In the long quest for accountability for those who ordered and implemented the crimes committed by the United States since 9/11 in its brutal and counter-productive “war on terror,” victory has so far proven elusive, and no one has had to answer for the torture, the extraordinary rendition, the CIA “black sites,” the proxy torture prisons elsewhere, the shameful disregard of the Geneva Conventions and the embrace of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial that has been such a shame and disgrace for anyone not blinded by the violence and vengeance that have consumed so much of the US’s actions and attitudes in the last 14 and a half years.
In the US itself, President Obama made it clear from the beginning that he was looking forwards and not backwards when it came to accountability, as though sweeping the crimes mentioned above under the carpet would remove their poison from infecting US society as a whole. An early example of refusing to allow any victims of extraordinary rendition and torture anywhere near a courtroom was the Obama administration, in 2009 (and into 2010), invoking the “state secrets doctrine” (a blanket denial of any effort to challenge the government’s actions) to prevent the British resident and torture victim Binyam Mohamed and others from challenging the Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen for its role as the CIA’s travel agent for torture.
In February 2010, President Obama also allowed a Justice Department fixer to override the conclusions of an ethics investigation into John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who wrote and approved the 2002 “torture memos” that cynically purported to redefine torture so it could legally be used by the CIA. The investigation had concluded that they were guilty of “wrongful conduct,” but they received only a slapped wrist after Deputy Attorney General David Margolis concluded instead that they had merely exercised “poor judgment.” Read the rest of this entry »
Last week there was some good news from Bagram, in Afghanistan, bringing one of the many long injustices of the “war on terror” to an end, when Amin al-Bakri and Fadi al-Maqaleh, two Yemenis held without charge or trial since 2002 and 2003 respectively, were repatriated.
Al-Bakri, who is 44 or 45 years old and has three children, was a shrimp merchant and gemstone dealer, and was seized in Thailand on a business trip. Al-Maqaleh, who is 30 years old, was held at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq before being transferred to Bagram. The site of America’s main prison in Afghanistan from 2002 until its handover to the Afghan authorities in March 2013, Bagram (renamed the Parwan Detention Facility in 2009) also housed a secret CIA prison where al-Bakri and al-Maqaleh were held, and they continued to be held in a secretive US facility that was part of the Bagram/Parwan complex after the handover of Bagram to the Afghan government. According to the International Justice Network, which represents both men, they were also held in other “black sites” prior to their arrival at Bagram.
The men’s release follows years of legal wrangling. Despite official silence regarding the stories of the men held in Bagram’s “black site,” lawyers managed to find out about a number of the men held, including al-Bakri and al-Maqaleh, in part drawing on research I had undertaken in 2006 for my book The Guantánamo Files. Habeas corpus petitions were then submitted, for the two Yemenis, and for a Tunisian named Redha al-Najar, seized in Karachi, Pakistan in 2002, and Haji Wazir, an Afghan businessman seized in the United Arab Emirates, also in 2002. Read the rest of this entry »
Back in March 2009, three foreign prisoners seized in other countries and rendered to the main US prison in Afghanistan, at Bagram airbase, where they had been held for up to seven years, secured a legal victory in the District Court in Washington D.C., when Judge John D. Bates ruled that they had habeas corpus rights; in other words, the right to challenge the basis of their imprisonment under the “Great Writ” that prevents arbitrary detention.
The men — amongst dozens of foreigners held in Afghanistan — secured their legal victory because Judge Bates recognized that their circumstances were essentially the same as the prisoners at Guantánamo, who had been granted habeas corpus rights by the Supreme Court in June 2008.
Unfortunately, the Obama administration appealed Judge Bates’ careful and logical ruling, and the judges of the D.C. Circuit Court agreed, overturning the ruling in May 2010, and returning the three men to their legal black hole.
In April 2011, the Associated Press reported that the three men — Redha al-Najar, a Tunisian seized in Karachi, Pakistan in May 2002; Amin al-Bakri, a Yemeni gemstone dealer seized in Bangkok, Thailand in late 2002; and Fadi al-Maqaleh, a Yemeni seized in 2004 and sent to Abu Ghraib before Bagram — had all been cleared for release by review boards at Bagram, or, as it is now known, the Parwan Detention Facility. Read the rest of this entry »
Last November, a war crimes tribunal established in Malaysia “found George Bush and Tony Blair guilty of ‘crimes against peace’ and other war crimes for their 2003 aggressive attack on Iraq, as well as fabricating pretexts used to justify the attack,” as Glenn Greenwald explained at the time. The seven-member Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal, established in 2007 by Mahathir bin Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2003, “has no formal enforcement power,” as Greenwald also explained, “but was modeled after a 1967 tribunal in Sweden and Denmark that found the US guilty of a war of aggression in Vietnam, and, even more so, after the US-led Nuremberg Tribunal held after World War II.”
The tribunal “ruled that Bush and Blair’s name should be entered in a register of war criminals, urged that they be recognized as such under the Rome Statute, and also petitioned the International Criminal Court “to proceed with binding charges.” Though symbolic, the purpose was hugely important, as a Malaysian lawyer explained at the time, saying, “For these people who have been immune from prosecution, we want to put them on trial in this forum to prove that they committed war crimes.” In other words, as Greenwald stated, “because their own nations refuse to hold them accountable and can use their power to prevent international bodies from doing so, the tribunal wanted at least formal legal recognition of these war crimes to be recorded and the evidence of their guilt assembled.”
Greenwald also noted, “That’s the same reason a separate panel of this tribunal will hold hearings later this year on charges of torture” against senior US officials, and last week this second tribunal convened, hearing from three witnesses — former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, and Abbas Abid and Jameela Abbas, both victims of US torture in Iraq, as well as receiving written submissions from other victims. Read the rest of this entry »
On August 30, when In My Time, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s self-serving autobiography was published, the timing was pernicious. Cheney knows by now that every time he opens his mouth to endorse torture or to defend Guantánamo, the networks welcome him, and newspapers lavish column inches on his opinions, even though astute editors and programmers must realize that, far from being an innocuous elder statesman defending the “war on terror” as a robust response to the 9/11 attacks, Cheney has an ulterior motive: to keep at bay those who are aware that he and other Bush administration officials were responsible for authorizing the use of torture by US forces, and that torture is a crime in the United States.
As a result, Cheney knew that, on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that launched the “war on terror” that he is still so concerned to defend, his voice would be echoing in the ears of millions of his countrymen and women, helping to disguise a bitter truth: that, following the 9/11 attacks, Cheney was largely responsible for the abomination that is Guantánamo, and for the torture to which prisoners were subjected from Abu Ghraib to Bagram to Guantánamo and the “black sites” that littered the world.
Alarmingly, while Cheney has been largely successful in claiming that the use of torture was helpful, despite a lack of evidence that this was the case, what strikes me as even more alarming is that many Americans are still unaware of the extent to which the torture for which Cheney was such a cheerleader did not keep them safe from terrorist attacks, but actually provided a lie that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, the publication of the final report of the Baha Mousa Inquiry demonstrated that, occasionally, when something truly monstrous has occurred, the British government can do the right thing, and hold a proper inquiry.
Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist in Basra, Iraq, was killed by British soldiers in September 2003, his brutalized body bearing 93 separate injuries, after two days of what the judge in the three-year inquiry, Sir William Gage, described as “serious, gratuitous violence” that leaves “a very great stain on the reputation of the Army.”
As the Independent explained in an editorial today, the report is “damning.” The judge found that the “savagery meted out to Mr. Mousa and fellow detainees in Basra in 2003 were not the actions of a few ‘bad apples,'” but were, instead, “the result of systemic, ‘corporate’ failures that meant neither the abusive soldiers, nor their superiors, were aware that forcing detainees to wear hoods and adopt excruciating stress positions contravened both British law and the Geneva Convention.”
The Independent noted, “That any British soldier is unclear about what constitutes torture is disgraceful enough. That there were others who saw what was happening and allowed it to continue is truly shameful.” Read the rest of this entry »
How convenient is it that a door shuts on the Bush administration’s global program of extraordinary rendition and torture, just as America’s military-industrial complex plays musical chairs — with Republican holdover Robert Gates leaving as defense secretary, to be replaced by Leon Panetta, who has spent the last two years as the director of the CIA, while Gen. David Petraeus, the military commander in Afghanistan, takes over Panetta’s role at the CIA?
The answer has to be that it would be hard to conceive of a neater example of how the military and the intelligence agencies — or the CIA, at least — are at the very heart of government.
The door that is shutting is the one that involves accountability for the many prisoners subjected to “extraordinary rendition,” torture, and, in some cases, murder, in the Bush administration’s “high-value detainee” program. This involved the creation of secret torture prisons in Thailand, Poland, Romania and Lithuania, and, for a while, in Guantánamo, as well as others in Afghanistan and Iraq, the rendition of prisoners between these facilities, and also to the dungeons of allies in Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Morocco. Read the rest of this entry »
At the weekend, to mark the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which takes place on June 26 each year, President Obama issued an extraordinary statement, declaring support for those working to eradicate the use of torture, and explaining that “[t]orture and abusive treatment violate our most deeply held values,” that they “do not enhance our national security,” that they “serv[e] as a recruiting tool for terrorists and further endanger the lives of American personnel,” and that they “are ineffective at developing useful, accurate information.”
The President was absolutely correct in his assessment of the problems with torture, and was also correct to point out how “President Reagan signed, and a bipartisan Senate coalition ratified” the UN Convention Against Torture, which came to force on June 26, 1987, and whose anniversary has been marked, since 1998, as the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
However, when President Obama wrote of “paying tribute to all those who are courageously working to eradicate these inhuman practices from our world, and reaffirming the commitment of the United States to achieving this important goal,” and of remaining “dedicated to supporting the efforts of other nations, as well as international and nongovernmental organizations, to eradicate torture through human rights training for security forces, improving prison and detention conditions, and encouraging the development and enforcement of strong laws that outlaw this abhorrent practice,” it was difficult not to ignore the stench of hypocrisy. Read the rest of this entry »
With what can only come across as cynical timing, the US Supreme Court on Monday, the day after the UN International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, declined without comment to take up a lawsuit filed on behalf of 250 Iraqis — formerly prisoners at the notorious Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, home of the most significant scandal in the Bush administration’s “War on Terror,” which surfaced in April 2004 with the publication of photos showing the torture and abuse of Iraqi prisoners in US custody at the prison. The prisoners were seeking to hold Titan Corporation, which provided Arabic translation services, and CACI International, which provided interrogators, accountable for their role in the torture and abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in 2003 and 2004.
Although a handful of serving US military personnel — eleven in total, referred to by President Bush as “a few bad apples” — were prosecuted for the abuse at Abu Ghraib, they were, in fact, scapegoated for implementing a policy that came from the highest levels of government, and which was designed to ensure that all aspects of the detention regime were dependant upon the whims of interrogators — as at Guantánamo, from where the system was exported by its commander, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who was sent to “Gitmoize” Abu Ghraib with the results that the world saw to its horror in April 2004.
The case that was shunned by the Supreme Court on Monday, Saleh v. Titan Corporation, was an important attempt to extend accountability from the military to the contractors who make up such a huge part of America’s post-9/11 war machine, and who, unlike their official military counterparts, appear to be as much beyond the law as the senior administration officials — and their lawyers — who implemented, approved and oversaw every aspect of the “War on Terror” that should have shocked the conscience — involving torture, “extraordinary rendition,” secret prisons and the miseries of arbitrary detention at Guantánamo. As Human Rights First explained, “Army investigations implicated at least five private contractors in similar crimes,” although “no contractor was ever charged.” Read the rest of this entry »
In a significant gesture in the run-up to the UN International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, which takes place on June 26, and was inaugurated in 1998, on the 11th anniversary of the ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture, ten human rights groups in the US, including the ACLU, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch and the PEN American Center, have sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to honor the overlooked lawyers, officials and soldiers who, under the Bush administration, took a stand against torture, often at great risk to their careers.
As the groups point out, these individuals — who include Sgt. Joe Darby, former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora, Col. Morris Davis, Lt. Col. V. Stuart Couch, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld and former CIA Inspector General John Helgersen — upheld America’s values and its laws when the Bush administration had moved over to the “dark side” embraced by former Vice President Dick Cheney, and their contributions deserve to be officially acknowledged, especially as others who actively contributed to the illegal and immoral torture program were rewarded by President Bush.
Obviously, the elephant in the room, when it comes to asking President Obama to honor those who publicly opposed the Bush administration’s torture program, is that this should also be accompanied by a call for the officials who authorized the program (up to and including President Bush, who boasted about authorizing waterboarding — a crime — in his autobiography last year) or attempted to justify the torture program (like John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who wrote and approved what are now known as the “torture memos”) to be prosecuted according to the US federal anti-torture statute. Read the rest of this entry »
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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