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 »

European Court of Human Rights Hears Evidence About CIA Torture Prison in Poland

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.On Monday and Tuesday, 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 the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg held a hearing to examine 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 are amongst the 14 “high-value detainees” who arrived at Guantánamo in September 2006 after years of incommunicado detention and torture in a variety of CIA “black sites,” one of which was in Poland, and as Interights, the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights, explained in a news release, “This historic court hearing [is] the first time a European country has been taken to court for allowing the CIA to run a torture site on its territory and comes after years of silence from the Polish government about the CIA’s prison there.”

The cases of these two men are enormously significant for everyone seeking accountability, as they are two of only three prisoners whom the US had admitted were subjected to waterboarding, the ancient torture technique that involves controlled drowning. With another “high-value detainee,” Ramzi bin al-Shibh, they were the only men held at a CIA “black site” in Thailand prior to their transfer to Poland in December 2002. In October 2003, they were moved to a secret “black site” within Guantánamo, identified as “Strawberry Fields,” and were then moved around a number of other CIA “black sites” in Romania, Lithuania and Morocco until their eventual return to Guantánamo in 2006. Read the rest of this entry »

Third Victim of CIA Torture in Poland Granted Victim Status, as European Court of Human Rights Prepares to Hear Evidence

It’s almost exactly eight years since Dana Priest of the Washington Post first broke the story, on November 2, 2005, that, “according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents,” the CIA had been “hiding and interrogating some of its most important al-Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe … part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba.”

The Post bowed to pressure from the Bush administration not to reveal the name of any of the countries in Eastern Europe, but just days later, on November 7, 2005, Human Rights Watch announced that the facilities were in Poland — on the grounds of an intelligence training facility near the village of Stare Kiejkuty, in the north east of the country — and Romania. In June 2007, Council of Europe special investigator Dick Marty issued a detailed report about Europe’s role in the US rendition and torture program in which he stated that he had “enough evidence to state” that there definitely had been CIA prisons in Poland and Romania. It later emerged, in December 2009, that a third European torture prison was in Lithuania, but to this day no one in the Bush administration or the CIA has been held accountable for America’s post-9/11 torture program.

Since the stories of the secret prisons first emerged, only Poland has shown any willingness to tackle the revelations with anything approaching the rigor they deserve. The Romanian government has refused to even acknowledge the existence of its prison, despite a detailed investigation exposing its existence, conducted by the Associated Press and Germany’s ARD Panorama, and although the Lithuanian government opened an official investigation, it was closed in 2011 when the government claimed that there was insufficient evidence, also citing restrictions imposed by its statute of limitations. Read the rest of this entry »

US Military Admits Only 2.5 Percent of All Prisoners Ever Held at Guantánamo Will Be Tried

So it’s official, then. Eleven and a half years after the “war on terror” prison opened at Guantánamo, the maximum number of prisoners that the US military intends to prosecute, or has already prosecuted, is 20 — or just 2.5 percent of the 779 men held at the prison since it opened in January 2002.

The news was announced on Monday June 10 by Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo, and it is a humiliating climbdown for the authorities.

When President Obama appointed an inter-agency task force to review the cases of the remaining Guantánamo prisoners, which issued its report in January 2010, the task force recommended that 36 of the remaining prisoners should be tried.

Just five of the 36 have since been to trial — one in the US, and four through plea deals in their military commissions at Guantánamo. Another man — Ali Hamza al-Bahlul — had already been tried and convicted, in the dying days of George W. Bush’s second term, and two others had been sent home after their trials — David Hicks after a plea deal in March 2007, and Salim Hamdan after a trial in July 2008 — making a total of 39 prosecutions, or intended prosecutions, after eleven and a half years of the prison’s existence. That was just 5 percent of the men held throughout Guantánamo’s history, but now that figure, which was, in itself, an extremely poor reflection on the efficacy of the prison and its relationship to any acceptable notions of justice, has been halved.

As Reuters described it, Brig. Gen. Martins explained that the number set by the task force was “ambitious” in light of two rulings last October and in January this year by judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C. Read the rest of this entry »

Another Torture Victim on Trial at Guantánamo

In the last two weeks, the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay enjoyed a brief resurgence of interest as pre-trial hearings took place in the cases of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of directing and supporting the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national accused of masterminding the attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in October 2000, in which 17 US sailors were killed, when suicide bombers blew up a bomb-laden boat beside the warship.

Guantánamo has largely been ignored during the Presidential election campaign, even though 166 men still languish there, and over half of them — 86 men in total — have been cleared for release for at least three years (although in many cases for far longer), and one of these men — Adnan Latif, a Yemeni — died in September, eight years after the authorities first decided that they had no interest in holding him any longer.

The ongoing detention of these men ought to be a major news story, but instead it is generally overlooked, and the media’s attention is largely reserved for pre-trial hearings in the cases of the men mentioned above, even though these hearings are generally inconclusive, and involve prosecutors following the government’s position — which focuses on hiding all mention of torture by US forces — while the prisoners’ defense teams argue that justice cannot be delivered if the torture of these men is not mentioned. Read the rest of this entry »

Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri: The Torture Victim the US Is Desperate to Gag

A millionaire Saudi businessman accused of being the brains behind the terrorist attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000, in which 17 US soldiers died, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is also a notorious victim of the torture program initiated by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks.

No less a source than the CIA Inspector General noted in a report in 2004 on the “high-value detainee” interrogation program (PDF) that — while held in a secret facility in Poland after his capture in the United Arab Emirates in the fall of 2002 and his initial imprisonment in a CIA “black site” in Thailand — he was threatened with a gun and a power drill, while hooded and restrained, to scare him into talking, even though the federal torture statute prohibits threatening prisoners with imminent death. Moreover, in February 2008, then-CIA director Michael Hayden admitted that al-Nashiri was one of three prisoners subjected to waterboarding, an ancient torture technique that involves controlled drowning.

In Poland, where al-Nashiri was moved in December 2002, he has been recognized by a prosecutor investigating the CIA’s secret prison on Polish soil as a “victim,” but in the US, since his transfer to Guantánamo in September 2006, he has been silenced, like the other 13 “high-value detainees” transferred with him, even though the Bush administration put him forward for a trial by military commission in July 2008, and the Obama administration followed suit in November 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

Polish Senator’s Startling New Allegations About the CIA Torture Prison in Poland

In the long quest for accountability for those who ordered, authorized or were complicit in the Bush administration’s torture program, every avenue has been shut down within the US by the Obama administration, the Justice Department and the courts, and the only hope lies elsewhere in the world, and specifically Poland, one of three European countries that hosted secret CIA prisons, where “high-value detainees” were subjected to torture.

Whereas the other two countries — Romania and Lithuania — have either refused to accept that a secret prison existed, or have opened and then prematurely shut an investigation, Poland has an ongoing official investigation, which began four years ago and shows no sign of being dismissed, even if numerous obstacles to justice have been erected along the way.

Last week, two US news outlets — the Los Angeles Times and ABC News — reported the latest claim by Senator Jozef Pinior, who, as ABC News explained, told the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza that prosecutors “have a document that shows a local contractor was asked to build a cage at Stare Kiekuty,” the Polish army base that was used by the CIA as its main prison for “high-value detainees” from December 2002 (when the previous prison in Thailand was closed down) until September 2003, when, for six months, the main “high-value detainees” were held in a secret prison within Guantánamo, before being transferred back to facilities in Europe and Morocco. 14 “high-value detainees” were eventually returned to Guantánamo, as military prisoners, in September 2006. Read the rest of this entry »

Chaos at Guantánamo as the 9/11 Trial Begins

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 »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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