Archive for September, 2010

1000 Reasons to Close Guantánamo

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On Monday I marked a milestone that, when I began blogging on a full-time basis in May 2007, I had no idea I would ever reach. My article about the forthcoming anti-torture week in Berkeley, California, from October 10 to 16, which I am proud to be attending, was my 1000th blog post about Guantánamo — and closely related topics. I’m not specifically looking for financial help today, but it is always appreciated (especially as my computer has just died on me!), so if you’d like to make a donation, you can do so via the PayPal button at the top of this article (and readers in the UK can send a cheque — scroll down here for the address).

When I began my career as a specialist freelance journalist in the new media, it was something of an experiment. I blogged about Guantánamo because I had completed the manuscript of my book The Guantánamo Files, and wanted to keep up with developments (unexplained deaths, kangaroo courts, the stories of prisoners released). However, as the mainstream media was not generally interested in my point of view, and was largely content to report on Guantánamo sporadically, and mostly without much context, I set out to see whether I could become known and noticed online.

In those dark days in the middle of President Bush’s second term, thoroughly dissecting Guantánamo and exposing the lies and cruelty that sustained it was not an easy sell. Only hardened activists, it seemed, were immune to the torture fatigue that plagued many decent citizens of the United States. However, Cageprisoners immediately picked up on my work and began cross-posting it, and, realizing that there was an audience out there, I soon approached CounterPunch, the Huffington Post,, AlterNet and ZNet, who began publishing my articles and spreading the word.

By the end of 2007, I was getting 30,000 page views a month, and by the end of 2008, when I was writing for the Guardian’s Comment is free and for Cageprisoners, had a regular weekly column for the Future of Freedom Foundation and had worked for a while with Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity that focuses on Guantánamo and death penalty issues, I was up to 75,000 page views a month, with much of my work covering the Bush administration’s farcical attempts to make the Military Commissions appear legal and viable, the release of prisoners and the legal challenges that culminated in the Supreme Court’s June 2008 ruling, in Boumediene v. Bush, that the prisoners in Guantánamo had constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights.

Although the US briefly sloughed off its torture fatigue as Bush’s two terms of horror came to an end, and Barack Obama was briefly able to portray himself as a knight in shining armor who would right all the wrongs of the previous eight years, the last 20 months have, for the most part, been a particular disappointment on issues relating to ”national security.” Torture fatigue has once more become commonplace, as Obama fulfills his promise to look forward and not back, and has failed to hold anyone accountable for torture, has failed to close Guantánamo, and has defended, endorsed or maintained far too many Bush-era policies, including indefinite detention without charge or trial at Guantánamo, the revival of the Military Commissions, the denial of habeas corpus to foreign prisoners rendered to Bagram from other countries, overseeing a whitewash of the lawyers who wrote Bush’s “torture memos,” and using the “state secrets” privilege to prevent torture victims from having their day in court.

Nevertheless, I have continued to chip away at the issues, gaining new readers through writing for Truthout, through touring the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (which I co-directed with Polly Nash) in the UK and the US, through numerous radio and TV appearances, through my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list and my detailed analysis of the prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions (in which they have won 38 out of 55 cases to date), through my new series telling the stories of all the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo, and, since June this year, through working as a Senior Researcher for Cageprisoners. I’m delighted that, from my humble beginnings as a solitary unknown blogger, I had nearly 150,000 page views a month at the end of 2009, have regularly been in Technorati’s Top 100 World Politics Blogs, and, this month, have had my most successful month ever.

September always brings in hordes of casual visitors who have stumbled across my February 2008 article, Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture?, with its photo of the 9/11 attacks (I had nearly 21,000 unique visitors on the 9th anniversary of 9/11, for example), but some of these readers have stayed on, and this month I’ve received 350,000 page views for the first time ever.

So as I mark my 1000th post, I’d like to point out that all my articles — the “1000 Reasons to Close Guantánamo” referred to in the title — can be found in chronological order here, but most of all I’d like to thank everyone who has supported, and continues to support my work. You provide me with the feedback that keeps me going when the seemingly endless uphill struggle in pursuit of justice gets too much, and you — and you alone — have demonstrated that, in the new world of communications facilitated by the Internet, an individual blog can make a difference, can get noticed, can challenge the mainstream, and can attract readers in significant numbers.

Please keep spreading the word, via Facebook, Twitter and Digg, through links and comments, and through cross-posts, which are always welcome, so long as all internal links are preserved, because the Internet positively encourages the sharing of information, and those who regularly cross-post my articles — including The Public Record, Eurasia Review, Common Dreams, the World Can’t Wait, War is a Crime, The Smirking Chimp, Dandelion Salad, Uruknet, Campaign for Liberty, United Progressives, Free Detainees, Blog from Middle East and the New Left Project — are doing a wonderful job.

I’m not pleased that I’m still here writing about Guantánamo nine months after President Obama failed to fulfill his promise to close the prison, and the struggle ahead still requires dedication and commitment — and a refusal to succumb to apathy or indifference — but I will keep writing about it, to finish what I started when I began researching The Guantánamo Files five years ago, and I hope that you’ll stick with me.

Andy Worthington
London, September 30, 2010

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.

Who Are the Remaining Prisoners in Guantánamo? Part Five: Captured in Pakistan (1 of 3)

This is the fifth part of a nine-part series telling the stories of all the prisoners currently held in Guantánamo (174 at the time of writing). See the introduction here, and Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Six and Part Seven.

This fifth article tells the stories of 13 prisoners seized in Pakistan between November 2001 and February 2002, as part of a process of capturing prisoners that was, if anything, even more alarmingly random, opportunistic, or reliant on dubious intelligence than the well-chronicled seizure, in Afghanistan or crossing the border into Pakistan, of Arabs — whether soldiers or civilians — that I chronicled in Parts One to Four of this series.

In addition to the “high-value detainees” seized in Pakistan (to be discussed in Part Nine), at least a hundred other prisoners were seized in Pakistan, far from the battlefields of Afghanistan, mostly in house raids between November 2001 and July 2002, but also in random raids on mosques, on buses and in the street. Around 60 of these men have already been released, and their cases, in general, reveal how US intelligence was often horrendously inaccurate, and how opportunism often played a part in the actions of the Pakistani authorities, who were being rewarded financially. As President Musharraf admitted in his 2006 autobiography, In the Line of Fire, in return for handing over 369 terror suspects to the US, “We have earned bounty payments totaling millions of dollars.” With so much money swilling around, it was unsurprising that those “terror suspects” often turned out to be nothing more than Arabs who had been living and working in Pakistan for many years — or students seized by mistake.

Of the 13 men whose stories are described in this chapter, only one has had a ruling on his habeas corpus petition, and, although successful, that ruling was overturned on appeal in July this year. One other man, the last Tajik in Guantánamo, was cleared for release before a judge could rule on his petition, and, of the rest, two are Afghans, two are Saudis (who were cleared for release under the Bush administration), and the rest are Yemenis. As with the Yemenis discussed in other articles, it is certain that some are amongst the 58 Yemenis cleared for release by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, who are only held because of the President’s unprincipled moratorium on releasing any Yemenis, which he announced in January, although others may be amongst the 26 Yemenis that the Task Force recommended should continue to be held indefinitely without charge or trial. Please also note that 27 more stories of men seized in Pakistan feature in Parts Six and Seven.

ISN 033 Al Adahi, Mohammed (Yemen)
Married with two children, al-Adahi had never left the Yemen until August 2001, when he took a vacation from the oil company where he had worked for 21 years to accompany his sister to meet her husband in Afghanistan. He was later seized on a bus in Pakistan, and transferred to Guantánamo. Although his sister’s husband was undoubtedly connected to al-Qaeda, Judge Gladys Kessler granted his habeas corpus petition in August 2009, because she concluded that, despite his sister’s marriage, al-Adahi himself had no connection to al-Qaeda. Although there was abundant evidence that she was correct, the government appealed the ruling, and in July 2010 the D.C. Circuit Court overturned Judge Kessler’s ruling, when Judge A. Raymond Randolph (notorious for endorsing every piece of Guantánamo-related legislation that was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court) launched an unprincipled personal attack on Judge Kessler, essentially ignoring the merits of the case, and describing her ruling as “manifestly incorrect — indeed startling,” in an opinion in which he also attempted to claim that the “preponderance of the evidence” standard used in the District Courts, which is already a much lower threshold than in federal court trials, was too high.

ISN 257 Abdulayev, Umar (Tajikistan)
A refugee from Tajikistan, who had arrived in Afghanistan with his family in 1992 (when he was around 13 years old), Abdulayev was living in a refugee camp near Peshawar, Pakistan, in November 2001, when he was seized in a bazaar by operatives of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), who asked him for a bribe which he couldn’t pay, and then imprisoned him, and, it seems, made him copy information relating to insurgency and military activity into a series of notebooks that were then used to justify his detention as a terrorist. In June 2009, as Abdulayev’s habeas case neared the District Court, the Justice Department abruptly announced that they would “no longer defend his detention,” and that they “want[ed] US diplomats to arrange to repatriate him” This decision was distressing to Abdulayev and his lawyers for two reasons: firstly, because Abdulayev is terrified of returning to Tajikistan, as he was threatened by Tajik agents who visited him in Guantánamo; and secondly, because the Task Force’s decision also led the Justice Department to ask a judge to drop Abdulayev’s habeas petition, prompting his lawyers to point out that the Task Force’s decision was “not a determination that [Abdulayev’s] detention was or was not lawful,” and that it therefore “does nothing towards removing the stigma of being held in Guantánamo or being accused of being a terrorist by the United States.” As one of his lawyers, Andrew Moss, explained to me, the Justice Department’s maneuverings meant that the writ of habeas corpus was “effectively suspended.”

ISN 560 Mohammed, Haji Wali (Afghanistan)
In The Guantánamo Files, I described the bizarre story of Haji Wali Mohammed as follows: “Mohammed, a 35-year old money exchanger, was captured at his home in Peshawar, on 24 January 2002. Married with two wives and ten children, he was born in Afghanistan, but his family fled to Pakistan in 1978 and lived in refugee camps for the next ten years until he established himself as a successful moneychanger and moved to Peshawar in 1988. All was well until 1995, when he first lost a significant amount of money, and in 1998, after entering into a business deal with the Bank of Afghanistan that also failed, he ended up being blamed by the Taliban, who made him responsible for the whole debt — around one million dollars — even though he only had a 25 percent stake in the deal. He explained to his tribunal that the ISI took his car in November 2001 and then returned in January, because they knew he was ‘a very famous money exchanger’ and assumed that he would pay them a bribe of at least $100,000. When he said that he actually owed a lot of money to other people and was unable to pay, he was told, ‘If you don’t have a car and you don’t have the cash, sell your house and give us half of it to save you from the bad ending.’ Three days later, he was handed over to the Americans, purportedly as a drug smuggler, although his new captors soon decided that he bought surface-to-air missiles for Osama bin Laden and — despite his abysmal financial record since 1995 — was entrusted with a million dollars by Mullah Omar. Explaining that he did not know bin Laden and had no time for the Taliban, who had ruined his life, he said, ‘We were businessmen, their ways and our ways were different. That’s why they didn’t like us and we didn’t like them. Because a businessman does not have a beard and listens to music in his car, and he watches television and they didn’t like that.’”

The following nine men were seized in a series of house raids in Karachi on or around February 7, 2002, which led to the capture of Sharqwi Abdu Ali al-Hajj (ISN 1457, see Part Eight), also known as Riyadh the Facilitator, who was then rendered to a secret torture prison in Jordan that was run on behalf of the CIA. 14 other prisoners were seized in these raids, although five of these men were released between 2005 and 2007, and, although the US authorities have attempted to portray all of the men as having been captured with al-Hajj, Chris Mackey, a former interrogator in Afghanistan, explained in his book The Interrogators that they were “found in a couple of safe houses in an ethnically Arab district.” As I explained in The Guantánamo Files, “Unlike Sharqawi [al-Hajj], they were all transferred to Guantánamo after processing and interrogation in Afghanistan, but it was far from clear that any of them had any involvement with terrorism. Most seem to have ended up at the safe house because it was one of many used as part of an impromptu system developed after the fall of the Taliban to help hundreds of Arabs — including trained fighters, recent recruits and civilians — to evade capture by Afghan or Pakistani forces.”

ISN 564 Bin Amer, Jalal (Yemen)
In The Guantánamo Files, I explained how bin Amer (also identified as Jalal Salam Awad Awad) “was accused of training at [a] Libyan camp near Kabul,” but denied that he had ever been in Afghanistan at all, and said that he went to Pakistan “with some other people who were acting as missionaries to talk about religion in the villages.” Married with a five-year old daughter, he worked for a government ministry, and, in a written submission to his tribunal at Guantánamo, his brother, who noted that he had called home regularly from Pakistan, described him as being “far from a religious fanatic.” In contrast, the US authorities allege that he has admitted that he “traveled to Afghanistan, ostensibly for the purpose of getting married, finding work and settling down,” and that he “maintains that he originally went to Afghanistan to immigrate and not for training.” Apart from the allegation about training at the Libyan camp, and two other distinctly dubious allegations — that he had traveled to a guest house from al-Farouq, and that he “was identified by a senior al-Qaeda operative as being a Yemeni bodyguard for Osama bin Laden who he saw in Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2000” — there is no indication that he ever took up arms against anybody, and it is stated explicitly in the government’s evidence that he “fled Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban.”

ISN 566 Qattaa, Mansoor (Saudi Arabia)
Qattaa, who was cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration in 2005 (although the Bush administration claimed not to know this in his habeas litigation in November 2008), is accused of spending approximately nine weeks in Afghanistan — a month in Logar province “waiting for training,” after which he allegedly “walked to a fighting position and stayed for approximately five weeks” — before he made his way to Karachi via various safe houses. He reportedly spent three weeks in Karachi before his capture, in a house where, according to the government, “[t]here were approximately 15-16 people,” but no mention was made of any terrorist connections in the government’s allegations against him. Instead, “The home’s owner was reported to have been helping the detainee obtain a new passport so he could return home.”

ISN 569 Al Shorabi, Zohair (Yemen)
Al-Shorabi (also identified as Zuhail al-Sharabi) stated in Guantánamo that he went to Pakistan in 1999 to find work, and that he subsequently established a trading business. However, the US authorities allege that he attended a Libyan training camp near Kabul, and fought on the Taliban front lines. At one point, he was also accused of working as a guard at Kandahar airport before the 9/11 attacks, where he was “seen in the company of Osama bin Laden and another senior al-Qaeda operative,” and is “believed to be al-Qaeda because of his access to Osama bin Laden.” However, while this allegation matched a pattern of false statements made by one of al-Shorabi’s fellow prisoners, identified by the FBI as a notorious liar who had falsely accused 60 prisoners in Guantánamo, he was also picked out for two even more worrying allegations: that, on an unspecified date, he traveled to Malaysia, where he allegedly stayed with Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, two of the 9/11 hijackers, and that he was “one of seven individuals selected as martyrs” for a future terrorist operation.

ISN 570 Al Qurashi, Sabri (Yemen)
In Guantánamo, al-Qurashi said that he went to Pakistan on a trip that combined business and religion: to start a perfume business, importing Pakistani perfume, which is “very famous in our country,” and to study religion, because “in Pakistan there is the biggest center for Dawa and [Jamaat-al-]Tablighi.” Having become separated from his traveling companions, he said that he met an Arab who told him that he had the addresses for various perfume companies, but suggested that he should go to Afghanistan as a missionary first “because the people need you there.” He said that this man told him that he would bring him back to Pakistan after a month, but that when he agreed and went to Afghanistan he “couldn’t get out because the guy who took me to Afghanistan left and I never saw him again.” Despite this, however, he said that he ended up renovating and reopening an old mosque in Logar province. Responding to an allegation that, after Kabul fell to the Northern Alliance, he “joined a group of about 100 Arabs in the mountain regions,” led by Abu Mohammad al-Masri (aka Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah), regarded as one of the organizers of the 1998 African embassy bombings, and a senior al-Qaeda figure who escaped from Tora Bora, he said that he was not part of a group, that he did not know of al-Masri’s role, and that there were far more than 100 people — “hundreds including Arabs, Afghanis, Pakistanis, from other nationalities, kids, women, old people, animals, and cows that belonged to the people going toward Khost.” He also refuted an allegation that he had trained at al-Farouq (the main training camp for Arabs in Afghanistan, associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before the 9/11 attacks) and had identified al-Masri as the leader of the camp, saying that he had only told this story because, after his arrest, the Pakistani interrogators had told him that the Americans wouldn’t believe his story about “coming to Afghanistan to teach Islamic rule,” and would say that he went for jihad and to fight for the Taliban. He added that they said, “if you don’t say what we are saying to you … you know there are no rules or system to defend you. We will start torturing you until you say what we are telling you to say to the Americans.”

ISN 572 Al Zabe, Salah (Saudi Arabia)
Al-Zabe, who was cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration, has stated that he moved to Afghanistan with his family in 1999, and has explained that, when the Taliban regime fell and Arabs were subject to reprisals, he had been smuggled out of the country — by people he didn’t know but who he considered were helping him out of kindness — and had been moved from place to place, ending up with other civilians in the house where he was arrested. In contrast, the US authorities allege that he undertook military training in Afghanistan, and was “smuggled out of Afghanistan to Pakistan.”

ISN 574 Al Wady, Hamoud (Yemen)
As I explained in The Guantánamo Files, al-Wady stated in Guantánamo that he went to Afghanistan for jihad because he swore that he would do so if his wife bore him a child. In Afghanistan, however, he said that the “picture about the fight in my head” — which he conceived as a fight between Muslims and Communists, as it had been in the conflict between North and South Yemen — was incorrect, and his supposed enemies were all Muslims. After undertaking humanitarian work with an Arab who explained that “not everybody comes to Afghanistan for fighting,” he said that he fled to Pakistan after the US-led invasion began and stayed at the house of a Pakistani, whose phone number he had been given in Afghanistan, which was where he was arrested. “I did not plan to go to that particular house,” he explained. “I had only the telephone number and I did not know if it belonged to a house or something else, a shop, for example.” In contrast, the US authorities allege that he made three trips to Herat as a money courier, and was “an assistant officer on the northern Afghanistan front.”

ISN 575 Al Azani, Saad (Yemen)
In The Guantánamo Files, I explained that, in Guantánamo, al-Azani stated that he went to Pakistan to train as an imam, after attending a school run by Jamaat-al-Tablighi in Yemen, and ended up undertaking religious training in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Unable to come up with any evidence against him, the US authorities resorted to declaring that a request for permission for him to preach Islam in Pakistan “was found in a collection of materials related to al-Qaeda,” that the man who ran the Institute of Islamic Studies, where he studied, was “an al-Qaeda operational planner,” and that the student population “consisted primarily of Afghani and Philippine Taliban members.”

ISN 576 Bin Hamdoun, Zahir (Yemen)
Bin Hamdoun was accused of training at al-Farouq, and of staying at multiple safe houses, but the only serious allegation against him — that “an individual” identified him as “the primary weapons instructor” at the camp, and that he “reportedly” also taught explosives — has all the hallmarks of a worthless claim made under unknown circumstances by one of his fellow prisoners. In his defense, he claimed that he spent two years as a missionary in Afghanistan, and that he made false confessions about training and attending al-Farouq because he had been told, in detention in Pakistan, that he would otherwise be sent to an Arab prison where he would be tortured. In November 2009, bin Hamdoun was on a hunger strike in Guantánamo. With Mohammed Bawazir (ISN 440, see Part Two), he petitioned the D.C. District Court to declare that force-feeding was “tantamount to torture,” but Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that she did not have the “appropriate expertise” to decide whether that was true.

ISN 578 Al Suadi, Abdul Aziz (Yemen)
Abdul Aziz al-Suadi, an electrician in Yemen, stated in Guantánamo that he was recruited for jihad by a sheikh, and was also encouraged by another man “to go to Afghanistan to participate in jihad against the Russians.” The US authorities allege that he arrived in Afghanistan towards the end of 2000, attended al-Farouq and another camp, Tarnak Farms, where, according to an unidentified and possibly unreliable source, he “was identified as having received exclusive instruction on chemical explosives,” and was apparently in the Karachi house for a month before his capture, along with other Yemenis waiting to travel home to Yemen.

ISN 579 Khairkhwa, Khairullah (Afghanistan)
On February 7, 2002, at the same time as the house raids described above, Khairullah Khairkhwa, the governor of Herat under the Taliban, was captured in the border town of Chaman. Although described by the Pakistan Daily Times as one of the six most prominent hardliners loyal to Mullah Omar, Khairkhwa, who had been the Taliban’s interior minister until he was made the governor of Herat in October 1999, was adamant that he had nothing of value to offer the Americans. “My only purpose,” he said, “was to make transportation and communication easy for the people and to make bribery go away.” This, of course, may well have been a deliberate attempt to understate his role, but although the US authorities made several allegations about his purported involvement with Osama bin Laden, and his involvement in negotiations regarding military activities following the US-led invasion, it is unclear why Khairkhwa, like the other alleged Taliban leaders described in Part Two, has not been transferred back to Afghan custody now that his intelligence value has obviously been exhausted.

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 The Public Record, Uruknet and New Left Project.

Talkin’ ’Bout My Generation: Ed Miliband’s Bright Start – Apologies for Iraq and for Losing Touch with the Electorate

Time will tell if Labour’s new leader, Ed Miliband, is a genuine force for change, but I was impressed during his campaign that he so clearly recognized that the Labour Party had failed and that criticizing the electorate was both insulting and counter-productive. In an interview with the Guardian in August, for example, he stated, “if you say, when you lose an election, the show was great but the audience was poor, you’re going to keep losing elections.”

That point of view was not the only thing in the interview that interested me. The younger Miliband also had policies that struck me as sensible and fair enough to ensure that he would never be elected by his own party — some perspectives on economics that, though by no means radical, at least involved the notion of fairness, and, of course, his opposition to the Iraq war:

He is campaigning for a “living wage” of £7.60 an hour and would look at making the 50% top tax rate and the tax on bankers’ bonuses permanent, but stresses: “I do not want a return to penal rates of taxation.” He proposes a high-pay commission to scrutinise “corporate governance — the cosy cartels which award each other high pay”, but also wants Labour to be the “party of small business and the self-employed” by looking at “the way the banking system works”. On the Iraq war, some of his rivals have disputed his claim to have been opposed from the outset, but a friend of his confirms to me categorically that this was his position in 2003.

In his first speech as the new Labour leader, at the party conference today, Ed Miliband acknowledged that the Iraq war was wrong, and laid out a vision of the future that also involved confronting the mistakes of the Blair and Brown governments. Despite the “new generation” tag (what is that? New New Labour?), I thought it was fresh — and made Cameron and Clegg look stale — but it was only a speech, and we’ve seen from America how fine speeches are not necessarily backed up by the necessary actions. Even so, I’m posting below some of the sections I liked the most (and in some cases the least), along with some relevant commentary. The full text is here.

On Labour’s failures

[L]et us resolve today that this will be a one-term government. That is the purpose of my leadership of this party. But to achieve that we must go on our own journey. And that is why the most important word in politics for us is humility. We need to learn some painful truths about where we went wrong and how we lost touch. We must not blame the electorate for ending up with a government we don’t like, we should blame ourselves. We have to understand why people felt they couldn’t support us. We have to show we understand the problems people face today. This will require strong leadership. It won’t always be easy. You might not always like what I have to say. But you’ve elected me leader and lead I will.

But our journey must also understand where it went wrong. I tell you, I believe that Britain is fairer and stronger than it was 13 years ago. But we have to ask, how did a party with such a record lose five million votes between 1997 and 2010? It didn’t happen by accident. The hard truth for all of us in this hall is that a party that started out taking on old thinking became the prisoner of its own certainties. The world was changing all around us — from global finance to immigration to terrorism — New Labour, a political force founded on its ability to adapt and change lost its ability to do so. The reason was that we too often bought old, established ways of thinking and over time we just looked more and more like a new establishment.

Let me say to the country: You saw the worst financial crisis in a generation, and I understand your anger that Labour hadn’t changed the old ways in the City of deregulation. You wanted your concerns about the impact of immigration on communities to be heard, and I understand your frustration that we didn’t seem to be on your side. And when you wanted to make it possible for your kids to get on in life, I understand why you felt that we were stuck in old thinking about higher and higher levels of personal debt, including tuition fees. You saw jobs disappear and economic security undermined. I understand your anger at a Labour government that claimed it could end boom and bust. And I understand also that the promise of new politics of 1997 came to look incredibly hollow after the scandal of MPs’ expenses. And we came to look like a new establishment in the company we kept, the style of our politics and our remoteness from people. I stand before you, clear in my task: to once again make Labour a force that takes on established thinking, doesn’t succumb to it, speaks for the majority and shapes the centre ground of politics. And I tell you this: if we are not this party, nobody will be.

My verdict: I’m not a Labour Party member, so it won’t keep me awake at night if the party fails to change, but this is the kind of honesty about failure and freshness of approach that ought to win Ed Miliband new supporters, especially if he keeps all the old New Labour dinosaurs out of his shadow cabinet. They have no idea how many of their natural supporters came to despise their often merciless combination of Thatcherism and Stalinism.

On the deficit

I am serious about reducing our deficit. But I am also serious about doing it in a way that learns the basic lessons of economics, fairness and history. Economics teaches us that at a time of recession governments run up deficits. We were too exposed to financial services as an economy so the impact of the crash on the public finances was deeper on us than on others. We should take responsibility for not building a more resilient economy. But what we should not do as a country is make a bad situation worse by embarking on deficit reduction at a pace and in a way that endangers our recovery. The starting point for a responsible plan is to halve the deficit over four years, but growth is our priority and we must remain vigilant against a downturn.

You see, it’s obvious really: when you cancel thousands of new school buildings at a stroke, it isn’t just bad for our kids, it’s bad for construction companies at a time when their order books are empty. It’s not responsible, it’s irresponsible. When you deprive Sheffield Forgemasters of a loan, a loan from which government would be paid back, you deprive Britain of the ability to lead the world in new technology. It’s not responsible, it’s irresponsible. And we should say so. And when you reduce your economic policy simply to deficit reduction alone, you leave Britain without a plan for growth, which is what this government has done. No plan for growth means no credible plan for deficit reduction.

My verdict: Some sound examples of how the coalition’s policies don’t add up, and are driven by ideology rather than common sense. Savagely axe the public sector, Mr. Osborne, and you also savagely axe all the private sector jobs that depend on it. Doh!

On immigration

[T]his new generation recognises that we did not do enough to address concerns about globalisation, including migration. All of us heard it on the doorsteps about immigration. Like the man I met in my constituency who told me he had seen his mates’ wages driven down by the consequences of migration. If we don’t understand why he would feel angry — and it wasn’t about prejudice — then we are failing to serve those who we are in politics to represent. I am the son of immigrants. I believe that Britain has benefited economically, culturally, socially from those who came to this country. I don’t believe either that we can turn back the clock on free movement of labour in Europe. But we should never have pretended it would not have consequences. Consequences we should have dealt with. We have to challenge the old thinking that flexible labour markets are always the answer. Employers should not be allowed to exploit migrant labour in order to undercut wages. And if we have free movement of labour across Europe we need proper labour standards in our economy, including real protection for agency workers. And, as every democratic country recognises, it is vital that workers have a voice that speaks for them.

My verdict: Well, OK, everyone, it seems, has to play the immigration card, and at least this is moderate. But the only part I can thoroughly endorse is Miliband’s directive to blame employers, rather than immigrants, for driving down wages: “Employers should not be allowed to exploit migrant labour in order to undercut wages.” Only racists and xenophobes — and there have been too many of them — would get away with suggesting that employers had to personally have their arms twisted by immigrants desperate to be paid as little as possible, in order to take jobs away from “British” workers.

On greed

This new generation demands responsibility from business too. During this campaign, I have met some extraordinary people doing amazing service for our country. I remember a care worker I met in Durham. She worked hard and with dedication, looking after our mums, dads and grandparents when they couldn’t look after themselves anymore. She is doing one of the most important jobs in our society, and if it was my mum or dad, I would want anyone who cared for them to be paid a decent wage. But she was barely paid the minimum wage — and barely a few pence extra for higher skills. She told me that she thought a fair wage would be £7 an hour because, after all, she would get that for stacking shelves at the local supermarket. I believe in responsibility in every part of our society. That’s why I believe in not just a minimum wage but the foundation of our economy in the future must be a living wage too.

And we need responsibility at the top of society too. The gap between rich and poor does matter. It doesn’t just harm the poor; it harms us all. What does it say about the values of our society, what have we become, that a banker can earn in a day what the care worker earns in a year? It’s wrong, conference. I say: responsibility in this country shouldn’t just be about what you can get away with. And that applies to every chief executive of every major company in this country.

My verdict: Please, please follow up on this. The greed of the abominably rich is a poison, and without some important intervention the parasites will bleed us dry again. This ought to be a rallying cry for those opposed to the scythe wielded by George Osborne, which the coalition government is using to enforce its ideology. As I have stated since the Tories announced their intentions (and the Lib Dems meekly followed), “We needed a skilled surgeon, but what we got instead was an executioner.”

On community

We must never again give the impression that we know the price of everything and the value of nothing. We must be on the side of communities who want to save their local post office, not be the people trying to close it. We must be on the side of people trying to protect their high street from looking like every other high street, not the people who say that’s just the forces of progress. And we must be on the side of those who are dismayed by the undermining of the local pub with cut-price alcohol from supermarkets. We must shed old thinking and stand up for those who believe there is more to life than the bottom line. We stand for these things not because we are social conservatives but because we believe in community, belonging and solidarity. And I tell you this: the good life is about the things we do in our community and the time we spend with family. I feel this so deeply since the birth of my son sixteen months ago.

My verdict: From the heart, although it will take more than fine words to secure genuine investment in local communities, and to reduce the burden of rents, taxation and rates, so that small businesses can survive. I am impressed, however, by his interest in small businesses and the self-employed, as I believe that one of the strengths of Western nations is creativity, and Ed Miliband actually seems to have recognized that we would do well to foster both small businesses and the self-employed — artists, craftspeople, authors, bloggers, musicians, filmmakers, people running independent shops and online businesses, community activists and organizers … The list could go on and on.

On civil liberties

My generation recognises too that government can itself become a vested interest when it comes to civil liberties. I believe in a society where individual freedom and liberty matter and should never be given away lightly. The first job of government is the protection of its citizens. As prime minister I would never forget that. And that means working with all the legitimate means at our disposal to disrupt and destroy terrorist networks. But we must always remember that British liberties were hard fought and hard won over hundreds of years. We should always take the greatest care in protecting them. And too often we seemed casual about them. Like the idea of locking someone away for 90 days — nearly three months in prison — without charging them with a crime. Or the broad use of anti-terrorism measures for purposes for which they were not intended. They just undermined the good things we did like CCTV and DNA testing. Protecting the public involves protecting all their freedoms. I won’t let the Tories or the Liberals take ownership of the British tradition of liberty. I want our party to reclaim that tradition.

My verdict: That reference to “working with all the legitimate means at our disposal to disrupt and destroy terrorist networks” must be pre-printed on the speech of every political leader, as it turns up with such monotonous regularity. In August, Ed Miliband spoke about how he supported “certain coalition policies — on ID cards, prison policy, and an inquiry into British collusion in the torture of terrorist suspects.” ID cards, of course, were already being swept away by the coalition government, and on prison sentences, Miliband is right to support Ken Clarke’s aim of less sentencing (although whether that will lead to more community service instead of prison sentences is another question). I also hope that he maintains his enthusiasm for the inquiry into British complicity in torture announced by David Cameron In July (even though his brother is implicated in the cover-up).

In his speech, 90 days’ pre-charge detention is another relatively soft target (as the coalition has announced an end to the 28 days’ pre-charge detention that the Labour government secured in 2006), and what will be more revealing will be his approach to the use of control orders and secret evidence in the cases of alleged terror suspects, as well as the apparently permanent intention of contravening the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention Against Torture by deporting foreign nationals to countries where they face the risk of torture, instead of putting them on trial here.

As for CCTV and DNA testing, I think he’s wrong on both counts. The use of DNA is fraught with problems, and has also embroiled the UK in human rights issues regarding the police’s massive and illegal DNA database, and CCTV is nothing more than an incredibly poor substitute for real policing, which, though it may deter some crime, is incapable of providing any necessary response to crimes that do take place. In addition, it has undermined public and private spaces as part of an almost all-encompassing surveillance state, which, in an insidious manner, undermines the notion that we are born free, and that we are innocent until proven guilty. In the surveillance state, we are all suspects.

On Afghanistan

[W]e are the generation that recognises that we belong to a global community: we can’t insulate ourselves from the world’s problems. For that reason, right now this country has troops engaged in Afghanistan. They represent the very best of our country. They and their families are making enormous sacrifices on our behalf and we should today acknowledge their service and their sacrifice. Our troops are there to stabilise the country and enable a political settlement to be reached, as David said yesterday, so that Afghanistan can be stable and we can be safe. I will work in a bi-partisan way with the government to both support our mission and ensure Afghanistan is not a war without end.

My verdict: Incredibly disappointing. We should get out now, Ed, and if you don’t say so you’ll soon be spouting the same nonsense as every other party leader about keeping al-Qaeda off the streets of Britain. Get out! This lost war — in which we lost hearts and minds a long, long time ago — is unwinnable, and we should stop pretending that Afghans in Afghanistan are the enemy, or that the lost lives of our military personnel were not in vain.

On Iraq

But just as I support the mission in Afghanistan as a necessary response to terrorism, I’ve got to be honest with you about the lessons of Iraq. Iraq was an issue that divided our party and our country. Many sincerely believed that the world faced a real threat. I criticise nobody faced with making the toughest of decisions and I honour our troops who fought and died there. But I do believe that we were wrong. Wrong to take Britain to war and we need to be honest about that. Wrong because that war was not a last resort, because we did not build sufficient alliances and because we undermined the United Nations. America has drawn a line under Iraq and so must we. Our alliance with America is incredibly important to us but we must always remember that our values must shape the alliances that we form and any military action that we take.

My verdict: Well, there you have it: “I do believe that we were wrong. Wrong to take Britain to war and we need to be honest about that. Wrong because that war was not a last resort, because we did not build sufficient alliances and because we undermined the United Nations.” No mention of the words “illegal” or “war criminals,” of course, but Jack Straw looked pretty uncomfortable when Ed Miliband spoke these words. I do, of course, take exception to the suggestion that America has “drawn a line under Iraq,” when 50,000 personnel remain in the country, and the occupation is clearly not over, but I congratulate Labour’s new leader for making his position clear.

On Israel and Palestine

There can be no solution to the conflicts of the Middle East without international support, providing pressure where it is needed, and pressure where it is right to do so. And let me say this, as Israel ends the moratorium on settlement building, I will always defend the right of Israel to exist in peace and security. But Israel must accept and recognise in its actions the Palestinian right to statehood. That is why the attack on the Gaza flotilla was so wrong. And that is why the Gaza blockade must be lifted and we must strain every sinew to work to make that happen. The government must step up and work with our partners in Europe and around the world to help bring a just and lasting peace to the Middle East.

My verdict: These words need repeating back at Ed Miliband if he ever wavers: “Israel must accept and recognise in its actions the Palestinian right to statehood. That is why the attack on the Gaza flotilla was so wrong. And that is why the Gaza blockade must be lifted and we must strain every sinew to work to make that happen.” Again, no mention of the words “illegal” and “war criminals,” but an important stand.

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.

Heads You Lose, Tails You Lose: The Betrayal of Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Back in March, when Judge James Robertson of the District Court in Washington D.C. granted the habeas corpus petition of Guantánamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, there was uproar in Congress. For many years, Slahi, a Mauritanian national who had lived in Germany and Canada, was touted by the Bush administration as the “highest-value detainee at the facility,” and was cited in the 9/11 Commission Report as “a significant al-Qaeda operative” who “recruited 9/11 hijackers in Germany.” This was an assertion that, in part, had emerged through the interrogations of Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a “high-value detainee” held in secret CIA prisons for four years (where the use of torture had been approved by lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel), before his transfer to Guantánamo in 2006.

Slahi (also identified as Salahi) had certainly met bin al-Shibh and some of the 9/11 hijackers while living in Germany, but when Judge Robertson examined the evidence against him in detail, he was unable to establish that he had been involved in facilitating the trip to Afghanistan that resulted in al-Qaeda’s support of the 9/11 attacks. Instead, Judge Robertson concluded that, although Slahi “traveled to Afghanistan in early 1990 to fight jihad against communists and that there he swore bayat to al-Qaeda … his association with al-Qaeda ended after 1992, [and], even though he remained in contact thereafter with people he knew to be al-Qaeda members, he did nothing for al-Qaeda after that time.”

Judge Robertson added:

[A] habeas court may not permit a man to be held indefinitely upon suspicion, or because of the government’s prediction that he may do unlawful acts in the future — any more than a habeas court may rely on its prediction that a man will not be dangerous in the future and order his release if he was lawfully detained in the first place. The question, upon which the government had the burden of proof, was whether, at the time of his capture, Salahi was a “part of” al-Qaeda. On the record before me, I cannot find that he was.

Critics of Slahi’s habeas victory, and their silence regarding torture

For Republicans in Congress, it was completely irrelevant that a judge with access to all the evidence had concluded that the government had failed to establish that Slahi was a “part of” al-Qaeda, and had pointed out that the government now “acknowledg[es] that Slahi probably did not even know about the 9/11 attacks.” To these critics, it was also completely irrelevant that, in 2008, Der Spiegel reported that “German investigators familiar with the history leading up to the 9/11 attacks … say that bin al-Shibh’s statements about Slahi recruiting the attackers has ‘legend status,’ and that none of their information supports his assertions.”

Seduced by the 9/11 Commission’s assessment of Slahi, Republican critics savaged the ruling as soon as it was announced. The Hill reported that Sen. Kit Bond (R-Mo.), the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, stated, “While Holder’s Justice Department should appeal this outrageous decision, I’m not holding my breath. Holder seems more intent on closing Guantánamo Bay than keeping terrorists locked up where they belong.” The Hill also stated that Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) sent a letter to Holder asking him to appeal the ruling, in which he wrote, “It is certainly possible, if not likely, that Mr. Slahi will re-engage in efforts to commit terrorist attacks against innocent Americans if allowed to go free. This ruling clearly puts the American people in danger and should not be allowed to stand.”

Critics also demonstrated that they had no regard for another complication in Slahi’s case; that, as the supposedly “highest-value detainee at the facility” in 2003, he had been subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and torture after the Mauritanian authorities seized him in November 2001, at the request of the CIA, who then flew him to a special torture prison in Jordan, and had also been subjected to a specially tailored torture program in Guantánamo. As I explained in an article in April:

[The program] included prolonged isolation, prolonged sleep deprivation, beatings, death threats, and threats that his mother would be brought to Guantánamo and gang-raped. This program, which was implemented in May 2003, and augmented with further “enhanced interrogation techniques” authorized by defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, culminated, in August 2003, in an incident when Slahi was taken out on a boat, wearing isolation goggles, while agents whispered, within earshot, that he was “about to be executed and made to disappear.”

Those supporting Slahi’s continued detention also ignored the fact that his treatment in Guantánamo was so severe that, in May 2004, Lt. Col. Stuart Couch of the Marine Corps, who had been assigned his case as a prosecutor the year before, resigned rather than pursuing the case. In a meeting with the chief prosecutor, Army Col. Bob Swann, Lt. Col. Couch “told Col. Swann that in addition to legal reasons, he was ‘morally opposed’ to the interrogation techniques ‘and for that reason alone refused to participate in [the Slahi] prosecution in any manner.’”

However, despite all this, the most distressing response to Slahi’s victory in the District Court came not from Republican critics, but from the Justice Department. As soon as Judge Robertson’s ruling was announced, Attorney General Eric Holder said that, although “[w]e obviously respect the decision that the judge made, [h]opefully an appeals court will look at the evidence that we presented in the habeas proceeding and come to a contrary conclusion.”

The D.C. Circuit Court’s pushback on Guantánamo

The government duly appealed, and on September 17, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court convened to hear the appeal. In recent months, a number of judges in the D.C. Circuit have been pushing back against the prisoners’ victories in the District Court (where they have won 38 out of the 55 cases so far decided). In June, the court dismissed the threshold for detention decided last year by Judge John D. Bates — that evidence of involvement in the “command structure” of al-Qaeda or the Taliban is required — and asserted that it need only be demonstrated that prisoners were “part of” al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban.

Moreover, in July, a panel led by Judge A. Raymond Randolph (who supported all the Bush administration cases regarding Guantánamo that were later overturned by the Supreme Court) reversed the successful petition of a Yemeni, Mohammed al-Adahi, in a ruling notable for Judge Randolph’s personal assaults on Judge Gladys Kessler of the District Court, and for his provocative claim that the “preponderance of the evidence” standard used in the District Courts — which is already a much lower threshold than in federal court trials — might actually be too high.

Judge Randolph was absent from the government’s appeal in Slahi’s case, as were two other advocates of largely unfettered executive power — Judges Janice Rogers Brown, and Brett M. Kavanaugh, both appointees of George W. Bush — who, in January, had argued (against the government’s own wishes) that the President’s detention powers were not limited by the international laws of war. This ruling was effectively dismissed by the full D.C. Circuit Court on August 31, but Slahi’s lawyers had good reason to fear that an unholy alliance between a Conservative court and President Obama’s Justice Department might lead to the kind of result that would have pleased the senior Bush administration officials who conceived Guantánamo in the first place.

The D.C. Circuit Court considers the government’s appeal

In the end, the panel, led by Chief Judge David B. Sentelle, approached Slahi’s appeal with more of an open mind than anticipated, even though the Washington Post reported that the court would “likely overturn” Judge Robertson’s ruling. What actually happened, as was revealed below this slightly misleading opening gambit, was that “the judges mused aloud over a key question: How could Slahi ever prove that he quit al-Qaeda, even if the law requires that Guantánamo prisoners do so before being freed?” As Judge Sentelle noted, there was no way that Slahi could have told al-Qaeda that he wanted to sever ties with the organization, because “That would have gotten him killed.”

In further probing of the government’s position, Judge David S. Tatel was particularly critical, noting, as the Associated Press described it, that he questioned whether Slahi’s swearing of bayat to al-Qaeda ten years before the 9/11 attacks could be described as “evidence that he engaged in hostilities against the United States.” As Judge Tatel stated, “When he swore bayat, the United States and al-Qaeda had a common goal. Both the United States and al-Qaeda were opposing a communist government of Afghanistan.”

This is a very important point — and one that few commentators, let alone judges, mention when discussing the rise of al-Qaeda in the 1990s. Judge Tatel also indicated that it might be more appropriate to send the case back down to the District Court, given that the D.C. Circuit Court’s rulings since April had required judges “to consider al-Qaeda membership and compliance with its ‘command structure’ in a broader, ‘functional, not formalistic’ sense” than when Judge Robertson made his ruling in Slahi’s favor. “Wouldn’t it make sense” to return the case, Judge Tatel asked, “so we have as consistent decision-making as possible?”

Slahi’s lawyer, Theresa M. Duncan, acknowledged that “it might,” but after the hearing she said she hoped that would not happen, because it would mean “starting from scratch,” following the retirement of Judge Robertson since he delivered his ruling. As she explained before the hearing, “After reviewing thousand of pages of records and hearing four days of testimony — including from Mr. Slahi himself — the district court correctly found that the government did not have enough evidence to support subjecting Mr. Slahi to indefinite military detention. The appeals court should uphold that ruling. It is well past time for Mr. Slahi to go home.”

The biggest failure: not rewarding informants

Unnoticed in all of the recent reporting on the government’s appeal is another facet of Slahi’s story that casts the government in an even more unfavorable light. As Peter Finn explained for the Washington Post in an article in March this year, Slahi and another man, Tariq al-Sawah, an Egyptian explosives expert for al-Qaeda, have, over the years, become “two of the most significant informants ever to be held at Guantánamo” — in al-Sawah’s case because he was thoroughly disillusioned with his former life, and in Slahi’s case because he began cooperating after his torture in 2003.

As a result of their cooperation, both men “are housed in a little fenced-in compound at the military prison, where they live a life of relative privilege — gardening, writing and painting — separated from other detainees in a cocoon designed to reward and protect … Each has a modular unit outfitted with a television. Each has a well-stocked refrigerator. They share a garden, where they grow mint for tea [and] are reported to have become close.”

As Peter Finn stated, although the government has, to some extent, “rewarded them for their cooperation,” no one in a position of authority has dared to propose the next logical step: releasing them under some sort of witness protection program. Finn explained that some military officials endorsed this proposal, believing that the establishment of a witness protection program, “in conjunction with allies,” might well “cultivate more informants.”

W. Patrick Lang, a retired senior military intelligence officer, told Finn bluntly, “I don’t see why they aren’t given asylum. If we don’t do this right, it will be that much harder to get other people to cooperate with us. And if I was still in the business, I’d want it known we protected them. It’s good advertising.” This, a current military official at Guantánamo told Finn, was a fair argument, but was “a hard-sell argument around here” — and evidently in Washington as well.

The government’s appeal against Slahi’s habeas victory therefore confirms that, instead of being rewarded in any meaningful manner (instead of being granted a privileged prison environment with mint tea on tap), Slahi actually finds himself in a horribly Kafkaesque predicament. Despite having cooperated fully with the authorities and having transformed himself from the “highest-value detainee at the facility” to one of the prison’s “most significant informants,” he finds that none of it makes any difference, and that, for him, there is literally no escape from Guantánamo.

In addition, of course, the message still being sent out to would-be informants, who might be able to shed important light on the enemy, is that the United States is a dangerous place bent on vengeance at all costs, and should not be trusted.

As I explained in an article in April, after Judge Robertson’s unclassified opinion had been made publicly available, the problem with this short-sighted approach to intelligence was perfectly expressed by veteran FBI interrogator Jack Cloonan in 2006. Speaking to Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, and reflecting on the self-defeating nature of the brutality that was central to the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” Cloonan, an old school interrogator, who succeeded in securing confessions without the use of torture, told Mayer that resorting to such tactics would cut off “the possibility that other people with useful information about al-Qaeda [would] consider becoming informants.” As he explained, “You think all of this stuff about torture is going to make people want to come to us? That’s why I get upset when I hear people talking about stress positions, loud music, and dogs.”

If that was upsetting, what would Cloonan make of securing valuable intelligence from Slahi, and then leaving him to languish in prison forever? I can’t speak for Cloonan, but in my opinion, it’s unjust, counter-productive and fundamentally idiotic.

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 “The Betrayal of Mohamedou Ould Slahi.” Cross-posted on The Public Record, CageprisonersUruknet, and New Left Project.

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), Judge Orders Release from Guantánamo of Mentally Ill Yemeni; 2nd Judge Approves Detention of Minor Taliban Recruit (August 2010), Judge Denies Habeas Petition of Afghan Shopkeeper at Guantánamo (September 2010), Nine Years After 9/11, US Court Concedes that International Laws of War Restrict President’s Wartime Powers (September 2010), Fayiz Al-Kandari, A Kuwaiti Aid Worker in Guantánamo, Loses His Habeas Petition (September 2010).

Andy Worthington Attends “Berkeley Says No to Torture” Week, October 10-16, 2010

Remember John Yoo, the smug, shameless apologist for unfettered executive power who once claimed that, if he so desired, the President of the United States could crush a child’s testicles and there was nothing that anyone could do about it?

It was John Yoo, a follower of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who took a position with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (which is charged with objectively interpreting the law as it applies to the Executive branch), and then, in 2002, wrote two blatantly subjective, unprofessional and politically motivated memos — forever known as the “torture memos” — which purported to redefine torture and told the government and the CIA that it was OK to torture Abu Zubaydah (the “high-value detainee” who turned out to be no such thing, despite being waterboarded 83 times), and any other Muslim that the President regarded as a terrorist.

And when a four-year internal investigation caught up with John Yoo, and he and his boss, Jay S. Bybee (now a judge in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals), were confirmed to have been responsible for “professional misconduct” in writing and approving the “torture memos,” both men were fortunate that Attorney General Eric Holder had taken on board President Obama’s promise to look forward and not back, and allowed David Margolis, a Justice Department expert in the dark art of the whitewash, to write a memo refuting the conclusions of the investigation, which only reprimanded them for having exercised “poor judgment.”

Although much of America has been brainwashed into thinking that torture is fine, or that resistance is futile, others remain dedicated to holding accountable their former leaders and their advisors — including Yoo and Bybee, and, of course, former President George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, former defense Donald Rumsfeld and many others — for their illegal and unconstitutional activities in the so-called “War on Terror.”

Some of these activists live in Berkeley, California, where John Yoo is a professor of law at UC Berkeley (Boalt Hall), and over the last few months the World Can’t Wait, the National Lawyers Guild (San Francisco), Progressive Democrats of America, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, National Accountability Action Network, Code Pink,, Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists Social Justice Committee and the Rev. Kurt Kuhwald came together to plan a week of events — “Berkeley Says No to Torture” Week — which was approved by Berkeley City Council on September 21, when the Council adopted a Resolution to hold a week of public educational events to educate the community about torture.

I’m delighted to announce that, with the invaluable support of the World Can’t Wait, I’ll be taking part in this important week of events. A list of events is below, but please visit the official website for updates, and for further information. Also see the Facebook page here.

“Berkeley Says No to Torture” Week: Events List

Sunday October 10, 2010, 7 pm: Author Readings and Discussion with Andy Worthington and Justine Sharrock.
Revolution Books, 2425 Channing Way, Berkeley.

Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and Justine Sharrock, author of Tortured: When Good Soldiers Do Bad Things, read from their books and discuss Guantánamo, the “War on Terror” and the corrosive effect of torture on US soldiers as well as the Bush administration’s victims. Also see the Facebook page here.

Monday October 11, 7 pm: Screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Followed by Q&A with Andy Worthington.
Fellowship Hall, 1924 Cedar Street (at Bonita Avenue), Berkeley.

Andy Worthington, the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” described by Time Out as “a strong movie examining the imprisonment and subsequent torture of those falsely accused of anti-American conspiracy,” attends the screening, and will talk and answer questions afterwards.
This event is sponsored by Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists Social Justice Committee.

Tuesday October 12, 11 am: Protest action against John Yoo.
UC Berkeley Law (Boalt Hall), on Bancroft at College Avenue.

Protest at the location where John Yoo teaches constitutional law and a second class every Tuesday.

Tuesday October 12, 6.30 to 8 pm: The Giant John Yoo Debate.
UC Berkeley campus.

Join the World Can’t Wait, lawyers, law students, and other surprise guests for a real debate about John Yoo’s theories and legal work defending torture.

Wednesday October 13, 2010, 4:30 pm: Defying Torture: The Art of Dissent.
UC Berkeley Art Museum Theater, 2621 Durant Avenue, Berkeley.

A conversation with Peter Selz, art historian and Professor Emeritus of Art History at UC Berkeley, and political artist Clinton Fein, famous for his series, “Torture,” based on the Abu Ghraib photos.

Wednesday October 13, 2010, 7 pm: Roundtable – Writers on Torture: Barry Eisler, Andy Worthington, Justine Sharrock and Rita Maran.
University Lutheran Church, 2425 College Ave., Berkeley.

Barry Eisler, best-selling thriller writer and author of the new rendition- and torture-based novel Inside Out joins Andy Worthington, Justine Sharrock and Rita Maran (author of Torture: The Role of Ideology in the French-Algerian War ) to discuss fact, fiction, the crimes of the “War on Terror,” and approaches to writing about these topics and disseminating them to the public. Moderated by Shahid Buttar (Bill of Rights Defense Committee).

Thursday October 14, 2010, 7 pm: Forum on Torture and the Law, Torture and Human Rights, with Marjorie Cohn, Andy Worthington, Shahid Buttar and Debra Sweet. Moderated by Ray McGovern.
Boalt Hall, UC Berkeley Law, Rm 105, 2778 Bancroft Way.

Marjorie Cohn (author and past President of the National Lawyers Guild), Andy Worthington (journalist, author and filmmaker), Shahid Buttar (Bill of Rights Defense Committee), and Debra Sweet (National Director, the World Can’t Wait) discuss torture, human rights and the law, in a panel discussion moderated by peace activist Ray McGovern.

Friday October 15, 2010, 1.30 to 3 pm: Torture, Human Experimentation, and the Department of Defense, with Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye.
Booth Auditorium, UC Berkeley Law, 2778 Bancroft Way (at Piedmont).

Jason Leopold of Truthout interviews psychologist, blogger and activist Jeffrey Kaye.

Friday October 15, 2010, 3-4.30 pm: Panel: Psychologists and Torture.
UC Berkeley Law (Boalt Hall) campus, Booth Auditorium.

With anti-torture psychologists Adrianne Aron, Ruth Fallenbaum, Pierre LaBossiere and Patricia Isasa. See Psychologists for an Ethical APA for more information on psychologists’ opposition to the torture program implemented by the Bush administration.
This event is co-sponsored by School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) East Bay/SF.

Friday October 15, 2010, 7 pm: Reckoning with Torture: An Evening of Conscience with Andy Worthington, Marjorie Cohn, Ray McGovern, Ann Wright, Mimi Kennedy, devorah major, Jeffrey Kaye, Fr. Louis Vitale, Renee Saucedo, Jason Leopold, Kathy Roberts, Abdi Soltani and more.
UC Berkeley Law (Boalt Hall) campus, Booth Auditorium
“Reckoning with Torture: An Evening of Conscience” contains a powerful script, originated by the ACLU and American PEN Center, based on memos and testimonies from the “War on Terror,” which has been produced in New York and Washington, D.C., but has never before been performed on the West Coast. Guests including peace activists Ray McGovern and Ann Wright, Mimi Kennedy, devorah major, Jeffrey Kaye and Jason Leopold of Truthout will be joining “Berkeley Says No to Torture” Week regulars Andy Worthington and Marjorie Cohn to read these powerful texts.
This event is sponsored by the Boalt Alliance to Abolish Torture (BAAT) and the National Lawyers Guild, Boalt Chapter (NLG-Boalt), and the performance will be followed by a reception with the readers and audience. For ticket sales/reservations please email.

Note: For press inquiries about the week, please contact Linda Jacobs on 415-410-4484, or by email.

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.

Moazzam Begg Visits Pakistan: My Return to the Scene of the Crime

I’m cross-posting below an extraordinary account by former Guantánamo prisoner (and Cageprisoners director) Moazzam Begg of his first visit to Pakistan since he was abducted from his house in Islamabad on January 31, 2002, and subsequently held in US custody — in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo — for three years. Moazzam’s account includes retracing his steps to the ghost-filled house where he was seized, and inspiring encounters with other former prisoners, with Amina Masood Janjua, the founder of an organization dedicated to finding Pakistan’s Disappeared (including her own husband), and the family of Aafia Siddiqui.

Pakistan: my return to the scene of the crime
By Moazzam Begg, Cageprisoners, September 24, 2010

Qadr (fate) is a difficult concept to understand and an even harder one to explain, but travelling to Pakistan during the days of ‘Eid ul-fitr, on the ninth anniversary of 9/11, was indeed fated.

The decision was very last minute, but I have to thank Yvonne Ridley for making it happen: I’d planned to go for ‘umrah for the last ten days of Ramadan but was denied a visa by the Saudi authorities at the last minute, whom I must ultimately thank too.

Some would have said that my choice to visit Pakistan, especially at this time, would not have been the wisest of moves. My father was dead against the idea, my wife apprehensive and my friends, although supportive, were worried for me. Kidnappings, shootings, robberies and corruption occur regularly.

And if that wasn’t enough, over the past few weeks this country that was created as a haven for Muslims of the Indian sub-continent in 1947 has been under sustained attack, both in an earthly and divine sense, on an unprecedented scale: earthquakes, floods, drone attacks, bombings and a state of civil war in the north west region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Even the one thing the nation usually feels proud about, cricket, has not escaped the onslaught.

I had vowed not to visit Pakistan again as long as Pervez Musharraf was still in power and even then, I’d wondered exactly under what circumstances I could return to the country that sold me over to the US war machine for a bounty nearly a decade ago.

Yvonne had asked me if I’d be willing to return to Pakistan with her to help with the campaign for Aafia Siddiqui and to meet some of the people there fighting for justice regarding disappeared Pakistani prisoners. I had two days to decide; I prayed istikhaarah (prayer of seeking the good wherever it is) and made my decision. The flight out was on September 11.

Pakistan: The Return

The Pakistani capital was in the grip of another downpour by the time we finally reached our destination. In all honesty I wasn’t even sure if we’d find what we were looking for. I gazed out of the aeroplane onto Islamabad, the city of Islam, with a sense of excitement and dread. My heart was beating fast, my nerves and thoughts racing back and forth between that fateful night nine years ago and what has happened in my life since.

It was the night I was abducted from my house at gunpoint by the Pakistani and American intelligence services — with British intelligence services in full cahoots. That night is engraved in my memory with blood and tears when like thieves they came and stole from me what was not theirs to take: my freedom. That night shaped the person I am today.

It took us a little time to get there but I recognised the area: where we’d shop, the restaurants we’d eat in, the mosque we prayed in, the park we played in, the tailor where the shalwar kameez I was wearing even now was made.

We drove around and approached the road where the house still stands. This was it.

“How do you feel?” Yvonne asked me. How could I answer her question, how could I explain properly that the last memories I have of this place before my kidnap are of Zaynab, Marium, Omar and Nusyabah — my wife and children — shut behind this green metal gate. It is this place I’m referring to when I tell people that “I have never been to America, America has been to me.”

“I feel like the weather,” I replied to Yvonne, my eyes welling up and my heart in my throat. The heavens were opening up as we sat in silence, scouring the house for signs of life.

The rain abated and we came out, examining the gates closer. Yes, this was the house for sure. In my subconscious I was half-expecting my children to throw open the gate and pounce on me, asking for chocolates and ice cream. This is the place I’d thought about during my time in Bagram, believing that my family was here waiting. Once upon a time this was my home.

The current occupier of the house came out and we asked him if we could just film the door and courtyard. This was the door I opened for the last time on the night of 31st January 2002, this was the courtyard in which I was forced down on the floor at gunpoint, my hands shackled behind my back, my ankles cuffed, and where both a real and metaphorical hood was placed over my head to darken the next three years.

The new resident, an Afghan gentleman from Jalalabad, then invited us in for tea. None of us wanted to intrude upon him and his family, which included a young girl with cerebral palsy, but how could I refuse? I had to maintain my composure, couldn’t let people see how I was feeling. He didn’t know what had happened here, that in fact we were returning to the scene of a crime. There was no benefit in that.

The house hadn’t changed — only the occupants. They’d moved in during 2005 so were not aware of any other history. Just as well. There were ghosts here that needed to be put to rest for me and, in sha Allah, I believe that has happened.

But there is more, much more.

From his UK base former president Musharraf is attempting a comeback into Pakistani politics. His justification for handing people over was that he was warned by the US government in the wake of the 9/11 attacks that if he didn’t co-operate Pakistan would be “bombed into the Stone Age.” The irony may be lost on him, but Pakistan has suffered trauma after trauma since we were handed over: drone attacks, terrorism and war with its own people over the last nine years. Devastating earthquakes, with tremors recurring to this day and vast swathes of Pakistan’s soil submerged under the flood waters, all creating refugee crises on a biblical scale, making some parts of the country look as if the Stone Age is yet to arrive.

Could it be that the men and women handed over to America were raising their hands in prayer against the entire nation? The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Fear the supplication of the oppressed, for there is no barrier between it and Allah.”

The vast majority of the men sent to Guantánamo were sold over to the Americans for bounties of millions of dollars, as confirmed by Musharraf in his autobiographical account In the Line of Fire. These people included citizens of Pakistan who were sold over without any legal process. There are fourteen remaining Pakistanis in Guantánamo and scores of others in Bagram.

Amina Masood Janjua

There are also hundreds of people ‘disappeared’ and still unaccounted for in Pakistan. Their case is fought by an incredible woman, Amina Masood Janjua, who, with her Defence of Human Rights Campaign, has fought for the last five years to trace her own husband, Masood Janjua, and hundreds of others in the process. It was an honour to meet this woman who fights day and night, sometimes alone, to seek justice for the hundreds of disappeared and detained without trial around the country. I tried to give her some consolation during my meeting with her, that like me, her husband will surely be home soon. She’s appreciative of the sentiments but then tells me about the corrosive effects all this has had on her daughter, who accompanies her often.

They have registered over 900 cases of missing persons and believe that is only the tip of the iceberg. Estimates suggest the figures are ten times that number.

Amina has just been demonstrating outside the Supreme Court in Islamabad, carrying mock coffins as a symbol of the living-dead lives they are leading, with their loved ones still unaccounted for and with men dressed in Guantanamo signature orange suits wearing shackles. Her struggle is an uphill one, requiring full-time commitment with insufficient support or funds.

Amina Janjua was to be our main guest at the Cageprisoners Annual Iftaar this year but, for reasons unexplained, was refused a visa to the UK despite having come before at the behest of Amnesty International.

Dr. Ghairat Baheer

I first met Dr. Ghairat Baheer in 2009 at the start of Cageprisoners’ Two Sides, One Story tour. It was a strange, but truly historical occasion: 12 former Guantánamo and Bagram prisoners were about to sit down to dinner at a Turkish restaurant with a former US soldier and guard from Guantánamo.

Dr. Baheer is the son-in-law of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and a Hizb-e-Islami leader. They have both been opposed to the Taliban in the past but equally have fought against the US-led occupation of Afghanistan. For this, Dr. Baheer, more a politician than fighter, was kidnapped by armed CIA and Pakistani intelligence agents from his Islamabad home, like me, and ended up spending six years in US custody in the Salt Pit, Bagram, where he encountered female prisoner 650 and the Panjshir prison where he met Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi who told him how he’d given the infamous false confession about Saddam and weapons of mass destruction after being water-boarded numerous times.

Dr. Baheer is a highly cultured, educated and hospitable physician whose manners are impeccable and company delightful. I stayed at with him, in the same house he’d been abducted from, where we discussed what had happened to him. He showed me his ICRC (Red Cross) letters from his children, written in perfect English, Arabic and Pashto. They were clearly written by intelligent children who both loved and revered their father but only when I met his sons did I realise just how they wrote so well.

I spoke with them for a whole evening and they told me about how their father had been so careful to ensure they had a good Islamic and secular education. They speak English, Arabic, Urdu, Pashto and Farsi fluently. They can quote from the Quran and Sunnah in all languages and understand the intricacies of aqeedah (creed) and fiqh (jurisprudence) as they do the poetry of Tennyson and Poe. They also understand the obligation of resisting occupation as much as the need to build nations. Between the boys and the girls, the latter of whom I was told are more intelligent, they’re studying Islam, engineering, political science, medicine and languages. The eldest told me how he’d became a man at the age of fifteen as the responsibilities of the father all fell on his shoulders after he was seized. Little surprise that they also help Amina Janjua in her campaign for justice.

At Dr. Baheer’s house I also met Farhad Mohammed, a former Guantánamo prisoner. The last time I saw him was in Bagram. He’d suffered terrible beatings at the hands of the Pakistanis who’d then handed him over to the Americans. The reason: Farhad was a shop-keeper who ran a store on the famous Chicken Street in Kabul where Arabs used to do their shopping. I remember my disbelief at seeing him in Bagram as I used to shop there too. Farhad returned home after four years in Guantánamo to his mud house in an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan.

Drone Attacks

One of the other things I was hoping to achieve during this visit was to get more information about the drone attacks in the Waziristan region and to obtain more eye-witness testimony about their effects. I remember when evacuating Afghanistan in 2001 we would see numerous spy-planes flying over head and expect that airstrikes might follow at any given moment. Now of course, the Predator drones carry the ‘hellfire’ payload themselves and strike targets with utter disregard for life, liberty or law. I met several people who told me about the effects on the population of the strikes. In addition to the deaths, injuries and refugee crises ensuing directly from these bombings the attitudes towards people from that region from other parts of Pakistan seem to have worsened. Exasperated by the floods and retaliatory bombings and strikes against the Pakistani army, as Farhad explained, the refugees become the easiest targets: hit by the Americans, killed by the Pakistani Army and despised by the rest of the population.

There is also a sense that foreigners, namely Arabs, must be linked by default to al-Qaida and subsequently forfeit the right to life. Despite this, the ones I meet did not condone the spate of bombings against schools and mosques that have recently plagued the country.

And yet, drone attacks take place almost on a daily basis and go largely unreported. Whilst US officials often miraculously claim exact numbers of ‘militants killed’, the reality is that there is hardly any independently sourced information regarding casualties and even less first-hand testimony.

Aafia Siddiqui

Despite all of this, my primary reason for going to Pakistan was to assist in whatever little way I could in the case of Aafia Siddiqui.

Waiting to collect our luggage near the exit at Karachi airport we could hear the sounds of what sounded like a crowd of people shouting, but I didn’t know what. As we walked out I realised it was for us. Hundreds of people, including news crews and cameras, had come to welcome us. It was overwhelming. They put so many flower garlands around my neck I that I was in a permanent nod. We were showered with rose petals, people shaking our hands and shouting more slogans than I can remember, except for one: “We want Aafia!”

After what seemed an age walking through the crowds we made it to the vehicles waiting to take us to some rally points. We drove through the packed streets of Karachi with a large convoy in tow, blasting on huge speakers songs about Aafia and the injustice of America. All along the way someone bellowed out on the loudspeakers that we had arrived, that Aafia, the daughter of the nation, must not be forgotten and that the shameless rulers were responsible for her continued ordeal. There were signs visible all over Karachi that say: DAUGHTERS NOT FOR SALE.

We arrived at a destination where both Yvonne and I were asked to address the people through the sunroof of the car, Benazir-style. Now, I’m no stranger to giving speeches and rarely get nervous doing so but this was different. And, my very first speech out of a car, I realised, was also going to be my very first in Urdu. Al-hamdu lillah, at least I understood it.

I didn’t realise but people knew my story, especially as Yvonne had told them previously how she’d first heard about women in US custody from me and what I’d heard in Bagram.

After hearing Dr. Fawzia’s heartfelt thanks to the crowd for their support it was someone else’s turn to deliver his very first speech. We all listened in pin-drop silence when Ahmed Siddiqui, Aafia’s son, sat on the bonnet of the car and spoke of his determination to get his mother back. It was hard to fight back the tears.

Going to Aafia’s house and meeting her family was the most moving experience I’ve had in many years. Aafia’s mother, Ismet, embraced me like a son with tears in her eyes. I sat down to dinner with her and she explained to me so many things I hadn’t comprehended properly: the levels to which the family has fought to get justice for Aafia, the love a mother has for a daughter, whose dishevelled pictures she cannot even recognize, have now become the iconic image of qaum ki beti (daughter of the nation). Ismet showed me the rooms where Aafia would have her friends over and described how she was loved by all who knew her. With the care of a mother, but the heart of a believer whose faith is being tested, she told me how she cannot bow her head to injustice or bear to hear the terrible predicament of her daughter. The light and joy, she said, have left the Siddiqui household, even though overwhelming happiness was felt with the return of Aafia’s children, Mariam and Ahmed. No one even talks of Suleman to me, perhaps from fearing the worst.

Fawzia showed me pictures of Mariam distributing aid to the flood victims and Ahmed talked to me about his plans for the future. He’s one of those boys who always smiles, extremely respectful and dutiful. Only Allah and his loved ones know just how much he has had to bear. The thought is crushing. Fawzia also showed me one of Aafia’s headscarves that was ripped while in US custody, along with a Quran with English translation — all sent from the prison. Several of the pages are bookmarked and I read the underlined verses, trying to understand what may have been going through her mind when she did so. One of the many is from the chapter of the Prophets, verse 23:

He will not be questioned as to that which He does but they will be questioned.

And verse 28:

He knows what is before them, and what is behind them, and they offer no intercession except for those who are acceptable, and they stand in awe and reverence of His glory.


Although I returned to the Siddiqui household the following day for more press engagements, I was hoping that we really might get to hear, somehow, that everyone has relented and that Aafia will be coming home, before the sentence. The government did announce officially that they had requested Aafia’s repatriation from the Americans, but we all knew that all real efforts for repatriation could only begin after sentencing.

I went on to give more press conferences in Lahore and Islamabad contrasting Aafia’s case with some of the released Guantánamo prisoners who include Bin Laden bodyguards and senior Taliban ministers. How is it that Aafia is still there? I cast great doubt too on the US version of events in her case, stating that in over nine years of US detentions around the world no strong, committed al-Qaida or Taliban man has yet once managed to acquire a firearm from a US soldier. How did Aafia manage such a fait accompli?

And now, Aafia has been sentenced in a US court to a term of 86 years for the attempted murder of a US soldier in Afghanistan. Thousands of US soldiers have been killed or wounded in Afghanistan and yet no one has been taken to the US to be charged with their killing. What is it about Aafia they fear so much?

During an interview with Binyam Mohamed last year, I showed him a photograph of Aafia and asked him if she was the same woman he and the others had seen in Bagram. He confirmed that she was one and the same. Yvonne Ridley presented this evidence and much more regarding the inconsistencies of the alleged shooting in her film “In Search of Prisoner 650.” None of this eye-witness testimony was accepted by the US courts during the trial of Aafia Siddiqui.

At the sentencing, Judge Berman praised Aafia’s attitude in calling for calm and ended by telling her that she had the right to file an appeal. She replied simply by saying, “I appeal to God and he hears me.”

Today, the streets of Pakistan literally burn for the return of its daughter. Every Pakistani leader — secular or religious — has called for the repatriation of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. Her antagonists may not have intended it but through their violations of her rights she has become the daughter of the nation — the daughter of the ummah. And that ummah will not rest until she is home.

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.

Guantánamo: If the Light Goes Out – Photos by Edmund Clark

I’m not sure quite how long I’ve known photographer Edmund Clark. I think we met in 2008 when he had published a book of photographs, Still Life: Killing Time, taken in British prisons, which captured the essence of his work: objects or places, beautifully photographed, with seemingly effortless clarity and composition, that provide an insight into aspects of prisoners’ experience. Mundane in many cases, or metaphorical, or, in other cases, dream-like, they seem to allow room to reflect on the human beings whose lives are marked out by these spaces, or are reflected in these objects.

At the time we met, Ed was beginning a new project, visiting Guantánamo and juxtaposing the photos he took there with photos taken at former prisoners’ homes in the UK. Some of these images were published by Lens Culture last year, around the time that Ed won the British Journal of Photography International Photography Award for the project, and I’m delighted to announce that the photos will be published as a book in October and are also being exhibited in two venues in London, in Bradford and in Sydney, Australia.

From October 1 to November 26, there will be an exhibition at Photofusion, 17a Electric Lane, Brixton, London, SW9 8LA, with a private view on Thursday September 30. Please phone 020 7738 5574 for details. This exhibition also includes letters of support sent to the British resident Omar Deghayes, some of which can be seen in this short film on Amnesty International’s website (which was made during the filming of the documentary, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” directed by Polly Nash and myself).

The book, which also includes Omar’s letters, is published by Dewi Lewis Publishing, and will be launched at Flowers East, 82 Kingsland Road, London, E2 8DP, on Thursday October 14. It comprises 70 colour photographs, 63 letters, an essay by Dr. Julian Stallabrass of The Courtauld Institute of Art and texts by Omar Deghayes and Edmund Clark. The exhibition at Flowers East runs from October 15 to November 13. Please phone 020 7920 7777 for details.

From September 17 to November 14, there is also an exhibition at Impressions Gallery in Bradford and from November 5 to 20 at the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney, with related talks and events. Ed’s work is also part of the European Month of Photography ‘Mutations III’ exhibitions in Berlin, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Bratislava, Luxembourg and Moscow, showing into 2011.

To mark the occasion, I’m posting below a selection of Ed’s photographs and two of the letters sent to Omar Degahyes, plus the text Ed wrote for his Lens Culture exhibition last year, and a recent interview for the online listings magazine Spoonfed. I hope that he can forgive me for taking liberties with his work and producing my own mini-edit of some of his photos, but I know that he knows my heart is in the right place.

Guantánamo: If the Light Goes Out
Photographs and text by Edmund Clark

“When you are suspended by a rope you can recover but every time I see a rope I remember. If the light goes out unexpectedly I am back in my cell.”

— Binyam Mohamed, Prisoner #1458

“I went down to the basement and turned on the light. I wanted to see my room which was exactly as I had left it … It was a strange feeling — seeing my black leather couch, my blue sofa bed, my glass fronted wardrobe, and my model shop again. I’d decorated my room when I was thirteen and had never changed a thing.”

— From Five Years Of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantanamo by Murat Kurnaz, Prisoner #061

These images are from three places associated with the prison camps at Guantánamo Bay.

Rather than documents to monumentalize the historical fact of the camps, these images illustrate three experiences of home: the naval base at Guantánamo which is home to the American community and of which the prison camps are just a part; the complex of camps where the detainees have been held; and the homes, new and old, where the former detainees now find themselves trying to rebuild their lives.

The post-prison homes illustrate the contrast between the shared humanity of their domestic interiors and the spaces of the prison camps. Motifs of imprisonment and entrapment are present in both, resonating with the prisoners’ experiences — and coming to terms with them. Glimpsing the evening sun through a window is a simple thing but readjusting to having the freedom to do so may not be so simple. Like a net curtain, memories can obscure the view.

On the naval base an American community lives surrounded by razor wire in the last enclave of the Cold War. This is small-town America with a high school, golf course, a mall and familiar fast food chains. It is home to a community where I found echoes of a wider America traumatized after 9/11 by a new post-Cold War threat from a religion and cultures it does not understand.

The narrative is confused and unsettled as the viewer is asked to jump from prison camp detail to domestic still life to naval base and back again.

This disjointed edit is intended to evoke the disorientation of the process of incarceration and interrogation at Guantánamo and to explore the legacy of disturbance such an experience has in the minds and memories of these men.

Guantanamo Camp 1 recreation area (Photograph © Edmund Clark)

A child’s playroom at the home of a former Guantánamo detainee (Photograph © Edmund Clark)

Guantánamo Naval Base Fellowship Room (Photograph © Edmund Clark)

A plant at a former Guantanamo detainee's home (Photograph © Edmund Clark)

A stool in a cell in Camp Delta, Guantánamo (Photograph © Edmund Clark)

A letter to British resident Omar Deghayes, while he was held in Guantánamo

A letter to British resident Omar Deghayes, while he was held in Guantánamo

An interview with Edmund Clark
By Loredana, Spoonfed, September 24, 2010

Directly addressing ideas of incarceration and control, photographer Edmund Clark has spent his artistic career photographing sensitive issues through the use of stark, controlled photography. For his latest series, Clark travelled to the Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay to photograph the prison camp, as well as the spaces reserved for the community that work there.

In a fascinating twist on Clark’s already unusual photography, the artist has also photographed the homes of ex-detainees once imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay. Clark has made a point of intermixing the photographs of the three areas in the book and exhibition in order to disorientate the viewer and evoke interrogation techniques. These photographs make you think, sit back and assess your stance on the situation.

Q: What made you want to photograph Guantánamo?

A: It was the idea of what it was like to go through a process of dehumanization … looking at the domestic spaces of people that have been through that kind of experience and re-identifying them through the normality of domestic space. We all have somewhere that we eat, sleep, wash, relax so I find that interesting. What do they look like? What would you expect? You know the bedroom of someone that’s supposed to be a threat to human civilisation — what’s that going to look like?

Q: In your book you mention how you were heavily censored by guards who examined your work and were able to delete anything they wanted. How did it feel to be censored like this?

A: It’s a very full-on experience — working in Guantánamo is a really pressurised time. It’s a constant process of negotiation. You start at five in the morning and go all the way through and then you literally have to sit down for two to three hours to go through all these pictures.

Q: Why didn’t you include any portraits in the series?

A: I find that a lot of photographic portraits, you’re not really saying anything. All that’s going to happen is that the viewer’s preconceptions are going to bounce back at them. Some of the ex-detainees wouldn’t have taken part if I wanted to photograph them. I was absolutely adamant that this wasn’t journalistic; I just wanted to work in their homes.

I also think if I produced a set of portraits of ex-detainees from Guantánamo, most of whom are of Pakistani, Middle Eastern, African origin, I think a lot of people would look at those and say, “ooh look that’s what a terrorist looks like”. The portraits would be completely dehumanised. They wouldn’t actually say anything about the individual — the spaces are much more evocative.

Q: Did you ever get any sense of the effect the base, or atmosphere in general, had on the people that work and live there?

A: What I find interesting about the naval base is that it is small town America. It is cut-off living behind a big razor wire fence. It is literally a microcosm. As a non-American I was struck by the motifs — the reflections of spirituality, of militarism and icons of American culture — the cartoon simplicity that we associate with American culture. I felt I could see a lot of the mindset post-9/11 which in a sense maybe led to that knee-jerk reaction of retribution and revenge.

Q: Did you ever feel you were being fooled in any way?

A: You can never really believe anything … that’s true with most prisons. It’s what they’re not telling you that’s the thing. They do try and steer you down a certain path, like going on the food preparation tour, meeting the guards and talking to the guards, going to the show cells rather than the real cells …

Q: What do you think you’ve brought to the debate about Guantánamo?

A: I don’t think there’s enough debate at the moment. Hopefully I have in a sense re-humanised some element of it because a lot of the imagery I’ve seen of Guantánamo does just contribute to those stereotypes — depending on what side of the fence you’re on. I hope just by doing something unexpected it will help people think of the subject again. And I hope that people that do look at the work get a sense of the experience …

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.

Andy Worthington Talks Guantánamo and Torture on Antiwar Radio and The Peter B. Collins Show

Last week, I was delighted to be reunited on air with two of my favorite talk show hosts: the ever irascible Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio, and the more measured, but forensically disappointed Peter B. Collins. My 25-minute interview with Scott Horton is here (and here as an MP3), and my hour-long interview with Peter B. Collins is here (and here as an MP3).

Due to what appears to be a weekend work overload at the House of Worthington, I don’t have time to present my own commentary on the shows, as I normally do, but here’s what Scott had to say:

Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, discusses his 8-part exposé on the 174 remaining prisoners in Guantánamo, the nearly 600 inmates already released that put the lie to “worst of the worst” claims, Obama’s political decision not to release Yemeni prisoners no matter their innocence, Taliban foot soldiers fighting the Northern Alliance pre-9/11 unfairly lumped together with actual terrorism suspects, and how the Abu Zubaydah case proves that evidence obtained through torture cannot be relied upon.

And here’s what Peter B. said:

Andy Worthington reports on Appeals Court ruling against victims of torture and rendition, declaring “secret” what we already know … Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, provides the best ongoing coverage of America’s gulag at his website, and he details the cynical ruling by the full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals (the most liberal court in the nation!) which overturned its own 3-judge panel and threw out the suit brought by rendition/torture victim Binyam Mohamed and 4 others. The court makes the fatuous claim that government secrecy prevents the case from going forward, even though most of the evidence is already on the record in the US and Britain. While Obama said he wanted to close Guantánamo, his lawyers continue to cover up for the illegal actions under Bush and Cheney. Dissenting judges point out that courts could limit disclosure of legitimate secrets on an individual basis, but the majority was bent on cover-up.

I hope you have time to listen in. It’s always a pleasure to speak to Scott and Peter B., and to have the opportunity to discuss on air, with knowledgeable hosts, what I spend most of my waking hours writing about.

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.

David Frakt Explains Why Guantánamo Prisoners Have Habeas Corpus Rights

On September 14, Lt. Col. David Frakt, a law professor and the former military defense attorney for two Guantánamo prisoners, debated whether terror suspects should be treated as “enemy combatants” or as criminals, and won resounding approval from the audience in New York for the arguments that he and attorney Stephen Jones advanced in defense of the law, and in opposition to arguments made by former CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden, and torture apologist Marc Thiessen. Last week, I cross-posted — with commentary — a transcript of this debate in two parts (here and here), but was unaware that, at the same time, Lt. Col. Frakt was also posting additional commentary about Guantánamo and habeas corpus on the Huffington Post, following up on points that he didn’t think he had clarified sufficiently at the time. As I’m a great admirer of Lt. Col. Frakt’s knowledge of the law, and his ability to present important information in an accessible manner, I’m cross-posting his article below:

My Debate with Marc Thiessen
By David Frakt, The Huffington Post, September 18, 2010

Earlier this week, I debated General Michael Hayden (USAF, retired), former director of both the CIA and NSA, and Marc Thiessen, former Bush speechwriter and current columnist for the Washington Post, as part of the “Intelligence Squared” Debate series from New York. I was joined by Stephen Jones, an accomplished attorney best known for defending Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Bomber. The specific proposition debated was whether terrorists (or more accurately suspected terrorists) should be treated as enemy combatants, as opposed to handling within the traditional criminal justice system, but the debate covered a wide range of issues in the conduct of the war on terrorism. According to the audience, Stephen and I won the debate handily. For those interested in seeing or hearing the debate, it will be televised on the Bloomberg News Channel starting Monday, and it will also be available soon as a podcast from NPR, or you can watch the unedited version of the debate here.

For the most part, Thiessen and Hayden voiced the usual Bush Administration talking points. Thiessen is the author of the bestselling book Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack, which Jane Mayer of the New Yorker described as the “unofficial Bible of torture apologists.” Thiessen’s basic argument was that the detention and interrogation practices of the prior administration were effective, as proven by the fact that there have been no successful terrorist attacks domestically since 9/11. Thiessen failed to note the multiple successful terrorist attacks on our allies, such as the London and Madrid bombings, and the constant assaults on our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, where 5700 Americans have been killed and 39000 injured. He also continues to assert that the US didn’t torture anybody, that all the interrogation methods we used were legal, and that life for detainees at Guantánamo is a picnic:

What do you think these detainees in Guantánamo do all day? They’re not busting rocks. They’re not making license plates. They sleep. They read the Koran. They play football. They play soccer. They eat whenever they want, sleep whenever they want.

General Hayden, for his part, kept repeating that the law of armed conflict allows enemy combatants to be removed from the battlefield and detained for the duration of the conflict, a point that was not disputed. Thiessen and Hayden didn’t score many points, but they did make one point that I wished that I had more time to respond to, and that relates to the right of habeas corpus. In the summer of 2008, in Boumediene v. Bush, the Supreme Court ruled that, despite Congress’ and the Administration’s efforts to deny it, Guantánamo detainees did have the right to petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Thiessen and Hayden still just don’t understand why we should be giving “terrorists” the right to challenge the basis for their detention in federal court. In [Thiessen’s] words, “Since the Revolutionary War, the United States has held over 5 million enemy combatants. Until the war on terror, not one of them was given habeas corpus rights to petition their detention.” Hayden made a similar comment, lamenting that we “give them rights that 6 million other prisoners of war we’ve held as a nation have not had.”

According to Thiessen, “terrorists” “violate all of the rules of war” by targeting civilians and by failing to wear uniforms or distinctive insignia. The way Thiessen sees it, by failing to comply with the law of war these “terrorists” get an advantage, getting extra legal rights that regular POWs don’t get, which he sees as fundamentally unfair and deeply offensive. Since there is a sort of superficial appeal to this argument, I decided to respond to it in greater depth than the format of the debate allowed me to do.

First, it must be emphasized that detainees are not POWs, or at least the US has not afforded them that status, nor have they been treated in accordance with the Geneva Prisoner of War Convention. So, in considering the claim that Guantánamo detainees are getting extra unprecedented rights, we should keep in mind that POWs would receive an extensive array of rights under the Geneva Conventions which the detainees at Guantánamo don’t. Indeed, the original position of the Bush Administration, announced by President Bush in February 2002 [PDF], was that even Geneva Convention Common Article 3, which sets a minimum baseline of humane treatment for all persons detained in armed conflict, did not apply to those persons detained at Guantánamo. It was only after the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in June 2006 that Common Article 3 did apply, that the Bush Administration was forced to accept that humane treatment was legally required. So, even accepting that Guantánamo detainees are getting one right not previously afforded to traditional prisoners of war, on balance, it is far better to be a POW than a detainee. But the right to habeas corpus, to judicial review of the basis for detention, is a significant one. Is it fair that detainees are getting even this one extra right, or is it an affront to both American history and the laws of war, as Thiessen and Hayden believe? In my view, the nature of this particular conflict makes judicial oversight of the detention process an absolute necessity.

All of our major armed conflicts in the past have been against sovereign states, or at least against regular armies, and were confined to specific geographic areas. It was clear who the enemy was because of the uniform they wore, their nationality and language, and because of where they were found. There was little likelihood of error.

But the “Global War on Terror” is quite different. Our enemies are non-state actors who wear no uniforms and blend in with the civilian population; don’t carry ID cards indicating membership in al-Qaeda. Unlike in other conflicts, many Guantánamo detainees were not captured on the battlefield during active combat situations. Rather, most were turned in for bounty by locals of unknown reliability, captured at the border trying to leave Afghanistan, or arrested in law enforcement style raids based on intelligence tips.

Precisely because the enemy was not readily identifiable by uniform, insignia, identification card, or nationality, our intelligence personnel and armed forces often, understandably, erred on the side of caution, especially when it came to foreigners found in Afghanistan, choosing to detain first and ask questions later. Although there were any number of legitimate reasons foreigners might be visiting Afghanistan, because al-Qaeda was made up primarily of non-Afghans, any suspicious Muslim foreigner without an airtight explanation for his presence in the country and perfect documentation was liable to be detained.

Both Thiessen and Hayden acknowledged during the debate that the detention process was not perfect and did not require rigid proof that an individual was an enemy combatant, but rather merely a “reasonable belief.”

As General Hayden stated during the debate:

If they are enemy combatants … I have the right to hold them, consistent with the laws of armed conflict because they are a danger to you. The Geneva Convention doesn’t require me to prove that they’re a criminal. I simply have to have a reasonable belief that they’re enemy combatants.

Asked by an audience member what an acceptable error rate would be, General Hayden responded,

We do the very best we can … I hope the audience is not demanding 100 percent certitude and 100 percent perfection before your intelligence services or your military services can act in your defense.

Thiessen echoed Hayden in his explanation of the process of detaining enemy combatants:

You have to have a reasonable belief that these people were captured in the war and that they are members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban and were conducting operations against us … Were there some people that were sent there by accident, that we made a mistake? … There’s some mistakes made, absolutely.

Although both Thiessen and Hayden acknowledged that innocent people might have been rounded up, they also stressed that there were procedures in place, namely Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs), to review the basis for detention. According to Hayden, we “ensure through this process, due process, that the individual you have is the individual you believe them to be.” Thiessen explained the CSRTs this way: “we had a process in Guantanamo that was set up to review the evidence against them and to make sure that people who … didn’t belong there were sent back.” Both debaters failed to mention that the Bush Administration’s initial position was that the detainees were not entitled to any form of review of their detention and that the CSRTs were only set up in July 2004, more than two and a half years after Guantánamo opened, in response to the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld [the Supreme Court ruling in June 2004, which, with Rasul v. Bush, gave habeas rights to the Guantánamo prisoners].

More to the point, as the Supreme Court has determined, the rules and procedures which apply in CSRTs are hopelessly inadequate for the critical function they serve. These tribunals gave a presumption of reliability to the government’s evidence, admitted unlimited hearsay, and provided no meaningful opportunity for a detainee to call witnesses or introduce exculpatory evidence. Perhaps their most fatal flaw was the lack of legal representation for detainees at such hearings, which the Department of Defense curiously labeled “non-adversarial” proceedings. Thus, according to the majority opinion in Boumediene [PDF], “even when all the parties involved in this process act with diligence and in good faith, there is considerable risk of error in the tribunal’s findings of fact.”

Another difference between the current conflict and our wars of the past is that wars against sovereign nations have a definable endpoint, when one side surrenders or is defeated and a treaty or armistice is signed. The war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban has already gone on for 8 years, and there is no clear end in sight. The terrorist threat certainly has not abated since 9/11, and arguably has multiplied. The jihadists see the fight as a multi-generational struggle, and there is little likelihood that Osama bin Laden, or his successor, will ever make peace with the US. Thus, if detainees may be held until the end of the conflict, they could be in for a very long stay. This might be acceptable for a genuine terrorist, but for a person wrongly detained, it is wholly unacceptable. As Justice Kennedy put it, “given that the consequence of error may be detention of persons for the duration of hostilities that may last a generation or more, this is a risk too significant to ignore.” In affirming the right of Guantánamo detainees to habeas corpus, the Court was responding to the concern that without the format of an adversarial trial with reasonable evidentiary safeguards in front of a neutral fact-finder, an innocent detainee might never leave Guantánamo.

The Court’s wisdom has been borne out in the subsequent habeas litigation. In the cases to reach the merits in the federal district courts, 38 of 55 of the detainees have prevailed and been granted the writ, despite the fact that all of the detainees were at one time found by a CSRT to be enemy combatants. That is, in 70% of cases, the government has failed to meet the modest burden of proving to a federal judge by a preponderance of the evidence that the detainee meets the expansive definition of an enemy combatant. (According to General Hayden, one detainee won his petition because the only way to prove he was an enemy combatant was to reveal an intelligence source, which he declined to do; he had no explanation for the other 36.)

The fundamental difference between people like Marc Thiessen and General Hayden and “terrorist sympathizers” like myself is that they seem to feel that detaining dozens of innocent people potentially for decades is acceptable. Those wrongfully held at Guantánamo are, in essence, just another form of collateral damage, civilian casualties in a just and necessary war. What upsets Thiessen and Hayden is not that we have detained scores of innocent men for so many years, but that the detainees were ever allowed into court in the first place. For my part, I don’t see forcing the government to justify the long-term detention of an individual in a court of law as a great imposition on the most powerful nation in the history of the world.

I represented a detainee at Guantánamo, Mohammed Jawad. He was detained in Afghanistan in December 2002 and transferred to Guantánamo in February 2003. Six and half long years later, a federal district judge finally ordered the US government to prove that he truly was an enemy combatant. Two weeks before the trial on the merits, the Department of Justice notified the court that they no longer considered Mr. Jawad “detainable.” The writ of habeas corpus was granted and Mr. Jawad was released back to Afghanistan, a free man. If Thiessen and Hayden had their way, he never would have had his day in court and would still be languishing in Guantánamo. In my opinion, that would be a travesty. If Thiessen and Hayden would like to try to convince me otherwise, I’ll be happy to debate them again.

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

Who Are the Remaining Prisoners in Guantánamo? Part Four: Captured Crossing from Afghanistan into Pakistan (2 of 2)

This is the fourth part of a nine-part series telling the stories of all the prisoners currently held in Guantánamo (174 at the time of writing). See the introduction here, and Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Five, Part Six and Part Seven.

This fourth article tells the stories of 19 prisoners seized in Pakistan after crossing from Afghanistan in December 2001, shortly after the prisoners described in Part One, and during a week-long period when around a quarter of the total number of prisoners held at Guantánamo (779 in total) were seized. Although these 185 or so men were routinely regarded as al-Qaeda members who had fled from the showdown between al-Qaeda and the US (via its Afghan allies) in the Tora Bora mountains, the truth is that almost every significant al-Qaeda member escaped from Tora Bora, that many of these men were nothing more than insignificant foot soldiers, and that many others were missionaries, humanitarian aid workers or economic migrants, caught fleeing the death and destruction in Afghanistan.  Nevertheless, all were presented as al-Qaeda operatives by their Pakistani captors, who then handed them over — or sold them — to their US allies.

Around 140 of these men have been released, and the remaining prisoners are not only described in this article, but also in Part Three, where I told 22 more stories. Disturbingly, seven of these men have won their habeas petitions, but are still held, and at least five have been cleared for release (or “approved for transfer,” to use the language that the Obama administration learned so carefully from its predecessor).

ISN 249 Al Hamiri, Mohammed (Yemen)
Al-Hamiri, who was 19 when he was seized, claimed that he “left Yemen for medical treatment and was tricked by a British resident into going into Afghanistan where he did nothing for six months.” An unidentified source — or sources — claimed that he had trained at al-Farouq (the main camp for Arabs, associated with Osama bin Laden in the years before 9/11) and had spoken to bin Laden at a guest house in Kabul, but al-Hamiri denied the allegations, and only conceded that, in Kabul, he had stayed in the home of someone he “felt may have been associated with the Taliban.” His most critical comments were delivered in a statement that was read out in his absence during his tribunal. All the charges, he said, “were made up in order to keep him and other Muslims at the camp,” because he “never had a weapon, never carried one and never even killed a chicken.” According to weight records released by the Pentagon in 2007, he weighed 122 pounds on arrival at Guantánamo, but his weight dropped to just 102 pounds in February 2003, probably during one of the many hunger strikes that have punctuated Guantánamo’s history (PDF).

ISN 251 Bin Salem, Mohammed (Yemen)
In a particularly thin set of allegations, the US authorities claim that bin Salem, who was cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration, traveled from Yemen to Afghanistan in July 2001, and received training at al-Farouq. Noticeably, he is not accused of having taken part in combat against the Taliban (let alone US forces), as it is only alleged that he “supported al-Qaeda and Taliban forces by serving as a cook at a rest and relaxation facility for front line troops at Bagram,” and that he was captured by Pakistani forces after retreating directly from Bagram to Pakistan.

ISN 254 Khenaina, Muhammad (Yemen)
In Guantánamo, Khenaina has stated that he went to Afghanistan in August 2001 “to teach the Koran in Arabic,” although he admitted that he “did not actually teach the Koran.” After staying in a guest house in Kabul, he said that he heard of the 9/11 attacks and was “concerned about retaliation by the Americans and wanted to get out.” He explained that the owner of the house arranged for him to travel to Logar and then Khost, where he stayed with an Afghan, and then traveled through the mountains to Pakistan with five other Arabs and an Afghan guide. After joining up with another group of 19 men who were also fleeing Afghanistan, he reached the border, where he was detained by the authorities. Throughout this story, the only claim of militancy against Khenaina was an allegation that the manager of the guest house “arranged transportation for guests to a Taliban training area 35 minutes north of Kabul,” but Khenaina insisted that “he was not in Afghanistan to participate in jihad,” and that he “did not have a weapon while in Afghanistan.” He also condemned the 9/11 attacks, and explained that, if released, “he would return to Yemen and marry a cousin who has been betrothed to him and never leave again.”

ISN 255 Hatim, Saeed (Yemen)
In December 2009, Hatim won his habeas corpus petition, but it did not lead to his release. In fact, the Obama administration has appealed the ruling, even though the judge in Hatim’s case, Judge Ricardo Urbina, clearly established that the government’s allegations — that he trained at al-Farouq, stayed in al-Qaeda and Taliban guesthouses, “operated under the command of al-Qaeda and the Taliban at the battlefront against the Northern Alliance,” and fought at the battle of Tora Bora — “rest[ed] almost entirely upon admissions made by the petitioner himself,” which he made “only because he had previously been tortured while in US custody” in Kandahar. In addition, Judge Urbina discredited the Tora Bora allegation, because it was made by a fellow prisoner who had made false allegations against dozens of other prisoners (first exposed publicly in 2006), and “whose grasp on reality,” as Judge Urbina explained, “appears to have been tenuous at best.” Distressingly, the Obama administration’s appeal has been filed despite knowledge that Hatim has suffered from what Judge Urbina described as “severe psychological problems” in Guantánamo, and has tried to commit suicide on several occasions. Indeed, in May 2002, an interrogator stated, “I do not recommend [Hatim] for further exploitation due in part to mental and emotional problems [and] limited knowledgeability.”

ISN 259 Hintif, Fadil (Yemen)
Prior to traveling to Afghanistan, Hintif, who was cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration, told his tribunal at Guantánamo that he had spent many years working as a farmer on his family’s land, and had then moved to Sana’a to look for work. There he met a man at a mosque who asked him about “going to Afghanistan to help poor Afghans,” and he “felt this would be a chance to do something good in memory of his deceased father, so he thought it was a good idea.” He then apparently sold his car to raise funds for his trip, received some money from his brother and set off for Afghanistan. In Kabul, he “began living with an individual who previously taught the Koran in Afghanistan,” and when he asked him how he could help the Afghans, was told that “he could either work with the Afghani Red Crescent or he could help distribute food supplies.” Having decided to work for the Red Crescent, he said that he traveled with the instructor to Logar province, south of Kabul, but stopped his work after the US-led invasion began, when he was escorted to the Pakistani border. There, he said, he surrendered to the Pakistani police, who took him to a prison in Peshawar. He was then transferred to a larger prison in Kohat, and was eventually turned over to the Americans. Throughout his whole story, Hintif maintained that he “did not receive any training in Afghanistan” and “did not fight in Afghanistan because he was not convinced of the causes that were being fought for.” He explained that he “felt that the groups there were fighting for power, and that there was no reason to fight a jihad.” Disturbingly, apart from vague allegations about the guest houses in which he stayed, the only allegations that the US authorities have been able to come up with are that his name was on a document “recovered from a safe house raid associated with al-Qaeda in Karachi, Pakistan” (which is not necessarily reliable, as it may not have been his name, but a kunya or alias that does not necessarily refer to him) and a much-derided claim that his Casio watch was the same model as one used in improvised explosive devices “in bombings linked to al-Qaeda and radical Islamic terrorist groups.”

ISN 263 Sultan, Ashraf (Libya)
Sultan, who is accused of being a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (opposed to the regime of Colonel Gaddafi), training at various camps in Afghanistan, and fighting at Tora Bora, has denied the allegations, stating that he left Libya because of religious persecution, and lived with other Libyan refugees in Jalalabad. He has also stated that he was not a member of the LIFG (or of al-Qaeda), and was not at Tora Bora, and has declared that he traveled to the Pakistani border, where he was seized on December 18, 2001, with an Afghan guide, and not with a group of soldiers. His disdain for the betrayal of justice at Guantánamo was revealed in his appearance at his tribunal in 2004, when he stated, “I know my fate is already predetermined and the judgment has been pronounced already. So this Tribunal is just for show and it is not real. Everybody is reading from papers that are already printed and everything is already predetermined. I know for sure my destiny is already predetermined. The judgment against me is already made up. My presence, me defending myself or not defending myself, will have no importance whatsoever.”

ISN 275 Abbas, Yusef (Abdusabar) (China)
Abbas is one of 22 Uighurs (Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province), who had fled persecution in their homeland, and had ended up in Afghanistan, either because they had been thwarted in their attempts to reach Turkey or Europe, or because they nursed futile hopes of rising up against the Chinese government. He is one of 17 of the men who were living in a rundown settlement in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains when the US-led invasion began in October 2001, and who, after the settlement was destroyed in a bombing raid, made their way to the Pakistani border, where they were seized and later sold to US forces. 21 years old at the time of his capture, Abbas was a farmer, who, as I explained in The Guantánamo Files, “learned about the oppression of his people as he was growing up, and was determined to leave to find a better life, but could find little information about other countries, except through broadcasts that were made by a covert US radio station. Having finally obtained a passport, he decided to try to get to America. Taking $600 with him, he went first to Kyrgyzstan, where he was warned that the police planted false evidence on Uighurs and handed them over to the Chinese authorities, but where they took $300 from him instead, and laughed at him when he told them that he wanted to go to America. He then went to Pakistan, where a Uighur businessman, who befriended him at the airport, encouraged him to go to an Uzbek house in Jalalabad, where another Uighur took him to the camp in the Tora Bora mountains.” Five of the Uighurs were released in Albania in May 2006, and the remaining 17 — including Abbas — won their habeas corpus petitions in October 2008. However, although 12 of these men have been resettled in Bermuda, Palau and Switzerland, Yusef Abbas and four others remain in Guantánamo. Having turned down offers of a new home because of fears about the suitability or security of the countries offered, they are back in legal limbo, as the US courts have ruled that they have no right to be accepted in the US, and no other offer to rehouse them has yet been made.

ISN 280 Khalik, Saidullah (Khalid) (China)
One of 22 Uighurs held in Guantanamo (see the entry for Yusef Abbas, ISN 275), little is known of Khalik’s story, as he refused to engage with the tribunal process at Guantánamo. In his absence he was accused of being in Afghanistan during the US bombing campaign, and, in a sign of how information was twisted in a ridiculous manner to come up with anything that officials might find a way of using, of receiving “wounds to his face and arm as well as other flesh wounds” during the bombing. Like the other four remaining Uighurs, he is currently in legal limbo, as he awaits an offer of a new home.

ISN 282 Abdulghupur, Hajiakbar (China)
One of 22 Uighurs held in Guantánamo (see the entry for Yusef Abbas, ISN 275), Abdulghupur told his tribunal at Guantánamo, when asked about the “training camp” in the Afghan mountains, where he and 16 others had lived before the bombing raid that destroyed the settlement, “They called this place a camp but that’s way too much of a name for that place we stayed. They did not have enough bathrooms to use or housing or anything. That is way too big of a name for the place where we stayed.” He added, “the conditions were really bad and stressful and there was lots of hard work, [but] I decided to stay there because our goal was to be against the Chinese government and I wouldn’t give up my goal even in the bad conditions to live.” After the bombing raid that completely destroyed the settlement, so that, as Abdulghupur explained, “it looked like no one ever even stayed in that place,” the men’s journey to Pakistan (and their betrayal by Pakistani villagers) was also described by Abdulghupur. “After that there was no stopping,” he said. “There was constantly bombing all the time. In the mountain we stayed in a cave because we didn’t know where to go … We were waiting for our leaders to come and tell us to go to the city or somewhere else but no one showed up and we decided to go to Pakistan. When we got to Pakistan, the local people came to us with tea, bread and meat, really good stuff. In the middle of the night they came to take us to the mosque. We went to the mosque and then they turned us over to the Pakistani authorities … They put us in cars and took us to jail. After that they turned us over to the US.” Like the other four remaining Uighurs, Abdulghupur is currently in legal limbo, as he awaits an offer of a new home.

ISN 288 Saib, Motai (Algeria)
One of five Algerian prisoners facing involuntary repatriation, after being cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration, and also by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, Saib (also identified as Mutaj Sayab), had been living in Jalalabad prior to his capture (like many of the Algerians held at Guantánamo), and had traveled to Afghanistan via France and London. Throughout nearly nine years of detention, he has only been accused of “receiving small arms training” near Jalalabad. In relation to plans for his release from Guantánamo, his lawyers explained, in a court filing in July 2008, that in February 2008 the Department of Defense notified them that he had been “approved to leave Guantánamo,” but stated obliquely that “such a decision does not equate [to] a determination that your client is not an enemy combatant, nor does is it a determination that he does not pose a threat to the United States or its allies. I cannot provide you any information regarding when your client may be leaving Guantánamo as his departure is subject to ongoing discussions.” As his lawyers noted, “Saib has serious concerns that this ambiguous and damaging language will prevent his safe release from Guantánamo” to a third country, and these fears have only heightened after the involuntary repatriation of another Algerian, Abdul Aziz Naji, in July this year.

ISN 290 Belbacha, Ahmed (Algeria-UK)
Another of the five Algerians facing involuntary repatriation, after being cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration, and also by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, Belbacha was cleared for release in March 2007, and has repeatedly appealed to the US courts to prevent his return to Algeria — although in September 2009, the notoriously Conservative D.C. Circuit Court ruled that the lower courts were no longer able to grant injunctions preventing their forcible repatriation. A former footballer in Algeria, Belbacha then worked as an accountant for a government-owned oil company, but after receiving death threats from Islamist militants, fled to the UK in 1999, where he sought asylum and secured work in Bournemouth. During the Labour Party conference in 1999, he received a thank-you letter and a tip from Deputy Prime Minster John Prescott, whose room he was responsible for cleaning. In June 2001, he decided to take a holiday in Pakistan with a friend, and then traveled to Afghanistan to see the country, staying for several months in a guest house in Jalalabad, and then fleeing to Pakistan after the US-led invasion, where he was seized by opportunistic villagers and sold to US forces. Despite being cleared for release in 2007, the British government has persistently refused to accept Belbacha, so that his lawyers at Reprieve, and other organizations, including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Cageprisoners, have sought help from the governments of Ireland and Luxembourg as well, although to date all these efforts have been unsuccessful. 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. In case any doubt remains about the legitimacy of Belbacha’s fears of repatriation, it should be noted that, in November 2009, he was tried in absentia 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.”

ISN 309 Abd Al Sattar, Muieen (UAE)
One of Guantánamo’s least-known prisoners, al-Satter is ostensibly from the United Arab Emirates, although the UAE claims not to know who he is, and his Unclassified Summary of Evidence also states that he “has a Pakistani passport and originally went to Pakistan on vacation in September 2001.” All that is known of this man — listed by the US authorities as Muieen A Deen Jamal A Deen Abd Al Fusal Abd Al Sattar — is contained in this slim document, released in September 2007, but it makes clear that al-Sattar taught at the Private Holy Koran School in Mecca, that he paid for his own travel, that he was “convinced by a friend to go to Afghanistan and teach the Five Pillars of Islam,” and that he “thought if he traveled to Afghanistan that he would get credit from God and that, since the trip was only going to be for a week, there would be no harm in going.” This seems fairly straightforward, and is certainly more comprehensible than other claims from unattributed sources: that he “was identified as a trainer at the al-Farouq training camp in Afghanistan” (which would have been impossible if he arrived in Pakistan in September 2001, as al-Farouq closed after the 9/11 attacks), and that he was “a fighter in Tora Bora who moved around encouraging people to fight and be religious.” Perhaps what actually happened, as was indicated in other passages in the Unclassified Summary, was that the “friend” who convinced him to travel to Afghanistan — a Syrian whom he had met in Karachi — tricked him into traveling to Tora Bora. According to the allegations, al-Sattar “advised that if he saw al-Moaz again, he would be very upset with him and would want to do him physical harm for getting him into so much trouble.”

ISN 310 Ameziane, Djamel (Algeria)
Ameziane, another of the five Algerians facing involuntary repatriation, after being cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration, and also by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, had also been living in Jalalabad. A Berber, he left Algeria in 1992 “in order to escape persecution and make a better life for himself,” and unsuccessfully sought asylum in Austria, where he worked legally for three years, becoming the top chef at an Italian restaurant in Vienna, until a new government clamped down on immigrants, and his work permit was denied without explanation. From there, he moved to Canada, where he obtained a temporary work permit and worked for an office supply company and for various restaurants in Montreal. In 2000, after five years in Canada, his asylum claim was denied, and, as his lawyers explained, “Fearful of being forcibly returned to Algeria, and with few options, [he] went to Afghanistan, where he could live freely without discrimination as a Muslim man, and where he would not fear deportation to Algeria.” Apart from an allegation that he stayed in a guest house in Kabul that was associated with the Taliban, before traveling to Jalalabad, the US authorities failed to come up with a shred of evidence against him, with the exception of an evidently unreliable claim, by an unidentified “source,” who said that he “met the detainee” at al-Farouq. In relation to plans for his release from Guantánamo, Ameziane fears returning to Algeria because of the stigma of Guantánamo and the instability in his hometown of Kabylie, where, as his lawyers have explained, practicing Muslims are “targeted for arrests and detention by the government based solely on their religious practices” and “The stigma of having spent time at Guantánamo would alone be enough to put him at risk of being imprisoned if he is returned.”

ISN 311 Bin Mohammed, Farhi Saeed (Algeria)
Bin Mohammed, who is 50 years old, is one of the five Algerians facing involuntary repatriation, after being cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration, and also by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force. In his case, uniquely, he was also cleared for release by a US judge after winning his habeas corpus petition in November 2009.  A former conscript in the Algerian army, bin Mohammed had traveled around Europe for many years, working as a laborer in the UK, France and Italy, before traveling to Afghanistan in 2001, apparently in search of a wife. Although the US authorities alleged that he had undertaken military training in Afghanistan, the judge in his case, Judge Gladys Kessler, ruled that the government’s evidence was unreliable because it came from statements made by Binyam Mohamed, the British resident and torture victim, who had been subjected to torture in Pakistan, Morocco and at the CIA’s “Dark Prison” in Kabul from April 2002 to May 2004. In an attempt to prevent his enforced repatriation, and to uphold the United States’ obligation, under the UN Convention Against Torture, not to “expel, return (‘refouler’) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” Judge Kessler issued a temporary order barring bin Mohammed’s transfer to Algeria in June this year, following up on his lawyers’ request for her “to order the government to carry out his release, but to bar his transfer to Algeria, where he fears persecution or even death from either the Algerian government or from armed terrorist groups there.” After protracted wrangling with the notoriously Conservative judges of the D.C. Circuit Court, Judge Kessler’s temporary order was overturned, and the Circuit Court’s decision — which drew on previous rulings preventing the lower courts from interfering in the Executive branch’s right to decide how and where to dispose of prisoners — was upheld in July this year, when the US Supreme Court sided with the Circuit Court, just a few hours before the Supreme Court also approved the repatriation of Abdul Aziz Naji, who was immediately sent home. As SCOTUSblog noted, the ruling was “the first indication that the Supreme Court will not allow federal judges to interfere with government controls on who leaves or stays at Guantánamo Bay.” Despite the ruling, bin Mohammed remains at Guantánamo, still desperately hoping that a third country will offer him a new home, although he could, of course, be sent back to Algeria any time the Obama administration feels like doing so.

ISN 324 Al Sabri, Mashur (Yemen)
According to the US authorities, al-Sabri traveled to Afghanistan in summer 2000, lived in Jalalabad for a year, and traveled on occasion to the Taliban lines at Bagram and Kabul. Quite what else he did is difficult to ascertain — not because there are no allegations, but because their trustworthiness is hard to gauge. According to various unidentified sources, in May 2001 he was working as a facilitator for new arrivals at two guest houses in Kabul, and was “well known and well respected as an administrator in the guest houses.” It was also noted that he “was said to facilitate the transfer of weapons and other supplies to the front lines,” and, most worryingly (or most outrageously, depending on your point of view), was accused of working for Osama bin Laden. According to the unidentified allegations, he was “believed to have sworn bayat to Osama bin Laden,” because he and others around him knew bin Laden’s travel dates and routes, and another “source” identified him as “a member of al-Qaeda,” because he was “following Osama bin Laden’s orders to keep the guest house up and running.”

ISN 326 Ahjam, Ahmed (Syria)
Ahjam is one of four Syrians who had been living in Kabul before the US-led invasion, and who were subsequently seized on the Pakistani border. As one of these men, Maasoum Mouhammed (also known as Bilal Abdah Mohammed), was released in Bulgaria in May this year, despite having been accused of running “a safe house,” which was used for “money and document forging operations” for al-Qaeda, it seems likely that Ahmed Ahjam and the other two men, Ali Husein Shaaban (ISN 327) and Abu Omar al-Hamawe (ISN 329) have also been approved for release. Certainly, there is nothing in the men’s story to indicate that they were connected in any way with al-Qaeda. At Guantánamo, Mouhammed described it as “a normal house, a place to eat, drink and sleep,” and, as I explained in The Guantánamo Files, “The four men certainly matched the profiles of economic migrants, drifting from country to country in search of employment, and drawn to Afghanistan by its Arab-influenced reputation for welcoming Muslims from all around the world. They said that only seven people lived at the house (themselves, the owner, and two other Syrians), and that they all put money in to keep the place running.” According to his account in Guantánamo, Ahjam worked for al-Wafa, a Saudi humanitarian aid charity, which the Bush administration regarded as being tied to al-Qaeda, although no proof of this was ever forthcoming, and, with a few exceptions (including Ahmed Ahjam), the many dozens of prisoners who worked for the charity, including its Saudi director, have all been released.

ISN 327 Shaaban, Ali Husein (Syria)
One of four Syrians who had been living in a house in Kabul before the US-led invasion, and who were subsequently seized on the Pakistani border (see the story of Ahmed Ahjam, above), Shaaban, who was just 19 years old when he was seized, came from a poor family in Syria and had been an ironsmith in his father’s store. He told his tribunal at Guantánamo that he went to Afghanistan because he wanted to move there to seek a new life.

ISN 328 Mohamed, Ahmed (China)
One of 22 Uighurs held in Guantanamo (see the entry for Yusef Abbas, ISN 275), and also identified as Hammad Mohammed, he is one of an unknown number of prisoners subjected to “do-over” tribunals at Guantánamo, after the military panels responsible for reviewing their cases in 2004 and 2005 concluded that they were not “enemy combatants” and should be released. These “do-over” tribunals were convened in secret in Washington D.C. — often on more than one occasion — until the military officers delivered the desired verdict, and in Mohammed’s case he was not finally vindicated until a subsequent military review board cleared him for release in 2006. In his initial tribunal, he explained why his desire for military training was aimed at China and not America. “The Chinese people have tortured and pressured the Uighur people really bad,” he said. “The Uighur people are trying to go all over the world now. One sixth of the world’s population is in China. They are a threat to the whole world. If I have such a large enemy, why would I go and fight with another enemy?” Throughout his tribunal, the only explanation for the administration’s determination to continue holding him was an allegation that he was a weapons instructor from May to October 2001. In response, he called one of his compatriots as a witness, who explained, “I saw that he was sick during that time. He has a stomach problem and he was helping with the kitchen work and helping the cook. He was also studying the language.” The allegation was then dropped, but in the meantime ludicrous new allegations were added to his Unclassified Summary of Evidence, in which it was claimed that he “was identified as Abdul Jabar, an al-Qaeda member with the Islamic Movement of Turkistan,” and was also “identified as a visitor to known al-Qaeda guest houses.”

ISN 329 Al Hamawe, Abu Omar (Syria)
One of four Syrians who had been living in a house in Kabul before the US-led invasion, and who were subsequently seized on the Pakistani border (see the story of Ahmed Ahjam, above), al-Hamawe, who was just 20 years old when he was seized, told his tribunal at Guantánamo that he had been working at a store in Kabul, but that he planned to move on to Pakistan when a friend sent him money from Syria, as I explained in The Guantánamo Files. He also stated that the house in Kabul was close to the Pakistani embassy and that their neighbors, who worked for the Red Cross, “knew that all of us were not fighters or Taliban, just refugees.”

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 The Public Record, Uruknet and New Left Project.

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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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