Last month, the third anniversary of Boumediene v. Bush (on June 12) passed without mention. This was a great shame, not only because it was a powerful ruling, granting the Guantánamo prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights, but also because, after that bold intervention, which led to the release of 26 prisoners who subsequently won their habeas corpus petitions, the prisoners at Guantánamo have once more been abandoned by the courts.
The courts’ failure has come about largely because a number of judges in the D.C. Circuit Court, where appeals against the habeas rungs are filed, have revealed themselves to be at least as right-wing as the architects of the “War on Terror” in the Bush administration. Led by Judge A. Raymond Randolph, whose previous claim to fame on national security issues was that he supported every piece of Guantánamo-related legislation that was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court, the Circuit Court has, in the last year, succeeded in gutting habeas corpus of all meaning, when its relief is sought by any of the 171 men still held at Guantánamo.
Throughout this year, I have followed, with despair, the Circuit Court’s rulings, which are distressing on two fronts: firstly, because judges have whittled away at the lower courts’ demands that the government establish its case “by a preponderance of the evidence,” which is a very low standard in the first place; and secondly, because the Circuit Court has reinforced the misconception at the heart of the “War on Terror,” almost delighting, it seems, in failing to acknowledge that soldiers are different from terrorists. Read the rest of this entry »
In an 11-minute interview with Russia Today (see below), former Guantánamo prisoner Murat Kurnaz recalled how he was seized in Pakistan in November 2001, and his experiences in US custody in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo. Born in Germany, but only regarded as a resident because his parents are Turkish, Kurnaz was released in August 2006, when Chancellor Angela Merkel made his case a priority after years of indifference by the German government.
I have met Murat Kurnaz (once, at the launch of his book, Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantánamo), and I also appeared once with him on Al-Jazeera (in 2008). I have also discussed his case, in my book The Guantánamo Files, and in my articles, Murat Kurnaz: Five Years in Guantánamo and Former Guantánamo detainees speak: Murat Kurnaz, Mamdouh Habib and Abdur Rahim Muslim Dost (in 2007), and in 2008 I reported his opinions about the deaths of three men at Guantánamo, in mysterious circumstances, on June 9, 2006, which the authorities described as a triple suicide. He is also mentioned in a UN report on secret detention that I worked on (which was published last year), and in a Human Rights Watch report on European complicity in torture, which I discussed last July. Read the rest of this entry »
Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening on January 11, 2012.
This is Part 10 of the 70-part series.
In late April, WikiLeaks released its latest treasure trove of classified US documents, a set of 765 Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) from the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Compiled between 2002 and January 2009 by the Joint Task Force that has primary responsibility for the detention and interrogation of the prisoners, these detailed military assessments therefore provided new information relating to the majority of the 779 prisoners held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba throughout its long and inglorious history, including, for the first time, information about 84 of the first 201 prisoners released, which had never been made available before.
Superficially, the Detainee Assessment Briefs appear to contain allegations against numerous prisoners which purport to prove how dangerous they are or were, but in reality the majority of these statements were made by the prisoners’ fellow prisoners, in Kandahar or Bagram in Afghanistan prior to their arrival at Guantánamo, in Guantánamo itself, or in the CIA’s secret prisons, and in all three environments, torture and abuse were rife.
I ran through some of the dubious witnesses responsible for so many of the claims against the prisoners in the introduction to Part One of this new series, and, while this is of enormous importance in the cases of many of the men still held (and also in the cases of some of those released), it is not particularly relevant to the overwhelmingly insignificant prisoners released between 2002 and September 2004, whose detention was so pointless that the authorities didn’t even bother trying to build cases against them through the testimony of their fellow prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »
With contested claims that the three-week long hunger strike in California’s prisons has come to an end (as I discussed in a recent article, The California Prison Hunger Strike Opposing Solitary Confinement as Torture — and the Insulting Response of Prison Officials), the horrendous human rights abuses in America’s prisons may once more slip off the radar, which would be a depressing development, as the hunger strike that began in Pelican Bay prison — and specifically in the Security Housing Units, where prisoners are held in solitary confinement, often for years and often for reasons that have nothing to do with them posing a threat to anyone or having engaged in violent behaviour — is highlighting a problem that is largely ignored in the mainstream US media.
That problem, in a nutshell, is that at least 100,000 prisoners in America’s prisons — both in “supermax” facilities and in other prisons — are held in long-term solitary confinement, which, to be blunt, is a form of torture.
In the hope of providing convincing information about this horrendous problem at the heart of America, I’m cross-posting below a wonderfully thorough article on the whole problem of solitary confinement that was written by Atul Gawande, a US surgeon and journalist, for the New Yorker in 2009. The article covers everything that need to be considered if — and it’s a big if — the American people want to step back from barbarity and address the fundamental problems with their approach to prison, in which far too many people are imprisoned, and far too many of those are being imprisoned inhumanely,subjected to isolation that is so damaging that the use of the word torture to describe it is not an exaggeration. Read the rest of this entry »
On Thursday July 21, as the widespread hunger strike in California’s prisons — primarily aimed at highlighting the abusive conditions in which prisoners are held in long-term solitary confinement in Security Housing Units (SHUs) — reached the three-week mark, Matthew Cate, the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), issued a deeply cynical press release announcing that inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison, where the strike began on July 1, had ended their hunger strike.
Claiming that the strike “was ordered by prison gang leaders, individuals responsible for terrible crimes against Californians,” and adding that hunger strikes “are a dangerous and ineffective way for prisoners to attempt to negotiate,” Cate claimed that inmates at Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit “stopped the strike on July 20 after they better understood CDCR’s plans, developed since January, to review and change some policies regarding SHU housing and gang management,” which “include providing cold-weather caps, wall calendars and some educational opportunities for SHU inmates.”
Reducing a widespread hunger strike against torture to a misunderstanding, remedied by granting prisoners a few trinkets, was deeply insulting, and the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition immediately responded, stating that the CDCR had “prematurely announced that the hunger strike is over,” and pointing out that “the prisoner-approved mediation team (which the hunger strike leaders have insisted participate in any negotiations) was not involved in this so-called resolution around the strike, and the CDCR has not fully announced what was agreed upon.” The Coalition added, pointedly, “Clearly the CDCR is more interested in improving their Public Relations image than addressing real issues of torture.” Read the rest of this entry »
On July 5, I received a press release from the Prison Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition in Oakland, California. Under the heading, “Prisoners Across at Least 6 California Prisons Join Pelican Bay Hunger Strikers: Strike Could Involve Thousands of Prisoners,” it read:
More than 100 hours into an indefinite hunger strike started at Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit, prisoners in at least 6 state prisons have joined in, with participation potentially growing into the thousands. Hunger strikers at Pelican Bay and other prisoners participating are protesting the conditions in the Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit (SHU).
Dozens of US-based and international human rights organizations have condemned Security Housing Units as having cruel, inhumane, and torturous conditions. SHU prisoners are kept in windowless, 6 by 10 foot cells, 23½ hours a day, for years at a time. The CDCR operates four Security Housing Units in its system at Corcoran, California Correctional Institution (CCI), Valley State Prison for Women (VSPW) as well as Pelican Bay. As of Tuesday morning [July 5], advocates had confirmed hunger strike participants at Corcoran and CCI, as well as Folsom, Centinela, and Calipatria State Prisons. Read the rest of this entry »
“Some issues,” the New York Times declared in an editorial on June 25, “require an unwavering stand. Preserving the role of law enforcement agencies in stopping and punishing terrorists is one of them. This country is not and should never be a place where the military dispenses justice, other than to its own.”
Fine words, indeed, although the Times itself has, over the last ten years, in common with most, if not all of the American establishment, failed to thoroughly and repeatedly condemn efforts, first by George W. Bush, and then by the Obama administration, to hold military trials for the mixed bag of soldiers and terrorist suspects held at Guantánamo.
This is where the rot set in, for which everyone in a position of authority, whether in politics or the media, bears responsibility. However, the failure to stem the poison flowing from this wound to the established order — in which terrorists are criminals, and soldiers are not terrorists — has led to an outrageous situation in which lawmakers (both Republicans and Democrats) have decided that the aberrations introduced by the Bush administration, which should, by now, have been thoroughly discredited, were, instead, just the first steps in the creation of an all-encompassing military state.
In this dystopian future, coming to America within months, if lawmakers are successful, anyone regarded as a terrorist must be held in military detention, where, it is planned, they may be subjected to abuse with impunity, and, if required, held forever without a trial and without any rights. Read the rest of this entry »
So here’s the moment that Rupert Murdoch was attacked with a pie (a plate of shaving foam) during his appearance at the House of Commons Culture Select Committee today, with his son James (photo via Twitter — click to enlarge). It was, to my mind, the only exciting moment in a frustrating day in which the elder Murdoch, who is now 80 years old, began by appearing — or genuinely being — bewildered, and out of touch with the running of his vast media empire, while, throughout, his son James appeared thoroughly cold and unmoved, even when apologizing for the activities of the News of the World‘s phone-hackers.
I have no idea whether Rupert Murdoch’s confused state was genuine or feigned, although it was noticeable that he gained composure as the hearing wore on, and began showing signs of his evident charisma. In the beginning, however, he either honestly confessed that he wasn’t really on top of the activities of his organization, or he produced a winning theatrical performance.
His blurted apology early on, interrupting his son to say, “This is the most humble day of my life,” was obviously aimed at the headlines, but it was horribly clumsy. As the Guardian‘s Julian Glover asked on Twitter, “Can someone who’s worked with Rupert in private tell us if he is always like this? Or is it just for special moments of public catastrophe?” Glover’s colleague Dan Sabbagh asked whether it would backfire on Murdoch Sr. when it came to the opinions of shareholders (in America in particular) about his ability to remain in charge of his company. “The great old man of newspapers looked hopelessly out of touch,” he said. “Who knows what a News Corp[oration] shareholder would have thought?” Read the rest of this entry »
It was odd, yesterday evening, to be watching the former News of the World journalist Sean Hoare discussing the Murdoch phone-hacking scandal in the BBC Panorama programme, “Murdoch: Breaking the Spell?,” on the day that he was found dead at his home in Watford. He was 47 years old.
The footage was from a programme first broadcast in March, “Tabloid Hacks Exposed,” and Sean Hoare, the News of the World‘s former showbusiness correspondent, was a hugely important presence in the programme, as it was he who had first spoken out about the “endemic” culture of phone-hacking at the News of the World for a New York Times investigation last September, when he had also stated that Andy Coulson, who, at the time, was David Cameron’s Director of Communications, had been deeply involved in phone-hacking, even though he was on record as claiming that he knew nothing about it.
The New York Times stated that Hoare, “a former reporter and onetime close friend of Coulson’s,” said that he had discussed hacking with Coulson:
The two men first worked together at the Sun, where, Hoare said, he played tape recordings of hacked messages for Coulson. At News of the World, Hoare said he continued to inform Coulson of his pursuits. Coulson “actively encouraged me to do it,” Hoare said. Read the rest of this entry »
As the heads continue to roll in the wake of the News of the World phone-hacking scandal — with Rebekah Brooks (the CEO of News International) and Les Hinton (the CEO of Dow Jones) both resigning from Murdoch’s fast-crumbling media empire, and Sir Paul Stephenson and his deputy John Yates from the embattled Metropolitan Police, just one of the three parties deeply implicated in this affair — the government itself — has so far refused to accept the implications of its deep involvement in the crooked behaviour of the News of the World and its parent company, News International.
This is all the more remarkable given David Cameron’s close relationship with not one but two editors of the News of the World, who were both in charge when the worst of the hacking took place — Rebekah Brooks, married to his close friend, the racehorse trainer (and former Etonian) Charlie Brooks, and Andy Coulson, who, of course, was the Prime Minister’s Director of Communications until January this year, Both Coulson and Brooks have, of course, spent time in police custody in the last week and a half.
In his desire not to be contaminated by his connections, David Cameron has been resorting to increasingly desperate behaviour, publicly abandoning Coulson, and generally denouncing the whole of Murdoch’s media empire as though he had not employed Coulson, and had not been close friends with Brooks. Read the rest of this entry »
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