Yemeni Tribal Chief, Businessman, Intelligence Officer and Torture Victim Seeks Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Board

Yemeni prisoner Abd al-Salam al-Hela, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Last week, a 48-year old Yemeni citizen held at Guantánamo, Abd al-Salam al-Hela (aka Abd al-Salam al-Hilah or Abdul al-Salam al-Hilal), became the 37th prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board. This high-level, US review process, which involves 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, began in November 2013.

In the two and half years since, the PRBs have been reviewing the cases of two groups of men: 46 men originally described by a previous review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force (which President Obama set up when he first took office in 2009), as “too dangerous to release,” and 18 others initially put forward for trials until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed, in 2012 and 2013, after appeals court judges ruled that the war crimes being prosecuted had been invented by Congress.

For the 46 men described as “too dangerous to release,” the task force also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, which set alarm bells ringing for anyone paying close attention, because, if insufficient evidence exists to put someone on trial, then it is not evidence at all. At Guantánamo — and elsewhere in the “war on terror” — the reasons for this emerged under minimal scrutiny from anyone paying attention. Instead of being evidence, information was extracted from prisoners through the use of torture or other forms of abuse, or through being bribed with the promise of better living conditions, which, as a result, is demonstrably unreliable. Read the rest of this entry »

An Afghan and a Yemeni “Black Site” Prisoner Face Guantánamo Periodic Review Boards, as 21st Man Approved for Release

Yemeni prisoner Salem Bin Kanad, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.In President Obama’s last year in office, efforts are clearly being made to fulfill the promise he made to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay on his second day in office, back in January 2009. 27 men have been freed this year, leaving just 80 still held, the lowest number since the early months of the prison’s existence back in 2002.

27 of those 80 men have been approved for release — 15 since 2010, when the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force appointed by President Obama to review the cases of all the prisoners he inherited from George W. Bush delivered its final report, and 12 since January 2014, when another review process, the Periodic Review Boards, began delivering decisions about the majority of the men not already approved for release. Just ten of the 80 men still held are facing — or have faced — trials, and the rest are eligible for PRBs.

21 men have so far been approved for release by the PRBs, and nine of those men have been freed. Just seven men have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended — a success rate for the prisoners of 75%, which thoroughly undermines the task force’s claims, made back in 2010, that they were “too dangerous to release.” The task force also claimed that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, but the truth is that the “too dangerous to release” tag was overstated, relying on unreliable information extracted from the prisoners themselves, and produced as a result of torture, other forms of abuse, or bribery (with better living conditions), or on an unnecessarily cautious notion of the threat they posed, based on their attitudes while imprisoned at Guantánamo in defiance of all civilized norms. Read the rest of this entry »

In Historic Ruling, US Court Allows Lawsuit Against James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, Architects of CIA Torture Program, to Proceed

Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, victims of the CIA's post-9/11 torture program (photos made available by the ACLU).In a hugely significant court ruling on April 22, US District Court Senior Judge Justin Quackenbush, in Spokane, Washington State, allowed a lawsuit to proceed against James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, the psychologists who designed and implemented the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program. Both men had worked for the military’s SERE program (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), which trains US personnel to resist torture, if captured by a hostile enemy, by subjecting them to torture techniques to prepare them to resist.

The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on behalf of three victims of the torture program — Gul Rahman, who died, and Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, who are both still alive.

As the ACLU described it, when Judge Quackenbush announced his ruling from the bench, he “gave attorneys in the case 30 days to come up with a plan for discovery, a first in a lawsuit concerning CIA torture.” Read the rest of this entry »

14 Years Incommunicado: Abu Zubaydah, Guantánamo Prisoner, CIA Torture Victim, and the Al-Qaeda Leader Who Wasn’t

"High-value detainee" Abu Zubaydah, in the first photo of him that was made publicly available.Over ten years since I started working full-time on Guantánamo, there has been undeniable progress in some areas, and absolutely no movement in others. Hundreds of prisoners have been freed, which has been hugely important for a place in which only a few percent of the men — and boys — held there have ever, realistically, been accused of involvement with terrorism, and, after far too many years of delays and inaction, President Obama has been pushing to finally get the prison closed, albeit over seven years since he first promised to do so within a year.

Just 80 men are currently held, and while it is still unclear if the president will be able to close Guantánamo before he leaves office, as Congress will have to drop its ban on bringing any prisoner to the US mainland for any reason, or he will have to close it by executive action, which may or may not be practical or possible, it is conceivable that the end of Guantánamo is within sight.

And yet, for all of the men abused in Guantánamo, and elsewhere in America’s brutal “war on terror,” it is noticeable that no one has been held accountable for their suffering, and, for some of the 80 men still held, it also appears that no end to their suffering is in sight. I’m thinking in particular of some of the so-called “high-value detainees,” 15 men, including 13 who were brought to the US from CIA “black sites” — torture prisons — in September 2006, after up to four and a half years held incommunicado. One of those men — the first to be seized, in fact — may be the most unfortunate of all: Abu Zubaydah. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington’s Band The Four Fathers Play “81 Million Dollars” About the US Torture Program, Calling for Bush, Cheney and Others to be Held Accountable

Richard Clare and Andy Worthington of The Four Fathers play '81 Million Dollars', Andy's song about the US torture program, in a screenshot from a video.To coincide with some renewed activity in connection with the Bush administration’s torture program — namely, the ACLU suing James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the former military psychologists who set up the program — I’m taking the opportunity to make available a video of my song ‘81 Million Dollars‘ about the torture program, and about Mitchell and Jessen.

$81m is the amount Mitchell and Jessen were paid for taking their experience as psychologists involved in the US military’s SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) program — which involved subjecting US personnel to torture to prepare them if they were seized by a hostile enemy — and reverse-engineering it for use in real-life situations, something for which they were abjectly unqualified.

The result, as the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report made clear last December, was unspeakably brutal and pointless, producing no information that could not have been produced without the use of torture. It also involved the CIA lying about its actions.

See below for the video, of myself and Richard Clare of my band The Four Fathers, playing the song last month while my friend Todd Pierce (the former military defense attorney who represented Guantánamo prisoners in their military commission trials) was staying with me. Please note also that the version by the full band is available here on Bandcamp, where those interested can buy it for just 60p ($0.93), or as part of the whole of our album ‘Love and War’ — as a download or on CD. Read the rest of this entry »

28 Veterans of US Intelligence Fight Back Against CIA Claims That the Bush Torture Program Was Useful and Necessary

Anti-torture protestors outside the White House in May 2009, after President Obama's first 100 days in office.Remember back in December, when the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report about the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program was published, with its devastating revelations that the use of torture “was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees,” that the CIA’s justification for its use of torture techniques “rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness,” that its interrogations “were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others”? (See my articles here and here).

We all do, of course, and to anyone who has not been fooled by the black propaganda of the torture apologists, it is depressing — if not unpredictable — that, in response, a book has just been published, entitled, Rebuttal: The CIA Responds to the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Study of Its Detention and Interrogation Program, published by the US Naval Institute Press, which attempts to claim that the Senate report is biased.

The book contains contributions from, amongst others, former CIA Directors George Tenet, Porter Goss and Michael Hayden, former chief legal officer John Rizzo and Jose Rodriguez, the former Chief of CIA’s Counterterrorism Center — all of whom have good reasons to hope that a conjuring trick like this will prevent them from being regarded as they should be, as war criminals evading justice, along with other senior Bush administration officials, up to and including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and others, and a number of senior lawyers and advisers. Read the rest of this entry »

Six Months After the CIA Torture Report, We’re Still Waiting for Accountability

An excerpt from the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report into the CIA's post-9/11 torture program, showing some of the redactions.I’m sure many of us remember where we were on December 9, 2014, when, two years after it was completed, the 500-page executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s five-year, 6,700-page, $40m report into the CIA’s post-9/11 torture report was released, which I wrote about here and here.

It was a momentous occasion, for which Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and everyone who worked with her to compile the report and and to publish it (or its executive summary, at least), deserve profound thanks. In dark times, in which the US system of checks and balances has gone awry, this was a bright light in the darkness. It also caused British commentators like myself to reflect on the fact that it was something that would never happen in the UK.

That said, however, the widespread sense of horror that greeted the publication of the executive summary, with its profoundly disturbing details that were unknown before — like the “rectal feeding” of prisoners for example — has not, in the six months since, led to firm action to hold accountable those who authorized and implemented the program, which is, of course, unacceptable. As I wrote at the time in my article for Al-Jazeera: Read the rest of this entry »

Incommunicado Forever: The Colossal Injustice of Torture Victim Abu Zubaydah’s Ongoing Imprisonment Without Charge or Trial at Guantánamo

Abu Zubaydah, photographed before his capture in Pakistan on March 28, 2002. Subsequently held in secret CIA prisons for four and a half years, he has been held at Guantanamo, without charge or trial, since September 2006. It’s been some time since I wrote about Abu Zubaydah (Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), one of 14 “high-value detainees” transferred from secret CIA prisons to Guantánamo in September 2006, beyond discussions of his important case against the Polish government, where he was held in a secret CIA torture prison in 2002 and 2003. This led to a ruling in his favor in the European Court of Human Rights last July, and a decision in February this year to award him — and another Guantánamo prisoner and torture victim, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — $262,000 in damages, for which, just last week, a deadline for payment was set for May 16, even though, as the Guardian noted, “neither Polish officials nor the US embassy in Warsaw would say where the money is going or how it was being used.”

I wrote extensively about Abu Zubaydah from 2008 to 2010, when there was generally little interest in his case, and I have also followed his attempts to seek justice in Poland since the investigation by a prosecutor began in 2010, leading to his recognition as a “victim” in January 2011, just before I visited Poland for a brief tour of the film I co-directed, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” with the former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg.

I have continued to follow Abu Zubaydah’s story in the years since, as other developments took place — when Jason Leopold, then at Al-Jazeera America, got hold of his diaries, which the US authorities had refused to release, and last December, when the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA’s torture program was released, and one of Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers, Helen Duffy, wrote an article for the Guardian, entitled, “The CIA tortured Abu Zubaydah, my client. Now charge him or let him go.” This followed the revelations in the report that, if he survived his torture, his interrogators wanted assurances that he would “remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life,” and senior officials stated that he “will never be placed in a situation where he has any significant contact with others and/or has the opportunity to be released.” Read the rest of this entry »

90-Pound Guantánamo Hunger Striker Appeals in Court for Assistance from Pakistani Government

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmad Rabbani in a photo made available by his lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve.On April 14, lawyers for Ahmad Rabbani (aka Mohammed Ahmad Ghulam Rabbani), one of the last few Pakistani prisoners in Guantánamo, “filed an emergency application with the Islamabad High Court, demanding that the Pakistani government intervene immediately in his case,” as the legal action charity Reprieve (which represents Mr. Rabbani) explained in a press release.

The filing notes that Mr. Rabbani “has been unlawfully captured and later on illegally detained, without a charge or notification of any pending or contemplated charges against him since 2001,” and that he “has been repeatedly tortured and subjected to cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment as a result of gross and flagrant violation of national and international law.” The lawyers added that his  “unfortunate torture … still continues.”

In addition, the lawyers stated that Mr. Rabbani’s case “involves a matter of urgency, as the fundamental rights, life, health, liberty and dignity of a man, who has been unlawfully detained, admittedly on mistaken identity, without a due process of law or fair trial guarantees, is at stake.” They added, “The ongoing torture, humiliation and deterioration of health of a Pakistani citizen, who has a right over the state institutions to protection of his life, dignity and liberty requires this case to be heard on an urgent basis.” Read the rest of this entry »

European Court of Human Rights Orders Poland to Pay $262,000 to CIA “Black Site” Prisoners

Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, two prisoners held in a secret CIA "black site" in Poland, whose cases were heard by the European Court of Human Rights in December 2013.I’m just catching up on a story from two weeks ago that I was unable to post at the time because I was busy with another couple of stories — the dismissal of David Hicks’ Guantánamo conviction, and the ongoing campaign to free Shaker Aamer.

The story I didn’t have time to report involved the European Court of Human Rights and the CIA “black site” that existed on Polish soil from December 2002 to September 2003. In July last year, the court delivered an unprecedented ruling — that, as the Guardian described it, Poland “had violated international law by allowing the CIA to inflict what ‘amounted to torture’ in 2002 at a secret facility in the forests of north-east Poland. The court found that Poland ‘enabled the US authorities to subject [the detainees] to torture and ill‑treatment on its territory’ and was complicit in that ‘inhuman and degrading treatment.'”

The ruling dealt with two of the “high-value detainees” held in the site — Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia, for whom the torture program was specifically developed, even though it was subsequently discovered that he was not involved with Al-Qaeda, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi accused of involvement in the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. Both men were subjected to the ancient torture technique known as waterboarding, as well as a variety of other torture techniques, and, while Abu Zubaydah is still held without charge or trial, al-Nashiri is facing a war crimes trial in the military commissions at Guantánamo, a process that has been stuck on the pre-trial phase for years, as his defense team tries to raise the question of his torture and prosecutors do all they can to keep it hidden. 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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