Archive for August, 2011

WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Seven 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 12 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 »

On Holiday for Two Weeks!

Well, my friends, it has been quite a year so far, with the death of my father in February and my own rather severe illness in March and April, which had me suffering sleep deprivation at home for two weeks, then hospitalized for another two weeks, and then largely housebound for another month.

I’m glad to report that I am fully recovered, that I remain healthy after my brush with mortality, and that I continue to be no longer a smoker, but it’s certainly time for another break, as, although I have tried not to work quite as relentlessly as I did before, I suspect that all that has changed is my attitude, and that I’m not quite as manic and fiery as I was before my illness.

Certainly, my involvement with WikiLeaks, who contacted me out of the blue just after I was discharged from hospital, and sought my assistance in liaising with its mainstream media partners for the release of classified military documents from Guantánamo, hurled me back into manic work when I should probably have been convalescing. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo on the Talking Progressive Politics Show on Blog Talk Radio

Today, just before I began feverishly packing for my family holiday, I was delighted to take part in a one-hour interview on the “Talking Progressive Politics” Show on Blog Talk Radio with Jim Cullen in Texas and Vicki Nikolaidis in Greece. It’s been a few weeks since I spoke publicly about Guantánamo, so I was glad to have the opportunity to do so, and especially glad that we had an hour, as it meant that there was time to thoroughly explain the many injustices of Guantánamo, past, present and future.

The show is available here — or here on MP3 — or embedded below:

In the show, I ran through the story of the remaining 171 prisoners, explaining the role of the Guantánamo Review Task Force in proposing that 36 of these men should be tried, 46 should be held indefinitely without charge or trial, and 89 should be released — with particular emphasis on how the 46 are regarded as too dangerous to release, even though there is not sufficient evidence to put them on trial (in other words, there is no evidence), and who the 89 are, and why they have been abandoned by the administration, lawmakers and the courts — the 58 Yemenis who cannot be released because of an unprincipled moratorium on releasing any Yemenis, in place since January 2010, and the 31 men from other countries who cannot be repatriated because they face the risk of torture, and are waiting for another country to take them, in the absence of America accepting any responsibility for its own mistakes. Read the rest of this entry »

Michael Mansfield Defends Students’ Right to Protest, Criticizes Heavy Policing and Draconian Sentencing

In the Observer today, the celebrated QC Michael Mansfield, who has been involved in numerous high-profile legal cases including the Guildford Four and the Stephen Lawrence murder trial, announced that he was bringing his partial retirement to an end to act on behalf of Alfie Meadows, a 20-year-old student who suffered head injuries during a tuition fees protest last December, as I explained here. Despite being left with brain damage, Meadows is “awaiting trial on charges of violent disorder,” as the Guardian explained.

As a result, Mansfield was undoubtedly correct to state, “We praise those in the Arab Spring and condemn the force used against them by their governments, yet allow our own rights to be eroded,” and to ask, “What is happening here? A direct attack is being made on the right of people to go out on the streets and show their solidarity and unity with others of the same opinion and hold peaceful protest.”

As the Observer also explained, Mansfield’s warning came amid “controversy at unusually harsh prison sentences” handed down to two students, Francis Fernie, 20, and Charlie Gilmour, 21, who were both sentenced last month for their part in protests. Fernie received a one-year sentence for throwing two sticks from placards at police lines at the giant TUC-led anti-cuts protests in central London on March 26 this year, and Gilmour, the son of Pink Floyd guitarist Dave Gilmour, received a 16-month sentence for “outrageous and deeply offensive behaviour” at a student protest last year. An undergraduate at Cambridge University, Gilmour had “thrown a bin at a Rolls-Royce carrying Prince Charles, kicked at shop windows and swung off a war memorial,” as the Observer put it. Both he and Fernie said that they had “got carried away in the heat of the moment” and, as the Observer described it, “offered profuse apologies.” Read the rest of this entry »

New Revelations About The Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo

For Truthout, my colleague Jeffrey Kaye, who is a full-time psychologist but somehow manages also to pursue a second career as a blogger, has just written an article about the use of water torture at Guantánamo (and elsewhere in the “War on Terror”), which has been securing excellent coverage online.

I’m delighted to discover that people remain interested in the Bush administration’s use of torture, and questions of accountability that have been brushed under the carpet by President Obama, not just because terrible crimes have been committed and no one has been held accountable, but also because the topic of America’s torture program has generally slipped off the media’s radar (as has that other abiding topic of interest of mine, Guantánamo, and the 171 prisoners still held).

Jeff has done a great job in pulling together examples of prisoners who were subjected not to waterboarding, but to other forms of torture using water that the Bush administration largely managed to avoid mentioning or being asked to justify, including Murat Kurnaz, who discussed having his head held under water in his book, Five Years of My Life: An Innocent Man in Guantánamo, first published in 2007, Mohammed al-Qahtani, the most notorious torture victim at Guantánamo, and others — the Mauritanian Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was, notoriously, “broken” by torture at Guantánamo, and who had water poured over him to “enforce control” and “keep [him] awake,” the British resident Omar Deghayes, the Algerian Djamel Ameziane (still held, despite being cleared for release many years ago), and Mustafa Ait Idr, an Algerian living in Bosnia-Herzegovina, released in 2008 after winning his habeas petition, whose torture using water I mentioned in The Guantánamo Files, and in my article, After 7 Years, Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo Kidnap Victims. Also of interest are examples from Iraq, which have also not been publicized widely. Read the rest of this entry »

Britain’s Secret Post-9/11 Torture Policy Revealed: Was Tony Blair’s Government Guilty of “Developing Something Close to a Criminal Policy”?

As the British government’s toothless torture inquiry is abandoned by ten NGOs and lawyers for the former Guantánamo prisoners, who have long recognized that it was nothing more than a whitewash, but have now given up on even trying to engage with it, politicians in the Tory-led coalition government are not the only ones feeling the heat. Yesterday, in a world exclusive, the Guardian‘s Ian Cobain exposed a top secret document, entitled, “Agency policy on liaison with overseas security and intelligence services in relation to detainees who may be subject to mistreatment,” which “reveal[ed] how MI6 and MI5 officers were allowed to extract information from prisoners being illegally tortured overseas.”

Describing the document as reportedly being “too sensitive to be publicly released at the government inquiry into the UK’s role in torture and rendition,” and as contributing to the decision by the NGOs and lawyers to boycott the inquiry because it does not have “credibility or transparency,” the Guardian explained how the secret policy “was operated by the British government for almost a decade,” and how it “instructed senior intelligence officers to weigh the importance of the information being sought must be balanced against ‘the level of mistreatment anticipated’ — the degree to which the prisoner or prisoners will suffer.”

The Guardian also explained how the document revealed the fears of the government and the intelligence agencies that they were breaking laws, as it “acknowledged that MI5 and MI6 officers could be in breach of both UK and international law by asking for information from prisoners held by overseas agencies known to use torture,” and also “explained the need to obtain political cover for any potentially criminal act by consulting ministers beforehand.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ten NGOs Withdraw from UK Torture Inquiry, Citing Lack of Credibility and Transparency

As I reported last month, ten NGOs, including Amnesty International, Liberty and Reprieve, announced their intention to boycott the government’s proposed inquiry into UK complicity in torture following the 9/11 attacks, on the first anniversary of Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement that an inquiry would take place. Although the inquiry was initially greeted with guarded optimism, it rapidly became apparent that it was intended to be a whitewash, as I reported here, here, here and here.

Yesterday, the groups confirmed their intention to boycott the inquiry, sending a letter to the inquiry, asserting that “they will not be participating” and “do not intend to submit any evidence or attend any further meetings with the Inquiry team.”

In the letter, the NGOs said that the inquiry’s protocol and terms of reference showed it would not have the “credibility or transparency” to establish “the truth about allegations that UK authorities were involved in the mistreatment of detainees held abroad.”

As the Guardian reported, “Key sessions will be held in secret and the cabinet secretary will have the final say over what information is made public. Those who alleged they were subject to torture and rendition will not be able to question MI5 or MI6 officers, and foreign intelligence agencies will not be questioned.” Specifically, “Former detainees and their lawyers will not be able to question intelligence officials and all evidence from current or former members of the security and intelligence agencies, below the level of head, will be heard in private.” Read the rest of this entry »

Hosni Mubarak’s Trial Electrifies the Middle East, But Will Justice Be Served?

Photos of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s 83-year old former dictator, lying on a gurney in a prison cage as his trial began in Cairo today, may well be amongst the defining images of the year, along with the giant circle of protestors in Tahrir Square, which dominated broadcasts in February this year, and led to Mubarak’s fall from power after nearly three decades running the country with an iron fist.

As the Guardian reported, Mubarak “stands accused of economic corruption, striking an illegal business deal involving gas exports to Israel, and the unlawful killing of protesters during the 18-day uprising against his reign,” and could face the death penalty if found guilty. However, as he entered a not guilty plea, stating, “I deny all these charges and accusations categorically,” the sight of the former dictator, lying down in white prison overalls, behind the bars of the courtroom cage in which so many of his former victims once stood, was a powerful symbol of how even the most seemingly impervious tyrants can fall from grace.

Mubarak’s two sons, Alaa and Gamal, who are also charged, were also in court, where they too protested their innocence, and others are also facing similar charges — specifically, former Interior Minister Habib El-Adly and six of his senior police deputies. Read the rest of this entry »

Lawyers Appeal for Amnesty for Former Guantánamo Prisoner Held in Egypt

Back in June, I reported the story of Adel Al-Gazzar (aka Adel El-Gazzar), an Egyptian and a former Guantánamo prisoner, who had been imprisoned on his return to Egypt after a decade away from home.

Al-Gazzar had been seized in late 2001 in Pakistan, where he had been working as a volunteer with the Saudi Red Crescent, and had been living in Slovakia since being freed from Guantánamo in January 2010, on the basis that it was unsafe for him to be returned to his home country while it was still under the control of Hosni Mubarak. As I explained back in June:

This was not because of anything he had done, but because, as a critic of the regime, he had left the country in 2001, and had been in Pakistan, undertaking humanitarian work in a refugee camp when he was caught in a US bombing raid (which, with subsequent medical neglect on the part of the US authorities, led to him losing a leg). As a result, following his departure from Egypt, he had been given a three-year sentence in absentia by the Egyptian State Security Court for his alleged part in a supposed plot that was known as al-Wa’ad.

This, as the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm explained, was “the first major terrorism case in Egypt” after the 9/11 attacks, in which the defendants — 94 in total — were charged with “attempting to overthrow former President Hosni Mubarak’s regime and infiltrate Palestinian territory.” However, the case “was widely condemned as an attempt by Mubarak to suppress his Islamist opponents,” and this was an interpretation that carried considerable weight, as “[m]ore than half of the suspects were subsequently released.” Read the rest of this entry »

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

Please support my work!

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 11 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 »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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