Two Long-Term Yemeni Prisoners Repatriated from Bagram; Are Guantánamo Yemenis Next?

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 »

Life after Guantánamo: Stories from Afghanistan

On February 24, I was delighted to be interviewed about Guantánamo by BBC World News — the BBC’s global, commercial arm — as part of their “Freedom” series. As the website states, “Whether it’s freedom from surveillance or freedom to be single, the BBC is investigating what freedom means in the modern world.”

The interview, which, unfortunately, isn’t available online, was preceded by a short clip of two former Guantánamo prisoners, from Afghanistan, talking about their experiences to the reporter Dawood Azami, who travelled to Afghanistan to meet former prisoners. The two men were Shahzada Khan (ISN 952, also known as Haji Shahzada), who was released in April 2005, and Haji Ghalib (ISN 987), who was released in February 2007.

Dawood Azami’s visit, and his meetings with former prisoners were also featured in a BBC World Service broadcast, “Guantánamo Voices,” and in an article for the BBC World Service’s online magazine, which I’m cross-posting below because it provides a powerful insight into some generally little-known stories, which demonstrate clearly the kind of chronic failures of intelligence that led to so many insignificant or completely innocent men — and, in some cases, boys — ending up at  Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

Will the End of War in Afghanistan Spur Obama to Close Guantánamo?

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with 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.

The short answer to the question, “Will the End of War in Afghanistan Spur Obama to Close Guantánamo?” is probably no, for reasons I will explain below, although it is, of course, significant to numerous interested parties that the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan next year provides an opportunity for new discussions about the ongoing detention of 164 prisoners at Guantánamo, and, probably, new legal challenges on their behalf.

On October 18, the Washington Post discussed these issues in an article entitled, “Afghan war’s approaching end throws legal status of Guantánamo detainees into doubt,” in which Karen DeYoung suggested, “The approaching end of the US war in Afghanistan could help President Obama move toward what he has said he wanted to do since his first day in office: close the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”

The article described how officials in the Obama administration were “examining whether the withdrawal of US troops at the end of 2014 could open the door” for some of the remaining 164 prisoners “to challenge the legal authority of the United States to continue to imprison them.” Read the rest of this entry »

London Events: Afghan War Protest, and Vigils for Talha Ahsan and Shaker Aamer, October 5-9, 2013

 I quickly want to point out three forthcoming events for very worthy causes — two tomorrow (Saturday October 5) and one next Wednesday (October 9).

Tomorrow afternoon, at 4pm, I’ll be attending an event to mark the 12th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan. This is a horrible anniversary for two particular reasons: firstly, because, as a the father of a 13-year old, it is unacceptable to me that my country has been engaged in permanent war for almost all of his life; and secondly, because, as a writer and activist on Guantánamo, I am aware that the context for the imprisonment of the majority of the men at Guantánamo was the invasion of Afghanistan — where the Geneva Conventions were first discarded, where torture became Standard Operating Procedure, and where indefinite detention without charge or trial became official US policy.

12 years on, and nearly five years after President Obama took office promising to close Guantánamo, his failure to close the prison is a disgrace, and the continued US military presence in Afghanistan continues to demonstrate what a knowledgable friend has described as America snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. I can only hope that the major withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan next year will play a part in bringing our warmongering to an end — although I have no rosy illusions about that — and will also severely damage the rationale for continuing to keep Guantánamo open, but in the meantime, to mark this anniversary, I’m taking part in the event below: Read the rest of this entry »

“Dirty Wars”: An Immensely Powerful Anti-War Film, Uncovering Obama’s Global “War on Terror”

On May 13, I was privileged to be invited to a London preview of “Dirty Wars,” the new documentary film, directed by Richard Rowley and focusing on the journalist Jeremy Scahill’s investigations into America’s global “war on terrorism” — not historically, but right here, right now under President Obama.

In particular, the film, which opens in the US this weekend, and is accurately described by the New York Times as “pessimistic, grimly outraged and utterly riveting,” follows Scahill, who wrote it with David Riker, and is also the narrator, as he uncovers the existence of the shadowy organization JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, established by 1980, which is at the heart of the “dirty wars” being waged in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.

I had seen rushes with representatives of the Center for Constitutional Rights at the London base of the Bertha Foundation, one of the backers of the film, last year, and I remembered the powerful sequences in Afghanistan, where Scahill found out about JSOC after meeting the survivors of a raid in Gardez by US forces in 2010 in which two pregnant women had been killed, and there had then been a cover-up.This involved US soldiers returning to the scene of their crime to remove bullets from the corpses — something difficult to forget once informed about. Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo, Free the Afghans

In the coverage of the ongoing, prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which is now in its fourth month, there has been widespread recognition that it is unacceptable to indefinitely detain the 86 prisoners (out of 166 in total) who were cleared for release over three years ago by the President’s own inter-agency task force. These men are still held because of Presidential inertia, Congressional obstruction, and the failures of some branches of the US judiciary to uphold justice.

56 of these 86 men are Yemenis, and, in some quarters, it has also been accepted that the ban President Obama imposed on releasing cleared Yemenis from Guantánamo, following a failed airline bomb plot on Christmas Day 2009 that was hatched in Yemen, constitutes collective punishment, and is also fundamentally unacceptable because it means that prisoners whose release was recommended by the President’s own task force continue to be detained not because of what they have done, but because of what they might do in future.

Of the 30 others, however, there has been little or no discussion beyond a recognition that one of them, Shaker Aamer, a British resident with a British wife and four British children, could and should be released immediately.

Around a dozen of these 30 men cannot be repatriated, as they are from countries to which it is not safe to return — China, for example, in the case of the three remaining Uighur prisoners (Muslims from Xinjiang province who face government persecution), and war-torn Syria, which has four cleared prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

“It is Indisputable that the United States Engaged in Torture”: So When Do the Prosecutions Begin?

“It is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practise of torture.” These powerful words are from “The Report of the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment,” a 600-page report involving a detailed analysis of the treatment of prisoners following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The project took two years to complete, and its conclusions are difficult to dismiss, as the eleven-member panel constitutes a cross-section of the US establishment.

The co-chairs are Asa Hutchinson, who, as the Atlantic described it, “served in the Bush Administration as a Department of Homeland Security undersecretary from 2003 to 2005, and as the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration before that,” and James R. Jones, “a former US ambassador to Mexico and a Democratic member of the House of Representatives for seven terms.”

Other members of the panel include “Talbot D’Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar Association; legal scholar Richard Epstein; David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics; David Irvine, a former Republican state legislator and retired brigadier general; Claudia Kennedy, ‘the first woman to receive the rank of three-star general in the United States army'; naval veteran and career diplomat Thomas Pickering; [and] William Sessions, director of the FBI in three presidential administrations.”

The project was undertaken because, as the Task Force explained, “the Obama administration declined, as a matter of policy, to undertake or commission an official study of what happened, saying it was unproductive to ‘look backwards’ rather than forward.” Read the rest of this entry »

Can We Have A Discussion About Releasing the Majority of the Guantánamo Prisoners?

With the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo now entering its third month, conditions at the prison have come under sustained scrutiny for the first time in many years, and media outlets, both domestic and international, have learned, or have been reminded that 166 men remain at the prison.

These men remain imprisoned despite President Obama’s promise to close Guantánamo, which he made when he first took office in January 2009, and despite the fact that over half of them — 86 in total — were cleared for release from the prison in 2009 by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by the President to decide who should be freed and who should continue to be held.

For those of us who understand that Guantánamo will poison America’s moral standing as long as it remains open, the awakening or reawakening of interest in the prison — and the prisoners — is progress, although there is still some way to go before President Obama or lawmakers understand that they need to release prisoners, or face the very real prospect that everyone still held at Guantánamo will remain there until they die, even though the overwhelming majority have never been charged with any crime, and never will be. Read the rest of this entry »

Eleven Years of Guantánamo: End This Scandal Now!

Eleven years ago, on January 11, 2002, the Bush administration proudly presented to the world one of its major responses to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — a prison on the grounds of the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, designed to hold hundreds of men and boys seized in the “war on terror” that was declared in the wake of the attacks, where the prisoners were to be neither criminals not soldiers, but “enemy combatants” without any rights whatsoever.

The base was chosen because it was presumed to be beyond the reach of the US courts, and when the prisoners were deliberately excluded from the protections of the Geneva Conventions, in a directive issued by President Bush on February 7, 2002, it became a genuinely evil experiment, devoted to torture and other forms of coercion, indefinite detention without charge or trial, and the extraction of false statements from the prisoners that were then dressed up as evidence to justify holding them.

This was in spite of the fact that, for the most part, the prisoners knew nothing about Al-Qaeda or international terrorism, and were sold to US forces for bounty payments by their Afghan and Pakistani allies, or seized as a result of inept US intelligence. Many of the prisoners were living in Pakistan or visiting Pakistan, or were visiting Afghanistan as missionaries, humanitarian aid workers, refugees or economic migrants. Read the rest of this entry »

Torture, Torture Everywhere

For those of us who have been arguing for years that senior officials and lawyers in the Bush administration must be held accountable for the torture program they introduced and used in their “war on terror,” last week was a very interesting week indeed, as developments took place in Strasbourg, in London and in Washington D.C., which all pointed towards the impossibility that the torturers can escape accountability forever.

That may be wishful thinking, given the concerted efforts by officials in the US and elsewhere to avoid having to answer for their crimes, and the ways in which, through legal arguments and backroom deals, they have suppressed all attempts to hold them accountable. However, despite this, it seems that maintaining absolute silence is impossible, and last week one breakthrough took place when, unanimously, a 17-judge panel of the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of Khaled El-Masri, a German used car salesman of Lebanese origin, who is one of the most notorious cases of mistaken identity in the whole of the “war on terror.” See the summary here.

Describing the ruling, the Guardian described how the court stated that “CIA agents tortured a German citizen, sodomising, shackling, and beating him, as Macedonian state police looked on,” and “also found Macedonia guilty of torturing, abusing, and secretly imprisoning [him],” also noting, “It is the first time the court has described CIA treatment meted out to terror suspects as torture.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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