In Abu Zubaydah Court Case, US Judges Admit That He Was Tortured

An image of Abu Zubaydah by Brigid Barrett for an article in Wired in 2013. The original photo is from the classified US military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

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When it comes to the disgraceful US prison at Guantánamo Bay, where men are held — on a seemingly endlessly basis — without charge or trial, and where many of the 40 men still held were the victims of torture in CIA “black sites” before their arrival at the prison, the dominant reaction, from the mainstream US media and the American people in general, as Guantánamo nears the 18th anniversary of its opening, is one of amnesia.

With the valiant exception of Carol Rosenberg, who has been visiting the prison since it opened, and who, these days, is often the only journalist visiting and paying attention to its despairing prisoners and its broken trials, the mainstream media largely pays little or no attention to Guantánamo, as was apparent in June, when a significant court victory for the prisoners — challenging the long-standing nullification of the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights, dating back to 2011 — was completely ignored. I wrote about it here for Close Guantánamo, and also posted it here, where it secured significant interest from the small community of people who still care about the injustices of Guantánamo, but it was dispiriting that no one else noticed.

Two weeks ago, the mainstream US media once more largely failed to notice a significant court ruling relating to Guantánamo — and the US torture program — which was delivered by judges in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in relation to Abu Zubaydah, held at Guantánamo since September 2006, and the prisoner for whom the CIA’s torture program was first developed back in 2002.

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17 Years Since the Notorious Yoo-Bybee “Torture Memos,” the US Still Finds Itself Unable to Successfully Prosecute the Men It Tortured

John Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and prisoners on a rendition plane.

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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.

August 1 was the 17th anniversary of a particularly grotesque and dispiriting event in modern US history, one that has ramifications that are still being felt today, even though it was completely unnoticed — or ignored — by the US media. 

On August 1, 2002, Jay S. Bybee, then the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), the branch of the Justice Department responsible for advising the executive branch on what is, and what is not legal, signed off on two blatantly unlawful memos written by OLC lawyer John Yoo, which attempted to re-define torture, and approved its use on Abu Zubaydah, a prisoner of the “war on terror” that the US declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, who was being held in a secret prison — a “black site” — run by the CIA.

The memos remained secret until June 2004, when, in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal, when photos were leaked of torture in a US-run prison in Iraq, one of the Yoo-Bybee memos was also leaked, provoking widespread disgust, although Yoo and Bybee escaped the criticism unscathed. For his services, Bybee was made a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, while Yoo kept his job as a law professor at the University of Berkeley. 

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13 Years Ago, Three Men Died at Guantánamo, Victims of a Brutal Regime of Lawlessness That Is Fundamentally Unchanged Today

Yasser al-Zahrani and Ali al-Salami, two of the three men who died at Guantánamo on the night of June 9, 2006, in circumstances that remain deeply contentious. The US authorities insist that they committed suicide, but other troubling accounts have robustly questioned that conclusion. No photo publicly exists of the third man, Mani- al-Utaybi.

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On the night of June 9, 2006, three prisoners at Guantánamo died, their deaths shockingly and insensitively described by the prison’s then-commander, Adm. Harry Harris Jr., as “an act of asymmetrical warfare against us.”

The three men were Yasser al-Zahrani, a Saudi who was just 17 when he was seized in Afghanistan in December 2001, Mani al-Utaybi, another Saudi, and Ali al-Salami, a Yemeni. All three had been prominent hunger strikers.

Al-Zahrani, the son of a prominent Saudi government official, was a survivor of the Qala-i-Janghi massacre, which John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban,” who was recently released after 17 years in a US prison, also survived. Over 400 fighters, supporting the Taliban, had been told that if they surrendered, they would then be set free, but it was a betrayal. They were taken to a fort, Qala-i-Janghi, run by General Rashid Dostum, one of the leaders of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, where some of the men, fearing they would be killed, started an uprising with concealed weapons. Over the course of a week, the prisoners were bombed, set on fire, and, finally, flooded out of a basement, and when they finally emerged, only 86 of the original prisoners had survived.

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Slow Death at Guantánamo: Why Torture and Open-Ended Arbitrary Detention Are Such Bad Ideas

An undated photo of a prisoner at Guantánamo being escorted by guards (Photo: Chris Hondros / Getty Images).

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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

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.

Let’s be clear about two things before we start: torture and indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial are never acceptable under any circumstances. Torture is prohibited under the UN Convention Against Torture, introduced in 1985 and ratified by Ronald Reagan, and Article 2.2 of the Convention states, unequivocally, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” 

In addition, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is unacceptable because there are only two ways in which it is acceptable for countries that claim to respect the rule of law to deprive someone of their liberty: either by trying them for a crime in federal court, or holding them as a prisoner of war until the end of hostiliites, with the protections of the Geneva Conventions. 

After 9/11, however, the US created a network of torture prisons around the world, and invented a third category of prisoner — illegal or unlawful enemy combatants — who had no rights whatsoever. 

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16 Years Since John Yoo and Jay Bybee’s “Torture Memos” Were Issued, Abu Zubaydah Remains in Guantánamo, Silenced and Alone

Abu Zubaydah: illustration by Brigid Barrett from an article in Wired in July 2013. The photo used is from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2013.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 was on vacation recently when a terrible anniversary passed unnoticed by the mainstream media — the 16th anniversary of two official US government memos authorizing the use of torture, and specifically approving it for use on Abu Zubaydah, which were issued on August 1, 2002.

A Saudi-born Palestinian, Zubaydah — whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn — was seized in a house raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan on March 28, 2002, and held and tortured in CIA “black sites” until, in September 2006, he was sent to Guantánamo, where he remains to this day, held largely incommunicado, and without being charged or put on trial. 

In a useful article for the generally dreadful Lawfare blog, whose existence normalizes the notion of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial, one of his lawyers, Charles R. Church, recently wrote an article entitled, “What Politics and the Media Still Get Wrong About Abu Zubaydah,” in which he wrote, “Perhaps not since the French political scandal known as the Dreyfus Affair, at the turn of the 20th century, has there been such a concerted campaign to promulgate false information about a prisoner. In our client’s case, the motive was to gain permission to torture Abu Zubaydah and to provide a basis for holding him incommunicado and in isolation.” Read the rest of this entry »

European Court of Human Rights Condemns Romania and Lithuania for CIA “Black Sites” Where Abu Zubaydah and Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri Were Tortured

Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, two prisoners held in secret CIA "black sites" in Lithuania and Romania, whose governments were condemned for their involvement in the "black sites" and torture in two devastating rulings delivered by the European Court of Human Rights in May 2018.

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In two devastating rulings on May 31, the European Court of Human Rights found that the actions of the Romanian and Lithuanian governments, when they hosted CIA “black sites” as part of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture program, and held, respectively, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, who have both been held at Guantánamo since September 2006, breached key articles of the European Convention on Human Rights; specifically, Article 3, prohibiting the use of torture, Article 5 on the right to liberty and security, Article 8 on respect for private life, and Article 13 on the right to an effective legal remedy.

The full rulings can be found here: Abu Zubaydah v. Lithuania and Al-Nashiri v. Romania.

In the case of al-Nashiri, who faces a capital trial in Guantánamo’s military commission trial system, as the alleged mastermind of the bombing of USS Cole in 2000, in which 17 US sailors died, the Court also found that the Romanian government had denied him the right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the ECHR, and had “exposed him to a ‘flagrant denial of justice’ on his transfer to the US,” as Deutsche Welle described it, adding that the judges insisted that the Romanian government should “seek assurances from the US that al-Nashiri would not be sentenced to the death penalty, which in Europe is outlawed.” Abu Zubaydah, it should be noted, has never been charged with anything, even though the torture program was initially created for him after his capture in a house raid in Pakistan in March 2002. At the time, the US authorities regarded him as a senior figure in Al-Qaeda, although they subsequently abandoned that position. Read the rest of this entry »

16 Years Ago, the US Captured Abu Zubaydah, First Official Victim of the Post-9/11 Torture Program, Still Held at Guantánamo Without Charge or Trial

Abu Zubaydah: illustration by Brigid Barrett from an article in Wired in July 2013. The photo used is from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2013.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.

16 years ago, on March 28, 2002, an event took place that has had dreadful repercussions ever since, when Pakistani and American agents raided a house in Faisalabad, Pakistan and captured Abu Zubaydah (Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), creating a torture program especially for him, which was then applied to dozens of other prisoners seized in the US’s brutal and pointless “war on terror.”

A Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia in 1971, Zubaydah had traveled to Afghanistan to join the mujahideen in the Afghan civil war (1989-1992) that followed the retreat of the Soviet Union after its ten-year occupation. In 1992, he was severely injured by an exploding mortar shell, suffering shrapnel wounds and severe memory loss. For over a year, he was also left unable to speak.

Although he eventually recovered sufficiently to become a logistician for Khalden, an independent training camp run by Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, which closed around 2000 when al-Libi refused to allow it to come under the control of Al-Qaeda, FBI agents who interviewed him after his capture had no doubt that the mortar damage had caused permanent damage. They also knew that he was a kind of travel agent for Khalden, and not number 3 in Al-Qaeda, as the CIA and the Bush administration mistakenly thought. (Al-Libi, meanwhile, tortured into telling lies that the US used to justify its illegal invasion of Iraq, was eventually returned to Libya, where Col. Gaddafi imprisoned him and later killed him). Read the rest of this entry »

The Torture Trail of Gina Haspel Makes Her Unsuitable to be Director of the CIA

Gina Haspel, the current Deputy Director of the CIA, and Donald Trump, who last week appointed her as the CIA's next Director, a nomination that should face hurdles in Congress because of her role overseeing a "black site" in Thailand, and her role in destroying videotapes of torture at the site.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.

Last Tuesday, Donald Trump announced that Mike Pompeo, the current Director of the CIA, would become the new Secretary of State, replacing Rex Tillerson, while Gina Haspel, the current Deputy Director of the CIA, would be promoted to Director, “the first woman so chosen.”

There was nothing positive about this development. As usual, Trump, defying protocol and any notion of politeness, announced Tillerson’s sacking, and the new appointments, by tweet. Tillerson, formerly the CEO of ExxonMobil, had been an indifferent Secretary of State, but Pompeo is a poor choice to be the nation’s top diplomat — hawkish on Iran, and a supporter of the continuing existence of Guantánamo. Interestingly, the New Yorker noted that Tillerson was fired shortly after agreeing with the British government that Russia “appears” to have been responsible for the recent nerve-gas attack on a former Russian spy in Salisbury, in the UK. Pompeo, however, is not averse to criticizing Russia, in contrast to Trump himself, who, ignoring his advisers, on Tuesday congratulated Vladimir Putin on his recent election victory.

However, the bulk of the criticism after Trump’s announcement has, deservedly, been reserved for the promotion of Gina Haspel, who oversaw the last few months’ existence of the CIA’s first post-9/11 “black site” in Thailand, and later conspired to destroy videotapes of the torture that took place there. Unlike Mike Pompeo, who has taken a stance agains torture, there is no sign from Haspel that she recognizes the illegality of torture, and in Donald Trump, of course, she has a president who is an enthusiastic advocate for the use of torture. Read the rest of this entry »

In Guantánamo Habeas Corpus Case, Lawyers Insist That Trump’s Stated Intention of Not Releasing Any Prisoners Renders Their Imprisonment “Perpetual” — and Illegal

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly and a photo of the prison at Guantanamo Bay on the day of its opening, Jan. 11, 2002.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.





 

On January 11, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, lawyers for eleven of the 41 prisoners still held submitted a habeas corpus petition to the District Court in Washington, D.C., arguing, as a press release by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights put it, that “[Donald] Trump’s proclamation against releasing anyone from Guantánamo, regardless of their circumstances, which has borne out for the first full year of the Trump presidency, is arbitrary and unlawful and amounts to ‘perpetual detention for detention’s sake.’”

CCR’s press release also stated that the lawyers’ filing “argues that continued detention is unconstitutional because any legitimate rationale for initially detaining these men has long since expired; detention now, 16 years into Guantánamo’s operation, is based only on Trump’s raw antipathy towards Guantánamo prisoners – all foreign-born Muslim men – and Muslims more broadly.” The lawyers added that “Donald Trump’s proclamation that he will not release any detainees during his administration reverses the approach and policies of both President Bush and President Obama, who collectively released nearly 750 men.”

In an article marking the submission of the habeas petition, I explained that the eleven men whose lawyers submitted the petition are “Tawfiq al-Bihani (ISN 893) aka Tofiq or Toffiq al-Bihani, a Yemeni who was approved for release by Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010, Abdul Latif Nasser (ISN 244) aka Abdu Latif Nasser, a Moroccan approved for release in 2016 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process, and nine others whose ongoing imprisonment was upheld by their PRBs: Yemenis Zohair al-Sharabi aka Suhail Sharabi (ISN 569), Said Nashir (ISN 841), Sanad al-Kazimi (ISN 1453) and Sharqawi al-Hajj (ISN 1457), Pakistanis Abdul Rabbani (ISN 1460) and Ahmed Rabbani (ISN 1461), the Algerian Saeed Bakhouche (ISN 685), aka Said Bakush, mistakenly known as Abdul Razak or Abdul Razak Ali, Abdul Malik aka Abdul Malik Bajabu (ISN 10025), a Kenyan, and one of the last men to be brought to the prison — inexplicably — in 2007, and Abu Zubaydah (ISN 10016), one of Guantánamo’s better-known prisoners, a stateless Palestinian, for whom the post-9/11 torture program was initially conceived, under the mistaken belief that he was a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda.” Read the rest of this entry »

As Guantánamo Enters Its 17th Year of Operations, Lawyers Hit Trump with Lawsuit Stating That His Blanket Refusal to Release Anyone Amounts to Arbitrary Detention

After launching the new lawsuit against Donald Trump, lawyers with the Center for Constitutional Rights came to the White House to join the annual protest against Guantanamo's continued existence (on the left, legal director Baher Azmy, and on the right, Omar Farah and Pardiss Kebriaei. In the center is Advocacy Program Manager Aliya Hussain (Photo: Andy Worthington).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, including my current visit to the US.





 

January 11 was the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo, and as campaigners (myself included) were making their way to the White House to prepare for the annual protest against the prison’s continued existence — the first under Donald Trump — and, in my case, to launch the new poster campaign counting how many days Guantánamo has been open, and urging Donald Trump to close it, lawyers with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Reprieve were launching a new lawsuit at the National Press Club prior to joining the protesters.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of eleven prisoners, and, as CCR’s press release states, it “argues that Trump’s proclamation against releasing anyone from Guantánamo, regardless of their circumstances, which has borne out for the first full year of the Trump presidency, is arbitrary and unlawful and amounts to ‘perpetual detention for detention’s sake.’”

CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei said, “It’s clear that a man who thinks we should water-board terror suspects even if it doesn’t work, because ‘they deserve it, anyway’ has no qualms about keeping every last detainee in Guantanamo, so long as he holds the jailhouse key.”

CCR’s press release also stated, “The filing argues that continued detention is unconstitutional because any legitimate rationale for initially detaining these men has long since expired; detention now, 16 years into Guantánamo’s operation, is based only on Trump’s raw antipathy towards Guantánamo prisoners – all foreign-born Muslim men – and Muslims more broadly,” adding that “Donald Trump’s proclamation that he will not release any detainees during his administration reverses the approach and policies of both President Bush and President Obama, who collectively released nearly 750 men.” 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 (The State of London).
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