Guantánamo’s Oldest Prisoner Calls Conditions “Hell,” Says, “We Are Getting Collective Punishment Because of the Hunger Strike”

Guantanamo prisoner Saifullah Paracha in an updated photo taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross and provided to his family, who made it public.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 horrors of Guantánamo — ever present in a prison where men have been held for nearly 16 years without ever being charged with a crime, and with no notion of when, if ever, they will get to leave — seem to be being ramped up under Donald Trump, as we might have suspected from his aggressive stance towards the prison and the men held there, even before he took office in January, and from witnessing his racism, and glimpsing the violence that permanently seems to lurk beneath his blubbery exterior.

Despite threats to send new prisoners to Guantánamo — threats which have not, mercifully, transpired — Trump did nothing in his first eight months regarding the prison except shutting the door on it and refusing to contemplate releasing anyone, even the five men — out of the 41 still held — who were approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama.

Two months ago, however, according to hunger striking prisoners, whose story I reported before the mainstream media took an interest, Trump finally made his influence felt, changing the rules about the way they are treated. For over ten years, hunger striking prisoners were closely monitored, but now, according to those refusing food, new instructions, initiated from September 20 onwards, mean that they are no longer having their health assessed at all. Read the rest of this entry »

A New Low for Guantánamo’s Credibility: The Brief But Absurd Imprisonment of the Military Commissions’ Chief Defense Counsel

A collage of Brig. Gen. John Baker and Camp 6 at Guantanamo, produced by the Daily Beast.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.

In the “you couldn’t make it up” department of Guantánamo absurdity, the prison last week secured its first new prisoner since March 2008 — not an ISIS- or al-Qaeda-related prisoner sent there by Donald Trump, as he persistently threatens to do — but Brig. Gen. John Baker, the Chief Defense Counsel of the troubled military commission trial system.

Writing in Slate, Philip Carter, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University, who briefly served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Policy under President Obama, correctly identified Brig. Gen. Baker’s only offence as having been to “stand[] up for the rule of law and being held in contempt by a judge overseeing the military tribunals at Guantánamo.”

Carter proceeded to explain that the US has two legal systems: the best, “on display every week in federal courthouses, where processes unfold neatly and along well-worn lines established by centuries of statute and precedent,” and the worst, “on display at Guantánamo, where a dispute over government surveillance of defense counsel has resulted in a Marine general being detained (and released two days later) and civilian counsel being threatened with the same fate.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ahmed Al-Darbi, Admitted Terrorist at Guantánamo, Receives 13-Year Sentence Following 2014 Plea Deal

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed al-Darbi, with a photo of his children, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.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.

 

Last Friday, the US authorities secured a rare success at Guantánamo, when a panel of US military officers gave a 13-year sentence to Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi prisoner, for what the New York Times described as “his admitted role in a 2002 attack by Al Qaeda on a French oil tanker off the Yemeni coast.”

Al-Darbi had pleaded guilty in his military commission trial in February 2014, but his sentencing had not taken place until now because it was dependent upon him providing testimony for the trials of other prisoners, testimony that he undertook this summer, providing videotaped testimony against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is on trial for his alleged involvement in the bombing off the USS Cole in 2000, and a deposition in the case of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, another prisoner facing a trial by military commission.

Under the terms of the plea deal, as Charlie Savage described it in the New York Times, “the commission could have imposed a sentence of 13 to 15 years.” However, the prosecutors joined with al-Darbi’s defense team to ask for “the minimum available term in light of his extensive assistance to the government.” As Savage put it, al-Darbi “has renounced Islamist ideology and lived apart from the general detainee population for years.” Read the rest of this entry »

Abandoning Guantánamo: The Supreme Court’s Shame as a Military Commission Appeal Is Turned Down

Protestors against rh existence of Guantanamo outside the US Supreme Court on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison (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.

 

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.

On Tuesday (October 10), when the Supreme Court turned down an appeal submitted by Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a Guantánamo prisoner convicted of terrorism charges in October 2008 in a military commission trial, the justices demonstrated that, for over nine years now, they have proved incapable of fulfilling their role of upholding the law when it comes to issues relating to terrorism.

This is a profound disappointment, because, four months before al-Bahlul’s conviction, on June 12, 2008, those who respect the law — and basic human decency — were thrilled when the Supreme Court delivered a major ruling in favor of the prisoners at Guantánamo. In Boumediene v. Bush, the justices ruled that the prisoners had constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights; in other words, that they could ask an impartial judge to rule on whether or not their imprisonment was justified.

The ruling was the third major ruling by the Supreme Court regarding Guantánamo. In June 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the court had ruled that the military commission trial system at Guantánamo did not have “the power to proceed because its structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949.” The court also ruled that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, prohibiting torture and “humiliating and degrading treatment,” had been violated. 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 »

Life After Guantánamo: The Story of Mourad Benchellali, Freed 13 Years Ago But Still Stigmatized

Former Guantanamo prisoner Mourad Benchellali, who was released in 2004, but is still not free from the unjustified stigma of having been in 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.

 

Three weeks ago, around the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, there was a sudden flurry of media interest in Guantánamo, which was reassuring amidst the general indifference about the prison since Donald Trump became president. Most of the articles published focused on the alleged perpetrators of the attacks, and the inability of the military commission trial system to deliver justice because of its own inadequacies, and because the men allegedly responsible were all tortured for years in secret prisons run by the CIA, which I covered at the time, while others looked at former prisoners’ stories.

Four days after the anniversary, for example, the New York Times published a moving article by Mansoor Adayfi, resettled in Serbia last year, which I cross-posted here with my own commentary, while Al-Jazeera profiled Mourad Benchellali, a French national who was released in 2004, and has since become known for his efforts to prevent the radicalization of impressionable young people.

I’ve known about Benchellali’s story since I first began researching Guantánamo 12 years ago, in the fall of 2015, because the stories of most of the European nationals freed from the prison were well-reported — and contributed enormously to people’s general understanding of how malignant a project Guantánamo really is. Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump Is Still Trying to Work Out How to Expand the Use of Guantánamo Rather Than Closing It for Good

Opponents of Guantanamo urge Donald Trump to close the prison in a poster campaign rugby the Close Guantanamo campaign, which began on the day of his inauguration.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.

 

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.

In a dispiriting sign of counter-productive obstinacy on the part of the Trump administration, the New York Times recently reported that, according to Trump administration officials who are “familiar with internal deliberations,” the administration is “making a fresh attempt at drafting an executive order on handling terrorism detainees.” As Charlie Savage and Adam Goldman described it, these efforts “reviv[e] a struggle to navigate legal and geopolitical obstacles” to expand the use of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, which opened over 15 and a half years ago.

Drafts of proposed executive orders relating to Guantánamo had been leaked in Trump’s first week in office, although, as the Times noted, “Congress and military and intelligence officials pushed back against ideas in early drafts, like reopening the CIA’s overseas ‘black site’ prisons where the Bush administration tortured terrorism suspects.” As a result, the White House “dropped that and several other ideas, but as the drafts were watered down, momentum to finish the job faltered.”

Alarmingly, however, Savage and Goldman noted that the Trump administration officials they spoke to told them that Trump “had been expected to sign a detention policy order three weeks ago,” and that the plan only “changed after he fired his first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, on July 28 and replaced him with John F. Kelly,” a retired Marine Corps general who was the commander of US Southern Command, which oversees prison operations at Guantánamo, from November 2012 to January 2016. Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump’s Stumbling Efforts to Revive Guantánamo

A collage of images of Donald Trump and Guantanamo on its first day back in January 2002.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.

 

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.

On Guantánamo, Donald Trump has, essentially, done nothing since he took office, despite promising, on the campaign trail, to fill the prison “with bad dudes,” and to revive the use of torture. Shortly after he took office, a draft executive order was leaked, which saw him proposing to set up new “black sites,” and to send new prisoners to Guantánamo, but on the former he was shut down immediately by critics from across the political spectrum, and even from some of his own appointees, and on the latter we presumed that silence meant that he had been advised that it was not worth sending new prisoners to Guantánamo.

There are a number of reasons why this advice was to be expected: because the federal courts have such a good track record of dealing successfully with terrorism-related cases, and because the legislation authorizing imprisonment at Guantánamo — the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed just days after the 9/11 attacks — focuses on 9/11, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and related forces, and not on newer threats — like Islamic State, for example, for which new legislation would be required.

As a result, although Guantánamo has almost entirely slipped off the radar, with the impression given that the men still held are trapped in a place that Trump has largely chosen to ignore, it has at least been reassuring that he has gone quiet on his previously-promised notions of reviving the prison. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Guantánamo Cases Make It to the Supreme Court; Experts Urge Justices to Pay Attention

Ali Hamza al-Bahlul and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Guantanamo prisoners who have submitted petitions to the Supreme Court.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.

 

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.

Even before the Bush administration set up its “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, legal experts were profoundly alarmed by proposals for how those seized as alleged terrorists would be tried. On November 13, 2001, President Bush signed a military order prepared by Vice President Dick Cheney and his senior lawyer, David Addington, which authorized the use of military commissions to try prisoners seized in the “war on terror,” preventing any prisoner from having access to the US courts, and authorized indefinite detention without due process.

Under the leadership of Michael Ratner at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, lawyers prepared to challenge the proposals in the military order in the courts. The stripping of the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights and the prevention of their access to the courts eventually made it to the Supreme Court in June 2004, when, in Rasul v. Bush, the Court, for the first time ever in wartime, ruled against the government, granting the prisoners habeas corpus rights.

Lawyers were allowed into Guantánamo, piercing the veil of secrecy that had allowed a regime of torture and abuse to thrive unmonitored, although President Bush immediately persuaded Congress to pass new legislation that again stripped the prisoners of their habeas rights. Further legal struggles then led to habeas rights being reintroduced in another Supreme Court case, Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008. Read the rest of this entry »

Review Boards Approve Ongoing Imprisonment of Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s Oldest Prisoner, and Two Others

Guantanamo prisoner Saifullah Paracha, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.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.

 

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.

Three weeks ago, in Under Trump, Periodic Review Boards Continue at Guantánamo, But At A Glacial Pace, I looked in detail at the current state of the Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo, a parole-type process that quietly dominated Barack Obama’s detention policy at Guantánamo throughout his eight years in office, when, despite promising to close the prison on his second day, he left the White House with 41 men still held, and Donald Trump threatening to send new prisoners there.

Trump’s threats, have, fortunately, not materialized — hopefully, because wiser heads have told him that federal courts are more than adequate for dealing with captured terrorists — and the Periodic Review Boards are still functioning, despite a call for them to be scrapped by eleven Republican Senators in February, although they have not recommended anyone for release since before Trump took office.

After Obama took office in January 2009, he set up a high-level review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, to assess what he should do with the 240 men he had inherited from George W. Bush. The task force recommended that 156 of the 240 should be released and 36 prosecuted, and that the 48 others should continue to be held without charge or trial because they were too dangerous to release — although the task force members conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, meaning that the so-called evidence was actually unreliable. 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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