Dear friends and supporters, I hope you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, entitled, “At Guantánamo, a microcosm of the surveillance state,” in which I look at the latest scandal to derail the military commission trial system at Guantánamo, exposed in a pre-trial hearing in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four the men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks — a computer problem that has led to over half a million confidential defense emails being handed over to the prosecution, and other files disappearing completely.
In light of the revelations of mass surveillance made public by Edward Snowden in June, the problems at Guantánamo can be seen as part of a bigger picture, even though the main tension at Guantánamo concerns torture — the government’s wish to hide its use on the “high-value detainees,” and the defense’s mission to expose it — rather than excessive surveillance as a matter of course.
I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to write for Al-Jazeera about the military commissions, which I’ve been writing about for seven and a half years. I got to briefly run through the history of the commissions in my article, reminding me that, when I first began researching Guantánamo in 2006, for my book The Guantánamo Files, the commissions were already regarded as a disgrace, a torture-laundering farce dragged from the history books by Vice President Dick Cheney, which had struggled to establish any credibility whatsoever. Furthermore, this situation didn’t improve after the Supreme Court found the commissions illegal, in June 2006, and Congress then brought them back to life with a raft of invented war crimes. My first article about the commissions was in June 2007, and the broken system exposed there continues to be broken, and to shame America. Read the rest of this entry »
On Tuesday, President Obama gave his first detailed response to the prison-wide hunger strike that has been raging at Guantánamo for twelve weeks, responding to a question posed at a news conference by CBS News correspondent Bill Plante, who asked, “As you’re probably aware, there’s a growing hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay among prisoners. Is it any surprise really that they would prefer death rather than have no end in sight to their confinement?”
The question, presumably, was allowed because the President had decided that he could no longer avoid discussing the hunger strike that, at any moment, could result in the death of one of the many men starving themselves to focus the world’s attention on their plight. According to the government, 100 men of the remaining 166 prisoners are on a hunger strike, although the prisoners say the true number is 130.
Precipitated by the deployment of a new and aggressive guard force at Guantánamo, who manhandled the prisoners’ Korans during searches of the men’s cells that were of unusual intensity, the hunger strike began on February 6 and rapidly became a focal point for the prisoners’ despair at having been abandoned by all three branches of the US government, and by the mainstream media.
Although 86 of the remaining prisoners were cleared for release from Guantánamo by an inter-agency task force that President Obama established when he took office in January 2009 (when he promised to close Guantánamo within a year), they are still held because of obstructions raised by the President himself, and by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week at Guantánamo, a farcical dance played out, as it does every six months or so. Representatives of the US mainstream media — and other reporters from around the world — flew to the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to witness the latest round of the seemingly interminable pre-trial hearings in the cases of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of masterminding, or otherwise facilitating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on New York and Washington D.C.
The farce of the Guantánamo trials is, by now, well established, although last week’s hearings introduced the novelty of a hidden hand, unknown even to the judge, flicking an invisible switch to silence potentially embarrassing testimony, and the proceedings also took place against the backdrop of two courtroom appeals that have dealt savage blows to the claimed legitimacy of the commissions.
In the case of the 9/11 trial, a permanent feature is the seemingly insoluble tussle between the prosecution and the defense. On the one hand are the attorneys for the accused, whose job is to try and ensure that their clients do not receive unfair trials. This involves attempting, incessantly, to point out the elephant in the room — the fact that all the men were held for many years in “black sites” run by the CIA, where they were subjected to torture, approved at the highest levels of the government during the Bush administration, even though torture is a crime. On the other hand are the prosecutors, whose job, above all, appears to be to hide all mention of torture. In the middle is the judge — in the case of the “high-value detainees,” Army Col. James L. Pohl, who replaced Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann as the Chief Presiding Officer for the Military Commissions on January 6, 2009. Read the rest of this entry »
The last time the US government wheeled out Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other men accused of initiating and being involved in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 was in May this year, and, as is usual, the mainstream media turned out in force. That occasion was the formal arraignment of the men, and it was tempestuous, as the defendants largely refused to cooperate. This week, as pre-trial hearings resumed, the mainstream media also returned in force, for proceedings that largely focused on issues of secrecy and transparency.
The rest of the time, sadly, most of the mainstream media doesn’t care much about Guantánamo, even though the prison remains a national disgrace, a place where, beyond the handful of men accused of genuine involvement with terrorism, over half of the remaining 166 prisoners have been cleared for release but are still held, and 46 others are regarded as too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence exists to put them on trial.
In other contexts, this would mean that the so-called evidence is actually hearsay, or innuendo — and in fact even the most cursory investigation by serious reporters would reveal that most of what passes for evidence consists of dubious statements made by the prisoners about themselves and their fellow prisoners as a result of torture, other forms of abuse, and bribery. Read the rest of this entry »
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. Read the rest of this entry »
Eleven years since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the majority of the remaining 168 men in Guantánamo are not held because they constitute an active threat to the United States, but because of inertia, political opportunism and an institutional desire to hide evidence of torture by US forces, sanctioned at the highest levels of government. That they are still held, mostly without charge or trial, is a disgrace that continues to eat away at any notion that the US believes in justice.
It seems like an eternity since there was the briefest of hopes that George W. Bush’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo would be shut down. That was in January 2009, but although Barack Obama issued an executive order promising to close Guantánamo within a year, he soon reneged on that promise, failing to stand up to Republican critics, who seized on the fear of terrorism to attack him, and failing to stand up to members of his own party, who were also fearful of the power of black propaganda regarding Guantánamo and the alleged but unsubstantiated dangerousness of its inmates.
The President himself also became fearful when, in January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which he himself had appointed, and which consisted of career officials and lawyers from government departments and the intelligence agencies, issued its report based on an analysis of the cases of the 240 prisoners inherited from George W. Bush (PDF). The Task Force recommended that, of the 240 men held when he came to power, only 36 could be prosecuted, but 48 others were regarded as being too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday, the eyes of the world were on Guantánamo, as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of planning and facilitating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi and Walid bin Attash — appeared in a courtroom for the first time since December 2008. All were dressed in white, apparently at the insistence of the authorities at Guantánamo, and most observers made a point of noting that Mohammed’s long gray beard was streaked red with henna.
For the Obama administration and the Pentagon, the five men’s appearance — for their arraignment prior to their planned trial by military commission — was supposed to show that the commissions are a competent and legitimate alternative to the federal court trial that the Obama administration announced for the men in November 2009, but then abandoned after caving in to pressure from Republicans. The five defendants face 2,976 counts of murder — one for each of the victims of the 9/11 attacks — as well as charges of terrorism, hijacking, conspiracy and destruction of property, and the prosecution is seeking the death penalty.
Unfortunately for the administration, the omens were not good. The military commissions have been condemned as an inadequate trial system ever since the Bush administration first resurrected them in November 2001, intending, in the heat of post-9/11 vengeance, to use them to swiftly try and execute those it regarded as terrorists. However, after long delays and chaotic hearings, this first reincarnation of the commissions was struck down as illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006. The commissions were then revived by Congress a few months later, and were then tweaked and revived by President Obama in the summer of 2009, despite criticism from legal experts. Read the rest of this entry »
Last summer, I wrote an article reviewing ten years of Guantánamo for the Future of Freedom Foundation, for whom I write a weekly column for their online Email Update. This article, however, was for their monthly magazine, Freedom Daily. It was published in the January 2012 issue, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo on January 11, 2012, and was published online on April 12, and I’m cross-posting it here in the hope that it will provide other readers with an understanding of the depth of the lawlessness that has prevailed at Guantánamo for the last ten years.
When the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba opened on January 11, 2002 as part of the Bush administration’s global “war on terror,” in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it was not immediately apparent that it was a dangerous aberration from recognized laws and treaties that would tarnish America’s name forever.
There had been hints that this was the case — primarily, the fact that a war had been declared when a crime had taken place, and the military order issued by the President in November 2001, “Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism,” in which he stated that members of al-Qaeda or those who harbored them could be held by the US military and, if required, subjected to military trials.
Also worrying, when Guantánamo opened, were the photos of the first prisoners to arrive at the prison, shackled in orange jumpsuits, and subjected to sensory depravation, with their eyes and ears closed with blackout goggles and headphones. The photos shocked many of America’s supporters, if not Americans themselves, who were used to orange jumpsuits from their domestic prisons, and had been primed relentlessly since the 9/11 attacks to enthuse over Wild West-style vengeance, and not to ask too many questions. Read the rest of this entry »
For nearly six years, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there over the last ten years, first through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since May 2007, as a full-time independent investigative journalist. For three years, I focused on the crimes of the Bush administration and, since January 2009, I have analysed the failures of the Obama administration to thoroughly repudiate those crimes and to hold anyone accountable for them, and, increasingly, on President Obama’s failure to charge or release prisoners, and to show any sign that Guantánamo will eventually be closed.
As the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo approaches, this is an intolerable situation, as the prison remains as much of an aberration, and a stain on America’s belief in itself as a nation ruled by laws, as it was when it was opened by George W. Bush on January 11, 2002. Closing the prison remains as important now as it did when I began this work in 2006.
Over the last six years of researching Guantánamo and writing about it on an almost daily basis, my intention has been to puncture the Bush administration’s propaganda about Guantánamo holding “the worst of the worst” by telling the prisoners’ stories and bringing them to life as human beings, rather than allowing them to remain as dehumanized scapegoats or bogeymen. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
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 »
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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