With no fanfare — just an announcement on its website — the Pentagon informed the world on Thursday that two Uighur prisoners at Guantánamo, held for over ten years but recognized as innocent almost from the moment of their capture, had been freed in El Salvador. As the Pentagon helpfully explained, the two men “were subject to release from Guantánamo as a result of a court order issued on October 7, 2008 by the US District Court for the District of Columbia,” and it was also noted that they “are voluntarily resettling in El Salvador.”
The Pentagon also noted, “As directed by the President’s January 22, 2009, executive order, the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force conducted a comprehensive review of these cases,” and, as a result, they “were designated for transfer by unanimous consent among all six agencies on the task force.”
The release of these men is most welcome, because, primarily as a result of deliberate Congressional obstruction, no living prisoner has left Guantánamo for 15 months — the longest period without any releases in the prison’s ten-year history. The last living prisoner to leave Guantánamo was an Algerian, Farhi Saeed bin Mohammed, who won his habeas corpus petition and was repatriated, against his will, in January 2011, but the last two men to leave the prison had actually left in coffins, having died in the prison in February and May last year. Read the rest of this entry »
In the last few weeks, Guantánamo has been under the spotlight as, for the first time since President Obama took office, the military commission trial system — the government’s preferred method for trying terror suspects held in Guantánamo — has been readied for trying “high-value detainees”; those who, as well as being held in Guantánamo, were previously held in “black sites” run by the CIA, where the use of torture was widespread.
This has always been a problem for the government — under George W. Bush as well as under Obama — because the use of torture is not only illegal, but information derived through its use cannot be used in US courts. To get around the first inconvenience, President Bush’s lawyers arranged for torture to be redefined, and, to overcome the second, the Bush administration initially brought the military commissions out of retirement with the intention that the prohibition on torture could be ignored.
When the first incarnation of the commissions was felled by the Supreme Court in June 2006, and Congress then dutifully brought the trial system back to life a few months later, the use of information derived through torture was banned, although gray areas were acceptable at the discretion of the military judges. To get around this, the Bush administration tried, at one point, to send in “clean teams” of FBI agents and military interrogators to try and persuade those who had been tortured to repeat their tortured confessions voluntarily. Presumably, there was as little concern about the accuracy of the confessions as there was when the men were first being tortured, because, as any expert can confirm, torture is not a useful method for extracting reliable information, but is very good for producing false confessions. Read the rest of this entry »
On Tuesday April 24, from 6:30 to 8:30pm, I will be beamed into Room 407a of the New School, at 66 West 12th Street, in New York City, for a panel discussion, “The Human Face of Indefinite Detention: Shaker Aamer, Guantánamo and the NDAA,” with some good friends of mine — Col. Morris Davis, the former Chief Prosecutor at Guantánamo, and Ramzi Kassem, one of the lawyers for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo. The moderator is Thenjiwe McHarris of Amnesty International USA, and the event will be introduced by another friend, Jeremy Varon, Associate Professor of History at the New School for Social Research and Eugene Lang College, and a member of Witness Against Torture, and by Steve Latimer — also of Amnesty International USA.
Morris Davis and I meet every January in Washington D.C. for panel discussions at the New America Foundation on the anniversary of Guantánamo’s opening, and Ramzi recently made available to me the unclassified exchanges between himself and Shaker, and a statement that Shaker had written, which I used as the basis for two world exclusive articles, “They Want Me to be Harmed”: Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo, Describes His Isolation and “I Affirm Our Right to Life”: Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo, Explains His Peaceful Protest and Hunger Strike.
The provisional running order has the event starting, after introductions, with a short clip from “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film I co-directed with Polly Nash, which deals with Shaker Aamer’s story, followed by Ramzi discussing Shaker’s case for 15 minutes, me discussing the history of Guantánamo and what’s happening there now for 15 minutes, and Col. Davis speaking about why Guantánamo and the abuses it symbolizes are human rights violations and must end — also for 15 minutes. Thenjiwe will then urge people to sign Amnesty’s Shaker Aamer petition — and also see the petition on the Care 2 Petition Site, and the UK e-petition to the British government — and this will be followed by a discussion. Read the rest of this entry »
When it comes to dealing with Muslim “terror suspects” in the UK, and recent rulings by the European Court of Human Rights preventing the British government from deporting Abu Qatada to Jordan, but approving the extradition to the US of Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan and two other men, it is often difficult to discern notions of justice, fairness and a sense of proportion when the opinions of so many politicians and media outlets are clouded by hysteria and — often — racism that is either thinly-veiled, or not even hidden at all.
The problems with the planned deportation of foreign nationals to their home countries, and the extradition of foreigners and British nationals to the US, began under Tony Blair, when, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the government implemented a policy of detention without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence, and also signed an extradition treaty with the US that required little, if anything in the way of evidence to be provided before “suspects” could be extradited to the US.
In a follow-up article, I will look at the cases of Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad, Talha Ahsan and the two other men whose extradition to the US was approved last week, but for now I want to focus on the case of Abu Qatada, and his planned deportation to Jordan.
Tony Blair’s policy of detention without charge or trial involved rounding up a number of foreign nationals alleged to be terror suspects — including Abu Qatada – and imprisoning them on the basis of secret evidence that was not disclosed to them. The intention — as well as removing their right to a trial in the country that had exported habeas corpus around the world — was to deport these men to their home countries, ignoring the fact that the UN Convention Against Torture (to which the UK is a signatory) prohibits the return of anyone to a country where they face the risk of torture. Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday, in the hope of drawing MPs’ attention to the ongoing disgrace of the detention at Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, with the support of Peace Strike, organised a demonstration in Parliament Square, to greet MPs as they returned from their Easter break, and also to continue to publicise the e-petition to the British government calling for his release from Guantánamo and his return to the UK, which needs 100,000 signatures by May 14 to qualify for a discussion in Parliament.
Please click on the images for full-size versions, and for further information about Shaker Aamer, see my recent articles, EXCLUSIVE: “They Want Me to be Harmed”: Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo, Describes His Isolation, “I Affirm Our Right to Life”: Shaker Aamer, the Last British Resident in Guantánamo, Explains His Peaceful Protest and Hunger Strike and Videos: Shaker Aamer’s Children Call for His Return from Guantánamo to the UK, and Ask Supporters to Sign Petition to British Government.
On Saturday March 31, I was delighted to be asked to speak at a demonstration outside the US Embassy marking the 9th anniversary of the disappearance of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist who vanished with her three children in Karachi on March 30, 2003. It took nearly five and a half years until she reappeared in Afghanistan, where she was arrested by Afghan soldiers, and where, after apparently trying and failing to shoot at the US soldiers to whose custody she had been transferred, she was flown to the United States — rendered, one might say — where she was tried in New York, and, in September 2010, sentenced to 86 years in prison. (Click on the image to make it full-size).
I have written about Aafia Siddiqui’s case on many occasions, and have also spoken about her at several demonstrations and other meetings, but her story never becomes any easier in the telling, as it is so full of holes, involves rumours of her torture, the disappearance of two of her children for many years, and the presumption that her third child, a baby boy, was killed at the time of her disappearance. It also remains opaque and troubling because of the strange circumstances of her capture in 2008, her odd trial, and that hugely draconian sentence. Her alleged role as an al-Qaeda operative remains shadowy, and her current situation remains a source of alarm, as she is held in Carswell, in Fort Worth, Texas, a Federal Medical Center that provides specialized medical and mental health services to female offenders, but that has a terrible reputation for the abuse of the women held there.
The demonstration, which was organised by the Justice for Aafia Coalition, featured several other speakers, whose videos can be found here, and as many of them were speaking eloquently and at length about Dr. Siddiqui’s case, I took the opportunity to explain how she was one of many dozens of “high-value detainees” subjected to extraordinary rendition and torture in the Bush years, and to mention not only how there has been no accountability for those who authorised the program, but also how there has never been an official account of who was held. Read the rest of this entry »
Since November 2005, when the Washington Post first reported that the CIA had held “high-value detainees” in its “war on terror” in secret prisons in eastern Europe, and Human Rights Watch then revealed that prisons were located in Poland and Romania, concerned politicians and organizations have worked hard to expose the truth about these prisons (and another that was later discovered in Lithuania).
No one in a position of authority in these countries admitted that these prisons had existed, but important work confirming their existence was done within the EU and the Council of Europe, and of great significance, in June 2006 and June 2007, were two Council of Europe reports (2007 PDF), and a European Parliament report, in January 2007 (PDF). In the 2007 CoE report, Swiss Senator Dick Marty concluded that, after two years’ research and interviews with over 30 current and former members of the intelligence services in the United States and Europe, stated that he had enough “evidence to state that secret detention facilities run by the CIA did exist in Europe from 2003 to 2005, in particular in Poland and Romania.” Marty also identified both sites, and explained how the flights were disguised using fake flight plans.
One of the MEPs who worked on the EU investigation was Józef Pinior, a former member of the Solidarity movement, who was an MEP from 2004 to 2009, and was first a member, and then the Vice-Chair of the Subcommittee of Human Rights. Pinior has always claimed that, during his investigations, he was told about a document signed by Leszek Miller, Poland’s Prime Minister at the time the CIA prison was in operation, providing information regulating the operations of the prison – in a military intelligence training base in Stare Kiejkuty in north eastern Poland – including information about how, if necessary, to deal with corpses inside the facility. Read the rest of this entry »
Please sign the e-petition calling for the release of Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo! And if you can collect signatures and email addresses, please print off copies of the paper petition available here. The deadline to secure 100,000 signatures is May 14. In addition, if you’re in London today (April 16), please join myself, members of the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and other supporters in Parliament Square, where, from 1-3 pm, we will be greeting the MPs returning from their Easter recess with a demand for Shaker’s release.
As part of the ongoing campaign to secure 100,000 signatures on an e-petition asking the British government to demand the return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Sheikh Sulaiman Ghani, the Imam of Tooting Islamic Centre, close to Shaker’s home in Battersea, has produced two powerful promotional videos calling for individuals and families to sign the petition, which needs 100,000 signatures by May 14 to be eligible for a Parliamentary debate.
The front of the flyer to promote the e-petition is posted at the top of this article. Please click on the image to enlarge, and the text of the e-petition — entitled, “Return Shaker Aamer to the UK” — is as follows:
Shaker Aamer is a British resident with a British wife and children who has been imprisoned without trial by the US in Bagram Air Force Base and Guantánamo Bay for over ten years. The Foreign Secretary must undertake urgent new initiatives to achieve the immediate transfer of Shaker Aamer to the UK from continuing indefinite detention in Guantánamo Bay. Read the rest of this entry »
In January, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, while I was in Washington D.C., I took part in a detailed half-hour interview with Brian Becker for Atlantic Television News, which produces programs that are regularly screened in the Middle East.
In the interview, which is posted below, I began by explaining what I had been doing for the anniversary — including the New America Foundation panel discussion with Congressman Jim Moran, Col. Morris Davis and Tom Wilner that I had been involved with on January 10, and the protests outside the White House and the Supreme Court on January 11 — and then moved on to provide a history of Guantánamo, and to place it in context in the “war on terror.” I spoke about the widespread use of bounty payments, and about the lack of screening of the prisoners prior to their transfer to Guantánamo, which helped to ensure that the Bush administration’s rhetoric — that the prison held “the worst of the worst” — was shockingly groundless.
I also spoke about how, without a concerted effort by those who are concerned about the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, it is reasonable to believe that the prison will remain open forever — and it was in the hope of addressing this terrible state of affairs, three years after President Obama promised to close the prison within a year, and obviously failed to do so, that I was involved in establishing a new campaign, “Close Guantánamo,” at the time of my visit, which I hope you will join if you have not already done so. Read the rest of this entry »
What a disgrace. On Thursday, Tarek Mehanna, a 29-year old pharmacist from Sudbury, Massachusetts, was sentenced to 17 and half years in prison, after being found guilty in December on seven charges, including “providing material support to terrorists,” conspiracy to kill in a foreign country and lying to law enforcement officers. Perhaps that sounds appropriate, but as Nancy Murray of the ACLU explained in an article for the Boston Globe, the extent of his involvement in “terrorism” was that he had “emailed friends, downloaded videos, translated and posted documents on the web, and traveled to and from Yemen in 2004.”
She continued, “No evidence was presented in court directly linking him to a terrorist group. He never hatched a plot — indeed, he objected when a friend (who went on to become a government informer and has never been charged with anything) proposed plans to stage violent attacks within the United States. He never had a weapon.” Although Mehanna did lie to the FBI, there was no justification for prosecutor Aloke Chakravarty to stress the “gravity” of Mehanna’s offences, but it fitted — and fits — a pattern of demonizing Muslims, even when there are first amendment issues, involving free speech, even when there is evidence of dubious FBI activity, and even when it is undisputed that Tehanna never raised arms against anyone, and never believed that it was just or appropriate to attack any American on US soil.
According to Aloke Chakravarty, however, over ten years ago Tarek Mehanna “‘began to radicalize’” and to radicalize others to ‘visit violence’ on Americans,” The prosecutor also alleged that, although Mehanna “failed in his efforts to find a terrorist training camp when he visited Yemen in 2004, he found his niche … serving as the ‘media wing’ of al-Qaeda, translating documents, and sharing videos.”
In contrast, defense attorney Jay Carney pointed out that Mehanna was in fact being “punished for activity protected by the First Amendment, for translating documents freely available in Arabic on the Internet and for his refusal to be an informant.” Carney “asked the judge to focus on ‘what the defendant did and did not do’ — he went to Yemen for one week eight years ago. He refused to go to Iraq with the friend whom the government later enlisted as an informer. He was under close FBI scrutiny for more than eight years — if he was so dangerous, why did the FBI wait so long to arrest him?” Read the rest of this entry »
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