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 »
Exactly ten years ago, on August 1, 2002, Jay S. Bybee, who, at the time, was the Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, signed two memos (see here and here) that will forever be known as the “torture memos.” Also known as the Bybee memos, because of Bybee’s signature on them, they were in fact mainly written by John Yoo, a law professor at UC Berkeley, who worked as a lawyer in the OLC from 2001 to 2003.
Although the OLC is supposed to provide impartial legal advice to the executive branch, Yoo was not interested in being impartial. As one of six lawyers close to Vice President Dick Cheney — along with David Addington, Cheney’s Legal Counsel, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, White House Deputy Counsel Tim Flanigan, William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, and his deputy, Daniel Dell’Orto — he played a significant role in formulating the notion that, in the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” prisoners could be held as “enemy combatants” without the traditional protections of the Geneva Conventions; in other words, without any rights whatsoever.
This position was confirmed in an executive order issued by President Bush on February 7, 2002, and was not officially challenged until the Supreme Court reminded the government, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in June 2006, that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits torture and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment,” applies to all prisoners seized in wartime. Read the rest of this entry »
Exactly ten years ago, two memos written by John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, were signed by his immediate boss, Jay S. Bybee. In these two memos, Yoo, also a law professor at UC Berkeley, attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used on Abu Zubaydah, an alleged “high-value detainee” seized in the “war on terror,” even though the US is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits the use of torture under any circumstances.
These two memos, generally known as the Bybee memos, but forever known to anyone with a conscience as the “torture memos,” marked the start of an official torture program that will forever be a black mark on America’s reputation — as well as providing cover for torturers worldwide, and turning America into such a dubious and lawless nation that President Obama and his administration have shied away form holding any of their predecessors accountable for their actions, and have swallowed the Bush administration’s rhetoric about a “war on terror” to such an extent that, although torture has been officially repudiated, the administration has presided over a massive increase in the use of unmanned drones to assassinate those regarded as a threat, without any judicial process, and in countries with which the US is not at war, including US citizens.
In an article to follow soon, I will examine this anniversary more closely, but for now I wanted to make sure that I marked it in some manner, having been away at the WOMAD world music festival for most of the run-up to it, and I’m delighted to use the occasion to cross-post an op-ed from the Los Angeles Times written by Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, who resigned five years ago, when he was placed in a chain of command under William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, and one of the main drivers of the torture program. Read the rest of this entry »
Ten and a half years into the Guantánamo experiment, as it becomes ever harder for those who are still appalled by the prison’s existence, and by the failures of all three branches of the US government — under Barack Obama — to close it, my friends and colleagues Jeffrey Kaye and Jason Leopold are to be commended for not giving up, and for digging away at the secrets that still shroud Guantánamo, and that, moreover, are still capable of providing a shock when uncovered, even if they are generally ignored by the mainstream media.
On Wednesday, the mainstream media decided to pay attention for a change, and Jeff and Jason’s report on a drugging scandal at Guantánamo, published on Truthout, where Jason is the lead investigative reporter and Jeff, a full-time psychologist, is also a regular contributor, was picked up by mainstream media outlets including the Associated Press, AFP and Britain’s Daily Mail.
Their article was based on the release of a Pentagon report, “Investigation of Allegations of the Use of Mind-Altering Drugs to Facilitate Interrogations of Detainees” that they requested through Freedom of Information legislation two years ago, and it paints a depressing story of prisoners at Guantánamo being given given powerful anti-psychotic medication and then, on occasions, interrogated, even though they were in no fit state to answer questions competently. Read the rest of this entry »
On Christmas Day 2008, a comment by someone identifying themselves as Hesham Abu Zubaydah was submitted on an article I had written many months earlier, entitled, The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts. This was the first of many articles I have written explaining how Abu Zubaydah, the “high-value detainee” for whom the Bush administration’s torture program was specifically developed, was not a senior al-Qaeda operative, as the administration claimed, but was instead the mentally damaged gatekeeper of a training camp, Khaldan, that was independent of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden.
The comment read, “Yes that is my brother and I live in Oregon. Do you think I should have been locked away for 2 years with no charges for a act of a sibling? I am the younger brother of Zayn [Abu Zubydah's real name, Zayn al-Abidin Mohamed Husayn] and I live in the USA. Tell me what you think.”
In response, from what I recall, I responded to the comment, but did not hear anything back. With hindsight, I should have pursued it further, but I’m glad to note that, eventually, my friend and colleague Jason Leopold stumbled across the comment, tracked down Hesham in Florida, where he lives with his wife Jody, and began a 14-month investigation that resulted in the publication, yesterday, of EXCLUSIVE: From Hopeful Immigrant to FBI Informant – the Inside Story of the Other Abu Zubaidah, a 15,000-word article by Jason that was published by Truthout, where he is the lead investigative reporter, and where I am an occasional contributor. Read the rest of this entry »
Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will hopefully be completed by 2013, although that is contingent on finding new funding.
This is Part 34 of the 70-part series. 422 stories have now been told. See the entire archive here.
In late April last year, I worked with WikiLeaks as a media partner for the publication of thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. These documents drew heavily on the testimony of the prisoners themselves, and also on the testimony of their fellow inmates (either in Guantánamo, or in secret prisons run by or on behalf of the CIA), whose statements are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion, or because they provided false statements in the hope of securing better treatment in Guantánamo.
The documents were compiled by the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo (JTF GTMO), which operates the prison, and were based on assessments and reports made by interrogators and analysts whose primary concern was to “exploit” the prisoners for their intelligence value. They also include input from the Criminal Investigative Task Force, created by the DoD in 2002 to conduct interrogations on a law enforcement basis, rather than for “actionable intelligence.”
My ongoing analysis of the documents began in May, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. This was followed by a ten-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004,” in which I revisited the stories of 114 other prisoners released in this period, adding information from the Detainee Assessment Briefs to what was already known about these men and boys from press reports and other sources. This was followed by another five-part series, “WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005,” dealing with the period from September 2004 to the end of 2005, when 62 prisoners were released.
This, as I explained, was the period in which, after the prisoners won a spectacular victory in the Supreme Court in June 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, when the Supreme Court granted them habeas corpus rights (in other words, the right to ask an impartial judge why they were being held), lawyers were allowed to meet the prisoners for the first time, and the secrecy that was required for Guantánamo to function as an interrogation center beyond the law was finally broken. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, lawyers for Abu Zubaydah, an alleged “high-value detainee” in the “war on terror,” who was held in secret CIA prisons for four and a half years until his transfer to Guantánamo in September 2006, submitted a letter to the Convening Authority for the military commissions at Guantánamo, Retired Vice Admiral Bruce MacDonald, asking for their client to be charged, after more than ten years in US custody. I followed up on this by writing an article pointing out that seven other “high-value detainees” held at Guantánamo — mostly since September 2006, but in two cases since 2007 and 2008 — have also not been charged, and asked, with regard to these eight men, “Are there any plans to try them? Or is the Obama administration happy for them to be held for the rest of their lives without charge or trial — a confirmation, if any were needed, that indefinite detention without charge or trial has, through Guantánamo, become normalized?”
Today, I had planned to publish the letter that Joe Margulies and the other lawyers for Abu Zubaydah wrote to Bruce MacDonald, which Marcy Wheeler made available on her website Empty Wheel, and I am proceeding with that plan, as the letter contains an important summary of the Bush administration’s disgraceful and illegal torture program, for which no one in authority has yet been held accountable, as well as summarizing the scandalous treatment of Abu Zubaydah, and how the claims about his significance have melted away with the passage of time. It also is an indictment of the Obama administration’s unwillingness to deal adequately with the toxic inheritance left by the Bush administration.
In addition, however, I am also publishing the response to the letter that Bruce MacDonald wrote on May 17, in which he pointed out that the decision on whether or not to prosecute lies with the Office of the Chief Prosecutor — and that therefore, by inference, it is a decision that also involves defense secretary Leon Panetta and President Obama as the Commander in Chief — and also pointed out that Abu Zubaydah can “challenge the legality of his detention by seeking a writ of habeas corpus.” Read the rest of this entry »
Two weeks ago, when Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other “high-value detainees” were arraigned at Guantánamo, in preparation for their forthcoming trial by military commission, they brought to eight the number of “high-value detainees” tried, put forward for trials or having agreed to a plea deal to avoid a trial and secure a reduced sentence.
In total, 16 “high-value detainees” have been sent to Guantánamo — 14 in September 2006, another in 2007 and another in 2008. One, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, was tried and convicted in federal court in New York in 2010, another, Majid Khan, accepted a plea deal in February this year, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his four co-defendants join another prisoner, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, in the slow-moving queue for military commission trials at Guantánamo.
But what of the other eight? Are there any plans to try them? Or is the Obama administration happy for them to be held for the rest of their lives without charge or trial — a confirmation, if any were needed, that indefinite detention without charge or trial has, through Guantánamo, become normalized? Read the rest of this entry »
Law-abiding US citizens have been appalled that Jose Rodriguez, the director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service until his retirement in 2007, was invited onto CBS’s “60 Minutes” program last weekend to promote his book Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, in which he defends the use of torture on “high-value detainees” captured in the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” even though that was — and is — illegal under US and international law.
Rodriguez joins an elite club of war criminals — including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — who, instead of being prosecuted for using torture, or authorizing its use, have, instead, been allowed to write books, go on book tours and appear on mainstream TV to attempt to justify their unjustifiable actions.
All claim to be protected by the “golden shield” offered by their inside man, John Yoo, part of a group of lawyers who aggressively pushed the lawlessness of the “war on terror.” Abusing his position as a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, whose mandate is to provide impartial legal advice to the executive branch, Yoo instead attempted to redefine torture and approved its use — including the use of waterboarding, an ancient torture technique and a form of controlled drowning — on an alleged “high-value detainee,” Abu Zubaydah, in two memos, dated August 1, 2002, that will forever be known as the “torture memos.” Read the rest of this entry »
Since I began researching Guantánamo and the “war on terror” on a full-time basis over six years ago, my motive has been to pierce the lies told about the prisoners, falsely tarred as “the worst of the worst,” even though most of them were rounded up for money, or through poor intelligence, and to expose the horrors that ensue when a rogue government — saturated in vengeance and with a long-standing disdain for restraints on executive power — disregards domestic and international law, deliberately confusing a terrorist attack with a war, depriving prisoners seized in wartime of the rights of the Geneva Conventions, and introducing arbitrary detention and torture.
Torture has permeated every aspect of America’s “war on terror,” and I have researched and written about what is known of its use at Guantánamo, and in prisons in Afghanistan, through the stories of the men held there and the documents about them that have been publicly released. I have also undertaken research into prisoners held in other locations — in the proxy prisons in countries including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Syria, where the torturers of those regimes extracted information on behalf of the CIA, and in the “black sites” run by the CIA, in a disturbingly novel departure from its traditional modus operandi, in Thailand, Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Morocco.
My main contribution to the documentation of these prisoners is a section of a UN report published in 2010, the “Joint Study on Global Practices in Relation to Secret Detention in the Context of Countering Terrorism,” dealing with US secret detention policies after 9/11, on which I was the lead author. That report is available here as a PDF, and in June 2010 I cross-posted the chapter dealing with US secret detention in three parts on my website — see UN Secret Detention Report (Part One): The CIA’s “High-Value Detainee” Program and Secret Prisons, UN Secret Detention Report (Part Two): CIA Prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq and UN Secret Detention Report (Part Three): Proxy Detention, Other Countries’ Complicity, and Obama’s Record. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
Email Andy Worthington
Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist: