January 11, 2012 is a profoundly depressing anniversary — marking ten years since the Bush administration established its “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and decided that those who ended up in US custody would not be screened to ascertain whether or not they were combatants, and would be sent to Guantánamo to be held without rights.
To mark this bleak occasion, Andy Worthington, investigative journalist, author of The Guantánamo Files and co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” is visiting the US for 12 days, with the support of The World Can’t Wait and the Center for Constitutional Rights, taking part in events in New York, Washington DC., San Francisco and Chicago.
171 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo throughout its long, dark history are still held, three years after Barack Obama became President and promised to close it within a year, even though 89 of them have been cleared for release. The President’s vacillations, and lack of courage, as well as the unprincipled obstructions of cynical or cowardly lawmakers, and of paranoid right-wing judges have ensured that no one has left Guantanamo alive in the last year and to guarantee that the prison will remain open — and these 171 men will be held forever — without concerted action by these with the determination to bring to an end the toxic legacy of the Bush administration. Read the rest of this entry »
This Christmas, when so many of us spend time with our families, my thoughts are with Omar Khadr, a scapegoat in the “war on terror” for two countries — not just the United States, which has held him at Guantánamo for over nine years, but also Canada, his home.
Seized at the age of 15 in Afghanistan, where he had been taken by his father, who was allegedly a fundraiser for al-Qaeda, Omar was abused by the US authorities at Bagram and then Guantánamo, and was then put forward for a war crimes trial, and he has also been neglected throughout his long ordeal by the Canadian government. Neither country cared that he was a juvenile prisoner when seized, and should have been rehabilitated rather then punished, as stipulated in the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, even though Canada, in particular, has stood up for the rights of child soldiers in other countries.
In October 2010, the Obama administration reached a particularly low point in its respect for the law, when Omar was obliged to agree to a plea deal in his trial by Military Commission in exchange for a promise that, as a result, he would serve an eight-year sentence, with just one more year at Guantánamo followed by seven years back in Canada. Read the rest of this entry »
This week, Abdel Hakim Belhadj (aka Belhaj), a Libyan military commander and rebel leader, who is the head of the Tripoli Military Council and the former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, initiated legal proceedings against the British government and the security forces for their key role in his illegal abduction, rendition and barbaric treatment — and that of his pregnant wife Fatima Bouchar — in March 2004.
Mr. Belhadj, also identified as Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq, has instructed solicitors at Leigh Day & Co. to take legal action, and the legal action charity Reprieve are acting as US counsel and are also providing investigative support.
In 2004, when Mr. Belhadj’s ordeal at the hands of the British, the Americans and the Gaddafi regime began, he was living in Beijing, China, having previously led the resistance to the Gaddafi regime, and having, for a while, lived in Afghanistan. In early 2004, when Fatima Bouchar began to fear they were under surveillance, they decided to try to seek asylum in the UK. At the airport, however, they were detained and deported to Kuala Lumpur, in Malaysia, their previous destination before China.
January 11, 2012 is the 10th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo, and, to mark this bleak anniversary, dozens of campaigning groups are staging en event, “10 Years Too Many: National Day of Action Against Guantánamo.” Click on the image to enlarge.
Beginning at 12 noon outside the White House, speakers (myself included) will publicize some horrendous truths about Guantánamo, and will attempt to harangue the President for his failure to fulfil his broken promise to close the prison within a year of taking office. I was there last year (see here and here), and it’s depressing to note that nothing has improved in the last year, and that, in fact, all three branches of the government — the administration, Congress and the judiciary — have, whether through design or omission, made sure that no one is leaving Guantánamo anytime soon, and that, in fact, without concerted action, Guantánamo will remain open forever, and few, if any of the remaining 171 prisoners will ever leave.
After the rally at the White House, a human chain will be created stretching from the White House to the Capitol. The organisers have put out a call for 2,771 people – the number of prisoners still held unlawfully at Guantánamo (171) and Bagram (2,600) — to make up this human chain, and buses from around the country are being arranged via Witness Against Torture (who also have accommodation available) and The World Can’t Wait. Read the rest of this entry »
Back in March, when, in my article, “Revolution in the Middle East: Brave Protestors in Syria Call for Freedom,” I picked up on reports of protests in Damascus, firstly by those inspired by the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, and then by supporters and relatives of 21 jailed human rights activists (many of whom were then seized and imprisoned themselves), I praised their bravery, because the Syrian regime has a long history of violently suppressing dissent.
This was something that was more than abstract to me, because, via a good friend, who is Syrian, i had been given an insight into the use of torture by the al-Assad regime, and had also been horrified by the use of torture on prisoners in the Bush administration’s “war on terror” — and by the fact that President Bush had sent prisoners to Syria for torture, and the Canadian government had also arranged for its own citizens to be seized and tortured.
After this initial protests in Damascus, the ripples of dissent in Syria spread rapidly, leading to major unrest in the southern city of Dara’a, where, as I noted, “protests about the arrest of a group of 15 schoolchildren who had dared to scrawl graffiti on a wall explaining that ‘the people want the overthrow of the regime’ escalated into something far more grave, when the security services opened fire, killing three protestors in cold blood. Dubbed ‘Dignity Friday’ by protestors, who had been using social networking sites to coordinate their activities, the clampdown in Dara’a immediately echoed throughout the region, where other protests had been taking place, and the next day, as the Guardian explained, “a much larger, angrier crowd — estimated to number as many as 20,000 — turned out for the burial of the previous days’ victims.” Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, the Associated Press reported that officials at Guantánamo, stung by lawyers’ criticism of conditions in a disciplinary block known as “Five Echo,” had fought back against claims that the cells are too small to be regarded as humane, that the toilets are inadequate, the lights are too bright and the air in the cells is foul.
A photo released to the AP showed what appeared to be a claustrophobically tiny cell, and a military spokesman conceded that the cells in “Five Echo” are only half the size of the cells in the nearby Camp Five, and also “have a squat toilet in the floor, instead of a standard prison toilet found elsewhere in the prison.”
David Remes, an attorney in Washington D.C., who represents three men who have been held in “Five Echo,” described the camp as violating the Geneva Conventions, and called it “a throwback to the bad old days at Guantánamo.” Read the rest of this entry »
When I began researching and writing about Guantánamo, nearly six years ago, one of the stories that seized my attention was that of Mohammed El-Gharani, a Chadian national, who had grown up with his parents in Saudi Arabia, and, after traveling to Pakistan to study, had been picked up in a random raid on a mosque in Karachi — many hundreds of miles from the battlefields of Afghanistan — when he was just 14 years of age. I included his story in my book, The Guantánamo Files, and also introduced him to readers in my April 2008 article, “Guantánamo’s forgotten child: the sad story of Mohammed El-Gharani.”
Mohammed was horribly abused in US custody, and was never held separately from the adult prisoners, even though that is a requirement of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which the US ratified a year after his capture. The Optional Protocol also requires its signatories to promote “the physical and psychosocial rehabilitation and social reintegration of children who are victims of armed conflict,” and not to punish them — but in fact just three of the 22 confirmed juvenile prisoners held at Guantánamo (those under 18 when their alleged crimes took place) were ever held separately from the rest of the prisoners, and treated humanely.
Mohammed’s fortunes only finally turned in January 2009, when Judge Richard Leon, an appointee of George W Bush in the District Court in Washington D.C., granted his habeas corpus petition and ordered his release, after finding that the government’s claims — primarily, that he had traveled to Afghanistan for jihad — were based on statements made by a mentally unstable prisoner who had provided demonstrably false information against numerous other prisoners, confirming what I and other researchers had discovered in the files made available to the public, and preempting what has been made even more obvious in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April (on which I worked as a media partner). Mohammed had also been subjected to one of the most idiotic allegations of all, which Judge Leon also recognized as idiotic — namely, that, was a member of an al-Qaeda cell in London in 1998, when he was just 11 years old. As his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, explained in his book, The Eight O’Clock Ferry to the Windward Side: Seeking Justice In Guantánamo Bay, “he must have been beamed over to the al-Qaeda meetings by the Starship Enterprise, since he never left Saudi Arabia by conventional means.” Read the rest of this entry »
In an extraordinary ruling in the UK yesterday (PDF), the Court of Appeal ordered the British government to secure the release of a prisoner, Yunus Rahmatullah, who is 29 years old, and has been held in the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan since March 2004. Born in Pakistan but raised in the Gulf States, Yunus was seized by British forces nearly eight years ago, in February 2004, and was then “handed to the US and illegally rendered to Afghanistan,” as the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represent him, along with lawyers from Leigh Day & Co., explained in a press release.
Despite being held for nearly eight years, Yunus, also known as “Saleh Huddin,” was held incommunicado, unable even to contact his family, for six years, and has only recently been allowed to establish telephone contact with his relatives. Reprieve noted its lawyers and investigators had been “told by multiple sources that, as a result of his abuse in UK and US custody, he is in catastrophic mental and physical shape, and now spends most of his time in the mental health cells at Bagram.”
As Reprieve explained, this “historic decision” also “marks the first time any civilian legal system has penetrated Bagram, a legal black hole where nearly three thousand prisoners — many rendered from all over the world — have been unlawfully held by the US military for up to a decade.” Unlike at Guantánamo, itself an opaque and unjust facility, but one where civilian lawyers have had access since the Supreme Court granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in June 2004, no civilian lawyer has ever been allowed into Bagram, which, as Reprieve described it, “is notorious for torture and homicides and has been called ‘Guantánamo’s Evil Twin.'” Read the rest of this entry »
As the debate over the dreadful detainee provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act has demonstrated, when lawmakers, unprovoked, have unilaterally decided that what America needs is mandatory military custody for terror suspects (with the intention of holding people for life without charge or trial), something has gone horribly wrong, and a rational perspective on the success of federal court trials in prosecuting terror suspects has been shamefully discarded.
Above all, this is a sign of how lawmakers — Democrats as well as Republicans — have politicized terrorism, in their obsession with regarding terrorists not as criminals, but as “warriors” in a “war on terror” which they do not wish to end, despite the killing of Osama bin Laden this year, and despite the almost total eradication of al-Qaeda as an entity in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
In this absurd climate, lawmakers are shunning federal court trials for terror suspects, even though they have a successful track record, and even though, by any objective measure, that success has been purchased at a distinctly dubious cost — including a lamentable history of entrapment since 9/11, and the fact that the rules regarding material support for terrorism are so broadly drawn that prisoners are receiving punitive sentences for almost nothing. Read the rest of this entry »
Back in June, I wrote about the case of Adel el-Gazzar, who, after eight years in US custody, mostly at Guantánamo, and another 17 months in Slovakia (where he was held in prison-like conditions and only released after embarking on a hunger strike), had returned to his homeland, where he was promptly arrested and imprisoned on terrorism charges that were widely regarded as fabricated. Adel 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 »
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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