Yemeni Seized in Georgia, Who Has Not Been Able to Make Contact With His Family in 13 Years at Guantánamo, Seeks Release Via Review Board

Yemeni prisoner Omar al-Rammah, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Last Thursday, July 21, a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, Omar Muhammad Ali al-Rammah (ISN 1017), became the 54th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. The PRBs were set up in 2003 to review the cases of prisoners who had not already been approved for release, or were not facing trials, and to date 30 men have been approved for release, while 14 have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld. For further information, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website.

This is a 68% success rate for the prisoners, and, as I explained in an article last week, these results are “remarkable — and remarkably damaging for the credibility of the Obama administration — because the majority of these men were described, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama set up shortly after taking office in January 2009, as ‘too dangerous to release,’ when the reality has not borne out that caution.” I added, “Others were recommended for prosecution, until the basis for prosecutions in Guantánamo’s military commission trial system largely collapsed after a series of devastating appeals court rulings, confirming that the war crimes being tried were illegitimate, having been invented by Congress.”

Al-Rammah (also identified as Zakaria al-Baidany), who is 40 years old, was, as I explained in my book The Guantánamo Files, captured far from the battlefields of Afghanistan — in Georgia, formerly part of the Soviet Union, with an Algerian, Soufian al-Hawari (ISN 1016), who was freed in November 2008. Al-Hawari explained in Guantánamo that he was formerly a drug user and petty thief in various European countries, but that he then became a devout Muslim, and traveled in 2001 to meet an old friend from Algeria called Abdul Haq in Georgia, where, as I described it, he said he “was captured on a bridge 50 miles from his friend’s house under the most extraordinary circumstances.”

Al-Hawari said, “The Americans didn’t capture me. The [Russian] Mafia captured me. They sold me to the Americans … When I was captured, a car came around and people inside were talking Russian and Georgian … We were delivered to another group who spoke perfect Russian. They sold us to the dogs. The Americans came two days later with a briefcase full of money. They took us to a forest, then a private plane to Kabul.”

When asked who was with him, al-Hawari replied, “There were four of us. Myself, my friend Abdul Haq, a Yemeni guy named Zakaria [al-Rammah], and a Chech[en] driver, who was killed.” According to a Cageprisoners report, based on accounts provided by former prisoners, they were sold to the Americans for $100,000. Al-Rammah has not spoken at Guantánamo in any publicly released records, but, according to two reports, he was subjected to brutal treatment in the early days of the prison’s existence.

Cageprisoners reported that he “would be held with his hand tied behind his back and his feet chained to the floor while being subjected to extremely cold temperatures,” and “would not be allowed to use the toilet or eat,” and Juma al-Dossari, a prisoner released in Saudi Arabia in July 2007, described how al-Rammah “went on a hunger strike because of the abuse that he was subjected to during interrogations, but was still interrogated every day for more than twelve hours.” He added that “the interrogator ordered the guards to keep him awake and he was then placed in solitary confinement.” Al-Dossari explained, “You have no idea of what the solitary isolation cells in Camp Delta are like; they cause psychological illnesses. They beat him in solitary and I heard his screams when they were beating him.”

In the unclassified summary for al-Rammah’s PRB, the US authorities admitted that they had no information establishing that he was anything more than a low-level facilitator working with Muslim freedom fighters in Chechnya. The summary stated that he “probably was a low-level mujahidin fighter since the mid-1990s, when he probably participated in the Bosnian jihad, and a facilitator since the late 1990s when he became associated with an extremist network affiliated with al-Qa’ida.” The doubtfulness in the above, with the double use of the word “probably,” continued in the following description of how he “may have trained at al-Qa’ida-associated camps in Afghanistan before relocating to Georgia in mid-2001 to support the Chechen jihad.”

The summary added, “While in Georgia, he was part of a force led by Chechen mujahid Ruslan Gelayev and may have fought against Russian or Abkhaz forces in the breakaway region of Abkhazia.” After 9/11, he “continued to work as a trusted but low-level mujahidin facilitator while he aspired to enter Chechnya to fight. He arranged to acquire fraudulent passports; and sought to acquire weapons, ammunition, and other supplies for mujahidin operations in Chechnya.” It was also claimed that he “probably received some training under Abu Atiya, who led a toxin network while in Georgia, but probably had no other inyolvement in its operations.” Captured in April 2002 by Russian forces, he arrived at Guantánamo in May 2003 after being held in a variety of CIA “black sites” and US-run secret prisons in Afghanistan.

Moving on to his behavior in Guantánamo, the summary noted that, although he has been “moderately compliant,” he “has refused to cooperate with US personnel and probably retains an extremist mindset” — again, the use of the word “probably” does not inspire confidence that this is necessarily an accurate assessment. The summary added that al-Rammah “has made no effort to reconnect with family,” although this claim is contradicted by his civilian lawyer, Beth Jacob, who, in her submission to the board, posted below, explicitly states that “despite several efforts by the International Red Cross (which my firm has confirmed independently through conversations with the ICRC) and others — he has not been able to make contact with his family since his arrival at Guantánamo.”

The summary also noted that al-Rammah “probably does not want to be repatriated to Yemen” (although he would not be allowed to anyway, as the entire US establishment is agreed that no Yemenis can be repatriated from Guantánamo, because of the security situation in their home country). It was also noted that he “has little formal education and has not articulated any plans or hopes for his life after release, suggesting that he lacks the social and vocational skills to support himself without comprehensive assistance.” This does not augur well for his PRB, because, as a process similar to parole, what is required, as well as contrition, is a serious and convincing plan for life after Guantánamo.

In closing, the summary noted that there are “no indications” that al-Rammah “has current associations with active extremists,” although it was noted that “Soufian Abar Huwari [aka al-Hawari] was arrested by Belgian authorities in July 2015 for criminal activities.”

Below, I’m posting the opening statements made by al-Rammah’s personal representative (a military officer appointed to help him prepare for his PRB) and his attorney Beth Jacob, who refers to him as Zakaria, the name by which he is best-known. Both statements are revealing of a young man of limited education who made some terrible life choices, but whose ramifications he has understood.

The PR also noted how, as a “rebellious youngster,” he “focused on playing soccer, dancing and having fun,” and Jacob noted how, “through watching American movies he learned about open societies and cultures where men and women can interact freely,” and, as a result, his ambition now is for “a life with friends both male and female, and his dream is to be able to go out dancing at night with his wife and then come home to their children.” His PR also noted how is hoping to “marry a woman who is educated,” and to “live somewhere where she doesn’t have to keep her head covered.”

In reading through the opening statements, I actually found myself feeling rather sad for al-Rammah, who, like many of the men held at Guantánamo, has developed an enthusiasm for US culture in spite of the way that the US government has treated him. The saddest moment, however, as I mentioned above, came with Beth Jacob’s explanation that al-Rammah has not been able to communicate with his family at all since his capture, and, as she described it, his “last conversation with his mother was in 2002 from Georgia, when she told him to come home.”

Periodic Review Board Initial Hearing, 21 Jul 2016
Omar Mohammed Ali Al-Rammah, ISN 1017
Personal Representative Opening Statement

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the Board. I am the Personal Representative for Omar Mohammed Ali Al-Rammah (ISN I017), who goes by a nickname Zakariya. Thank you for this opportunity to show Zakariya is not a continuing significant threat to the United States.

Zakariya, whose birth name is Faysal Mohammed Alawi Ali Salem, was born and raised in Jedda Saudi Arabia, although his family is Yemeni by blood. Zakariya comes from a moderate family that highly values education. In fact, both his older brothers pursued advanced degrees at foreign universities. As a typical rebellious youngster, Zakariya did not put much effort into his schooling and instead, focused on playing soccer, dancing and having fun. He also chose not to attend mosque or practice Islam until he reached high school when someone at a nearby mosque showed him a video describing heaven and hell. This scared him enough that he turned towards a more strict faith. This eventually led him to head for Bosnia in the 1990’s so he could help protect the Muslims from the atrocities of that period. After only a month of basic training his barracks was shelled, injuring his leg and forcing him back home to get proper care. After a couple years spent recovering and completing additional schooling, someone at mosque showed him videos of the Chechen conflict and he again felt the need to go help the Muslims there. After a short stay in Afghanistan to finish his basic training, he ended up in Georgia.

Once Zakariya arrived in Georgia, the Chechens there essentially told him they didn’t trust Arabs to do any fighting and sent him to provide support in the rear areas of the conflict. This left Zakariya to spend his time performing menial tasks such as loading food for transport. One day, Zakariya took a cab between towns and the cab was ambushed. Zakariya and two other passengers were apprehended while the Chechen driver was killed next to Zakariya. He was eventually handed over to Americans and, after being held an extended time in Afghanistan, he was finally transferred to Guantanamo Bay. His traumatic capture experience finally brought home the brutal reality of his choices and forever altered his view of armed conflict.

While at Guantánamo, Zakariya has settled into a much more moderate practice of Islam, sometimes even earning the displeasure of other detainees for his willingness to speak with female guards and staff members. He participated in numerous class offerings and likes to spend his time playing video games and watching American movies. Zakariya greatly admires Western culture and wants to move to an accommodating country with religious freedoms, preferably in Europe. He wants to marry a woman who is educated, who he can take dancing and live somewhere where she doesn’t have to keep her head covered. He understands that he has limited education and job training and is willing to accept any job he can to provide for a family. Zakariya is ready to answer any and all questions to prove he is not a continuing significant threat to the United States. Thank you.

Attorney’s Opening Statement

Good morning. I am Beth Jacob, a member of the law firm Kelley Drye & Warren, private counsel for Faysal Alawi Ali Salem, also known as Zakaria al Baidany. He has been called Zakaria for most of the last dozen years, so I will use that name in referring to him.

I would like to give you a little background about myself, so you can have context to consider my comments about Zakaria. Shortly after law school I became a prosecutor in the New York City District Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, where I worked for eight years investigating and prosecuting organized crime, official corruption, white collar crime, large scale tax evasion and financial frauds. Some years after I left the District Attorney’ s Office, I defended the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey — the owner of the World Trade Center complex — in some of the litigations arising out of the September 11, 2001 attacks. On a pro bono basis, I helped victims of those attacks make claims against insurers and obtain compensation from the fund established by the United States government for that purpose. Now most of my work is representing generic pharmaceutical companies in patent infringement litigation against brand pharmaceutical companies.

Along with others in my previous and current law firms, I have represented men detained at Guantánamo since 2005.

I have known Zakaria only a few months, when he asked if I could be his private counsel at this hearing because a series of departures from the firm that had been working with him left him without a lawyer. But in those few months, I have spoken and met with him almost a dozen times. I talked with his previous lawyers and read their notes. He has always been friendly and polite; I do not wear a headscarf or a skirt when we meet; and he shakes my hand and thanks me profusely at the beginnings and ends of our meetings.

At Guantánamo, Zakaria has taken many classes, and you have letters from two of his teachers. But what he likes best is to play videogames and to watch American movies — he likes adventure movies and romantic stories, where he can follow the plots despite his limited English. He told me that when he watches movies, he is transported to another world. And he told me that through watching American movies he learned about open societies and cultures where men and women can interact freely. Now, Zakaria’s ambition is a life with friends both male and female, and his dream is to be able to go out dancing at night with his wife and then come home to their children. His thoughts about employment are modest and realistic — he would like to work in a store, perhaps one selling sweets or drive a taxi.

Zakaria is not someone who is interested in political or religious philosophy, or who wants to change the world or other people. When he was young, he liked music and dancing (even though that was not accepted in Saudi Arabia where he grew up), and playing soccer. He then made what he readily admits were wrong decisions that he regrets intensely. He was scared by a story of heaven and hell, got religion as a result and was guided to Bosnia and then Chechnya to support his fellow Muslims, decisions that he now regrets deeply. He was captured in a violent ambush in Georgia where the young man sitting next to him was shot dead before his eyes — a shock that still reverberates when he talks about it today. He was transferred to American custody and held in CIA black sites before he was transferred to Guantánamo.

These experiences traumatized him — especially the death of the young man, the first death he had seen.

He has gained a reputation as a good cook. And while I have not had the privilege of sampling his cooking, we have had discussions about food and spices, and about different kinds of coffees.

Zakaria grew up in a family that valued education and was not unduly religious. We have not been able to provide statements from his family because — despite several efforts by the International Red Cross (which my firm has confirmed independently through conversations with the ICRC) and others — he has not been able to make contact with his family since his arrival at Guantánamo. Zakaria’s last conversation with his mother was in 2002 from Georgia, when she told him to come home. He has given me the names of his family in Saudi Arabia, his mother’s family in Yemen a businessman who is a family friend and his home phone number from 15 years ago, and we are actively trying to locate them. From what he says his family is well educated and has resources, and will be able to help support him financially as well as emotionally wherever he ends up living.

But in the absence of family, before we are able to locate them, we have made arrangements to provide support and structure to ensure that he is able to make a safe and successful transition to life after transfer from Guantánamo, wherever he ends up. I am sure many of you know of Reprieve’s “Life After Guantánamo” program with its impressive track record of successfully helping several dozen detainees from Guantánamo after they were transferred. Reprieve has agreed that Zakaria can participate in that program and we have submitted a letter from them to that effect that describes the program in more detail. And Zakaria has not one, but two, international law firms — mine and his previous counsel — who are committed to continuing our work as his lawyers to give him or find for him whatever assistance is needed. I have explained all of this to Zakaria, and he is very grateful.

You will see that Zakaria will be forthright with you about his past and that his remorse is genuine. He was a young unsophisticated kid who behaved stupidly. The independent responsibilities suggested by the profile, in my opinion, would have been beyond his capabilities. He never was engaged in fighting, and his first experience of violence shocked him to his core. As Zakaria puts it, he has learned through a very hard lesson, not to follow bad advice. That this lesson remains learned is clear from his conduct at Guantánamo. For years he has been housed with the compliant and Westernized detainees and his ambition is for a future where he can go out dancing. It is clear that Zakaria will not be a threat to the United States or anyone else if he is released.

Thank you.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Penitent Pakistani Seeks Release from Guantánamo, as Two Yemenis and a Moroccan are Approved for Release and an Algerian’s Request is Denied

Pakistani prisoner Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On July 7, a Periodic Review Board took place for Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani (also identified for the PRB as Abdul Rabbani Abu Rahmah), a Pakistani prisoner at Guantánamo (born in Saudi Arabia) who was seized in Karachi, Pakistan on September 9, 2002 and held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for two years, before arriving at Guantánamo with nine other allegedly “medium-value detainees” in September 2004. He was seized with his younger brother, Ahmad (aka Mohammed), who is awaiting a date for his PRB, and who, last year, sought assistance from the Pakistani government in a submission to the Pakistani courts.

The PRBs were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the men not already approved for release or facing trials. These men were described by the government task force that reviewed their cases in 2009 as “too dangerous to release,” despite a lack of evidence against them, or were recommended for prosecution, until the basis for prosecution largely collapsed. The PRBs have been functioning like parole boards, with the men in question — 64 in total — having to establish, to the satisfaction of the board members, made up 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, that they show remorse for their previous actions, that they bear no ill-will towards the US, that they have no associations with anyone regarded as being involved in terrorism, and that they have plans in place for their life after Guantánamo, preferably with the support of family members.

Around the time of Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani’s PRB, which is discussed at length below, four decisions were also taken relating to prisoners whose reviews had already taken place, when three men were approved for release, and one had his request to be released turned down. These decisions meant that, of the 52 prisoners whose cases had been reviewed, 27 have been approved for release, 13 have had their ongoing imprisonment recommended, and 12 decisions have yet to be made. 11 more reviews have yet to take place (and one took place last week, which I’ll be writing about soon). See here for my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the website of the Close Guantánamo campaign that I co-founded with the US attorney Tom Wilner, and that I have been running since 2012. Read the rest of this entry »

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: 41 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 23 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 41 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 »

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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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