Archive for July, 2011

WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Four of Ten)

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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 9 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 »

The Time is Right for Americans to Pay Attention to Human Rights Watch’s New Torture Report

Last Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released a new 107-page report, “Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees,” which is important, even though it is depressingly familiar to those of us who have been calling for accountability for the torturers of the Bush administration ever since evidence of their crimes became apparent — first with the Abu Ghraib scandal in April 2004, and, soon after, through the leaked memo seeking to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA, the first of two now notorious “torture memos” written by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, signed by Jay S. Bybee, his boss in the Office of legal Counsel, and dated August 1, 2002, which was leaked in the summer of 2004.

Seven years is a long time to wait for something — anything — resembling justice, and, of course, the Obama administration has been a thorough disappointment, allowing the damning conclusions of an ethics investigation into Yoo and Bybee’s shameful betrayal of the principles of the OLC (which is obliged to provide impartial legal advice to the Executive branch) to be whitewashed, raising “state secrets” as a blanket shield for any attempt to ask questions in court about the Bush administration’s torture program, and, most recently, deciding that just two cases of torture that exceeded the rules bent so cynically by John Yoo, and which led to the murder of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, would lead to possible prosecutions. Read the rest of this entry »

A Good Day for Justice: British Supreme Court Bans Use of Secret Evidence by Intelligence Services

In a triumph for the principles of open justice, and a snub to the Tory-led coalition government, the British Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Wednesday that the government and the intelligence agencies cannot use secret evidence in court to prevent open discussion of allegations that prisoners were subjected to torture.

The appeal, by lawyers for MI5 — but with the explicit backing of the government — sought to overturn a ruling in the Court of Appeal last May, when judges ruled that the intelligence services could not suppress allegations, in a civil claim for damages submitted by six former Guantanamo prisoners, that the British government and its agents had been complicit in their ill-treatment. The six are Bisher al-Rawi, Jamil el-Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes, Binyam Mohamed and Martin Mubanga, and they argued, as the Guardian put it, that “MI5 and MI6 aided and abetted their unlawful imprisonment and extraordinary rendition.”

The ruling last May precipitated a huge crisis in the government, as the first of hundreds of thousands of classified documents emerged from the court, revealing the extent to which Tony Blair and Jack Straw were up to their necks in wrongdoing, preventing consular access to a British citizen in Zambia, in Tony Blair’s case, and in Straw’s, approving the rendition of British citizens to Guantanamo the day before the prison opened in January 2002. I covered this story in detail in my article, UK Sought Rendition of British Nationals to Guantánamo; Tony Blair Directly Involved. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Discusses Al-Qaeda Film “The Oath” on Press TV

Recently, I was happy to follow up on my discussion on Press TV of “You Don’t Like the Truth,” the harrowing documentary about Guantánamo’s former child prisoner Omar Khadr, with another discussion, this time about “The Oath,” an extraordinary documentary by American filmmaker Laura Poitras. See here and here for the two parts of the Omar Khadr show.

Filmed in Yemen, Poitras’ film follows Abu Jandal (aka Nasser al-Bahri), a former bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, who left al-Qaeda before the 9/11 attacks, and was imprisoned in Yemen when the attacks took place. He then became an extraordinarily valuable informant for the FBI, and was eventually freed. When Poitras met him, he was driving a cab in Sana’a, a charismatic figure, who, nevertheless, is either conflicted or ambiguous when it comes to his beliefs.

What is clear throughout, while Abu Jandal espouses his love of jihad but his hatred of terrorism, is his guilt that his brother-in-law, Salim Hamdan, for whom he secured paid work as a driver for Osama bin Laden, was still held in Guantánamo at the time the film was made, while he was a free man in Yemen. Hamdan was eventually freed at the end of 2008, after he became the first prisoner to be tried in a war crimes trial following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Read the rest of this entry »

WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Three of Ten)

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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 8 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 »

John Walker Lindh, Torture Victim and 9/11 Scapegoat, Profiled by His Father

Back in May, after the assassination of Osama bin Laden should have brought an end to the “War on Terror,” Frank Lindh, the father of John Walker Lindh, the first convicted prisoner in the Bush administration’s phoney war, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, which I cross-posted here with commentary, calling for his son to be released.

John Walker Lindh is the original scapegoat in the “War on Terror,” a young man who never raised arms against anyone, but who was vilified as a terrorist because, in November 2001, he was seized in Afghanistan, where he had traveled because of his interest in the Taliban government. A convert to Islam, Lindh, like many Muslims, wanted to see for himself what life was like in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

Lindh was held with hundreds of other men in Qala-i-Janghi, a fortress in northern Afghanistan, but when a CIA officer, Johnny “Mike” Spann, was killed by some of the prisoners, who staged an uprising when they feared that they would be shot, most of those held were killed by Northern Alliance soldiers supported by US and British Special Forces and American bombers. Lindh, however, was one of 86 men (and boys) who survived for a week in the basement of the fort, despite being bombed and flooded. Read the rest of this entry »

UK Torture Inquiry Boycotted by Lawyers, As David Cameron Fails Again to Demonstrate an Interest in Justice

Last Wednesday, just before David Cameron was engulfed in the News of the World phone hacking crisis, he had the opportunity to practice demonstrating the disregard for justice that he called on in response to the Murdoch scandal, when he attempted to distance himself from his friendship with two former News of the World editors, Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson, who, of course, served as his director of communications until January this year.

The practice run last Wednesday involved the torture inquiry that Cameron announced exactly a year before, on July 6, 2010, when he told the House of Commons that he had asked a judge, Sir Peter Gibson to “look at whether Britain was implicated in the improper treatment of detainees held by other countries that may have occurred in the aftermath of 9/11,” noting that, although there was no evidence that any British officer was “directly engaged in torture,” there were “questions over the degree to which British officers were working with foreign security services who were treating detainees in ways they should not have done.” Last Wednesday, the terms of reference for the torture inquiry were published. With storm clouds gathering over Wapping, David Cameron did not comment directly as human rights groups and lawyers savaged the pending inquiry as a whitewash, but he had already done all that was needed in the preceding twelve months. Read the rest of this entry »

Torture Whitewash: Probe of Two CIA Murders Ends Obama Administration’s Investigation of Bush’s Global Torture Program

How convenient is it that a door shuts on the Bush administration’s global program of extraordinary rendition and torture, just as America’s military-industrial complex plays musical chairs — with Republican holdover Robert Gates leaving as defense secretary, to be replaced by Leon Panetta, who has spent the last two years as the director of the CIA, while Gen. David Petraeus, the military commander in Afghanistan, takes over Panetta’s role at the CIA?

The answer has to be that it would be hard to conceive of a neater example of how the military and the intelligence agencies — or the CIA, at least — are at the very heart of government.

The door that is shutting is the one that involves accountability for the many prisoners subjected to “extraordinary rendition,” torture, and, in some cases, murder, in the Bush administration’s “high-value detainee” program. This involved the creation of secret torture prisons in Thailand, Poland, Romania and Lithuania, and, for a while, in Guantánamo, as well as others in Afghanistan and Iraq, the rendition of prisoners between these facilities, and also to the dungeons of allies in Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Morocco. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Would Anyone Trust David Cameron, As Police Arrest Andy Coulson?

Now that the News of the World phone-hacking scandal has finally secured a major scalp — the News of the World itself, closing on Sunday after 168 years in business — it remains to be seen whether the sacrifice of the paper, and of 200 jobs, will be sufficient to prevent the growing scandal from doing further damage to the News of the World‘s proprietor, the media empire of Rupert Murdoch.

Just as significantly, it remains to be seen whether Prime Minister David Cameron can avoid being fatally contaminated by his close association with Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor, arrested today in connection with the scandal. Coulson, of course, served as the Conservative Party’s Chief of Communications from July 2007 and then as David Cameron’s personal Chief of Communications from May last year until his resignation in January this year.

Although the scandal first emerged in 2005, in connection with the hacking of phones owned by members of the Royal Family, it took until this week for the public to become sufficiently outraged to ensure that serious action would be taken, beyond the limited action taken in 2007, when the News of the World‘s royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for their role in hacking the Royal Family’s phones. Read the rest of this entry »

The Guantánamo Files: An Archive of Articles — Part Nine, April to June 2011

The Guantanamo Files

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For over five years, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there over the last nine and a half years, first through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since May 2007, as a full-time independent investigative journalist. For nearly three years, I focused on the crimes of the Bush administration and, since January 2009, I have turned my attention to the failures of the Obama administration to thoroughly repudiate those crimes and to hold anyone accountable for them, and, increasingly, on President Obama’s failure to charge or release prisoners, and to show any sign that Guantánamo will eventually be closed.

My intention, all along, has been to bring the men to life through their stories, dispelling the Bush administration’s rhetoric about the prison holding “the worst of the worst,” and demonstrating how, instead, the majority of the prisoners were either innocent men, seized by the US military’s allies at a time when bounty payments were widespread, or recruits for the Taliban, who had been encouraged by supporters in their homelands to help the Taliban in a long-running inter-Muslim civil war (with the Northern Alliance), which began long before the 9/11 attacks and, for the most part, had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or international terrorism. As I explained in the introduction to my four-part Definitive Prisoner List (updated on June 1 this year), I remain convinced, through detailed research, through comments from insiders with knowledge of Guantánamo, and, most recently, through an analysis of classified military documents released by WikiLeaks, that “at least 93 percent of the 779 men and boys imprisoned in total” had no involvement with terrorism. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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