirmed had other judges — who have articulated different standards — heard their cases. And some detainees whose incarceration these other judges have approved would likely have had habeas writs granted had the first group of judges heard their cases.” For the authors of “Habeas Works,” however, this attempt to suggest that differing opinions undermine the entire process fundamentally fails to comprehend that this is how the law works — not just in relation to terrorism, but to all cases that come before the courts. As they explained:

Unsurprisingly, this sometimes leads to different results, but that is a virtue of the common law process, not a fault, for it means that judges are providing precisely the individualized review required by the law and demanded by justice. That different judges may offer modestly different articulations of the same standard is equally unremarkable.

In their conclusion to the report, the retired judges also took exception to these complaints, explaining:

The Guantánamo litigation has tested the judiciary as it has tested the nation. But the judiciary, like the country and the Constitution it serves, has risen to the challenge. As former judges, we do not doubt for an instant that Congress has the power, within constitutional limits, to draft a detailed code that would set this litigation on yet a new direction. Congress could, within limits, write a new detention standard for the courts to apply. Congress could, within limits, write different procedural rules to govern this litigation. But such a course is at once unwise and unnecessary: unwise because it would bring us back to square one just when the courts are finally beginning to resolve these cases; and unnecessary because the federal bench, as it has done for centuries, is steadily developing a coherent and rational jurisprudence.

The final word on this should go, once more, to the report’s authors, who, elaborating on the folly of the proposals put forward by the Brookings Institution and Sen. Graham, noted that any new legislation would also be “subject to judicial interpretation,” because “Even the most detailed regulatory schemes require litigation to define the meanings of terms in specific cases.” As a result, “Congressional involvement … would not clarify the law. On the contrary, it would throw the jurisprudence into disarray and require years of additional litigation just to return to the point we have now reached post-Boumediene.”

I hope that this will be the end of calls to establish new litigation along the lines proposed by the Brookings Institution and Sen. Graham, not just because further delays would contradict the Supreme Court’s requirement, stated in Boumediene, that “the costs of delay can no longer be borne by those who are held in custody,” but also because the cheerleaders for new legislation are so clearly influenced by their preconceived notions of who the prisoners are, which are based on nothing more than the government’s own untested allegations.

This was revealed in another Brookings Institution report, “The Current Detainee Population of Guantánamo: An Empirical Study,” published in January 2009, which drew almost exclusively on the government’s allegations to categorize the prisoners according to the threat they purportedly posed, but ignored the contradictions in the allegations, and failed, abysmally, to do what the habeas judges have done: to expose those contradictions, to test them, and, perhaps most importantly, to test the basis of other allegations that, on the surface, may look substantial, but which, under examination, have been revealed, time and again, to be false statements produced by the prisoners themselves, or by their fellow prisoners, as the result of unacceptable pressures (torture, coercion and threats) or bribery (the promise of better living conditions).

An understandable but crucial omission

While I wholeheartedly endorse the findings of “Habeas Works,” I cannot conclude an analysis of the report without mentioning one particular omission, which relates to fundamental problems with the legislation authorizing the detention of prisoners at Guantánamo in the first place.

On this particular point, I have been arguing, since last January, when Ghaleb al-Bihani, a cook for Arab forces supporting the Taliban, lost his habeas petition, that the basis for holding prisoners at Guantánamo — the AUMF — is fundamentally and irredeemably flawed, equating al-Qaeda (a terrorist group) with the Taliban (the government of Afghanistan at the time of the US-led invasion in October 2001), and failing to distinguish between those involved with al-Qaeda in relation to terrorist attacks and those involved with al-Qaeda only insofar as its activities supported the Taliban in its military struggle against the Northern Alliance, which preceded the 9/11 attacks, and had nothing to do with al-Qaeda’s international terrorist operations.

As a result, although I am content to see genuine terror suspects put forward for trials, it is unacceptable that the majority of the 14 prisoners who, to date, have lost their habeas petitions — and who were nothing more than lowly foot soldiers in an inter-Muslim civil war that mutated into a war against the US following the invasion — have been consigned to indefinite detention in Guantánamo, on the basis of the AUMF, when they should, all along, have been held as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions.

Viewed from this perspective, the primary function of the judges has been to review the prisoners’ cases, as should have happened at the time of capture, evaluating when innocent men were seized by mistake, when others had some sort of involvement with terrorism, when others accused of involvement with terrorism did not, and when others were soldiers (or personnel supporting soldiers).

In most respects, this process has been successful, but the soldiers are the unacceptable exception, not only because they are not held as prisoners of war, but also, crucially, because their ongoing detention at Guantánamo, on an apparently legal basis, fails to raise this distinction at all. Instead, it plays into the hands of those who — like the researchers at the Brookings Institution, and Sen. Graham, and, it should be noted, the most extreme defenders of Guantánamo, including former Vice President Dick Cheney — portray the men held at Guantánamo as terrorists, and are allowed to conveniently ignore the yawning gulf, endorsed by the AUMF, that exists between men involved in acts of international terrorism and others involved in a military conflict in Afghanistan.

This confusion is at the heart of the proposed trial by military commission of Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen who was just 15 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan in July 2002. Khadr is accused of throwing a grenade that killed a US soldier during the firefight that led to his capture, but the case against him is based primarily on the intolerable and unsupportable premise that, since 9/11, when the US is engaged in military conflict, its own men are soldiers, but those who oppose them are terrorists.

As it stands at present, the judges in the habeas cases are being obliged to defend the fundamental errors at the heart of the “War on Terror” inherited by President Obama from the Bush administration, which equates soldiers with terrorists, consigning all of them to equal oblivion, without any regard for the Geneva Conventions, and thereby damages the credibility the habeas judges have established in the many cases in which they have, correctly, dissected the government’s supposed evidence and found it woefully lacking in substance.

Habeas does indeed work, and is the most reliable method for ascertaining the status of the men still held — far more so than the deliberations of President Obama’s own Guantánamo Review Task Force, which reviewed the cases last year, but found itself, as I explained last week, infected by “institutional caution, credulity regarding the contributions of the intelligence services, an inability to address fundamental problems with the legislation that authorized President Bush’s detention policies in the first place, and a willingness to bend to the demands of political expediency.”

The judges have avoided most of these problems, but they too find themselves unable to address the most fundamental error in the Bush administration’s detention policies. Unlike the Task Force, which could have woken up to this fact, it is not the job of the District Court to recommend that the AUMF be scrapped, but it is something that the administration and lawmakers should be thinking about, instead of listening to the Brookings Institution, Sen. Graham, and the tired tirades of Dick Cheney.

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. 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, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on Cageprisoners. Cross-posted on The Public Record and Eurasia Review.

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), Judge Orders Release from Guantánamo of Russian Caught in Abu Zubaydah’s Web (May 2010), No Escape from Guantánamo: Uighurs Lose Again in US Court (June 2010), Does Obama Really Know or Care About Who Is at Guantánamo? (June 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), The Black Hole of Bagram (May 2010), What is Obama Doing at Bagram? (Part Two): Executive Detention, Rendition, Review Boards, Released Prisoners and Trials (June 2010).

Andy Worthington is in Technorati’s Top 100 Politics Blogs

Thanks to you, my good friends who read my work, comment on it, share it on Facebook, Digg it, retweet it, and cross-post it (with links!), I’m not only in Technorati’s Top 30 World Politics Blogs, but have also made it into Technorati’s Top 100 Politics Blogs, in the company of Obsidian Wings, Liberal Conspiracy and Balkinization.

My thanks also to those who support me financially — Cageprisoners (for whom I started regular work this week as a senior researcher), the Future of Freedom Foundation, Truthout and my most enthusiastic readers — and also to those who regularly cross-post my work, including The Public Record, Eurasia Review, Counter Currents, Campaign for Liberty, The World Can’t Wait, Common Dreams, Uruknet, Dandelion Salad, Free Detainees and New Left Project. Please feel free to link to my work and to cross-post my articles if you like them. All I ask is that you preserve internal links, and link to those who employ me, if the articles first appeared on their sites. As I have explained before, as a freelance journalist working mainly in the new media, I am profoundly impressed by how the Internet not only rewards those who show dedication to a cause, but also rewards those who share information rather than guarding it jealously.

So please keep on supporting me, as I try to shine an unerring light on the crimes of the Bush administration (most recently through articles about five suspicious deaths in Guantánamo — in 2006, 2007 and 2009, and my promotion of an important UN report on secret detention), the failure of President Obama to thoroughly repudiate those crimes and to close Guantánamo, and the resurgence of aggressive right-wingers and cowardly Democrats with no respect for the law, and I’ll do my best to keep you informed, and, above all, to keep alive the stories of those who continue to pay a heavy price for the brutal, ill-conceived “War on Terror” — in Guantánamo, Bagram and elsewhere.

Thanks also for supporting me in my recent analyses of the crucial habeas corpus rulings in the District Court in Washington D.C., where judges have not only repeatedly exposed the extent to which coercive interrogations form the core of the supposed evidence against the Guantánamo prisoners, but have also inadvertently exposed the fundamental flaws in a detention policy that obliges them to approve the ongoing detention of men who, at most, were nothing more than foot soldiers for the Taliban in a conflict that had nothing to do with international terrorism, and has nothing to do with the current insurgency.

I’ll be reprising my complaints in an article to be published imminently, marking the second anniversary of Boumediene v. Bush, the Supreme Court ruling granting the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights, in which I support the publication of a recent report, “Habeas Works,” by Human Rights First and the Constitution Project, but raise, yet again, the fundamental error of holding soldiers as terrorists. In the coming week I’ll be reprising my “Guantánamo Habeas Week” project through analyses of the judges’ unclassified opinions in the cases of two prisoners who recently won their habeas petitions (Mohammed Hassan Odaini and Ravil Mingazov) and one (Omar Mohammed Khalifh, a Libyan) who lost his petition, and will also cover some other little-noticed aspects of the habeas litigation.

While I’m here, I’d also like to thank my friends on Facebook, who regularly share my work and comment on it, where I recently chalked up 3,300 friends. As I stated when I reached 3,000 friends, “I’m not so insecure or deluded that I think you’re all actually real friends, but this seems to me to be a sign of how great Facebook is for networking. And to my real friends — the ones who read my work and comment on it and share it — thank you for your support! I am nowhere without you.” If you’d like to join me on Facebook, I can be found here.

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. 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, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

BBC Broadcasts Bleak Insight into Life of Terror Suspect under House Arrest

On Wednesday, the BBC’s Newsnight broadcast an extraordinary insight into the bleak conditions under which Hussain Alsamamara, a Jordanian terror suspect held under a form of house arrest, is obliged to live.

Like a few dozen other terror suspects — both British and foreign nationals — who are confined to their homes for up to 18 hours a day on control orders or deportation bail, Mr. Alsamamara is held on the basis of secret evidence that has not been fully disclosed to him, and deprived of his liberty without being charged or tried. As the BBC explained, “Mr. Alsamamara is tagged, must stay inside his house for 18 hours a day, and when he leaves he can only travel a couple of miles from his home in a legally delineated zone. He cannot meet people without prior approval from the home secretary, has no access to the internet and has one fixed telephone line which is likely to be monitored.”

Mr. Alsamamara finds the restrictions on his liberty so intolerable that, over the last six months, he allowed two independent filmmakers, Gemma Atkinson and Fred Grace of Fat Rat Films, to film him at his home, and to pass the footage on to the BBC. In the film, Mr. Alsamamara explains his despair, telling the filmmakers, “My wife and my daughter and my new born son, they become prisoners with me in the house. Now my wife she is mentally ill and this is a result of my situation.” He also appeals for justice, asking, “If they believe that I’m a threat to the national security and if they have evidence to prove that I’m a threat to the national security, why don’t they put me on an open trial?”

However, by agreeing to be filmed, Mr. Alsamamara broke his strict bail conditions, and may be sent back to prison by the Special Immigration Appeals Commissions (SIAC), the special court that deals with terror suspects and deportation issues, which is meeting today to discuss his case.

What is he supposed to have done?

In common with the majority of the men held on the basis of secret evidence, Mr. Alsamamara is not entirely clear about why he is regarded as a terror suspect. As the BBC explained, “The government says Mr. Alsamamara is a committed Islamist extremist and a danger to Britain.” However, “Almost all of the evidence against him is thought to be intelligence material which neither he nor his lawyers have seen.”

What is clear is that he was an opponent of the Jordanian government, who was tortured in Jordanian custody. In 2001, he fled to Britain and claimed asylum. His claim was rejected, and in 2004, when his daughter was just four days old, and he and his family were having a gathering at home to celebrate the birth, he was seized by police and taken to Long Lartin prison, pending deportation to Jordan.

According to the BBC, “The Jordanian intelligence department has told the British government it wants to question him in relation to alleged contact with the former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and over claims that he underwent paramilitary training in Afghanistan.” In response, Mr. Alsamamara “denies any links with terrorism and says he faces torture if he is returned.”

Seeking information about the supposed evidence against Mr. Alsamamara, the BBC explained that “Very little is in the public domain but some indications are given in a document published in 2007 by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission,” which, at the time, “dismissed his appeal against deportation, largely on the basis of secret intelligence which was excluded from Mr. Alsamamara and his lawyers.”

“However,” the BBC explained, “SIAC’s judgment does refer to two open strands of evidence. Police found two CDs in a rack on his bedroom floor when they searched his house in 2004. The contents were discussed in closed sessions so we cannot be sure what was on these CDs, but it is likely to be propaganda material.”

Mr. Alsamamara “denies any knowledge of these CDs,” and also, crucially, takes exception to what appears to be another key element of the government’s supposed evidence — a will, found in an envelope on a notice-board, which, according to SIAC, was written in “lurid terms,” and “includes references to ‘jihad’ and records his wish ‘to slaughter’ members of the Jordanian government and the police.” As the BBC explained, Mr. Alsamamara “does not deny writing this will but argues it simply quotes from the Qur’an and the hadiths, and it reflects his natural hatred of the Jordanian authorities who tortured him in the past,” but SIAC disagreed, stating, “This is the will of an Islamist extremist … it is a declaration by an Islamist extremist that he wishes, if possible, to meet his fate in fighting the enemies of Islam.”

As the BBC pointed out, however, “beyond the question of whether Mr. Alsamamara is a committed Islamist extremist or not lie a number of difficult issues”; namely, “Even if he were planning jihadi action against the rulers of Jordan, does that constitute a threat to the UK? And is it ever justifiable to effectively detain someone when they know virtually nothing about the case against them?”

That last question leads on, I think, to the most important question of all: will the new coalition government take the advice of legal experts (see this PDF) and allow the use of intercept evidence in courts? Unless the government follows this route, this absurd travesty of justice — as exposed through this week’s insight into Hussain Alsamamara’s life — will not be brought to an end, even though terror suspects, like any other criminal suspect, ought to be charged and tried, so that we can finally move beyond a system in which, under the guise of “national security,” we are holding men without charge or trial, and persecuting their wives and children, on the basis of evidence that is little more than the untested claims of prosecutors, the police and the security services.

Note: For the next week, the Newsnight feature on Hussain Alsamamara is available on iPlayer. The main film is here (7:12), and also see this other short film (2:13), this live interview with Mr. Alsamamara, conducted by Gavin Esler (1:55), and this debate about house arrest, deportation and secret evidence (8:13), featuring Sir Brian Barder, who worked for SIAC from 1997 to 2004, and is critical of any system of detention that deprives suspects of a trial, former Home Office minister Tony McNulty, and Dr. Usama Hasan from the Leyton Mosque. Also see No Place Like Home, the website for the forthcoming documentary by Gemma Atkinson and Fred Grace, this transcript of a statement made by Mr. Alsamamara last March, which was read out by an actor during a meeting about secret evidence in the House of Commons, convened by Diane Abbott MP, and this short film of an actor reading out the transcript, which was part of the Guardian‘s “Slow Torture” series about secret evidence last summer.

POSTSCRIPT 3 pm: The ever-alert David Mery has just written to tell me that, in the SIAC hearing today, Judge Mitting decided not to revoke Hussain’s bail nor to increase his bail conditions (his main reason being “not to sacrifice your wife and children.”) He added, however, that Gemma Atkinson and Fred Grace, the filmmakers, may be in contempt of court. Please also see this photo by David of where SIAC conducts its business — yes, in a windowless room behind a bland door marked “Basement”!

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. 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, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and 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? (all April 2009), 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), 98 MPs Who Supported Human Rights While Countering Terrorism (May 2010), UK Terror Ruling Provides Urgent Test for New Government (May 2010), An uncivilized society (in the Guardian), New letter to MPs asking them to oppose the use of secret evidence in UK courts, and to support the return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer (May 2010).

Obama, the Supreme Court and Maher Arar: No Accountability for Torture

I don’t have time to write about the US Supreme Court’s shameful refusal to hear the case of Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen who was rendered to Syria by the US in 2002, where he endured brutal torture for 10 months, so instead I’m cross-posting a suitably acerbic article by David Cole (one of Arar’s lawyers), as published in the New York Review of Books. Cole explains how, “In twenty-five years as a civil rights and human rights lawyer, I have never handled a case of more egregious abuse,” and expresses palpable disgust that the Obama administration, like the Bush administration that was responsible for Arar’s torture, has had the effrontery to claim in court that “torture is never permissible, but [has] then [gone] on to argue at length that federal officials accused of torture should not be held accountable.” As an additional note to readers, Maher Arar’s case is cited in the final part of the UN Secret Detention Report that I posted yesterday, which also discusses other men — and boys — rendered by the US to Syria up to eight years ago who have never been heard from since.

He Was Tortured, But He Can’t Sue
By David Cole, New York Review of Books, June 15, 2010

On Monday, June 14, the Supreme Court declined to hear Maher Arar’s case, conclusively shutting the door on the Canadian citizen’s effort to obtain redress from US officials who stopped him in September 2002 while he was changing planes on his way home to Canada and shipped him instead to Syria, where he was tortured and imprisoned without charges for nearly a year. In so ruling, the Court refused to reconsider the decision of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, sitting en banc, which had ruled in November 2009 [PDF] that Arar’s case raised too many sensitive issues of national security and confidential information to permit its adjudication in a court of law. If he is to obtain any remedy now, it must come from Congress and the President. The courts have washed their hands of the affair, but that does not mean that it is resolved.

I am one of Arar’s lawyers, along with others at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. In twenty-five years as a civil rights and human rights lawyer, I have never handled a case of more egregious abuse. US officials not only delivered Arar to Syrian security forces that they regularly accuse of systematic torture, but did everything in their power to ensure that Arar could not get to a court to challenge their actions while he was in their custody. When they finally permitted him to see a lawyer, on a Saturday ten days into his detention, the government hastily scheduled an extraordinary hearing for the next night — Sunday evening — and only “notified” Arar’s lawyer by leaving a voicemail on her office answering machine that Sunday afternoon. They then falsely told Arar that the lawyer had declined to participate, and questioned him for six hours, until 3 a.m. Monday.

When Arar’s lawyer retrieved the voicemail message later that Monday morning, she immediately called the Immigration and Naturalization Service. They told her falsely that Arar was being moved to New Jersey, and that she could contact him there the next day. In fact, he remained in New York until late that night, when he was put on a federally chartered jet and spirited out of the country. US officials never informed Arar’s lawyer that he had been deported, much less that he had been delivered to Syrian security forces.

Arar was beaten and tortured while Syrian officials asked him questions virtually identical to those US officials had asked him in New York. He was locked up for a year without charges and in complete isolation, most of the time in a cell the size of a grave. After a year, Syria released him, finding no evidence that he had done anything wrong. He returned to Canada — this time avoiding any change of planes in the United States.

Canada responded to Arar’s case as a nation who has wronged a human being should. It established a blue-ribbon commission to investigate his case, which wrote a 1,100-page report fully exonerating Arar, and faulting Canadian officials for erroneously telling US officials that Arar was the target of an investigation into possible al-Qaeda links. In fact, Arar was merely listed as one of many persons “of interest” to the investigation, because he was thought to know one of the individuals who was targeted. The commission found, however, that Canadian officials did not know that the United States was planning to send Arar to Syria. That decision was made by US officials with the Syrians and not shared with the Canadians.

Canada, in other words, played a relatively small part in Arar’s injuries, as compared to the United States. Yet Canada’s Parliament issued a unanimous apology, and the government paid Arar $10 million (Canadian) for its role in the wrong done to him.

Here in the United States, the response could not have been more different. US officials have never apologized to Arar. They persist in leaving him on a “no-fly” list, despite the fact that Canada has cleared him of any suspicion, much less wrongdoing. And when we filed suit in 2004 to seek damages from the US officials directly responsible for the decision to send Arar to his torturers, lawyers for the Bush administration argued that even assuming that federal officials had intentionally delivered Arar to Syria to be tortured, and blocked him from seeking court protection while he was in their custody, they could not be held liable for his injuries on the grounds that the case implicated secret communications and national security concerns not appropriate for court resolution.

Regrettably, the courts agreed with the Bush administration position — and so has Obama’s Department of Justice. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reasoned that hearing Arar’s claims would present too many sensitive issues that courts were ill-equipped to decide. These included, according to the court, the perceived need for the [extraordinary rendition] policy, the threats to which it responds, the substance and sources of the intelligence used to formulate it, and the propriety of adopting specific responses to particular threats in light of apparent geopolitical circumstances and our relations with foreign countries.

But these questions would be presented only if it is permissible under some set of circumstances for the United States to send a man to another country for the purpose of having him tortured — as Arar alleged happened in his case, and as the courts were required to take as true for purposes of deciding whether his case should be dismissed at the outset. Even the Bush administration lawyers did not argue that sending Arar to be tortured was permissible. Torture is directly contrary to US law and policy. Thus, there can be no “perceived need” for rendering a man to a foreign country to have him tortured, regardless of the “threats to which it responds,” the “geopolitical circumstances,” our “relations with foreign countries,” or the “intelligence” that might underlie it. If, as US law provides, torture is absolutely forbidden, none of the above “sensitive” issues need to be decided.

In addition, the United States did not dispute that if, as was his legal right, Arar had been able to get his claim before a court while he was being detained in the United States — before he was sent to Syria — the federal courts would have entertained his case and could have stopped his rendition. Congress has expressly authorized the courts to review immigration decisions and to bar removal of foreign nationals to any country where they face a risk of torture. Knowing that, US officials made sure Arar could not get to court — denying his initial requests for a lawyer, lying to him and his lawyer, and then flying him out of the country in the dead of night before he or his lawyer could file anything. Arar therefore sought the only remedy left — damages for his injuries. The Second Circuit never explained why Arar’s case, which indisputably could have been adjudicated had he been able to seek review before he was removed, suddenly became too “sensitive” once Arar sought damages for injuries incurred as a result of that removal.

Bush administration officials sent Arar to be tortured, and Bush administration lawyers initially sought to have his damages suit dismissed. But nothing changed when President Obama took office. The Obama administration aggressively defended the Second Circuit’s decision to throw Arar’s case out of court. It opened its brief to the Supreme Court with a paragraph reiterating that torture is never permissible, but then went on to argue at length that federal officials accused of torture should not be held accountable.

In this, the Obama administration’s brief eerily echoed one of the Bush administration’s own “torture memos.” After retracting John Yoo’s infamous August 2002 memo authorizing waterboarding, the Bush administration in December 2004 replaced it with a new memo that opened with the proclamation: “Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms.” As we now know, however, that memo went on to approve of the very same torture tactics that Yoo’s memo had approved — including waterboarding. So, too, Obama’s Justice Department opened its brief [PDF] by proclaiming that torture is always forbidden, but then defended a ruling that said that those who send an innocent man to be tortured cannot be held liable for their actions.

In President Obama’s May 2009 speech on national security and American values, he opposed a commission to investigate torture by arguing that there were proceedings in the courts that could provide accountability. Yet in the Arar case — as in every other civil case that has sought accountability for torture — the Obama administration argued that the courts were not an appropriate forum. To the Obama administration, defending government officials from suit, regardless of the gravity of the allegations, is evidently more important than holding individuals responsible for complicity in torture.

By refusing to hear the case, the Supreme Court has now effectively upheld the Bush and Obama administration positions. The court’s decision has no value as a precedent, because it is merely a decision not to take up the case on its merits. But it is the end of the line for Arar in the courts. It must not be the end of the line for the United States, however. Canada’s legislature and government did the right thing by Maher Arar without a judicial decision. So, too, the United States Congress apologized to the Japanese and Japanese Americans who were interned on the basis of their race during World War II — even though the Supreme Court had years earlier upheld the internment as legal. It took Congress more than 40 years to do right by the World War II internees. We must do better this time around.

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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. 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, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), and my definitive Guantánamo habeas list, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

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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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