This week the legacy of George W. Bush’s “war on terror” is under the spotlight, as is the response to it of his successor, Barack Obama. Tomorrow is the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks that first prompted George W. Bush and his administration to discard all domestic and international laws and treaties regarding the treatment of prisoners, and to hold those seized in its “war on terror” not as prisoners of war, according to the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects, but as “enemy combatants,” who could, the administration contended, be held without them having any rights whatsoever.
Today is also significant for the fallout from the first war on which the Bush administration embarked — the invasion of Afghanistan, which began a month after the 9/11 attacks. As has been extensively reported, this morning US officials handed over formal control of the Parwan Detention Facility, the replacement for the notorious Bagram prison, where several prisoners were killed in the early days of the “war on terror,” to Afghan control.
This morning I was delighted to be asked by the BBC World Service to comment on the Bagram handover on the “Newshour” program with Robin Lustig, which was live at 1 pm, but is repeated regularly, and is available online. Although it was announced that the US had transferred 3,082 prisoners to Afghan control since reaching an agreement in March, I was particularly interested in commenting about those still held by the US, including recently captured prisoners, who will not be handed over until the US has screened them, and, more particularly, the foreign prisoners — thought to number around 50 — who will continue to be held by the US.
These men — who include Pakistanis, as well as prisoners from the Gulf and elsewhere — include men seized in other countries, including Thailand and Iraq, who have been held for up to ten years. In 2009, three of these men secured a court victory in the US, when a judge granted them habeas corpus rights, judging, correctly, that their situation was essentially no different to that of the prisoners in Guantanamo, who secured habeas rights in 2004 and again in 2008.
That ruling, however, was overturned by the appeals court, the D.C. Circuit Court, leaving the men in limbo. Earlier this year, President Obama hinted that he would be releasing some of these men, as I reported in my articles, Obama Considers Repatriating Foreign Prisoners from Bagram and Bagram: Still a Black Hole for Foreign Prisoners, but there has been no further news on that front, and they therefore remain in a legal black hole.
However, while doubts remain about whether the Afghans will be either more lenient or more brutal that the US, what also concerns me — as I also had the chance to explain — is that Bagram has always been the focal point for the Americans’ unilateral decision to discard the Geneva Conventions, a situation that has never been reported or discussed as widely as it should have been, and the handover of the prison to Afghan control also needs to be seen in this context, as, since discarding the Conventions, prisoners have been held in a peculiar legal limbo in which their cases have been subjected to a cursory review some time after their capture, and decisions have then been made about whether to release them, continue to hold them or transfer them to Afghan control. As I have often explained in the past, imagine the uproar there would be in the US if the military of another country captured Americans in wartime, tore up the Geneva Conventions and subjected them to a similar scenario.
On the 9/11 anniversary, and with reference to its umbilical relationship with Guantanamo, I have already written an article, Eleven Years After 9/11, Guantánamo Is A Political Prison, and following its publication I spoke to Scott Horton, formerly of Antiwar radio and now supported by the Future of Freedom Foundation (for whom I write a weekly column), in a half-hour interview that is available here. Scott and I have been talking to each other for five years now, ever since the US “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla was tried back in the summer of 2007, and it’s always a pleasure to talk to him.
This is how Scott described the show, and I hope you have time to listen to it, as Scott and I covered much more than just the anniversary and the depressing situation in Guantánamo, where 168 men are still held, including 87 who have been cleared for release:
Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, discusses his article “Eleven Years after 9/11, Guantánamo Is a Political Prison;” the many Gitmo prisoners still held despite being long-ago cleared for release; why liberals give Obama a pass on his broken promise to close the prison; Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision not to prosecute Bush-era torture; and how a corrupted US justice system invites terrorist blowback.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed — and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg, Flickr (my photos) and YouTube. Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in April 2012, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and please also consider joining the new “Close Guantánamo campaign,” and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Mezentian Gate wrote:
Bush used to simply kidnap them & imprison in Gitmo
funny how obama has not bothered to simply murder them, like he does with Pakistanis
President Obama is only at liberty to bomb to death those who would previously have been captured and tortured, Mezentian. Those already in detention are – or were – part of what he might call a “legacy problem.” I hope the Afghans will be better off.
Kelley Wear wrote:
Thank you for keeping Guantanamo in the forefront of our minds, Andy.
Jennah Solace wrote:
Well, if there are ‘bad-guys’ in there, then there are ‘bad-guys’ who put them in there!
Jennah Solace wrote:
And I like Scott’s point – that if Obama wanted to shut down the house of horrors – he could have!
Thank you for caring, Kelley. I know there are many decent people who are appalled by the continued existence of Guantanamo, and although it’s tiring to keep writing about it after six and a half years of doing so, I also know that it’s important to keep mentioning it.
And Jennah, you know that I agree in theory, but that in reality what’s happened is that it was politically inconvenient to do so, just as it was inconceivable, sadly, that torturers at the highest levels of government would be held accountable for their crimes, or that the warmongering military-industrial complex would be reined in. The most depressing aspect of it all is that US voters aren’t being asked if they’d like a choice in all this. It’s either warmonger A or warmonger B.
Jennah Solace wrote:
LOL! Sad, but funny! Yes, it is awful – isn’t it? In the States and in other countries, in our western ‘democracies’ we get very limited choice of which criminal we get to vote for! Maybe that’s why people are so apathetic about voting and why young people have no interest in politics, because it is so pointless to vote when you only have ‘warmonger A or warmonger B’ to choose from.
Jennah Solace wrote:
And – Very Good interview Andy, enlightening as always! You and Scott are blessings to this warmongering planet.
Thanks again, Jennah. We need to keep agitating for an alternative – Candidate C, who represents the people, and not the corporations, the banks and any other psychopaths who have secured positions of power and responsibility.
Kelley Wear wrote:
It is painful. Most people will choose not to see if given the choice. Same with Afghanistan…
Agreed, Kelley, and the more people ignore what is happening or has happened, the more the dark forces responsible for those crimes get to carry on with their violence and brutality.
Speaking of third party candidates, I had an interesting talk with a staffer of Sen. Bernie Sanders earlier today. I was asking what are the limitations that he has to work under re: asking voters to protest to their congresspeople. Obvious things like embezzling govt. funds are ethics violations and criminal acts (did you know that the Capitol has a jail in the building? Don’t ask me the last time a politician was locked up). Since he is an “Indepedent” (Socialist), is he basically pressured to shut up by the main two parties? He only shows up on a tiny number of “progressive” news outlets. The staffer basically dodged my question with a standard “he encourages voters to speak out” response.
Thanks, Tom. The paralysis of mainstream politics, eh?
Depends on your perspective and pay grade Inside the Beltway. I don’t know about you and dealing with MP’s. Here, I’ve literally been blown off by every progressive person in Congress. It’s like many staffers literally follow a script so when they do hang up on you their boss won’t yell at them. Are you taping this call? What news outlet do you work for? Stock response #1: Can I put you on hold? Stock response #2: Can I transfer you to our staff specialist? Why are you questioning the Senator’s honesty? I’m not questioning his honesty or the size of his portfolio. I’m exercising my right to free speech and be involved.
All this, and they have no idea why their approval rating is below 10%.
I like your punchline, Tom. I’m constantly amazed by how low the approval rating is for Congress. How do they keep their corrupt and bloated edifice intact in the face of so much public opposition? It’s a rhetorical question – the answer being: because lawmakers make the laws and won’t legislate themselves out of existence, obviously!
They are, however, lucky that the public are not advancing on the Capitol in huge, huge numbers, with sharpened pitchforks!
Yes they are lucky. Then again, did you know that now demonstrations in front of “prominent public locations”(places where powerful politicians are) are a felony? It’s the latest tool to stop dissent. Which means that now demonstrations in many ways have to be guerrilla protests. Record/live broadcast it for maximum global social media impact. Nonviolent of course because you have to make that immediate impact to get attention.
Who’s the most effective Congressperson w/social media right now/ Bernie Sanders of Vermont. His staff is building on their momentum right now re:stopping the Fiscal Cliff cuts. But also, the question: how come millions aren’t flooding the streets and the jails in D.C. to force these changes? Crosby and Nash had a great answer: there’s no mandatory draft. It’s all volunteer now. Which means if you CHOOSE to sign up and something happens to you, you have nobody to blame but yourself. How many of the rich and powerful have served? To his credit, John Kerry publically protested Vietnam. On the other hand, with Iraq and Afghanistan, he has a balancing act. I’m making money off of these wars. How do I protest them but at the same not screw up my portfolio?
If the draft is mandatory, these people have nowhere to hide. Then, it’s a matter of transparency regarding who would go and who would try for deferments. This draft would cover all eligible permenant residents. It would also cover all federal employees up to the age of 50. Now, how many Congresspeople age 50 and below would file for deferments?
Yes, here we have an exclusion zone around Parliament to prevent spontaneous protests, and also, to my regular annoyance, the privatising of former public spaces by property developers.
As for the mandatory draft, it’s surely a dangerous route, Tom, as those who don’t protest get recruited to die horrible deaths in far-flung lands on behalf of the Empire. It might be a lever to serious change, but it would be a bloody mess on the way to it …
Writer, campaigner, investigative journalist and commentator. 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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