Archive for April, 2011

Andy Worthington Tells the Truth About WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files in an Interview with Alexa O’Brien

Last week, after WikiLeaks and ten media partners (McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Post, the Daily Telegraph, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, El Pais, La Repubblica, L’Espresso, Aftonbladet and myself) were obliged to bring forward the date for releasing secret military documents relating to the prisoners at Guantánamo, because of spoiler activity by the New York Times, the Guardian and NPR, which had obtained the documents from another source, I wrote a few articles (WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Guantánamo Files, Exposes Detention Policy as a Construct of Lies, and The Hidden Horrors of WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files), but was mainly involved in liaising with the media partners, to help to provide them with information about how to analyze the documents, and also in conducting numerous interviews — with Democracy Now! and also for a variety of radio shows in the US, in the UK and around the world.

Some of these (with the BBC and Antiwar.com) have already been mentioned, but over this weekend I’ll also be making available links to other shows that I’ve taken part in during the last few days. In a busy evening, in which I spoke on shows run by FAIR and the Nation (coming soon!), I also spoke to Alexa O’Brien, in a 13-minute interview for a WikiLeaks-themed site, WL Central, which is available here. I’m also delighted to reproduce below a transcript of the interview, which Alexa produced in an amazingly short amount of time (please note, however, that I’ve added new links, and replaced others).

An interview with Guantánamo expert Andy Worthington

Alexa O’Brien: I wanted to talk to you a little bit about a couple things that you had mentioned when you were talking with Amy Goodwin on Democracy Now! One of the things you talked about was that “guidelines” needed to be set up for filtering or discriminating the content that was found in the documents. Could you tell me a little bit about what that would be like in terms of application?

Andy Worthington: Well, you know, to be honest a certain amount of hard work is required and some of that has already been done by some of the journalists who’ve been writing about it already, who have worked out that a lot of this supposed “body of evidence” consists of allegations that have been made by a small number of prisoners, who have made repeated allegations against large numbers of their fellow prisoners, which have been called into doubt.

Now, you know, the doubts about this information are not necessarily mentioned — in fact, they are rarely mentioned in these military documents, but they have been mentioned elsewhere, and, so you know, a certain amount of cross-referencing is required. Some of these stories have emerged in media reports over the years, and some of them have emerged in court cases, where the prisoners have had their habeas corpus petitions examined by judges in a district court in Washington DC.

They [the allegations in the documents released by WikiLeaks] involve essentially a number of “high-value detainees” making allegations about a large number of the prisoners. These are people held for quite a long time, in secret CIA prisons, where they were subjected to torture. One of them is Abu Zubaydah and he turns up over and over again. He was the first “high-value detainee” that the Bush administration tortured, after lawyers specifically attempted to re-write the rules on torture so that they could torture him. He was waterboarded, subjected to a form of controlled drowning, 83 times in the month after his torture was approved by lawyers in the Justice Department.

On what basis they could possibly be regarded as credible, any of the claims that he made against his fellow prisoners, you know, is rather beyond me. And he is not the only one. There are other “high-value detainees” who appear in these documents.

Other problems are with informants within Guantánamo — people who have been regarded as useful within Guantánamo, because they have made allegations against a large number of prisoners. And, the easiest way to imagine this — the way that this happened — is that the authorities would show prisoners photographs of other prisoners and say, “Do you know this person? What do you know about this person?” And I think that helps to understand how easy it would be for somebody to say, “Oh yes. I know that person,” even if they didn’t, just to get somebody off their back, or, in the cases of some of the people in Guantánamo, to get favors. You know, there is an interrogator saying, “What would you like? Would you like a nice meal? Would you like a TV? What kind of stuff could we give you if you helped us out here?”

People — either because they are put under horrible pressure, or because they were enticed in this way — many people came up with these false stories about other prisoners.

As I say, these have been exposed in other contexts, but I would say even bigger than that is the problem with so many of the people held in Guantánamo and in the ‘War on Terror’ — people who have been released — who have said, “Look, in the end I cracked. I told them things that they wanted to hear that weren’t true.” It’s very understandable why people did that.

Very often when people think about the circumstances in which people are held, and they imagine themselves in it they say, “Well I am not sure how I would have taken it. I am sure I would have cracked within a short amount of time.” So that is what we are dealing with.

And it requires a certain amount of dedication on the part of people reading these stories to understand that it isn’t a coherent network of intelligence. Actually what it is, is a bunch of people rounded up largely indiscriminately, most bought by the US military, not screened adequately on capture, taken to Guantánamo, and when they didn’t really know who they had, they started to try and piece it together. And the only material that they had to do that with was the prisoners themselves.

Alexa O’Brien: Do you think that the American media is partly responsible for the manifestation of a system like Guantánamo?

Andy Worthington: Well, I don’t think that they complained thoroughly enough about it. It was a difficult issue, it is a difficult issue, in the sense of knowing exactly what to make of who is held there, but, you know, that is why it is important for people to understand how random it was, and how arrogant it was of the United States under President Bush to deny Geneva Convention rights to prisoners, and, to implement torture, all of these awful things.

I am not sure that everybody quite realizes how wrong the whole foundation of the ‘War on Terror’ is. Because, what we have at Guantánamo are people who are labeled “enemy combatants” by the Bush administration. Now, Obama, early on, his Justice Department dropped that terminology. They knew that it was pretty toxic, but they haven’t replaced it with anything. There is no name for these people now.

But what they are not is either criminal suspects allegedly responsible for terrorist activities, or enemy prisoners of war held according to the Geneva Conventions. Now those are the only two ways in which you are allowed to hold people prisoner and deprive them of their liberty.

So there is still this third category of human being, invented by the Bush administration, called “enemy combatants,” and intended to be held without any rights whatsoever. What has happened is that terrorist suspects have been confused with soldiers, so that, apart from all the innocent people held at Guantánamo, there were many foot soldiers for the Taliban, and the purpose of Guantánamo has been to dress these people to be more significant than they were.

Many of them were not anything more than soldiers fighting against other Muslims in Afghanistan, and that particular conflict morphed into a ‘War on Terror’, a war against the US, after the US-led invasion [in October 2001].

Alexa O’Brien: I am trying to understand Guantánamo from an institutional perspective, in the sense that institutions are suppose to underpin and support democratic principles, or the foundational principles of a society. So, you have mentioned that there was a third category of human being: I wonder if there is a fourth category of human being called the corporation. You mention “fear politics” or the “season of fear.” What is the source of that? Is it simply socio-political phenomena that happens when a country is attacked? Or is there more to the story then simply the sophistry, or the propaganda, or the agenda-setting of politicians with a view towards national security? Are there other forces at play?

Andy Worthington: Well, I think there are a few forces at play, and I think the starting point would be to say that the Bush administration was so severely rattled, and understandably so after the 9/11 attacks, that, instead of taking a measured response, they wanted to be strong, they wanted vengeance, and they threw out what they regarded as all these weak kind of laws restricting what they could do.

So that was their starting point. Now I think it would be too generous to them to say that that remained their agenda for very long, because what has become apparent about the Iraq War over the years, has been that, in early December 2001, people [within the Bush administration] were pushing for moving on to Iraq.

On the day that the 9/11attacks took place, British officials who were in Washington D.C., told Jane Mayer of the New Yorker how shocked they were that hours after the attacks, people were talking about, “When can we invade Iraq?”

Iraq had no connection to it, but there were people who wanted Iraq to have a connection to it, and who were pushing for that invasion which eventually took place in March 2003. And, you know, one particular prisoner — and he turns up a lot in these documents just released, as well — he is called Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. He was captured, he was sent to Egypt, where he was tortured on behalf of the CIA, and where he said that two al-Qaeda operatives had been meeting with Saddam Hussein to discuss obtaining chemical and biological weapons.

That was used by Colin Powell in his submission to the United Nations, a month before the invasion in February 2003, as a justification for war. Now al-Libi had recanted what he had said, what he had produced under torture in Egypt, but, you know, was that deliberately used to justify an invasion of Iraq? Or did Cheney and other people in the administration believe what al-Libi said?

It is one or the other. They either thought that torture was producing the information that they needed or, even more worryingly, they were cynically “exploiting” somebody like al-Libi to justify an illegal invasion of a sovereign country. Whichever one it is, it is bad. If it is the latter, then Cheney, who I believe was driving this, has committed the most enormous crime I think that a vice president of the Unites States could do.

Alexa O’Brien: This is my last question. Is there a historical parallel that comes to mind when you think about Guantánamo — either its model, or the crimes committed?

Andy Worthington: You know, in some ways, the United States has overreacted previously — in the Second World War, for example, with the internment of so many Japanese Americans — something that came to be looked at afterwards as a horrible overreaction.

There is a historical pattern, I suppose, of overreacting to things, then being able to look back at it afterwards and say, “Oh dear. That was a bit over the top. That was wrong. We undermined our fundamental values by doing that.”

Now, you know, we are nearly ten years on from the 9/11 attacks and from the opening of Guantánamo, and I think it is time for that point to be reached, but there are a number of forces within the United States — powerful forces, both in congress and in the media — who are dedicated to keeping this alive. They want more of this.

So you know, I think that actually the struggle that is still underway is a kind of struggle for the soul of America, and it doesn’t just involve arbitrarily detaining a bunch of Muslims in this little corner of Cuba, outside of all the norms. It is everything else that went with it. It was the deliberate attempt, at the highest level of the Bush government, to use torture as part of this process of holding people outside of the norms of domestic and international law.

And, that has been accepted. Obama has failed by not calling to account the people within the Bush administration who authorized this, who implemented it, who issued the legal advice, but there are too many people in the United States who believe that torture is justified. And it is not, of course. It is counterproductive, and it is illegal. The story has drifted, and it needs to be addressed, and that is why I think it is so crucial.

I think that all of this really involves two sides, with people who understand that there used to be right and wrong, and that something terrible has happened, and, on the other side, people who have got increasingly violent and hysterical in their approach to things — and, fear is part of that. I am sure that this is being manipulated in some ways.

Who has made money out of not just the ‘War on Terror’, but the wars of the last ten years? Well, it tends to be arms manufacturers and big companies like Halliburton. You know, very few people have actually benefitted financially. But the corporate interests that have are obviously tied in with the governments as well. So, all of that is worth looking at as well, really.

Alexa O’Brien: I thank you very much for your time. You have been very generous.

Andy Worthington: Okay. You are welcome.

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, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). 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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), 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.

Andy Worthington Discusses WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files with Scott Horton on Antiwar Radio

On Monday, after staying up all night helping coordinate WikiLeaks’ release of the first of nearly 800 classified military files relating to the Guantánamo prisoners, the first media outlets to interview me, in central London, were the BBC World Service (for Newshour) and Democracy Now!, followed, on my return home, by my old friend Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio, who has been following my work since the summer of 2007.

My 18-minute interview with Scott is available here, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to talk to him, so soon after the news broke, even though I was unable to speak for a whole hour, as planned, because of a second scheduled BBC World Service appearance, as part of a panel discussion with US Conservative commentator, and former government official David Rivkin, former UN Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak and David Leigh of the Guardian. It’s always a pleasure to talk to Scott, because of the indignation that he brings to the crimes of the US government, and this recent appearance was no exception.

This is how Scott described the show:

Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, discusses the WikiLeaks Guantánamo documents that provide a window into the inner workings of US detention policy; unreliable witnesses who gave evidence against a great many innocent prisoners; the lack of a screening process to separate farmers, old men and boys from the very few actual terrorist suspects; an analysis of the first 200 released prisoners, many previously unknown; how Charlie Savage and the New York Times accepted the three 2006 Gitmo suicides at face value, ignoring (the other) Scott Horton’s investigation; the Democrats in Congress who got no support from Barack “I’m going to close Gitmo” Obama; the Al Jazeera cameraman [Sami al-Haj] held and questioned for six years about the inside operations at Al Jazeera; broadening the list of “terrorist organizations” to justify holding certain prisoners; and how the US went from the “rule of law” to “the gloves are off, do what you want, there will be no repercussions.”

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, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). 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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), 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.

Study Says Doctors at Guantánamo Neglected Or Concealed Evidence of Torture, Plus My Interview with Press TV

Just as WikiLeaks is revealing details of the regime of torture, coercion and bribery that was required to create what purported to be evidence at Guantánamo, the peer-reviewed journal journal PloS Medicine published a research article, “Neglect of Medical Evidence of Torture in Guantánamo Bay: A Case Series,” written by Vincent Iacopino, a senior medical advisor to Physicians for Human Rights, and Stephen Xenakis, a retired US Army Brigadier General, examining the cases of nine former prisoners, “all of whom,” as they say, “alleged torture and ill treatment during detention at the facility.” As an editorial explains, the authors “scrutinized medical records, client affidavits, attorney-client notes and summaries, and legal declarations of medical experts for evidence of torture and ill treatment,” and where such evidence existed, they “assessed whether medical personnel … had either documented or treated symptoms arising from torture.”

The research article, as the editors explain, “adds solid, specific evidence of both human rights abuses at Guantánamo Bay and the apparent complicity of medical personnel in the abuse,” documenting Ithe torture techniques, including “sleep deprivation, exposure to temperature extremes, serious threats, forced positions, beatings, and forced nudity,” that were prevalent during the worst period of abuse between 2002 and 2004. “In addition,” the editors add, “each of the nine detainees reported being subjected to severe beatings, sexual assault and/or the threat of rape, mock execution, mock disappearance, and being choked.”

Crucially, the researchers estabished that, “although some of the physical injuries sustained by detainees that were consistent with allegations of torture were documented by medical personnel in the camp, causes of injury were not investigated by those personnel. Furthermore, mental health practitioners in the camp recorded symptoms characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in seven of nine detainees, but failed to investigate the causes of the symptoms or to diagnose or treat the detainees’ PTSD.”

The authors’ conclusion is stark:

Medical doctors and mental health personnel assigned to the US Department of Defense neglected and/or concealed medical evidence of intentional harm. The full extent of medical complicity in US torture practices will not be known until there is a thorough, impartial investigation including relevant classified information. We believe that, until such time as such an investigation is undertaken, and those responsible for torture are held accountable, the ethical integrity of medical and other healing professions remains compromised.

In an AFP article that followed publication of the article, a shocking example of indifference was cited. A clinician with the Defense Department’s Behavorial Health Service, after noting a detainee’s suicidal thoughts, memory lapses and nightmares, prescribed him antidepressants, and stated, “[You] need to relax when the guards are being more aggressive.”

AFP also explained that, although “[r]eports of alleged complicity by CIA doctors and psychologists and DoD behavioral consultants, described by the US government as ‘non-clinical’ experts who were present during the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, have already come to light,” Vincent Iacopino pointed out that this new study “focuses on Defense Department medical personnel — doctors and psychologists — who directly cared for Guantánamo inmates and whose role has been largely obscured.”

Speaking to AFP, he said, “There has been no information to date on the role of those health professionals in turning a blind eye, as the paper has indicated, until this time.”

Yesterday evening, I spoke to Press TV about the new report. A recording of that interview is available here, and a transcript of the interview is below:

Press TV: Does this report come as a surprise to you at all?

Andy Worthington: Well, no it doesn’t. These kinds of stories have come out of Guantánamo for years. It’s something I’m glad to see is still being reported, because of course when it comes to medical personnel and psychologists and psychiatrists being involved in the kinds of procedures that took place in Guantánamo for many years, it’s absolutely disgusting that that’s happened.

These are people who really should have said no, and gone home and resigned from the military rather than taking any part in these things, and of course some of the people that were involved were outside contractors.

The whole process invoving playing on people’s phobias, and what were perceived as people’s weaknesses was designed by psychologists who had been working, actually, in US military schools teaching US personnel how to resist torture if they were captured abroad. It was reverse engineered and used at Guantánamo in real life on prisoners, which was a really shocking thing to do.

But these are the kinds of things that have happened, and over the years the prisoners at Guantánamo — released prisoners — have spoken about medical abuse under the Bush administration. So when people were ill they would not receive treatment unless they cooperated with interrogators.

One of the things that I hope people are noticing in these WikiLeaks disclosures of the Guantánamo documents is how many false statements are made by people, that getting people to cooperate with interrogators was not necessarily to tell the truth, it was getting them to make any kind of statement that could be used. As we’re seeing in these documents, there are a number of alarming informants in Guantánamo’s history who have repeatedly made statements from their fellow prisoners which have subsequently turned out to be untrue.

Press TV: Obviously, you mentioned you were glad that this sort of thing was being reported and coming out. But these sorts of things were being reported for quite a while now, especially since Obama promised to close Guantánamo. Do such reports make any difference or further the case of anyone being held responsible for torture in Guantánamo?

Andy Worthington: The primary aspect of the WikiLeaks documents is the military’s own assessment of how significant the prisoners are. So there is going to be very little in there about the torture of prisoners.

What I think it’s important is that what we’re seeing in some cases in these documents is the first confirmation on the part of the US military that certain prisoners were, for example, sent to other countries to be tortured before they were sent to Guantánamo. This is something that’s been very obvious from research over the years, but it’s not something that the Bush administration ever accepted had happened.

What I’ve seen already in a few of the files is mentions of prisoners being sent to Jordan where the Jordanians operated a secret torture prison on behalf of the CIA, and also to Egypt.

For those people who are concerned about holding senior Bush administration officials accountable for what they did in the war on terror, these provide other small pieces of evidence that will be useful for ongoing attempts to hold people accountable, but of course it’s very difficult because there’s no willingness within the United States to go ahead with anything. We seem to be relying on other countries trying to pursue cases against senior Bush administration officials or lawyers, and the problem is that the United States isn’t cooperating. There is a recent case that was brought in Spain where a Spanish judge actually dropped a case in the end when the US Justice Department refused to cooperate at all.

But, you know, I don’t think people should give up. The crimes that were committed by the Bush administration need to be addressed properly. This may be something that takes a very long time but if that’s the case it has to be done. I don’t think there’s really any other option.

I think President Obama, by allowing this to go unchallenged, has actually helped to create a climate in the United States where the supporters of torture feel kind of reinforced in their belief that it’s justified and acceptable; whereas, of course, it’s not. It’s not only counter-productive, but it’s illegal.

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, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). 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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), 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.

The Hidden Horrors of WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files

WikiLeaks’ latest revelations — secret military files on almost all of the 779 prisoners held in the US “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — are already causing a stir, and for good reason, as they resuscitate a story that appears to have been forgotten in the last few years: how, in their rush to prove themselves tough and vengeful in response to the 9/11 attacks, the most senior officials in the Bush administration not only discarded international laws and treaties including the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture, but also threw out safeguards designed to protect innocent people from being wrongly imprisoned in wartime.

Some of the key discoveries in the Guantánamo files are the documents on the 201 prisoners released between 2002 and summer 2004, which cover new ground, as the US military has never publicly released any of this information before. For the other 578 prisoners, information has at least been revealed through the release of the government’s allegations against the prisoners, and the transcripts of the tribunals and review boards used to assess their significance, which were released in 2006 (with follow-ups in the years since), but for these 201 prisoners, many of the stories are being related for the very first time. These are mostly dispiriting revelations about how children as young as 14 and old men in their 80s were rounded up and sent to Guantánamo, joining farmers, taxi drivers and unwilling Taliban recruits — hordes of the innocent or the insignificant, whose stories help to confirm the folly of Guantánamo.

Just as significant, however, are the stories of the majority of the other prisoners — the nearly 400 others released, and most of the 172 still held. Understanding their stories generally requires more effort, as the allegations marshalled against them seem to prove what a threat they are — until, that is, the sources of these allegations are investigated, and are revealed, time and again, as very dubious indeed.

Although JTF-GTMO, the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo, responsible for creating these files, has done a good job of creating the illusion of coherent intelligence dossiers, an illusion is all it is. On close inspection, the files are full of lies and distortions, with certain figures appearing over and over again. They include “high-value detainees” like Abu Zubaydah, waterboarded 83 times and held for four and a half years in secret CIA prisons, and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, tortured in Egypt until he falsely confessed that there were connections between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein (used to justify the invasion of Iraq in March 2003), who was finally sent back to Libya to be murdered.

There are also others, held only in Guantánamo, who are known as notoriously unreliable informants, and who, whether through the use of torture, coercion, or bribery (the promise of better living conditions) have repeatedly told lies about their fellow prisoners. These have been seen through, generally by some official figures at Guantánamo, and also by judges in the prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions, who have recognized their baleful influence, and have often moved to dismiss their testimony, damaging or even eviscerating the government’s cases.

There are dangerous men in Guantánamo, of course — some, if not all of the 14 ‘high-value detainees,” including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, who arrived in Guantánamo from secret CIA prisons in September 2006, some of the ten others transferred to Guantánamo from secret prisons in September 2004, plus a handful of others. Essentially, these are the 36 men recommended for trials by the Obama administration’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, which spent the whole of 2009 analysing the prisoners’ cases.

As for the rest of the 172 men still held, 47 of whom are being held indefinitely without charge or trial by President Obama on the basis that they are too dangerous to release, even though no evidence exists that can be used in court, these documents reveal how the distortions engendered by Guantánamo continue to erode all hope of a rational settlement to the vexed question of when Guantánamo will actually close.

When innocent people are labelled as “low risk” detainees, and foot soldiers are labelled as “medium risk” or “high risk,” as they are in these official documents, the proper outcome — that prisoners should either be charged or released, and the abomination that is Guantánamo should be closed as soon as possible — is lost in a miasma of misplaced fear.

Politically, it appears that President Obama has decided that Guantánamo is too toxic to touch. That is a disgrace, as it shows him to be a man lacking in firm principles, after all his fine talk about the importance of justice and the law, when he was a Senator, and it is also a tragedy for America.

I won’t hold my breath hoping for enlightenment, but these documents released by WikiLeaks deserve to be read widely, and to be acted upon decisively by Americans who care about justice and the rule of law, because, with Guantánamo still open, they reveal the unjustifiable triumph, from beyond the electoral grave, of the Bush adminstration, whose actions, whatever their supposed justification, took the country to a wretched and disturbing place that still needs to be abandoned and repudiated as a thoroughly unacceptable aberration from the principles on which the United States was founded.

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, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). 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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), 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’ Guantánamo Files on the BBC World Service and Press TV

Another day, another round of phone calls, radio interviews and no opportunity whatsoever to put pen to paper — OK, fingers to typepad — to actually write something myself about the copious revelations of injustice, incompetence, credulity and tortured, coerced or bribed prisoners passed off as credible witnesses in WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo files. I’m not complaining, as I’ll have the opportunity to write something soon, and in the meantime, as I continue coordinating the release of the documents with WikiLeaks, I’ve been able to brief journalists at some of the media partners — including the Daily Telegraph and Sweden’s Aftonbladet, on what I’ve learned over the last five years of studying and writing about Guantánamo.

Following Monday’s media frenzy, which concluded with an appearance on the BBC World Service’s “World Have Your Say” programme (along with US Conservative commentator, and former government official David Rivkin, former UN Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak and David Leigh of the Guardian), I started Tuesday with an interview on WBAI’s “Wake-Up Call” show out of New York, followed by an interview on the “P.O.T.U.S.” show on Radio Sirius XM, although I can’t seem to figure out how to find these latter shows online.

What I can direct you to, however, is a five-minute interview I did with Press TV, available here, under the heading, “Obama capitulates every time he is criticized,” which was one of my memorable lines from the interview.

This is how Press TV introduced it:

US President Barack Obama has found it impossible to deliver on his campaign promise of closing the Guantánamo Bay prison since “every time he is criticized he capitulates,” says Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, from London.

The latest military documents released by WikiLeaks show that much of the evidence against many Guantánamo detainees is a “fabrication” and the “the results of confessions made by prisoners who were tortured,” Worthington told Press TV’s US Desk on Tuesday.

He added that the Guantánamo files should “encourage people to raise the question of Guantánamo again … and put more pressure on the government, to say it’s not good enough, Mr. President, this place needs to close, this abomination needs to come to an end.”

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, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). 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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), 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.

The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson Captures the Despair in WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files

Since Sunday night, when WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files first began appearing online, eight media partners have been putting out stories — McClatchy Newspapers, the Washington Post, the Daily Telegraph, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, El Pais, La Repubblica and Aftonbladet — as well as other media outlets, including the Guardian, the New York Times and NPR. There has been, to date, some wonderful reporting, and some that is not so good, and there is much more to come, but while I have so far been largely preoccupied coordinating the release of documents for Wikileaks with the various media partners, and have done numerous radio interviews (as well as appearing on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman), I haven’t yet had much chance to report my own findings, beyond the introduction I wrote for WikiLeaks early on Monday morning.

I hope to have the opportunity to do more of my own reporting soon, but in the meantime I wanted to make available a particularly insightful piece by the New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson, which captures the essence of the files: quoting Carol Rosenberg and Tom Lasseter of McClatchy Newspapers identifying “a sort of mission creep beyond the post-9/11 goal of using interrogations to hunt down the al Qaeda inner circle and sleeper cells,” noting “how Guantánamo became a whisper factory,” in which the only “intelligence” is often the word of one prisoner against another (often after torture or bribery), and, pointedly, criticizing President Obama for not doing more to close Guantánamo by publicizing the prison’s countless failures, rather than retreating whenever criticized and providing more and more power to his critics, and supporters of the prison’s continued existence. “Why didn’t Obama declassify these documents himself?” Davidson asks, before noting that “Obama never effectively challenged the image of Guantánamo as a sort of Phantom Zone of super villains, rather than the humiliating hodgepodge it is,” and proceeding to explain how the administration then “gave up,” because, sadly, “The White House feared the fear itself.”

WikiLeaks: The Uses of Guantánamo
By Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, April 25, 2011

Here are some of the reasons we’ve held people at Guantánamo, according to files obtained by WikiLeaks and, then, by several news organizations: A sharecropper because he was familiar with mountain passes; an Afghan “because of his general knowledge of activities in the areas of Khost and Kabul based as a result of his frequent travels through the region as a taxi driver”; an Uzbek because he could talk about his country’s intelligence service, and a Bahraini about his country’s royal family (both of those nations are American allies); an eighty-nine year old man, who was suffering from dementia, to explain documents that he said were his son’s; an imam, to speculate on what worshippers at his mosque were up to; a cameraman for Al Jazeera, to detail its operations; a British man, who had been a captive of the Taliban, because “he was expected to have knowledge of Taliban treatment of prisoners and interrogation tactics”; Taliban conscripts, so they could explain Taliban conscription techniques; a fourteen-year-old named Naqib Ullah, described in his file as a “kidnap victim,” who might know about the Taliban men who kidnapped him. (Ullah spent a year in the prison.) Our reasons, in short, do not always really involve a belief that a prisoner is dangerous to us or has committed some crime; sometimes (and this is more debased) we mostly think we might find him useful.

The new set of files has information on more than seven hundred and fifty of the seven hundred and seventy-nine prisoners who have passed through Guantánamo. (A hundred and seventy-two are still there.) The documents are classified Secret/NOFORN (that is, no distribution to foreign countries), and WikiLeaks shared them with seven news organizations, on the condition that they evaluate them before they were released, when they were leaked to the New York Times, which brought in the Guardian and NPR — breaking the embargo. (How does that fit the complaint that WikiLeaks rushes things out indiscriminately?) These are Guantánamo’s files, and some of the information in them is disputed by the prisoners; some of it the government itself doesn’t believe any more, and some is contradictory. The greatest insight the files may give is into what our government thought it was doing, and why, when it decided to imprison certain people indefinitely and out of the reach of the rule of law — the logic, or illogic, of Guantánamo. Carol Rosenberg and Tom Lasseter, of the Miami Herald (representing the McClatchy papers, among those who had the files), write of records of interrogation after interrogation,

Yet there’s not a whiff in the documents that any of the work is leading the U.S. closer to capturing bin Laden. In fact, they suggest a sort of mission creep beyond the post-9/11 goal of using interrogations to hunt down the al Qaeda inner circle and sleeper cells.

And so we sacrificed our values and our moral standing for goals that were increasingly — vanishingly — distant from the ones we had been told were so urgent; or for no real reason at all.

One sees how Guantánamo became a whisper factory: after years of interrogation, the subject many prisoners had left to talk about was other prisoners. Some were doing so after being tortured. The Times notes that Mohammed al-Qahtani was “was leashed like a dog, sexually humiliated and forced to urinate on himself” before implicating himself and sixteen other prisoners, and that those claims appear in the others’ files “without any caveat.” (Jane Mayer has written about the Qahtani case.) Rosenberg and Lasseter note that one prisoner, a Yemeni, gave information about a hundred and thirty-five other prisoners. On the whole, the interrogation system at Guantánamo comes across as a maddening, multi-directional game of telephone. Rosenberg and Lasseter:

Intelligence analysts are at odds with each other over which informants to trust, at times drawing inferences from prisoners’ exercise habits. They ordered DNA tests, tethered Taliban suspects to polygraphs, strung together tidbits at times in ways that seemed to defy common sense.

Some prisoners at Guantánamo, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, really are high-level Al Qaeda operatives. That doesn’t mean it’s the right place for them, either: being at Guantánamo has served to keep them from facing a jury or judge and answering for their crimes. (We have courts, and Supermax prisons, in this country.) And, in many ways, K.S.M. is more of an outlier than the taxi driver. Here are other signs, according to the files, that a prisoner is dangerous: attitude toward the Star Spangled Banner; having been caught wearing a Casio F91W watch (a common model); perceived support for fellow inmates who committed suicide (there have been five).

And more: according to the Guardian, the “GTMO matrix of threat indicators for enemy combatants,” which runs to seventeen pages, also lists having a connection to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, or I.S.I.; given how much money we’ve given Pakistan to fight the Taliban and Al Qaeda, that detail alone is enough to make one’s head spin, if the Casio didn’t do it already. (Another, not related to the new files: hundreds of inmates escaped from a prison in Afghanistan yesterday, apparently with the help of their guards.)

Is a Casio watch better than no reason at all? “It is undetermined as to why the detainee was transferred to GTMO,” the base commander wrote in a report on one of “three hapless Tajiks,” as the Guardian described them, who had been shipped there after being rounded up with others—not on what supporters of Guantánamo like to call the battlefield, but in the library at the University of Karachi, in Pakistan. They were held for two years.

And the Al Jazeera journalist, a Sudanese cameraman named Sami al-Hajj, was held for six years. There were vague allegations that he was helping Al Qaeda help the Chechens (he denied them and, indeed, he was released by the Bush Administration without charges against him), but his lawyer has said that his interrogators were just interested in Al Jazeera. And, indeed, one of the “reasons for transfer” to Guantánamo in his file is to “provide information on”

The al-Jazeera News Network’s training program, telecommunications equipment, and newsgathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, including the network’s acquisition of a video of [Osama bin Laden] and subsequent interview with [bin Laden].

Is that what Guantánamo is for? Every journalist should wonder what information he or she might have that the government could find useful. (The file also says that among the items al-Hajj had on him when he was arrested were “several photos of an infant.”)

Here’s another question: why didn’t Obama declassify these documents himself? His Administration has professed to be frustrated at its inability to convey to the public, early on, why Guantánamo should be closed. (See Eric Holdier’s press conference last month for an example.) Might it have helped if Obama had pointed to close-up pictures of the fourteen-year old, or the taxi driver, and really told their stories? He can be good at that, after all. Maybe it wouldn’t have been enough; maybe, clumsily handled, it could have backfired. But it could have shifted the narrative, and it would have been true. Instead, Obama never effectively challenged the image of Guantánamo as a sort of Phantom Zone of super villains, rather than the humiliating hodgepodge it is. When confronted with scare tactics, his Administration, as the Washington Post recounted in a long piece Saturday, retreated again and again; and then it just gave up. The White House feared the fear itself.

And so, instead, on Sunday the Administration released a statement to “strongly condemn” the leak. It made a point of noting how cautious it had been about the prisoners, and how the Bush Administration had transferred many more of them out of Guantánamo than the Obama Administration had — as if that were a point of pride.

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, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). 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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), 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.

Andy Worthington Discusses the Significance of WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo Files on Democracy Now!

On Monday afternoon, after almost no sleep, because of the rush release on Sunday night of WikiLeaks’ Guantánamo files, and after a busy morning of feedback and planning, a trip to central London for an interview on the BBC World Service’s Newshour, a quick cup of coffee and a muffin in the blazing sunlight just off the Strand, and a cycle ride to Albert Embankment, diagonally opposite the Houses of Parliament, I fulfilled the first of my early morning promises (after a call received at 7.30 am London time), talking to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, in a studio in a building overooking the Thames, about the significance of the WikiLeaks documents.

The broadcast is below, and I’ll refrain from discussing it in detail here, not just because I covered some of the themes I wrote about in my introductory article, but also because I want you to watch it! Amy, as ever, was rigorous and unflappable, and I was delighted to have 14 minutes to discuss the story in depth:

This, FYI, is how Amy described the show (and, for those interested, a transcript of the interview has now been made available on the Democracy Now! website):

The whistleblowing website WikiLeaks has begun releasing thousands of secret documents from the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay that reveal the Bush and Obama administrations knowingly imprisoned more than 150 innocent men for years without charge. In dozens of cases, senior U.S. commanders were said to have concluded that there was no reason for the men to have been transferred to Guantánamo. Among the innocent prisoners were an 89-year-old Afghan villager and a 14-year-old boy who had been kidnapped. Some men were imprisoned at Guantánamo simply because they wore a popular model of Casio watches, which had been used as timers by al-Qaeda. The documents also reveal that the journalist Sami al-Hajj was held at Guantánamo for six years partly in order to be interrogated about his employer, the Al Jazeera network. Al-Hajj’s file said he was sent to Guantánamo in order to “provide information on … the Al-Jazeera news network’s training programme, telecommunications equipment, and newsgathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo and Afghanistan.” For more, we speak with journalist Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison.

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, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). 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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), 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.

WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Guantánamo Files, Exposes Detention Policy as a Construct of Lies

Well, the cat is now out of the bag, and Guantánamo will, hopefully, be closer to closure — and the lies that powerful Americans tell about it will, hopefully, be closer to silence — as a result. For the last few weeks, I’ve been working as a media partner with WikiLeaks, along with the Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, El Pais, the Daily Telegraph, Der Spiegel, Le Monde, Aftonbladet, La Repubblica and L’Espresso, navigating thousands of previously unseen documents about Guantánamo that were made available to the whistleblowing website last year, allegedly by Pfc Bradley Manning, who has been imprisoned for nearly a year by the US government, awaiting a trial.

With the release date of the project brought forward unexpectedly, the files — profiles of nearly all of the 779 prisoners who have been held at Guantánamo, compiled by the Joint Task Force responsible for running the prison and known as Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) — have begun to be made available on WikiLeaks’ website, accompanied by an article that I wrote introducing them, and offering a first attempt to indicate their importance — both in what they hide and what they reveal — along with a guide to how to read them.

Needless to say, there will be much more analysis in the days and weeks to come, but for now I hope you enjoy my explanation, cross-posted below, which is borne of five years of research and writing about Guantánamo, filtered through a careful analysis of JTF-GTMO’s compromised and compromising cache of documents, which, as I explain, constitutes “the anatomy of a colossal crime perpetrated by the US government on 779 prisoners who, for the most part, are not and never have been the terrorists the government would like us to believe they are.”

WikiLeaks Reveals Secret Files on All Guantánamo Prisoners
By Andy Worthington, WikiLeaks, April 24, 2011

In its latest release of classified US documents, WikiLeaks is shining the light of truth on a notorious icon of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” — the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which opened on January 11, 2002, and remains open under President Obama, despite his promise to close the much-criticized facility within a year of taking office.

In thousands of pages of documents dating from 2002 to 2008 and never seen before by members of the public or the media, the cases of the majority of the prisoners held at Guantánamo — 765 out of 779 in total — are described in detail in memoranda from JTF-GTMO, the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo Bay, to US Southern Command in Miami, Florida, known as Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs).

These memoranda, which contain JTF-GTMO’s recommendations about whether the prisoners in question should continue to be held, or should be released (transferred to their home governments, or to other governments) contain a wealth of important and previously undisclosed information, including health assessments, for example, and, in the cases of the majority of the 172 prisoners who are still held, photos (mostly for the first time ever).

They also include information on the first 201 prisoners released from the prison, between 2002 and 2004, which, unlike information on the rest of the prisoners (summaries of evidence and tribunal transcripts, released as the result of a lawsuit filed by media groups in 2006), has never been made public before. Most of these documents reveal accounts of incompetence familiar to those who have studied Guantánamo closely, with innocent men detained by mistake (or because the US was offering substantial bounties to its allies for al-Qaeda or Taliban suspects), and numerous insignificant Taliban conscripts from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Beyond these previously unknown cases, the documents also reveal stories of the 399 other prisoners released from September 2004 to the present day, and of the seven men who have died at the prison.

The memos are signed by the commander of Guantánamo at the time, and describe whether the prisoners in question are regarded as low, medium or high risk. Although they were obviously not conclusive in and of themselves, as final decisions about the disposition of prisoners were taken at a higher level, they represent not only the opinions of JTF-GTMO, but also the Criminal Investigation Task Force, created by the Department of Defense to conduct interrogations in the “War on Terror,” and the BSCTs, the behavioral science teams consisting of psychologists who had a major say in the “exploitation” of prisoners in interrogation.

Crucially, the files also contain detailed explanations of the supposed intelligence used to justify the prisoners’ detention. For many readers, these will be the most fascinating sections of the documents, as they seem to offer an extraordinary insight into the workings of US intelligence, but although many of the documents appear to promise proof of prisoners’ association with al-Qaeda or other terrorist organizations, extreme caution is required.

The documents draw on the testimony of witnesses — in most cases, the prisoners’ fellow prisoners — whose words are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion (sometimes not in Guantánamo, but in secret prisons run by the CIA), or because they provided false statements to secure better treatment in Guantánamo.

Regular appearances throughout these documents by witnesses whose words should be regarded as untrustworthy include the following “high-value detainees” or “ghost prisoners.” Please note that “ISN” and the numbers in brackets following the prisoners’ names refer to the short “Internment Serial Numbers” by which the prisoners are identified in US custody:

Abu Zubaydah (ISN 10016), the supposed “high-value detainee” seized in Pakistan in March 2002, who spent four and a half years in secret CIA prisons, including facilities in Thailand and Poland. Subjected to waterboarding, a form of controlled drowning, on 83 occasions in CIA custody in August 2002, Abu Zubaydah was moved to Guantánamo with 13 other “high-value detainees” in September 2006.

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (ISN 212), the emir of a military training camp for which Abu Zubaydah was the gatekeeper, who, despite having his camp closed by the Taliban in 2000, because he refused to allow it to be taken over by al-Qaeda, is described in these documents as Osama bin Laden’s military commander in Tora Bora. Soon after his capture in December 2001, al-Libi was rendered by the CIA to Egypt, where, under torture, he falsely confessed that al-Qaeda operatives had been meeting with Saddam Hussein to discuss obtaining chemical and biological weapons. Al-Libi recanted this particular lie, but it was nevertheless used by the Bush administration to justify the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Al-Libi was never sent to Guantánamo, although at some point, probably in 2006, the CIA sent him back to Libya, where he was imprisoned, and where he died, allegedly by committing suicide, in May 2009.

Sharqawi Abdu Ali al-Hajj (ISN 1457), a Yemeni, also known as Riyadh the Facilitator, who was seized in a house raid in Pakistan in February 2002, and is described as “an al-Qaeda facilitator.” After his capture, he was transferred to a torture prison in Jordan run on behalf of the CIA, where he was held for nearly two years, and was then held for six months in US facilities in Afghanistan. He was flown to Guantánamo in September 2004.

Sanad Yislam al-Kazimi (ISN 1453), a Yemeni, who was seized in the UAE in January 2003, and then held in three secret prisons, including the “Dark Prison” near Kabul and a secret facility within the US prison at Bagram airbase. In February 2010, in the District Court in Washington D.C., Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. granted the habeas corpus petition of a Yemeni prisoner, Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, largely because he refused to accept testimony produced by either Sharqawi al-Hajj or Sanad al-Kazimi. As he stated, “The Court will not rely on the statements of Hajj or Kazimi becasue there is unrebutted evidence in the record that, at the time of the interrogations at which they made the statements, both men had recently been tortured.”

Others include Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (ISN 10012) and Walid bin Attash (ISN 10014), two more of the “high-value detainees” transferred into Guantánamo in September 2006, after being held in secret CIA prisons.

Other unreliable witnesses, held at Guantánamo throughout their detention, include:

Yasim Basardah (ISN 252), a Yemeni known as a notorious liar. As the Washington Post reported in February 2009, he was given preferential treatment in Guantánamo after becoming what some officials regarded as a significant informant, although there were many reasons to be doubtful. As the Post noted, “military officials … expressed reservations about the credibility of their star witness since 2004,” and in 2006, in an article for the National Journal, Corine Hegland described how, after a Combatant Status Review Tribunal at which a prisoner had taken exception to information provided by Basardah, placing him at a training camp before he had even arrived in Afghanistan, his personal representative (a military official assigned instead of a lawyer) investigated Basardah’s file, and found that he had made similar claims against 60 other prisoners. In January 2009, in the District Court in Washington D.C., Judge Richard Leon (an appointee of George W. Bush) excluded Basardah’s statements while granting the habeas corpus petition of Mohammed El-Gharani, a Chadian national who was just 14 years old when he was seized in a raid on a mosque in Pakistan. Judge Leon noted that the government had “specifically cautioned against relying on his statements without independent corroboration,” and in other habeas cases that followed, other judges relied on this precedent, discrediting the “star witness” stlll further.

Mohammed al-Qahtani (ISN 063), a Saudi regarded as the planned 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, was subjected to a specific torture program at Guantánamo, approved by defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld. This consisted of 20-hour interrogations every day, over a period of several months, and various other “enhanced interrogation techniques,” which severely endangered his health. Variations of these techniques then migrated to other prisoners in Guantánamo (and to Abu Ghraib), and in January 2009, just before George W. Bush left office, Susan Crawford, a retired judge and a close friend of Dick Cheney and David Addington, who was appointed to oversee the military commissions at Guantánamo as the convening authority, told Bob Woodward that she had refused to press charges against al-Qahtani, because, as she said, “We tortured Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture.” As a result, his numerous statements about other prisoners must be regarded as worthless.

Abd al-Hakim Bukhari (ISN 493), a Saudi imprisoned by al-Qaeda as a spy, who was liberated by US forces from a Taliban jail before being sent, inexplicably, to Guantánamo (along with four other men liberated from the jail) is regarded in the files as a member of al-Qaeda, and a trustworthy witness.

Abd al-Rahim Janko (ISN 489), a Syrian Kurd, tortured by al-Qaeda as a spy and then imprisoned by the Taliban along with Abd al-Hakim Bukhari, above, is also used as a witness, even though he was mentally unstable. As his assessment in June 2008 stated, “Detainee is on a list of high-risk detainees from a health perspective … He has several chronic medical problems. He has a psychiatric history of substance abuse, depression, borderline personality disorder, and prior suicide attempt for which he is followed by behavioral health for treatment.”

These are just some of the most obvious cases, but alert readers will notice that they are cited repeatedly in what purports to be the government’s evidence, and it should, as a result, be difficult not to conclude that the entire edifice constructed by the government is fundamentally unsound, and that what the Guantánamo Files reveal, primarily, is that only a few dozen prisoners are genuinely accused of involvement in terrorism.

The rest, these documents reveal on close inspection, were either innocent men and boys, seized by mistake, or Taliban foot soldiers, unconnected to terrorism. Moreover, many of these prisoners were actually sold to US forces, who were offering bounty payments for al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects, by their Afghan and Pakistani allies — a policy that led ex-President Musharraf to state, in his 2006 memoir, In the Line of Fire, that, in return for handing over 369 terror suspects to the US, the Pakistani government “earned bounty payments totaling millions of dollars.”

Uncomfortable facts like these are not revealed in the deliberations of the Joint Task Force, but they are crucial to understanding why what can appear to be a collection of documents confirming the government’s scaremongering rhetoric about Guantánamo — the same rhetoric that has paralyzed President Obama, and revived the politics of fear in Congress —  is actually the opposite: the anatomy of a colossal crime perpetrated by the US government on 779 prisoners who, for the most part, are not and never have been the terrorists the government would like us to believe they are.

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, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). 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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), 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.

The Roots of Revolution in Syria: The Sad Tale of Tal Al-Mallouhi, A Girl Imprisoned for Blogging

Since protestors first braved the wrath of Syria’s security services five weeks ago, first on a “Day of Rage,” and then to demand the release of political prisoners, I have tried to keep a close eye on the Syrian people’s attempts to emulate their neighbors in Tunisia and Egypt, where the revolutionary impulses sweeping the Middle East first manifested themselves to devastating effect in January and February.

After those first protests in Damascus — by human rights activists, and the relatives of political prisoners, many of them Kurdish — protests erupted across the country, and have continued ever since, despite an often brutal response by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. By Independence Day last Sunday, when there were renewed protests, around 200 people had been killed, and on Friday, the bloodiest day to date led to the deaths of at least 76 more, and possibly over a hundred, revealing that, despite al-Assad’s recent concessions — finally lifting the state of emergency, in place since 1963, abolishing the security court, and appointing new governors in Latakia, Homs and Deraa — nothing can prevent the calls for regime change from increasing.

As the Observer reported:

Protesters have responded [to the concessions] with a new round of chants. “We want the toppling of the regime,” said a resident of Ezraa, a small southern town that saw one of the highest death tolls on Friday. “The blood of our martyrs makes this our responsibility now.”

Two members of Syria’s parliament from Deraa, where violence first flared a month ago, also resigned in protest. The first, Nasser al-Hariri, told al-Jazeera Arabic TV, “I can’t protect my people when they get shot at, so I resign from parliament,” and he was followed, just minutes later, by Khalil al-Rifae, also from Deraa, who resigned while the TV cameras were still present.

Anyone in doubt that the Ba’athist regime in Syria is a monstrous violator of human rights should recall how the government has responded to dissent, both through the violent suppression of protest, and the imprisonment and torture of political prisoners.

In March, speaking of the former, Nadim Houry, a Human Rights Watch researcher based in Lebanon, told Al-Jazeera, “The groups who have mobilized in the past in Syria for any kind of popular protest have paid a very heavy price — Kurds back in 2004 when they had their uprising in Qamishli and Islamists in the early 1980s, notably in the Massacre of Hama, in February 1982.” As I added, “On that dreadful occasion, the Syrian army bombarded the town of Hama to suppress a revolt by the Muslim Brotherhood, and murdered at least 20,000 people, and possibly as many as 40,000, in an act described by the author Robin Wright as being possibly ‘the single deadliest act by any Arab government against its own people in the modern Middle East.'”

Regarding torture, I described Syria’s role as a venue for receiving “terror suspects” seized in the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” — in which Canada was also complicit — for a major UN report on secret detention that was published last year (PDF, and see here for a cross-post of the section that features Syria). This was only the most recent manifestation of a dire problem that has plagued the Syrian people for decades, examples of which can be found in the 1995 Amnesty International report, “Syria: Repression and impunity: the forgotten victims,” the 2001 report, “Syria: Torture, despair and dehumanization in Tadmur Military Prison” (PDF) a 2007 report on the arbitrary nature of sentences handed down by the Supreme State Security Court (PDF), and this report (a briefing to the UN Committee Against Torture) from 2010.

To specifically highlight the current situation in Syria, I wanted to draw readers’ attention to one event out of many that perfectly captures the repressive nature of life in Syria and the reasons why it is legitimate to regard regime change as the only viable way out of brutal, institutionlaized repression: a profile of teenage blogger Tal al-Mallouhi, who has been imprisoned for the last 16 months, and is serving a five-year sentence in solitary confinement, simply for writing a blog that expressed a teenage girl’s generalized aspirations for fairness and justice in the world. The article was written for Al-Jazeera by Michele Zackheim, a member of the Freedom to Write Committee of the PEN American Center.

Syria’s teenaged prisoners of conscience
By Michele Zackheim, Al-Jazeera, April 15, 2011

The youngest known convicted prisoner of conscience in the world is a Syrian citizen. Her name is Tal al-Mallouhi, and she has been in prison since she was seventeen years old.

And now, [sixteen months] later, it is horrifyingly obvious that Syria does not have a problem sweeping up schoolchildren and traumatising them for life.

Three weeks ago in Daraa, a fifteen-year-old, a sixteen-year-old, and thirty-eight children who are ten years old were forcibly hauled from their classrooms. They were taken to a notorious military intelligence detention centre called the Palestine Branch [aka Far Falestin].

There was news of their release, but their families have stated that the news was false. And that is not all. Last week fifteen teenagers were arrested for writing anti-government graffiti on walls in Daraa.

“The people want the fall of the regime!” they wrote. They are accused of being solely responsible for igniting the turmoil in their city.

Then, in Madaya, a suburb of Damascus, the capital, four seventeen-year-olds, were arrested for spraying anti-government graffiti. They were handcuffed and taken from their classrooms. Their whereabouts are unknown.

‘A drop in the cloud’

Will these children be the newest prisoners of conscience? To provide some context, Tal al-Mallouhi’s story must be told.

On December 27, 2009, she was forced from her home by Syrian state security officials.

“She was detained,” an anonymous Syrian official said, “On the accusation of spying for a foreign country.”

Another official said, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, “She was accused of espionage and sending information to the American embassy in Egypt through her blog.”

What kind of information can a seventeen-year-old girl send a foreign government through a blog? What Tal had done, in fact, was to post poems and essays that focused on the suffering of the Palestinians, restrictions on freedom of expression, and her hope for peace in the Middle East.

Here is an illustration of Tal’s poetry:

You Will Remain an Example
(In reference to Gandhi)

I will walk with all walking people
And no
I will not stand still
Just to watch the passers by

This is my Homeland
In which
I have
A palm tree
A drop in the cloud
And a grave to protect me

Two days after Mallouhi’s arrest, state security officers raided her family’s home in Homs, about a hundred miles north of Damascus. Her computer, computer disks, notebooks, personal documents, and a mobile phone were confiscated.

Detention and diplomacy

Parents of teenagers often feel anxious when their children step out the door. But in Tal’s case, she did not even leave her house.

From the safety of her bedroom, through her blog, talmallohi.blogspot.com [in Arabic], she unintentionally created an international incident. She was dragged off to a Damascus detention centre, held incommunicado for nine months, and never charged with a crime.

After a futile attempt to see her daughter at the centre, Mallouhi’s mother, Ahed al-Mallouhi, was left in despair. She was confused and distressed, didn’t watch where she was going, and was hit by a car.

For two months she was hospitalised with serious injuries. “I’m going crazy,” she said. “I have had chronic insomnia since my daughter’s arrest. I survive on sleeping pills.”

The al-Mallouhis are a well-known Syrian family. The blogger’s grandfather, Mohammad Dia al-Mallouhi, served as the minister of state for the People’s Assembly and was also a minister under the late president Hafez al-Assad.

Her parents begged the media and human rights organisations not to interfere, as they were attempting to seek their daughter’s release through private and diplomatic negotiations.

Prisoner of conscience

On September 1, 2010, increasingly anxious that her daughter was being tortured, Mallouhi’s mother sent a direct appeal to the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad: “I plead with you to save my daughter’s life. I am not able to describe the disaster that has befallen our entire family and the amount of suffering we are going through.”

She did not mention in the letter that Mallouhi suffers from tachycardia, an abnormally accelerated heart rate that can cause a drop in blood pressure and deprive organs and tissues of oxygen.

A month later, on September 30, 2010, family members were allowed their first visit with Mallouhi at Doma Women’s Prison, some twelve miles northwest of Damascus. Dosar al-Mallouhi, her father, reported that they found her in good health. Her mother did not comment.

Almost two weeks after the visit to the prison, Tal al-Mallouhi, chained and blindfolded, was brought before the Damascus state security court in a closed session.

She was accused of “divulging information to a foreign state,” which meant high treason. The court did not offer any evidence or disclose any details of the reason for her arrest. No lawyers for the defence were present in court. Her parents were not allowed to attend.

Tal al-Mallouhi was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. The verdict of the state security court is final and cannot be challenged. The schoolgirl, Tal, is in solitary confinement. She is not allowed visitors, even from her family or a lawyer.

Philip J. Crowley, former US assistant secretary of state for public affairs, wrote:

The United States strongly condemns Syria’s secret trial of blogger Tal Al-Mallouhi, calls for her immediate release, and rejects as baseless allegations of American connections that have resulted in a spurious accusation of espionage. We call on the Syrian government to immediately release all its prisoners of conscience; and allow its citizens freedom to exercise their universal rights of expression and association without fear of retribution from their own government.

But most human rights organisations have made the decision not to make contact with her family. They are afraid that state security will use this as an excuse to have other family members arrested.

Since the government has not convinced anyone that Mallouhi is a spy, these organisations fear that the Syrian government is searching for any clue or misstep they can find to support their case.

Now that the cameras of the world are focusing on Syria, the families of the children in Daraa and Madaya are throwing caution to the wind.

They are risking the fury of the government by demonstrating, by demanding the release of their children. Will Tal’s parents join the challenge to president Bashar Assad? Will the young poet’s case be revisited? How will the outrage of the world affect this new and most appalling assault on children?

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, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). 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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), 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 Guantánamo Prisoner Khaled Ben Mustapha Interviewed by Cageprisoners

I’m delighted to cross-post below an interview with Khaled Ben Mustapha, one of seven French citizens held at Guantánamo, who was released in March 2005, and who recently spoke to Arnaud Mafille, an intern for Cageprisoners. This is a fascinating interview for a number of reasons; primarily, because of Ben Mustapha’s reflections on his time in Afghanistan, on how he and others were sold to US forces, and on Guantánamo as part of a war on Islam, and also for his explanations of how he and the other French ex-prisoners have been treated in France.

I also found it particularly noteworthy that he described the “enhanced interrogation techniques” to which he was subjected at Guantánamo, including the use of extremely loud music, and his imprisonment in freezing cold cells. This was reported many years ago, but it is useful to have it revived, so that readers may appreciate that this kind of treatment — as well as the use of isolation, sleep deprivation and shackling in painful positions — was part of a regime to which over a hundred of the prisoners at Guantánamo were subjected, as part of a “softening up” process for interrogation. This was identical in intent to what took place at Abu Ghraib, although the techniques used were much more focused at Guantánamo.

Cageprisoners interview with French former Guantánamo detainee Khaled Ben Mustapha
By Arnaud Mafille, Cageprisoners, April 13, 2011

Cageprisoners: Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: My name is Khaled Ben Mustapha. I am a 40-year old French national.

Cageprisoners: You were arrested at the Afghani border. During your trial, you declared that you were “neither a tourist nor a terrorist”. What led you to Afghanistan?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: I decided to go to Afghanistan in order to live under shari’ah. At that time, I judged that the Taliban represented an Islamic state. My approach was to see with my own eyes what an Islamic state was, bearing in mind that I am convinced that Muslims should live under the Muslim command, the Law of God.

Cageprisoners: Was what you found there in accordance with your expectations?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: I arrived in Afghanistan in August 2001, just a month before 9/11. Praise be to God, it was completely different from what could be watched on television, listened to on the radio or read in the newspapers. Indeed, it was a poor country. However, people were not the unfortunate creatures described. I discovered a pleasant Muslim atmosphere. The local inhabitants honoured us. They used to honour Arabs because they knew that we emigrated towards them. The welcoming was nice, so was their behaviour. There was no problem. I was in Jalalabad. I travelled around. I went to Kabul and Kandahar. Then, the 9/11 attacks occurred.

Cageprisoners: You were arrested soon after. Could you describe for us the circumstances of your arrest?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: I was arrested in December 2001, not in Afghanistan but in Pakistan. We left Afghanistan to enter into Pakistan and eventually to go back home because we could not stay in the country anymore. We were arrested by the Pakistani army. They first told us: “We are just going to check your identity”. But they threw us in prison, handcuffed and shackled. They called the Americans over to interrogate us. We were tortured in Pakistan.

Cageprisoners: Were you tortured by the Americans or by the Pakistani army?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: In Pakistan, it was by the Pakistanis under the American authority. It was under their presence. I stayed there for a week. Then, I was taken to an airport and transferred to the Americans. We were put in a plane and taken to the American base of Kandahar.

Cageprisoners: Is it at that time that you were sold to the Americans by the Pakistanis?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: Yes. The Pakistanis sold us. When I say “sold”, it literally means “sold”. There was a financial transaction. Many among us saw cash flowing from the Americans to the Pakistanis. Each time they would hand over a person, the counter part was money.

Cageprisoners: Then, were you transferred to Guantánamo?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: I stayed a month and a half in Kandahar camp. We were tortured during a month and a half. I was personally transferred to Guantánamo in mid-February 2002.

Cageprisoners: What were the conditions of this transfer?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: Very harsh. We were in planes, chained, blindfolded with masks on our mouths and anti-noise headphones. Our flight must have lasted 20 hours from Afghanistan to Cuba. We stopped somewhere but we do not know where it was. During the whole trip, we were beaten up. We were kicked, beaten with a stick…

Cageprisoners: Did you know the Guantánamo camp and what were you expecting at that moment?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: We knew that we were taken to the island of Cuba. We were told by the Red Cross just before. We knew that we would not be there just for a week or two. We knew that it would be long and difficult. In Cuba, the welcoming was … Torture carried on, probably until today for those who are still over there.

Cageprisoners: Did you have any contact with your family?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: No contact. The only contact we had was through the letters that we were given by the Red Cross. However, these letters were redacted. Many paragraphs were blacked out. We had almost no information. We did not know what was going on.

Cageprisoners: What did the Americans question you about?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: The Americans dearly wanted us to say that we were terrorists, that we were Al Qaeda members and that we knew Osama Bin Laden. “Where is Bin Laden?” Questions were always the same … Each time our answers were not good to them, they would torture us …

Cageprisoners: Were you accused of anything specifically?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: No. No precise charges. Questions were very broad. “What did we do there?” I answered them that I was willing to live under shari’ah, that living with the Taliban did not bother me and that they did not harm me in any way whatsoever. It needs to be known that the Americans called over the secret services from all over the world in order to interrogate the GITMO detainees. During the four years I spent over there, several secret services from different countries came to question pretty much everybody. We could be interrogated by anybody. For sure, I was interrogated by the Americans. I was also interrogated by the French. The French came several times in order to interrogate us under the American torture. They wanted us to denounce people in France. The British used to interrogate the British but they used to interrogate everybody. I was also questioned by people with an accent. They were neither English nor American. All the services could interrogate whomever they wanted. For sure, the Mossad was part of the delegation.

Cageprisoners: Were you interrogated by the Tunisian services?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: They came and interrogated all the Tunisian nationals, threatening them with torture when they would be back in Tunisia. That was at the time of the tyrant Ben Ali.

Cageprisoners: To summarise, you were interrogated by the Americans, the French …

Khaled Ben Mustapha: And many other interrogators with different accents in English. But I do not have any means to know what nationality they were exactly. It is simple. I spent four years of interrogations. That is what needs to be understood. Four years of non-stop interrogations. Four years …

Cageprisoners: What were the conditions of these interrogations?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: It depended on people … If they were not satisfied, they would torture us in different ways. There was physical torture. There was psychological torture; they would not allow us to sleep, rooms would be highly refrigerated. It was very cold. They would fill the room with noise using very big speakers. The volume of the music was extremely high. We were deprived of many things. We had almost nothing. The only thing I had was a “short”. I was put in a room for months and all I had was a “short”. I had nothing. No blanket, no towel. There was no hygiene. Torture was very harsh.

Cageprisoners: You have pretty much answered my next question which was the following one: You are the first French GITMO ex-detainee to lodge a complaint for “torture and act of barbaric acts”. What kind of abuse led you to take this action? What is the result of this action?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: We lodged a complaint in France for “kidnapping, torture and barbaric acts”. At the beginning they rejected our action. We insisted and the complaint was accepted. A judiciary procedure has been opened. The inquiry is taking place. We understand that it will be a very long process …

Cageprisoners: Do you think that the investigation will be conducted objectively?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: It would be very difficult for the judge to do otherwise … All the elements he has are pointing towards the same direction. There are Amnesty International reports, other Human Rights defence organisations’ reports from all around the world, UN reports and our declarations. It is difficult to deny.

Cageprisoners: Despite the attempt to dehumanise you, do you think that your experience has helped you to become a better human being?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: Praise be to God in all circumstances. I always knew that I was on the straight path. I have not harmed anybody. I have never been reproached with that, neither in France nor in the US. Praise be to God, we have not threatened anybody, we have not endangered anybody’s life. What we are reproached with is our ideology. What we are reproached with is to love Islam to the extent of being willing to live under Islamic laws. Praise be to God, it strengthened me. I am convinced that we need to live under shari’ah, in the country into which we want to live, freely. I came out extremely weakened, which is normal, but much more convinced that I was on the straight path and that those facing me did not inspire me trust.

Cageprisoners: What relation do you have with the “human being”? Have you been disgusted?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: Not at all, a Muslim is objective and clear. We have never had any hatred towards anybody whatsoever, Muslim or non Muslim. It has not affected my daily life. I have a job; I still have the same neighbours. However, it has strengthened me in my thought and in my religion. I know that war is declared against Islam and not against us specifically.

Cageprisoners: What was the attitude of the French government towards you while you were incarcerated in Guantánamo?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: The French were accomplices of the Americans, like other states. They took advantage of their system to interrogate us. They took advantage of the lawlessness in that part of the world. They are still taking advantage of it. Ten years later, they are still accusing and judging us. They have prosecuted us several times but they have lost very often. Until today, there is still no clear accusations. But they keep on calling us “terrorists”. The evidence that they are not truthful is that we are free. We work, we have a family … We live like anybody. If we were terrorists, they would not let us free.

Cageprisoners: Did the French witness the torture of which you were victims?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: The French investigators came to interrogate us under the American torture. They were witnesses and accomplices.

Cageprisoners: Afterwards, you were cleared and released by the American authorities. What happened to you then?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: They made an arrangement with the French authorities so that they can come and repatriate us. Hence, a French military plane came. As soon as we arrived in France, we were jailed, straight away.

Cageprisoners: Were you placed under a special regime in prison?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: Not at all. We were with the ordinary prisoners. We were respected. There was no problem. We had a lot of respect from the other detainees.

Cageprisoners: In 2007, you were convicted of “criminal association in relation to a terrorist enterprise”. You were sentenced to a year of imprisonment. However, this period was covered by the time you had already spent in jail waiting for your trial and you, therefore, left the court free. Why did you appeal this decision?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: We appealed the decision simply because we disagree with the fact of being judged as terrorists while we are not. It was unacceptable to be labelled as terrorists while we were not reproached with any terrorist acts. We were sentenced formally only. Even a five-year old child could understand that. We were sentenced to a year in prison. A terrorist is not sentenced to a year in prison. He is sentenced to 20 years. There is no “half-way measure”. Either you are a terrorist and you stay in jail, or you are not and you come out. Therefore, we appealed and we won. They realised that there were a lot of mistakes which were harmful to us, so we were proven to be right.

Cageprisoners: That was in 2009.The Court of Appeal confirmed your allegations and affirmed that your right to defence were violated. Could you explain it to us in more detail?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: There was a violation of our right to defence in the sense that the French investigators took advantage of the lawlessness in Guantánamo to interrogate us, which is forbidden in French law. They did not have the right to interrogate us outside a legal procedure. There was not any legal procedure whatsoever against us when we were interrogated. They took advantage of the situation that was prevailing in Guantánamo to collect as many pieces of information as possible under that American torture. They secretly introduced these pieces of information in the case file to utilise them afterwards when the investigation was opened. Here was the violation of our rights. But the French government is overproud. They decided to take the case to a higher court (the Court of Cassation).

Cageprisoners: Very recently, WikiLeaks has released several diplomatic cables in relation with French Gitmo ex-detainees. In one of them, one of the advisors of the Minister of State confessed that the French anti-terrorism legislation required mainly allegations rather than evidence. What is your reaction?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: We knew it because we were at the very heart of the procedure. We know what happened. We were facing the investigating judge. There was no evidence whatsoever. In the media, we were labelled as terrorists but the most shocking is that the anti-terrorist judge Jean-Louis Bruguière and his accomplice Jean-François Ricard cheated. They used to go secretly to the American embassy to give and take pieces of information about us. They stated clearly in the WikiLeaks cables that there was no evidence against us. They had nothing against us. That is the reason why we were sentenced to one year and not ten years.

Cageprisoners: Do you feel that there is a will to condemn you at any cost?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: Yes! It is clear since the beginning. There is an obvious fierceness to condemn us. But we will not stay passive. We will defend ourselves as much as we can.

Cageprisoners: Why is that?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: It is very simple. In France, everything is condemned. Hijab is condemned, niqab is condemned, people who pray outside due to the lack of space are condemned, halal food is condemned. In France, everything that is Muslim-related is condemned. It is not simply terrorism. You just have to watch television to see that in France everything that is linked with Islam is condemned.

Cageprisoners: Recently, the Court of Cassation overturned this decision and you are to be judged again. Why is that and what sentence do you face?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: We were judged a third time before a Court of Appeal. We are expecting the verdict in March, God willing. We do not risk a lot. They can confirm the one-year sentence that we have already served. In reality, the French realised that they have made a grave mistake. They want to find an arrangement to save face. They say: “We do not send you back to prison but we say that the year you spent there is fine”. But it does not work with us. We will not disgrace ourselves to please them.

Cageprisoners: Was it said to you explicitly?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: It was implied but since we do not agree, they persist. But we will not give up, God willing. If they condemn us, we will go before the Court of Cassation. If we lose there, we will go before the European Court of Human Rights, God willing. The story is not over yet, God willing, even if it has to take ten years.

Cageprisoners: Do you think that the concept of justice is being abandoned in France?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: French justice is known. When the “judicial machinery” makes a mistake, it hardly reverses. It is a recorded fact. It is arrogance. Whoever says that there is justice in France says so because he has not tasted injustice yet. Our case is a pure injustice.

Cageprisoners: What kind of life do you live now?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: Praise be to God, I live with my family, I have got children, I work just like anybody. I take part in the economic, professional and social daily life. Praise be to God, my life has not changed. Life goes on.

Cageprisoners: How are you treated by people in general?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: Reactions are mixed. Some people understand that we have been the victims of an injustice. Some others are shocked and believe what is said on television. It is mixed. Many among the Muslims have also stopped believing American lies. We have seen it with Iraq and Afghanistan. They cannot lie to people anymore, we perfectly know the truth.

Cageprisoners: Do you think that an awakening is taking place?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: Of course. As a specific category of people is constantly targeted, i.e the Muslim community, at a certain point, even people who do not pay attention will realise that they are told lies.

Cageprisoners: What message would you like to address to our readers?

Khaled Ben Mustapha: I request them not to forget those who are still over there. We went through it but we have started a normal life again. We should really worry for those who are still there. We must not forget them in our invocations. We must absolutely not stop the positive actions that will be successful, God willing, and will close Guantánamo camp. We must remember that Guantánamo is not only in Cuba. There are Guantánamo camps all around the world. In Iraq, there is Guantánamo. In Afghanistan, there are Guantánamo camps. In Pakistan, there are Guantánamo camps. Guantánamo is everywhere. There are American secret prisons. We all know that Muslims are in there. We must not forget them in our invocations nor in the actions we take to denounce this injustice. We have to do everything possible to free our brothers in Guantánamo. We do not want for them a “prison of substitution” as they try to suggest. They need to go back home. There are people who were freed three years ago but they still have not seen their families. They were sent thousands of kilometres away from their place and they still have not seen their children, mothers and fathers. Is that freedom? Everybody is innocent in Guantánamo, that is known. Guantánamo was created to make people believe that we were guilty. Eventually, praise be to God, we are all innocents.

Cageprisoners: That was my last question. BarakAllahou fik.

Khaled Ben Mustapha: May Allah reward you for your work.

Note: The French Court of Appeal recently reconfirmed the sentence of the French Guantánamo detainees.

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, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). 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, on tour in the UK throughout 2011, and available on DVD here — or here for the US), 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, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

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Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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