Archive for January, 2011

Obama’s Collapse: The Return of the Military Commissions

For T. S. Eliot, April was the cruelest month, but for the prisoners at Guantánamo it is January — from the dashed hopes of January 2009, when President Obama swept into office issuing an executive order in which he promised to close the prison within a year, to January 2010, when, having failed to do so, he added insult to injury by issuing a moratorium preventing the release of 29 Yemenis cleared for release by his own Guantánamo Review Task Force, after his opponents seized on the revelation that a failed plane bomber on Christmas Day 2009 had apparently been recruited in Yemen.

This year the President’s bitter surprise for the prisoners (which has encouraged a widespread peaceful protest at the prison, as reported here) was two-fold. The first was his failure to veto a military spending bill passed by Congress, which contained cynical and unconstitutional provisions preventing the transfer of any prisoner to the US mainland, in which lawmakers also demanded the power to prevent the release of prisoners to countries regarded as dangerous.

While these were evidently unacceptable assaults on Presidential authority, dashing the administration’s hopes of holding federal court trials for any of the remaining 173 prisoners and confirming the intent of Congress to enshrine the Yemeni moratorium in legislation, and also to prevent any prisoners from being released to other countries including Afghanistan, Obama refused to veto the bill, feebly claiming that he would try to negotiate with Congress, but thereby conceding that there was no way that the prison would close in the foreseeable future — or, very probably, in the rest of his term in office.

The Return of the Military Commissions

The second bitter surprise for the prisoners was the announcement last week, first mentioned by the New York Times, that, although federal court trials have effectively been suspended, specifically derailing the administration’s stated intention to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks in federal court, the administration is preparing to push ahead instead with trials by Military Commission for at least some of the 33 men recommended for trials by Obama’s Task Force.

This decision is particularly disappointing because it hands victory to the most ideologically misguided Republicans, who like the idea of Military Commissions because they reinforce their false notion of terrorist suspects as “warriors” in the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” while enraging many of Obama’s own supporters, who are opposed to trials by Military Commission because they represent a second-tier system of justice, inferior to federal court trials, and, in particular, because they contain “war crimes” specifically invented by Congress.

As Lt. Col. David Frakt, a law professor and the military defense attorney for two prisoners at Guantánamo, explained in Congressional testimony in summer 2009:

If one were to review the charges brought against all of the approximately 25 defendants charged [under President Bush] in the military commissions, as I have, one would conclude that 99% of them do not involve traditionally recognized war crimes. Rather, virtually all the defendants are charged with non-war crimes, primarily criminal conspiracy, terrorism and material support to terrorism, all of which are properly crimes under federal criminal law, but not the laws of war.

The decision to revive the Commissions is also disappointing because, as ProPublica reported in a follow-up to the Times‘ story, last August, when “President Obama’s national security advisers, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, met in the White House situation room to decide whether and how to go forward with trials for some Guantánamo prisoners,” they reportedly “left the White House that August day committed to moving forward simultaneously with prosecutions in federal court and military commissions.” As ProPublica stated explicitly, “No military trials would be held anywhere unless trials in federal courtrooms were held at the same time.”

The only glimmer of hope, as ProPublica also reported, is that:

[S]ome experts have suggested that the restrictions [on moving prisoners to the US mainland] affect only the Pentagon. Justice Department funds could still be used to move prisoners to the United States. If that is the White House view, it will be known only when a prisoner is moved to the United States for trial. And only then will it be clear whether the White House policy to move simultaneously on prosecutions in federal court and military commissions still holds.

However, given Obama’s history of bowing to Republican pressure on almost everything to do with Guantánamo, it strikes me as highly unlikely that he would willingly invite an avalanche of criticism to descend on him by stealthily moving prisoners to face trial to the US using Justice Department funds.

If that were the case, he would already have robustly defended federal court trials, whereas the sad truth is that, when tested, he withdrew from the fray. That test came in October and November, during the trial and conviction of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the only man to be moved by the Obama administration from Guantánamo to the US mainland to face a federal court trial (a move that took place in May 2009, before Congress decided to do all it could to usurp the President’s powers). When the jury in Ghailani’s case convicted him on one count of conspiracy, in connection with the bombing of the US embassy in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania in August 1998, and cleared him of 284 other charges, Obama refused to speak up to defend the court system, allowing his distorted critics to behave as though Ghailani had somehow beaten the system, even though he faced a minimum prison sentence of 20 years, and, when his sentence was delivered today, received a life sentence without parole.

The sad history of the Military Commissions

With the Commissions back in play, therefore, the only hope for those who believe, correctly, that federal courts are the only legitimate venue for trying offenses related to terrorism, is that the system first dragged from the grave by Dick Cheney in November 2001, and revived by Congress in the fall of 2006, and again in 2009 (under Obama), after the Supreme Court ruled in June 2006 that Cheney’s version violated both the Geneva Conventions and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, will be as much of a failure as it has on all its other previous outings — the three convictions under Bush, and the two under Obama:

  • David Hicks, an Australian, who, in March 2007, accepted a plea deal and was a free man nine months later;
  • Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni, and one of several drivers for Osama bin Laden, who was cleared of conspiracy charges by his military jury, and was a free man five months after being convicted and sentenced for providing material support to terrorism in August 2008;
  • Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a Yemeni who made a promotional video for al-Qaeda, and received a life sentence in November 2008 after a one-sided trial in which he refused to mount a defense;
  • Ibrahim al-Qosi, from Sudan, a sometime chef for al-Qaeda members in a compound used by Osama bin Laden, who accepted a plea deal in July last year, and is expected to be freed in July 2012; and
  • Omar Khadr, a Canadian, and a former child prisoner, who was put forward for a trial by Obama despite his former status as a child (which should have guaranteed that he was rehabilitated rather than prosecuted), and who agreed to a plea deal in October, which involves him serving one more year in Guantánamo, and then being repatriated to serve seven more years in Canada.

Of these, the trial of Omar Khadr ought to have been the biggest humiliation for the Obama administration, and a sure sign of troubles to come, as his guilty plea involved the spurious war crimes invented by Congress, and it was both depressing and shameful to watch as Obama presided over a system in which Khadr was obliged to accept that he was an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent,” whose participation in — or presence at — the firefight in July 2002 that led to his capture was illegal.

The men scheduled to face trials by Military Commission

As the New York Times explained last week, the men scheduled to face trials include three of the five men mentioned by Attorney General Eric Holder on November 13, 2009, on the same day that he announced the federal court trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his alleged 9/11 co-conspirators. With al-Qosi and Khadr dealt with, the remaining three are Noor Uthman Mohammed, Ahmed Mohammed al-Darbi and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. A fourth man is Obaidullah, an Afghan. All of these men (like al-Qosi and Khadr) are hold-overs from the Bush-era Commissions, when 29 men in total were charged, but only three trials took place, as mentioned above.

Noor Uthman Muhammed

In the case of Noor Uthman Muhammed, accused of being the deputy emir of a training camp in Afghanistan, the main problems were summarized in a report from his most recent hearing at Guantánamo in September last year, by Raha Wala, a Georgetown Fellow in Law and Security, who attended the hearing on behalf of Human Rights First, and elaborated on some of the failures of the Commissions that I mentioned above. Wala wrote:

One reason Noor’s case is a bad fit for a war crimes prosecution is that it’s unclear whether a military commission can even exert jurisdiction over Noor for crimes that the government says he committed. Most of the criminal acts Noor allegedly committed took place from the mid-1990’s to 2000, purportedly before the United States was at war with anyone. Yet the military commissions were originally created in response to the September 11th terrorist attacks to try individuals for war crimes, raising questions about whether the military commission even has jurisdiction to hear Noor’s case. The crimes Noor allegedly committed — material support of terrorism and conspiracy — are not traditional law of war violations typically tried in military commissions. Moreover, attempts by Congress to codify material support and conspiracy as war crimes may very well be seen as imposing ex post facto punishment, with military commissions serving as a venue for trying individuals like Noor for “war crimes” that simply didn’t exist at the time these alleged unlawful acts took place.

Similarly, Noor must be considered an “unprivileged enemy belligerent” for the military commission to assert jurisdiction over him. This means that the prosecution needs to show that Noor was unlawfully taking part in hostilities during an armed conflict. Yet, as was mentioned above, the United States was not at war in the 90’s during Noor’s alleged crimes. And Noor denies that he was affiliated with any armed forces, although the US government claims he was providing support for a Taliban training camp [actually the Khaldan camp, which was independent of both the Taliban and al-Qaeda]. Even if the US government’s accusations are accurate, it’s not clear that the Taliban was involved in any armed conflict during the time of Noor’s alleged unlawful acts either.

Other problems for the government are that Muhammed’s case relates to two others that the administration ought be extremely wary of publicizing: that of Abu Zubaydah, the supposed “high-value detainee” for whom the CIA torture program was first developed, who, it turned out, was not a significant figure in al-Qaeda at all, and that of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, the emir of Khaldan, who was flown to Egypt by the CIA, tortured until he confessed to non-existent links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, which were used to justify the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, and later returned to Libya, where he died in mysterious circumstances in May 2009. Despite this, in September, prosecutors in Muhammed’s case declared their intention to use Abu Zubaydah’s diaries as evidence when his case comes to trial.

Ahmed Mohammed al-Darbi

In the case of Ahmed Mohammed al-Darbi, a Saudi seized in Azerbaijan in June 2002 and rendered to US custody in Bagram, Afghanistan, before being sent to Guantánamo, the main problem for the government is that his case is tainted with torture. He is accused of plotting to attack a ship in the Strait Of Hormuz, meeting Osama bin Laden and attending a training camp in Afghanistan, but at a hearing in September 2009, his civilian lawyer, Ramzi Kassem, urged that all of the 119 statements that al-Darbi made to interrogators should be ruled out, because they were obtained through the use of torture and abuse, including beatings, threats of rape, sensory deprivation, sleep deprivation and sexual humiliation, both at Bagram, where al-Darbi was held for eight months, and at Guantánamo (a full statement by al-Darbi is available here).

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

The most troubling case is that of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006, after being held in secret CIA prisons for nearly four years. I have written about the problems with al-Nashiri’s case since he was originally charged in June 2008, and these were summarized last week, when the New York Times noted that:

[His case] would attract global attention because he was previously held in secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons and is one of three detainees known to have been subjected to the drowning technique known as waterboarding.

Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Reyes of the Navy, a military lawyer assigned to defend Mr. Nashiri, declined to comment on any movement in the case. But he noted that two of Mr. Nashiri’s alleged co-conspirators were indicted in federal civilian court in 2003, and he made clear that the defense would highlight Mr. Nashiri’s treatment in CIA custody.

“Nashiri is being prosecuted at the commissions because of the torture issue,” Mr. Reyes said. “Otherwise he would be indicted in New York along with his alleged co-conspirators.”

The Times might also have mentioned that, shortly after al-Nashiri’s capture, he was threatened with a gun and a power drill in a secret CIA prison in Thailand, and was then moved to Poland, where, in September last year, he was granted “victim” status in an ongoing investigation into Polish complicity in the establishment of a secret CIA prison at Stare Kiejkuty, near Szymany.

Obaidullah

For the last of the men, Obaidullah (also spelled Obaydullah), the decision to proceed with a trial by Military Commission demonstrates how, as under President Bush, the Commissions’ ill-conceived dragnet not only includes alleged terrorists, but also minor figures in the Afghan insurgency, whose connection to terrorism is only justifiable under the absurd terms of the “War on Terror,” which treats terrorists and soldiers equally, and attempts to criminalize soldiers, while denying criminal trials for terrorists.

A year ago, when Eric Holder announced that Obaidaullah had been charged, I revisited an article I wrote when he was first charged under President Bush in September 2008, noting not only that he had plausible compliants that he was tortured by US forces in Bagram, but also that he was

charged with “conspiracy” and “providing material support to terrorism,” based on the thinnest set of allegations to date: essentially, a single claim that, “[o]n or about 22 July 2002,” he “stored and concealed anti-tank mines, other explosive devices, and related equipment”; that he “concealed on his person a notebook describing how to wire and detonate explosive devices”; and that he “knew or intended” that his “material support and resources were to be used in preparation for and in carrying out a terrorist attack.”

As I also explained:

It doesn’t take much reflection on these charges to realize that it is a depressingly clear example of the US administration’s disturbing, post-9/11 redefinition of “war crimes,” which apparently allows the US authorities to claim that they can equate minor acts of insurgency committed by a citizen of an occupied nation with terrorism.

In conclusion, while the charges against Obaidullah remain incomprehensible, there is no reason to suppose that the invented war crimes misapplied to the other men will ensure that their trials by Military Commission — also dogged by evidence of torture — will secure credible convictions, or be regarded as legitimate outside the United States.

January really is the cruelest month, at least for those still languishing in the Pentagon’s prison at Guantánamo.

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, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

Announcing the Polish Tour of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” with Moazzam Begg and Andy Worthington, February 1-5, 2011

From February 1 to 5, 2011, Moazzam Begg, former Guantánamo prisoner and director of the NGO Cageprisoners, and Andy Worthington, investigative journalist and author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, will be visiting Poland for a tour of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which Worthington co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash. The Polish version of the film, with subtitles, is entitled, “Poza Prawem: Echa z Guantánamo.”

Described as “a powerful film that has helped ensure that Guantánamo and the men unlawfully held there have not been forgotten” by Kate Allen, the director of Amnesty International UK, and as “a strong movie examining the imprisonment and subsequent torture of those falsely accused of anti-American conspiracy” by Time Out, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” tells the story of Guantánamo  (including sections on extraordinary rendition and secret prisons) with a particular focus on how the Bush administration turned its back on domestic and international laws, how prisoners were rounded up in Afghanistan and Pakistan without adequate screening (and often for bounty payments), and why some of these men may have been in Afghanistan or Pakistan for reasons unconnected with militancy or terrorism (as missionaries or humanitarian aid workers, for example).

The film is based around interviews with former prisoners (Moazzam Begg and Omar Deghayes), lawyers for the prisoners (Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, and Tom Wilner, who was Counsel of Record to the Guantánamo prisoners in their cases before the US Supreme Court), and journalist and author Andy Worthington, and also includes appearances from Guantánamo’s former Muslim chaplain James Yee, Shakeel Begg, a London-based Imam, and the British human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce.

Focusing on the stories of three particular prisoners — Shaker Aamer (who is still held) and released prisoners Binyam Mohamed and Omar Deghayes — “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” provides a powerful rebuke to those who believe that Guantánamo holds “the worst of the worst” and that the Bush administration was justified in responding to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 by holding men neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects with habeas corpus rights, but as “illegal enemy combatants” with no rights whatsoever.

The tour, organized by Anna Minkiewicz, a supporter of Andy Worthington’s work and that of Cageprisoners, is backed by Le Monde Diplomatique in Poland, with additional support from Amnesty International Poland, and is intended to raise awareness of the truth about Guantánamo — that very few of the men held are alleged to have had any connection to terrorist actvities, and that the prison’s very existence is an affront to established laws and treaties, and to common notions of fairness and decency.

The organizers also intend the tour to provide the impetus for parliamentarians to recognize that there are, currently, up to 31 men in Guantánamo who have been cleared for release, but who cannot be repatriated because they face a credible risk of torture or other ill-treatment in their home countries, and to press for Poland to join 15 other countries — including Albania, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland — in offering new homes to some of these men.

We also anticipate that the tour will provide an opportunity for timely discussions about the Polish government’s complicity in the establishment of a secret CIA prison in Poland, following the announcement on January 20 that the “high-value detainee” Abu Zubaydah has been granted “victim” status by the Polish Prosecutor in connection with an ongoing investigation into the prison, at Stare Kiejkuty, near Szymany. This follows the granting of “victim” status to another “high-value detainee,” Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, in October last year.

Also showing will be two short animated films by Afghan filmmaker Said Mohsen Hossaini.

Information about the tour is available below.

For further information, or to arrange interviews, please contact Andy Worthington. The contacts in Poland are Anna MinkiewiczPrzemyslaw Wielgosz, the chief editor of the Polish edition of Le Monde Diplomatique and, at Amnesty International, press officer Aleksandra Minkiewicz.

Please note that other speakers are still to be confirmed, and please also note that Moazzam Begg will only be in Poland on February 1 and 2.

Tuesday February 1, 15:00 hrs: Press conference to discuss Guantánamo and the secret CIA prison in Poland with Moazzam Begg, Andy Worthington and Bartlomiej Jankowski.
Kino Muranów, ul. Gen. Andersa 1 (Plac Bankowy, metro “Ratusz”), 00-147, Warszawa.

Subject to final confirmation, Moazzam Begg and Andy Worthington will be joined for the press conference on Tuesday by Bartlomiej Jankowski, the lawyer for Abu Zubaydah. The organizers also hope that Mikołaj Pietrzak, the lawyer for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and Irmina Pacho of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, which played a major role last summer in exposing flight records demonstrating the movement of prisoners to and from the prison, will also be available to discuss this crucial matter of international significance.

Tuesday February 1, 20:00 hrs: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” in association with the Polish edition of Le Monde Diplomatique and Amnesty International Poland.
Followed by Q&A with Moazzam Begg, Andy Worthington, Bartlomiej Jankowski, the lawyer for Abu Zubaydah, and Draginja Nadażdin, director, Amnesty International Poland.
Kino Muranów, ul. Gen. Andersa 1 (Plac Bankowy, metro “Ratusz”), 00-147, Warszawa.

See the website here or email.
Media partner: międzynarodowy kolektyw Globale (Berlin-Montevideo-Warszawa). Please contact Bartek Kurzyca on (48) 515 603 907 or by email.

Wednesday February 2, 18:00 hrs: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Followed by Q&A with Moazzam Begg, Andy Worthington and Wojciech Makowski, Amnesty International Poland.
Kino studyjne „Kinematograf”, Pl. Zwycięstwa 1, Łódź.

Phone: (48) 42 674 0957 (contacts are Anna Michalska or Jakub Sas) or see the website here, and see here for a map.
Media partner: The local branch of Krytyka Polityczna. Please contact: Marek Jedliński.

Thursday February 3, 20:00 hrs: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.”
Followed by Q&A with Andy Worthington and Draginja Nadażdin, director, Amnesty International Poland.
Kino Rialto, ul. Dąbrowskiego 38, Poznań.

Phone: (48) 61 847 5399 or email Piotr Zakens (also on 600 254 502). Also see the website here.

Friday February 4, 18:00 hrs: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Followed by Q&A with Andy Worthington and ex-MEP Józef Pinior.
Kino Warszawa, ul. Piłsudskiego 64, Wrocław.

Please note that Józef Pinior was a member of the EU commission which investigated EU involvement in rendition and secret prisons.
Phone: (48) 071 342 1246.
Media partner: Kolektyw Falanster. Contact: Aneta Jerska. Also with support from the Odra Film Institution and Amnesty International Wrocław.

Saturday February 5, evening, 20:00 hrs: Film screening – “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.”
Followed by Q&A with Andy Worthington and Anna Minkiewicz.
Kino Agrafka, ul. Krowoderska 8, Kraków.

See the website here. or phone (48) 12 430 0179 or mobile: 57 123 233.
Media partner: Fundacja Cyrk Edison. Contact: Robert Skrzydlewski.

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, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Aafia Siddiqui’s Lawyer: “She was Detained for Five Years in a Black Site” and “Forced to Create Documents to Incriminate Herself”

My thanks to an eagle-eyed supporter for pointing out that, on January 11, the Voice of the Cape radio station in South Africa interviewed Elaine Whitfield Sharp, the lawyer for Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, the Pakistani neuroscientist whose 86-year sentence in a New York courtroom last September — for allegedly trying and failing to shoot at her US captors in Afghanistan, and her imprisonment in Carswell, a notorious psychiatric facility in Texas — have seemed to her supporters to crown, in a typically lawless, brutal and overblown manner, the long story of her presumed detention in a US-run “black site” for five years and four months before her alleged reappearance in Afghanistan, the encounter with US soldiers that prompted her rendition to justice in the US, and her trial last year in which all mention of her missing years was suppressed.

I have written at length about Dr. Siddiqui’s case before, and encourage anyone interested in her story to check out my archive of articles, and also to visit the website of the Justice for Aafia Coalition, and I’m delighted to add Elaine Whitfield Sharp’s interview with Voice of the Cape radio (cross-posted below, with minor corrections), because of her open declaration that Dr. Siddiqui was not a terrorist, and that, after her capture in Karachi in March 2003, by Pakistani forces and the CIA, she was “taken to some off-site country — a third-world nation, possibly Jordan or Afghanistan — where she was detained for five years in a black site or secret prison. Here she was forced to create documents to incriminate herself to support what we see in this war on terror. She was then dumped in Afghanistan with a bag that conveniently had incriminating documents.”

The mention of Jordan is not something I had come across before, as an alternative to Bagram, or elsewhere in Afghanistan, although there was certainly a secret prison in Jordan, operated on behalf of the CIA, and I had also not heard before the suggestion that Dr. Siddiqui was forced to forge documents whilst in custody, although I have previously heard of this in connection with a prisoner at Guantánamo, Umar Abdulayev, a Tajik who is still held, despite being cleared for release in 2009, who has stated that he was made to forge documents by his Pakistani captors, prior to being handed over — or sold — to US forces..

Elaine Whitfield Sharp Discusses the Case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui on Voice of the Cape radio

“Dr. Aafia Siddiqui was no more a terrorist than Nelson Mandela. She was not a person who was a serious player in Al-Qaeda. She may have had contact in those associations, but it was innocent contacts. She was not the person that I would believe to be involved in anything remotely designed to cause harm to another human being, but rather quite the opposite.”

Those were the words of conviction spoken by Aafia Siddiqui’s lawyer, Elaine Whitfield Sharp, on VOC’s “Drivetime” on Monday. Aafia Siddiqui, the American educated Pakistani cognitive neuroscientist, was convicted of assault with intent to murder her US interrogaters in Afghanistan. She was sentenced in a US federal court to 86 years in prison.

Capturing of Siddiqui

According to Whitfield Sharp, this is a case that many will never understand completely. “From the defense’s point of view, I can relate our position on the facts: Aafia Siddiqui was picked up in Karachi, Pakistan in March 2003. We believe that she was rendered, which is taken illegally against Pakistani law, by Pakistani forces and the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).”

“We believe she was then taken to some off-site country — a third-world nation, possibly Jordan or Afghanistan — where she was detained for five years in a black site or secret prison. Here she was forced to create documents to incriminate herself to support what we see in this war on terror. She was then dumped in Afghanistan with a bag that conveniently had incriminating documents.”

Siddiqui’s story was then picked up in the “world hysteria against Muslims and terrorism.” She was brought to the United States and charged with firing at US personnel at the Afghan national police headquarters in Ghazni. One of the US personnel, who was a warrant officer, shot her in the abdomen, claiming that she picked up an M4 rifle and fired it at the group.

However, Whitfield Sharp said that, contrary to the accusation, there were no bullet fragments found or any damage to the wall. There were also no fingerprints found on the gun and the witnesses testimony conflicted in several ways, thus there were many discrepancies in the forensic evidence.

Whitfield Sharp again cited the rife Islamophobia in the US for Siddiqui being unanimously convicted by the jury to her 86-year sentence. She believes that the case was a riddle of misunderstandings, false nuances and political posturing that has tragically resulted in the sentencing of an innocent woman to prison. Siddiqui is currently incarcerated at the Carswell Federal Medical Centre in Texas.

“We tried to stop the case from going to trial on the grounds that Siddiqui was so traumatised from the ‘missing five years.’ We believe that the five years culminating in the shooting of this woman in the abdomen, the bringing and trying of her in the US and keeping her in solitary confinement rendered her mentally incompetent to stand on trial. Unfortunately, the judge disagreed with us and went ahead with the trial,” Whitfield Sharp continued.

Siddiqui’s children

Siddiqui is the mother of three children, Ahmed, Mariam and the youngest Suleiman. Since her capture in 2003, Ahmed and Mariam have been recovered, but Suleiman’s whereabouts are unknown and he is feared dead. “According to Siddiqui, on the day she left her mother’s house with her three children, the cab they left in detoured from the usual route to the station,” the lawyer related.

“The driver took a back road and this is when two black cars pulled up, held the cab driver at gunpoint while the other men opened the back door and took the children. Siddiqui herself was then dragged from the cab and given something that knocked her out. Ahmed corroborated this, saying he too was made unconscious. Next thing she woke up strapped to a gurney. Reports in the Urdu speaking press in Pakistan stated she was seen and picked up on a CIA transport plane.”

Whitfield Sharp said Siddiqui was continually tortured whilst in custody and was shown pictures of what was deemed her dead son, face down in a pool of blood. “Siddiqui said she was drugged, electrocuted, tortured and threatened with her kids being harmed. They threatened to rape her daughter, told her that Ahmed was dead and said that they would shoot her baby son and asked if she would she like to watch.”

“Her daughter just appeared last year outside their house in Karachi. A car pulled up, threw Mariam out and sped off. Siddiqui’s sister Fowzia, a Harvard trained neurologist, is taking care of both children. Ironically enough, Siddiqui was sent to Carswell Federal Medical Centre, which is a facility where people are treated for mental illness. Do the math! At the facility she has been declared mentally unstable and I believe she is ill as a result of what has happened to her.”

“The grey lady of Bagram”

Siddiqui was dubbed “The grey lady of Bagram,” as several detainees at the Bagram Theatre Internment Facility in Afghanistan — renowned for its capture and torture of so-called terrorists — claimed to see a woman matching her description, thus suggesting that this is where she was held for the five missing years.

“There were open bull-pens or wired cages where men were placed and they were able to see out of what was going on. One of the people incarcerated at the Bagram male area was Binyam Mohamed, who said he saw a woman matching Dr. Siddiqui’s description in Bagram. We have also heard accounts of the men being tortured psychologically by hearing a tape recording or, as we believe, live screams of a woman being repeatedly raped (which we assume to be Siddiqui). There are more than enough people who say they saw her,” Whitfield Sharp said.

An appeal has been filed, and, in the lawyer’s view, the trial had been fair in many ways, except that a considerable amount of the evidence was kept out. “There are very many excellent issues for appeal and it is going forward. The brief for appeal is due in April. As you know, there have been some WikiLeaks cables leaked suggesting that the CIA were using agents to infiltrate the Taliban, which makes one think what role Dr. Siddiqui was forced into once she was rendered and tortured at the beginning of March 2003.”

“What we do know is Aafia Siddiqui says she was tortured and, unlike the witnesses’ contradicting testimonies that went all over the place, Aafia’s has never changed.”

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, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Video: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner and Victim of US Rendition and Torture Speaks

Last week, NBC News surprised everyone by featuring an interview conducted in Pakistan with Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni, a former Guantánamo prisoner — and an innocent man seized in Indonesia in January 2002, at a time when the Bush administration was out of control, kidnapping men around the world and subjecting them to “extraordinary rendition” and torture in foreign prisons on the the merest suspicion that they were connected to terrorist activities.

Madni, an Islamic scholar, was rendered to Egypt and tortured because, on a trip to Indonesia to sort out his late father’s affairs, he was recorded by Indonesian intelligence with a group of young Indonesian Islamists who were under surveillance, and who, in teir conversation, discussed the shoe bomber Richard Reid, who had been captured the month before. When the information was passed to US intelligence and he was picked up, the prevailing opinion about him based on interviews after his capture — that he was nothing more than a “blowhard,” who “wanted us to believe he was more important than he was,” and that he would be held for a few days, “then booted out of jail,” as a US intelligence official told Ray Bonner of the New York Times in 2005 — was ignored, and someone higher up the chain of comand ordered his rendition to Egypt.

As I explained after Madni’s release, his case “deserves to be more than a mere footnote in the history of the Bush administration’s vile and unprincipled policies of ‘extraordinary rendition’ and torture,” as the suffering inflicted on the 24-year old Islamic scholar — which involved three months of torture in Egypt, followed by eleven months in the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan and over five years in Guantánamo — was based not on detailed evidence that he was a terrorist, but on a single ill-advised comment picked up by the Indonesian intelligence services (which, Madni has stated since his release, was not even made by him).

Explaining what led to his capture, Madni told a military review board in Guantánamo, “After I went to Indonesia, I got introduced to some people who were not good,” adding, “They were bad people. Maybe I can say they were terrorists. When someone gets introduced to someone, it is not written on their foreheads that they are bad or good.”

I have covered Madni’s story in depth in previous years — in my book The Guantánamo Files, in September 2008, after his release from Guantánamo, in an article entitled, Rendered to Egypt for torture, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is released from Guantánamo, and in June 2009, in an article entitled, Revealed: Identity Of Guantánamo Torture Victim Rendered Through Diego Garcia, after his lawyers at the London-based legal action charity Reprieve established that he had been rendered to Egypt via the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, a British territory leased to the US, where there have been regular reports that prisoners in the “War on Terror” were held between 2002 and 2006.

The NBC report adds little new to Madni’s story of his capture, rendition, torture in Egypt, and the torture he also suffered in Bagram and Guantánamo, which led to him attempting to commit suicide, but it is a powerful interview with a man still broken by what happened to him, and a salutary reminder for an American audience — whilst hysteria about Guantánamo is still the dominant Republican response to attempts to discuss the prison in a rational manner — that horrendous mistakes were made by the Bush administration, and that President Obama’s decision not to investigate his predecessor’s policies or to consider anyone accountable for their actions has contributed directly to this lamentable state of affairs, allowing those who conceived the kind of dreadful policies that led to the capture and torture of Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni — and those who supported them, or who want to shield them from accountability — to continue lying about the success of the program of rendition and torture, and to keep the torturers’ illegal and ill-conceived arrogance alive and well in American discourse, with baleful effects for the very soul of the United States.

The NBC interview is available on NBC News’ website, and below is a cross-post of an article also featured on the website.

‘I wake up screaming’: A Gitmo nightmare
Islamic scholar’s experience sheds light on counterterrorism efforts in wake of 9/11 attacks
By Carol Grisanti and Fakhar ur Rehman, NBC News, January 18. 2011

LAHORE, Pakistan — Saad Iqbal Madni looks decades older than his 33 years when he shuffles into the room, head down and eyes averted.

“There are a lot of times I start to cry. I still feel like I am in Guantánamo,” he says, his voice cracking and hands trembling. “I have memorized the torture. I wake up in the middle of the night screaming.”

It has been two years since the Pakistani Islamic scholar left Guantánamo Bay. After six-and-a-half years of imprisonment as a suspected enemy combatant he was released without being convicted and without an explanation. According to accounts by Madni and others, his experience involved torture, extraordinary rendition across several continents and five years at the U.S. prison in Cuba.

Mohammed Burki, Madni’s physician in Pakistan, describes his patient as a deeply troubled man who is “still far far away from being normal again.”

Madni now suffers from a catalogue of ailments, including migraines, paranoia, depression, panic attacks and temper tantrums, Burki told NBC News.

“Before I could treat any of those, I had to try and get him off the morphine,” says Burki, who treated Madni for two years after his release. “The Americans had made an addict out of him.”

The CIA and the U.S. military did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Madni’s detention and subsequent release. The United States has explicitly denied torturing detainees.

While it is impossible to independently corroborate much of Madni’s story, experts say it stands up to scrutiny.

“His account is so precise and so detailed and there are enough documents to back up everything he says,” says Sultana Noon of Reprieve, a U.K.-based charity that represents prisoners who have been rendered and abused around the world.

Madni was part of wave of men scooped up in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. His story sheds further light on international counterterrorism efforts, when suspected terrorists were transported around the globe, held without trial and allegedly tortured at the hands of foreign intelligence agencies.

Some contend these practices continue.

“Anyone who is sporting a beard is a vulnerable target for the intelligence agencies to pick up,” says Pakistani human rights activist Amina Masood. “We are talking about gross violations of human rights in this U.S. war on terror, disappearances, arrests, no courts to hear one’s pleas.”

“We are dealing with human beings here,” she says.

Madni, who was employed to read the Koran during prayer times and religious holidays for the Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation, says he was picked up by Indonesian authorities during a visit to Jakarta in 2002.

Shoe bomb

Madni says he was told by the officials who detained him that they were acting on CIA instructions after he told an Islamic group that he knew how to make a shoe bomb. Madni denies the charge, saying that nobody ever even questioned him about the alleged comment during his detention.

Even American officials in Jakarta questioned the case against Madni, saying he was a braggart, a “wannabe” and should be let go, according to a New York Times article from Jan. 6, 2009.

Quoting two senior American officials, the newspaper reported there was no evidence that Madni ever met Osama bin Laden or had been to Afghanistan.

“But in the atmosphere of fear and confusion in the months after Sept. 11, 2001, Mr Iqbal (Madni) was secretly moved to Egypt for further interrogation,” the newspaper reported.

Madni says he felt his life was over as soon as Indonesian intelligence officials took him from his prison cage to the airport.

“A person from Egyptian intelligence come, kicked and grabbed me and threw me against the wall,” he says. “That’s when I got a perforated ear drum and started bleeding from my ear, nose and throat.”

Madni identified his captors as Egyptian immediately from their accents. He is fluent in nine languages, including Arabic, which he believes made him suspect.

“They stripped me naked, beat me and kicked me,” Madni told NBC News. “I was shackled from my neck to my feet and taken to a plane. They put me inside a wooden box, on top of the box is a plastic sheet. My legs were up on my chest and I had to stay like that for an 18-hour flight to Diego Garcia. They didn’t allow me to go to the bathroom. They put me in diapers and said, ‘your bathroom is with you’.”

Diego Garcia is a British territory used by the U.S. military.

Madni says he kept track of the passage of time because he recited the Koran by heart. Anyone who reads the Muslim holy book professionally knows exactly how long it takes to recite each verse.

In Egypt, Madni says his captors put him in a room that he describes as “smaller than a grave, so small I could not even lie down.”

Madni says he was kept there for 92 days.

“They gave me electric shocks on my body and my head and kept asking me if I know Osama bin Laden, and have I been to Afghanistan,” he says.

After three months in Egypt, he was handed over to the Americans and flown to Bagram, the U.S. military prison in Afghanistan.

Madni says he passed a polygraph test three times.

“A man from military intelligence introduced himself as Ron,” he told NBC News. “He said, ‘We did a mistake about you but we can’t release you, we have to take you to Guantánamo and from there you will be released.'”

Madni says he was kept in Bagram for one year where he was repeatedly tortured and denied any visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross, which works to protect victims of armed conflict around the world.

On March 23, 2003, [14 months] after he was picked up in Jakarta, Madni arrived at Guantánamo Bay.

“They put me in frequent flyer status for six months. That means no sleep. The guards came to wake me up every ten minutes. Every two hours they make me walk from camp to camp in shackles from my neck to my feet,” he says. “I was in terrible pain from my ear, which was infected and bleeding. They wrote ‘f*** you’ inside the Koran and flushed pages from it down the toilet.”

Madni breaks down as he recalls what was perhaps his most difficult time.

“They put me in Delta Block in a six-by-four refrigerator with just my underwear for six months. I lost my hearing and when they finally started to give me IV medication, I noticed that the labels had expired dates,” he alleges. “They would keep me for 15 hours in the interrogation room with no bathroom, I had to pee and number two on myself.”

After 192 days in Guantánamo, Madni tried to hang himself with a bed sheet. He later went on a hunger strike for a year and a half.

Madni also claims he was denied medical treatment for his infected eardrum. The guards told him he would be treated only after he confessed to knowing Osama bin Laden, Madni says.

Prison records later revealed that the ear infection had spread dangerously close to his brain, Burki, his doctor says.

House arrest

The International Committee of the Red Cross paid for Madni’s treatment for six months after he was released.

Back home in Pakistan Madni’s ordeal is still not over. He remains under house arrest and needs permission from security officials to leave home and meet with people, even with his own sister.

Madni’s treatment at the hands of Pakistani authorities is not unusual, Reprieve’s Noon says.

“Most Gitmo detainees are kept in jail or under house arrest when they are repatriated because the government doesn’t want to be embarrassed in the media,” she says.

Madni had to get official permission to meet with NBC News.

Reprieve is suing the Pakistani government on behalf of seven Pakistani prisoners who are in detention in Afghanistan’s Bagram. The charity sued the government for illegal rendition and for violating the men’s human and constitutional rights.

The case has been postponed until later this month.

And in November, the British government agreed to pay seven former Guantánamo detainees millions of dollars as part of an out-of-court settlement .

The ex-detainees, Britons or British residents, were claiming damages from the government over allegations that they were mistreated during their detention abroad with the knowledge and in some cases the complicity of British security services.

Madni was released without a conviction after his lawyer Richard Cys of Davis Wright Tremaine took up the case pro bono in the U.S. courts.

“We are pleased that he was released from his imprisonment,” Cys said in a written response to an interview request from NBC News.

Guantánamo Bay prison is still holding 173 detainees, according to Reprieve.

“My family won’t forget”

President Barack Obama, desperate to keep his campaign promise to reduce the prison population and eventually close the facility, has strong-armed allies to take former prisoners in, according to secret diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks.

In Pakistan, Asma Jehanghir, president of the Supreme Court Bar Association and a human rights lawyer, promised to fight Madni’s case in the Pakistani courts in order to lift his house arrest.

But Obama closing Guantánamo and the government clearing his name won’t erase the last eight years of Madni’s life.

“What they did to me, me and my family won’t forget for 100 years,” Madni says. “There are a lot of people like me that never did anything and were in Guantánamo Bay.”

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, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Video: Forum — “WikiLeaks, State Secrets, Guantánamo and Torture” with Andy Worthington, Katie Gallagher, Pardiss Kebriaei, Leili Kashani and Jeremy Varon, New York, January 6, 2011

It now seems like an age since I flew into New York’s JFK airport — after an achingly long flight from London that involved sitting around at Heathrow for two hours while the plane underwent maintenance — to be met by my good friend The Talking Dog, who was putting me up in his secret kennel in Brooklyn, and to then take the Metro to West Manhattan to meet up with friends and supporters including Debra Sweet, National Director of The World Can’t Wait, who had raised the funds to buy my ticket, and Nancy Talanian of No More Guantánamos, and to grab a quick meal before heading to the Brecht Forum, right beside the Hudson River, for the first event of my week-long tour to publicize the plight of the remaining prisoners in Guantánamo on the 9th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

Amazingly, however, that was just two weeks ago, and it was just a week ago that I returned, happy but exhausted after what should have been a grueling program of relentless film screenings (of the documentary, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash), panel discussions, TV appearances, meetings with Guantánamo lawyers and with The World Can’t Wait’s supporters, and protests outside The White House and the Department of Justice.

I was encouraged by the large crowds attending the events (much bigger than during my last East Coast visit in November 2009) and by the number of people who follow my work, and invigorated by the company of my fellow experts and activists — Debra and the activists of The World Can’t Wait, Leili Kashani, Pardiss Kebriaei, Katie Gallagher, Jen Nessel and others at the Center for Constitutional Rights, David Swanson and Kevin Zeese and other activists in Baltimore, Frida Berrigan, Matt Daloisio, Jeremy Varon and Carmen Trotta of Witness Against Torture, Scott Horton, the staff at Revolution Books in New York, Tom Parker of Amnesty International USA, Valerie Lucznikowska of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, Tom Wilner, Morris Davis, Todd Peirce, Barry Wingard, Professor Juan Mendez, the new UN Rapporteur on Torture, and many others — and, back in Brooklyn, chewing on a bone of indignation and serving up wonderful food, The Talking Dog.

If I find the time, I’ll write an overview of the whole week, but there’s so much going on right now that I won’t make any promises. Much of it is already available — see the Baltimore video and the gun control interview, videos of the D.C. protests here and here, my appearances on Democracy Now! and Russia Today, and the video of the panel discussion at the New America Foundation — and I’m pleased to inform you that a video of the panel discussion at the Brecht Forum in New York on the evening of my arrival (which was packed out, despite only 72 hours’ publicity), is also now available online, via YouTube, as is a second video covering the Q&A session that followed the presentations. The first part is 72 minutes; the second 42 minutes.

Entitled, “WikiLeaks, State Secrets, Guantánamo and Torture,” this Special Forum was moderated by Leili Kashani of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and featured myself talking about WikiLeaks, Julian Assange and Bradley Manning (including questions about WikiLeaks’ role in the modern media world, Bradley Manning’s troubling isolation in US military custody and the Obama administration’s pursuit of Julian Assange) and the current woes of Guantánamo (as described in the articles I wrote while in the US, Guantánamo Forever? and The Political Prisoners of Guantánamo), Pardiss Kebriaei of CCR talking about the unexplained deaths of three men at Guantánamo in June 2006, and judicial obstruction of attempts to pursue this particularly bleak story, Katie Gallagher of CCR talking about torture lawsuits in Spain, and Jeremy Varon of Witness Against Torture talking about activism. It was an excellent evening of presentations, the crowd was great, and my thanks go to Joe Friendly for making this available, via YouTube (here and here):

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), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Prisoner Describes Peaceful Protest in Guantánamo on the Anniversary of Obama’s Failure to Close the Prison as Promised

On the first anniversary of President Obama’s failure to close Guantánamo within a year, as he promised on his second day in office in January 2009, the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has led the legal battle over Guantánamo for the last nine years, and has been responsible for organizing and coordinating more than 500 pro bono lawyers across the country to represent the prisoners, issued the following press release, not only condemning all three branches of government for their failure to close Guantánamo with justice, and to remove this enduring stain on America’s reputation, but also releasing information from a prisoner currently held, describing “a spontaneous peaceful protest that has swept through Camp 6, where most of the remaining detainees are currently being held,” with the men creating signs “demanding justice and humane treatment,” and also explaining how “the protest was inspired by news of the recent revolution in Tunisia.”

One Year after Obama’s Promised Deadline to Close Guantánamo, Detained Man Describes Peaceful Protests against Indefinite Detention at the Prison

CCR Denounces Failure of All Three Branches to Close Guantánamo

Upon the anniversary of President Obama’s broken promise to close Guantánamo, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) reported that a man detained at the prison, who prefers to remain anonymous, told his attorney during an unclassified call of a spontaneous peaceful protest that has swept through Camp 6, where most of the remaining detainees are currently being held. He described signs the men have posted demanding justice and humane treatment.

The protest began because the government has been transferring — sometimes by force — detainees from the communal facility that had previously held most of the men, Camp 4, to the solitary-celled, Supermax-style facility of Camp 6. The detained man said the protest was inspired by news of the recent revolution in Tunisia. The detainees object to the move because of worse conditions in Camp 6, and because of their accurate perception that the move is a signal that the Obama administration has no plans to send them home anytime soon. See below for more information on the protest, language from the protest signs and excerpts from the unclassified attorney call with the detained man who reported the protest. CCR also released the following statement:

In the last presidential election, both candidates campaigned on a promise to close Guantánamo — an international symbol of injustice that both men acknowledged was damaging U.S. foreign policy and national security interests. Today, on the first anniversary of President Obama’s failed deadline to close Guantánamo, it is clear that all three branches of government have effectively abandoned that goal.

The President continues to make hollow assertions that closing Guantánamo is the right thing to do and will make the U.S. safer. Yet, he has shown no willingness to use political capital to pursue that goal against strident opposition from demagogues in Congress and the media. In the absence of presidential leadership, both parties in Congress continue to block transfers out of Guantánamo, even for men who have successfully challenged the legality of their detention or who have been cleared for release by the administration’s own thorough review process. With the Supreme Court now largely removed from the picture, thanks to the likely recusal of Justice Elena Kagan from cases involving detainee affairs because of her previous role as Solicitor General, the Court of Appeals for D.C. — the most deferential in the country to executive claims of authority — has raised the burden on detained men seeking relief through the courts to levels even higher than the government has requested.

As the men detained at Guantánamo enter their tenth year of imprisonment without charge, we call on President Obama to show political and moral leadership and publically recommit to rapidly closing Guantánamo. All the remaining men must be charged and fairly tried or released. The blanket ban on repatriations to Yemen must be lifted, and the men who cannot return to their home countries for fear of torture and persecution must be safely resettled. President Obama must also make good on his promise to seek repeal of the recently passed congressional restrictions on the transfer of detainees out of Guantánamo.

Excerpts from an Unclassified Attorney Call Regarding the Protest

“Conditions in Camp 6 are difficult. There are many men kept in each block – twenty per block. Everything is chaotic. The recreation space is tight. Treatment from the guards has worsened. This internal [recreation] walk has walls that are so high you can barely see the sky.”

“We decided to protest … The entire camp made sign boards saying ‘it’s unacceptable to keep detaining us because of what’s going on outside,’ [meaning, incidents like the Detroit underwear bomber or unrest in Yemen]. Why are we being punished for the bad acts others are doing outside?”

“The construction work going on here is giving us the impression that we are going to be here forever. People detained here are feeling this.”

In Tunisia, “After 23 years of injustice, finally people decided to liberate themselves and seek freedom. Now we need to struggle for ourselves.”

“We have children, wives, families. It is not only Americans who are human beings. Our families are crying and asking, ‘Where are our fathers? Where are our sons?’ We want to be treated like human beings.”

“We can no longer tolerate this situation. It seems to us we are being treated in a very racist way, exactly how black Americans were treated. We’re 100 Yemenis, 10 Saudis — and we don’t know why they are keeping us here.”

“Honestly we have lost any trust in the American government. But we still have some hope. A mistake was made and maybe it will be corrected. It’s not a shame to make a mistake. The shame is to continue [the same way after the mistake]. The American government needs to understand that it made a mistake and correct the mistake. Shame on the American government. They are acting like the Tunisian dictators.”

“I am not the only one who is talking like this. There are many, many people inside who are very frustrated with what is happening inside the camp. They can’t understand this hatred [coming from the administration].”

“The world outside of America is made of human beings too. But we are being treated like animals. We’re being indefinitely detained here.”

Of the protesters in front of the White House and Department of Justice on January 11, which marked the beginning of a decade of arbitrary detentions at Guantánamo: “We’d like to thank the protesters from the depths of our hearts. They are asking for justice even though they are not imprisoned.”

Protest Signage

The detained man reported that the men at Camp 6 were peacefully protesting by hanging signs: “These signs are posted everywhere — the doors where the visitors [to Camp 6] come in, the doors where the journalists come, the signs are everywhere.”

Moreover, he said, “The signs that people posted are in English — everything is in English.” These men have been detained without charge for so long that many of them have learned how to write in English during their years of detention: “Yes, indeed, most of us have learned English, reading and writing, from the books we have read here. Everything [the protest signage] was written by the detainees themselves.”

Some of the signs posted say the following:

“We are human beings, exactly like you. We have wives, children, fathers and mothers. Let us go to them.”

“You cannot detain us because of what other people are doing outside. Release us.”

“Give us our rights inside the camp. If you don’t want to give us our rights, get us out of here.”

“Until when are we going to stay here?”

“Close this camp of discrimination and racism.”

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, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

What Does Tunisia’s Revolution Mean for Political Prisoners, Including Guantánamo Detainees?

For the twelve Tunisians held in Guantánamo over the last nine years, the news that a popular uprising forced the hated dictator, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, to flee the country for Saudi Arabia last Friday, after 23 years in power, will have come as a profound surprise, and also as a source of deep satisfaction. After all, it is probable that none of the men detained by US forces in the experimental prison at Guantánamo would have ended up there had it not been for their persecution under Ben Ali, or their flight from the country for economic reasons.

For the most part, the suffering of the Tunisians at Guantánamo has been deeply depressing. Many, if not most were horribly abused, and when the Bush administration finally decided to clear the majority of them for release (largely in 2006), their nightmare was far from over. The men feared being repatriated, because they had all left Tunisia many years before, and were aware that all that awaited them at home was further abuse and imprisonment, followed by show trials based on information extracted through the torture of others in Tunisia, which had led to them receiving prison sentences in absentia.

The two Tunisians repatriated from Guantánamo in 2007

Nevertheless, the Bush administration, in furtherance of America’s close ties with Ben Ali, and long support for his oppressive regime, stealthily repatriated two Tunisians in June 2007 — 38-year old Lotfi Lagha and 51-year old Abdullah bin Omar — on the basis of “diplomatic assurances,” agreed between the US and Tunisia, which purported to guarantee that the two men would be treated humanely on their return.

Little was known of Lotfi Lagha, as he did not have legal representation in Guantánamo, despite the fact that the Supreme Court had granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights three years before his release. As I explained in an article at the time, “all that exists in the public domain to mark his 2,000-day imprisonment are three pages of notes” from a military review board in 2005.

From this short document — full of unsubstantiated allegations about connections with terrorists — it was clear that Lagha, who was seized on the Afghan-Pakistani border in December 2001, had served in the Tunisian army as a young man, and had then fled to Italy, where he seems to have settled for many years. In early 2001 he traveled to Afghanistan, settling with other Tunisians in Jalalabad, and associating, at some point, with members of the missionary organization Jamaat-al-Tablighi. According to his own account, he never trained in a camp in Afghanistan, never took up arms against the Americans or anybody else, and thought “al-Qaeda’s belief system strange and that they are not good.”

Only later did it emerge that he had had all his fingers, except for his thumbs, amputated in US custody at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, an act of supposed medical necessity that he maintained was unnecessary.

Bin Omar, as I explained in an article at the time, had worked as a mechanic for the Tunisian railways, but had left the country for Saudi Arabia in 1989, because of religious persecution. Soon after, he moved to Pakistan with his wife and children, where he was living when he was convicted, in absentia, by a Tunisian court for belonging to the Islamist political party Ennahdha, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Human Rights Watch reported that the “primary evidence” against him in this trial (in 1995) “appears to have been the statement that one of his 19 co-defendants made to the police in 1993, in which he claimed that [he] had taken a leadership position in an organization known as the Tunisian Islamist Front while in Pakistan.” Based on his experience of similar cases, his lawyer, Samir Ben Amor, explained that he thought it “likely that this incriminating statement was the product of torture and abuse.”

Captured in Pakistan in April 2002, during a frenzied few months when all manner of innocent Arabs were rounded up, bin Omar said in Guantánamo that he was sold to the Americans by the Pakistanis for $5,000. In his five-year detention, he was only allowed to meet a lawyer for the first — and only — time on May 1, 2007, when Zachary Katznelson of Reprieve met him, and explained that he “expressed severe concerns that were he to be returned to Tunisia, the authorities there would torture him to force him to confess or to become an informant.” Katznelson added, “When Reprieve later learned of Mr. Bin Omar’s Tunisian conviction in absentia — a conviction Mr. Bin Omar likely does not know about — Reprieve repeatedly requested additional visits with our client. The United States government failed to respond to any of those requests” — and, in fact, stealthily repatriated him before Reprieve could protest about it as Reprieve’s director, Cive Stafford Smith, explained in the New Statesman in July 2007.

Summing up bin Omar’s predicament, Katznelson also declared, after bin Omar’s repatriation, that he “finds himself a guinea pig in a potentially deadly diplomatic experiment. The United States is so desperate to send people out of Guantánamo Bay, they are willing to ignore Tunisia’s horrific human rights record. Now the world’s focus must shift to Tunisia. Tunisia is faced with a simple choice: will they do the right thing and show the world that they support human rights, or will they revert to their dark past? We are all watching.”

Abuse, show trials and prison sentences for the men returned from Guantánamo

The world may have been watching — or those part of the world that still cared about human rights in the “War on Terror” — but the Tunisian president didn’t care. In September 2007, when Jennifer Daskal of Human Rights Watch tried to visit the men, who were being held in prison, she was prevented from doing so, but met local activists, lawyers, government officials and family members — some of whom had been allowed to meet them — who explained to her that they had been “telling visitors that things are so bad they would rather be back at Guantánamo Bay.”

Bin Omar had, on his return to Tunisia, apparently been slapped, subjected to sleep deprivation and told that his wife and daughters would be raped. Daskal added that the threats to his family “were more than he could take: he told his lawyer that he signed the paper that officials thrust at him, even though his eyes had deteriorated so badly and his glasses were so old that he had no idea what it said.”

He was then taken briefly before the military court that had sentenced him in absentia, and, for the next six weeks, was “held in solitary confinement in a windowless, unventilated cell that he called his ‘tomb,’” and was allowed no contact with any other prisoners.

Following these reports, Jennifer Daskal was not reassured when she asked Robert F. Godec, the US ambassador to Tunisia, to explain what the Bush administration was doing “to track the two men’s cases,” and was told that “he had ‘specific and credible’ assurances from the Tunisian government that they would not be abused,” adding, “we follow up on these assurances.” As she explained, she was concerned that he “would not say whether the treatment of [bin Omar] and Lagha had lived up to Tunisia’s pledges; nor would he say whether any US official had met with the two since their return home,” and she concluded, correctly, “This is disturbing: all we have are promises from a notoriously abusive regime, yet US officials will not even say whether they are following up on those assurances by talking to the detainees themselves.”

In October 2007, Lotfi Lagha, who had not spoken about his treatment, but had, presumably, been dealt with in a similar manner, as his lawyer reported that he had been held in solitary confinement for six weeks after his return, was sentenced to three years in prison. As I explained at the time:

[His trial] bore all the hallmarks of a show trial. Allegations that he received military training in Afghanistan and fought with the Taliban regime were dropped, and he was, instead, convicted of “associating with a criminal group with the aim of harming or causing damage in Tunisia,” even though, as the Associated Press reported, the Tunisian authorities “did not name the group that Lagha was said to participate in or specify what its planned violence was,” and even though Lagha himself insisted during the trial, “I haven’t been involved in any terrorist activity. I went to Afghanistan for work.” Speaking after the verdict was announced, his lawyer, Samir Ben Amor, said he was “disappointed” with the verdict, and stated that he would lodge an appeal, adding, “We thought he would get justice in his own country after what he endured at Guantánamo.”

In November 2007, as I explained at the time, Abdullah bin Omar received a seven-year sentrence, after being convicted of “belonging in times of peace to a terrorist organization operating in a foreign country,” and of preparing for attacks intended to “change the state through violence,” replacing the government with a “fundamentalist regime.” Zachary Katznelson, who was present at the trial, told me, “There was not a shred of evidence actually offered against him. No witnesses, no documents, nothing. Merely a statement from the intelligence services saying he was guilty. Accusation presented as fact.” He added that this was “all too familiar in the context of Guantánamo,” but that it was “horrible to see the consequences pronounced before my eyes.”

For Lotfi Lagha (who was supposed to have been released last October) and Abdullah bin Omar (three years into his seven-year sentence), the collapse of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali’s regime ought to be good news. I cannot confirm whether Abdullah bin Omar was a member of Ennahdha, as alleged, but there are grounds for describing both bin Omar and Lotfi Lagha as political prisoners, and, as the Guardian reported on Tuesday, “Tunisia’s new government appears on the brink of releasing political prisoners, including all members of the Islamist Ennahdha movement.” As the Guardian also explained:

Najib Chebbi, an opposition party leader who has joined the new government, claimed that all prisoners had been released, [although] Samir Dilou, a lawyer and Ennahdha leader, said: “We’ve spoken to the families. It is not confirmed. They are not free yet.” But the government could discuss a general amnesty as early as tomorrow.

Supporting the idea of Ennahdha’s involvement in Tunisia’s political future, Chebbi told the BBC Hard Talk programme: “To have democracy, we must integrate any people who want to respect the law and play the game of democracy. Moderate political Islam is a component of the Arab and Islamist landscape.”

A general amnesty would open the way for Ennahdha’s exiled leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, to come home. He has said he would wait for a general amnesty before returning to Tunisia from London.

The Tunisans still in Guantánamo, or freed in other countries

The uprising in Tunisia may also be good news for other Tunisians still held in Guantánamo, and those released in other countries.

Still in Guantanamo are five men — Lotfi bin Ali, Ridah al-Yazidi, Adel Hakeemy, Hisham Sliti and Abdul Ourgy, all cleared for release by the Bush administration — although it is possible that only bin Ali stands to benefit from the collapse of Tunisia’s dictatorship. Back in October 2007, before Lotfi Lagha and Abdullah bin Omar were sentenced, but after reports of their abuse had surfaced, a District Court judge in Washington D.C., Judge Gladys Kessler, destroyed the Bush administration’s reliance on “diplomatic assurances” with Tunisia, ruling that he “cannot be sent to Tunisia because he could suffer ‘irreparable harm’ that the US courts would be powerless to reverse.”

Despite this ruling, no new home has been found for bin Ali in the last three years and four months, although now, presumably, there is no obstacle to his release, which should be demanded immediately.

As for the others, the Obama administration ought to be reviewing their cases, and thinking long and hard about whether it wants to continue holding them. I can see no reason why Ridah al-Yazidi should not also be released immediately, but officials may have concluded that he is one of 48 men who should be held indefinitely without charge or trial, because they are regarded as too dangerous to release, even though the interagency Task Force that made these recommendations conceded that the supposed evidence used to make these appraisals would not stand up in any court.

For Adel Hakeemy, the problem is that the Belgian govermment has apparently expressed an interest in extraditing him in connection with terrorist allegations in Belgium, as it has with Hisham Sliti, who, in addition, lost his habeas corpus petition in December 2008.

As for Abdul Ourgy, the problem is that the Italian goverment has apparently expressed similar wishes, following the successful extradition of two other Tunisians from Guantánamo — Adel Ben Mabrouk bin Hamida Boughanmi and Mohammed Tahir Riyadh Nasseri — in December 2009. They, presumably, are unlikely to be returning to Tunisia any time soon, even though they have not been put on trial since their dubious extradition, unless, that is, the Italians suddenly decide that the collapse of Ben Ali’s regime is an excuse for them to repatriate all its unwanted Tunisians — something that may, indeed, happen not only in Italy, but across the EU.

To conclude on a brighter note, three other men who may benefit are those released in other countries since the collapse of the Bush administration’s “diplomatic assurances” — Rafiq al-Hami, who was released in Slovakia last January with two other men (from Egypt and Azerbaijan), Saleh Sassi, who was released in Albania in February last year (with an Egyptian and a Libyan), and Hedi Hammamy, who was released in Georgia last March (with two Libyans). All are apparently doing well in their new homes (although the men in Slovakia had to embark on a hunger strike in June to improve their living conditions), but they will no doubt be delighted to return home — if home is finally a country that has rid itself of tyranny.

In some cases this may be because their political opposition to Ben Ali’s regime is on the brink of being recognized as legitimate, and not condemned under the convenient rubric of terrorism, and in other cases it is because Ben Ali’s flight — and the continuing mobilization of what the Middle East expert Juan Cole recently described as “a populist revolution spearheaded by labor movements, by internet activists [and] by rural workers” — may finally promise an end to the ruinous poverty, and the plundering of Tunisia’s economy, that typefied Ben Ali’s reign, and that drove so many Tunisians abroad — to Europe, and, in some cases, to Afghanistan and Pakistan — in search of work and freedom.

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), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on Cageprisoners.

Andy Worthington Discusses WikiLeaks, Bradley Manning and Guantánamo with Chris Cook on Gorilla Radio

At 1 am on Tuesday morning, with the jet lag barely diminished from my recent trip to the States to call for the closure of Guantánamo on the 9th anniversary of the prison’s opening, I was, nevertheless, delighted to talk to Chris Cook of Pacific Free Press on his Gorilla Radio show in Victoria, British Columbia.

The half-hour interview is here, and in it Chris and I talked about the disturbing solitary confinement of the alleged WikiLeaks source, Pfc Bradley Manning, the significance of WikiLeaks in the new media lansdscape of the 21st century, and, of course, about the latest abysmal news about Guantánamo, and President Obama’s inability to close the prison as promised, as I discussed in my recent articles Guantánamo Forever? and The Political Prisoners of Guantánamo, and also in appearances in Baltimore, in Washington D.C. (here, here and here), and also in a panel discussion in Washington D.C. at the New America Foundation.

As I have a lot on right now, I won’t go on about the show, but it was a pleasure to speak to Chris, and the show is available here if you have 30 minutes to spare.

If you have slightly longer, my interview was followed by an interview with Mike Ferner, peace activist, journalist, author, and president of Veterans for Peace. As Chris explained, Mike “visited Iraq shortly before America’s invasion of 2003, and returned again a year later, his impressions and experiences in Iraq forming the basis of his book, Inside the Red Zone: A Veteran for Peace Reports from Iraq. Ferner recently returned from Afghanistan, where he again visited the common people of a benighted land, documenting their extraordinarily difficult struggle.”

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, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Former CIA “Ghost Prisoner” Abu Zubaydah Recognized as “Victim” in Polish Probe of Secret Prison

For those seeking accountabiity for the senior Bush administration officials and lawyers who established a global torture program in the “War on Terror,” involving extraordinary rendition and torture in a variety of secret prisons, the news that the Polish Prosecutor has today accepted the claims of Abu Zubaydah, a former CIA “ghost prisoner,” that he was a victim of extraordinary rendition and secret detention in Poland is enormously significant.

Zubaydah, one of 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006, was held for four and a half years in prisons whose existence has been routinely denied by the United States, and by the countries who hosted secret prisons on behalf of the CIA — Thailand, Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Morocco — which were used to hold Zubaydah, 27 other “high-value detainees,” and at least some of the other 66 “ghost prisoners” whose existence has been acknowledged by the US authorities.

The news from Poland provides hope following recent disappointments in the quest for accountability — revelations by WikiLeaks that the Bush administration put pressure on the German goverment to drop an investigation into the kidnap and torture of Khaled El-Masri (a case of mistaken identity) and that the Obama administration put pressure on the Spanish government to drop an investigation into the crimes committed by six Bush administration lawyers, as well as the recent decision by the Lithuanian government to drop its own investigation into a secret prison — or two secret prisons — near Vilnius.

Reassuringly, the Spanish probe is still ongoing, and I recently appeared on Democracy Now! and at an event in New York with Katie Gallagher of the Center for Constitutional Rights, just after CCR and  the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) had filed two submissions in Spain in connection with the investigation into the “Bush Six,” and another investigation into Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the commander of Guantánamo during the worst years of torture at the prison (2002 to 2004), who was later sent to “Gitmo-ize” faclities in Iraq, including, notoriously, Abu Ghraib.

However, the main focus for those seeking accountability remains Poland, where Abu Zubaydah is the second “victim” recognized by the Polish Prosecutor, following the recognition of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (another of the 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006) as a victim in October last year. This, as Prosecutor Jerzy Mierzewski told the Associated Press, “entails a number of rights for the injured party,” and as Reprieve and INTERIGHTS announced in a press release today (on behalf of their partners in the Zubaydah complaint, Polish lawyer Bartlomiej Jankowski and US lawyer Joe Margulies), victim status “allows Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers to participate fully in the criminal investigation, which includes introducing further evidence, calling witnesses and taking part in the questioning of witnesses and suspects.”

Although the secret prisons in Poland and Romania have been known about since November 2005, when the Washington Post first identified their existence, and Human Rights Watch then identified the countries involved, and their existence was then confirmed in a report for the Council of Europe in June 2007 (PDF) by CoE Rapporteur and Swiss Senator Dick Marty, based on two years’ research and interviews with over 30 current and former members of the intelligence services in the United States and Europe, it was not until March 23, 2009 that the first details of specific flights into Szymany were officially confirmed in Poland, by the Polish Air Navigation Service Agency. Moreover, it was not until August last year that further incriminating details were added by the the Polish Border Guard Office, who released a number of crucial documents to the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, as I explained in an article at the time, New Evidence About Prisoners Held in Secret CIA Prisons in Poland and Romania.

As a result of these revelations, the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza reported that former Prime Minister Leszek Miller and former President Aleksander Kwasniewski “may face war crime charges for agreeing to host the facility,” and I reported details of the ongoing investigation in my article, Will Poland’s Former Leaders Face War Crimes Charges for Hosting Secret CIA Prison?

Since then, the story has refused to go away, despite being largely ignored in the US mainstream media, with further damning reports about the torture program — and the moving of “high-value detainees” between Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Morocco — published by the Associated Press in August and September (Terrorist interrogation tapes found, Former FBI Man Implicated in CIA Abuse, and Poles Urged to Probe CIA Prison Acts), and the announcement  about the “victim” status of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri on October 27.

The timing of the Polish Prosecutor’s announcement about Abu Zubaydah’s “victim” status is also useful in terms of a week-long Polish tour of the film “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and myself), which former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg and I are undertaking in the first week of February (details here). Moazzam and I are primarily undertaking this tour, with the support of organizations including Amnesty International and Le Monde Diplomatique, to raise awareness of the real stories of the men held at Guantánamo (most of whom had nothing to do with terrorism), and also to raise awareness of the need for new homes to be found for men who cannot be repatriated safely, but we are also keenly aware that the Polish government’s complicity in the establishment of a secret US torture prison on Polish soil needs to be discussed, and we are anticipating that experts involved in the cases of al-Nashiri and Zubaydah will be joining us for the tour.

Below is the press release issued today by Reprieve and INTERIGHTS:

Polish Prosecutor officially recognises Guantánamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah as a victim in Poland’s CIA secret prison investigation; decision will allow former ‘high-value detainee’ to testify against his US torturers and their allies

WARSAW—Guantánamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah has been granted all-important ‘victim’ status in the pending criminal investigation into a CIA black site in Poland, following a complaint brought by Polish lawyer Bartlomiej Jankowski working with INTERIGHTS, Reprieve and Joe Margulies.

The Polish Prosecutor is the first state official to accept Abu Zubaydah’s claims that he was a victim of extraordinary rendition and secret detention in Poland. Until now both the Polish and US governments have repeatedly denied that he was illegally imprisoned and tortured in a secret prison near Szymany; the Prosecutor’s office has now accepted that Abu Zubaydah’s claims are not only credible but also extremely serious.

Poland’s decision is a crucial step towards uncovering the truth about the CIA’s rendition and torture programme in Europe. Victim status allows Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers to participate fully in the criminal investigation, which includes introducing further evidence, calling witnesses and taking part in the questioning of witnesses and suspects.

The Polish Prosecutor’s leadership stands in contrast with the Lithuanian Prosecutor General’s bizarre decision, announced this week, to close his investigation into the CIA black site in Lithuania in which Abu Zubaydah was also held and tortured. Like many other European states, Lithuania was instrumental in the operation of the CIA’s illegal rendition and torture programme, and has urgent legal obligations to provide robust and transparent investigations in order to uncover the facts.

Today’s decision follows weeks of urgent litigation by Abu Zubaydah’s international legal team. On 16 December 2010, Bartlomiej Jankowski filed applications with the Polish Prosecutor’s office showing his client was transferred from Thailand to Poland by the CIA on 5 December 2002, and held there for nine or ten months. The applications included extensive evidence of the roles played by CIA agents and Polish officials in the CIA programme in Poland, the rendition flights that transported Abu Zubaydah into and out of Poland, the private companies involved in those flights, and the operation of the CIA’s secret prison site at Stare Kiejkuty, near Szymany.

Joseph Margulies, a law professor at Northwestern University in Chicago and US counsel for Abu Zubaydah said: “To recognize Abu Zubaydah as a victim is to accept his humanity, which is the first essential step to recovering from the hysteria of 9/11. It is not surprising, that this step should be taken by the Poles before the Americans.”

Bartlomiej Jankowski, Polish cousel for Abu Zubaydah said: “Following the arrangements made with Mr Jerzy Mierzewski, the prosecutor in charge of the investigation, who personally informed me that Abu Zubaydah is recognized as a victim, I will now be able to review at least some of the unclassified documents in the investigation file. We also expect to be given access to the classified documents. Secrecy should not be used to shield gross human rights abuses from disclosure to the Polish public. The Polish criminal investigation should also receive full cooperation from the US government, which should promptly comply with Poland’s legal aid request. It is impossible to speak about justice in this case without hearing the victims as witnesses, whether directly in Poland or at least by video conference.”

INTERIGHTS Litigation Director Helen Duffy said: “The Prosecutor’s decision is a welcome first step, but the Polish government must do much more to vindicate Abu Zubaydah’s rights. As a recognised victim, he should now be entitled to take part in the investigation and to uncover information concerning his abuse. It remains to be seen whether the cloak of ‘state secrecy’ currently surrounding the investigation will be lifted and the Polish authorities will show their commitment to justice. Justice cannot be secret.”

Reprieve Director Clive Stafford Smith said: “We cannot expect to learn from history, and avoid repeating our mistakes, if we do not know what that history was.  So it is vital that European complicity in the CIA renditions programme is brought into the light, and the prosecutor’s decision is an important step towards that goal. This investigation is not about the persecution of individual officials, but rather about establishing a clear picture of exactly what happened in order to ensure that it does not happen again. It is crucial that those who created the programme and gave the orders are not permitted to pretend it never happened.”

For more information please contact Sarah Harrington at INTERIGHTS on +44 (0)20 7843 0472, or Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office on +44(0)20 7427 1099.

Background on Abu Zubaydah

Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, more commonly known as Abu Zubaydah, is a stateless Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia. He was held in secret detention by the CIA of the United States of America from the time of his abduction from a house in Faisalbad, Pakistan on 28 March 2002 until approximately 6 September 2006, when it was announced that he was transferred to the custody of the US Department of Defence (“DOD”) at Guantánamo Bay. He remains in indefinite detention in DOD custody at Guantánamo Bay. However, he has never been charged with any crime, neither in proceedings before a military commission nor in a civilian court.

Abu Zubaydah was the first so-called “high value detainee” to be captured, detained and interrogated by the CIA. For the purpose of his interrogation, the CIA devised a set of “enhanced interrogation techniques” intended to create a state of learned helplessness through the application of severe physical and psychological stress. According to former CIA Director George Tenet, once Abu Zubaydah was in custody, the CIA “got into holding and interrogating high-value detainees … in a serious way.” He is one of three detainees subjected to the waterboard, and US government documents show that he was waterboarded at least 83 times in one month.

Throughout the period of Abu Zubaydah’s secret detention, interrogation and torture by the CIA he was falsely alleged to be a member of al-Qaeda and a close associate and senior lieutenant of Osama bin Laden. He was also falsely alleged to have had a role in various al-Qaeda terrorist acts — including the attacks on 11 September 2001. After more than six years of incommunicado detention, Abu Zubaydah obtained access to US lawyers, who challenged his detention in US courts and forced the US Department of Justice to withdraw all such allegations. The United States no longer alleges Abu Zubaydah was ever a member of al-Qaeda or that he supported al Qaeda’s radical ideology. The United States no longer alleges that Abu Zubaydah was an associate of Osama bin Laden or that he was his senior lieutenant. The United States no longer alleges that Abu Zubaydah had any role in any terrorist attack planned or perpetrated by al-Qaeda, including the attacks of 11 September 2001 [although it now has a new ploy, as described in my articles, Abu Zubaydah: Tortured for Nothing, In Abu Zubaydah’s Case, Court Relies on Propaganda and Lies and Algerian in Guantánamo Loses Habeas Petition for Being in a Guest House with Abu Zubaydah].

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, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Former Quantico Commander Objects to Treatment of Bradley Manning, the Alleged WikiLeaks Whistleblower

Via WarIsACrime.org, here’s a powerful letter to General James F. Amos, Commandant of the Marine Corps, by retired Marine Corps captain David C. MacMichael, the former commander of Headquarters Company at Marine Corps Base Quantico, in Virginia, where Pfc Bradley Manning, the young soldier accused of providing a trove of classified US government documents to WikiLeaks, is being held in conditions that amount to prolonged solitary confinement, as I explained in a recent article, Is Bradley Manning Being Held as Some Sort of “Enemy Combatant”?

Capt. MacMichael makes a number of valid and powerful points, in particular asking why Manning is being held for so long before trial (in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights), and also questioning his conditions of confinement. On the first point, he states, “I question the length of confinement prior to conduct of court-martial. The sixth amendment to the US Constitution, guaranteeing to the accused in all criminal prosecutions the right to a speedy and public trial, extends to those being prosecuted in the military justice system.” On the second, he notes, “I seriously doubt that the conditions of his confinement — solitary confinement, sleep interruption, denial of all but minimal physical exercise, etc. — are necessary, customary, or in accordance with law, US or international.”

This is an important letter, already doing the rounds on the Internet, and I’m happy to play a part in getting it out to more people. As with so many aspects of the “War on Terror” — which this is clearly part of — it is often military figures (whether retired or still serving) who recognize, and are disturbed by the extent to which the Executive branch of government, and often lawmakers in Congress, continue to trample on the law, and on rights enshrined in the Constitution, in furtherance of political aims.

General James F. Amos
Commandant of the Marine Corps
3000 Marine Corps Pentagon
Washington DC 20350-3000

Dear General Amos:

As a former regular Marine Corps captain, a Korean War combat veteran, now retired on Veterans Administration disability due to wounds suffered during that conflict, I write you to protest and express concern about the confinement in the Quantico Marine Corps Base brig of US Army Pfc. Bradley Manning.

Manning, if the information I have is correct, is charged with having violated provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice by providing to unauthorized persons, among them specifically one Julian Assange and his organization Wikileaks, classified information relating to US military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and State Department communications. This seems straightforward enough and sufficient to have Manning court-martialed and if found guilty sentenced in accordance with the UCMJ.

What concerns me here, and I hasten to admit that I respect Manning’s motives, is the manner in which the legal action against him is being conducted. I wonder, in the first place, why an Army enlisted man is being held in a Marine Corps installation. Second, I question the length of confinement prior to conduct of court-martial. The sixth amendment to the US Constitution, guaranteeing to the accused in all criminal prosecutions the right to a speedy and public trial, extends to those being prosecuted in the military justice system. Third, I seriously doubt that the conditions of his confinement — solitary confinement, sleep interruption, denial of all but minimal physical exercise, etc. — are necessary, customary, or in accordance with law, US or international.

Indeed, I have to wonder why the Marine Corps has put itself, or allowed itself to be put, in this invidious and ambiguous situation. I can appreciate that the decision to place Manning in a Marine Corps facility may not have been one over which you had control. However, the conditions of his confinement in the Quantico brig are very clearly under your purview, and, if I may say so, these bring little credit either to you or your subordinates at the Marine Corps Base who impose these conditions.

It would be inappropriate, I think, to use this letter, in which I urge you to use your authority to make the conditions of Pfc. Manning’s confinement less extreme, to review my Marine Corps career except to note that my last duty prior to resigning my captain’s commission in 1959 was commanding the headquarters company at Quantico. More relevantly, during the 1980s, following a stint as a senior estimates officer in the CIA, I played a very public role as a “whistleblower “ in the Iran-contra affair. At that time, I wondered why Lt. Col. Oliver North, who very clearly violated the UCMJ — and, in my opinion, disgraced our service — was not court-martialed.

When I asked the Navy’s Judge-Advocate General’s office why neither North nor Admiral Poindexter were charged under the UCMJ, the JAG informed me that when officers were assigned to duties in the White House, NSC, or similar offices they were somehow not legally in the armed forces. To my question why, if that were the case, they continued to draw their military pay and benefits, increase their seniority, be promoted while so serving, and, spectacularly in North’s case, appear in uniform while testifying regarding violations of US law before Congress, I could get no answer beyond, “That’s our policy.”

This is not to equate North’s case with Manning. It is only to suggest that equal treatment under the law is one of those American principles that the Marine Corps exists to protect. This is something you might consider.

Sincerely,

David C. MacMichael

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, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, 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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