Parliament and the People: Two Days of London Events About Guantánamo, Torture and the Military Commissions

Sam Raphael, Alka Pradhan, Andy Worthington and Carla Ferstman at an event about Guantanamo, torture and the military commissions at the University of Westminster on November 2, 2016 (photo via Gitmo Watch).

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So last week was an interesting week for events focused on Guantánamo, torture and the military commissions in London, as Alka Pradhan, a lawyer with the defense team for Ammar al-Baluchi (aka Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali), a “high-value detainee,” and one of five men facing a trial for his alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks, was in town, and as a result MPs who, for the most part, had been involved in the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, had arranged a Parliamentary meeting.

The meeting was also called to coincide with a visit from Andrew Tyrie MP (Conservative, Chichester), the chair of the long-standing All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, and the election of officers for a new APPG on Guantánamo. It was chaired by Tom Brake MP (Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington), who held a Parliamentary meeting earlier this year for Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the torture victim and best-selling author who was recently released from Guantánamo, and attended by MPs including Chris Law (SNP, Dundee West), who will be the chair of the new APPG, and Andy Slaughter (Labour, Hammersmith), who, in 2014, visited Washington, D.C. to call for Shaker Aamer’s release with the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and Jeremy Corbyn, before he became the leader of the Labour Party. Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) and Mark Durkan (SDLP) were unable to make it to the meeting, but will also be involved in the APPG.

At the meeting, Alka briefed MPs on the story of her client, which I recently wrote about for Al-Jazeera, as he sought to persuade the US government to allow the UN Rapporteur for Torture to make an independent visit to Guantánamo to assess the conditions in which they are held, and to talk freely with them about their torture in CIA “black sites.” Unsurprisingly, no independent visit has been allowed, because the US government is determined to continue hiding evidence of the CIA’s torture program, despite the publication, nearly two years ago, of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA’s torture program, with its damning verdict on the brutality and futility of the program, and the CIA’s repeated lies about it. Read the rest of this entry »

Humanizing a Torture Victim: Abu Zubaydah’s Letters from Guantánamo

Abu Zubaydah as a young man (Photo by Abu Zubaydah’s childhood friend, Muhammad Shams al-Sawalha).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

On Tuesday, I wrote about the recent decision, by a Periodic Review Board, to approve the ongoing imprisonment of Abu Zubaydah, one of 14 men described as “high-value detainees,” who were brought to Guantánamo from CIA “black sites” just over ten years ago, in September 2006.

Zubaydah — whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn — was actually the first victim of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture program, but although the US government initially touted him as a significant figure in al-Qaeda, by 2010 they had backed down from their claims, accepting that he was not a member of al-Qaeda, and was not involved in the 9/11 attacks. In legal documents, the government claimed that they had “not contended … that Petitioner was a member of al-Qaeda or otherwise formally identified with al-Qaeda” and had “not contended that Petitioner had any personal involvement in planning or executing either the 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, or the attacks of September 11, 2001.”

Nevertheless, in approving Zubaydah’s ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, the members of the review board — 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 — sought to still identify him with al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and drew on a videotaped interview, made by militants after the 9/11 attacks, in which he spoke of how closely he and bin Laden had been working together for ten years, a claim that sounds suspiciously like Zubaydah making false claims about his own significance. In contrast, at a tribunal at Guantánamo in 2007, Zubaydah stated that he was tortured by the CIA to admit that he worked with Osama bin Laden, but insisted, “I’m not his partner and I’m not a member of al-Qaeda.” Read the rest of this entry »

First “War on Terror” Torture Victim Abu Zubaydah Denied Release from Guantánamo

Abu Zubaydah at Guantanamo, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. The eye patch covers his lost eye, removed in US custody.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

On October 27, it was announced that Abu Zubaydah, the supposed “high-value detainee” for whom the US’s post-9/11 torture program was initiated, had his ongoing imprisonment recommended by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process involving 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. Zubaydah’s review took place on August 23 (as I reported here), and the decision was taken on September 22, but, for some reason, it was not made public for five weeks.

The PRBs began in November 2013, and have reviewed the cases of 64 men, who were previously recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the basis that they were allegedly “too dangerous to release” (41 of the 64) or for men initially recommended for trials, until the legitimacy of the military commission trial system was seriously shaken by a court ruling on October 2012, and by subsequent rulings (the remaining 23). To date, 62 decisions have been taken, with 34 men being approved for release, while 28 others have had their ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial upheld. For further information, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website.

In their Final Determination approving Abu Zubaydah’s ongoing imprisonment, the board members, having determined, by consensus, that “continued law of war detention of the detainee remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States,” described how they had “considered [his] past involvement in terrorist activities to include probably serving as one of Usama Bin Ladin’s [sic] most trusted facilitators and his admitted abilities as a long-term facilitator and fundraiser for extremist causes, regardless of his claim that he was not a formal member of al-Qa’ida.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Messed-Up Trial of the Century: Lawdragon’s Exhaustive Report on the 9/11 Pre-Trial Hearings at Guantánamo

The co-defendants in the painfully slow-moving and contentious 9/11 trial at Guantanamo. From top to bottom: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali (aka Ammar al-Baluchi) and Walid bin Attash.The military commissions at Guantánamo, as I have been reporting for ten years, are a shamefully deficient excuse for justice, a system dreamt up in the heat of America’s post-9/11 sorrow, when hysteria and vengeance trumped common sense and a respect for the law, and it was decided, by senior Bush administration officials and their lawyers, that prisoners seized in the “war on terror” and subjected to torture should be tried in a system that allowed the use of information derived through the use of torture, and swiftly found guilty and executed.

Military prosecutors, however, soon turned against the system and pointedly resigned, and in 2006 the Supreme Court ruled the whole system illegal. Nevertheless, the Bush administration, with the enthusiastic support of Congress, revived the commissions in the fall of 2006, followed by further resignations (see here and here), and a third version of the commissions ill-advisedly emerged under President Obama in his first year in office (see here and here). The commissions have been tweaked to be less unjust, but they are still a Frankenstein’s Monster facsimile of a working trial system, full of so many holes that it is difficult for them to function at all, and at their heart is the specter of torture, which the government endlessly tries to hide, while the prisoners’ defence teams, of course, try constantly to expose it, as no fair trial can take place without it being discussed.

In recent years, my coverage of the commissions has been less thorough than it was between 2007 and the summer of 2014, largely because it seemed to me that the commissions were so broken and were going round and round in circles so pointlessly that it was no longer even worth trying to follow what was — or, more often, what wasn’t — happening. In one way, this was a fair reflection of the futility of the commissions’ efforts to secure anything resembling justice, but the more fundamental reality was that, however broken the proceedings may have been, pre-trial hearings were still taking place, however little they were being reported, which, one day, would constitute a damning indictment of America’s post-9/11 flight from justice and the law, and its embrace of torture and indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial. As a result, the commissions really ought not to be allowed to drop off the radar. Read the rest of this entry »

‘Enshrined Injustice: Guantánamo, Torture and the Military Commissions’ – Nov. 2 London Event with Alka Pradhan, Andy Worthington, Carla Ferstmann

The ironically named Camp Justice at Guantanamo, where the military commission trials, endlessly mired in pre-trial hearings, are supposed to take place.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

Here’s one for your diaries, Londoners. On Wednesday November 2, I’m part of a panel discussion — ‘Enshrined Injustice: Guantánamo, Torture, and the Military Commissions’ — taking place at the University of Westminster in central London. The event is free, but please register here on the Eventbrite page.

It’s hosted by Sam Raphael, co-director of The Rendition Project (with Ruth Blakeley at the University of Kent), and the special guest, visiting from the US, is Alka Pradhan, one of the lawyers for Ammar al-Baluchi, a “high-value detainee” at Guantánamo, and one of five men facing a trial for involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Other speakers are Carla Ferstman, the director of REDRESS, and myself, as an independent journalist who has spent over ten years researching and writing about Guantánamo and the post-9/11 torture program, and working to get the prison closed down.

I’ve recently been renewing my focus on the military commissions, via a number of articles on my site (see Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions and Guantánamo’s Military Commissions: More Chaos in the Cases of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri and Majid Khan), on the Close Guantánamo website, and in an op-ed for Al-Jazeera, Guantánamo torture victims should be allowed UN visit, which partly drew on a letter from Ammar al-Baluchi to Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, asking for him to be allowed to visit the “high-value detainees” at Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read My New Article for Al-Jazeera, About How Torture Victims in Guantánamo Should Be Allowed a Visit by UN Rapporteur Juan Méndez

Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali (aka Ammar al-Baluchi), photographed in Guantanamo by representatives of the International Committee of the red Cross, in a photo made available to his family and later released to the public.Yesterday, I was delighted that Al-Jazeera published my op-ed, “Guantánamo torture victims should be allowed UN visit,” the first op-ed I’ve written for Al-Jazeera for over a year a a half. You can check out my archive of Al-Jazeera articles here.

The op-ed came about as a result of my recently renewed focus on the military commissions at Guantánamo, a broken system that is incapable of delivering justice to the ten men still held who are facing — or have faced — military commission trials. For more, see my recent articles, Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions and Guantánamo’s Military Commissions: More Chaos in the Cases of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri and Majid Khan, and also my recent update of The Full List of Prisoners Charged in the Military Commissions at Guantánamo.

61 men are still held at Guantánamo, and while 20 have been approved for release, and will hopefully be freed soon, and 23 others continue to be held without charge or trial, those men are, at least, subject to periodic reviews of their cases, whereas those facing trials are caught in a system that is proceeding with such glacial slowness that it is uncertain if a date for their trials can be set with any kind of certainty, and this, of course, is a profound failure of justice considering that they have been in US custody for up to 14 years. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo’s Military Commissions: More Chaos in the Cases of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri and Majid Khan

"High-value detainee" Majid Khan, photographed at Guantanamo in 2009.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2700 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

At Guantánamo, as I have been reporting recently, the military commissions, a broken trial system ill-advisedly dragged out of historical retirement for prisoners seized in the “war on terror,” have reconvened after a summer break — see my articles Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions and Chief Defense Counsel of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions Calls Them a “Poisoned Chalice,” a Betrayal of the Constitution and the Law. Also see my updated Full List of Prisoners Charged in the Military Commissions at Guantánamo.

That the commissions are a poor substitute for justice can readily be understood from the fact that only eight convictions have been secured, and four of those have subsequently been overturned by appeals court judges, and from the realization that the only ongoing cases are almost permanently deadlocked because, on the one hand, prosecutors seek to hide the fact that the men facing trials were tortured, while on the other those defending the men insist that fair trial cannot take place until the torture is openly discussed.

The failures of the commissions have also been made clear in a recent appeals court ruling in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of involvement in the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and in a hearing at Guantánamo for Majid Khan, who first agreed to a plea deal over four and a half years ago, in February 2012, but who has not yet been sentenced. Read the rest of this entry »

Chief Defense Counsel of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions Calls Them a “Poisoned Chalice,” a Betrayal of the Constitution and the Law

A sign for the military commissions at Guantanamo. Behind is the first courtroom used for the commissions, which is no longer in use, but photos of the current courtroom are not allowed. (Photo: Cora Currier/ProPublica).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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” as we continue to monitor the situation at Guantánamo in the dying days of the Obama presidency, we remain concerned for all the categories of men held. Of the last 61 men in the prison the statistics are as follows:

  • 20 men have been approved for release.
  • 23 have had their ongoing imprisonment approved by Periodic Review Boards.
  • Eight are awaiting decisions by Periodic Review Boards.
  • Ten are facing — or have faced — trials.

Of the men approved for release, seven have been languishing at Guantánamo since the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force made decisions about what should happen to the prisoners in 2009, while the other 13 have been approved for release in the last two and a half years by the latest review process, the Periodic Review Boards (for further information, see our definitive Periodic Review Board list). All of these men should be released as soon as possible. Read the rest of this entry »

Four “High-Value Detainees” Have Their Ongoing Imprisonment at Guantánamo Upheld by Periodic Review Boards

Afghan prisoner Muhammad Rahim, in a photo taken in Guantanamo by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family, who made it publicly available via his lawyers.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2800 (£2100) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

On September 8, as I reported here, Hassan bin Attash, a former child prisoner and the younger brother of a “high-value detainee,” became the 64th and last prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board. Set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who are not facing trials (just ten men) or who had not already been approved for release by an earlier review process (2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force), the PRBs began in November 2013, and function like parole boards. If prisoners can demonstrate contrition, and can also demonstrate that they bear no malice towards the US, and have coherent post-release work plans, and, preferably, supportive families, then they can be recommended for release.

Noticeably, of the 64 prisoners whose cases have been considered, 33 — over half —have had their release approved (and 20 of those have been freed), while 23 others have had their ongoing imprisonment approved. Eight decisions have yet to be taken. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website for further details.

At the time of Hassan bin Attash’s PRB, just 19 men had had their ongoing imprisonment approved, but in the last three weeks four more decisions were announced — all decisions to continue holding the men whose cases had been reviewed. Fundamentally, this was not a surprise — the four men were all “high-value detainees,” men held and tortured in CIA “black sites” before their arrival at Guantánamo, and although seven HVDs have had PRBs, none have yet been approved from release (the three others are awaiting decisions). Read the rest of this entry »

Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

"End Guantanamo commissions: use fair trials" - an Amnesty International supporter outside the White House.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2800 (£2100) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

In the 15 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has systematically undermined many of the key values it claims to uphold as a nation founded on and respecting the rule of law, having embraced torture, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial, trials of dubious legality and efficacy, and extra-judicial execution.

The Bush administration’s torture program — so devastatingly exposed in the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the program, published in December 2014 — no longer exists, but no one has been held accountable for it. In addition, as the psychologist and journalist Jeffrey Kaye has pointed out, although ostensibly outlawed by President Obama in an executive order issued when he took office, the use of torture is permitted, in particular circumstances, in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual.

When it comes to extrajudicial execution, President Obama has led the way, disposing of perceived threats through drone attacks — and although drones were used by President Bush, it is noticeable that their use has increased enormously under Obama. If the rendition, torture and imprisonment of those seized in the “war on terror” declared after the 9/11 attacks raised difficult ethical, moral and legal questions, killing people in drone attacks — even in countries with which the US is not at war, and even if they are US citizens — apparently does not trouble the conscience of the president, or the US establishment as a whole. 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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