A New Low for Guantánamo’s Credibility: The Brief But Absurd Imprisonment of the Military Commissions’ Chief Defense Counsel

A collage of Brig. Gen. John Baker and Camp 6 at Guantanamo, produced by the Daily Beast.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article 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.

In the “you couldn’t make it up” department of Guantánamo absurdity, the prison last week secured its first new prisoner since March 2008 — not an ISIS- or al-Qaeda-related prisoner sent there by Donald Trump, as he persistently threatens to do — but Brig. Gen. John Baker, the Chief Defense Counsel of the troubled military commission trial system.

Writing in Slate, Philip Carter, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University, who briefly served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Policy under President Obama, correctly identified Brig. Gen. Baker’s only offence as having been to “stand[] up for the rule of law and being held in contempt by a judge overseeing the military tribunals at Guantánamo.”

Carter proceeded to explain that the US has two legal systems: the best, “on display every week in federal courthouses, where processes unfold neatly and along well-worn lines established by centuries of statute and precedent,” and the worst, “on display at Guantánamo, where a dispute over government surveillance of defense counsel has resulted in a Marine general being detained (and released two days later) and civilian counsel being threatened with the same fate.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ahmed Al-Darbi, Admitted Terrorist at Guantánamo, Receives 13-Year Sentence Following 2014 Plea Deal

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed al-Darbi, with a photo of his children, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Last Friday, the US authorities secured a rare success at Guantánamo, when a panel of US military officers gave a 13-year sentence to Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi prisoner, for what the New York Times described as “his admitted role in a 2002 attack by Al Qaeda on a French oil tanker off the Yemeni coast.”

Al-Darbi had pleaded guilty in his military commission trial in February 2014, but his sentencing had not taken place until now because it was dependent upon him providing testimony for the trials of other prisoners, testimony that he undertook this summer, providing videotaped testimony against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is on trial for his alleged involvement in the bombing off the USS Cole in 2000, and a deposition in the case of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, another prisoner facing a trial by military commission.

Under the terms of the plea deal, as Charlie Savage described it in the New York Times, “the commission could have imposed a sentence of 13 to 15 years.” However, the prosecutors joined with al-Darbi’s defense team to ask for “the minimum available term in light of his extensive assistance to the government.” As Savage put it, al-Darbi “has renounced Islamist ideology and lived apart from the general detainee population for years.” Read the rest of this entry »

Detailed Los Angeles Review of Books Article Asks, “What Are We Still Doing in Guantánamo?”

A prisoner being moved by guards in Camp Six at Guantanamo (Photo: J. Moore, Getty Images).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

As we approach the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, those of us who care about justice, the rule of law and a sense of proportion will also be attempting to remind the world that we’re just four months away from another 16th anniversary, directly released to 9/11 — the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, which took place on January 11, 2002.

Ostensibly a prison for “the worst of the worst,” seized in the “war on terror” that the Bush administration declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Guantánamo has, instead, become, to those who care, a symbol of everything that is wrong with the US response to 9/11 — a place where men seized through dubious intelligence, or bought for bounty payments from America’s allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, were tortured or abused to make false statements incriminating themselves or their fellow prisoners, and are held, mostly without charge or trial, in defiance of domestic and international laws and treaties establishing how prisoners can only be held if they are criminal suspects facing trials, or prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Conventions,

The Guantánamo prisoners are neither, and are, still, men held essentially without any rights, although unfortunately most people — or most Americans, in particular — neither know nor care, and 15 years and eight months after the prison opened, the 41 men still held are at the mercy of the third president in charge of their fate — Donald Trump, who, rather than accepting that Guantánamo is an aberration that must be closed (as George W. Bush eventually realized, and Barack Obama knew all along, despite lacking the political will to deliver on his promise to close it), intends to officially keep it open, and, if he can manage it, to send new prisoners there — a plan that anyone rational abhors, although, unfortunately, rational thought is currently quite severely endangered, especially, it seems, in the Republican Party. Read the rest of this entry »

The Absurdity of Guantánamo: As US Prepares to Release Ahmed Al-Darbi in Plea Deal, Less Significant Prisoners Remain Trapped Forever

The sign and flags at Camp Justice, Guantanamo, where the military commission trials take place.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article 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.

In the long and cruel history of Guantánamo, a major source of stress for the prisoners has been, from the beginning, the seemingly inexplicable release of prisoners who constituted some sort of a threat to the US, while completely insignificant prisoners have languished with no hope of release.

In the early days, this was because shrewd Afghan and Pakistani prisoners connected to the Taliban fooled their captors, who were too arrogant and dismissive of their allies in the region to seek advice before releasing men who later took up arms against them. Later, in the cases of some released Saudis, it came about because the House of Saud demanded the release of its nationals, and the US bowed to its demands, and in other cases that we don’t even know about it may be prudent to consider that men who were turned into double agents at a secret facility within Guantánamo were released as part of their recruitment — although how often those double agents turned out to betray their former captors is unknown.

Under President Obama, an absurd point was reached in 2010, when, after Congress imposed onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, the only men freed were those whose release had been ordered by a judge (as part of the short-lived success of the prisoners’ habeas petitions, before politicized appeals court judges shut down the whole process) or as a result of rulings or plea deals in their military commission trials. Just five men were freed in a nearly three-year period from 2010 to 2013 — with former child prisoner Omar Khadr, low level al-Qaeda assistant Ibrahim al-Qosi, and military trainer Noor Uthman Muhammed all released via plea deals — as President Obama sat on his hands, and refused to challenge Congress, even though a waiver in the legislation allowed him to bypass lawmakers if he wished. Read the rest of this entry »

In Ongoing Court Case, Spotlight On James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, Architects of the Brutal, Pointless CIA Torture Program

Bruce Jessen (left) and James Mitchell (right), the US psychologists who were the architects of the post-9/11 torture program.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues — including the US torture program — over the next three months of the Trump administration.

Today is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which commemorates the entry into force, on June 26, 1987, of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which the US is a signatory).

 

I wrote the following article 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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we have always been concerned not only with closing Guantánamo for good, and seeking justice for anyone put forward for a trial, but also with accountability.

We believe that those who authorized the defining characteristics of the “war on terror” declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — a global program of kidnapping and torture, and, at Guantánamo, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial — must one day be held accountable for their actions.

Unfortunately, even before President Obama took office, he expressed “a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” adding that part of his job was “to make sure that, for example, at the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.” Read the rest of this entry »

Two Guantánamo Cases Make It to the Supreme Court; Experts Urge Justices to Pay Attention

Ali Hamza al-Bahlul and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Guantanamo prisoners who have submitted petitions to the Supreme Court.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article 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.

Even before the Bush administration set up its “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, legal experts were profoundly alarmed by proposals for how those seized as alleged terrorists would be tried. On November 13, 2001, President Bush signed a military order prepared by Vice President Dick Cheney and his senior lawyer, David Addington, which authorized the use of military commissions to try prisoners seized in the “war on terror,” preventing any prisoner from having access to the US courts, and authorized indefinite detention without due process.

Under the leadership of Michael Ratner at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, lawyers prepared to challenge the proposals in the military order in the courts. The stripping of the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights and the prevention of their access to the courts eventually made it to the Supreme Court in June 2004, when, in Rasul v. Bush, the Court, for the first time ever in wartime, ruled against the government, granting the prisoners habeas corpus rights.

Lawyers were allowed into Guantánamo, piercing the veil of secrecy that had allowed a regime of torture and abuse to thrive unmonitored, although President Bush immediately persuaded Congress to pass new legislation that again stripped the prisoners of their habeas rights. Further legal struggles then led to habeas rights being reintroduced in another Supreme Court case, Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyer Michel Paradis: Military Commissions are Based on Legal Apartheid

An illustration of guards on duty at military commission pre-trial hearings at Guantanamo in 2013, by the artist Molly Crabapple from the first of four articles she wrote and drew for Vice News.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article 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.

Here at Close Guantánamo, we have been campaigning since our founding over five years ago to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, because, as we explain in our mission statement, “Guantánamo harms our nation every day it stays open, and it continues to serve as a potent symbol for terrorist recruitment. Guantánamo also undermines our bedrock commitment to the rule of law, making that fundamental principle less secure for all Americans.”

In practical terms, most of our opposition to Guantánamo’s existence has focused on the injustice of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial. During President Obama’s last five years in office, we persistently encouraged him to release the men unanimously approved for release by high-level, inter-agency government review processes, including the Periodic Review Boards. These began in November 2013, but their deliberations ended up dominating much of the discussion about Guantánamo in his last year in office.

However, we also recognize that, while failing to charge prisoners with crimes and to put them on trial, or to treat them as soldiers and to hold them according to the Geneva Conventions, is an inexcusable derogation from internationally accepted norms regarding imprisonment, the situation for those facing trials at Guantánamo is, fundamentally, no better. Just ten of the 41 men still held are facing, or have faced trials in the military commission system launched under George W. Bush in 2001, revived by Congress in 2006 after the Supreme Court ruled it illegal, and — ill-advisedly — revived again under President Obama in 2009, but the system remains unfit for purpose, and a betrayal of US values. Read the rest of this entry »

Death at Guantánamo: Psychologist and Author Jeffrey Kaye Speaks to the Talking Dog

Campaigners with Witness Against Torture remind President Obama of the nine deaths that have occurred at Guantanamo at a protest in April 2013.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

In my eleven years of researching, writing about and campaigning to close the US prison at Guantánamo, I have got to know some remarkable people — from lawyers and former prisoners to individuals who, often for little or no financial reward, have devoted considerable time to covering important aspects of the Guantánamo story that others — often in the mainstream media — have missed or ignored. Some of my supporters would put me in the category of those covering important aspects of the story for little or no reward, and I’m grateful to those who recognize this, but I’m pleased, today, to be able to promote the work of two other people I admire a great deal who also fit this category of truth-seeker — the New York-based blogger The Talking Dog, and the San Francisco-based psychologist Jeffrey Kaye, who was interviewed by the Talking Dog by email just a few weeks ago, for an interview first published here, and cross-posted below.

For over ten years now, The Talking Dog has been interviewing lawyers, former prisoners, former guards, journalists and other involved in the Guantánamo story, and over 70 interviews are posted and linked to at the end of this article, which are essential reading for anyone researching, writing about or just interested in Guantánamo. TD interviewed me back in the summer of 2007, just before my book The Guantánamo Files was published, and we have been friends ever since.

Jeff and I have also known each other for many years, meeting for the first time at Berkeley Says No to Torture Week (in October 2010), which was my third visit to the US, and then again in January 2012, and again in January 2014, and I have long taken an interest in his work, cross-posting articles of his in 2011 and 2012 — see The Time is Right for Americans to Pay Attention to Human Rights Watch’s New Torture Report, New Revelations About The Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo, More Evidence of the Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo and in Afghanistan and Iraq, and also two articles written with Jason Leopold, US Training Manual Used As Basis for Bush’s Torture Program Is Released by Pentagon and Pentagon Report into the Drugging of Guantánamo Prisoners Is Released, and, of particular relevance right now, Were Two Prisoners Killed at Guantánamo in 2007 and 2009? Read the rest of this entry »

Great New York Times Exposé of How Torture, Abuse and Command Indifference Compromised Psychiatric Care at Guantánamo

A prisoner, in the early days of Guantanamo, being moved on a gurney, as prisoners were in the prison's early years.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo until the end of the year.

 

A recent detailed New York Times article, “Where Even Nightmares Are Classified: Psychiatric Care at Guantánamo,” provides a powerful review of the horrors of Guantánamo from the perspective of “more than two dozen military medical personnel who served or consulted” at the prison.

The Times article, written by Sheri Fink, explains how some prisoners were disturbed when they arrived at the prison, others “struggled with despair” as their imprisonment without charge or trial dragged on, and some “had developed symptoms including hallucinations, nightmares, anxiety or depression after undergoing brutal interrogations” by US personnel — sometime in CIA “black sites,” sometimes at Guantánamo — who had themselves been advised by other health personnel. Those who were tortured — although the Times refused to mention the word “torture,” as has been the paper’s wont over the years, coyly referring to dozens of men who “underwent agonizing treatment” — “were left with psychological problems that persisted for years, despite government lawyers’ assurances that the practices did not constitute torture and would cause no lasting harm.”

The result, Fink concluded, was that “a willful blindness to the consequences emerged. Those equipped to diagnose, document and treat the effects — psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health teams — were often unaware of what had happened.” Doctors told the Times that, “[s]ometimes by instruction and sometimes by choice, they typically did not ask what the prisoners had experienced in interrogations,” a situation that seriously compromised their care. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo’s Military Commissions: More Chaos in the Cases of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri and Majid Khan

"High-value detainee" Majid Khan, photographed at Guantanamo in 2009.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2700 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

At Guantánamo, as I have been reporting recently, the military commissions, a broken trial system ill-advisedly dragged out of historical retirement for prisoners seized in the “war on terror,” have reconvened after a summer break — see my articles Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions and Chief Defense Counsel of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions Calls Them a “Poisoned Chalice,” a Betrayal of the Constitution and the Law. Also see my updated Full List of Prisoners Charged in the Military Commissions at Guantánamo.

That the commissions are a poor substitute for justice can readily be understood from the fact that only eight convictions have been secured, and four of those have subsequently been overturned by appeals court judges, and from the realization that the only ongoing cases are almost permanently deadlocked because, on the one hand, prosecutors seek to hide the fact that the men facing trials were tortured, while on the other those defending the men insist that fair trial cannot take place until the torture is openly discussed.

The failures of the commissions have also been made clear in a recent appeals court ruling in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of involvement in the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and in a hearing at Guantánamo for Majid Khan, who first agreed to a plea deal over four and a half years ago, in February 2012, but who has not yet been sentenced. 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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