Archive for August, 2010

I’m Back, and Catching Up on Two Weeks of Guantánamo and Torture

Yesterday, I was in Napoli, sipping sweet, strong coffee, munching on a sfogliatella (delicious ricotta and candied fruit wrapped in a flaky pastry shell), and sweating in the humid 35-degree heat from which there was little or no escape. A week in this mind-bending city — crumbling and filthy, on the one hand, but proud, vibrant and anarchic on the other — followed a far less challenging week in the pretty, white-washed, hill-top towns of Puglia, on the Adriatic coast, and throughout this whole adventure I resisted the urge to keep up with developments at Guantánamo and in the wider “War on Terror,” and chose instead to immerse myself in the much-needed company of family and friends, to relax, to explore new places, and to dare to dream. It was my longest period away from work since I first began working full-time on Guantánamo in March 2006.

On my return, I find that little has actually happened while I’ve been away. An important Associated Press story that broke as I left for the airport two weeks ago — following up on a report about secret CIA prisons in Poland and Romania, and confirming the existence of a secret CIA prison at Guantánamo between September 2003 and March 2004 — fell on largely deaf ears, which ought to confirm how apathy has become the prevailing characteristic of the Obama years.

Elsewhere, there were no habeas corpus wins or losses for the Guantánamo prisoners, no prisoners were released, and the only action took place in the Military Commissions, where the trial of Omar Khadr was delayed after his military lawyer collapsed, and where Ibrahim al-Qosi, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, received a 14-year sentence that will be reduced after a secretive plea bargain. Just a few days before my return, the new commander of Guantánamo, Adm. Jeffrey Harbeson, revealed how much the closure of Guantánamo has slipped off the radar, stating that he has no idea when he will receive an order to close the prison, seven months after President Obama missed his self-imposed deadline for its closure, and 19 months after he came to office offering such high hopes for a swift end to the Bush administration’s malign project of torture, rendition, secret prisons and imprisonment without charge or trial.

In the days to come, I will be dealing with these topics, and also working with Cageprisoners to publicize the stories of the remaining 176 prisoners at Guantánamo, in the hope of providing a reminder that — less than three weeks before the 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks — ignoring Guantánamo will not make this bleak icon of the Bush administration’s incompetence, cruelty and lawlessness go away.

In the meantime, if you want to catch an interview I did with Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio, just before I went away, it’s here, along with a convenient transcript.

I’d like to say that it’s good to be back, but it doesn’t feel like it at present. I’m glad to be re-establishing contact with all my readers and friends, and hope that the summer has been treating you well, but I have to admit that I feel somewhat daunted by the struggle ahead, and disturbed and disappointed that there’s still so much work to be done to close Guantánamo and to call the Bush administration’s torturers to account. In a dream world, I’d head back to Napoli for coffee, cakes and the most wonderful pizzas, but this isn’t a dream, and even the best holidays must come to an end. More hard work lies ahead, and I hope you’ll be along for the ride.

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.

Apparently, they don’t have wireless broadband in this corner of Puglia …

So that’s it, I’ll be out of touch until I tire of the pre-21st century isolation, and head into town for un caffé (o due), some dolci and somewhere with internet access. I’m away in Italy –- a remote location in Puglia the first week, a rooftop apartment in Napoli the second — so contact with the worldwide web will be sporadic, in week one, at least. My information superhighway will be a dirt track and a donkey, hopefully carrying some delicious local produce.

So please, my friends, hold the fort while I’m away — that will be the fort of fighting for freedom in the face of foolishness and fascism, or perhaps the castle of conquering complacency. I’ll try to keep in touch with what’s going on, but I can’t make any promises. Certainly, the timing could hardly be worse, with Omar Khadr’s trial by Military Commission due to start next week, and Ibrahim al-Qosi due to be sentenced.

And who knows what other surprises are lurking? Last year I went away and the US government released the CIA Inspector General’s Report on the torture of “high-value detainees” that had been promised for so long that the PDF had cobwebs on it.

So think of me in a few days, as all this melts away, and I’m licking a gelato by the side of a pool. I’m looking forward to having a proper opportunity to rest and recharge for the struggles ahead, and I’ll try not to sneak into too many internet cafés — although I do promise that Omar Khadr will not be far from my thoughts.

Even on holiday, it’s not possible to forget quite what a sordid and despicable thing it is for the United States to be pressing ahead with a war crimes trial for a young man who was just 15 years old when he was seized — a young man who may or may not have thrown a grenade that killed a US soldier; a young man who, through the haze of his lost youth, appears to recognize that he is the scapegoat for a worldview, cultivated by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — and, disgracefully, maintained largely intact by Barack Obama — which consists of defending the skewed belief that, in wartime, post-9/11, the US military are soldiers, but everyone who opposes them is a terrorist or a war criminal.

Buona notte a tutti! Ci vediamo in due settimane!

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.

Will Poland’s Former Leaders Face War Crimes Charges for Hosting Secret CIA Prison?

The mainstream media in the United States (and in the UK) has ignored the release last week of documents in Poland confirming that planes chartered by the CIA flew to the site of a secret CIA prison in north eastern Poland in 2002 and 2003. The documents, released by the Polish Border Guard Office, confirm previously released flight information disclosed by the Polish Air Navigation Service Agency, and also confirm that three “high-value detainees” — Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Ramzi bin al-Shibh — were flown from Thailand to Poland on December 5, 2002, as I reported exclusively here.

The documents also provide the date for a flight into Poland — March 7, 2003 — that corresponds with the date cited for the arrival of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in an article in Der Spiegel last year, and also reveal the number of prisoners on seven separate flights between December 2002 and September 2003. In addition, they provide some tantalizing information about the exchange of prisoners between the Polish prison and another secret CIA facility in Romania.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal took up the story. Although reporter Marcin Sobczyk also ignored the recent release of documents, he ran through the story of the prison’s existence, as disclosed in various documents between 2005 and 2009, and explained that the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza had just reported that former Prime Minister Leszek Miller and former President Aleksander Kwasniewski “may face war crime charges for agreeing to host the facility.”

As Sobczyk stated, “Kwasniewski and Miller may stand trial before the State Tribunal, a rarely-used special court designed to try Poland’s top officials.” He added, “The prosecutor on the case wants to ask the Speaker of Parliament to start the criminal procedure against the former leaders, according to the report. The case would first go to a parliamentary committee and then to the lower house of parliament, which has the power to decide whether or not to press charges.”

Adam Bodnar of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, who filed the Freedom of Information requests that secured the release of last week’s documents, provided me with further information, through an English translation of the article in Gazeta Wyborcza, in which it was explained that Jerzy Mierzejewski, the prosecutor responsible for the “top secret” investigation, which opened in 2008, began by “conduct[ing] an investigation about the government officials’ abuse of powers,” but now, according to the newspaper’s sources, “wants to charge them for participation in war crimes.”

As Gazeta Wyborcza also explained, “The starting point of the investigation was a secret note by the Polish Intelligence Agency confirming that a base controlled by the CIA existed on Polish territory,” and the prosecutor was initially investigating questions relating to “the consent of the Polish authorities for its creation.” The newspaper also reported that Mierzejewski “listened to the testimonies of tens of witnesses — among them former Prime Ministers and bosses of intelligence agencies.”

Under Polish law, senior officials, including the President and the Prime Minister, cannot be tried before a regular court for alleged crimes committed while in office, and can only be tried via the State Tribunal, which, as Marcin Sobczyk explained, “has so far handled just a handful of cases since its creation in 1921.” Gazeta Wyborcza added that, in addition to former President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former Prime Minister Leszek Miller, Krzysztof Janik, the former head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration, could also be charged, and today the newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported that the charges could also extend to Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, the former head of Polish Intelligence Agency.

Whether a trial will actually go ahead is another matter, of course. Aleksander Kwasniewski told Gazeta Wyborcza that the prosecutor had not spoken to him, and explained that “there was co-operation with the American intelligence, and that’s the reason for the CIA flights to Szymany.” He insisted, however, that “there were no prisons.” The following exchange also took place:

Q: Could Poland as part of the co-operation give Americans consent for the prison and for torture?
A: The Americans never asked for such consent.
Q: Could they do it without our knowledge?
A: I have no information whatsoever about Americans torturing prisoners in Poland.

In addition, Leszek Miller responded to questions posed by the newspaper by stating, “I have nothing to say about this case,” and Krzysztof Janik said that “he had nothing to do with this case,” adding that the Polish intelligence centre in Kiejkuty “was not part of my responsibility as Minister of Internal Affairs.” Also asked to comment was Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, who stated bluntly, “When I’m objectively asked by entitled agencies, and when finally I’ll be exempted from secrecy, then I’ll answer.”

These responses may or may not reflect the truth, but in September 2008, when a Polish intelligence official confirmed that the CIA had held terror suspects in a military intelligence training base in Stare Kiejkuty between 2002 and 2005, he added that only the CIA had access to the prison, and that, although Prime Minister Miller and President Kwasniewski knew about it, “it was unlikely either man knew if the prisoners were being tortured because the Poles had no control over the Americans’ activities.”

Krzysztof Janik provided Gazeta Wyborcza with a similar version of events. After saying that he would be “astonished” if a State Tribunal were to proceed, and also stating his belief that the Polish government “had the right to sign a contract with the American government on the issue of the joint war on terrorism,” he added, “As far as I know, our government had no idea what the Americans are doing with the prisoners, and surely not that they were tortured.” When asked, “If the CIA tortured prisoners, could Kwasniewski and Miller have known about this?” he replied, “I can’t answer for them. However, knowing the mechanisms of power, I doubt that they knew.”

For any trial to go ahead, “The prosecutor’s motion will require political support in parliament,” as Marcin Sobczyk explained. He added that generating majority support for “the concept that the country must reveal its secrets and prosecute its leaders for cooperating with their US ally may be difficult if not impossible to build.”

This is almost certainly correct, especially as the release of documents to date — including last week’s startling disclosures, still do not contain names or other information that categorically include the elusive “smoking gun.” As MP Konstanty Miodowicz, who heads the Parliamentary Special Services Committee, told Rzeczpospolita last week, “There is still no evidence that these people were terrorist suspects, imprisoned by the CIA.” As The News added, Miodowicz pointed out that there was nothing in the documents “to suggest that the people on the aircrafts — described in one document as being ‘businessmen’ — were al-Qaeda suspects.”

Technically, this is true, but anyone who believes that the CIA was transporting “businessmen” into Stare Kiejkuty from December 2002 to September 2003, and was going to such extraordinary lengths to disguise its flights, as Council of Europe Rapporteur Dick Marty first revealed in a major report in June 2007 (PDF), must also be hoping that none of the “30 current and former members of the intelligence services in the United States and Europe” with whom Marty spoke, whose testimony enabled him to conclude that “secret detention facilities run by the CIA did exist in Europe from 2003 to 2005, in particular in Poland and Romania,” will be willing to speak openly about what they knew.

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.

As published exclusively on Cageprisoners. Cross-posted on Eurasia Review, Uruknet and New Left Project.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s “black sites,” condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s “high-value” detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah?, CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval, Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low (all April 2009), Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison , Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence?, Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide”, Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq, In the Guardian: Death in Libya, betrayal by the West (in the Guardian here), Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA) (all May 2009) and WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (June 2009), The Logic of the 9/11 Trials, The Madness of the Military Commissions (November 2009), UK Judges Compare Binyam Mohamed’s Torture To That Of Abu Zubaydah (November 2009), UN Secret Detention Report Asks, “Where Are The CIA Ghost Prisoners?” (January 2010), Binyam Mohamed: Evidence of Torture by US Agents Revealed in UK (February 2010), Torture Whitewash: How “Professional Misconduct” Became “Poor Judgment” in the OPR Report (February 2010), Judges Restore Damning Passage on MI5 to the Binyam Mohamed Torture Ruling (February 2010), What Torture Is, and Why It’s Illegal and Not “Poor Judgment” (March 2010), Abu Zubaydah’s Torture Diary (March 2010), Seven Years of War in Iraq: Still Based on Cheney’s Torture and Lies (March 2010), Protests worldwide on Aafia Siddiqui Day, Sunday March 28, 2010 (March 2010), Abu Zubaydah: Tortured for Nothing (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), How Binyam Mohammed’s Torture Was Revealed in a US Court (May 2010), What is Obama Doing at Bagram? (Part One): Torture and the “Black Prison” (June 2010), New Report Reveals How Bush Torture Program Involved Human Experimentation (June 2010), UN Secret Detention Report (Part One): The CIA’s “High-Value Detainee” Program and Secret Prisons, UN Secret Detention Report (Part Two): CIA Prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq, UN Secret Detention Report (Part Three): Proxy Detention, Other Countries’ Complicity, and Obama’s Record (all June 2010), Abu Zubaydah and the Case Against Torture Architect James Mitchell (June 2010), The Torture of Abu Zubaydah: The Complaint Filed Against James Mitchell for Ethical Violations (June 2010), Calling for US Accountability on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (June 2010), How Jay Bybee Has Approved the Prosecution of CIA Operatives for Torture (July 2010), In Abu Zubaydah’s Case, Court Relies on Propaganda and Lies (July 2010). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

New Evidence About Prisoners Held in Secret CIA Prisons in Poland and Romania

On Friday, the Polish Border Guard Office released a number of documents to the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, which, for the first time, provide details of the number of prisoners transferred by the CIA to a secret prison in Poland between December 5, 2002 and September 22, 2003, and, in one case, the number of prisoners who were subsequently transferred to a secret CIA prison in Romania. The documents (available here and here) provide important information about the secret prison at Szymany, in north eastern Poland, and also add to what is known about the program in Romania, which has received far less scrutiny.

The existence of the prisons was first revealed in the Washington Post on November 2, 2005, although the Post refrained from “publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior US officials.” However, on November 6, 2005, Human Rights Watch identified the countries as Poland and Romania, and stated that it had seen “flight records showing that a Boeing 737, registration number N313P — a plane that the CIA used to move several prisoners to and from Europe, Afghanistan, and the Middle East in 2003 and 2004 — landed in Poland and Romania on direct flights from Afghanistan on two occasions in 2003 and 2004.”

Although the Polish and Romanian governments denied the claims, Swiss Senator Dick Marty, a Rapporteur for the Council of Europe, concluded in a report in June 2007 (PDF), based on two years’ research and interviews with over 30 current and former members of the intelligence services in the United States and Europe, that he had enough “evidence to state that secret detention facilities run by the CIA did exist in Europe from 2003 to 2005, in particular in Poland and Romania.” Marty also identified both sites, noting that the flights to Romania flew into the Mihail Kogalniceanu military airfield, and also explained how the flights were disguised using fake flight plans.

In September 2008, a Polish intelligence official confirmed that between 2002 and 2005 the CIA had held terror suspects inside a military intelligence training base in Stare Kiejkuty in north eastern Poland. He said that only the CIA had access to the prison, and that, although Prime Minister Leszek Miller and President Aleksander Kwasniewski knew about it, “it was unlikely either man knew if the prisoners were being tortured because the Poles had no control over the Americans’ activities.”

It was not until March 23, 2009, however, that the first details of specific flights into Szymany were officially confirmed in Poland, when the Polish Air Navigation Service Agency released information about a Lockheed L100-30 Hercules, registration number N8213G, which had flown in on February 4, 2003. This was followed up on September 16 with far more incriminating records, demonstrating that a notorious “torture jet,” a Gulfstream V, registration number N379P, had flown into Szymany on six occasions between February 8 and September 22, 2003 (see here and here), and on June 2 this year, a further release identified a Gulfstream IV, registration number N63MU, which had flown in on July 28, 2005.

Friday’s revelations by the Polish Border Guard Office are, however, even more significant, firstly because they include, for the first time, confirmation that N63MU flew into Poland on December 5, 2002, and secondly, because they provide details of the number of passengers on seven of the flights, as follows:

December 5, 2002: 8 passengers delivered
February 8, 2003: 7 passengers delivered; 4 others flown to an unknown destination
March 7, 2003: 2 passengers delivered
March 25, 2003: 1 passenger delivered
May 6, 2003: 1 passenger delivered
July 30, 2003: 1 passenger delivered
September 22, 2003: 0 passengers delivered; 5 flown to Romania

Who are the “high-value detainees” held in Poland?

In identifying these 20 passengers, the documents provide more questions than answers, as it is not known how many of them were prisoners, and how many were US government operatives accompanying them.

However, what can be stated with certainty is that three of the men who arrived on December 5, 2002 were the “high-value detainees” Abu Zubaydah, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who had all been held previously in a secret CIA prison in Thailand.

In the CIA Inspector General’s Report on “Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001-October 2003),” published in May 2004, but only made publicly available last August (PDF), it was stated that the “enhanced interrogation of al-Nashiri continued through 4 December 2002” and that, “after being moved, al-Nashiri was thought to have been withholding information”, indicating that it was at this time that he was rendered to Poland.

Moreover, in research for a “Joint Study on Global Practices in Relation to Secret Detention in the Context of Counter-Terrorism,” published by the United Nations in February this year (PDF, or see my cross-post here), an analyst

identified a flight from Bangkok to Szymany, Poland, on 5 December 2002 (stopping at Dubai) … though it was disguised under multiple layers of secrecy, including charter and sub-contracting arrangements that would avoid there being any discernible “fingerprints” of a United States Government operation, as well as the filing of “dummy” flight plans.

This, clearly, is the flight identified in the newly released documents as having flown into Poland via Dubai.

In addition, according to information provided to ABC News by “[c]urrent and former CIA officers” in December 2005, seven other “high-value detainees,” as well as Zubaydah, al-Nashiri and bin al-Shibh, were held in Poland, while an eleventh, Hambali, was held elsewhere (possibly on the British island of Diego Garcia, in the Indian Ocean, which is leased to the US). ABC News identified these men as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Waleed bin Attash, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi, Mohammed Omar Abdel-Rahman, Hassan Ghul and Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani.

Of these seven, Hassan Ghul (whose whereabouts are still unknown, although he was reportedly held in a Pakistani prison in 2006) and Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (who was one of 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006) were seized in 2004, outside of the period from December 2002 to September 2003 covered by the documents, but the other five may all have been held in Poland at this time.

In April 2009, Der Spiegel reported that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (another of the 14 HVDs, and the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks) was flown to Szymany on March 7, 2003, and if this is the case (and the date, noticeably, corresponds with one of the dates in the newly released documents), then it is possible that Mustafa al-Hawsawi, who was seized with him on March 1, 2003 (and who was also transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006), was the other passenger who arrived with him on that date — although it is also, of course, possible that the second passenger was an interrogator or a psychologist.

As for the others identified by ABC News, Waleed bin Attash (another of the 14 HVDs), seized in Karachi, Pakistan on April 29, 2003, could be the passenger delivered on May 6, and Mohamed Omar Abdel-Rahman, one of the sons of Omar Abdel-Rahman, the “Blind Sheikh,” imprisoned in the US, could have been on any of the flights. Seized in Quetta in February 2003, his detention has never been officially acknowledged by the US authorities, and his current whereabouts are unknown.

More contentious are the claims that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and Abdul Rahim al-Sharqawi were held in Poland. Al-Libi, the emir of the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan, which was closed down by the Taliban in 2000 after he refused to cede control of it to Osama bin Laden, was, notoriously, rendered by the CIA to Egypt soon after his capture in Afghanistan in December 2001, where, under torture, he came up with the false allegation that Saddam Hussein was working on a chemical weapons program with al-Qaeda, which was used to justify the invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

According to an account by the journalist Stephen Grey, al-Libi was rendered back to Afghanistan in November 2003, and according to another account, by a Libyan who talked to al-Libi in a prison in Tripoli before his suspicious death last May, he was rendered from Egypt to prisons in Mauritania, Morocco and Jordan, before his return to Afghanistan, where he was held in three separate prisons run by, or under the control of the CIA, before his eventual return to Libya (possibly in 2006). As a result, although it’s possible that he was also held in Poland for a while, it is by no means certain.

As for al-Sharqawi (also identified as Sharqwi Abdu Ali al-Hajj or Abdu Ali Sharqawi), the available reports suggest that, after he was seized in a house raid in Pakistan in February 2002, he was rendered to Jordan, where he was held for nearly two years — and tortured on behalf of the CIA — before being transferred to the CIA’s “Dark Prison” near Kabul, and then, via Bagram, to Guantánamo, where he arrived in September 2004. As with al-Libi, however, it is possible that at some point he was transferred to Poland.

A program still shrouded in secrecy

Given the intense secrecy that still surrounds the “high-value detainee” program, all that we can state with certainty is that, in May 2005, Assistant Attorney General Stephen G. Bradbury of the Office of Legal Counsel stated in a memo (updating the notorious “torture memos” of August 1, 2002, by John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee) that the CIA had, by that point, “taken custody of 94 prisoners [redacted] and ha[d] employed enhanced techniques to varying degrees in the interrogations of 28 of these detainees.” These figures do not include prisoners rendered to prisons in other countries that were not directly under CIA control.

As these are essentially the only details about the program’s scope that have ever been made publicly available, it is impossible to state with any certainty how many of these 94 prisoners were held in Poland. However, research undertaken for the UN’s secret detention report indicated that the majority of the 94 were probably held in secret prisons in Afghanistan, and the figure of ten men in Poland that was cited by ABC News is close to the figure quoted by Dick Marty, who noted that “a single CIA source told us that there were ‘up to a dozen’ high-value detainees in Poland in 2005, but we were unable to confirm this number.” If this is the case, then the 20 passengers referred to in the newly released documents may include just eight prisoners, with two more — Hassan Ghul and Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani — arriving in 2004, and the rest being interrogators and psychologists.

One more question, however, concerns the origin of one of the flights. Although the first flight came from Bangkok via Dubai, and the rest appear to have flown directly from Kabul, Afghanistan, the flight on February 8, 2003, which contained seven passengers, and left the next day with four passengers (again, perhaps US personnel) arrived from Rabat, Morocco. Given that Morocco was one of a handful of countries (along with Jordan, Egypt and Syria) that were used either as proxy torture prisons or in order to “disappear” prisoners entirely, it is possible that the flight picked up three prisoners in Morocco, and flew them on to Poland.

If this is the case, then three possible candidates are Abu Zubair al-Haili, a Saudi seized in Morocco in June 2002, who was known as “the Bear,” because of his size, and who was reported to be “one of the top 25 al-Qaeda leaders,” and to have had “a very close relationship to Abu Zubaydah,” plus two other Saudis seized with him. The whereabouts of all three men have never been explained by either the US or the Moroccan authorities, although in September 2002 the Independent reported that al-Haili was “in US custody.”

Romania’s role in the CIA’s secret prison program

The final piece of the jigsaw revealed by the new Polish documents concerns Romania, as it seems clear that, on September 22, 2003, five prisoners were taken from the Polish prison to what may, at the time, have been a new project in Romania. In his report for the Council of Europe (PDF), Dick Marty stated:

For reasons of both security and capacity, the CIA determined that the Polish strand of the HVD program should remain limited in size. Thus a “second European site” was sought to which the CIA could transfer its detainees with “no major logistical overhaul”. Romania, used extensively by United States forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom in early 2003, had distinct benefits in this regard: as a member of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Centre remarked about the location of the proposed detention facility, “our guys were familiar with the area.”

Marty added:

Romania was developed into a site to which more detainees were transferred only as the HVD program expanded. I understand that the Romanian “black site” was incorporated into the program in 2003, attained its greatest significance in 2004 and operated until the second half of 2005. The detainees who were held in Romania belonged to a category of HVDs whose intelligence value had been assessed as lower but in respect of whom the Agency still considered it worthwhile pursuing further investigations.

While this avenue remains to be explored, the UN secret detention report suggested that three of the men held in Romania may have been the Yemenis Salah Nasser Salim Ali (seized in Indonesia in August 2003), Mohammed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah (seized in Jordan in October 2003) and Mohammed al-Asad (seized in Tanzania in December 2003), who, after being held in secret prisons in Afghanistan, were transferred in April 2004 to “an unknown, modern facility apparently run by United States officials, which was carefully designed to induce maximum disorientation, dependence and stress in the detainees … Research into flight durations and the observations of Mr. al-Asad, Mr. Ali, and Mr. Bashmilah suggest that the facility was likely located in Eastern Europe.”

All three were eventually transferred to Yemeni custody in May 2005, but they were clearly more fortunate than the other men rendered to Romania, whose stories have never emerged, and are as unknown as those of the five men transferred from Poland to Romania on September 22, 2003, whose existence has just been revealed.

In conclusion, while the release of these documents provides only a tantalizing glimpse into a program that is still shrouded in secrecy, it also provides some much needed information to be used in an attempt to compel the Polish government, the Romanian government, and, most of all, the US government, to stop pretending either that these prisons did not exist, or that “we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” and to come clean about both the prisons and the men held there.

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.

As published exclusively on Truthout. Cross-posted on Eurasia Review, Cageprisoners, The Smirking Chimp, War Criminals Watch, Little Alex in Wonderland, The Intel Hub, Question Everything, Human Rights House and No More Crusades.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s “black sites,” condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s “high-value” detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah?, CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval, Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low (all April 2009), Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison , Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence?, Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide”, Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq, In the Guardian: Death in Libya, betrayal by the West (in the Guardian here), Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA) (all May 2009) and WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (June 2009), The Logic of the 9/11 Trials, The Madness of the Military Commissions (November 2009), UK Judges Compare Binyam Mohamed’s Torture To That Of Abu Zubaydah (November 2009), UN Secret Detention Report Asks, “Where Are The CIA Ghost Prisoners?” (January 2010), Binyam Mohamed: Evidence of Torture by US Agents Revealed in UK (February 2010), Torture Whitewash: How “Professional Misconduct” Became “Poor Judgment” in the OPR Report (February 2010), Judges Restore Damning Passage on MI5 to the Binyam Mohamed Torture Ruling (February 2010), What Torture Is, and Why It’s Illegal and Not “Poor Judgment” (March 2010), Abu Zubaydah’s Torture Diary (March 2010), Seven Years of War in Iraq: Still Based on Cheney’s Torture and Lies (March 2010), Protests worldwide on Aafia Siddiqui Day, Sunday March 28, 2010 (March 2010), Abu Zubaydah: Tortured for Nothing (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), How Binyam Mohammed’s Torture Was Revealed in a US Court (May 2010), What is Obama Doing at Bagram? (Part One): Torture and the “Black Prison” (June 2010), New Report Reveals How Bush Torture Program Involved Human Experimentation (June 2010), UN Secret Detention Report (Part One): The CIA’s “High-Value Detainee” Program and Secret Prisons, UN Secret Detention Report (Part Two): CIA Prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq, UN Secret Detention Report (Part Three): Proxy Detention, Other Countries’ Complicity, and Obama’s Record (all June 2010), Abu Zubaydah and the Case Against Torture Architect James Mitchell (June 2010), The Torture of Abu Zubaydah: The Complaint Filed Against James Mitchell for Ethical Violations (June 2010), Calling for US Accountability on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (June 2010), How Jay Bybee Has Approved the Prosecution of CIA Operatives for Torture (July 2010), In Abu Zubaydah’s Case, Court Relies on Propaganda and Lies (July 2010). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

UK Judges Endorse Double Standards on Terror Deportations

Last Thursday, in a little-noticed ruling in the Court of Appeal, three judges — Lord Justice Jacob, Lord Justice Sullivan and Sir David Keene — turned down appeals submitted by eight foreign nationals against the Home Secretary’s decision to deport them “on grounds of national security.” The government’s decision had previously been upheld by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), which deals with deportation issues involving terrorism.

Seven of the men appealing against the government’s decision to deport them are Algerians (identified as W, Z, G, BB, U, Y and PP), and the eighth (identified as VV, but also publicly identified as Hussain al-Samamara) is Jordanian. As the judges noted, “Each claimed that he would be at risk of treatment contrary to Article 3 of the European Convention on Human rights (‘ECHR’), were he to be deported.” Article 3 of the ECHR states, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” but on Thursday the Court of Appeal was not dealing specifically with the question of whether the men would face torture if deported, as this was a question that had been dealt with by the Law Lords in a ruling in February 2009, when they decided that Abu Qatada and two of the Algerians whose appeals were heard last Thursday (U and BB) could be deported because, alarmingly, they were satisfied that human rights groups would be able to monitor whether the Algerian and Jordanian governments were sticking to their promises not to subject the men to torture or other ill-treatment.

Instead of dealing with this issue (which is on appeal to the European Court of Human Rights), the Court of Appeal was required only to address two specific questions: firstly, whether there is “an irreducible minimum of information” that the Secretary of State “is bound to provide to the appellant in the interests of procedural fairness”; and secondly, whether there is any “procedural protection” for witnesses prepared to testify on behalf of any of the men, to ensure that any sensitive information they might provide, which could, for example, endanger their own lives, would be treated confidentially by the Home Secretary, and would not, for example, be shared with the intelligence services of other countries.

The first question strikes to the heart of the anti-terror policies conceived by the Labour government: namely that, in some cases, where it is inconvenient to find ways to use sensitive intelligence material in open court, while protecting the security services’ sources and methods, the government can justify holding men without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence that can only be discussed in closed court hearings.

In order to give this system a veneer of fairness, the government arranged for special advocates to represent detainees in the closed hearings, but the problem with this attempt at transparency was that the special advocates were unable to relay anything that took place in these hearings to their clients, leaving them unable to ascertain what, exactly, they were accused of, and also, of course, unable to challenge it effectively.

In an important ruling last June, the Law Lords dealt with one aspect of the secret evidence regime — control orders, renewed annually by Parliament, which enable the government to hold suspects (both British and foreign nationals) under a form of house arrest, subjected to curfews of up to 18 hours a day, the vetting of visitors, a prohibition on the use of the Internet or mobile phones, and, in some cases, forced relocation within the UK.

In their unanimous ruling last June, the Law Lords concluded that imposing control orders breaches Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to a fair trial, because a suspect held under a control order is not given “sufficient information about the allegations against him to enable him to give effective instructions to the special advocate assigned to him.”

In the ruling, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the senior Law Lord, wrote, “A trial procedure can never be considered fair if a party to it is kept in ignorance of the case against him.” Reinforcing this opinion, Lord Hope of Craigshead declared, “The principle that the accused has the right to know what is being alleged against him has a long pedigree … The fundamental principle is that everyone is entitled to the disclosure of sufficient material to enable him to answer effectively the case against him,” and Lord Scott of Foscote wrote:

An essential requirement of a fair hearing is that a party against whom allegations are made is given the opportunity to rebut the allegations. That opportunity is absent if the party does not know what the allegations are. The degree of detail necessary to be given must, in my opinion, be sufficient to enable the opportunity to be a real one. The disclosure made to each of these appellants was insufficient to afford him a real opportunity for rebuttal. He did not, therefore, have a fair hearing for Article 6(1) purposes and these appeals must be allowed.

In response to the ruling, the Labour government struggled to maintain the control order regime, losing a number of court cases, and quietly dropping other control orders. Nevertheless, the system is still functioning, and has been maintained by the new coalition government, although a comprehensive review has been promised. The urgency of this review was highlighted last week, when the Court of Appeal ruled that two control orders imposed in 2006 and revoked last autumn should have been quashed rather then revoked, meaning that they were unjustly imposed in the first place, and that the men in question may now claim compensation.

For those of us who, like the Law Lords, believe that “A trial procedure can never be considered fair if a party to it is kept in ignorance of the case against him,” the blow to the control order regime has been a vindication of our insistence that no perceived emergency justifies abandoning the rule of law and replacing it with a Kafkaesque system of secret evidence and special advocates, operating in a special court — the Special Immigration Appeals Commission — that, in the words of Dinah Rose QC, a former special advocate who now defends a number of terror suspects:

looks and sounds like a court, and the judges and barristers behave with the courtesy and formalities that are used in court, [although] it is in reality nothing of the kind. Often it feels to me like an elaborate charade, in which we are all playing the roles of barrister, solicitor, appellant and judge, but where the basic substance of a court hearing — the testing of evidence to establish where truth lies — is entirely missing.

However, in contrast to the control order regime (which affects British nationals and foreign nationals who have won appeals against deportation), a parallel system, involving foreign nationals whom the government and the courts wish to deport, was not affected by the Law Lords’ ruling last June, and it was this discrepancy that the eight men sought to address last Thursday.

On December 1 last year, it seemed that this discrepancy had finally been addressed, when two High Court judges, Lord Justice Laws and Mr. Justice Owen, ruled that it was “impossible” to conclude “that in bail cases a less stringent procedural standard is required” than in the control order cases. However, as Ronnie Graham of Birnberg Peirce explained to me, this ruling applied only to the circumstances surrounding the granting of bail to deportation detainees, and not to their actual deportation proceedings.

Ronnie added, “We argued that the same standard of procedural fairness should apply in SIAC bail and SIAC deportation proceedings,” but unfortunately the Court of Appeal disagreed, even though Sir David Keene, who wrote the judgment that was fully endorsed by his colleagues, acknowledged that the men had touched on a profoundly important issue, when he explained:

The appellants raise important and forceful points on this issue. There is no doubt that to deprive anyone, including an alien, of even the essence of the case put against him as to why he is a threat to national security goes against the basic concept of a fair trial. The presence of a special advocate to protect his interests may be a palliative, but since the special advocate cannot discuss the closed material with an appellant in SIAC proceedings, he cannot obtain the latter’s instructions on it or discover what answer the appellant might be able to provide … Knowing what material adverse to you the court has seen is undoubtedly a fundamental right as a matter of English common law and is not dependent on the ECHR.

However, as he proceeded to point out, the Court was unable to address the men’s complaints for two reasons: firstly, because Parliament has accepted that, in deportation cases, the “fundamental right” to a fair trial has been ruled out on the basis of national security; and secondly, because of a precedent in the European Court of Human Rights, which was cited by SIAC when it endorsed the government’s plans to deport the men.

With reference to the first point, the Court of Appeal drew on a previous ruling, in an unrelated case, in which Lord Hoffman had stated, “Parliament can, if it chooses, legislate contrary to fundamental principles of human rights. But it must squarely confront what it is doing.” Concluding that this was indeed what had happened in the deportation cases, Sir David Keene wrote, “Parliament has clearly confronted the fact that the right to a fair trial was being curtailed. I accept that there will be instances where there is obvious unfairness to an appellant, but it is an unfairness which Parliament has patently intended and authorised.”

With reference to the second point, the Court of Appeal drew on the words of Lord Brown in the Law Lords’ ruling on control orders in June 2009 (known as AF (No. 3)):

[T]he processes involved in cases concerning the expulsion of undesirable aliens are beyond the reach of Article 6 [of the ECHR, guaranteeing the right to fair trial]. That is because the alien’s civil rights are not engaged where deportation proceedings are concerned [based on Maaouia v. France, a ruling in 2000 in the European Court of Human Rights]. Article 6 is not engaged even where the order for deportation has an incidental effect on rights under other articles of the ECHR, such as Article 3 [the torture prohibition].

As Ronnie Graham confirmed, in Maaouia, the European Court “ruled that nationals of countries who are not signatories to the European Convention of Human Rights don’t receive the protection of ECHR procedural rights such as those under Article 6 in deportation proceedings,” even if that could lead to the men in question facing torture, and even though any involvement in torture is prohibited — if not, in this case, under the ECHR, then under the UN Convention Against Torture, to which the UK is a signatory.

The absurd outcome for the men whose appeals were considered last week, as Ronnie Graham also confirmed, is that “those subject to SIAC bail are entitled to procedural fairness provided by Article 6 in their bail proceedings, but not in their SIAC deportation proceedings.”

On the second question posed by the eight men — whether there is any “procedural protection” for witnesses prepared to testify on their behalf — the judges concluded, for a second time, that there is no level playing field in terrorism cases involving secret evidence. Just as Parliament and the European Court have removed the right to a fair trial in the cases of foreign nationals facing deportation on national security grounds, so the use of secret evidence is a one-sided affair, in which the government can protect its own sources, so that the men in question may not even know the case against them, but those accused of terrorism cannot provide their own secret evidence.

The government’s lawyers contended that “the appellant’s arguments amounted to seeking to injunct the government from discussing potentially important information with the government of a state with which the United Kingdom enjoyed friendly diplomatic relations,” and “submitted that the proposed procedure was unworkable,” and the judges agreed. As Sir David Keene explained, drawing on a different scenario than the “friendly diplomatic relations” argument favoured by the government:

It might be that the appellant’s material, innocuous when seen in isolation, becomes of vital diplomatic importance once combined with material in the possession of the Secretary of State. As was explored in argument, it might reveal a potential terrorist risk within the foreign state. It might indicate that, instead of the appellant having been the perpetrator of a terrorist outrage, as suspected hitherto, the true culprit remains at large in the foreign state and presents a real and imminent threat to that state.

This is not the end of the road for the eight men, as they have two weeks in which to submit an appeal to the Supreme Court, but it is yet another blow to what remains of their long-cherished hope that the British government and the courts would not proceed with their deportations, endangering Britain’s commitment to the ECHR and the UN Convention Against Torture, when all they have ever asked for is a fair trial.

Note: For further information about the eight men involved in the appeal, see the Cageprisoners report, “Detention Immorality: The impact of UK domestic counter-terrorism policies on those detained in the War on Terror,” which covers the cases of men facing deportation or extradition, and those on control orders.

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.

As published exclusively on Cageprisoners. Cross-posted on Eurasia Review, Uruknet, New Left Project and Blog from Middle East.

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), Torture Complicity Under the Spotlight in Europe (Part One): The UK (July 2010), Fighting Ghosts: An Interview with Husein Al-Samamara (July 2010), Ruling sends message on control orders (for the Guardian, July 2010).

Take Action for Ahmed Belbacha, at Risk of Enforced Repatriation from Guantánamo to Algeria

Since the US Supreme Court ruled on July 17 that there was no legal obstacle to the involuntary repatriation of Algerians at Guantánamo, and one man, Abdul Aziz Naji, was promptly flown back to Algiers, opponents of a ruling that saw the Supreme Court playing as fast and loose with the UN Convention Against Torture as the Obama administration, which had pushed for his repatriation, have been deeply concerned about the administration’s plans to deport five other Algerians against their will. These men are Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed, Nabil Hadjarab, Motai Saib, Djamel Ameziane and Ahmed Belbacha, and they have all stated that they would rather remain at Guantánamo than be sent back to their home country, where they fear both the government and terrorist groups who might wish to recruit them.

Bin Mohammed won his habeas corpus petition last November, but was so scared of returning to Algeria that the judge in his case, Judge Gladys Kessler of the District Court in Washington D.C., tried to prevent his enforced return, eventually losing that appeal in the Conservative-dominated D.C. Circuit Court, and then losing again on July 16, when the Supreme Court also refused to act on his behalf. When Abdul Aziz Naji’s appeal was denied by the Supreme Court the following day, the last obstacle to the enforced repatriation not only of bin Mohammed, but also of Nabil Hadjarab, Motai Saib, Djamel Ameziane and Ahmed Belbacha was also removed.

As the legal action charity Reprieve reports today, “the Algerian prosecutor’s office reported on Monday that Abdul Aziz Naji was charged with an unspecified offence and is now under ‘judicial supervision.’” This may well mean that he will now undergo long months of horrible uncertainty as the government prepares to try him, even though, in the cases of other Algerians who returned voluntarily between July 2008 and January 2010, no trial has resulted in a conviction.

However, as Human Rights Watch noted after Naji’s repatriation:

Although the Algerian detainees who were returned voluntarily to Algeria have not reported serious abuse, this should not be the basis for determining how future returnees will be treated. Some of the men who returned voluntarily were elderly, in ill health, or had wound up at Guantánamo as cases of mistaken identity. Some of the remaining detainees, though never accused of any crime, might be perceived by the Algerian government as more dangerous than those who previously returned.

Senior counterterrorism counsel Andrea Prasow added, “The US needs to consider the individual circumstances of each detainee before repatriation. Someone who would rather remain at Guantánamo than go home should at least be given the chance to explain why in a proper legal setting.”

While there are valid concerns for all the men’s safety and well-being if returned to Algeria, Ahmed Belbacha is particularly vulnerable, as he was tried in absentia in November 2009 and sentenced to 20 years in prison, for what his lawyers can only conclude was the crime of speaking out about his fears of being repatriated. As Reprieve explained, “In a disgraceful show trial, the court sentenced Ahmed to 20 years in prison for belonging to an ‘overseas terrorist group.’ Despite repeated requests and extensive investigation, Reprieve’s lawyers have been unable to discover what exactly Ahmed is supposed to have done. No evidence has been produced to support his ‘conviction,’ which appears to be retaliation against Ahmed for speaking out about human rights abuses in Algeria.”

Human Rights Watch has stated that “Under Algerian law, Belbacha has the right to a new trial upon his return to Algeria,” but after his conviction in November it is unsurprising that Belbacha does not trust the Algerian government to treat him fairly if he is returned. As Reprieve noted, “He faces a lengthy illegal prison term, torture, and persecution if returned to Algeria.”

In an urgent appeal, Reprieve has called on the governments of Britain, Ireland and Luxembourg to offer Belbacha a new home. His lawyer, Tara Murray, stated:

We know from bitter experience that Guantánamo prisoners cannot trust “diplomatic assurances” from rights-abusing countries like Algeria, and the Obama Administration should have known better. The US has betrayed Abdul Aziz Naji and we are fighting to ensure that our client Ahmed Belbacha does not suffer the same fate. Algeria’s government has a clear grudge against Ahmed and cannot be trusted. Ahmed has repeatedly pleaded for help and we are running out of time. Will the governments of Luxembourg, Ireland and the UK hear his pleas?

Ahmed Belbacha’s appeal for the British government to offer him a new home is long-standing, as he lived and worked here for nearly two years from 1999 to 2001, when, with his asylum claim ongoing, he decided to take an ill-advised holiday in Pakistan. A resident in Bournemouth, where he lived, has offered him a room, but the British government has been so indifferent to his fate that Reprieve and other organizations, including Amnesty International and Cageprisoners, sought help from Ireland and Luxembourg as well. He has also been offered a home in Amherst, Massachusetts, although a law passed by Congress, banning any Guantánamo prisoners from being brought to the US mainland except to face a trial, has prevented him from taking up this offer.

Last week, the London Guantánamo Campaign prepared a letter to foreign secretary William Hague asking him to secure Mr. Belbacha’s return to the UK. A slightly amended version of this letter is posted below (which readers can cut and paste), but please feel free to change it as you see fit. The letter can be emailed to the foreign secretary (email address here), or sent to: William Hague MP, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, King Charles Street, London, SW1A 2AH.

Dear Foreign Secretary,

I am writing to you as a matter of urgency, concerning the case of Ahmed Belbacha, a British resident who has been held at Guantánamo Bay for over eight years.

Mr. Belbacha is a 40-year old Algerian who lived in the UK for nearly two years, from 1999 to 2001, having fled Algeria where his life was at risk. While travelling in Pakistan, he was captured and taken to Guantánamo Bay. Cleared for release in 2007, he has chosen to remain at Guantánamo Bay, rather than face the risk to his life in Algeria. This risk was compounded in November 2009 when he was sentenced in absentia to 20 years in prison for “membership of a terrorist organisation overseas”. No evidence was produced to back this up.

On 17 July, a US Supreme Court ruling resulted in an Algerian national, Abdul Aziz Naji, being forcibly repatriated to Algeria, where he has been indicted on unspecified charges, and is subject to “judicial supervision”. His return, the first forced repatriation under the Obama administration, was strongly condemned by Human Rights Watch and the United Nations. There is a strong likelihood that in sending Mr. Naji back to Algeria, the US government has breached the principle of “non-refoulement” in the UN Convention Against Torture.

This ruling paves the way for the forced return of Ahmed Belbacha.

Mr. Belbacha’s return to the UK was not sought by the previous government. However, we maintain that, given his ties to this country, he should be allowed to return here on humanitarian grounds. Such a move would provide him with a safe haven, and act as a gesture of cooperation with the US in its efforts to find countries for prisoners who cannot be safely repatriated, thereby helping President Obama to close the prison. Several other European countries have taken this action, providing residence to non-nationals as a means of assisting the US.

I urge you to take urgent action for Ahmed Belbacha to ensure a safe end to his wholly illegal ordeal over the past eight years.

I look forward to your response,

Yours sincerely,

The London Guantánamo Campaign also recommended that supporters send the letter to their MP (find your local MP via TheyWorkForYou), and also to write to the Algerian Embassy and the Permanent Mission of Algeria at the United Nations, asking them not to accept the forced repatriation of prisoners who do not wish to return to Algeria, and to ensure that prisoners who are returned are treated fairly.

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.

Cross-posted on Eurasia Review.

Judge Orders Release from Guantánamo of Mentally Ill Yemeni; 2nd Judge Approves Detention of Minor Taliban Recruit

As of today, the results of the Guantánamo prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions stand at 38 victories for the prisoners against 15 victories for the government, after two recent rulings. On July 21, Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. granted the habeas petition of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a 34-year old Yemeni, while, in another courtroom, Judge Reggie Walton denied the habeas petition of Abdul Rahman Sulayman, a 31-year old Yemeni.

The judges’ unclassified opinions are not yet available, so their reasoning is not yet known, but the rulings prompt three immediate responses: firstly, that Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, whose suicide attempts and mental illness have been apparent for many years, should be released immediately; secondly, that this is unlikely, given the Obama administration’s unjustifiable moratorium on releasing any Yemeni prisoners, even those who have won their habeas petitions; and thirdly, that the ruling in Abdul Rahman Sulayman’s case can only be construed as a victory for the government when viewed through very narrow parameters.

Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a mentally troubled Yemeni, wins his habeas petition

For Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, Judge Kennedy’s ruling appears to vindicate what his lawyers have maintained for years: that he is an innocent man who had sought medical treatment in Afghanistan. As one of his lawyers, David Remes, explained after the ruling, “This is a mentally disturbed man who has said from the beginning that he went to Afghanistan seeking medical care because he was too poor to pay for it. Finally, a court has recognized that he’s been telling the truth, and ordered his release.”

This was how I described his story in one of the online chapters supplementing the information contained in my book The Guantánamo Files:

26-year old Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif (identified by the Pentagon Ab Aljallil Allal or Allal Ab Aljallil Abd Al Rahman Abd) stated that he had sustained a serious head injury in an automobile accident in 1994, and had spent years trying to find affordable medical treatment. After being told about the health-care office of a Pakistani aid worker in Afghanistan who would treat him, he said that he traveled to Afghanistan in 2001, and explained that, when the US-led invasion began, he fled to the border town of Khost and then made his way into Pakistan, where he was arrested by Pakistani forces, along with about 30 other Arabic-looking men. He told his lawyer, Marc Falkoff, that he later learned that each of them had been turned over to the US military for a bounty of $5000.

In his tribunal at Guantánamo, Latif appeared bewildered, refuting what he believed was an allegation that he came from a place called al-Qaeda by saying, “I am from Orday City in Yemen, not a city in al-Qaeda. My city is very far away from the city of al-Qaeda,” which perhaps reinforces his claim that he had traveled to Afghanistan to receive treatment for a fractured skull.

In an analysis of his client’s case in 2007, Marc Falkoff pointed out that the authorities alleged, in the unclassified summary of evidence against Latif, that he was “an al-Qaeda fighter,” that in 2000 he “reportedly traveled from Yemen to Afghanistan” and “reportedly received training at the al-Farouq training camp,” and that in April 2001 he “reportedly returned to Afghanistan” and “reportedly went to the front lines in Kabul.” He added, “[W]hen I first saw the accusations, I thought they looked serious [but] when I looked at the government’s evidence, I was amazed. There was nothing there. Nothing at all trustworthy. Nothing that could be admitted into evidence in a court of law. Nothing that was remotely persuasive, even leaving legal niceties aside.” At most, he added, “there was incredibly unreliable hearsay, often taken from other detainees who were — in the words of a military representative — ‘known liars,’ or else whom we now know to have been tortured.”

Despite this, the authorities in Guantánamo attempted — initially, at least — to portray Latif as a devious al-Qaeda operative who had been trained to resist interrogation (as they did, to be honest, with numerous other men seized in a random manner, many of whom were innocent). Prior to his tribunal hearing at Guantánamo in 2004, convened to confirm that he had been correctly designated as an “enemy combatant” who could be held without charge or trial, his Personal Representative (a military officer assigned in place of a lawyer) noted that he “[r]ambles for long periods and does not answer questions” and “[h]as clearly been taught to ramble as a resistance technique.”

Latif’s suicide attempts and probable schizophrenia

In fact, as later became apparent, Latif was unwell. In August 2008, Marc Falkoff filed an “Emergency Motion to Compel Access to Medical Records of Petitioner Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif and for Other Miscellaneous Relief” (PDF). The motion was triggered because Latif had been prevented from having a blanket and a mattress in his cell, even though he was in a very poor state, and Falkoff wrote that he “visited with Mr. Latif yesterday at the Guantánamo Bay military prison and fears that Mr. Latif — whose body weight has dropped in the last six weeks from 145 to approximately 107 pounds — is near death.” He added, “Mr. Latif is not on a hunger strike, and the cause of his alarming weight drop appears to be unknown,” and also stated, “Mr. Latif is also manifesting signs of schizophrenia, for which he is apparently not being treated.” Falkoff reinforced this observation elsewhere in the motion when he declared that the government had “been aware for years that Mr. Latif suffers from serious psychological problems, apparently including schizophrenia.”

Even so, the authorities were reluctant to abandon their portrayal of Latif as a conscious troublemaker, as is demonstrated by the following notes in the summary of evidence for his military review board in March 2005: “Detainee’s overall behavior has been non-compliant and aggressive. Detainee does not comply with guards instruction. Detainee continues to talk between the blocks. Detainee also has multiple occurrences of causing damage in his cell. Detainee has shown by his actions that he has little regard for the rules of the cellblock and does not respect his fellow man.”

In fact, far from demonstrating deliberate non-compliance, Latif was in such a precarious mental state that he attempted to commit suicide on a number of occasions. In an appeal issued in May 2009, Amnesty International noted that he had “attempted suicide several times since September 2008,” and that he “told his lawyer that on one occasion in November 2008, he tried to hang himself twice in one day.” The Amnesty report added, “At least one of these attempts was confirmed to his lawyer by an official at Guantánamo.”

Amnesty’s appeal was triggered in particular by a suicide attempt that took place on May 10, 2009, when he cut one of his wrists during a meeting with David Remes. After the incident, Remes explained that Latif “chipped off a piece of the stiff veneer on the underside of our conference table and used it to saw into a vein in his left wrist … As he sawed, he drained his blood into a plastic container and, shortly before it was time for me to leave, he hurled the blood at me from the container.” As Amnesty also explained, “A spokesman at Guantánamo confirmed the incident took place but said it could not be classified as a suicide attempt.”

Amnesty also noted that Latif had been “held in solitary confinement in the psychiatric ward at Guantánamo since at least November 2008,” and that he told his lawyers that “when he is awake he sees ghosts in the darkness, hears frightening voices and suffers from nightmares when he is asleep.” He also told his lawyers that he had “ingested all sorts of materials including garbage bags, urine cups, prayer beads, a water bottle and a screw,” that he had “eaten his own excrement and smeared it on his body” and that he had “used his own excrement to cover the walls of his cell door, the camera on the ceiling of his cell and the air vent in his cell.”

In addition, Amnesty noted that Latif reportedly suffered from “a number of physical health problems, including a fractured cheekbone, a shattered eardrum, blindness in one eye, a dislocated shoulder blade, and a possibly dislocated knee.” Latif also said that he suffered “constant throat and stomach pain which [made] it difficult for him to eat,” but that, instead of dealing with this in an appropriate manner, the authorities strapped him in a restraint chair and force-fed him up to three times a day through a tube pushed up his nose into his stomach.

Just two months ago, Amnesty International issued another appeal, and noted little improvement in the intervening 12 months, stating that Latif was “held in isolation,” and that in March this year he told his lawyer that he “continues to be subjected to ill-treatment and indicated that he feels suicidal.” At the time, Latif was held in isolation in Camp 5, which, as Amnesty explained, “holds the few remaining hunger strikers at Guantánamo” and others, like Latif, who had once been on hunger strike but had abandoned that particular response to the conditions in which they were held. Amnesty noted that the majority of the remaining prisoners were living in communal conditions in Camps 1, 4, and 6, but that, although Latif’s lawyers had asked the authorities to move him to one of the other camps, they had had no response.

In a letter to his lawyers in March 2010, Latif stated that he was regularly subjected to violent assaults by the Immediate Response Force (IRF), a group of guards who punish even the most minor transgressions with disproportionate violence. “IRF teams enter my cell on [a] regular basis,” he wrote in his letter. “They throw me and drag me on the floor … two days before writing this letter [the IRF team] strangled me and pressed hard behind my ears … I lost consciousness for more than an hour.” He added that the circumstances in which he was living “makes death more desirable than living … I find no taste for life, sleep or rest.”

Abdul Rahman Sulayman, a minor Taliban recruit, loses his habeas petition

From the publicly available information about Abdul Rahman Sulayman, whose habeas petition was denied by Judge Reggie Walton, it appears that he was one of several Guantánamo prisoners recruited by Ibrahim Baalawi (also known as Abu Khulud), allegedly a facilitator for Osama bin Laden, who, as I explained in The Guantánamo Files, “escaped from Tora Bora and would clearly have been a much bigger catch than any of the foot soldiers rounded up instead.”

In Guantánamo, Sulayman claimed that Baalawi recruited him under false pretences with tales of the good life in Afghanistan. He “promised me that I’d be able to get married in Afghanistan. He may have had different intentions for me other than the marriage, but I didn’t know,” he told his tribunal, adding that he was also told, “you can go to certain counties and they’ll give you a house, even if it’s an old house, and some financial assistance to get married. That’s without having to contribute anything at all. It’s a charity type of thing from these people. If you put yourself in my shoes, what would you do?”

This was not the whole story, as Sulayman also conceded that, after arriving in Afghanistan in March 2001, he stayed in Kabul for seven months, and then, when given the opportunity to go to the front lines or the second lines or to return home, he went to the second lines because he didn’t want to fight but he also didn’t want to return home. It was there, he said, that he received some weapons training, and later, after the US-led invasion began, he fled to Pakistan in the company of men that he didn’t know, where he was seized and handed over to US forces.

This, presumably, was enough for Judge Walton to conclude that he had been “part of” al-Qaeda or the Taliban, which is all that is required for the prisoners to lose their habeas petitions, even though much of the other supposed evidence was demonstrably false, and almost certainly produced by unreliable witnesses, either in Guantánamo or in other US-run prisons. These included ludicrous allegations that he was identified as a mortar instructor from a video made in the Tarnak Farms training camp in 2000 (before he arrived in Afghanistan), that he “was identified as an al-Qaeda spokesman and was part of Osama bin Laden’s entourage … during the escape from Tora Bora,” and that he was identified as a Taliban prison guard “who used torture techniques on inmates under his control.”

No escape from Guantánamo for either man

While Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif’s successful habeas corpus petition should lead to his immediate repatriation from Guantánamo, this is unlikely given the moratorium on releasing any prisoners to Yemen — even mentally ill prisoners whose release has been ordered by a US court — that was announced by President Obama in January, following the discovery that the failed Christmas Day plane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had been recruited in Yemen.

As I have maintained ever since the moratorium was announced, this was a cowardly and unjust move on Obama’s part, conceived and executed in response to sustained hysteria from lawmakers and the media, when what was actually required was a leader prepared to stand up to his critics, and to point out that refusing to repatriate Yemenis in Guantánamo — even if they had been cleared for release by President Bush, by Obama’s own Guantánamo Review Task Force, and/or by a US court — only sent out one message: that everyone in Yemen was a potential terrorist, and that guilt by nationality was an acceptable reason for refusing to release any of these men.

In the Obama administration’s compromised, pragmatic world, the absurdity of continuing to hold 59 Yemenis cleared for release by the Task Force (including some or all of the other three men who won their habeas petitions, but are still held) apparently means nothing, even when, as has become apparent in the last few months, the moratorium has obliged the Justice Department to challenge the habeas corpus petitions of prisoners whom the administration has already conceded it has no reason to hold.

The only exception, to date, has been Mohammed Hassan Odaini, a student seized in Pakistan, whose wrongful arrest was so blindingly obvious that the administration was unable to contemplate holding him any longer. Distressingly, the administration also attempted to justify his release by noting that he came from a good family, and as a result Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif may have to reflect that, despite his victory, he will only be released if his story causes the mainstream media to pay attention, and if he comes from a good family.

As for Abdul Rahman Sulayman, he joins the small group of other prisoners (14 at present), who have lost their habeas petitions, and are consigned to endless detention at Guantánamo on an apparently legal basis, even though he and the majority of those 13 men were minor players in a military conflict that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, the 9/11 attacks, or other acts of international terrorism, and who should, therefore, have been held as prisoners of war according to the Geneva Conventions, rather than being held as a unique category of human being in an experimental prison established to hold “the worst of the worst.”

In Sulayman’s case, it would appear that his ability to challenge his detention has come to an end until someone in authority decides that the legislation justifying his detention — the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks — is inappropriate, and that the men held at Guantánamo are either soldiers, or criminal suspects involved in terrorist activities, rather then the “enemy combatants” conjured up by the Bush administration. He has the right to appeal, of course, but as recent rulings by the D.C. Circuit Court have shown, the majority of judges dealing with the prisoners’ appeals are not only unconcerned by these questions, but are actually dedicating themselves to eroding the District Court’s ability to grant prisoners’ habeas petitions by attempting to lower the already low burden of proof required by the government to win its cases in the first place.

With the Circuit Court in such aggressive form, not only does Abdul Rahman Sulayman stand little chance of winning an appeal, even though there is no evidence that he ever raised arms against US forces, but even Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif’s successful habeas petition could be overturned, consigning a mentally ill man to the kind of ongoing detention that would make Obama’s unprincipled moratorium irrelevant.

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.

As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation, as “Guantánamo: A Mentally Ill Yemeni and a Minor Taliban Recruit.” Cross-posted on Cageprisoners, Eurasia Review, The Public Record and Uruknet.

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), Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: 2 Years, 50 Cases, 36 Victories for the Prisoners (June 2010), Obama Thinks About Releasing Innocent Yemenis from Guantánamo (June 2010), Calling for US Accountability on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (June 2010), Judge Orders Release from Guantánamo of Yemeni Seized in Iran, Held in Secret CIA Prisons (July 2010), Innocent Student Finally Released from Guantánamo (July 2010), Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: Prisoners Win 3 out of 4 Cases, But Lose 5 out of 6 in Court of Appeals (Part One) (July 2010), Obama and US Courts Repatriate Algerian from Guantánamo Against His Will; May Be Complicit in Torture (July 2010), In Abu Zubaydah’s Case, Court Relies on Propaganda and Lies (July 2010), Guantánamo and Habeas Corpus: Prisoners Win 3 out of 4 Cases, But Lose 5 out of 6 in Court of Appeals (Part Two) (July 2010).

Today: Fast Against Torture on Eighth Anniversary of “Torture Memos”

Eight years ago today, Jay S. Bybee, then the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and now a judge in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, signed two memos, largely written by OLC lawyer John Yoo, which purported to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA, and approved a number of known torture techniques — including waterboarding, a form of controlled drowning — for use on Abu Zubaydah, a supposed “high-value detainee” held in a secret CIA prison in Thailand.

The failure of the Obama administration to hold accountable those in the White House who solicited the torture memos, and those in the OLC who authorized torture (despite their obligation to provide impartial legal advice to the Executive branch) remains a disgraceful stain on America’s reputation, and was compounded in February this year when David Margolis, a career official in the Justice Department, prevented Bybee and Yoo from being held accountable for their actions, overriding the conclusions of a four-year internal investigation in to the memos — that Bybee and Yoo were guilty of “professional misconduct” — and insisting, instead, that they had merely demonstrated “poor judgment.”

While there are further moves to hold senior officials accountable for torture — through the chinks in Bybee’s recent Congressional testimony, for example, and through complaints filed against psychologists involved in implementing the torture program (Dr. James Mitchell, Col. Larry James and Maj. John Leso) — it is deeply distressing that those who solicited and approved the use of torture by US forces have not been held accountable for their actions, and that the illegal actions they approved have therefore become accepted by a significant proportion of the American public.

To mark the eighth anniversary of the signing of the “torture memos,” Coleen Rowley, Sue Skog and Steve Clemens have set up a “24 hour Fast Against Torture.” A Facebook page is here (where readers can sign up to take part, anywhere in the world), an article by Coleen on the Huffington Post is here, and, on FireDogLake, blogger youmayberight explained:

August 1 is the eighth anniversary of the John Yoo/Jay Bybee torture memos. Eight is enough! Join the 24-hour Fast Against Torture beginning at 6:00 p.m. that day. Go to your local federal building on Monday, August 2, for whatever time you can, to demand accountability. We in Minneapolis are having a 12-hour vigil that day. Call the U.S. Attorney in your area and ask: With all the allegations and confessions of torture from high government officials, why has no one ever been prosecuted for it? (The only person ever prosecuted under the Federal Torture Statute was Chuckie Taylor, and that was for torture done for the country of Liberia.) Contact President Obama and Attorney General Holder. Write a letter. Wear an “8” on your forehead on Aug. 1-2. Help us create a climate of accountability. Accountability is the ultimate in anti-war work. Let’s prevent the wars of future decades; they need not be inevitable.

The FireDogLake blog by youmayberight also established further context for the fast:

Accountability is pretty much off the radar of the anti-war movement. At the recent United National Peace Conference in Albany, no workshop dealt with the issue of holding accountable those who committed/are committing crimes in our names.

People sometimes ask me, “Why do you focus on torture? The wars are a much bigger issue; the drone attacks alone kill many more people.” Some point out that legal memos justifying aggressive wars were more damaging than memos “legalizing” torture. I’d respond that there’s something especially reprehensible about the one-to-one, face-to-face aspect of torture. Plus the political spectrum opposed to torture is much wider: those who want to protect our own soldiers, limited government advocates, law-and-order types, plus the human rights/anti-imperialist/peace activists […]

[W]e’re not going to lock up government officials for prosecuting aggressive wars. There’s no public appetite for such accountability yet. But the officially and proudly proclaimed policy of torture gives us just such a possibility. As Rahm Emanuel has said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do.” Don’t let the callousness of that statement blind us to some truth within it.

That’s why accountability for torture is vital. We can create this mindset of accountability that may make future warmongers think twice.

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.

Cross-posted on Eurasia Review.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s “black sites,” condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s “high-value” detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part One), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah?, CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months before DoJ Approval, Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low (all April 2009), Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi Has Died In A Libyan Prison , Dick Cheney And The Death Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, The “Suicide” Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi: Why The Media Silence?, Two Experts Cast Doubt On Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi’s “Suicide”, Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney On Use Of Torture To Invade Iraq, In the Guardian: Death in Libya, betrayal by the West (in the Guardian here), Lawrence Wilkerson Nails Cheney’s Iraq Lies Again (And Rumsfeld And The CIA) (all May 2009) and WORLD EXCLUSIVE: New Revelations About The Torture Of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (June 2009), The Logic of the 9/11 Trials, The Madness of the Military Commissions (November 2009), UK Judges Compare Binyam Mohamed’s Torture To That Of Abu Zubaydah (November 2009), UN Secret Detention Report Asks, “Where Are The CIA Ghost Prisoners?” (January 2010), Binyam Mohamed: Evidence of Torture by US Agents Revealed in UK (February 2010), Torture Whitewash: How “Professional Misconduct” Became “Poor Judgment” in the OPR Report (February 2010), Judges Restore Damning Passage on MI5 to the Binyam Mohamed Torture Ruling (February 2010), What Torture Is, and Why It’s Illegal and Not “Poor Judgment” (March 2010), Abu Zubaydah’s Torture Diary (March 2010), Seven Years of War in Iraq: Still Based on Cheney’s Torture and Lies (March 2010), Protests worldwide on Aafia Siddiqui Day, Sunday March 28, 2010 (March 2010), Abu Zubaydah: Tortured for Nothing (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), How Binyam Mohammed’s Torture Was Revealed in a US Court (May 2010), What is Obama Doing at Bagram? (Part One): Torture and the “Black Prison” (June 2010), New Report Reveals How Bush Torture Program Involved Human Experimentation (June 2010), UN Secret Detention Report (Part One): The CIA’s “High-Value Detainee” Program and Secret Prisons, UN Secret Detention Report (Part Two): CIA Prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq, UN Secret Detention Report (Part Three): Proxy Detention, Other Countries’ Complicity, and Obama’s Record (all June 2010), Abu Zubaydah and the Case Against Torture Architect James Mitchell (June 2010), The Torture of Abu Zubaydah: The Complaint Filed Against James Mitchell for Ethical Violations (June 2010), Calling for US Accountability on the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture (June 2010), How Jay Bybee Has Approved the Prosecution of CIA Operatives for Torture (July 2010). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

Buy My Guantánamo and Stonehenge Books Anywhere in the World!

The Guantanamo Files

Updated March 2015.

Recently, a reader wanted to buy a signed copy of my book The Guantánamo Files in the United States, which threw me into something of a quandary. Normally, I would advise anyone wanting to buy a copy of any of my books outside the UK to check out online retailers (Amazon, for example — follow the links for The Guantánamo Files through Amazon in the US, Canada, Germany, France and Japan), because the postage costs otherwise are daunting, to say the least.

However, if you either can’t get a delivery from Amazon (which may be more probable with my first two books, Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield), or you want a signed and/or personally dedicated copy, or you want to shell out more so that I receive a little bit more cash than if you buy it anywhere else, then I’ve come up with the answer, after visiting my local post office with a pile of books and checking out postage rates around the world.

The answer is my PayPal account. Although I could only work out how to configure my PayPal book pages for UK sales, if you’re anywhere else in the world, you can go to my PayPal “Donate” button at the top of this post (or at the top right of the homepage), enter the amount based on the figure below, and, when asked if you want to leave a message, add the name of the book, “signed” (if you want it signed), and a dedication if you want a dedication — and don’t forget to give me your address! And if you have any problems with the message, just drop me an email after payment.

Please note that transactions are in US dollars, which PayPal will convert from your own currency (if that’s not US dollars), and will then helpfully convert into pounds sterling for me. If that’s all clear, and you want to go ahead, then these are the amounts:

The Guantánamo Files (the last few hardback copies only)

Europe: $110.95 ($100 + $10.95)

Rest of the World (inc. US): $117.85 ($100 + $17.85)

The Battle of the Beanfield

Europe: $27.45 ($16.50 + $10.95)

Rest of the World (inc. US): $34.35 ($16.50 + $17.85)

Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion

Europe: $34.85 ($21.50 + $13.35)

Rest of the World (inc. US): $42.85 ($21.50 + $21.35)

Note: Just to confirm, this information is not for readers in the UK, who can either buy the books directly via PayPal or can buy them from me by cheque. Please see the information at the foot of the relevant pages.

Andy Worthington is a journalist, author and filmmaker. 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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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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Love and War by The Four Fathers

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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