RIP Charly Gittings: We’ve Just Lost One of the Good Guys


I’m saddened to report that on the night of July 14, Charly Gittings, the most tenacious opponent of the Bush administration and its crimes, passed away at the age of 57. I had never met Charly, but we had been in email contact since November 2008, and I had been aware of his work before that time. No one who has ever researched Guantánamo can have failed, at some point, to have come across Charly’s extraordinary “Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions” (PEGC), a vast archive of documents relating to the Bush administration crimes, consisting of legal opinions, memoranda, press statements, from the courts, the White House, the DoD, the DoJ, the State Department — all the evidence required to convict senior officials of war crimes.

At the foot of this post, I reproduce Charly’s “Political Biography,” in which he explained how his project began on November 13, 2001, when President Bush issued his original “Military Order – Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism,” a vile document that, years later, I too realized was central to the administration’s plot to shred every law that protected us from ourselves, and that protected our enemies — or random strangers — from torture, arbitrary detention and murder. Charly, however, was there at the beginning, urging his fellow Americans to uphold the laws they claimed to admire.

When I first struck up contact with Charly, he sent me a wonderful email that, on re-reading, captures his dedication to the law, and also sheds light on how, like many sensitive people in a world that has become increasingly coarse, violent and uncaring, he found it hard to dwell too much on the stories of the men — and boys — subjected to the Bush administration’s lawless and brutal experiment in unfettered executive power, and focused instead on law and policy, and his unwavering belief that America was led by war criminals.

Glad to meet you!  I’ve heard of you and your book … I was very glad that you wrote your book, because I’d been studiously avoiding the idea of trying to write it myself for five years or so but definitely thought it would be good for someone to do it. My main focus has always been the legal and policy issues, and much as I sympathize with the detainees on a human level, the details of individual cases tend to overwhelm me a bit. I remember how I felt in early 2002 when I saw the pictures of the first detainees being transported to Gitmo — that told me everything I needed to know about Gitmo right then and there. I do pay attention, but have to keep a balance lest I drown in details … you probably get what I mean better than most would.

After our initial introduction, I then received Charly’s many PEGC updates by email, always finding information that had otherwise eluded me, and it came as a shock when, in February 2009, he announced that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. In the 16 months since, I feared emails marked “my health,” which were interspersed with PEGC updates, but Charly remained resolutely positive, even when a recent exchange about a possible Conservative victory in the UK General Election prompted the comment, “Have to keep a strict watch on my intake of cynicism.”

On the Guantánamo Blog, Candace Gorman left a fitting epitaph:

During the night my friend and the friend of many of us, Charly Gittings, died. He was diagnosed with lung cancer just about a year ago and he fought the good fight as long as he could. He asked me, and his many other friends, to carry on certain battles: to keep his project alive, “The Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions,” and to do our best to bring our war criminals to justice. I made the promise to him that I would do everything I could to make sure our war criminals were prosecuted … and I will. I hope others will work on finding a home for his Project.

I too promise to do everything I can to make sure that the war criminals are prosecuted, and I’ll be thinking of you, Charly, and of everyone else who has strived to make a difference.

Candace also reproduced some comments that other people have been making about Charly in the last 24 hours, and before leaving you with Charly’s own “Political Biography,” I’d like to share a few of them with you:

Our loss is also the loss of the world; peace, justice and honor will be just a bit further away from our grasp.

If I were to do an eulogy for Charles Gittings, I would say he was a stubborn, obstinate — even prickly — man who knew his duty and always performed it faithfully. In my personal experience, he managed to sway many people, among them military officers, to accept his point of view. He contributed a great deal to our understanding of war crimes, he documented his findings meticulously and he ended up being in the right. I can’t think of a better epitaph. This man made a difference.

I join in lamenting the loss of a sweet-tempered, hard-working, gentle giant who never tired of seeking rights for those that so many sunshine patriots despise.

How very wrong it seems that Charly is gone and that Guantánamo continues. When we finally do close that horrible place down, we must put a plaque there commemorating Charly’s contribution.

And this:

On a rainy evening sadly comes a long expected visit. but with it bittersweetly, the balm of these remembrances.

Five years ago I wandered into a Guantánamo case, filed a motion, and about ten seconds after it hit Pacer, had the lion heart at my ear. On that shining day when we grasped victory, and on the dark ones when the Circuit snatched it back, he was there. He never tired. I can hear him still.

Well done, thou good and faithful servant —
Atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.

And this from The Talking Dog:

I was most saddened when Candace told me that Charles Gittings passed away at the extremely untimely age of 57. Charly (whom I interviewed here) epitomized the concept of “citizen activist.”

Charly’s Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions was a kind of one-man-show. It served as both an archive of the misdeeds of those of in power and a back-drop for Charly’s one of a kind advocacy. Despite not having legal training, he submitted a number of amicus curiae briefs in major “war on terror” cases that were so brilliant that they downright sung. I can only wish we saw so much more of that kind of thing; maybe nothing would be any different … but if there were 5 more Charlies out there … or 10 … one can only imagine …

Charly’s Political Biography

I started my adult life at 16 as a tournament Chess player, rising to a USCF rating of 2185 (Expert). Then I switched to playing Bridge, eventually reaching the ACBL rank of Life Master. My computer career began in 1973 at Bank of America. I’m currently unemployed, having been laid off in July 2002.

As for my political views, I’m a registered Democrat for the duration now — after 15 years of not voting at all on principle. I was a life-long Republican before that, oddly enough … conservative on economics and foreign affairs, libertarian and egalitarian on social issues. But I gradually became nauseated by the growing numbers of racists, fundamentalists, and corporate neo-fascists in the party.

I firmly believe that Lincoln and most of the abolitionists would either be Democrats or Greens if they were alive today. At heart I am a pragmatic anarchist, a humanist, and an internationalist, drawing inspiration from Tom Paine, William Godwin, William Lloyd Garrison, Peter Kropotkin, Leo Tolstoy, Emma Goldman, and Mohandas K. Gandhi, among others.

On 9/11/2001, it was immediately obvious to me the world was facing a crisis on the order of 1914 or 1939, and that the greatest danger by far was the Bush administration. So I resolved to take a more active role in the world and do whatever little bit I could to help deal with the mess. On 11/13/2001, I found out what that was when Bush issued his original military commission order.

So I set out to track the issues of that irresponsible order with the purpose of opposing it. I began researching the Geneva Conventions and a number of other treaties. I wrote a top-of-my-head reaction to the order and sent it to my US representative, Barbara Lee (D-CA, 9th District) in the form of a petition.

When Camp X-Ray started operating, the Bush administration’s policies stopped being just bad ideas and started being violations of the Geneva Conventions, and by then I was very alarmed by the administration’s blustering autocratic efforts to simply re-write the laws however they please by executive fiat.

So I then turned from the question of what the Geneva Conventions required and took up the question of how they might be enforced. I began with Nuremberg and re-examined the US Supreme Court decision in Ex Parte Quirin.

Soon after, the first habeas petition on behalf of the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay was filed in Los Angeles — Coalition of Clergy v. Bush. My take on the situation was that habeas is a convoluted mess of precedents where the government has endless ways of playing games with a case.

My thinking was: the US government is committing flagrant war crimes — there should be some way to prosecute them as such. So I searched the US code and found 18 USC 2441, the War Crimes Act of 1996. This is a rarity in US law — a statute which implements an international treaty in the US criminal code. The traditional US view is that our laws are perfectly capable of meeting our treaty obligations as is, a manifestation of the native US ambivalence on treaties; but in 1996, the Congress passed the war crimes act to plug any loopholes against the backdrop of events in Rwanda and Kosovo.

So I decided to pursue a criminal case intending to defend the Geneva Conventions by a direct prosecution of the crimes rather than the highly problematic expedient of asserting the prisoner’s rights via habeas, and my news gathering effort became a criminal investigation — with the Washington Post and New York Times providing my field investigators. I began downloading and excerpting every relevant comment from DoD and White House press conferences from 2001.11.13 forward. I began documenting the events, names, and dates; fleshing out details; researching the legal aspects; and establishing contacts with interested parties and officials.

And I am now working to bring the matter forward in the courts.

Charles Gittings
Fort Bragg, California
[2002.12.03, revised 2009.02.06]

Note: Before Charly passed away, he left the Project to Enforce the Geneva Conventions in the hands of Deborah Lagutaris. Please see this page for further details.

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 July 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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  1. Tweets that mention RIP Charly Gittings: We’ve Just Lost One of the Good Guys | Andy Worthington -- says...

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Andy Worthington, Mark Welkie. Mark Welkie said: RT @GuantanamoAndy: RIP Charly Gittings: Lost One of the Good Guys – Lamenting the passing of a great citizen activist: […]

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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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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