The Latest Scandal of the Military Commissions at Guantánamo: A Death Penalty Case Without a Death Penalty Lawyer

The US flag, seen through barbed wire, at Guantanamo.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.

 

The military commissions at Guantánamo, since they were ill-advisedly dragged out of the history books by the Bush administration, have persistently failed to demonstrate anything more than a tangential relationship to justice, as I have been reporting for over ten years. Last September, I summarized the trial system’s many failures in an article entitled, Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions.

Under Donald Trump, there has been no improvement. Pre-trial hearings drag on, seemingly interminably, as defense lawyers seek to expose evidence of the torture of their clients in CIA “black sites,” while prosecutors, for the government, do everything they can to hide that evidence. Earlier this month, however, as I explained in a recent article, a new low point was reached when, astonishingly, the chief defense counsel, Brig. Gen. John Baker, was briefly imprisoned for defending the right of three civilian defense attorneys to resign after they found out that the government had been spying on them.

The loss of the attorneys led to a disgraceful situation in which the government insisted on limping on the with the capital case — against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a victim of CIA torture, and the alleged mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 — even though it is illegal to pursue a capital case without a qualified death penalty lawyer on board. That role was filled by Rick Kammen, who had been on al-Nashiri’s case for nine years. Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump’s Racism and Dangerous Lawlessness Revealed in Response to New York Attack; Proposal to Send Sayfullo Saipov to Guantánamo is Shameful

Don't say you weren't warned: the New York Daily News' front page on the day Trump announced his intention to run as a presidential candidate - in June 2015.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.

 

What a nasty racist clown Donald Trump is.

In response to the arrest of Sayfullo Saipov, a permanent US resident of Uzbek origin who is charged with killing eight people in an attack in New York, the Washington Post reported the following:

President Trump said Wednesday that he is considering sending the Uzbek immigrant accused of killing eight people in Tuesday’s terrorist attack in New York to the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and that the United States must be “much tougher” with its treatment of terror suspects.

Trump also called on Congress to immediately dismantle the State Department’s Diversity Visa Lottery program, through which authorities have said the suspected attacker, Sayfullo Saipov, came to the United States from Uzbekistan.

Read the rest of this entry »

Mohamedou Ould Slahi: One Year of Freedom, and the Uncensored Version of “Guantánamo Diary”

Mohamedou Ould Slahi (aka Salahi) as he appears on his Twitter account.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.

Just over a year ago, one of Guantánamo’s most celebrated prisoners, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, was released from the prison and sent back to his home country, Mauritania, after a review process at Guantánamo — a Periodic Review Board — recommended his release in July 2016.

Shamefully, this was over six years after a US federal court judge ordered his release, after Slahi’s lawyers submitted a habeas corpus petition on his behalf. In April 2010, Judge James Robertson found that the government “had failed to establish that what looked suspicious in his case — primarily, the fact that he was related to senior Al-Qaeda member Abu Hafs, and, while living in Germany, had met some of the 9/11 hijackers and had helped them to visit Afghanistan for military training — was actually evidence of involvement with Al-Qaeda.”

The government, however, refused to accept Judge Robertson’s ruling, and appealed, and in November 2010 the D.C. Circuit Court vacated that ruling, sending it back to the lower court to be reconsidered, where, as I described it in an article about Slahi’s case in April 2016, “it has languished ever since, mocking all notions of justice every day it has remained unaddressed.” Read the rest of this entry »

What Should Trump Do With the US Citizen Seized in Syria and Held in Iraq as an “Enemy Combatant”?

"Detainee Holding Cell": a US military sign, origin unknown.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.

 

It’s nearly a month since my curiosity was first piqued by an article in the Daily Beast by Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman, reporting that a US citizen fighting for ISIS had been captured in Syria and was now in US custody. Ackerman followed up on September 20, when “leading national security lawyers” told him that the case of the man, who was being held by the US military as an “enemy combatant,” after surrendering to US-allied Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Syria around September 12, “could spark a far-reaching legal challenge that could have a catastrophic effect on the entire war against ISIS.”

At the time, neither the Defense Department nor the Justice Department would discuss what would happen to the unnamed individual, although, as Ackerman noted, “Should the Justice Department ultimately take custody of the American and charge him with a terrorism-related crime, further legal controversy is unlikely, at least beyond the specifics of his case.” However, if Donald Trump wanted to send him to Guantánamo (as he has claimed he wants to be able to do), that would be a different matter.

A Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Ben Sakrisson, told Ackerman that, according to George W. Bush’s executive order about “war on terror” detentions, issued on November 13, 2001, and authorizing the establishment of military commissions, “United States citizens are excluded from being tried by Military Commissions, but nothing in that document prohibits detaining US citizens who have been identified as unlawful enemy combatants.” Read the rest of this entry »

Judge Confirms That Trial of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, Architects of CIA Torture Program, Will Go Ahead

James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen as they appeared in videos of their depositions as part of the court case against them in 2017.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.

 

Great news from Washington State, as Judge Justin Quackenbush, a federal court judge, has ruled that a “civil lawsuit brought by three victims of the CIA’s torture program against the two psychologists who created it will go to court on 5 September” after finding that “more than a year of discovery had yielded sufficient evidence to support the plaintiffs’ claims,” as Larry Siems, the editor of Mohamedou Ould Shahi’s acclaimed prison memoir, Guantánamo Diary, explained in an article for the Guardian.

The decision was expected, as Judge Quackenbush had allowed the case to proceed last April, a highly important decision that I wrote about at the time in an article entitled, In Historic Ruling, US Court Allows Lawsuit Against James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, Architects of CIA Torture Program, to Proceed. I also wrote a follow-up article in June this year, In Ongoing Court Case, Spotlight On James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, Architects of the Brutal, Pointless CIA Torture Program, after the New York Times obtained videos of the depositions made by Mitchell and Jessen, in which the two men attempted to defend their positions (the Times also obtained the depositions of two former CIA officials and of the plaintiffs, as well as newly declassified CIA documents).

As Larry Siems explained following this week’s ruling, “It will now be up to a jury in Spokane, Washington, to decide if the psychologists, who reportedly were paid $75m-$81m under their contract with the CIA to create the so-called enhanced interrogation program, are financially liable for the physical and psychological effects of their torture.” Read the rest of this entry »

Mohamedou Ould Slahi Released from Guantánamo, Thanks Those Who Stood By Him

Mohamedou Ould Slahi and the cover of "Guantanamo Diary"

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

Today, the population of the prison at Guantánamo Bay stands at just 60 men, after Mohamedou Ould Slahi, torture victim and best-selling author, was released, and sent back home to Mauritania.

It is just under 15 years since the Mauritanian authorities seized Slahi, at the request of the US. As he later put it, in the English he learned with a particular relish during his captivity, “my country turned me over, short-cutting all kinds of due process, like a candy bar to the United States.”

A Zelig-like figure, who had been around al-Qaeda, but only involved in it in the early 1990s, when he fought with al-Qaida against the Soviet-installed government of Afghanistan, Slahi (who later renounced al-Qaeda) was related to al-Qaeda’s spiritual advisor, Abu Hafs (a man who, it should be noted, did not approve of the 9/11 attacks), and, while living in Germany, had met some of the 9/11 hijackers. At the time, they had wanted to go to Chechnya to fight, but he advised them that it was better to go to Afghanistan to undertake training instead. Read the rest of this entry »

Finally! Torture Victim and Best-Selling Author Mohamedou Ould Slahi Approved for Release from Guantánamo

Mauritanian prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, photographed before he was handed over to US authorities in Mauritania, and sent for torture in Jordan and Guantanamo, where he is still held. On July 14, 2016, a Periodic Review Board approved him for release.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.

Great news from Guantánamo, as the torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been approved for release by a Periodic Review Board, as has an Afghan prisoner, Abdul Zahir, who was charged in the first version of Guantánamo’s military commissions in January 2006 — although those charges were then dropped and never revived. The PRBs were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials, and, with these two decisions, 29 men have been approved for release and 13 for ongoing imprisonment, a success rate of 69%. See our definitive Periodic Review Board list here.

This is remarkable — and an indictment of the Obama administration’s caution — when it is recognized that, back in 2009, when President Obama set up a high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force to assess these men’s cases, these 42 men and 22 others either awaiting reviews or awaiting the results of reviews, were described as “too dangerous to release,” although the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, or were put forward for prosecution, until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed under judicial scrutiny in 2012-13.

Slahi (ISN 760), a 45-year old Mauritanian, was one of those initially — and incomprehensibly — recommended for prosecution by the task force. As I explained at the time of his PRB on June 2, he “was subjected to a specially tailored torture program in Guantánamo, approved by Bush’s defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and, though still imprisoned, is a best-selling author. While imprisoned, he wrote a memoir that, after a long struggle with the US government, was published in redacted form. Nevertheless, the power of Slahi’s account of his life, his rendition, his torture and his long years in Guantánamo, is such that the book, Guantánamo Diary, has become a best-seller.” Read the rest of this entry »

In Historic Ruling, US Court Allows Lawsuit Against James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, Architects of CIA Torture Program, to Proceed

Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, victims of the CIA's post-9/11 torture program (photos made available by the ACLU).In a hugely significant court ruling on April 22, US District Court Senior Judge Justin Quackenbush, in Spokane, Washington State, allowed a lawsuit to proceed against James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, the psychologists who designed and implemented the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program. Both men had worked for the military’s SERE program (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), which trains US personnel to resist torture, if captured by a hostile enemy, by subjecting them to torture techniques to prepare them to resist.

The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on behalf of three victims of the torture program — Gul Rahman, who died, and Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, who are both still alive.

As the ACLU described it, when Judge Quackenbush announced his ruling from the bench, he “gave attorneys in the case 30 days to come up with a plan for discovery, a first in a lawsuit concerning CIA torture.” Read the rest of this entry »

Photos and Report: Parliamentary Meeting for Guantánamo Prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, April 19, 2016

The actor Toby Jones reading from "Guantanamo Diary' by Mohamedou Ould Slahi at a Parliamentary briefing on April 19, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).See my photos on Flickr here.

On Tuesday evening, April 19, I attended a Parliamentary briefing, in the Grimond Room, in Portcullis House, across the road from the Houses of Parliament, about Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a best-selling author who has been held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial for nearly 14 years.

A notorious torture victim, for whom a specific torture program was developed at Guantánamo, Slahi had previously been held in Jordan, for eight months, where he was also tortured. He was rendered to Jordan by US forces, after he had been seized by the Mauritanian authorities at the request of the US. In fact, he handed himself in willingly, not thinking for a moment that, as he later described it so memorably, he would be in a position where “my country turned me over, short-cutting all kinds of due process, like a candy bar to the United States.”

This was Slahi’s description of how he was betrayed by his home country, as delivered at a hearing in Guantánamo in 2004 to assess his status as an “enemy combatant” who could be held without rights, and essentially, to rubber-stamp that designation. They were the words I first encountered when researching Slahi’s story in 2006, for my book The Guantánamo Files, and they reflect the Slahi who emerges from Guantánamo Diary, his extraordinary memoir, written at Guantánamo over a decade ago, but not published until January 2015, after the US government finally allowed a redacted copy to be published, which has since gone on to become a New York Times best-seller, and has been translated into numerous other languages. Read the rest of this entry »

The 9/11 Trial: Torturing Justice

The last time the US government wheeled out Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other men accused of initiating and being involved in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 was in May this year, and, as is usual, the mainstream media turned out in force. That occasion was the formal arraignment of the men, and it was tempestuous, as the defendants largely refused to cooperate. This week, as pre-trial hearings resumed, the mainstream media also returned in force, for proceedings that largely focused on issues of secrecy and transparency.

The rest of the time, sadly, most of the mainstream media doesn’t care much about Guantánamo, even though the prison remains a national disgrace, a place where, beyond the handful of men accused of genuine involvement with terrorism, over half of the remaining 166 prisoners have been cleared for release but are still held, and 46 others are regarded as too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence exists to put them on trial.

In other contexts, this would mean that the so-called evidence is actually hearsay, or innuendo — and in fact even the most cursory investigation by serious reporters would reveal that most of what passes for evidence consists of dubious statements made by the prisoners about themselves and their fellow prisoners as a result of torture, other forms of abuse, and bribery. 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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