Archive for November, 2010

Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo at “The Rights Time,” Amnesty International Conference, London, December 4, 2010

On Saturday December 4, I’ll be following up on my recent appearance at the Amnesty International Student Conference with a presentation entitled, “Nine Years of Guantánamo: What Now?” at “The Rights Time,” an Amnesty International regional conference, taking place at the Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London, EC2A 3EA, from 10 am to 5 pm. Tickets cost £6 (£3 concessions)  and can be booked online here. I’m talking at 2.30 pm, but I must stress that the organizers have put together a fascinating collection of speakers and performers who should ensure that the entire conference is a rewarding experience.

The full list of speakers and performers is below:

9.30 am: Registration/drinks.

10.00 am: Introduction.

10.10 am: Can Ordinary People Really Make a Difference? Steve Crawshaw
Steve Crawshaw is International Advocacy Director at Amnesty International and co-author of recently published Small Acts of Resistance: How Courage, Tenacity, and Ingenuity Can Change the World.

10.50 am: Spoken word by Inua Ellams
Inua Ellams is a word and graphic artist.

11.05 am: Break.

11.15 am: The AIUK Greeting Cards Campaign: Ruth Dawson
Ruth Dawson is a member of the Individuals at Risk Team at Amnesty International UK. Please see here for a video of former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Deghayes discussing the importance of receiving cards and letters from supporters.

12.30 pm: Lunch (1st floor). In the main auditorium, there will be local groups, the greeting cards and letter writing campaigns, and arts4humanrights.

2.00 pm: Binyam’s Mohamed’s Story: presented by Iceandfire theatre
iceandfire theatre explores human rights stories through performance, and this performance focuses on the testimony of Binyam Mohamed, the British resident, seized in Pakistan in April 2002 and released from Guantánamo in February 2009, who was subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and torture in Pakistan, Morocco and Afghanistan before his transfer to Guantánamo in September 2004.
Artistic Director Christine Bacon will speak about the company’s work.

2.30 pm: Nine Years of Guantánamo: What Now? Andy Worthington
Andy Worthington is an investigative journalist and author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison and co-director of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.”
He will be discussing President Obama’s apparent paralysis regarding the closure of Guantánamo, the ferocious and unprincipled opposition to his plans from Republican lawmakers, the right-wing media and members of his own party, fundamental misconceptions about Guantánamo that have still not been addressed nearly nine years after the prison opened, and how Amnesty members can make a difference in the UK by campaigning for the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident still held in the prison.

3.30 pm: Htein Lin displays and speaks about his work as a Burmese artist
Htein Lin’s work has been shown and performed globally: he is now based in London.

4:00 pm: Keynote speaker: Zoya Phan
Zoya Phan (Burma Campaign UK, The Phan Foundation, The Karen Community Association UK and the author of Little Daughter) speaks of her personal experience and work to improve human rights in Burma.

Also: Musical interludes provided by Floey Bennett and Glenn Basset
Floey is a violinist based in South London: Glenn is from Enfield Amnesty group.

4.45 pm: Close.

5.00 pm: Drinks.

For more information, please contact:
Hugh Whitby by email or phone: 0208 986 6885 or 07515 436736
or Premal Bhatt by email or phone: 07784 701013.

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 Obama’s Failure to Close Guantánamo with Brad Friedman on the Mike Malloy Show

Early last Thursday morning, I was delighted to prop up my wilting eyelids to talk to Brad Friedman (of The Brad Blog, which has been doing remarkable work exposing election fraud over the last few years) about Guantánamo for a guest-hosted Mike Malloy Show that began at 2.15 am my time. The interview — shorn of the distressingly long ad breaks in the live show — is available here (or here, by scrolling down the page), and begins about eleven and a half minutes in, after Brad’s discussion of the breaking ruling convicting former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of money laundering.

It’s about a year since Brad and I last talked, and, on Guantánamo, the news has been far from encouraging, to put it mildly. To recap on the story of how a bold start by President Obama has turned into political paralysis, Brad focused on my explanation of the two Americas presided over by President Obama since he took office in January 2009, as I discussed in my recent article, “On Guantánamo, Obama Hits Rock Bottom,” in which I analyzed how a reforming agenda that began with bold executive orders promising the closure of Guantánamo and the upholding of the absolute ban on the use of torture, and was followed by the release of the notorious “torture memos” issued by the Office of Legal Counsel in 2002 and 2005, essentially came to an end in May 2009, when the President delivered a major speech on national security in which he revived Dick Cheney’s much-reviled Military Commissions instead of sticking with federal court trials, and declared that some of the prisoners at Guantánamo would continue to be held indefinitely without charge or trial.

The exact terms of this capitulation have never been spelled out clearly, but they ended up with Obama sacrificing White House Counsel Greg Craig, who had been the driving force behind the executive orders, and had vigorously defended the release of the torture memos, ruling out an admirable plan, for which Craig had already secured the support of Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates, to bring a handful of cleared Guantánamo prisoners to live in the US.

These men were the Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province, who had won their habeas corpus petition in October 2008, but were stuck in Guantánamo because they could not be returned home to face torture at the hands of the Chinese government, although no other country had been found that would take them.

While this made the task of finding third countries for cleared prisoners all the more difficult — and, crucially, prevented the American people from realizing, first-hand, how terrible mistakes had been made rounding up the prisoners who ended up at Guantánamo — it also signaled the beginning of a full-scale retreat on Obama’s commitment to close the prison, which now, of course, has led to a situation in which, although the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by Obama last year, recommended that 34 of the remaining 174 prisoners should face trials, that 48 others should be held indefinitely, and the rest should be released, the President now appears unwilling to pursue any more trials, either in federal court on in Military Commissions, or to release any more cleared prisoners, and has settled into an alarming rut in which holding all the remaining prisoners indefinitely — on the basis of a shoddy law passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks — is preferable to doing anything that might require principles, courage or a fundamental respect for the law.

Brad and I also spoke about the false recidivism claims touted regularly by the Pentagon, and the manufactured hysteria regarding the conviction, in federal court, of former Guantánamo prisoner, and former CIA “ghost prisoner” Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, which I discussed in another recent article, “The Rule of Law in the US Hangs on Obama’s Response to the Ghailani Trial.”

We also spoke briefly about the significance of George W. Bush’s admission, in his recently published memoir, that he authorized waterboarding, as is therefore a war criminal, and the advice — from London Mayor Boris Johnson, taking a principled step into the world of anti-torture lawyers and activists — that as a result he should think carefully before traveling to Europe to promote his book.

Despite the late hour, it was a pleasure to talk to Brad, as ever. I hope you have time to listen to the show, and I look forward to speaking to Brad again before another year elapses.

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.

Cameron’s Britain: “Kettling” Children for Protesting Against Savage Cuts to University Funding

For anyone unfamiliar with “kettling,” Wikipedia accurately describes it as “a police tactic for the management of large crowds during demonstrations or protests,” which “involves the formation of large cordons of police officers who then move to contain a crowd within a limited area,” so that protesters “are completely prevented from leaving” and “can be denied access to food, water and toilet facilities for a long period.”

While obviously illegal — and counter-productive, as many a wag has noted, explaining that kettles boil — the procedure has been used in the UK since the May Day protests in 2001, when passers-by, tourists and workers who nipped out for a sandwich were kettled for many hours in Oxford Street, and has survived legal challenges in the UK, and even a horrific new development during the G20 protests in April 2009, when, in addition to kettling the new wave of anti-capitalist, anti-globalization protestors who had not been put off by the collective punishment of May Day 2001 and the subsequent distraction of the “War on Terror,” the police killed a passer-by, Ian Tomlinson.

On Wednesday, kettling resurfaced during protests by students and schoolchildren about the government’s proposals to savagely cut university funding — including 100 percent cuts to all arts, humanities and social sciences courses — and to oblige universities to triple fees (from the current rate of £3,290 a year to £9,000 a year), which will be required if they are to have a chance of surviving at all.

Despite the fact that there was little violence on the day, which primarily involved young people (including numerous schoolchildren) walking, marching or running around London making their voices heard — and that most of what did occur was directed at a police van that had conveniently been abandoned in Whitehall — the police thought it appropriate to direct the students and schoolchildren down Whitehall and then to kettle them for up to eight hours in freezing temperatures. Presumably, they had a point to prove after being caught out two weeks before, when Tory HQ on Millbank was targetted by a tiny fraction of the 52,000 students and teachers who had attended the first national demonstration against the cuts, and the police were nowhere to be seen.

However, it sends out a bleak message about the intolerance of the coalition government, when its risible message of “fairness” fails, and the mask slips to reveal the true face of the modern neo-liberal Tory party (and its quisling LibDem supporters), especially when the significance of the planted police van was noted, and it was also revealed that Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson was either caught out lying about how mounted police had charged at the demonstrators, or was unaware of what his own forces were doing. He told a Metropolitan Police Authority meeting he had “no reference” to police officers on horseback charging at protesters, and was backed up by a spokesman for the Met, who said, “Police horses were involved in the operation, but that did not involve charging the crowd.”

As the Guardian explained, however:

Jenny Love, 22, who graduated from Bath University in July, said mounted officers “charged without warning.” “When the horses charged I was fairly near the front of the demo, where we were very tightly packed in, and found myself very quickly on the floor where I assumed the foetal position and covered my head while people simply ran over me,” she said. “Thankfully another protester picked me up before I could suffer any serious damage.” […]

Naomi Bain, a member of support staff at Birkbeck University, was at Whitehall on Wednesday to protest against the government cuts. She said: “We were right at the front of the crowd. I’ve been in a lot of protests before, so we weren’t particularly scared of police shouting at us and telling us to move. We were standing our ground — until the horse charge.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite so frightening. I’ve seen police on horseback, but this was like a cavalry charge. There was a line of police on foot, and they just moved out of the way, then maybe a hundred yards down the street there was a line of police on horseback. We’d been standing firmly and just moving back slowly, but when the police on horseback charged, that was the moment when we absolutely ran.”

Bain said she was standing with school and college pupils, some as young as 15, when mounted police advanced. “There were people who fell down who would have been under the horses’ hooves if they hadn’t been grabbed –- and these were really young kids as well.”

On Facebook, one of the protestors subjected to kettling described it as follows:

Police planted an old police van in Whitehall in the middle of 4000 demonstrators. We asked the police to remove it; they refused. Police only 20 yards from the van refused to protect it. They wanted it to be attacked. The “attack” on the van was an excuse to kettle 4000 people for 8 hours, some 11 years old. We had no water or toilets for 5 hours.

In addition, this is from a letter to the Guardian:

I went with my grandson to the student protests. His older sister went with a group of friends. The sun shone and there were lots of children and young people there, ranging in age from about 13 to 18. They were noisy and excited and their anger about government proposals was palpable, but apart from the odd baby anarchist, it was peaceful enough. We gathered in Trafalgar Square then set off marching down Whitehall. All fine until just past the memorial, where there were suddenly hordes (and I mean hordes) of police — at first just ordinary police, but soon joined by riot police, and later mounted police. I started to get anxious when I realised they were kettling the children — blocking off exits to Westminster Bridge, Parliament Square and Liberal headquarters. Kettling children is hardly the mark of a civilised and tolerant society.

I have no doubt that, for the most part, the kettling, the staged opportunity for “anarchist violence” and the horse charge will not have had the desired effect. Students and schoolchildren have not, in general, been politicized since the Labour Party won its landslide majority in 1997, when, after years of incessant and creative agitation under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, Tony Blair wielded a psychic cosh on the population, and Gordon Brown realized that PFI and a deranged housing bubble would provide a suitable illusion for real economic growth.

The last time schoolchildren took to the streets was in February 2003, in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, when, in the name of an illegal war, regime change and supposed geopolitical influence, the government put pressure on headteachers to threaten protesting schoolchildren with expulsion — and, it should be noted, Tony Blair secured the lifelong condemnation of millions of other British people who opposed the war and attended the largest protest in British history, which left people both embittered and resigned to the failure of protest when we were all swatted aside like an insignificant fly.

The same thing must not be allowed to happen again, in terms of schoolchildren and the wider public (some of whom — generally those over the age of 35 — clearly recall, with good reason, why the word “Tory” always used to be followed by the word “scum”), and I hope that teachers will resist any attempts to clamp down on their newly-politized pupils. To paraphrase the government, we are all in this together, but the “we” includes everyone except the government and the meagre proportion of the voting public who voted for them in May. Teachers — and headteachers — should realize that they are on the same side as their pupils, especially with the creepy figure of Michael Gove presiding over education like Dickens’ Gradgrind reborn — as, indeed, are the police, who should be thinking twice about terrorizing and humiliating children, when they too are workers facing savage cuts in place of the bankers whose greed got us into the global economic crisis in the first place.

Lest we forget, the government does not legitimately have a mandate for its mission to remake the UK along the lines of the most dysfunctional and dystopian aspects of Republican America. In May, despite airbrushed “Dave” Cameron’s best efforts to sweet-talk the public with his deluded fantasies about the “Big Society,” while his partner in crime, George Osborne, was busy sharpening his weapons, preparing for slaughter like a feudal lord putting down the peasants before they could even revolt, the Tories not only failed to secure a majority, but also failed to tell the people of Britain that, if they could persuade the LibDems to form a coalition (which must have been dubious, unless Nick Clegg was a double-agent all along), they would embark on the last thing that the UK needs right now.

That, as we glimpsed in the budget in June, and had confirmed in the comprehensive spending review last month, is an ideologically driven massacre of the State, under cover of the financial crisis, in which all blame is pinned on the previous government, and, apparently, the poor, the disabled and the young, and no one is apparently allowed to question why the City is being allowed to continue as before, psychopathically heading down the road to economic disaster for a second time, and subjected to virtually no obligation to help reduce the deficit. As was revealed last week, when George Osborne found out that his puny £2.5 bn a year levy on the City was due to yield £3.9 bn, he scaled it back, not wanting to ask the rich and the super-rich to do anything that might jeopardize his commitment to making life as miserable or as insecure as possible for the ordinary middle classes (not the Cameron, Osborne or, for that matter, Kate Middleton type of middle classes), the working classes, the unemployed and the disabled.

We the people only have each other right now. The Labour Party regarded its own achievements for the population as a whole as inferior to its sucking-up to big business and the banks, and, while recognizing that, in many parts of the country, the only alternative to permanent unemployment was the public sector, it also, for the most part, advanced the privatization begun by Thatcher and Major as the only game in town.

As the post-Brown Labour Party seems incapable of fighting back, and the LibDems have committed political suicide, the void will need to be filled by something new. I have no illusions that this appears to be anything other than an almost unthinkable task at present, but while Island Britain is, as usual, encouraged to think that the rest of the world — and, particularly, the rest of Europe — is irrelevant, the persistent tremors from the global financial crisis, which continue to wreak havoc across the EU, indicate that replacing all our existing political elites with new leaders or people’s collectives capable of synthesizing a workable combination of socialism, environmentalism and responsible capitalism is the only way forward, and that we must be prepared to fight — whether through peaceful protest or direct action — those who think otherwise, and who have already demonstrated that they are prepared to kettle children to achieve their aims.

Otherwise, we only have Cameron and Osborne and their cronies, turning the UK, for most of its inhabitants, into inner city America, or Victorian England without any of the social reformers and philanthropists who set in motion the principles of the common good, equality and care for all that led to universal health care, universal suffrage, universal education, and a society with a functional infrastructure — all the things that Thatcher started to tear down 31 years ago during her malignant project to reshape Britain as a country driven by greed, with “no such thing as society,” which Blair and Brown largely followed, and which Cameron and Osborne want to complete.

Note: There were, of course, many more protests across the country last Wednesday, and in total it is estimated that around 130,000 students and schoolchildren took part. In addition, at least 25 university buildings were occupied by students, and, according to the BBC, twelve of those occupations were ongoing on Sunday. Another day of action — involving walk-outs and protests around the country — has been organized for Tuesday November 30.

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.

“Aafia Siddiqui: Sentenced to Death” – Andy Worthington Attends Discussion with Moazzam Begg and Yvonne Ridley, London, December 1, 2010

On Wednesday December 1, from 6.30 to 9.30 pm, I’ll be discussing the fate of Aafia Siddiqui at the London Muslim Centre, 46-92 Whitechapel Road, London, E1 1JX, with other speakers including Moazzam Begg, former Guantánamo prisoner and the director of Cageprisoners, and the journalist Yvonne Ridley, who is a patron of Cageprisoners, and has covered Dr. Siddiqui’s case extensively over the last few years. The event, which is free and open to all, will be chaired by Asim Qureshi, the executive director of Cageprisoners.

This event is taking place to raise awareness about the case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist who, in September, was given an 86-year sentence in a court in New York for allegedly trying — and failing — to shoot two US soldiers in Ghazni, Afghanistan in the summer of 2008, after which she was rendered to New York to be put on trial. The event’s deliberately provocative title reflects how an 86-year sentence for a disputed crime in which no one was even hurt, let alone killed, is effectively a death sentence for Dr. Siddiqui, who will die in a US prison unless pressure is maintained on the US government — and on the Pakistani government — to examine her case again or arrange for her to be transferred to Pakistani custody with the opportunity for her sentence to be reviewed.

In the last few years, I have publicized and taken part in several events focusing on Aafia Siddiqui’s case — most recently in east London (where I interviewed former Guantánamo prisoners Ruhal Ahmed and Shafiq Rasul) and outside the Pakistani embassy in London — and I never fail to mention how Dr. Siddiqui’s case is one of the most murky and troubling in the whole of the “War on Terror” initiated by the Bush administration, which led to countless horror stories, in Afghanistan, Guantánamo and Iraq, in the CIA’s network of secret prisons, and in the program of “extraordinary rendition” that involved — and still involves — prisoners being disposed of by being sent to torture prisons in third countries, or in their home countries.

In fact, Dr. Siddiqui’s case seems to be central to the darkest aspects of the Bush adminstration’s global torture program, as she was almost certainly identified as a supposed al-Qaeda operative by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, after his capture in Pakistan on March 1, 2003, and his subsequent torture — including being waterboarded 183 times — in a secret CIA prison in Poland, presumably on the basis that her second husband, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, whom she had reportedly married shortly before her capture, was KSM’s nephew. Ali was himself seized a month after her, on April 29, 2003, and also held in secret CIA prisons before his transfer to Guantánamo with 13 other men (including his uncle) in September 2006, but there is no evidence that Dr. Siddiqui had any knowledge of the 9/11 plans or of any planned attacks in the future, and it seems more likely, therefore, that she is an example of what I once referred to as the “tangled web” of those who are falsely denounced by prisoners when they are subjected to torture instead of being questioned non-coercively by skilled interrogators.

In an article following the ruling in September, entitled, “Barbaric: 86-Year Sentence for Aafia Siddiqui,” I presented the outline of Dr. Siddiqui’s story, and suggested how the sentence hinted at a cynical cover-up by the US authorities, as follows:

Such a disproportionate sentence would be barbaric, even if Aafia Siddiqui had killed the soldiers she shot at, but as she missed entirely, and was herself shot twice in the abdomen, it simply doesn’t make sense. Moreover, the sentencing overlooks claims by her lawyers that her fingerprints were not even on the gun that she allegedly fired, and, even more significantly, hints at a chilling cover-up, mentioned everywhere except at Aafia’s trial earlier this year. Seen this way, her sudden reappearance in Ghazni in July 2008, the shooting incident, the trial and the conviction were designed to hide the fact that, for five years and four months, from March 2003, when she and her three children were reportedly kidnapped in Karachi, she was held in secret US detention — possibly in the US prison in Bagram, Afghanistan — where she was subjected to horrendous abuse.

More of Aafia Siddiqui’s story can be found in my earlier articles here and here, and also, of course, on the website of the Justice for Aafia Coalition. Post-sentencing, she is now held in the Federal Medical Facility in Carswell, Texas, a notorious establishment described in an article by Yvonne Ridley for Cageprisoners as the “Hospital of horror.” Please visit this JFAC page for details about how to send letters of support, and if you’re in London, please come along to the event at the London Muslim Centre on December 1.

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.

My Exchange About Guantánamo with Benjamin Wittes, Advocate of “Military Detention without Trial”

I first heard from Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution about two years ago, when he was conducting research into the cases of the prisoners held at Guantánamo, for a project entitled, “The Current Detainee Population of Guantánamo: An Empirical Study.” Wittes got in touch because he had drawn on my analysis of 8,000 publicly available documents, which I used for my book The Guantánamo Files, and which I have been using ever since in my ongoing commentary on Guantánamo and my analyis of the stories of the men held there. However, while he was kind enough to acknowledge my work, his report demonstrated an unbridgeable chasm between his work and mine, as he essentially analyzed the government’s supposed evidence as though it were all true, whereas I was much more skeptical.

I had subjected the government’s claims to detailed scrutiny, based on a number of factors, including the fact that the majority of the men in Guantánamo were seized by the US military’s Afghan and Pakistani allies, at a time when substantial bounty payments were widespread (PDF), and the fact that they had never been screened on capture, and subjected to Article 5 competent tribunals under the Geneva Conventions. Held close to the time and place of capture, these tribunals allowed non-uniformed prisoners to call witnesses, and were designed to separate soldiers from civilians caught up in the fog of war. They had been implemented successfully up to and including the first Gulf War in 1991, when around 1200 competent tribunals were held, and in three-quarters of the cases, those seized were freed, because they were able to demonstrate that they were civilians seized by mistake. At Guantánamo, I contend that the population could easily have been halved — from 779 to around 400 — had the competent tribunals not been dismissed by the Bush administration, which arrogantly asserted that it was, essentially, incapable of making mistakes — or didn’t care that mistakes had been made on a colossal scale.

Where Wittes and I also fundamentally disagreed — and still do — was in our analysis of the government’s supposed evidence. Whereas his analysis reads, essentially, like a summary of the case for the prosecution, I was aware that torture, coercion and bribery had been used to secure confessions, and I am gratified that this has been confirmed, many times over, during the last two years in the District Court in Washington D.C., where judges have been subjecting the supposed evidence to independent scrutiny, and have discovered the extent to which the prisoners themselves, or their fellow prisoners, were tortured or coerced into making false confessions.

The judges have also found evidence of the government’s repeated reliance on informants, whose reliability has been questioned by the authorities themselves, which tallies with discoveries made by a military officer working on the Combatant Status Review Tribunals at Guantánamo in 2004-05 (the Bush administration’s belated and mocking echo of the Article 5 competent tribunals), who discovered that one particular Yemeni prisoner had told lies about 60 of his fellow prisoners.

Some of the judges have also dismissed the government’s attempts to create a “mosaic” of evidence through seemingly isolated pieces of information, and this echoes, in part, the revelations made by Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, a veteran of US intelligence, who worked on compiling the information used as evidence in the tribunals, and who asserted, in a statement submitted to the Supreme Court in 2007, that the gathering of materials for use in the tribunals was severely flawed, consisting of intelligence “of a generalized nature — often outdated, often ‘generic,’ rarely specifically relating to the individual subjects of the CSRTs or to the circumstances related to those individuals’ status,” that “what purported to be specific statements of fact lacked even the most fundamental earmarks of objectively credible evidence,” and that the whole system was geared towards rubber-stamping the detainees’ prior designation as “enemy combatants.”

Since he completed his project, Wittes — sometimes with Jack Goldsmith, former Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel — has become an enthusiast for new legislation authorizing indefinite detention for prisoners seized in the “War on Terror,” publishing numerous articles and papers, and also securing opportunities to disseminate these ideas through op-eds in the Washington Post.

They are entitled to their views, of course, but personally I find it chilling that “military detention without trial” is being proposed as “a means for incapacitating terrorists” that is preferable to federal court trials, as they stated in an op-ed for the Washington Post after the federal court trial of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a former Guantánamo prisoner, and a former CIA “ghost prisoner,” who was acquited on all but one charge two weeks ago, but neverthless faces a mandatory minimum of 20 years in prison.

Like Wittes and Goldsmith, I oppose the Military Commissions (brought back to life by Dick Cheney in November 2001, ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006 and revived twice by Congress, in the fall of 2006, and last year under President Obama) as a failed system that is unsuitable for trying terror suspects, as Lt. Col. David Frakt, former defense attorney for two Guantánamo prisoners, has explained in depth, but unlike them I believe that federal court trials are the correct venue for trying terror suspects, and that prisoners associated with the Taliban in Afghanistan (or even with what could be called the military wing of al-Qaeda, which supported the Taliban, but was essentially unconnected to the organizations’s global terrorist operations) should have been held as prisoners of war rather than as “enemy combatants” in a prison that failed — and still fails — to distinguish between terrorists and soldiers.

I also believe that the legislation that currently exists and that is used by President Obama to justify the men’s ongoing detention (the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks) not only does not need replacing with the kind of alternative proposed by Wittes and Goldsmith, but should be scrapped, so that the United States can return to the pre-Bush world in which soldiers are prioners of war, and terrorists are criminals (as, in fact, has been acknowledged outside of Guantánamo and the CIA’s secret prison network, with the successful prosecution, since 2001, of numerous terror suspects in federal court).

On Wednesday, in response to an article, “The Rule of Law in the US Hangs on Obama’s Response to the Ghailani Trial,” in which I savaged Republican critics of the Ghailani verdict, who are using it to advance their own unjustifiable belief that terrorists are “warriors,” who should be tried by Military Commission at Guantánamo (despite the well-chronicled unsuitability of the Commissions as a venue for prosecuting terrorists), I also alluded to the work undertaken by Wittes and Goldsmith — and their colleague, law professor Robert Chesney — which, since September, has found a new outlet through their group blog, Lawfare.

In response, Benjamin Wittes published the article reproduced below, taking exception to some of the views I expressed, which prompted me to reply, to point out that he had mistaken part of my commentary, and to clarify other beliefs of mine which he had misinterpreted. Showing that dialogue is possible between those who hold differing views (unlike, for example, between those of us who oppose the existence of Guantánamo and the Republican lawmakers I referred to in my article about the Ghailani trial), Wittes then posted my reply, which I have cross-posted in response to his article.

I still regard his views with horror, as the very notion of passing legislation to endorse indefinite detention without trial, nine years after 9/11 and the beginning of the Bush adminstration’s descent into lawlessness, stands in such fundamental opposition to everything I hold dear about the law. I am, however, grateful that Wittes published my response, and that we were able to demonstrate that differing points of view can be challenged through dialogue, rather than through the kind of polarized politics that has crippled the Obama administration in its dealings with national security. Regular readers will know that I do not regard the President as blameless in this, as he has persistently lacked the courage to stand up to his critics, but it nevertheless remains true that, on national security issues, and on dealing with terror suspects and Guantánamo, there are far too many voices raised on a regular basis that resemble nothing less than the darkest days of the Bush and Cheney years, which is the last place that a responsible America needs to find itself.

Cross-posted below is my exchange with Benjamin Wittes:

“Blind Vengeance and a Thorough Disdain for the Law”
By Benjamin Wittes, Lawfare, November 25, 2010

This is how the always-entertaining British journalist, Andy Worthington describes critics of federal court trials, including — it seems — Jack and Bobby and me, which is kind of funny considering that we are not really critics of federal court trials at all. Worthington has written a great deal about Guantánamo over the years, and to give him his due, he did an incredible job of identifying the population at the facility. On certain empirical questions, I have relied on his work extensively and admire it. On normative matters, however, we are as far apart as can be. I regard him as absurdly credulous of the innocence of just about everyone at the base; he comes from the school of thought that believes that any detainee who says he’s a sheep farmer or aid worker obviously is exactly that and that it’s an affront to the rule of law that American forces might, well, not believe some of them. For his part, he describes me as follows:

Fortunately, for now, few critics have rallied behind a small group of other critics — Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution, Jack Goldsmith, former Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and law professor Robert Chesney — who have taken another troubling unconstitutional line, suggesting that Congress should enact legislation to hold terror suspects indefinitely without even bothering to think about putting them on trial.

However, without decisive action in support of US law and the Constitution on the part of the government, it may be that the idea of avoiding trials altogether for terrorist suspects will gain in strength. In this, Wittes, Goldsmith and Chesney may find that they are encouraged, disturbingly, by the Obama administration itself, which has already endorsed indefinite detention without charge or trial for 48 of the remaining 174 prisoners in Guantánamo, on the advice of the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which was established by President Obama last year to review the cases of the remaining prisoners.

Moreover, in its apparent paralysis regarding trials either in federal court or by Military Commission for 34 prisoners (who were recommended for trial by the Task Force), the Obama administration is close to finding that it has enshrined indefinite detention without charge or trial as official US policy unless it acts immediately to put other Guantánamo prisoners on trial in federal court — starting, I suggest, with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four alleged co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks, whose federal court trial was announced by Eric Holder almost exactly a year ago.

If senior officials believe in the ability of federal courts to try terrorist suspects, they need to find the courage to say so, to say so boldly and with a courage that has been sadly lacking, and to follow through on their beliefs without caving in to criticism from opponents whose entire point of view is fueled by blind vengeance and a thorough disdain for the law.

A few points in response.

First, it is not quite fair to Bobby to group him in with Jack and me on this matter. His lust for blind vengeance and disdain for the law — though considerable, I’m sure — may not quite be on a par with ours. Specifically, I don’t know him to have endorsed the idea of not bringing Guantánamo detainees to trial at all. Indeed, while Bobby certainly supports detention legislation, his work was pivotal in opening up for question the Bush administration’s contention that federal courts were a wuss forum compared with military commissions. I don’t know what Bobby thinks about whether and when, at this stage, trials are desirable for this group of people, and Worthington should not presume he does either. At any rate, as Woody Allen might put it, I happen to have Bobby Chesney right here, so he can speak for himself on the point.

Second, I won’t argue with Worthington about whether my views on detention are “troubling” or not, but there is simply nothing unconstitutional about military detention. To be sure, it could be done in an unconstitutional fashion. But the core premise that some non-criminal detention of war-on-terror suspects is available to the executive is not at this point even constitutionally controversial, let alone in significant doubt. At least, it’s not controversial among the justices of the Supreme Court, the Congress of the United States, or the presidency of the United States — whether the presidency is held in Republican or Democratic hands. There are questions, of course, about the permissible legal boundaries of detention, questions that we bat around on Lawfare every day. But it just won’t do any more for the Left to dismiss detention per se as a lawless or unconstitutional option. The last time I checked, the Constitution doesn’t vest in British journalists the authority to interpret its meaning, and the officials in whom it does vest interpretive power do not share Worthington’s view.

Finally, there is an important point of agreement here: I wholly share Worthington’s frustration with the administration’s paralysis. I will support and defend just about any lawful disposition of these cases. If the administration decides to try people in federal court, I will defend that decision against the inevitable conservative attacks. If it decides to try people in military commissions, I will defend that decision against the inevitable attacks from, among other people, Worthington. If it affirmatively decides not to bring people to trial — the option that I tend to favor — I will defend that against their cries of lawlessness. I have suggested that the administration might thread the needle of federal courts vs. military commissions by using both forums in the September 11 case. And I am open to the creation of alternative trial venues if that will help too. The one approach I think is utterly indefensible is hand-wringing passivity — precisely what the administration has been doing for the last year. It’s just terrible leadership; Worthington is correct that it displays weakness to domestic critics, but the more important point is that it displays weakness and uncertainty to the enemy. At some point, and that point was long ago, one needs to make a decision, articulate it, stand by it, and implement it.

Andy Worthington Responds
By Benjamin Wittes, Lawfare, November 25, 2010

I received the following note from Andy Worthington in response to my earlier post about his article. I appreciate very much his clarifications, which read in relevant part:

My intention was not to describe you and Jack and Robert as “fueled by blind vengeance and a thorough disdain for the law” — and I apologize if that was unclear. I thought it was clear that I was referring back to the Republican lawmakers and their ideologically-driven disdain for federal court trials and for the absolute prohibition on the use of torture, and their mistaken enthusiasm for Military Commissions.

I also would like to clarify my position regarding the prisoners at Guantánamo, which also relates to your views on indefinite detention. You may, if you wish, describe me as “absurdly credulous of the innocence of just about everyone at the base,” but in fact I have never stated any such thing. I believe that around three dozen of the prisoners — maybe a little more, maybe a little less — have anything in their case histories to indicate that they had any involvement with terrorism, and that, of the rest, roughly half were innocent men, seized by mistake, or through the opportunism that develops in one’s allies when large bounty payments are offered for “al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects,” and the other half were foot soldiers for the Taliban.

And as you also know, I’m sure, my problem with the detention policy is that I believe the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks, which, with a ruling by the Supreme Court in 2004, is used to justify the prisoners’ detention at Guantánamo, is an unacceptable alternative to the Geneva Conventions as a means of holding wartime prisoners until the end of hostilities. I also believe that those accused of terrorist activities should be tried in federal court, as they have been for many years both before and after the 9/11 attacks. What galls me, and will continue to gall me, is holding both soldiers and terror suspects indefinitely as “enemy combatants” — or, as they now are, “alien unprivileged enemy belligerents” — as though the Bush administration’s creation of a new category of prisoner — one without any rights at all — was fundamentally correct.

As a result, I don’t see the need for any new legislation, and, indeed, am deeply troubled by any proposal that would further undermine the Geneva Conventions and the success of the US courts in prosecuting terrorist suspects by refining the innovations introduced by the Bush administration, which showed a particular disdain for the strengths of domestic and international law, and for the robustness and importance of international treaties. Instead, I would like to see the AUMF repealed, wartime prisoners held according to the Geneva Conventions (and this applies to Bagram as well, and wartime detention in any future conflicts), and those accused of involvement in terrorist activities to be tried in federal court.

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 Smirking Chimp, The Public Record and Uruknet.

Send a Letter to William Hague Asking Him to Demand Shaker Aamer’s Return to the UK from Guantánamo

It is now ten days since the British government reached a financial settlement with 15 former Guantánamo prisoners — and also with Shaker Aamer, the last British resident still held in the prison — and I fear that, given the relentless “churnalism” of the news cycle (to quote the investigative journalist Nick Davies), it may soon be forgotten that he is still held, that a Metropolitan Police investigation into his allegations that he was tortured in US custody in Afghanistan while British agents were present cannot conclude without him, and that without a conclusion to this investigation the judicial inquiry into British complicity in torture abroad, which the government wants to “draw a line under the past,” cannot even begin.

As it is inconcevable that it would take the Obama administration more than a few days to sort out the necessary paperwork and locate a plane capable of flying Shaker Aamer back to the UK, I’ve put together a letter below that readers can cut and paste and send to foreign secretary William Hague, stressing how important it is that Shaker Aamer be returned to the UK, and to his wife and children, as swiftly as possible. Readers can also cut and paste it and send it by email.

A letter to William Hague calling for the return of Shaker Aamer

William Hague MP
Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
London, SW1A 2AH

Dear Foreign Secretary,

Following the announcement on 16 November that a financial settlement has been reached with 15 former Guantánamo prisoners — and with Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison — I am writing to you to seek confirmation that he will be returned to the UK in the imminent future, so that the Metropolitan Police inquiry into his allegations against British agents can be brought to an end, and so that the judicial inquiry into British complicity in torture abroad, which you did so much to encourage, can begin.

As Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen pointed out recently, it was “very welcome” to hear that you had asked Secretary of State Clinton to return Mr. Aamer to the UK, but “in the absence of charges or a proper trial we now need to see Mr. Hague and the US authorities agreeing a specific timetable for Shaker’s release.”

I would also like to draw your attention to questions raised by Mr. Aamer‘s UK lawyer Gareth Peirce, who asked, “How is it possible for our government to talk of drawing a line under the past when a British resident who has been hideously tortured over many years is still in unlawful detention in Guantánamo Bay? Are we really as a country prepared to allow his tenth year of captivity to begin in the hands of Britain’s closest ally?”

I also note that Jane Ellison (Battersea, Balham and Wandsworth), the MP for Mr. Aamer’s family, has stated, “A change of government and, in particular, the Prime Minister’s announcement that there was to be an inquiry into the UK’s complicity in torture, has given the campaign for Mr. Aamer’s release new impetus.”

She added, “I have raised his case in Parliament on four occasions since the election and discussed it with ministers and Foreign Office officials in detail; the tone of the exchanges has changed a lot in a few months and I feel his case is firmly on the government’s agenda.”

Please confirm that Mr. Aamer’s case is not only “firmly on the government’s agenda,” but also that you understand that wthout swift action to secure his return — something that is clearly not out of the question given the close bonds between the US and the UK — I and others will be obliged to doubt your commitment “to balance the needs of national security with the need for justice and accountability in our democratic society,” which you expressed in February this year.

With Mr. Aamer about to enter his tenth year in US custody without charge or trial, the time for his return is now.

Yours sincerely,

[add name, and address if sending by mail, and you wish to receive a reply]

Note: Readers can also send a letter to their MPs asking them to raise Shaker Aamer’s case with William Hague. A draft letter is here. Also see this page for information about future screenings of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film co-directed by Polly Nash and myself, which features the story of Shaker Aamer  – on December 10 in Roehampton, on December 11 in Battersea, and on December 15 in Sheffield — and if you’re in London, or able to pay a visit, please also note that the screening on Saturday December 11, at the Battersea Arts Centre, is part of an event entitled, “A Day for Shaker Aamer,” organized by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign in his home borough of Wandsworth. The day begins at 12 noon, with a demonstration at Ponton Road, Nine Elms, London SW8, the site of the new US embassy. At 12.30 those gathered will march to Battersea Arts Centre for a public meeting, beginning at 2 pm, with speakers including Ken Livingstone, Moazzam Begg, Victoria Brittain, Jeremy Corbyn, Lindsey German, Kate Hudson, Gareth Peirce and Yvonne Ridley, and the film will be shown at 4.30 pm, followed by a Q&A with myself and Omar Deghayes.

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.

Guantánamo: Andy Worthington’s In-Depth Interview with Christopher Renner of Community Bridge Radio

Last week, I undertook my first ever interview with Christopher Renner of Community Bridge Radio, which describes itself as “the progressive alternative to talk radio in Manhattan and across the state,” and is the winner of the 2010, 2008 and 2007 Kansas Association of Broadcasters’ First Place Award for Public Affairs Broadcasting.

This was an excellent one-hour show, and is available by clicking on the following link (MP3 File) or by visiting the Community Bridge website — scroll down to the bottom of the page. Christopher had done his research, and asked me a number of pertinent questions covering Guantánamo past, present and future, enabling me to cover most of the important topics that needed discussing, and I do hope you have time to listen to it.

I began by discussing how I had become involved with Guantánamo, and how the research that I undertook, mainly through analyzing 8,000 pages of publicly available documents, enabled me not only to tell the men’s stories, but also to put those stories in context, in a chronology that I was also able to establish, demonstrating who was caught where and when, and how, in addition to other factors — including the prevalence of bounty payments, and the use of torture, coercion or bribery to secure confessions — this structure enabled me to prove that the men were not all “the worst of the worst” who were all captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan.

From here, Christopher and I moved on to discuss the case of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, which I dealt with in my recent article, “The Rule of Law in the US Hangs on Obama’s Response to the Ghailani Trial,” and George W. Bush’s memoirs, his admission that he personally authorized torture, his lies about how the use of waterboarding foiled a number of terrorist plots, and the inability of anyone in the United States to put him forward for prosecution under the federal anti-torture statute.

We also discussed the poor track record of the Military Commission trial system that was first revived by Dick Cheney in November 2001, was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in 2006, revived by Congress later that year (and again last year under President Obama), but which has, to date, come up with only five tarnished results, and has been noticeably less successful in prosecuting terror suspects than the federal courts, where trials are opposed by Republicans on purely ideological grounds.

I also had the opportunity to run through the statistics regarding the 174 prisoners still held in the prison: how, under the guidance of an interagency Task Force established last year by President Obama, 35 men are scheduled to face trials (although Obama’s appetite for any kind of trials now appears to be exhausted), how 48 were recommended for indefinite detention without charge or trial (in other words, Bush revisited), and how the others were supposed to be freed — although very few have been, in large part due to an unprincipled moratorium on releasing any Yemenis that was announced by Obama after last Christmas’s failed plane bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (a Nigerian), was revealed to have trained in Yemen.

We also discussed the false claims of recidivism put out by the Pentagon, which have led to an oft-repeated — and completely unsubstantiated — claim that 1 in 5 of the men freed from Guantánamo have become involved in militancy or terrorism, and, in closing, discussed the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash, and which I hope to be showing again in America as part of a series of protests and consciousness-raising events on and around the 9th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, on January 11, 2011.

It was a real pleasure to talk to Christopher, and I hope we have the opportunity to talk again one day.

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 Rule of Law in the US Hangs on Obama’s Response to the Ghailani Trial

To listen to certain Republican critics of last week’s verdict in the federal court trial of the Tanzanian Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a former Guantánamo prisoner and a former CIA “ghost prisoner,” you would think that the jury had found him not guilty, and that he had been released onto the streets of New York.

In fact, after deliberating for five days, the jury found him guilty on one count of conspiracy to destroy US property and buildings, which carries a mandatory 20-year sentence, although the judge in his case, Judge Lewis Kaplan, can decide that a life sentence is appropriate.

Why, then, did Representative Peter King (R-NY), who is poised to become the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee in January, exclaim, “This is a tragic wake-up call to the Obama Administration to immediately abandon its ill-advised plan to try Guantánamo terrorists” in federal civilian courts?

The reason is naked ideology, of a very damaging kind, as Rep. King revealed in the comment that followed. “We must treat them as wartime enemies,” he said, “and try them in military commissions at Guantánamo.”

For Rep. King and his fellow Republicans, who were queuing up to damn President Obama for his imperceptible failure, the naked truth is that they would have been even more dissatisfied if the jury had convicted Ghailani on the other 284 counts on which they found him not guilty, as it would have made it more difficult for them to attempt to justify their obsession with treating Ghailani — and all the other prisoners in Guantánamo — as “warriors” in the “War on Terror” launched by the Bush administration, for whom federal court trials are ideologically unsuitable.

Such is the blinkered obsession of these critics that they actively want information derived from torture to be used in the trials of alleged terrorists, and they blame Judge Kaplan for upholding the law by excluding from the trial the government’s alleged “star witness,” a Tanzanian named Hussein Abebe, whose name was revealed by Ghailani while he was being subjected to torture in a secret prison run by the CIA — part of a network of secret prisons in which he was held for two years and two months, after his capture in Pakistan in July 2004, until his transfer to Guantánamo, with 13 other alleged “high-value detainees,” in September 2006.

To these critics, it is irrelevant that information derived through the use of torture was excluded by Judge Kaplan because such information can never be used in federal court — and because the use of torture is a crime under domestic US law — just as it is irrelevant that Hussein Abebe’s testimony may also have been suspicious, as Marcy Wheeler pointed out in two articles on FireDogLake.

Nor, bizarrely, do they care that experts with deeper knowledge of the Commissions have pointed out that a military judge in a trial by Military Commission would also have excluded evidence derived through the use of torture, or that the Commissions themselves have a dismal record when it comes to successful prosecutions, having secured just five verdicts since their revival nine years ago: three through plea deals (in the cases of David Hicks, Ibrahim al-Qosi and Omar Khadr); one, in the case of Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden, after a trial in which the military jury threw out a charge of conspiracy; and another, in the case of Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who produced a propaganda video for al-Qaeda, after a one-sided trial in which al-Bahlul refused to mount a defense.

With the exception of al-Bahlul, who is serving a life sentence (although this is being appealed), all these supposed victories have perished under scrutiny: in 2007, Hicks was freed almost immediately, to serve just seven months in Australia; Hamdan received a sentence of five and a half years, but the judge decided it included time already served, and he was a free man after just five months; al-Qosi, a sometime cook for al-Qaeda, is expected to serve two years; and Omar Khadr’s plea deal means he will be freed from Guantánamo in a year, with seven years ahead of him in a Canadian prison.

Also irrelevant to these advocates of torture and bent trials is the fact that federal courts have an enormously successful track record of prosecuting terrorists, and that the fate of Ghailani’s alleged co-conspirators in the 1998 bombings provides a salutary lesson regarding these successes, providing a ringing endorsement of federal court trials for terrorists, and — along the way — also providing a damning repudiation of the extralegal novelties of the “War on Terror.” Rather than being diverted into a network of secret prisons run by the CIA, where torture was making an ill-advised renaissance, Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-‘Owhali, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, Mohamed Sadeek Odeh and Wadih el-Hage were interrogated by FBI officials without the use of torture, were successfully convicted in a federal court in New York in May 2001, and were sentenced to life without parole in October 2001 — when the “War on Terror” had already begun.

All of the above is supposedly irrelevant to critics of the verdict in Ghailani’s trials because these cheerleaders for the Commissions — and for the use of information derived through the use of torture — want to ignore reality and return to the world envisaged by former Vice President Dick Cheney and his legal counsel David Addington in November 2001, when they first revived the Military Commissions, intending that they would be able to launder information derived through torture, and sentence supposed terrorist suspects to death without anything remotely resembling due process.

This is the system which, although still a second-rate system of justice, reserved for foreigners regarded as terrorist suspects, or as “alien unprivileged enemy combatants,” who are not allowed to raise arms against US forces under any circumstances, has been amended over the years, after the Supreme Court ruled it illegal in June 2006, demolishing Cheney’s dream so that information derived through the use of torture is banned, as it is in federal court trials. As a result, the only essential difference between the Commissions and federal court trials is that the military judges in the former can use their discretion to decide whether or not to allow the use of information that may have been derived through coercion rather than torture.

This may have made a difference in Ghailani’s case, but it seems unlikely, given the Commissions’ track record, that it would necessarily have led to a harsher sentence than the one Ghailani will receive after his federal court trial. In addition, it is worth considering that Ghailani’s trial took place with barely a mention of his treatment in secret CIA prisons or in Guantanamo, when the precedents from the Commissions indicate that military defense lawyers may have fought more tenaciously to raise it as an issue.

Once it becomes apparent that critics of the verdict in Ghailani’s trial are actually seeking a return to the lawless fantasy land envisaged by Dick Cheney and David Addington, and believe — contrary to the evidence — that US law is soft and useless, it also becomes apparent that the silence of President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder in response to these complaints is deeply troubling.

The Obama administration needs to put down those who are insulting US law through the prism of their own warped ideology, or there is no telling where the rot will stop. Fortunately, for now, few critics have rallied behind a small group of other critics — Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution, Jack Goldsmith, former Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and law professor Robert Chesney — who have taken another troubling unconstitutional line, suggesting that Congress should enact legislation to hold terror suspects indefinitely without even bothering to think about putting them on trial.

However, without decisive action in support of US law and the Constitution on the part of the government, it may be that the idea of avoiding trials altogether for terrorist suspects will gain in strength. In this, Wittes, Goldsmith and Chesney may find that they are encouraged, disturbingly, by the Obama administration itself, which has already endorsed indefinite detention without charge or trial for 48 of the remaining 174 prisoners in Guantánamo, on the advice of the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, which was established by President Obama last year to review the cases of the remaining prisoners.

Moreover, in its apparent paralysis regarding trials either in federal court or by Military Commission for 34 prisoners (who were recommended for trial by the Task Force), the Obama administration is close to finding that it has enshrined indefinite detention without charge or trial as official US policy unless it acts immediately to put other Guantánamo prisoners on trial in federal court — starting, I suggest, with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four alleged co-conspirators in the 9/11 attacks, whose federal court trial was announced by Eric Holder almost exactly a year ago.

If senior officials believe in the ability of federal courts to try terrorist suspects, they need to find the courage to say so, to say so boldly and with a courage that has been sadly lacking, and to follow through on their beliefs without caving in to criticism from opponents whose entire point of view is fueled by blind vengeance and a thorough disdain for the law.

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

As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation, as “The Rule of Law and the Ghailani Case.” Cross-posted on The Public Record, Cageprisoners and Uruknet.

Revolutionary Spirit in Bangor, at a Screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”

North Wales has always figured in my life, probably because its seaside resorts (along with Blackpool and Southport) and its mountains (along with the Peak District) were important to those who, like my family, grew up in and around Manchester as working class Methodists. For the working people of Lancashire, holidays in Llandudno, Colwyn Bay or Rhyl were affordable, and the mountains of Snowdonia offered the kind of outdoor pursuits that led to them rubbing shoulders (metaphorically, at least) with the land reformers of the Ramblers’ Association, founded in 1931, and the protestors who staged a mass trespass on Kinder Scout, in the Peak District, in 1932. Revolution was not a part of my family background, but rambling, caring for the poor and downtrodden, and a keen sense of social justice undoubtedly were.

As a child, I toured the great medieval castles of North Wales with my family — Caernarfon, with its multiple octagonal towers, was my favourite — and climbed the peaks of Snowdonia, including, on one exceptionally foggy and bitter day, when I was nine, Snowdon, via the precipitous ridge of Crib Goch, and the seemingly interminable Miners’ Track.

Many years later, after my final exams at university, a group of us — exceptionally intelligent for a brief period, until the effects of cramming a three-year course into three months of non-stop revision wore off — hired a cottage not far from Cader Idris, that jewel in the mountains, where a perfectly tranquil lake, Llyn Cau, floats at around 1500 feet, surrounded by a horseshoe of cliffs. On the day of our ascent, as the fog descended, I struck out for the summit with one of my compnaions, and we then made our way down, fearlessly — or foolishly — skiing on scree, unable to see where we were hurtling until the odd pocket of visibility opened up in the otherwise all-encompassing fog.

Getting on for 20 years ago, I visited North Wales again, on what I recall as a five-day bender with my wildest relatives, which involved a drunken canter up Cader Idris, and about 15 years ago I visited again — this time avoiding the mountains — for an exuberantly drunken wedding in an otherwise dry town, at a time when exuberant drunkenness was, seemingly, de rigueur, especially in Brixton, where many of us attending the wedding were living.

That, however, was my last visit unti last Wednesday. In the late 1990s, when I became fascinated by the ancient sacred sites of Britain — a process that eventually led to the publication of my first two books, Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield — I travelled far and wide, from Cornwall and Wiltshire to the Outer Hebrides, via the Lake District and other extraordinary sites (in, for example, Dorset, Oxfordshire, Luton, East Yorkshire and the Cotswolds), but I never made it to North Wales, and, in particular, to the monuments of Anglesey — the chambered mound of Bryn Celli Ddu, the former site of a stone circle and henge, being a particular attraction.

Having also managed not to visit Wales during my tour, earlier this year, of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash, and which I took as far north as Aberdeen with former prisoner Omar Deghayes back in spring, I was delighted when, a few months ago, Linda Rogers of the Bangor and Ynys Môn Peace and Justice group asked me to visit to show the film.

As it turned out, of course, although I failed once more to see Bryn Celli Ddu, the timing of my visit last Wednesday could hardly have been more opportune, with the announcement, just 24 hours before, that the coalition government had reached a financial settlement with 15 former Guantánamo prisoners — and with one current prisoner, Shaker Aamer, who is featured in the film, and whose release is one of the film’s primary objectives.

As a result, the chatter was almost incessant from the moment I arrived — with Linda, her husband, the author Philip Steele, and with my blogger friends Earwicga (who also blogs at Pickled Politics) and Rick B. of Ten Percent, who, delightfully, I was meeting for the first time, after several years of admiring each other’s work.

While we mostly stayed on-topic, discussing the financial settlement, how it is a clear admission of guilt, the importance of acting immediately to secure the return to the UK of Shaker Aamer, and the Amnesty International campaign that was launched yesterday (see here for a letter to MPs), we also discussed the government’s shocking attempt to pass a new law to make sure that, in future, anything relating to “national security” will be treated as secret evidence in court, the cynical diversion of the royal wedding, the decline in serious news reporting at the BBC, the mainstream media’s free pass for George W. Bush’s torture admission and his lies about the plots foiled through the use of waterboarding, and, more generally, the coalition government’s genuinely terrifying ideological assault on the welfare state, on legal aid and on university funding — and especially in the fields of the arts, humanities and social sciences, which face 100 percent cuts — and the lack of empathy and compassion amongst those who are being all too easily persuaded to scapegoat the poor, the disabled and students for problems that largely stem from the destructive greed of the City and the tax evaders of the corporate world.

All in all, a great night of activism and resistance, and well worth the lengthy round-trip!

Note: For another report on my visit, see this post by Rick B. Also see this page for information about future screenings of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”  — on December 10 in Roehampton, on December 11 in Battersea, and on December 15 in Sheffield — and if you’re in London, or able to pay a visit, please also note that the screening on Saturday December 11, at the Battersea Arts Centre, is part of an event entitled, “A Day for Shaker Aamer,” organized by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign in his home borough of Wandsworth. The day begins at 12 noon, with a demonstration at Ponton Road, Nine Elms, London SW8, the site of the new US embassy. At 12.30 those gathered will march to Battersea Arts Centre for a public meeting, beginning at 2 pm, with speakers including Ken Livingstone, Moazzam Begg, Victoria Brittain, Jeremy Corbyn, Lindsey German, Kate Hudson, Gareth Peirce and Yvonne Ridley, and the film will be shown at 4.30 pm, followed by a Q&A with myself and Omar Deghayes.

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.

Did You Miss This? 100 Percent Funding Cuts to Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Courses at UK Universities

In almost all the coverage of the coalition government’s proposed cuts to university funding, as a result of a review conducted by Lord Browne, the former CEO of BP (whose qualifications for such a role have never been adequately explained), it has been noted that the reduction in funding announced in George Osborne’s comprehensive spending review — from £7.1 bn to £4.2 bn — amounts to a 40 percent cut, to be replaced by increases in fees, from the current rate of £3,290 a year to anywhere between £6,000 and £9,000 a year.

Largely unnoticed, however, is a disturbing sub-text. Because the government has ring-fenced funding for band A and B subjects (science, engineering, technology and maths), subjects in bands C and D (arts, humanities and social sciences) will lose 100 percent of their funding. As the education minister David Willetts explained to the House of Commons business committee on October 26, the teaching grant for band C and D subjects would, in the BBC’s words, “be all but wiped out.”

According to an analysis of the government’s plans conducted by the National Union of Students, 24 universities could lose all their funding, including ten in London: the London School of Economics (LSE), the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Goldsmiths College, the Institute of Education, Central School of Speech and Drama, the Royal Academy of Music, the Royal College of Music, the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, the Conservatoire for Dance and Drama and the Courtauld Institute of Art. Ignored in these results, for some reason, are the University of the Arts London (including the London College of Fashion and the London College of Communication), and the Royal College of Art, and, in addition, numerous other universities offering courses in art, humanities and social sciences will also lose all their funding for these courses.

In response to the analysis, NUS president Aaron Porter said, “Universities across the country that do not meet the government’s arbitrary definition of usefulness, but nonetheless transform and enrich our economy and society, are to be brutalised.”

This was accurate, revealing the gulf between the government’s belief that supposedly utilitarian subjects should be funded for the good of society, but that the arts, humanities and social sciences — a vast area of study including English literature, law, history, foreign languages, information technology, psychology and social studies, as well as all aspects of art, drama and music — are somehow irrelevant to society as a whole.

The truth, as identified by Porter, is that they do indeed “transform and enrich our economy and society,” as part of the very infrastructure of society in the public sector, and as an intrinsic part of the “creative industries” that are such a crucial — and growing — part of the UK economy, both in terms of the commerically successful organizations that attract the attention of ministers, and the vast number of self-employed creative people — myself included — who play a largely self-sufficient role in the creation of jobs in post-industrial Britain.

Sadly, the full extent of the impact of what Charlotte Higgins described in the Guardian as a “dark new philistinism” has not yet been even remotely explored in the mainstream media, where far too many journalists — like the ministers advocating these cuts — conveniently overlook the fact that they benefitted immensely from attending university at a time when higher education was adequately funded, when grants encouraged poorer people to attend university, and the entire sector was regarded as being of use to society as a whole, rather than as some sort of selfish lifestyle choice.

I await cries of horror from other journalists and authors, from artists, actors and historians, lawyers, psychologists and social workers, all of whom appear, at present, to be sadly mute on the axing of funds to the courses from which they — and society — benefitted without accruing potentially paralyzing debts of anywhere between £35,000 and £60,000.

Last week, however, the Guardian at least began to touch on some of the follies of the government’s plans in a fascinating article in which Paul Thompson, rector of the Royal College of Art — “whose alumni include the artists Chris Ofili and Tracey Emin, the industrial designer Sir James Dyson, as well as Burberry’s creative director, Christopher Bailey” — explained how the government has “swung a sledgehammer” into arts teaching, “warned that withdrawing funding for design courses puts the supply of talent for creative industries at risk,” and added that “the decision to prioritise science failed to recognise the collaborative way in which engineers work with designers.”

“The creativity of a designer takes an invention that might potentially lie on a laboratory bench, adds the design thinking, and that helps commercialise that idea,” Thompson said. “We’ve been talking to government and saying look at the number of design-led companies that have Royal College of Art graduates behind them, whether it’s Jaguar, Foster architects, or Burberry.” Worried that fees for postgraduate students “would have to rise dramatically to make up the shortfall in funding,” he added, “I think the government has swung a very heavy sledgehammer across the board, in trying to remove David Beckham studies, and swung this sledgehammer [at] a number of very important courses for the creative industries.”

This was an important point, obviously missed by Lord Browne and the government, when they decided to neatly compartmentalize university education into two stark categories — utilitarian and dilettante.

For another take on the fear that “undergraduate students facing higher debts will be reluctant to take on in-depth postgraduate study,” the Guardian spoke to Barry Ife, the principal of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, who explained, “It takes time to develop an artist: in the case of singers, it’s a question of physical maturity as well as emotional and artistic maturity. It’s one thing for undergraduates to go out with £20,000 of debt, quite another thing to go out with £50-60,000. The real concern is not so much that we’re not going to have an undergraduate population, it’s what happens to the postgraduate population. It’s from that group that the really talented artists will emerge.”

He added that the withdrawal of funding “fails to recognise the intensive nature of artists’ training,” and explained, “The costs in performing artist training are extremely high, because the training we provide is very intensive: it’s tailor-made, it’s based on one-to-one teaching. You can’t teach the cello to people like Jacqueline du Pré in groups of 300 or even 20.”

While some will argue that this is an unaffordable luxury for Britain today, Ife also pointed out that, by raising fees to a higher level than in any public university system in the world, British schools of music may lose out to those in other countries, and — my inference — may well be obliged to close. Explaining that they “face competition from European and US conservatoires that charge lower fees – or, like the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, offer full scholarships,” he said, “We work in an international market in arts training. There are a lot of providers in the US who are tuition-free. The vast majority of European conservatories offer tuition rates that are lower than current rates.”

This, then, is the current state of play. Short-sighted, reckless, socially and culturally barren and fixated on a mean and narrow ideology, the coalition government is proposing to introduce swingeing cuts to funding and a liberalization of fees, which will make Britain’s universitiies amongst the most expensive in the world, and appears not to care that this dangerous experiment may lead to the closure of numerous long-established universities and university departments, the flight of British students abroad, a further drop in social mobility, as other young people decide that university is unaffordable, a notable impoverishment in the cultural and social life of Britain, and, most stupidly of all, severely restricting the opportunities for employment, self-employment and job creation that arts, humanities and the social sciences provide.

Note: This Wednesday, November 24, there is a national day of occupations and protests against the cuts (see here for further details), including a “Carnival of Resistance” at ULU, in central London, followed by a procession to Trafalgar Square. For further information about the govermment’s cuts in general, see the Coalition of Resistance website (and the conference in London on Saturday November 27), and a statement of intent by Tony Benn and 73 others that was published in the Guardian in August.

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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