Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

"End Guantanamo commissions: use fair trials" - an Amnesty International supporter outside the White House.

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In the 15 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has systematically undermined many of the key values it claims to uphold as a nation founded on and respecting the rule of law, having embraced torture, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial, trials of dubious legality and efficacy, and extra-judicial execution.

The Bush administration’s torture program — so devastatingly exposed in the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the program, published in December 2014 — no longer exists, but no one has been held accountable for it. In addition, as the psychologist and journalist Jeffrey Kaye has pointed out, although ostensibly outlawed by President Obama in an executive order issued when he took office, the use of torture is permitted, in particular circumstances, in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual.

When it comes to extrajudicial execution, President Obama has led the way, disposing of perceived threats through drone attacks — and although drones were used by President Bush, it is noticeable that their use has increased enormously under Obama. If the rendition, torture and imprisonment of those seized in the “war on terror” declared after the 9/11 attacks raised difficult ethical, moral and legal questions, killing people in drone attacks — even in countries with which the US is not at war, and even if they are US citizens — apparently does not trouble the conscience of the president, or the US establishment as a whole. Read the rest of this entry »

No Justice for 14 Tortured “High-Value Detainees” Who Arrived at Guantánamo Ten Years Ago

Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, three of the 14 "high-value detainees" who arrived at Guantanamo from CIA "black sites" ten years ago, on September 6, 2006.I wrote the following article (as “Tortured “High-Value Detainees” Arrived at Guantánamo Exactly Ten Years Ago, But Still There Is No Justice”) for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Ten years ago, on September 6, 2006, President Bush announced that secret CIA prisons, whose existence he had always denied, had in fact existed, but had now been closed down, and the prisoners held moved to Guantánamo.

14 men in total were transferred to Guantánamo. Three were named by President Bush — Abu Zubaydah, described as “a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden,” and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, allegedly involved in the 9/11 attacks. Biographies of the 14 were made available, and can be found here. They include three other men allegedly involved in the 9/11 attacks — Walid bin Attash, Ammar al-Baluchi (aka Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali) and Mustafa al-Hawsawi — plus Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, allegedly involved in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian allegedly involved in the US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, Majid Khan, a Pakistani alleged to be an al-Qaeda plotter in the US, the Indonesian Hambali and two Malaysians, Zubair and Lillie, the Libyan Abu Faraj al-Libi, and a Somali, Gouled Hassan Dourad.

After the men’s arrival, they were not heard from until spring 2007, when Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) were held, which were required to make them eligible for military commission trials. As I explained in my book The Guantánamo Files in 2007, KSM and Walid bin Attash confessed to involvement with terrorism, although others were far less willing to make any kind of confession. Ammar al-Baluchi, for example, a nephew of KSM, and another of the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators, denied advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, or of al-Qaeda. Read the rest of this entry »

An Afghan and a Yemeni “Black Site” Prisoner Face Guantánamo Periodic Review Boards, as 21st Man Approved for Release

Yemeni prisoner Salem Bin Kanad, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.In President Obama’s last year in office, efforts are clearly being made to fulfill the promise he made to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay on his second day in office, back in January 2009. 27 men have been freed this year, leaving just 80 still held, the lowest number since the early months of the prison’s existence back in 2002.

27 of those 80 men have been approved for release — 15 since 2010, when the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force appointed by President Obama to review the cases of all the prisoners he inherited from George W. Bush delivered its final report, and 12 since January 2014, when another review process, the Periodic Review Boards, began delivering decisions about the majority of the men not already approved for release. Just ten of the 80 men still held are facing — or have faced — trials, and the rest are eligible for PRBs.

21 men have so far been approved for release by the PRBs, and nine of those men have been freed. Just seven men have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended — a success rate for the prisoners of 75%, which thoroughly undermines the task force’s claims, made back in 2010, that they were “too dangerous to release.” The task force also claimed that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, but the truth is that the “too dangerous to release” tag was overstated, relying on unreliable information extracted from the prisoners themselves, and produced as a result of torture, other forms of abuse, or bribery (with better living conditions), or on an unnecessarily cautious notion of the threat they posed, based on their attitudes while imprisoned at Guantánamo in defiance of all civilized norms. Read the rest of this entry »

European Court of Human Rights Orders Poland to Pay $262,000 to CIA “Black Site” Prisoners

Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, two prisoners held in a secret CIA "black site" in Poland, whose cases were heard by the European Court of Human Rights in December 2013.I’m just catching up on a story from two weeks ago that I was unable to post at the time because I was busy with another couple of stories — the dismissal of David Hicks’ Guantánamo conviction, and the ongoing campaign to free Shaker Aamer.

The story I didn’t have time to report involved the European Court of Human Rights and the CIA “black site” that existed on Polish soil from December 2002 to September 2003. In July last year, the court delivered an unprecedented ruling — that, as the Guardian described it, Poland “had violated international law by allowing the CIA to inflict what ‘amounted to torture’ in 2002 at a secret facility in the forests of north-east Poland. The court found that Poland ‘enabled the US authorities to subject [the detainees] to torture and ill‑treatment on its territory’ and was complicit in that ‘inhuman and degrading treatment.'”

The ruling dealt with two of the “high-value detainees” held in the site — Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia, for whom the torture program was specifically developed, even though it was subsequently discovered that he was not involved with Al-Qaeda, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi accused of involvement in the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. Both men were subjected to the ancient torture technique known as waterboarding, as well as a variety of other torture techniques, and, while Abu Zubaydah is still held without charge or trial, al-Nashiri is facing a war crimes trial in the military commissions at Guantánamo, a process that has been stuck on the pre-trial phase for years, as his defense team tries to raise the question of his torture and prosecutors do all they can to keep it hidden. Read the rest of this entry »

European Court of Human Rights Delivers Powerful Condemnation of US Torture Program and Poland’s Role Hosting a CIA “Black Site”

Last week there was some extremely important news for those of us who have spent many long years hoping to hold senior US officials — up to and including former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney — accountable for approving and implementing a torture program in the “war on terror,” when the European Court of Human Rights unanimously condemned the US for implementing a program of extraordinary rendition and torture, and condemned Poland for its involvement in the program by hosting a secret torture prison — a CIA “black site” —  on its soil in 2002-03.

The rulings were delivered in the cases of two men, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national accused of masterminding the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and Abu Zubaydah (a Saudi-born Palestinian whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), mistakenly described as al-Qaeda’s number 3 after his capture in March 2002. In its report on the rulings, the New York Times provided a more appropriate description of Zubaydah as someone who is “believed to have overseen the operation of guesthouses in Pakistan,” who vetted recruits and “provided letters of recommendation allowing them to be accepted for training at a paramilitary camp in Afghanistan” — which, it should be noted, was not affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Both men are currently held at Guantánamo, where they have been since September 2006, but they were held for over four years in “black sites” where they were subjected to torture, including the site in Poland that the European Court of Human Rights highlighted in its rulings. Read the rest of this entry »

More Farcical Proceedings at the Military Commissions in Guantánamo

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Last week I published “The 9/11 Trial at Guantánamo: The Dark Farce Continues,” the first of two articles providing updates about the military commissions at Guantánamo.

The commissions were established under President George W. Bush in November 2001, were ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006, revived by Congress in the fall of 2006, suspended by President Obama in January 2009, and revived again by Congress in the fall of 2009, but they have always struggled to establish any credibility, and should not have been revived by the Obama administration.

Last week’s article, as the title indicates, covered developments — or the lack of them — in pre-trial hearings for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, who were held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for years before their arrival in Guantánamo in September 2006. Read the rest of this entry »

The 9/11 Trial at Guantánamo: The Dark Farce Continues

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

In two articles — this one and another to follow soon — I’ll be providing updates about the military commissions at Guantánamo, the system of trials that the Bush administration dragged from the US history books in November 2001 with the intention of trying, convicting and executing alleged terrorists without the safeguards provided in federal court trials, and without the normal prohibitions against the use of information derived through torture.

Notoriously, the first version of the commissions revived by the Bush administration collapsed in June 2006, when, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that the commission system lacked “the power to proceed because its structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949.”

Nevertheless, Congress subsequently revived the commissions, in the fall of 2006, and, although President Obama briefly suspended them when he took office in 2009, they were revived by Congress for a second time in the fall of 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

The Chaotic History of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

See the full list here of everyone charged in the military commissions at Guantánamo.

Recently, a friend asked me for information about all the Guantánamo prisoners who have been put forward for military commission trials at Guantánamo, and after undertaking a search online, I realized that I couldn’t find a single place listing all the prisoners who have been charged in the three versions of the commissions that have existed since 2001, or the total number of men charged.

As a result, I decided that it would be useful to do some research and to provide a list of all the men charged — a total of 30, it transpires — as well as providing some updates about the commissions, which I have been covering since 2006, but have not reported on since October. The full list of everyone charged in the military commissions is here, which I’ll be updating on a regular basis, and please read on for a brief history of the commissions and for my analysis of what has taken place in the last few months.

The commissions were dragged out of the history books by Dick Cheney on November 13, 2001, when a Military Order authorizing the creation of the commissions was stealthily issued with almost no oversight, as I explained in an article in June 2007, while the Washington Post was publishing a major series on Cheney by Barton Gellman (the author of Angler, a subsequent book about Cheney) and Jo Becker. Alarmingly, as I explained in that article, the order “stripped foreign terror suspects of access to any courts, authorized their indefinite imprisonment without charge, and also authorized the creation of ‘Military Commissions,’ before which they could be tried using secret evidence,” including evidence derived through the use of torture. Read the rest of this entry »

Poland and Lithuania Haunted by Their Involvement in Hosting CIA Torture Prisons

In the long search for accountability for the torturers of the Bush administration, which has largely been shut down by President Obama, lawyers and human rights activists have either had to try shaming the US through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or have had to focus on other countries, particularly those that hosted secret CIA torture prisons, or had explicit involvement in extraordinary rendition.

Successes have been rare, but hugely important — the conviction of CIA officials and operatives in Italy, for the blatant daylight kidnap of Abu Omar, a cleric, on a street in Milan in February 2003, and the court victory in Macedonia of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen kidnapped in Macedonia, where he had gone on a holiday, and sent to a CIA “black site” in 2003 until the US realized that his was a case of mistaken identity. In the UK, the whiff of complicity in torture at the highest levels of the Blair government led to pay-offs for the British nationals and residents sent to Guantánamo.

Court cases were also launched in Spain, although they were suppressed, in part because of US involvement (under President Obama), and currently there are efforts to hold the US accountable before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights for its use of Djibouti in a number of cases involving “extraordinary rendition” and “black sites.” Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the European Court of Human Rights’ Hearing About Poland’s CIA Torture Prison on Voice of Russia

On Monday and Tuesday, as I explained in a subsequent article, “an important step took place in the quest for those who ordered and undertook torture in the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror’ to be held accountable for their actions,” when a ground-breaking hearing took place in Strasbourg. For the first time since the start of the “war on terror” and the abuses that, in particular, took place between 2002 and 2006, the European Court of Human Rights listened to evidence about the role of the Polish authorities in the extraordinary rendition, secret detention and torture of two men currently held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.

Both men were held at a secret prison at Stare Kiejkuty in the northeast of the country, between December 2002, when they were moved from a previous CIA “black site” in Thailand, until October 2003, when they were moved for five months to “Strawberry Fields,” a secret facility in Guantánamo, until the Bush administration realized that the Supreme Court was about to grant the Guantánamo prisoners habeas corpus rights, thereby allowing lawyers to visit and to shatter the secrecy that was necessary for torture abuse to take place unchallenged. They were then shunted around other “black sites” in Romania, Lithuania and Morocco, until they were returned to Guantánamo in September 2006, with 12 other “high-value detainees” held in “black sites” for several years.

Writing about the hearing, Crofton Black, an investigator with Reprieve, one of the organizations representing Abu Zubaydah, stated that the court had “heard overwhelming and uncontested evidence that the CIA was running a secret torture prison on Polish soil, with the Polish government’s knowledge.” As I wrote in my article, “although I am prepared for disappointment, I certainly hope that the European Court of Human Rights will find that the Polish authorities acted unlawfully in hosting a CIA ‘black site’ on their territory.” 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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