A New Low for Guantánamo’s Credibility: The Brief But Absurd Imprisonment of the Military Commissions’ Chief Defense Counsel

A collage of Brig. Gen. John Baker and Camp 6 at Guantanamo, produced by the Daily Beast.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.

 

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 the “you couldn’t make it up” department of Guantánamo absurdity, the prison last week secured its first new prisoner since March 2008 — not an ISIS- or al-Qaeda-related prisoner sent there by Donald Trump, as he persistently threatens to do — but Brig. Gen. John Baker, the Chief Defense Counsel of the troubled military commission trial system.

Writing in Slate, Philip Carter, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University, who briefly served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Policy under President Obama, correctly identified Brig. Gen. Baker’s only offence as having been to “stand[] up for the rule of law and being held in contempt by a judge overseeing the military tribunals at Guantánamo.”

Carter proceeded to explain that the US has two legal systems: the best, “on display every week in federal courthouses, where processes unfold neatly and along well-worn lines established by centuries of statute and precedent,” and the worst, “on display at Guantánamo, where a dispute over government surveillance of defense counsel has resulted in a Marine general being detained (and released two days later) and civilian counsel being threatened with the same fate.” Read the rest of this entry »

11 Years After CIA Torture Victims Arrived at Guantánamo, Whistleblowers Joseph Hickman and John Kiriakou on How Torture “Became Legal” After 9/11

Joseph Hickman and John Kiriakou, former US whistleblowers and authors of 'The Convenient Terrorist', a new book about the US torture program, with a particular focus on Abu Zubaydah.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.

Exactly eleven years ago, on September 6, 2006, George W. Bush, who had previously denied holding prisoners in secret prisons run by the CIA, admitted that the secret prisons did exist, but stated in a press conference that the men held in them had just been moved to Guantánamo, where they would face military commission trials.

To date, just one man has been successfully prosecuted — Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a minor player in the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa, who was only successfully prosecuted because he was moved to the US mainland and given a federal court trial. In response, Republican lawmakers petulantly passed legislation preventing such a success from happening again, leaving the other men to be caught in seemingly endless pre-trial military commission hearings, or imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial. Seven men — including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men changed in connection with the 9/11 attacks — are in the former category, while another man (Majid Khan) agreed to a plea deal in 2012, but is still awaiting sentencing, and five others — including Abu Zubaydah, a logistician mistakenly regarded as a high-ranking terrorist leader, for whom the torture program was first developed — continue to be held without charge or trial, and largely incommunicado, with no sign of when, if ever, their limbo will come to an end.

Last year, I wrote an article about the “high-value detainees” on the 10th anniversary of their arrival at Guantánamo, entitled, Tortured “High-Value Detainees” Arrived at Guantánamo Exactly Ten Years Ago, But Still There Is No Justice, and this year I’m taking the opportunity to cross-post an excerpt from a recently published book, The Convenient Terrorist, by Joseph Hickman and John Kiriakou, published by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc., and available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and IndieBound. The excerpt was first published on Salon. 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 »

Challenging the Nomination of 2005 “Torture Memo” Author Steven Bradbury as a Lawyer in the Trump Administration

Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK: Women for Peace challenges Steven G. Bradbury over his role as a "torture memo" author at his confirmation hearing as a Trump administration lawyer on June 28, 2017.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 (June 28), three members of Veterans for Peace — the US military veterans’ organization founded in 1985 and committed to building “a culture of peace” — interrupted the Senate confirmation hearing for Steven G. Bradbury, nominated by Donald Trump as general counsel for the Commerce, Science and Transportation Department, and were subsequently arrested. Videos are available here and here,

The three VFP members — Tarak Kauff, Ken Ashe and Ellen Barfield — were protesting about Bradbury’s role as one of the authors of the notorious “torture memos” under George W. Bush, and they were not alone. As the New York Times explained, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, told Bradbury at the hearing, “You lacked the judgment to stand up and say what is morally right when pressured by the president of the United States, and I’m afraid you would do so again.” She then “wagged her finger at Mr. Bradbury and accused him of having a dangerous ‘rubber stamp’ mentality,” and said, “I cannot oppose this nomination strongly enough.”

For my call for Steven Bradbury to be prosecuted — along with other senior Bush administration officials and lawyers — listen to my song ‘81 Million Dollars,’ performed with my band The Four Fathers.

The “torture memos” were written and approved in the Office of Legal Counsel (the branch of the Justice Department that is supposed to provide impartial advice to the executive branch), and the first examples were written by law professor John Yoo, and approved by Yoo’s boss, Jay S. Bybee. The memos sought to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA on Abu Zubaydah, seized in Pakistan in March 2002 and regarded as a “high-value detainee,” and approved a list of techniques that included waterboarding, an ancient torture technique that involves controlled drowning. Read the rest of this entry »

In Ongoing Court Case, Spotlight On James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, Architects of the Brutal, Pointless CIA Torture Program

Bruce Jessen (left) and James Mitchell (right), the US psychologists who were the architects of the post-9/11 torture program.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues — including the US torture program — over the next three months of the Trump administration.

Today is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which commemorates the entry into force, on June 26, 1987, of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which the US is a signatory).

 

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,” we have always been concerned not only with closing Guantánamo for good, and seeking justice for anyone put forward for a trial, but also with accountability.

We believe that those who authorized the defining characteristics of the “war on terror” declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — a global program of kidnapping and torture, and, at Guantánamo, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial — must one day be held accountable for their actions.

Unfortunately, even before President Obama took office, he expressed “a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” adding that part of his job was “to make sure that, for example, at the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.” Read the rest of this entry »

North Carolina Citizens’ Group Launches Investigation of CIA’s Bush-Era Rendition and Torture Program

Christina Cowger and Allyson Caison of North Carolina Stop Torture Now protesting against Aero Contractors, who flew rendition flights for the CIA’s torture program, in January 2013. Cowger is now part of the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture (Photo: Bob Geary).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.

 

Last month, the Associated Press picked up on an important anti-torture initiative in North Carolina, which, in turn, was picked up by the New York Times. and, in the UK, the Independent. I didn’t have the opportunity to mention it at the time, so I’m doing so now, as I want to play my part in trying to get it to a wider audience.

The Times ran the article under the headline, “Citizens’ Group Aims to Investigate CIA Rendition Program,” explaining how, on Wednesday March 15 in Raleigh, North Carolina, the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture — a group of academics, retired military officers and ministers — announced plans “to hold public hearings in North Carolina to highlight a government program they hope won’t be repeated: the secret CIA interrogation sites where suspected terrorists might be tortured.”

As their website describes it, the NCCIT was “set up to investigate and encourage public debate about the role that North Carolina played in facilitating the US torture program carried out between 2001 [and] 2009. This non-governmental inquiry responds to the lack of recognition by North Carolina’s publicly elected officials and the US government of citizens’ need to know how their tax dollars and state assets were used to support unlawful detention, torture, and rendition.” Read the rest of this entry »

15 Years of Torture: The Unending Agony of Abu Zubaydah, in CIA “Black Sites” and Guantánamo

Abu Zubaydah: illustration by Brigid Barrett from an article in Wired in July 2013. The photo used is from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2013.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 the eleven years since I first began working on Guantánamo full-time, researching its history and the stories of the men held there, writing about them and working to get the prison closed down, one date has been burned into my mind: March 28, 2002, when Abu Zubaydah (Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), an alleged “high-value detainee,” was seized in a house raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan. That night dozens of prisoners were seized in a number of house raids in Faisalabad, and some were taken to CIA “black sites” or sent abroad on behalf of the CIA to torture facilities in other countries, run by their own torturers. Most ended up, after a few months, in Guantánamo, and most — through not all — have now been released, but not Abu Zubaydah.

He, instead, was sent to a CIA “black site” in Thailand, where he was the first prisoner subjected to the CIA’s vile post-9/11 torture program, revealed most clearly to date in the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report about the program, published in December 2014. Although the executive summary was heavily redacted, and the full report has never been made public, it remains the most powerful official indictment of the torture program, which, it is clear, should never have been embarked upon in the first place.

After Thailand, where he was subjected to waterboarding (an ancient form of water torture) on 83 occasions, Abu Zubaydah was sent to Poland, and, after other flights to other locations (a “black site” in Guantánamo, briefly), and others in Morocco, Lithuania, and — probably — Afghanistan, he ended up back at Guantánamo, though not covertly, in September 2006, when President Bush announced to the world that he and 13 other “high-value detainees” had been removed from the CIA “black sites” whose existence he had previously denied, but which, he now admitted, had existed but had just been shut down. Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump Proposes to Keep Guantánamo Open, to Prevent Further Releases, and to Reintroduce Torture and “Black Sites”

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 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.

On Wednesday our worst fears on Guantánamo and torture were confirmed, when the New York Times published a leaked draft executive order, “Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants,” indicating that Donald Trump wants to keep Guantánamo open, wants to send new prisoners there, and wants to “suspend any existing transfer efforts pending a new review as to whether any such transfers are in the national security interests of the United States.” Trump also, it seems, wants to reinstate torture and the use of CIA “black sites.”

Specifically, the draft executive order proposes revoking the two executive orders, 13492 and 13491, that President Obama issued on his second day in office in January 2009 — the first ordering the closure of Guantánamo, and the second to close CIA “black sites,” to grant the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all prisoners, and to ensure that interrogators only use techniques approved in the Army Field Manual.

The draft executive order also proposes to “resurrect a 2007 executive order issued by President Bush,” as the New York Times put it, which “responded to a 2006 Supreme Court ruling about the Geneva Conventions that had put CIA interrogators at risk of prosecution for war crimes, leading to a temporary halt of the agency’s ‘enhanced’ interrogations program.” Read the rest of this entry »

Great New York Times Exposé of How Torture, Abuse and Command Indifference Compromised Psychiatric Care at Guantánamo

A prisoner, in the early days of Guantanamo, being moved on a gurney, as prisoners were in the prison's early years.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo until the end of the year.

 

A recent detailed New York Times article, “Where Even Nightmares Are Classified: Psychiatric Care at Guantánamo,” provides a powerful review of the horrors of Guantánamo from the perspective of “more than two dozen military medical personnel who served or consulted” at the prison.

The Times article, written by Sheri Fink, explains how some prisoners were disturbed when they arrived at the prison, others “struggled with despair” as their imprisonment without charge or trial dragged on, and some “had developed symptoms including hallucinations, nightmares, anxiety or depression after undergoing brutal interrogations” by US personnel — sometime in CIA “black sites,” sometimes at Guantánamo — who had themselves been advised by other health personnel. Those who were tortured — although the Times refused to mention the word “torture,” as has been the paper’s wont over the years, coyly referring to dozens of men who “underwent agonizing treatment” — “were left with psychological problems that persisted for years, despite government lawyers’ assurances that the practices did not constitute torture and would cause no lasting harm.”

The result, Fink concluded, was that “a willful blindness to the consequences emerged. Those equipped to diagnose, document and treat the effects — psychiatrists, psychologists and mental health teams — were often unaware of what had happened.” Doctors told the Times that, “[s]ometimes by instruction and sometimes by choice, they typically did not ask what the prisoners had experienced in interrogations,” a situation that seriously compromised their care. 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 »

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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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