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 »

Abu Zubaydah Will Not Testify at Guantánamo Military Court Because the US Government Has “Stacked the Deck” Against Him

Abu Zubaydah at Guantanamo, in a photo taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross. His lawyer Mark Denbeaux released the photo in May 2017, and stated that it was a recent image.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.

 

Yesterday, for Close Guantánamo, the campaign I co-founded in January 2012 with the attorney Tom Wilner, I published an article, Abu Zubaydah Waives Immunity to Testify About His Torture in a Military Commission Trial at Guantánamo, explaining how Zubydah (aka Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), a Saudi-born Palestinian, an alleged “high value detainee,” and the unfortunate first victim of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture program, was planning to appear as a witness today a pre-trial hearing at Guantánamo involving Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of five men accused of involvement in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Zubaydah was planning to discuss bin al-Shibh’s claims that “somebody is intentionally harassing him with noises and vibrations to disrupt his sleep,” as Carol Rosenberg described it for the Miami Herald, but as Mark Denbeaux, one of his lawyers, explained, by taking the stand his intention was for the truth to emerge, and for the world “to know that he has committed no crimes and the United States has no basis to fear him and no justification to hold him for 15 years, much to less subject him to the torture that the world has so roundly condemned.”

Denbeaux also explained how “the Prosecution here in the Military Commissions is afraid to try him or even charge him with any crime,” adding, “The failure to charge him, after 15 years of torture and detention, speaks eloquently. To charge him would be to reveal the truth about the creation of America’s torture program.” Read the rest of this entry »

Under Trump, Periodic Review Boards Continue at Guantánamo, But At A Glacial Pace

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.

Since taking office nearly four months ago, Donald Trump has threatened much, but delivered little on Guantánamo. Leaked draft executive orders showed him wanting to revive the use of torture and to set up new CIA “black sites,” as well as sending captured Islamic State fighters to Guantánamo, but it seems that wiser heads talked him down. There was a deluge of open criticism about his torture plans, including from the CIA and some of his own appointees for senior government roles, and while the plan to bring IS members to Guantánamo didn’t become a headline issue, it seems certain that, behind the scenes, sober advisers told him that he would need a new military authorization to do so, and, in any case, the best venue for prosecuting alleged terrorists is in federal court.

Nevertheless, Trump has failed to release anyone from Guantánamo, despite holding five men approved for release under Barack Obama out of the 41 men still held. Just ten are facing, or have faced trials, while the 26 others are eligible for Periodic Review Boards, a process that was first dreamt up in the early months of Obama’s presidency, but that only began in November 2013.

A high-level review process consisting of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the PRBs were set up as a parole-type process to review the cases of men regarded by the previous review process — 2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force — as being too dangerous to release, even though the task force members also conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, meaning that the so-called evidence was unreliable.  Read the rest of this entry »

US Military Lawyer Submits Petition to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Behalf of Mohammad Rahim, CIA Torture Victim Held at Guantánamo

Mohammad Rahim, an Afghan prisoner at Guantanamo, regarded as a "high-value detainee," in photo taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who made it available to his family, who, in turn, made it publicly available.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.

 

In trying to catch up on a few stories I’ve missed out on reporting about recently, I’d like to draw readers’ attention to a petition submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Mohammad Rahim, a CIA torture victim held at Guantánamo, who was, in fact, the last prisoner to arrive at the prison in March 2008.

The petition was submitted by Major James Valentine, Rahim’s military defence attorney, and the researcher Arnaud Mafille, and it follows previous submissions to the IACHR on behalf of Djamel Ameziane, whose release was requested in April 2012 (and who was eventually released, but not as a direct result of the IACHR ruling), and Moath al-Alwi, whose lawyers submitted a petition on his behalf in February 2015, which led to the IACHR issuing a resolution on March 31, 2015 calling for the US to undertake “the necessary precautionary measures in order to protect the life and personal integrity of Mr. al-Alwi,” on the basis that, “After analyzing the factual and legal arguments put forth by the parties, the Commission considers that the information presented shows prima facie that Mr. Moath al-Alwi faces a serious and urgent situation, as his life and personal integrity are threatened due to the alleged detention conditions.”

Al-Alwi was, at the time, a hunger striker, and in the petition his lawyers stated that, “During his detainment at Guantánamo, Mr. al-Alwi has been systematically tortured and isolated. He has been denied contact with his family, slandered and stigmatized around the globe. He has been denied an opportunity to develop a trade or skill, to meet a partner or start a family. He has been physically abused, only to have medical treatment withheld.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review Boards Approve Ongoing Imprisonment of Three More Prisoners at Guantánamo, Even As Lawmakers Urge Donald Trump to Scrap Them

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).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 first two 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.

The problem with Guantánamo has never been what right-wingers delude themselves into thinking it is — that it’s a perfect acceptable, secure facility for holding terrorists whose existence is undermined by liberals constantly trying to close it down, endangering America’s national security.

Instead, the problem is Guantánamo itself, a place of arbitrary detention, where very few of the 779 people held there by the military over the last 15 years have genuinely been accused of any involvement with terrorism, but where, because of the Bush administration’s contempt for internationally recognized laws and treaties regarding imprisonment, the majority of the men held — overwhelmingly, foot soldiers for the Taliban, and civilians, many sold for bounties — have been deprived of any rights whatsoever, and can only be freed at the whim of the executive branch.

For a brief period from 2008 to 2010, those held could appeal to the US courts, where judges were able to review their habeas corpus petitions, and, in a few dozen cases, order their release, but this loophole was soon shut down by politically motivated judges in the court of appeals in Washington, D.C., and the Supreme Court has persistently refused to revisit the positive rulings it made regarding the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights in 2004 and 2008, hurling the men back into a disgraceful legal limbo in which their only hope for release lies, yet, again, with the presidential whim. 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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