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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
On August 23, 2016, the most notorious torture victim in Guantánamo, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, better known as Abu Zubaydah, became the 61st prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board, and was seen for the first time by anyone outside of the US military and intelligence agencies, apart from representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, his attorneys and translators, since his capture 14 years and five months ago.
For the Guardian, David Smith wrote, “His dark hair was neat, his moustache and beard impeccably trimmed. His shirt was high-collared and spotlessly white. He sat at the head of the table with a calm, composed mien. It was the first time that the world has seen Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Husayn, also known as Abu Zubaydah, since his capture in Pakistan 14 years ago.” He added that, “[a]fter a brief technical hitch, a TV screen showed a room with a plain white wall and black shiny table. Anyone walking in cold might have assumed that Abu Zubaydah, with the appearance of a doctor or lawyer, was chairing the meeting. To his left sat an interpreter, dressed casually in shirtsleeves, and to his right were two personal representatives in military uniform with papers before them. A counsel was unable to attend due to a family medical emergency.”
Smith also noted that he “sat impassive, expressionless and silent throughout, sometimes resting his head on his hand or putting a finger to his mouth or chin, and studying his detainee profile intently as it was read aloud by an unseen woman.” Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
On January 10, 2015, during my US tour to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on and around the 13th anniversary of its opening (on January 11), I joined activists with Code Pink and Witness Against Torture for a day of action in Virginia, outside Washington D.C.
I was staying with Code Pink coordinator Joan Stallard, along with Debra Sweet, the national director of the World Can’t Wait, who organized my tour (for the fifth January in succession). Debra and I had driven from New York the day before, where I had been since Tuesday evening (January 6), and where I had been staying with my old friend The Talking Dog in Brooklyn. I indulged in some socializing at a Center for Constitutional Rights event on January 7, visited a high school and spoke to some students with Debra, and spoke at another event on January 8, with two Guantánamo lawyers, Ramzi Kassem and Omar Farah of CCR. I described We Stand With Shaker, the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and we also watched the promotional video, featuring my “Song for Shaker Aamer,” as well as CCR’s film about Fahd Ghazy, one of their Yemeni clients. A video of my talk is available here.
I also had the opportunity to walk the streets of Manhattan — and to cross the Brooklyn Bridge on foot — in spite of the seriously cold weather, but just as I was getting used to being in New York City, Washington D.C. beckoned. On the evening of January 9, after a drive full of animated chatter about politics and the state of the world, we (anti-drone activist Nick, our driver, film-maker/photographer Kat Watters, Debra and I) stopped by at the church where Witness Against Torture activists were staying — and fasting — and I gave a short and hopefully constructive speech and played my song for Shaker on an acoustic guitar. Read the rest of this entry »
At lunchtime on Monday January 12, the day after the 13th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (when I was speaking outside the White House), I took part in “Leaving the Dark Side? Emptying Guantánamo and the CIA Torture Report,” a panel discussion at New America.
With me at New America (formerly the New America Foundation) was Tom Wilner, who represented the Guantánamo prisoners before the Supreme Court in their habeas corpus cases in 2004 and 2008, and with whom I co-founded the Close Guantánamo campaign in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, and Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, who resigned in 2007, in protest at the use of torture, and has since become an outspoken critic of the prison and the “war on terror.”
The moderator was journalist and author Peter Bergen, the Director of the International Security, Future of War, and Fellows Programs at New America, who I have known since the early 1890s, when we were both at Oxford together. Read the rest of this entry »
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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