Archive for October, 2010

Great Turnout in Brighton for Discussion on the Future of the Media with Nick Davies and Andy Worthington

On Wednesday evening, an enormous throng of students filled the Red Roaster Coffee Shop in Brighton for a discussion about the future of the media, arranged by The Badger, the University of the Sussex Student Union’s magazine. The official title of the event — which featured myself, investigative journalist Nick Davies, Dr. An Nguyen, Senior Lecturer in New Media/Journalism Studies at the University of Sussex, and Paula O’Shea, director of Brighton Journalist Works — was, “Is print media dying a slow death? If so, what is the future of respectable journalism?”

This turned out to be something of a two-pronged question, in which the first part, asking a question about the future of print media, was not necessarily connected to the second, which, as we interpreted the phrase “respectable journalism,” dealt with the future of serious, investigative journalism. Despite the fact that the outcome was somewhat scattershot, it was an exhilarating evening, demonstrating that there is a real appetite for discussions about the future of the media — and its place in contemporary life — and raising profound questions about the current state of the media, the sustainability of traditional media, the role of the new media, the role of the BBC, the baleful presence of Rupert Murdoch, the interests and attention spans of young readers, and the wider political context, in which hard news struggles to compete with the twin perils of celebrity culture and rolling, 24-hour news, both of which conspire to erode people’s ability to focus on issues that matter.

While Paula O’Shea mounted a defence of traditional media from a working journalist’s point of view (providing the not entirely encouraging news that jobs are still out there, even if it is the consumer magazine sector that is thriving the most), and Dr. Nguyen brought an academic perspective to the proceedings, I was pleased to have the opportunity to tell the audience that, although I am full of respect for the type of well-funded investigative work undertaken by journalists like Nick, and his employers at the Guardian, any aspiring journalist would be foolish not to establish a blog and to begin making their presence felt on the web.

As I have most recently explained here and here, the success of my work as a new media journalist over the last three and a half years mirrors the steady drift of readers interested in hard news from the traditional media to the Internet, where independent journalists are often covering topics in more detail than the mainstream, and are also covering and breaking stories that are completely ignored by the mainstream. I was also able to explain that, although far too many of the online opportunities for writing are unpaid, a smart operator can use links and cross-posting to their advantage, to build up an online profile that may lead to paid work. In addition, there are, as time goes on, a growing number of subscriber- and supporter-funded models — as well as foundations — that pay for original work, some of whom support me in my endeavours.

For his part, Nick, fresh from playing a pivotal role in the release and analysis of 400,000 classified US military field documents relating to the war in Iraq, which were provided to the whistleblowers’ organization Wikileaks, was able to issue a resounding defence of investigative journalism at the Guardian, even though, as he admitted, there is no easy solution to the current problem faced by the Guardian — that, although it has a formidable global web presence, far larger than the paper’s circulation ever was, the physical newspaper is required to operate at a loss to support the entire publishing operation.

Nick hinted that the solution touted by Rupert Murdoch — raising a paywall and encouraging readers to subscribe to the Times and the Sunday Times online — was failing abysmally, which demonstrates that the lure of free news is so entrenched that online subscriptions are doomed to fail, and he also entertained the audience with stories of Murdoch’s disproportionately powerful influence in the field of the British media — and its penetration into the world of politics — as was partly uncovered through the Guardian’s investigation into the News of the World’s phone-hacking scandal, which he led earlier this year.

It would be fair to say, I think, that the main questions raised by the evening were rather inconclusive. For example, the Guardian’s future may depend either on its continued funding through the profits from other businesses owned by the Guardian Media Group, or it may have to somehow scale down its physical operation if circulation continues to fall, but no immediate answers are forthcoming just yet. On this topic, the audience — mostly under 25 — did not have reassuring news: when the moderator, Sam Waterman, asked who bought a paper once a month, almost everyone put their hands up, but when he asked who bought a paper every day, no one did.

Nevertheless, solutions were not as obviously important as raising questions, and the entire event was a sign to me that there is a hunger to explore not only the key topics under discussion, but also the array of allied topics that were raised. These included the role of the BBC, which, of course, has a unique, “protected” status through the licence fee, but is facing a similar falling off of revenue as young people source it only through iPlayer, and the problem of readers’ short attention spans, which led on to wider discussions about rolling news, the types of technology used, and the bigger problem of a black hole in public life where politics ought to be, as engagement and community have been replaced by atomization and consumerism.

I can’t speak for any of the other panellists, but I’d certainly be up for taking part in similar events in future, as the question of the media, its role and its future is obviously a trigger for important conversations about how we relate to the world and engage with it, or, as both traditional and new media journalists are all too aware, about how far too many people fail to engage with investigative journalism, even though investigative journalists, whether working in the traditional media or online, continue to ask probing questions that should concern us all.

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.

Torture Is Finally Mentioned on the Last Day of Omar Khadr’s Sentencing Hearing at Guantánamo

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Everything about the last week’s events at Guantánamo has been deeply disturbing. On Monday, in defiance of international obligations requiring the rehabilitation of child prisoners, the US government — under President Obama — fulfilled the deepest wishes of the Bush administration, and persuaded Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen who was just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, to plead guilty to charges of murder in violation of the laws of war, attempted murder, spying, conspiracy, and providing material support to terrorism, in a plea deal that apparently involves an eight-year sentence, with Khadr serving one more year at Guantánamo before being returned to Canada.

At the heart of the plea deal is a 50-point “Stipulation of Fact” (PDF), signed by Khadr and stating that he “does not have any legal defense to any of the offenses to which he is pleading guilty,” in which, despite his previous protestations to the contrary, he accepted that he threw a grenade that killed Delta Force Sgt. Christopher Speer on the day of his capture, and, moreover, that he was, at the time, an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent,” who did not have “any legal basis to commit any war-like acts” at all.

As part of the Bush administration’s apparently successful rewriting of international law — facilitated by President Obama and lawmakers in Congress — Khadr was therefore obliged not only to forego further complaints about his age at the time of his capture, and the responsibility of others for indoctrinating him, but also to accept that he had been captured in circumstances in which it was impossible for him to be a legitimate combatant.

He was also required to stay silent in the face of compelling evidence that these dubious-sounding war crimes to which he signed his name were not in fact war crimes at all, and were only invented by Congress in 2006, as former Guantánamo military defense attorney Lt. Col. David Frakt explained last summer. In addition, he also had to overlook the fact that, when the Commissions were revived last year, defense secretary Robert Gates added a new twist to the fictional war crimes so that, as Lt. Col. Frakt explained in April this year, “a detainee may be convicted of murder in violation of the law of war even if they did not actually violate the law of war.”

This was Lt. Col. Frakt’s full explanation of this particular point:

In the new [Military Commissions] Manual the following official comment has been included in explanation of the offense of Murder in Violation of the Law of War: “an accused may be convicted in a military commission … if the commission finds that the accused engaged in conduct traditionally triable by military commission (e.g., spying; murder committed while the accused did not meet the requirements of privileged belligerency) even if such conduct does not violate the international law of war.” Astoundingly, according to the Pentagon, a detainee may be convicted of murder in violation of the law of war even if they did not actually violate the law of war.

However, rather than dwelling on these profoundly disturbing truths about the nature of Khadr’s “crimes,” the significance of his age at the time of his capture, and the pressure he was put under to reverse the implacable opposition to a plea deal that he demonstrated in summer, the media, for the most part, allowed themselves last week to be ushered into the next stage of the game: a week of sentencing hearings, involving witnesses called by the prosecution and the defense, to enable a seven-person military jury to deliver its own sentence, which, bizarrely, will mean nothing unless the jurors deliver a sentence shorter than the one agreed in secret as part of the plea deal.

As I reported in a previous article, the government took full advantage of this platform to summon a purported psychiatric expert, Michael Welner, who in fact delivered an Islamophobic tirade and threw out provocative soundbites that were snapped up by a sensation-hungry journalists — describing Khadr as, amongst other things, “Al-Qaeda royalty” and “highly dangerous” — and also summoned a soldier wounded in the firefight and Tabitha Speer, the widow of Sgt. Speer.

One of the few commentators to pick up on this particularly manipulative choice of witnesses was Thomas Walkom of the Toronto Star, who, with reference to Tabitha Speer’s testimony, wrote in his column today, “While heart-wrenching, her testimony glided over the queerest irony of this case — that after a pitched battle between clearly delineated forces, in which soldiers on both sides killed, only one person from one side ended up accused of murder.” (Walkom ended his column by noting that, when Khadr eventually returns to Canada, the government “will ignore, as almost everyone seems to ignore, the absurdity of prosecuting a soldier for killing his enemy in battle”).

Khadr’s defense team managed to secure a few important witnesses, including Navy Capt. Patrick McCarthy, the former top military legal adviser at Guantánamo, who called Khadr respectful, pleasant and friendly, and added, “Fifteen-year-olds, in my opinion, should not be held to the same level of accountability as adults.” In addition, as the Edmonton Journal reported today, his defense team drew on correspondence between Khadr and Arlette Zink, a teacher in Canada. She has corresponded with Khadr for the last two years, and has been encouraging him in his voracious appetite for literature, and, echoing Capt. McCarthy, she described him as a “polite, thoughtful, intelligent person.”

For the most part, however, Khadr’s lawyers were hobbled by their inability to dwell on the fundamental problems with the trial mentioned above, and also by the judge’s refusal to let them discuss another deeply disturbing aspect of Khadr’s story — the torture and abuse to which he was subjected, at least in the first two years of his imprisonment.

Back in May, I discussed some of the claims made by Khadr, as described in an affidavit submitted in February 2008 (PDF), in an article entitled, “The Torture of Omar Khadr, a Child in Bagram and Guantánamo,” in which I explained how

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

As I also explained:

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

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

At various points in 2003, while the use of these techniques was still widespread, Khadr stated that he was short-shackled in painful positions and left for up to ten hours in a freezing cold cell, threatened with rape and with being transferred to another country where he could be raped, and, on one particular occasion, when he had been left short-shackled in a painful position until he urinated on himself, “Military police poured pine oil on the floor and on me, and then, with me lying on my stomach and my hands and feet cuffed together behind me, the military police dragged me back and forth through the mixture of urine and pine oil on the floor. Later, I was put back in my cell, without being allowed a shower or a change of clothes. I was not given a change of clothes for two days. They did this to me again a few weeks later.”

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

Given the well-chronicled accounts of torture and abuse in Bagram and Guantánamo, including two murders in Bagram just months after Khadr was held there, and the official implementation of reverse-engineered torture techniques at Guantánamo in 2002 (which continued until 2004), it was disturbing that the judge in Khadr’s case, Army Col. Patrick Parrish, brushed over allegations of abuse and of rape threats that surfaced in pre-trial hearings in May (which I described in the article mentioned above), for two reasons. The first is because it keeps hidden from view the long and often brutal history of the Bush administration’s detention policies in the “War on Terror,” as experienced by everyone held at Guantánamo and in other Bush-era prisons, and the second is  because it specifically deprived Khadr of the opportunity to remind jurors — and the wider world — of the pressure he was put under to confess to the “crimes” of which he was accused.

On Friday, the defense team finally managed to mention the abusive conditions in which Khadr was held in Bagram, when one of his lawyers, Lt. Col. Jon Jackson, read out an unsworn statement by Khadr relating to an exchange he had with Joshua Claus, who, at the time, was a sergeant in the 519th Military Intelligence Battalion. Claus later served a five-month prison sentence after pleading guilty in a court martial to the abuse of an unidentified prisoner at Bagram, who was made “to roll back and forth on the floor and kiss the boots of his interrogator,” as Michelle Shephard described it in the Toronto Star, and also for his part in the murder of Dilawar, an Afghan taxi driver whe died in Bagram in December 2002.

As Claus conceded in May, he had come up with a scenario to terrify Khadr, which involved him being sent to a US prison and gang-raped, and the following statement by Khadr, describing his response to this threat, was the defense team’s last submission on Friday. It remains to be seen if it will sway the jury in any way as the jurors make their deliberations this weekend, deciding between, on the one hand, prosecutor Jeff Groharing’s description of Khadr as “a terrorist and a murderer,” who should be given a 25-year sentence, and, on the other, Lt. Col. Jackson’s description of him as a “child with a bad dad,” who “was radicalized as a child and has matured and changed while in US custody.” In his final words to the jury, Jackson said, “Every kid who has ever been born … deserves a second chance. This case is about giving Omar Khadr a first chance because he’s never had it. Send him back to Canada, let him start his education and career. There’s going to be no good in keeping him here. Send him home.”

Omar Khadr’s unsworn statement about the rape threat he received in Bagram

I ask that you consider this letter about what happened to me at Bagram in 2002. It is hard for me to talk about. I know it does not change what I did but I hope you will think about it when punishing me.

At first I did not tell them my interrogators what really happened. My main interrogator, Interrogator #1 [Sgt. Claus], told me he knew I was lying. He told me that it was fine if I did not tell him the truth. He told me a story about a young Afghan who lied to him. He told me they thought the Afghan guy had not done anything seriously wrong. But they sent him to an American prison for lying to Americans.

He told me a story about an Afghan getting sent to an American prison, and he said there’s a bunch of, you know, big black guys and, you know, the big Nazis are there, and they noticed this little Afghan who doesn’t speak their language. He, you know, he prays five times a day; he’s got to be a Muslim. Remember, they’re Americans. They’re still kind of upset and mad about the September 11th attacks, so, you know, they’re still patriotic even though they’re inmates. And the guards, they do everything they can to protect this little guy and keep him out of harm’s way, but, you know, nobody could be everywhere at once. Things happen. We don’t want things to happen, especially to anybody, and this poor little kid, we couldn’t clear out. You know, he’s like 20 years old. He’s kind of scared. He’s away from home; kind of isolated, you know, no one can really understand him.

It would be unfortunate that, you know — that apparently one time he was in the shower by himself and these four big black guys, they showed up in prison. They said, hey, we know all about you Muslims. You attacked the country. And we didn’t want anything to happen to this kid. We just wanted him to talk to us, but he decided he wanted to lie and didn’t want to be straight with us. And it’s terrible that something would happen but, you know, they caught him in the shower and they raped him and, you know, it was terrible. This kid got hurt. And we think he ended up dying but we’re not quite sure.

This story scared me very much and made me cry. Interrogator #3 was also there and he saw the whole thing happen.

Signed Omar A. Khadr

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

Cross-posted on Common Dreams, The Smirking Chimp, The Public Record and Uruknet.

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

Critics Attack UK Government’s Cruel and Ill-Conceived Assault on Welfare

As fat cat bosses’ pay is revealed to have risen by a staggering 55 percent last year, with Bart Becht, CEO of Reckitt Benckiser, ruling the trough with a salary and shares worth an incomprehensible £92.6 m, London Mayor Boris Johnson has come out as the foremost critic of the government’s heartless decision to place savage cuts to the welfare budget at the heart of the comprehensive spending review announced last week.

Speaking to BBC London, Johnson, who faces reelection in 2012 rather than 2015 and is not, therefore, able to live in ivory tower delusion like his Etonian chums, said, “The last thing we want to have in our city is a situation such as Paris where the less well-off are pushed out to the suburbs. I’ll emphatically resist any attempt to recreate a London where the rich and poor cannot live together. We will not see and we will not accept any kind of Kosovo-style social cleansing of London. On my watch, you are not going to see thousands of families evicted from the place where they have been living and have put down roots.”

Johnson’s comments triggered calls for an apology from — of all people — two Liberal Democrats, education minister Ed Davey, and business secretary Vince Cable, who called his language “ludicrously inflammatory,” but his opinion is just the colourful tip of an iceberg of criticism from council leaders and housing experts who, unlike the Cabinet, can see that plans to slash the overall housing budget from £8.4 bn to £4.4 bn, to cap housing benefit, and to subject new social housing tenants to short-term leases and rents set at 80 percent of market rates will indeed force poor and unemployed people out of central London and into ghettos where work will be harder to find and local councils will be hard-pressed to provide necessary services, and will also be financially counter-productive, causing the overall cost of benefits to rise.

Although Johnson later claimed he had been quoted “out of context,” his concerns were echoed by Tim Loughton, the children’s minister (and a fellow Tory), who, as the Guardian put it, “stressed he was not criticising the reforms,” but said that there were “very real concerns about poorer families being forced out of central London into the outer boroughs and I think that’s a very legitimate concern”. In fact, his remarks were refreshingly honest, and far more significant than the deliberately narrow and misleading focus of government spokesmen like housing minister Grant Shapps, who whined to the Guardian that the housing benefit system “has almost created an expectation that you could almost live anywhere, and that’s what has to stop.”

In contrast to this nonsense, the National Housing Federation, which represents housing associations, said the government’s plans will actually increase welfare bills because the majority of new tenants paying these inflated rents “would have their rents paid for through housing benefit.” The National Housing Federation added that, “in areas where rents are already high, such as the London boroughs of Camden, Hackney and Haringey, many tenants moving into new social homes would face bills of £340 per week for a three-bedroom property,” and, as a result, “Even if people could get a job, their earnings would disappear in high rent repayments.” According to David Orr, the chief executive of the National Housing Federation, this would mean they “would have to earn at least £54,000 before they could get off housing benefit and be in a position where they could keep the bulk of their additional salary and find themselves better off in work.”

As David Orr explained succinctly, “Because it is based on near-market rents, the new funding model will trap thousands of tenants in welfare dependency because they will simply not be able to earn enough money to pay for their homes without the support of housing benefit — which means the benefit bill for new low-cost housing will go through the roof.”

Additional problems have been identified by council leaders, as the Guardian also explained yesterday, noting that councils in London — including Tory councils — “have privately warned that low-income families will be driven out of richer neighbourhoods to the suburban fringes and parts of the deprived inner city, putting pressure on social services and schools and potentially ‘triggering a spiral of debt, eviction and homelessness.’”

As the Guardian also noted, councils are under no illusions that the government’s main proposals — to cap payments to private landlords from next April, to peg payments to a third of market rates, down from a half, by next October, and to cut 10 percent from jobseekers’ housing benefit by 2013 — will create anything other than socially divisive chaos.

As the Guardian also explained:

London boroughs estimate that 82,000 families — more than 200,000 people — face losing their homes because private landlords, enjoying a healthy rental market buoyed by young professionals who cannot afford to buy, will not cut rents to the level of caps imposed by ministers. The result would be “social flight” to poorer parts of the capital as the reforms, according to one local authority, “effectively make it impossible for low-income households to rent in the private sector in inner London”.

The leader of Haringey council, Clare Kober, told the Guardian that “other London councils have been buying up leases in the borough in anticipation of having to house their claimants in cheaper areas,” and stated, “It’s segregating the capital which is extremely problematic for social cohesion and puts real pressure on services here. In the last two months we have seen an influx of 40 children on child protection plans. That’s more than a 10% rise for us in vulnerable children … which means other services come under pressure.”

No one, it seems, really wants to talk about how the problem is not the poor and the unemployed, but the shortage of housing and inflated rental prices, which is what has sickened me from the moment that the Tories persuaded the Liberal Democrats to join them in their kamikaze coalition government, but in exposing these grave problems, the councils involved, the various housing experts, and Boris Johnson (in spite of his furious attempts at back-pedalling) have at least started to fight back against the government’s monstrous plans.

I can only hope that further sustained pressure will force the kind of major rethink that allows those involved in providing social housing to make practical decisions, instead of being dictated to by impatient ideologues like David Cameron, George Osborne and their other privileged colleagues. To put it bluntly, the axemen of Downing Street cannot disguise the fact that, beneath their talk of “fairness” and necessity, lurks a conviction that a hideously complicated problem, involving far more than the “work-shy,” should be dealt with only through brutal and myopic cuts that promise nothing more than unnecessary suffering on a colossal scale.

Because of their desire to punish the poor at a time of ongoing economic crisis, breaking the unwritten rule of genuine “fairness,” which stipulates that, if you really can’t resist the impulse to bash the poor, you should only do so at a time of recognizable economic growth, David Cameron and George Osborne attracted my undying disdain with last Wednesday’s spending review, which I regard as the single cruellest day in politics in my lifetime.

Given that I spend most of my time maintaining the focus on Guantánamo and related issues that I have established over the last three and a half years, I don’t always have the time to write much about the smug stupidity of David Cameron, George Osborne and other members of the Cabinet, or the particular cruelty that can only come from people with a genuine disdain for poverty and suffering, but I promise that I will keep reminding them of my implacable opposition to their heartlessness whenever I am able.

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.

In Omar Khadr’s Sentencing Phase, US Government Introduces Islamophobic “Expert” and Irrelevant Testimony

This has been a very poor week for American justice. On Monday, the Obama administration secured a plea deal in the trial by Military Commission of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, who was 15 years old when he was seized by US forces in July 2002. As a result, the United States has become the first supposedly civilized country since the Second World War to secure the conviction of a former child prisoner, even though, under the terms of the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which the US ratified in December 2002, signatories are obliged to “[r]ecogniz[e] the special needs of those children who are particularly vulnerable to recruitment or use in hostilities,” and are to ensure “the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict.” To make it absolutely clear, the Optional Protocol deals with the treatment of juvenile prisoners — those who are under 18 at the time that their alleged crimes take place.

In addition, the crimes to which Khadr admitted as part of his plea deal — murder in violation of the laws of war (for apparently throwing a grenade that killed Delta Force Sgt. Christopher Speer), spying, material support for terrorism, conspiracy and attempted murder — are only war crimes in the United States, as the result of decisions taken by the US Congress in 2006, and revived by the Obama administration in 2009. According to this absurd and unjust scenario, Khadr is “an alien unprivileged enemy belligerent,” who did not have “any legal basis to commit any war-like acts” at all. As I explained in a recent article:

[T]his is exactly the sort of twisted argument used by the Bush administration to hold men and boys without rights and to pretend that they had been by-passed completely by the Geneva Conventions, when in fact anyone captured in wartime must be given the minimum baseline protections of Common Article 3. Pretending that certain types of combatants have no rights — and are “enemy combatants,” or, in Obama’s words, “alien unprivileged enemy belligerents” — is exactly the mindset that led to the vile conclusion that prisoners seized in the “War on Terror” could be tortured and abused, and were, essentially, something less than human.

The final problem, as succinctly identified by Dennis Edney, one of Khadr’s long-term Canadian civilian lawyers, is that there is not necessarily any correlation between what Khadr actually did back in 2002, and what he conceded to doing as part of his plea deal. Explaining why Khadr accepted a plea deal, having previously refused to accept the charges against him, Edney said it was a “very, very difficult” decision, and one which he “made only because Canada agreed to repatriate him after a year,” as the Associated Press described it, adding that Edney had explained that it “came down to a choice” between an “illegal” trial “and going home — and he chose the latter.” He insisted, however, that he stood by his client’s prior protestations of innocence regarding the death of Sgt. Speer. “We have reviewed the evidence … We have looked at the circumstances and it’s our clear opinion that Mr. Khadr is an innocent man, that Mr. Khadr was put into a hellish conflict and continues to remain in this hellhole that has a record internationally of abuse,” Edney said.

Although the plea deal is secure, the Obama administration has been obliged to weather a storm of international criticism — including a complaint by Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN undersecretary-general responsible for children and armed conflict, who stated on Thursday, in a letter delivered to Guantánamo (PDF), that Khadr’s case “is a deep concern for all of us in the international community working on the issue of children and armed conflict.” She added, “In every sense Omar represents the classic child soldier narrative, recruited by unscrupulous groups to undertake actions at the bidding of adults to fight battles they barely understand,” and urged the Commission “to consider international practice — practice supported by the US Government — that Omar Khadr not be subject to further incarceration but that arrangements be made for him to enter a controlled rehabilitation program in Canada.”

Nevertheless, Khadr’s trial has moved on to a sentencing phase, in which evidence is being submitted in the courtroom at Guantánamo this week by both the prosecution and the defense, before a seven-member military jury will deliver its own sentence. As I explained in another recent article, because “the details of Khadr’s plea deal have not been made public, this strange formality (which involves a sentence without a trial) will only mean anything if the jury delivers a less severe sentence than the one negotiated in secret.”

In its first attempt to persuade the military jury to deliver a harsh sentence to Khadr, the prosecution began by calling on a controversial psychiatrist, Michael Welner, to describe Khadr’s mental state. Welner, who “interviewed Khadr for about eight hours over two days this summer, but told the court he had spent 500-600 hours on the case,” as the Toronto Star explained, seized headlines on Tuesday with his lurid descriptions of how Khadr was an al-Qaeda “rock star” who had “been marinating in a radical Islamic community” in Guantánamo. “He is devout. He is angry,” Welner said. “He identifies with his family, which has radical leanings. He is not remorseful and he is not westernized although he is very articulate and smooth.” Welner also said, “He’s highly dangerous. He murdered. He has been part of al-Qaeda. And we’re still at war.” As the Miami Herald described it, Welner also claimed that Khadr’s family “had the ‘stardust’ of proximity with the bin Ladens,” and that, at Guantánamo, although Khadr was the youngest prisoner, “his elders confer on him the honor of prayer leader.”

As Michelle Shephard explained in the Toronto Star, Welner became “increasingly agitated” as one of Khadr’s lawyers, Air Force Maj. Matthew Schwartz, “challenged his credibility,” saying he had delivered “hours and hours of hearsay-filled testimony,” but it was not until Thursday that the contentious nature of Welner’s work was revealed, when Shephard explained that “[p]art of his assessment relied on the research of Danish psychologist Nicolai Sennels,” the author of Among Criminal Muslims, who has called the Qur’an “a criminal book that forces people to do criminal things,” and has claimed that “massive inbreeding within the Muslim culture during the last 1,400 years may have done catastrophic damage to their gene pool.”

In contrast to Welner’s testimony, the defense team secured testimony from Navy Capt. Patrick McCarthy, the former top military legal adviser at Guantánamo, who, as the Associated Press put it, stated that Khadr was “a model prisoner, respectful and helpful to military personnel.” Speaking by video link from Afghanistan, where he is currently stationed, Capt. McCarthy, who “said he could not recall ever before testifying for the defense in a sentencing hearing,” explained that Khadr was “not one of the ‘radical’ detainees who assaulted guards,” and sometimes “served as a mediator between Guantánamo officials and prisoners to help quell tensions.” Capt. McCarthy stated, “Mr. Khadr was always very respectful. He had a pleasant demeanor. He was friendly.” He also directly contradicted Welner, telling the military jury that “he believes Khadr has the potential to be rehabilitated in part because of his age,” and made a point of criticizing the decision to prosecute a former child prisoner. “Fifteen-year-olds, in my opinion, should not be held to the same level of accountability as adults,” he said.

Another contentious part of the prosecution’s case has involved calling on Tabitha Speer, Sgt. Speer’s widow, and Delta Force Sgt. Layne Morris, who was blinded in one eye during the firefight. On Wednesday, Sgt. Morris spoke briefly about how his injury obliged him to retire from the military, and how “the ‘stability’ he once gave his four children wasn’t there when he returned home to Utah,” as the Toronto Star described it.

On Thursday, Tabitha Speer, who was left with a young daughter and a baby son when her husband died, told Khadr, “You will always be a murderer in my eyes.” Drawing on a passage in the “Stipulation of Fact” that Khadr signed as part of his plea deal (PDF), she told the military jury that Khadr “had the choice to leave with the women and children before the firefight broke out at the al-Qaeda compound where he lived, but chose instead to stay and fight US forces,” as Reuters described it. “Everybody wants to talk about how he’s the victim, how he’s the child. I don’t see that,” she said. “He made a choice. My children had no choice [and] didn’t deserve to have their father taken by someone like you.”

This was obviously powerful testimony, and led to an apology on Khadr’s part. “I am really, really sorry for the pain I have caused you and your family,” he said (in a statement reproduced here), adding, “I wish I could do something that would take that pain away.” As the Globe and Mail described it, he also said that he “carried no anger in his heart,” had learned from reading Nelson Mandela that “you won’t gain anything from hate,” and believes that “Love and forgiveness are more constructive, they will bring people together and solve lots of problems.”

Without wishing to sideline the suffering of the family of Sgt. Speer, or of Sgt. Morris, their testimony is only relevant in the vision of war conjured up by the US government, in which Khadr, as an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent,” was engaged in illegal combat and can legitimately be viewed as a “murderer” and as someone who refused to leave the compound with the women and other children because he “knowingly and voluntarily” stayed (as the “Stipulation of Fact” described it), whereas, as a juvenile, he cannot be held accountable for his actions.

As someone who despises war, I do not wish to see anyone die, either in combat or in any other circumstances, but war produces casualties on both sides, in firefights like the one that led to Khadr’s capture, and the death of Sgt. Speer, as well as in the countless bombing raids that have led to an almost unthinkable number of civilian deaths, and using the testimony of Tabitha Speer and Sgt. Morris only reinforces the unacceptable opinion that, post-9/11, fighting against US forces is in and of itself a crime.

It is not, and as Omar Khadr’s sentencing phase continues, the focus should remain on the injustice of prosecuting a former child prisoner for invented war crimes charges, and not on the spurious opinions of hysterical psychiatrists or — however distressing — the suffering of soldiers and their families. With respect, the ongoing travesty of Omar Khadr’s conviction is about fundamental notions of justice that have been thoroughly undermined and betrayed from the moment, last November, that the Obama administration chose to proceed with Khadr’s trial by Military Commission, and nothing should be allowed to obscure that uncomfortable truth.

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

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) 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 World Can’t Wait, The Progressive Mind, The Public Record and Uruknet,

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

Omar Khadr’s Statement at Guantánamo, October 28, 2010

On Thursday, at Guantánamo, Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen who accepted a plea deal on Monday in his trial by Military Commission, and is now facing sentencing hearings so that a military jury can deliver a sentence in his case, made a statement that, as the Globe and Mail described it, was “the first time [he] has spoken more than a few words publicly since he was captured and gravely wounded after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002,” at the age of 15. Khadr’s statement concluded with an apology to Tabitha Speer, the widow of Delta Force Sgt. Christopher Speer, who died in the firefight, and is reproduced below in the edited form made available to the media. For a more detailed analysis of the circumstances in which this statement was made, see the accompanying article, “In Omar Khadr’s Sentencing Phase, US Government Introduces Islamophobic ‘Expert’ and Irrelevant Testimony.”

Omar Khadr’s statement

My name is Omar Khadr. I’m 24 years old. I finished 8th Grade. My hobbies are sports and reading. I decided to plead guilty to take responsibility for the acts I’ve done …

Firstly, I lost my sight in my left eye. And my right eye was severely wounded. I still experience problems with my right eye. I have a cataract and shrapnel. I’ve been notified by medical staff that I might lose my vision from my injuries. I was shot twice in my back. Once in my left shoulder, another in my back and they both exited from my chest …

Oh, that’s my biggest dream and biggest wish, to get out of this place. Because, being in this place, I’ve really known and understood the wonders and beauties of life I haven’t experienced before. I would really like to have a chance to experience these things.

The first thing is school and knowledge, have the chance to have true relationships, an experience I’ve never had in my life. And almost everything else in life. Education is knowledge and I have a fascination with knowledge. I just feel it’s something beautiful to understand and know and have a sense of everything in life …

The most important thing that I wish for is being a doctor of medicine. That’s because, me personally, I’ve experienced from my injuries physical pain and I’ve experienced like emotional pains. I know what pain means. I’d really love to relieve a person who is suffering from such pain.

During my time here, as Nelson Mandela says, in prison, the most thing you have is time to think about things. I’ve had a lot of time to think about things. I came to a conclusion that hate, first thing is, you’re not going to gain anything with hate. Second thing, it’s more destructive than it’s constructive. Third thing: I came to a conclusion that love and forgiveness are more constructive and will bring people together and will give them understanding and will solve a lot of problems …

[Standing, to Tabitha Speer]:

I’m really really sorry for the pain I’ve caused you and your family. I wish I could do something that would take this pain away from you. This is all I can say.

Note: The courtroom sketch above is by Janet Hamlin, and is reproduced courtesy of Janet Hamlin Illustration.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) 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 Discusses Omar Khadr’s Depressing Plea Deal on Antiwar Radio

On Monday, after former child prisoner Omar Khadr accepted a plea deal at Guantánamo, nodding his assent to a vast list of crimes (PDF), including membership of al-Qaeda and the “illegal” killing of a US Special Forces soldier, I responded to an urgent request for an interview and spoke to my old friend Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio. The ten-minute interview is here (and here as an MP3), and in it I ran through the many reasons why the outcome is particularly distressing from the point of view of anyone concerned with justice, due process and the need to demolish the brutal worldview established by the Bush administration, whose senior officials believed that it was acceptable to torture children, and to put them forward for war crimes trials on charges invented by Congress.

The first is because these odious policies have now been demonstrably maintained by President Obama, on whose watch this wretched plea deal took place. As a result, a Democratic President — and one who criticized the Bush administration’s crimes while in opposition — has presided over the first conviction of a former child prisoner in a supposedly civilized country since the Second World War, when all along, according to the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which was ratified by the US in December 2002, he should have been rehabilitated rather than punished.

The second is because, as I explained in two articles following the plea deal, and as lawyers with actual knowledge of the law have explained, the “war crimes” to which Khadr confessed are not war crimes at all, and were only invented by Congress in 2006, and maintained when Obama revived the Commissions last year. Of particular concern to me are Khadr’s consent to claims that he was an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent” — who did not have “any legal basis to commit any war-like acts,” and who was essentially unable to fight back against US forces, because he would be a terrrorist if he did so — and the allied claim that he was “guilty of violating the law of war,” if he did indeed throw the grenade that killed Sgt. Christopher Speer, because killing a US soldier in wartime is only a war crime in the bleak and horrendously one-sided fantasy world of the Military Commissions.

It is, to put it bluntly, sickening that, over nine years after the “War on Terror” began, the Obama adminstration is defending the right of the United States to conclude that certain individuals have no rights whatseover — if not as “detainees,” then as combatants in a war zone, as this is exactly the sort of twisted argument used by the Bush administration to hold men and boys without rights and to pretend that they had been by-passed completely by the Geneva Conventions, when in fact anyone captured in wartime must be given the minimum baseline protections of Common Article 3. Pretending that certain types of combatants have no rights — and are “enemy combatants,” or, in Obama’s words, “alien unprivileged enemy belligerents” — is exactly the mindset that led to the vile conclusion that prisoners seized in the “War on Terror” could be tortured and abused, and were, essentially, something less than human.

The third problem concerns the truth — or lack of it — in the list of crimes which Khadr accepted as the key part of his plea deal, which may or may not be true. Right-wingers are over the moon, shouting, “Al-Qaeda!” and “terrorist” from the rooftops, whereas the truth is, of course, almost impossible to discern. Faced with the prospect of losing a trial, Khadr obviously concluded that the plea deal was the only way to avoid a possible life sentence, in a barbaric system that didn’t care whether he was responsible for whatever actions he may or may not have committed at the age of 15, under the malign influence of his father. As a result, he agreed to all the charges against him, but no one, it seems to me, can state with absolutely certainly that they know what is true and what is not.

Instead, all we can be sure of is that Khadr’s plea deal provides him with some sort of escape route, and provides the US government with the ability to claim some sort of twisted justification for its actions over the last eight years, disguising the fact that it involved the arbitrary detention of a juvenile in an experimental prison established to pursue the coercive interrogation of men and boys without any rights whatsoever.

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 Interviews Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Adel El-Gazzar in Slovakia

Over the last 18 months, as part of the slow-moving process of closing Guantánamo, the Obama administration — having refused to offer new homes on the US mainland to cleared prisoners who cannot be repatriated because they face the risk of torture — has prevailed on other countries to help out. To date, 37 former prisoners have been resettled in 16 different countries, and in January this year, three of these men — Adel el-Gazzar, an Egyptian, Poolad Tsiradzho, an Azerbaijani and Rafiq al-Hami, a Tunisian — arrived in Slovakia. Profiles of the men are available here.

On arrival, however, they were taken to a deportation centre, where, according to reports, conditions were little better than in Guantánamo, and after five months they embarked on a hunger strike to protest about the Slovakian government’s failure to clarify their status and arrange for them to be rehoused. They were subsequently given a home in a small town in central Slovakia where, two weeks ago, Cageprisoners director and former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg met up with them and interviewed Adel el-Gazzar about his extraordinarily harrowing story of torture, abuse, amputation, courage and hope. This is a remarkable interview with a clearly remarkable man, and I’m delighted to cross-post it below, as Adel’s story is one that leapt out at me while I was researching The Guantánamo Files, in that it so obviously involved incompetence and injustice, and also involved a very articulate individual.

Moazzam Begg: Bismillah al-Rahman al-Raheem, can you please introduce yourself?

Adel el-Gazzar: My name is Adel Fattough Ali el-Gazzar. I am from Egypt. I was born in 1965, in Cairo. I am a father of four. I used to work as an accountant in Egypt and in Saudi Arabia. 

Moazzam Begg: How did you come to be captured by the Americans?

Adel el-Gazzar: I was captured in 2001 after the September 11 attacks. I had been working in Quetta, Pakistan with the Saudi Red Crescent. I was helping the refugees who, after the American attack in Afghanistan, numbered hundreds of thousands escaping from war. Their lives were very miserable; no clean water, no medicine, no food, no tents, no blankets. I was helping to provide them with food, medicine and basic necessities. I was in Chaman, a small border town between Afghanistan and Pakistan. A night raid was launched by the Americans and they hit the refugee camp, our camp.

Moazzam Begg: They attacked with helicopters and with military vehicles?

Adel el-Gazzar: Yes we actually couldn’t see the helicopters and vehicles, we were just hearing the sounds of exploding shells.

Moazzam Begg: Were there many casualties?

Adel el-Gazzar: Yes, several, and I was injured myself. I sustained a deep injury to my left leg and fell on the ground. Within two or three minutes I was unconscious and when I woke I found myself in a small hospital with some other injured. Some may have been killed too. I remember one kid aged eight or nine with us in the hospital. I spent about two hours or three hours in this hospital then we were moved to the main hospital in Quetta.

Moazzam Begg: You were still in Pakistani custody at this time?

Adel el-Gazzar: Actually I didn’t know exactly where I was, just that I was in hospital. Many doctors came to see me and check my situation. They told me that I needed some instant surgery so I went to the operating room. I went four or five times, I think, I’m not sure, but it was not custody, it was a hospital. But there were some officials who came and questioned me — I believe from Pakistani intelligence — taking basic details about me. After a couple of weeks I started to notice some Americans in the hospital.

Moazzam Begg: You received severe injuries to your leg. Can you describe what had happened?

Adel el-Gazzar: I asked the doctor exactly what happened to me. He said that it was shrapnel from a rocket that shattered my leg; it destroyed the tibia completely. Then they put an external clamp to help join the bone together.

Moazzam Begg: Where did you go to next after this hospital?

Adel el-Gazzar: I spent seven days in this hospital. Then I was transferred to Makkah hospital, which belonged to the Saudi Red Crescent. The treatment was very, very good. Many doctors from different branches came to visit me and treat my injuries. I remained in the hospital for over a month.

Moazzam Begg: At what point did you know the Americans were involved?

Adel el-Gazzar: One week before that time a CIA agent came to the hospital to question me but I refused to answer. I had done nothing wrong, but I began to feel that maybe I will get transferred to the Americans. We had begun to hear that they were looking for Arabs.

Moazzam Begg: How did you imagine the Americans might treat you?

Adel el-Gazzar: I knew something about their history so I was under no illusions. I started to hear on the radio about what they are doing in Guantánamo, but I didn’t imagine for a second that I would be sent there.

Moazzam Begg: You had already heard about Guantánamo?

Adel el-Gazzar: Yes, I saw some pictures and reports about it, but as I said, thoughts of that place were far from my head. To be honest at this time the treatment on the Pakistani side was really very good. Even the governor of Quetta used to visit us, sometimes twice a day, and he was showing his sympathy. Not only him, I received hundreds of visitors within these thirty-five days — people I don’t know. They just came and tried to help, gave me money, clothes and food every day. The Pakistani visitors were very kind.

Moazzam Begg: Some non-Pakistanis who later ended up in Guantánamo also stated that they were treated similarly in Pakistan. Why then do you think the Pakistanis handed you over to the Americans?

Adel el-Gazzar: It was out of their [ordinary people’s] control. A young man from Pakistani intelligence started to visit us from time to time. He never asked any questions, he just apparently wanted to offer his help. Then one evening he came crying tears, saying that it was my last night in Pakistan. At this point the surgeons were still trying to see if they could save my leg; an operation was due the next day. But the man said I was going to leave today. I asked him where I was going and he said he couldn’t tell me. I felt something bad was about to happen.

Moazzam Begg: Did you think it was the Americans at the time?

Adel el-Gazzar: I started to suspect something but there was no reason to believe it. The governor came and said he had had a meeting and they had decided that as this hospital didn’t have enough facilities for the operation I was to be moved to another hospital also in Quetta.

Moazzam Begg: Were you by yourself or was anyone with you?

Adel el-Gazzar: There were four others with me. All were injured. We were taken to Quetta airport and we saw the Americans. They took us out of the ambulance on stretchers and the Americans came wearing gloves.

Moazzam Begg: What did the Pakistanis say to you?

Adel el-Gazzar: This time they were very bad in the ambulance. They kicked me and put a hood on my head. Their behaviour had completely changed. I started to shout and protest, saying we were all Muslims. They said, “Shut up, don’t talk, you are a terrorist!” Then the Americans came, searched me and put me onto the aeroplane. Unbelievably they taped me all around my body to the stretcher and put a hood over my face.

Moazzam Begg: What was going through your mind as you were handed over to the Americans?

Adel el-Gazzar: I was thinking that it was the end of my life or I will face a very bad time in the future.

Moazzam Begg: And your family had no idea what was going to happen?

Adel el-Gazzar: Nothing, I had been on the phone talking to my wife earlier from the hospital, crying, saying to her I’m sorry, forgive me, I think this is the last time in my life I will speak to her, please pray for me. And she was crying, saying, “What’s happening, what’s happening?” And then they took the phone from me.

Moazzam Begg: What kind of “welcome” did you receive in Kandahar?

Adel el-Gazzar: It was a terrible night.  We reached Kandahar around midnight. It was very, very cold and raining heavily. Then they took me from the plane and put me into a tent. The tent had some holes in the top so the rain was pouring on to my face. I couldn’t see much but the constant roar of the engines meant that flights were coming in day and night. Then medics came and cut off all my clothes and bandages on my injury with scissors and left me naked. They were screaming at me that I deserved what was happening to me, and that I am about to die as a terrorist.

Moazzam Begg: How long did you remain in this state?

Adel el-Gazzar: About 24 hours. I was completely naked. Without a blanket, without anything. I felt I was about to die just from the cold. Then they moved me from this tent to another. Once I reached the second tent they started to beat me, on my head, my stomach, my back, my hands and legs. They kicked my injured leg and I was screaming in agony but they just laughed and danced like it was a joke. The following day they gave me some clothes and then the interrogations began properly.

Moazzam Begg: What were they asking you?

Adel el-Gazzar: About basic details in the beginning, but this was the first of many. The second one was long: they asked me why I came to Pakistan, how they captured me, al-Qaeda, Bin Laden, the Taliban. Things I couldn’t answer. They mentioned some names I didn’t even know.

Moazzam Begg: What was the feeling you got from the other prisoners about the future?

Adel el-Gazzar: Nothing, we were just talking and laughing with each another — despite the hardships. We were not thinking about Guantánamo, because they came to us many times and said in just a few days everybody will go home. Even when they took us on the plane to Guantánamo we thought that they were taking us home

Moazzam Begg: Did the Americans give you any idea that they were in fact sending everybody to Guantánamo?

Adel el-Gazzar: No idea. I was more concerned about my leg, because I had severe pain and the environment was dirty, so I was worried that it might get infected. The American doctors were telling me it had to be amputated. I resisted, arguing with them about what the Pakistani surgeons had said, that they could save my leg. I even showed them the X-rays that I had kept. The Americans just laughed and said the Pakistanis didn’t know anything about medicine and treatments. In the end one of them admitted that they could save my leg but the operation would costs thousands of dollars and that America was a “poor country.” It was amputation or nothing.

Moazzam Begg: What was the journey to Guantánamo like?

Adel el-Gazzar: It took about 20 hours or more. I was on a stretcher with my face covered and my body taped, as before. I was trying to sleep because that was the best option, but of course it was very difficult. The pain and discomfort was excruciating. I pleaded with a medic for a sedative, which I got. I woke up in Guantánamo.

Moazzam Begg: What is your first memory of Guantánamo?

Adel el-Gazzar: I remember being thirsty, and I asked for water. It was a sunny day, very sunny. Then I was forcibly stripped naked again while they washed my body.

Moazzam Begg: You remained in Camp X-Ray on the stretcher in the cell?

Adel el-Gazzar: Yes, I spent 25 days in X-Ray. I was taken to the hospital for amputation.

Moazzam Begg: How did you respond to this?

Adel el-Gazzar: Of course I refused in the beginning. The doctor said it was up to me but that they couldn’t do anything to save my leg but amputate it. I explained what I’d been told in Pakistan but I got the same as answer as I’d had in Kandahar: Pakistanis didn’t know anything, the leg had to go. As the days passed the pain increased and the colour of my leg started to turn grey — almost black. I asked them to clean the wound, and to change the dressing every day and night but they wouldn’t do it. When I asked them in the morning for a new dressing they said they will do it in the afternoon, and in the afternoon they said they will do it in the morning, like that.

Moazzam Begg: So you would go through days without having it cleaned?

Adel el-Gazzar: Yes, but worse than that. The wound was open and big — without any kind of treatment besides basic dressings. They forced us to take showers so the wound got wet many times. The pain became almost unbearable. One day I remember I was crying terribly from the pain. A doctor turned up with painkillers but he said, “I will give you the medication, and your pain will be gone within 10 minutes, but first you need to sign a confession that you’re a member of al-Qaeda.” I told him I’m not a member of al-Qaeda and cannot confess to a lie. He put the medication in his pocket and walked off. However, most of the other prisoners advised me correctly that I had no option but to accept the amputation as it had passed the stage of being saved and had become gangrenous and could spread higher up the leg the longer it was left. I finally gave in. Ten days later a doctor came with consent papers for me to sign. The next day I was taken to the hospital.

Moazzam Begg: How did you feel knowing your leg was gone?

Adel el-Gazzar: After the anaesthesia wore off I looked at my leg, but couldn’t find it. I started to cry. The doctor came to me and he was trying to be sympathetic, saying, “Its fine, don’t worry, you’ll have an artificial leg one day and you’ll be able to walk, don’t worry.”

Moazzam Begg: So you spent all this time waiting for an artificial leg living in a wheelchair?

Adel el-Gazzar: They gave me crutches. I spent about 70 days in hospital after the amputation because the leg got infected. I was put on a long term of antibiotics, to make sure the gangrene didn’t spread. I returned to the hospital many times.

Moazzam Begg: How long after you the amputation were you given a prosthetic leg?

Adel el-Gazzar: About six months later.

Moazzam Begg: Are you aware of how many other prisoners received amputations whilst they were in Guantánamo?

Adel el-Gazzar: There were 13 people. All were legs except one guy from Morocco, he lost his left hand. There was also a brother from Saudi Arabia [Abdullah al-Anazi, released in September 2007]. He lost both legs.

Moazzam Begg: Do you think that this number of amputations happened because the wounds were so bad or because the medical treatment was inadequate?

Adel el-Gazzar: Most of the wounds were not so bad. There were some that were very bad, but, for example, I remember there was a man from Turkistan [Uighur], his name was Ahmad [Abdulahad, released in Palau in October 2009], who had just a very small wound, no broken bones or anything, and they told him the only solution was to amputate his leg. I was pleading with him not to accept it but they were trying to show us that it is a hopeless case and that there is no treatment. And the treatment in the hospital was very bad, not from the doctors, but from the MPs [military police]. They would sing and dance in front of us while we were in pain. We were constantly shackled to the cots and were not allowed to talk or even look in a particular direction. Despite our pain and condition we were expected to sleep at fixed times.

Moazzam Begg: What would they do if you contravened these rules?

Adel el-Gazzar: They would kick you in the head, take your blanket, withhold food, threaten you with more abuse and threaten to withhold our treatment if we failed to comply.

Moazzam Begg: After all that you had endured, especially the amputation, how did you manage to keep your faith strong?

Adel el-Gazzar: First I believed that everything was qadr [fate], so that put everything before the will of God. I am sure that He never does anything wrong to his slaves, He is always doing the best for them. I believed it was best for me to be amputated. Perhaps if I still had two legs I might have used them to do something wrong. So I pray Allah protects me not to do any bad in the future.  In the beginning I was sorry about losing a limb, especially when I started to suffer physically, going to the bathroom, walking, doing any physical activity. I thought to myself it would be a difficult time in the future — for the rest of my life. But, subhan Allah [Glory be to God], after a few days I was completely satisfied and I started to deal with the new situation happily, and now I’m okay, I put on my [prosthetic] leg like it’s no big deal.

Moazzam Begg: During this time did you manage to get any letters to or from your family?

Adel el-Gazzar: No. For the whole first year I never got anything. The first letter I received was in August 2003. It was via the Red Cross, from my father and my wife. They told me that they know I’m in Guantánamo and they were trying to give me some solace: to be strong and patient and not to worry about them. My father passed away in 2007 — while I was still in prison.

Moazzam Begg: Did your family know that your leg had been amputated by this time?

Adel el-Gazzar: I didn’t have it in me to tell them, for several years.

Moazzam Begg: The interrogators wanted to break the prisoners but you say in fact you were “rebuilt” there. Did the Americans not achieve what they wanted?

Adel el-Gazzar: They failed. I found that the Muslims can be very, very strong if they believe in God and His power. And the Americans are nothing against the Muslims united as a nation. It was a struggle between us and them — not a struggle of weapons but a struggle, a battle of wills. An example of this could be seen every day at maghrib [sunset] when their national anthem collided with our athaan [call to prayer.] But I believe they lost. They followed orders — we followed our hearts. I left Guantánamo stronger in my faith and perseverance than ever before.

Moazzam Begg: You saw many brothers from different parts of the world going through similar hardships, very young and very old people. How did it make you feel about yourself?

Adel el-Gazzar: There were some people in very bad situations compared to me but we were like one family. Like the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said, “The example of the believers in the compassion to one another is like that of one body. If one part is harmed, the entire body is affected.” We were like that. The moment we heard that a brother is suffering in a different camp, we did not ask about his nationality, race, culture, education, school of thought or age. We just care that he is a Muslim and we need to support him, and this is a part of our religion. We were really one man. This is what we are trying to inform the nation: just to be one body. We have One God, one Quran, one shari’ah. So we should not be divided.

Moazzam Begg: As a group, what did you do to try and challenge the abuses and lack of human rights afforded to you?

Adel el-Gazzar: We were always on strikes, not only hunger strikes, but resisting all the rules, even if we were told to hang the towel on one side or the other [of the cell]. The Americans at first were really surprised.

Moazzam Begg: Would you say that the prisoners there were organised? How did they manage to sustain this resistance?

Adel el-Gazzar: The suffering made us, the detention made us. We were not organised. We were just one body, one heart, but it was from God

Moazzam Begg: The Americans have maintained that this is strategy taught from the Al-Qaeda training manual on how to resist. How would you respond?

Adel el-Gazzar: This is a big lie, they were lying to themselves and they were trying to lie to the others. It was not like that. I think that there are no members of Al-Qaeda, the Taliban over there. And as I told you they made a big mistake by capturing us. They told all the other nations that “we destroyed the mujahideen” and there will be no more al-Qaeda, no more Taliban in the future, and then they told themselves that it was a mistake and they couldn’t fix it.

Moazzam Begg: In Guantánamo there was a large variety of people from many countries. How did you all communicate?

Adel el-Gazzar: We tried to learn each other’s languages and even if we couldn’t we have a language in common. We still have faith, and it doesn’t matter where you are from or what language you speak as long as you are Muslims together and we are one together. So because of this I never had any communication problems.

Moazzam Begg: There are still 174 prisoners left in Guantánamo, after almost nine years without charge or trial. What do you think is the solution for them?

Adel el-Gazzar: Most of the people would like to go back to their countries — about 90 from Yemen, 10 from Saudi Arabia, 10 from Algeria and so forth. There are a handful of course who cannot return home and they should be provided for at all levels. But I don’t know why they don’t want to send these people back. There is something “under the table,” as I said, but they should close the place down and send the people who can return back to their homes.

Moazzam Begg: At the beginning of this year you and two other men were released and sent here to Slovakia. What were your feelings when you were informed that you were about to be released?

Adel el-Gazzar: The first thing I did was I cried like a [new] born baby. And I was really very, very happy that I was going to leave Guantánamo, but I was also very sad that I was going to leave my brothers behind in such a place. And I was wondering about how I was going to live in another country, start a new life with an uncertain future.

Moazzam Begg: Did you know you were coming to Slovakia?

Adel el-Gazzar: Yes, but I didn’t know anything about Slovakia. It is the first time I’ve ever been in Europe. I was thinking about my family — would I be able to bring them here or not? I was also wondering whether I would be able to adapt to a new life in Europe, as it is completely different to my life in Egypt. I had mixed feelings — between happiness and sadness: because I’m leaving [Guantánamo] and because I’m leaving my brothers. Generally though, I was happy.

Moazzam Begg: One thing that’s common amongst former prisoners is that in addition to their families they are constantly concerned about the affairs of other prisoners — or former prisoners. Why do you think this is the case?

Adel el-Gazzar: We already lived together for many years. I lived with my brothers in Guantánamo more than I lived with my own wife and children. So we really became a big family. Some of the brothers are older than me — some are younger. I saw the older ones equivalent to my father and the younger ones like my brothers or sons. Imagine a family that consists of 800 or so — everyone tries to take care of one another. We had the same feelings; we suffered under the same circumstances and troubles — good or bad.

Moazzam Begg: Prisoners have recently been resettled to countries all over Europe. Some are of course better than others. Do you think the Americans thought this process through properly?

Adel el-Gazzar: As I said, I am thankful for having been released, but I know they don’t care; they just send us to these countries to somehow uphold the reputation of America as a kind nation, especially when everyone knows how much they have been involved in torture around the world. Also, so the European countries will control them more than the original countries of the prisoners. The most difficult thing for me returning to a foreign county, not that of my own origin, is that in Guantánamo I was with my family (the Muslim prisoners), but here in Slovakia I have no family, no wife, no kids and no Muslims. There are no mosques here and only a couple of Muslims around. Every Friday for prayers I have to travel four hours to the capital and four hours back.

Moazzam Begg: You say your faith was the most important thing back in Guantánamo. Are you now weaker than you were there?

Adel el-Gazzar: Yes, but I am compensating for it by trying to be closer to Allah by praying, reading Quran more and also reading useful books. I am also able to contact my family and friends abroad so it decreases the loneliness a little.

Moazzam Begg: What advice would you give to the relatives of prisoners facing similar trials?

Adel el-Gazzar: Look at things from an optimistic viewpoint not a pessimistic one; look at it like a test from God to see how patient you are and just remain close to God, as He is the only one who can take you through all the way to the finish and protect you. If you are going through the hardships read Quran, fast, pray and remain faithful. As long as your heart is free, they can arrest your body but not your soul.

Moazzam Begg: What is the thing you miss the most from life before Guantánamo?

Adel el-Gazzar: I miss the mosques and going there five times a day and the Muslim community who helped and protected you. I also miss my family. It is very hard to talk to my kids as they are teenagers but we love each other even though we do not know each other.

Moazzam Begg: What could the Americans have done to make it easier with your family?

Adel el-Gazzar: I don’t expect anything from the Americans, but I do from the Muslim community. They should practice helping people in a bad situation. But I am not expecting anything from the Muslim countries [leadership] as they are all the same, following the Americans, just the community by itself.

Moazzam Begg: Did you come across any guards who were decent and treated you like humans. If so, what advice would you give them?

Adel el-Gazzar: Yes, I met some very nice and sympathetic guards. My advice to any young soldiers who went to the army believing they were doing a good thing is don’t listen to the media in your country, search for the real facts. My advice for people who want to help but don’t would be that asking from God is a strong weapon but also you need to use tools such as doing something practical and achieving your goals by actually getting up and helping.

Moazzam Begg: Looking back, what is the most memorable part of your experience?

Adel el-Gazzar: The most beautiful days? Actually, I don’t know if you will believe me but the whole eight years was a very nice time, it was real. If I had the choice to go back to Guantánamo I will go. It is really a very big experience for me: first I learned more about myself — both good and bad. Before Guantánamo I did not recognise this. I was able to rebuild myself again there. And I was very close to God and able to memorize the whole Quran in 27 days.

Moazzam Begg: What do you think ordinary people should be doing to help relieve the suffering of the prisoners?

Adel el-Gazzar: Everyone released from Guantánamo is looking for the support of the people, not only financial but moral support. Life outside Guantánamo is cold — very, very cold. Therefore we need to feel warmth [from people]. We are all duty bound to help relieve the suffering of the oppressed — even if we were once oppressed ourselves, especially if we were. But as we are still struggling to stand up our help is sought by our brothers who are in a worse situation. And there are always people in a worse situation.

Moazzam Begg: Brother Adel, may Allah reward you with the best for all you have endured and ease your hardships with sustenance and tranquility.

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.

The Betrayal of Omar Khadr – and of American Justice

Yesterday morning, wearing a dark suit, a white shirt and a dark tie, Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen who was just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, ended an eight-year struggle — first by the Bush administration, and then by the Obama administration — to convict him in a war crimes trial at Guantánamo, when he accepted a plea deal in exchange for a reported eight-year sentence.

According to an article in the Miami Herald, drawing on comments made by “two legal sources with direct knowledge” of the deal, Khadr said he “eagerly took part in a July 28, 2002 firefight with US Special Forces in Afghanistan that mortally wounded Sgt 1st Class Christopher Speer.” This was the crux of the case against him, and a charge that he had always previously denied. He also said that he had “aspired as a teen to kill Americans and Jews,” and described his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, who had been responsible for taking him on numerous visits to Pakistan and Afghanistan as a child, leading to the events on the day of his capture, as “a part of Bin Laden’s inner circle, a trusted confidant and fundraiser.”

Khadr’s plea was submitted to the judge, Army Col. Patrick Parrish, by his military defense lawyer, Army Lt. Jon Jackson, and Col. Parrish made sure that he knew what he was doing as he ran thought the charges. “Yes,” Khadr replied. “You should only do this if you truly believe it is in your best interests,” Col. Parrish then told him. “Yes,” Khadr replied again. According to the Miami Herald, his voice was “a near whisper,” but became stronger as Col. Parrish read out the charges.

As the Globe and Mail described it, Khadr “assented to knowing that he was attacking civilians, that he wanted to kill US troops, that he planted mines and that he received one-on-one terrorist training from an al-Qaeda operative.” He also agreed that he was a member of al-Qaeda, and was an “alien, unprivileged, enemy belligerent,” who was “unqualified therefore to shoot back or engage in combat hostilities with US or other coalition forces,” and also said that he understood that he was guilty of “murder in violation of the laws of war.”

For the United States, the plea deal means that a trial has been avoided, dimming the glare of the global media spotlight on the embarrassing prospect of the first war crimes trial of a child soldier since the Second World War. Instead, according to the Military Commission rules, a limited amount of evidence will be submitted this week — including testimony from Tabitha Speer, the widow of the Special Forces soldier killed by the grenade in the firefight that led to Khadr’s capture, and statements by mental health professionals for both the prosecution and the defense — before a seven-member military jury will deliver its own sentence. As the details of Khadr’s plea deal have not been made public, this strange formality (which involves a sentence without a trial) will only mean anything if the jury delivers a less severe sentence than the one negotiated in secret.

This, however, is not the main problem with yesterday’s outcome, which blurs the parameters of justice horribly, creating the impression that Khadr is guilty, even though he may only have agreed to confess in order to secure a favorable sentence. This is something that Daphne Eviatar, an observer for Human Rights First, noted in an excellent article in the Huffington Post, when she explained that “it was clear that prosecutors had taken the opportunity to throw the kitchen-sink-full of charges at him — including far more crimes than he’d even been charged with. Most importantly, Khadr pled guilty to killing two Afghan soldiers who accompanied US forces in the 2002 assault on the compound. The government has never presented any evidence whatsoever that Khadr was responsible for that, and did not claim he was in its opening statement at trial.”

In addition, Khadr’s guilty plea enables the Obama administration to disguise the many fundamental flaws with the Military Commissions, which might have been exposed during a trial.

Because Khadr’s plea deal is presumed to stipulate that he cannot appeal, the administration will be able to tell the world that the Commissions are “fair and just,” although they are no such thing. One problem, of course, is that a former child prisoner has been subjected to a trial after eight years of imprisonment in an experimental prison devoted to arbitrary detention and coercive interrogation, when he should have been rehabilitated, according to the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict (which the US ratified in December 2002), but another concerns the nature of the crimes to which he confessed.

This second problem — which focuses on the fundamental legitimacy of the Commissions — was illustrated starkly in the Globe and Mail’s description of how Khadr agreed that he was an “alien, unprivileged, enemy belligerent,” who was “unqualified therefore to shoot back or engage in combat hostilities with US or other coalition forces,” and also how he reportedly understood that he was guilty of “murder in violation of the laws of war.”

Back in April, Lt. Col. David Frakt, a law professor and the former military defense attorney for two other Guantánamo prisoners, Mohamed Jawad and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, spelled out the problems with these charges in no uncertain terms. Writing of the central charge of “murder in violation of the law of war,” Lt. Col. Frakt explained that, even if Khadr did throw the grenade, “there is no evidence that he violated the law of war in doing so.”

As I explained in an article about Khadr two months ago, he added that “the confusion arose initially because the Bush administration wanted to find a way to ensure that ‘any attempt to fight Americans or coalition forces was a war crime,’ and that Congress, in enacting two pieces of legislation relating to the Military Commissions in 2006 and in 2009, maintained this unjustifiable position by refusing to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate actions during wartime.”

Lt. Col. Frakt also explained that the Bush administration’s original invented charge for the Commissions — “Murder by an Unprivileged Belligerent” — was, essentially, replaced by the Congress-endorsed “Murder in Violation of the Law of War,” even though it “conflated two different concepts — unprivileged belligerents and war criminals.”

He continued:

Under Article 4 of the Geneva Prisoner of War Convention it is clear that while a member of an organized resistance movement or militia may be an unprivileged belligerent (because of not wearing a uniform or failing to carry arms openly, for example) he may still comply with the laws and customs of war, so not all hostile acts committed by unprivileged belligerents are war crimes. Attacks by unprivileged belligerents which comply with the law of war (in that they attack lawful military targets with lawful weapons) may only be tried in domestic courts. In Iraq, for example, insurgents who try to kill Americans by implanting roadside bombs are properly arrested and tried before the Central Criminal Court of Iraq as common criminals. Attacks by unprivileged belligerents which violate the law of war, such as attacks on civilians or soldiers attempting to surrender, or using prohibited weapons like poison gas, can be tried in a war crimes tribunal.

With Khadr’s plea deal, the uncomfortable truth about the Commissions — that they have been established to try non-existent war crimes — has been swept aside as thoroughly as it was in the case of Ibrahim al-Qosi, who accepted a plea deal in July. As a result, Omar Khadr may have taken the only realistic route open to him, but the price has been the apparent validation of a fundamentally lawless process, which could have been legally challenged had he been subjected to a full trial.

Back in July, Omar Khadr refused to accept a plea deal, and, in a letter to Dennis Edney, one of his Canadian lawyers, wrote, “there must be somebody to sacrifice to really show the world the unfairness [of the Commissions], and really it seems that it’s me.” It is understandable that — faced with an eight-year sentence, or the possibility of a life sentence in exchange for a “sacrifice” — Khadr chose the former option.

However, it remains deeply depressing that the Obama administration will be able to maintain the fiction that the Military Commissions are capable of delivering justice, and also that it now appears to be irrelevant that Khadr was a juvenile prisoner, subjected to horrific treatment, because he has conceded, in circumstances that may not have been conducive to telling the truth, that he was in fact a terrorist.

Note: The courtroom sketch above is by Janet Hamlin, and is courtesy of Janet Hamlin Illustration.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) 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 Common Dreams, Aletho News, Antemedius, Uruknet and Peninsula Peace and Justice Center.

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

No Justice for Omar Khadr at Guantánamo

Exactly two years ago, when I began writing a weekly column for the Future of Freedom Foundation on Guantánamo, torture and other crimes and abuses committed as part of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” I focused on the story of Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen who was just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, and the news today that he has accepted a plea deal, and has agreed to an array of charges relating to terrorism and murder in exchange for a reported eight-year sentence, does nothing to diminish the profound sense of unease — and of warped justice — that has plagued Khadr’s case for the last eight years.

In that article, written while Khadr was enduring interminable pre-trial hearings for a planned trial by Military Commission under the Bush administration, I analyzed an important, and almost completely overlooked document regarding the treatment of juvenile prisoners at Guantánamo — those under 18 at the time their alleged crime took place.

That document, “Recommended Course of Action for Reception and Detention of Individuals Under 18 Years of Age” (PDF), prepared for the Pentagon by four doctors at Guantánamo, was dated January 14, 2003, three months after Khadr arrived at Guantánamo from Bagram, and just three weeks after the Bush administration ratified the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. The Optional Protocol includes the agreement that all States Parties who ratify the Protocol “[r]ecogniz[e] the special needs of those children who are particularly vulnerable to recruitment or use in hostilities,” and are “[c]onvinced of the need [for] the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict.”

Compare this with my explanation of the doctors’ report two years ago:

The doctors’ document began by noting, “All efforts should be made to keep those in the pediatric age range [those under 18] from undergoing detention at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba,” and pointing out, “People less than age 18 years are emotionally, psychologically, and physically dynamic and complex. If it is determined that they must be detained, then all aspects of their transport, in-processing, and detainment should be specific for this age group.” They added, as a stark warning, “Exposure of pediatric detainees to adult detainees will have a high likelihood of producing physical, emotional, and psychological damage to the pediatric detainee. As such, all activities of the pediatric detainee, prior to and including detention, should be isolated by sight and sound from the adult population of detainees.”

As a result of the US ratification of the Optional Protocol, and the doctors’ recommendations, Khadr should, therefore, have been rehabilitated as a juvenile (having been influenced by an adult — in his case, his father, a reported fundraiser for Osama bin Laden, who had taken him to Afghanistan as a child), or, at the very least, held separately from the adult population at Guantánamo, and provided with education and psychological care.

Of course, the Bush administration ignored its international obligations, and the advice of its own doctors, choosing instead to subject Khadr — and the majority of the 21 other confirmed juvenile prisoners at Guantánamo — to experimental detention and interrogation techniques, with no distinction made between adult and juvenile prisoners.

Moreover, in May 2003, when the story broke that child prisoners were being held at Guantánamo, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld declared that they were “not children,” and the administration’s disdain for the rights of juvenile prisoners was such that Khadr and another juvenile prisoner, Mohamed Jawad, were put forward for trial by Military Commission. These special courts, conceived for trying dubious “war crimes,” were initially intended to accept evidence obtained through the use of torture, and to deliver the death penalty after trials that were noticeably lacking in any recognizable form of due process or adherence to established military law.

Khadr was charged in the first incarnation of the Commissions, ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006, but after Congress brought them back to life in the fall of 2006 he was charged for a second time, and was followed, soon after, by Jawad, who may have been no more than 14 years old when he was seized after a grenade attack in Kabul in December 2002.

When President Obama came to power, one of his first acts was to suspend the Commissions, but by May 2009 he had softened his opposition to the much-criticized trial system, and last summer the Obama administration worked with Congress to revive them yet again. In the meantime, Jawad was released, after his lawyers established that he had produced a false confession to Afghan forces on the day of his capture, while being threatened with torture, but last November, when Attorney General Eric Holder announced that five prisoners would face trials by Military Commission, Khadr was one of the first five names put forward.

If the Bush administration didn’t care that he was a child on capture, the Obama administration was not so sure. In leaks to major media outlets throughout this year, officials complained about the negative publicity surrounding the first planned trial of a juvenile for war crimes since the Second World War, culminating, in August, with officials whining to the New York Times that complaints about Khadr’s trial were “undermining their broader effort to showcase reforms that they say have made military commissions fair and just.”

This latter claim was deeply suspicious, as Lt. Col. David Frakt, defense attorney for Mohamed Jawad and another Guantánamo prisoner, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, explained in April this year that, although Khadr is charged with murder in violation of the law of war for allegedly throwing a hand grenade that killed a US Delta Force soldier, “there is no evidence that he violated the law of war in doing so.”

Lt. Col. Frakt proceeded to explain how first the Bush administration, then Congress, and then the Obama administration had confused lawful and unlawful targets during wartime, and I explained the result of the administration’s hypocrisy and confusion in an article at the time of the officials’ complaint to the New York Times:

Given that the Obama administration chose to ignore both of these criticisms in proceeding with Khadr’s trial, the complaint aired to the Times by anonymous officials — that “No one intended the Khadr case to be the first trial under the revamped system,” as Charlie Savage described it — is frankly reprehensible, as it involves the explicit recognition that the entire trial is unacceptable, and would only be acceptable if it could have been hidden behind the coat tails of a more prominent case — one, for example, that involved recognizable allegations of terrorism.

The outcome, predictably, was a feverish attempt to cut a deal to prevent a full-blown trial from going ahead, reducing Khadr to the role of a pawn in a face-saving game of extraordinary cynicism. Attempts to secure a plea deal were first made in summer, which were sabotaged by Khadr, and were then submerged after his defense lawyer was taken ill and proceedings were suspended, but as today’s trial date approached, the horse-trading resumed with a vengeance.

According to media reports over the last few days, Khadr was offered a plea deal giving him an eight-year sentence (one more year at Guantánamo, plus seven years to be served in Canada) in exchange for a confession to some or all of the charge against him, but as Dennis Edney, one of his Canadian civilian lawyers, explained on Sunday, “All I can tell you is there’s [a] trial tomorrow, and there’s no deal in place as of this particular moment.” Edney added, “Consider the circumstances he’s in: There’s not much choice Omar Khadr has. He either pleads guilty to avoid trial, or he goes to trial, and the trial is an unfair process.”

As Michelle Shephard reported in the Toronto Star, Edney also “hinted that Khadr was still conflicted,” stating, “He has a tough time rationalizing … why he is singled out to be on trial Monday. Where are the rest of those so-called bad guys?”

Edney did not speak specifically about Canada’s role, although several news outlets reported that, on Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton phoned Lawrence Cannon, the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, to talk about the Khadr case, and, allegedly, “to press the Conservative government into repatriating” Khadr. Cannon, however, remained tight-lipped about the conversation, reflecting another aspect of Khadr’s manipulation as a pawn, in this case by the government of his home country.

Despite signing the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict on July 7, 2000, and advocating on the world stage for the rights of child soldiers from other countries, the Canadian government persistently refused to call for his repatriation, even though Canada’s Supreme Court had repeatedly stated that the government acted illegally in sending interrogators to interview Khadr at Guantánamo in 2003, and violated his rights under Canadian law.

With this track record, it would have been unsurprising if Khadr was unwilling to trust his home government even to accept the terms of a plea deal, and this must, of course, have been a deeply disturbing position in which to find himself. As a final reminder of hypocrisy, however, it is difficult to beat a comment about child soldiers made just six weeks ago by Ambassador Susan E. Rice, the US Permanent Representative to the United Nations, at a Security Council debate on Somalia, which was picked up on by former US interrogator Matthew Alexander in an article in the Huffington Post. Ambassador Rice stated:

The United States strongly condemns the use of children … to pursue violent agendas. We call upon all parties to immediately release all children within their ranks, to halt child recruitment, and to provide for the proper reintegration into civilian life of former child soldiers.

No wonder Omar Khadr, the victim of rank hypocrisy from both the US and the Canadian governments, feels “singled out,” as that is exactly what has happened to him, and the plea deal announced today does nothing to indicate that justice has actually been served. Although the exact details of the deal have not yet been revealed, it seems clear that one thing they will involve is Khadr’s agreement that he will not appeal the terms of his confession, leaving unchallenged a number of otherwise legally questionable charges.

As the Globe and Mail explained, these included his acceptance of the charge that “he was an ‘alien, unprivileged, enemy belligerent,’ unqualified therefore to shoot back or engage in combat hostilities with US or other coalition forces,” and that he was guilty of “murder in violation of the laws of war,” both of which are charges that should shame the United States.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) 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. Cross-posted on The Public Record and Uruknet.

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

Wikileaks’ Julian Assange Accepts Intelligence Experts’ Whistleblower Award “On Behalf of Our Sources”

On Saturday, during the press conference announcing Wikileaks’ release of nearly 400,000 classified US military field documents relating to the war in Iraq, Craig Murray, the human rights activist and former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, accompanied by Daniel Ellsberg (the Pentagon Papers whistleblower), presented Wikileaks’ founder, Julian Assange, and the entire Wikileaks organization, with the 2010 Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence Award. SAAII is a movement of former CIA colleagues and other associates of former intelligence analyst Sam Adams, who provided information that prevented a deadly troop escalation during the Vietnam War, and, as the members of SAAII have explained, they “hold up his example as a model for those in intelligence who would aspire to the courage to speak truth to power.”

Largely overlooked in the scrum of media reporting about the release of the documents, the presentation of the award in London on Saturday saw Assange and Wikileaks join a distinguished group of former winners honored for having “the courage to speak truth to power.” Moreover, when Assange was told earlier this year that he would be this year’s recipient, he made a point of stating that he could only accept it on behalf of the unknown sources who have risked their careers, and their freedom, to reveal the information. “I am proud to be in such company, but, permit me to accept the award on behalf of our sources, without which Wikileaks’ contributions are of no significance,” Assange said.

Below is the Award Citation for the presentation of the 2010 Sam Adams Award to Julian Assange and Wikileaks. A version of this article was published by Ray McGovern of SAAII on Consortium News.

Sam Adams Award for 2010 to Julian Assange and WikiLeaks

It seems altogether fitting and proper that this year’s award be presented in London, where Edmund Burke coined the expression “Fourth Estate.” Comparing the function of the press to that of the three Houses then in Parliament, Burke said: “but in the Reporters Gallery yonder, there sits a Fourth Estate more important far then they all.”

The year was 1787 — the year the U.S. Constitution was adopted. The First Amendment, approved four years later, aimed at ensuring that the press would be free of government interference. That was then.

With the Fourth Estate now on life support, there is a high premium on the fledgling Fifth Estate, which uses the ether and is not susceptible of government or corporation control.  Small wonder that governments with lots to hide feel very threatened.

It has been said: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” WikiLeaks is helping make that possible by publishing documents that do not lie.

Last spring, when we chose WikiLeaks and Julian Assange for this award, Julian said he would accept only “on behalf of our sources, without which WikiLeaks’ contributions are of no significance.”

We do not know if Pvt. Bradley Manning gave WikiLeaks the gun-barrel video of July 12, 2007 called “Collateral Murder.” Whoever did provide that graphic footage, showing the brutality of the celebrated “surge” in Iraq, was certainly far more a patriot than the “mainstream” journalist embedded in that same Army unit.  He suppressed what happened in Baghdad that day, dismissed it as simply “one bad day in a surge that was filled with such days,” and then had the temerity to lavish praise on the unit in a book he called The Good Soldiers.

Julian is right to emphasize that the world is deeply indebted to patriotic truth-tellers like the sources who provided the gun-barrel footage and the many documents on Afghanistan and Iraq to WikiLeaks. We hope to have a chance to honor them in person in the future.

Today we honor WikiLeaks, and one of its leaders, Julian Assange, for their ingenuity in creating a new highway by which important documentary evidence can make its way, quickly and confidentially, through the ether and into our in-boxes. Long live the Fifth Estate!

About Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence, and the Annual Award

Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence is a movement of former CIA colleagues and other associates of former intelligence analyst Sam Adams, who hold up his example as a model for those in intelligence who would aspire to the courage to speak truth to power.

Sam did precisely that, and in honoring his memory, SAAII confers an award each year to a lamp lighter exemplifying Sam Adam’s courage, persistence, and devotion to truth — no matter the consequences.

It was Adams who discovered in 1967 that there were 500,000 Vietnamese Communists under arms — more than twice the number that our military in Saigon would admit to in the “war of attrition.” Gen. William Westmoreland had put an artificial limit on the number that Army intelligence was allowed to carry on its books. And in a cable to Washington, Gen. Creighton Abrams warned that if Adams’ numbers leaked to the press, this would weaken the war effort.

Westmoreland’s figures were shown to be bogus in January/ February 1968, when Communist troops mounted a surprise countrywide offensive in numbers that proved that Adams’ analysis had been correct. But because Sam was reluctant to go “outside channels,” the CIA and Army were able to keep the American people in the dark. After the Tet offensive, however, Daniel Ellsberg learned that Westmoreland had asked for 206,000 more troops to widen the war into Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam — right up to the border with China, and perhaps beyond. In his first such act, Ellsberg leaked Sam Adams’ data to the then-independent New York Times on March 19, 1968. Dan’s timely truth telling won the day.

On March 25, President Johnson complained to a small gathering, “The leaks to the New York Times hurt us … We have no support for the war. This is caused by the 206,000 troop request and the leaks … I would have given Westy the 206,000 men.” On March 31, Johnson stopped the bombing, opted for negotiations, and announced that he would not run for another term.

Sam Adams continued to press for honesty and accountability but stayed “inside channels” — and failed. He was not able to see that the supervening value of ending unnecessary killing trumped the secrecy agreement he had signed as a condition of employment. Nagged by remorse, Adams died at 55 of a sudden heart attack. He could not shake the thought that, had he not let himself be diddled, the entire left wall of the Vietnam memorial would not exist. There would have been no new names to chisel into such a wall.

The annual Sam Adams Award has been given to the following truth tellers:

Coleen Rowley of the FBI (in Washington, D.C.)

Katharine Gun of British Intelligence (in Copenhagen, Denmark)

Sibel Edmonds of the FBI (in Washington, D.C.)

Craig Murray, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan (in New York)

Sam Provance, former Sgt, US Army, truth teller about Abu Ghraib (in Washington, D.C.)

Frank Grevil, Major, Danish Army Intelligence, imprisoned for giving the Danish press documents showing that Denmark’s Prime Minister (now NATO Secretary General) disregarded warnings that there was no authentic evidence of WMD in Iraq (in Copenhagen, Denmark)

Larry Wilkerson, Col., US Army (ret.), former chief of staff to Secretary Colin Powell at the State Department, who exposed the powers behind many of the crimes of the Bush administration — first and foremost what he called the “Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal” (in Washington, D.C.)

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

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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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