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.
Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are deeply concerned about the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which we first wrote about here, and its effect on prisoners already ground down by what, for the majority of them, is eleven years of indefinite detention without charge or trial, with no end to their imprisonment in sight after President Obama failed to fulfill his promise to close the prison.
The President has been hindered by the intervention of Congress, where lawmakers, for cynical reasons, intervened to impose almost insurmountable restrictions to the release of prisoners, but President Obama is also to blame — through his refusal to make Guantánamo an issue, since that promise to close it on his second day in office, and through his imposition of an unjustifiable ban on releasing Yemenis cleared for release by his own inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force.
Of the 166 men still held, 86 were cleared for release by the Task Force, and two-thirds of these men are Yemenis, consigned to Guantánamo, possibly forever, because, over three years ago, a Nigerian man, recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a plane bound for the US and a moratorium on releasing Yemenis was issued by President Obama. The others are either hostages of Congress, or men in need of third countries to offer them a new home, because they face torture or other ill-treatment their home countries. Read the rest of this entry »
In the six months following the opening of the Bush administration’s cruel and lawless ”war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on January 11, 2002, twelve Kuwaitis joined the hundreds of other “detainees” deprived of their rights as “enemy combatants.” In Guantánamo, these men were subjected to torture and abuse that was supposedly designed to produce “actionable intelligence,” but that, in reality, was a house of cards constructed of false statements made under duress — not only in Guantanamo, but also in other “war on terror” prisons, including those where “high-value detainees” were held and tortured — or made by those who, having had enough of the abuse, volunteered false statements in exchange for better living conditions. (For more, see “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” my ongoing analysis of the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011).
Of the twelve Kuwaitis, ten were eventually released, between 2005 and 2009, but two remain — Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah. Both men are victims of the false statements that plague the government’s supposed evidence, as I have repeatedly reported (see here, here and here, for example), but they are also victims of the legal fallout of the “war on terror”; namely, the limited opportunities for a review of their cases, through their habeas corpus petitions, which they and the other prisoners struggled to secure for many years.
Although the Guantánamo prisoners secured major victories in the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008, when they were granted habeas corpus rights, the impact of those rulings has suffered from imprecise terms of reference, from an all-out assault by right-wing judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C., who have conspired to gut habeas corpus of all meaning for the Guantánamo prisoners, and, most recently, through the complete indifference of the Supreme Court, which has refused to wrest control from the Circuit Court judges. Despite the absence of evidence against them, both Fayiz and Fawzi had their habeas petitions turned down (see here and here). Read the rest of this entry »
As we at “Close Guantánamo” continue our series profiling prisoners still held at Guantánamo — and specifically, at this time, the Afghans who are still held — our latest profile is of Abdul Ghani, an unfortunate villager from Kandahar province, who farmed pomegranates and scavenged for scrap metal, and was seized in November 2002 and arrived in Guantánamo nine years ago.
Alarmingly, Abdul Ghani was one of a number of insignificant Afghan prisoners put forward for a trial by military commission under President Bush in 2008. The authorities claimed that he had played a part in attacks and planned attacks as part of the insurgency against US forces, although Ghani himself, and his lawyers, have consistently disputed his purported involvement.
It should, however, be noted that, even if Abdul Ghani had been involved in the activities of which he is accused, it is extraordinary that, over nine years later, he remains in Guantánamo, a prison cynically described as holding “the worst of the worst” terrorists by the Bush administration, when, if he had been held in Afghanistan instead of being flown to Guantánamo, he would have been released many years ago. Read the rest of this entry »
Now that my first ever visit to Kuwait has come to an end — in which I was involved in events and discussions designed to raise the profile in Kuwait, and internationally, of the two remaining Kuwaitis in Guantánamo, Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah — I feel as though I have been away from my home in London for weeks, and not just for five days, as the time was so busy.
I recorded an interview for the Al-Rai TV station along with the attorney Tom Wilner, which was aired along with a subtitled version of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film that I co-directed with Polly Nash, and I also traveled out to Kuwait’s main prison, to visit the rehabilitation center which was established for the four remaining prisoners in 2009, but which, after two of these four were freed that year, has been lying empty ever since, its staff and facilities awaiting the return of Fayiz and Fawzi, who, like the majority of the 171 prisoners stili in Guantánamo, 89 of whom have been cleared for release, remain trapped because of the cynical twists and turns of American politics — in the Obama administration, in Congress and in the courts.
I was also driven through the desert, on the highway to Iraq, to visit the grand and spacious farm of a prominent sheikh, in order to discuss the cases of Fayiz and Fawzi, and I also attended two dewaniyas (social events described by Wikipedia as being “the core of Kuwait’s social, business and political life, the places where topics of interest are discussed, associates introduced, alliances formed, and similar networking activities undertaken”), with lawyers and with the family of Fayiz. In addition, I met up with the former prisoner Fouad al-Rabiah and with Khalid al-Odah, Fawzi’s father, and briefly met another former prisoner, Adel al-Zamel. Read the rest of this entry »
Please note that the screening has been postponed until Friday evening (February 24) at 10:30 pm.
Greetings from Kuwait, where the weather is fresh and warm, and the people are very friendly. Although I have been studying Guantánamo and the “war on terror” for the last six years, this is my first visit to the Middle East, and I’m here to play whatever part I can to secure the return from Guantánamo of Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, the last two Kuwaitis in the prison.
I’m here with Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, the Pentagon-appointed military defense attorney for Fayiz al-Kandari, and his colleagues Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Bogucki and Sgt. Chad Darby, and also with the civilian attorney Tom Wilner, my colleague in the new “Close Guantánamo” campaign. I am also grateful for the support of Adel Abdulhadi of the Al-Oula law firm, and am delighted to have finally met the journalist Jenifer Fenton, who has recently been focusing on the stories of the Kuwaiti prisoners. The centerpiece of my visit is the screening, at 9.30 pm on Thursday (February 23), on Alrai TV, of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash, followed by a studio discussion with Tom Wilner and myself. Both Tom and I feature in the film, and we had a very productive question and answer session today, when we pre-recorded the studio talk to accompany the broadcast of the film tomorrow evening.
This is a great occasion, as it is not only the biggest audience by far for the film, but also its first screening in Arabic, following a heroic mission by Polly and a number of Arabic speakers in the UK and Canada to complete the sub-titling of the film in the days before my flight to Kuwait on Monday. I hope — and anticipate — that the film’s comprehensive analysis of the many crimes and failures of the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” and the compelling human stories of the men affected by America’s journey to the “dark side,” will be as informative for the Kuwaiti audience as they have been for the Western audiences who have seen the film in screenings in the US, the UK and Europe over the last two years. Read the rest of this entry »
As the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approaches, those hoping for the closure of the “War on Terror” prison at Guantánamo, which was, and remains the most notorious emblem of the Bush administration’s excessive and misguided response to the attacks, are wondering how the prison will ever close.
Through a combination of cowardice on the part of President Obama and ferocious opposition in Congress to his plans to close Guantánamo, 171 men remain at the prison, even though the President initially promised to close it within a year of taking office, and even though a Task Force he convened to review the prisoners’ cases, comprising career officials and lawyers in government departments and the intelligence agencies, recommended that only 36 of those men should be tried, and 89 others should be released.
With a Congress-imposed ban on bringing prisoners to the US mainland for any reason, and lawmakers insisting that they have the right to interfere in any plans to release prisoners, those campaigning to close Guantánamo have been obliged to seek out new angles in the effort to reawaken awareness about the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo.
To this end, a recent feature on CNN, dealing with the two remaining Kuwaiti prisoners in Guantánamo, highlighted some of the problems outlined above, as well as casting a baleful eye on the failure of the US judiciary to secure the release of prisoners. Importantly, however, it also provided a possible route out of the current paralysis regarding the closure of the prison, if the Obama administration can locate any political backbone. Read the rest of this entry »
Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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