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 »
In a move that has no legal weight, but which will embolden supporters of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, the Government Accountability Office, the non-partisan investigative arm of Congress, which is “charged with examining matters relating to the receipt and payment of public funds,” has concluded that the Department of Defense broke the law when, in May, five Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo were released in Qatar in a prisoner swap for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only US prisoner of war in Afghanistan.
The GAO concluded that the DoD acted in violation of section 8111 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014, which “prohibits DOD from using appropriated funds to transfer any individuals detained at Guantánamo Bay unless the Secretary of Defense notifies certain congressional committees at least 30 days before the transfer.”
When the prisoner swap was announced, a tsunami of manufactured outrage poured forth from Republicans and right-wing pundits, even though both defense secretary Chuck Hagel and President Obama provided robust explanations about why they had bypassed Congress. As I explained at the time, Hagel said that the decision to go ahead with the swap — which, it should be noted, had been mooted for at least two years — came about after intelligence suggested Bergdahl’s “safety and health were both in jeopardy, and in particular his health was deteriorating.” Read the rest of this entry »
That manufactured scandal, as I hope everyone reading this realizes, is the feigned outrage of lawmakers and media pundits regarding President Obama’s decision to rescue a captured US soldier from Afghanistan by exchanging him for five Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo, who were sent to Qatar, which I first wrote about here, and followed up with an article entitled, “Missing the Point on the Guantánamo Taliban Prisoner Swap and the Release of Bowe Bergdahl.” Yesterday, I was invited to discuss the manufactured scandal on Democracy Now! and in the last few days I have also spoken about it on the Scott Horton Show (just days after my previous appearance on the show), and with Peter B. Collins on his show from the Bay Area.
My 20-minute interview with Scott is here, and my 40-minute interview with Peter is here. Although it is for subscribers only, you can pay just $1 for a day pass, although other subscription offers, from $5 a month, are also available.
According to the unprincipled, opportunistic lawmakers and commentators laying into the Obama administration regarding the prisoner exchange, the rescued US soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network in Afghanistan for the last five years, is a deserter who should have been abandoned, even though no objective investigation has established the truth — or otherwise — of this claim.
With regard to the five Taliban officials released in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, it is true that these are men who, to varying degrees, held leadership positions with the Taliban and who had not been cleared for release from the prison — unlike 78 of the remaining 149 prisoners, cleared for release for years but still held — but while the critics have been wailing about how they were too dangerous to release, the facts and the justifications for the deal say otherwise. Read the rest of this entry »
I was delighted to be invited onto Democracy Now! today to discuss the ongoing hysteria in the US about the Obama administration’s decision to release five Taliban prisoners at Guantánamo in exchange for the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
This hysteria — in Congress and the media — has involved outrageous claims that Bergdahl should have been abandoned because he was a deserter, even though this claims has never been proven, and that the Taliban prisoners should not have been released (to monitored freedom in Qatar), because they pose a phenomenal threat to the US (there is absolutely no evidence of this).
Some of the cynical opportunists attacking the president are also calling for him to be impeached because he failed to observe a Congressional requirement to give lawmakers a 30-day notification prior to the release of any prisoners (even though the administration has explained why it failed to do so — primarily because of immediate fears for Bergdahl’s life). Depressingly, those attacking the president are also threatening to try to prevent him from releasing any more prisoners from Guantánamo, even though the majority of the men still held have been cleared for release. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
On Saturday, at the White House, President Obama announced that, in exchange for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, held for five years by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network, he had released five Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo to Qatar.
Although the announcement was initially greeted positively, the president was soon under pressure from critics claiming that the five men were “battle-hardened Taliban commanders,” as the Washington Post put it, whose release posed a threat to America’s national security.
Some of the critical voices also claimed that Bowe Bergdahl was a deserter who should have been abandoned, and others chided President Obama for failing to notify Congress 30 days before the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, as required by the National Defense Authorization Act. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
As we approach the 12th anniversary of the opening of the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (on January 11, 2014), it remains profoundly unacceptable that, of the remaining 164 prisoners, 84 were cleared for release nearly four years ago, in January 2010, by a high-level, inter-agency task force appointed by President Obama shortly after he took office in 2009.
These men are still held because of legislative obstacles raised by Congress in the National Defense Authorization Act, which are designed to prevent prisoners from being released, and because President Obama has been unwilling to spend political capital challenging Congress or bypassing lawmakers using a waiver in the NDAA.
In the cases of two-thirds of the cleared prisoners, an additional complication, until recently, was that they are Yemeni citizens, and after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a NIgerian recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a bomb on a plane bound for Detroit in December 2009, President Obama imposed a ban on releasing Yemenis from Guantánamo, which he only lifted in May this year, in a major speech on national security issues. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
As the prison-wide hunger strike continues at Guantánamo, having reached the three-month mark on Sunday, it is more important than ever that the voices of the prisoners continue to be heard, to maintain the pressure on the Obama administration to act.
For meaningful action to be taken, President Obama needs to find ways to release the 86 men (out of 166 prisoners in total) who were cleared for release by the sober and responsible inter-agency task force he appointed to review the prisoners’ cases in 2009.
Two-thirds of these men are Yemenis, so the President needs to drop his ban on releasing any of these men, which he imposed in response to hysteria following the foiled Christmas bomb plot in 2009, when a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen tried and failed to bomb a plane bound for the US with a device in his underwear.
As I wrote in response to President Obama’s discussion of Guantánamo at a news conference last week, he can choose to tackle Congress — as he said he would — and to tell lawmakers that they need to drop the obstructions they have raised to prevent the release of prisoners over the last two years — in the National Defense Authorization Act. However, if Congress refuses to engage with him, he needs to use the waiver in the NDAA, which allows him to bypass Congress if he and the defense secretary regard it as being in America’s best interests.
Releasing men already cleared for release from the abominable open tomb that is Guantánamo — where all the prisoners are suffering indefinite detention without charge or trial, whether cleared for release or not — needs to happen as soon as possible, before some poor soul in Guantánamo dies. That, I am compelled to say, would most emphatically not be in America’s best interests. Read the rest of this entry »
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