Archive for September, 2011

The Complete Guantánamo Files: WikiLeaks and the Prisoners Released in 2006 (Part One 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 21 of the 70-part series. 271 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.

In late April, I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the publication of thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. These documents drew heavily on the testimony of the prisoners’ fellow inmates (either in Guantánamo, or in secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA), whose statements are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion, or because they provided false statements to secure better treatment in Guantánamo.

The documents were compiled by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo (JTF GTMO), which operates the prison, and were based on assessments and reports made by interrogators and analysts whose primary concern was to “exploit” the prisoners for their intelligence value. They also include input from the Criminal Investigative Task Force, created by the DoD in 2002 to conduct interrogations on a law enforcement basis, rather than for “actionable intelligence.”

My ongoing analysis of the documents began in May, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. This was followed by a ten-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004,” in which I revisited the stories of 114 other prisoners released in this period, adding information from the Detainee Assessment Briefs to what was already known about these men and boys from press reports and other sources. This was followed by another five-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005,” dealing with the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released. Read the rest of this entry »

After Ten Years of the “War on Terror,” It’s Time to Scrap the Authorization for Use of Military Force

Many Americans probably think that the “War on Terror” began on September 11, 2001, when the terrible terrorist attacks took place, whose 10th anniversary has recently been marked. However, the “War on Terror” actually began on September 14, 2001, when Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force, which authorized the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

This open-ended document is the bedrock of the occupation of Afghanistan, which began on October 6, 2001, and of the detention of prisoners in Guantánamo, as the Supreme Court confirmed in June 2004, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, ruling explicitly that it authorizes the detention of those held as a result of the President’s activities.

It has also been “cited as an authority for him to engage in electronic surveillance against possible terrorists without obtaining authorization of the special Court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978,” as the Congressional Research Service (CRS) noted in a report on the AUMF in 2007.

This fascinating report (PDF) also reveals that the AUMF could have been far worse, in the sense of allowing the President powers to behave as he saw fit, without the possibility that Congress could constrain him. On September 12, 2001, the White House gave a draft joint resolution to the leaders of the Senate and the House, and, as the report states, “This White House draft legislation, if it had been enacted, would have authorized the President (1) to take military action against those involved in some notable way with the September 11 attacks on the US, but it also would have granted him (2) statutory authority ‘to deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States.'” Read the rest of this entry »

Ahmed Errachidi, Guantánamo Prisoner 590: The Cook Who Became The General

Five and a half years ago, when I first began researching the stories of the Guantánamo prisoners in depth, for my book The Guantánamo Files, one of the most distinctive and resonant voices in defense of the prisoners and their trampled rights as human beings was Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represented dozens of prisoners held at Guantánamo.

One of the men represented by Stafford Smith and Reprieve was Ahmed Errachidi, a Moroccan chef who had worked in London for 16 years before his capture in Pakistan, were he had traveled as part of a wild scheme to raise money for an operation that his son needed. What made Ahmed’s story so affecting were three factors: firstly, that he was bipolar, and had suffered horribly in Guantánamo, where his mental health issues had not been taken into account; secondly, that he had been a passionate defender of the prisoners’ rights, and had been persistently punished as result, although he eventually won a concession, when the authorities agreed to no longer refer to prisoners as “packages” when they were moved about the prison; and thirdly, that he had been freed after Stafford Smith proved that, while he was supposed to have been at a training camp in Afghanistan, he was actually cooking in a restaurant on the King’s Road in London.

“The Cook Who Became The General” was the proposed title of a book telling Ahmed’s story, which Clive suggested I should write with him, after I wrote an article that Ahmed picked up on after his release in Morocco in April 2007. This never came about, although I remained in touch with Ahmed, and I sometimes regret that I have been too desk-bound in my Guantánamo work, and missed out on having Ahmed tell me his story while cooking for me at his home in Tangier. However, I was delighted when Ahmed wrote his story anyway, in Arabic, and when I saw an English translation last year. I thought that this was to be published by Cageprisoners, and hoped, once again, that I might work on it (as an editor), but as it happens Ahmed’s memoir, A Handful of Walnuts, has been picked up by Chatto & Windus, and will be published next year. Read the rest of this entry »

Tunisians Call for the Release of Prisoners in Guantánamo

On Wednesday, in Tunis, Reprieve, the legal action charity whose lawyers represent prisoners in Guantánamo, held a conference to bring together “key policymakers and members of civil society to discuss Tunisia’s role in bringing about the release of its citizens from Guantánamo Bay.” Speakers included representatives of Tunisia’s major political parties, former Guantánamo prisoners, lawyers and family members of current and former prisoners, and, as Reprieve noted, “Members of the interim government, international and national human rights activists, lawyers, ex-detainees and family members have all pledged their support for this cause.”

The conference was convened to “examine how this support can be turned into action,” and Kamel Eddine Ben Hassan, representing the Tunisian Ministry of Justice, announced that the government was “ready to set up a legal framework” with the US authorities “to study the situation of five Tunisian citizens” still held at Guantánamo, as the website Tunisia-live.net explained. “The state is now taking up the cause of its nationals in Guantánamo,” he told the conference, according to the Associated Press, which explained that he had stated that “Tunisia will soon send a mission to the United States to plead for the repatriation of its five remaining citizens held at the Guantánamo Bay detention center.”

According to Reprieve (as the AP described it), “one of the barriers to the repatriation of the remaining Tunisians” was Ben Ali’s “reputation for torture and human rights abuses,” but Cori Crider, the NGO’s legal director, said “Tunisia’s willingness now to accept the detainees should pave the way for their release.” Read the rest of this entry »

WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005 (Part Five of Five)

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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 20 of the 70-part series. 260 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.

In late April, WikiLeaks pushed Guantánamo back onto the international media’s agenda by publishing thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002, which drew 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.

As an independent media partner of WikiLeaks, I liaised both before and after the publication of these documents with WikiLeaks’ mainstream media partners (including the Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, the Daily Telegraph, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El Pais), and then, after the killing of Osama bin Laden pushed Guantánamo aside once more, and allowed apologists for torture, and those who engineered its use by US forces, to resume their malignant, criminal and deeply mistaken defense of torture, and of the existence of Guantánamo, I began to analyze all of the Detainee Assessment Briefs in depth.

I began, in May and June, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. These men and boys were amongst the first 201 prisoners released, and unlike the other prisoners, for whom information was released to the public from 2006 onwards, as a result of court cases involving Freedom of Information requests, no information had been officially released about the first 201 prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

In Afghanistan, Former Guantánamo Prisoners Reflect on Their Ruined Lives

On the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Washington Post provided a powerful insight into the human cost of Guantánamo, and the problems created in Afghanistan through the intelligence failures that led to innocent people being seized by mistake, and even through the unforeseen knock-on effects of America’s reconstruction efforts.

In Kabul, Staff writer Ernesto Londoño met two former prisoners, Haji Sahib Rohullah Wakil (discussed below) and Haji Shahzada, a village elder in Kandahar province. About 50 years of age, Shahzada, who is a father of six, was seized in a raid on his house in January 2003, with two house guests, and held at Guantánamo for over two years until his release in April 2005.

Shahzada’s story (and that of the men seized with him) was one that had struck me as particularly significant when I was researching my book The Guantánamo Files, as it was a clear demonstration of how easily US forces in Afghanistan were deceived, seizing innocent people after tip-offs from untrustworthy individuals with their own agendas. In Shahzada’s case, it has not been confirmed whether the tip-off came from a rival or from members of his family seeking to seize his assets, but the entire mission was a disgrace. Read the rest of this entry »

WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005 (Part Four of Five)

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 19 of the 70-part series. 247 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.

In late April, WikiLeaks pushed Guantánamo back onto the international media’s agenda by publishing thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002, which drew 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.

As an independent media partner of WikiLeaks, I liaised both before and after the publication of these documents with WikiLeaks’ mainstream media partners (including the Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, the Daily Telegraph, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El Pais), and then, after the killing of Osama bin Laden pushed Guantánamo aside once more, and allowed apologists for torture, and those who engineered its use by US forces, to resume their malignant, criminal and deeply mistaken defense of torture, and of the existence of Guantánamo, I began to analyze all of the Detainee Assessment Briefs in depth.

I began, in May and June, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. These men and boys were amongst the first 201 prisoners released, and unlike the other prisoners, for whom information was released to the public from 2006 onwards, as a result of court cases involving Freedom of Information requests, no information had been officially released about the first 201 prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

The Center for Constitutional Rights Marks “The 9/11 Decade and the Decline of US Democracy”

On the 10th anniversary of the horrendous terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, I’m cross-posting an article published on the website of the Center for Constitutional Rights as part of a project entitled, “The 9/11 Decade.” The article, “The 9/11 Decade and the Decline of US Democracy,” was written by Vince Warren, CCR’s Executive Director, and provides an excellent overview of the erosion of liberties and the fundamental assault on domestic laws and international laws and treaties in the United States since the 9/11 attacks — from Guantánamo to the global torture program, from the PATRIOT Act to the widespread repression of dissent in America today. In addition, the article highlights the Bush administration’s unconstitutional power grab, Obama’s refusal or inability to thoroughly repudiate Bush’s crimes and excesses, and the general failures of the courts and the judiciary to play their part in preserving the balance of power and responsibility in the US.

I should note that my interest in the article is not entirely objective, as I was involved in it as a consultant, and I have also added links that were not included in the original article.

The 9/11 Decade and the Decline of US Democracy
By Vince Warren, Executive Director, Center for Constitutional Rights

In response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, George W. Bush shredded the US Constitution, trampled on the Bill of Rights, discarded the Geneva Conventions, and heaped scorn on the domestic torture statute and the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

As we mark the 10th anniversary of the terrible events of September 11, 2001, none of us has any desire to play down the horrors of that day, but two wrongs do not make a right, and, in response to the attacks, the Bush administration engineered and presided over the most sustained period of constitutional decay in our history. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Discusses 9/11 and America’s Disproportionate and Mistaken Response on Russia Today

On Friday, I was delighted to use Skype for the very first time for an interview with Russia Today in Washington D.C., for a segment of the 4 pm news, entitled, “What has the US achieved since 9/11?” in which I spoke about how we ended up in a disastrous position ten years after 9/11, because of the Bush administration’s arrogant and inept response to the attacks. The video is posted below, via YouTube.

In discussing the legacy of the attacks, I was asked whether or not America is safer today than ten years ago, and particularly whether it is significant that there have been no further terrorist attacks on US soil. In response, I explained that the “war on terror” declared by the Bush administration, with its two wars, and its vast, global program of rendition, torture and arbitrary detention, was depressingly disdainful of, and damaging to international laws and treaties, and was hideously counter-productive in that it further enflamed anti-American sentiment. Crucially, I also explained how there is no evidence that al-Qaeda had a follow-up to 9/11 planned.

I also spoke about Guantánamo, explaining how, because of the decision to declare a “war” instead of recognizing that the perpetrators of the attacks were criminals, and because of the further decision to invade Afghanistan but not to distinguish between al-Qaeda and the Taliban, we have ended with a situation in which the alleged perpetrators of the attacks, and others reportedly involved in international terrorism, have not been tried as criminals but continue to be held as “warriors” at Guantánamo, while the soldiers at Guantánamo (who vastly outnumber them) have mistakenly been regarded as terrorists, and deprived of the Geneva Conventions. Read the rest of this entry »

In FAIR’s Extra! Magazine, Andy Worthington on 9/11, Guantánamo and the Failures of US Corporate Media

Just published, in the September 2011 issue of Extra!, the monthly magazine of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), is an article I wrote about the US mainstream media’s response to the 9/11 attacks and the establishment of Guantánamo, which, of course, has been, for the most part (but with shining exceptions), a disappointment.

In the article, “The ‘Worst of the Worst’?: 9/11, Guantánamo and the failures of US corporate media,” which is available here on FAIR’s website, I examine the unwillingness of the media to criticise the Bush administration’s “war on terror” until after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in April 2004, and how the treasure trove of documents about the Guantánamo prisoners that were released under duress by the Pentagon in 2005 and 2006 were only adequately analyzed by the Seton Hall Law School in New Jersey and by myself, in my book The Guantánamo Files and my subsequent work.

I also examine how, under Obama, the media have allowed themselves to be seduced by Pentagon propaganda about the numbers of alleged “recidivists” released from Guantánamo, which has contributed enormously to the skewed debate about he closure of the prison, dominated by Republicans cynically using Guantánamo as part of their political campaigning. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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