A Devastating Condemnation of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions by Palestinian-American Journalist P. Leila Barghouty

An illustration by Hokyoung Kim for The Outline showing defense lawyers for Ammar al-Baluchi arriving at the home of Guantanamo's military commissions.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.

Six years and three months since Tom Wilner and I launched the Close Guantánamo campaign, we are becalmed in horribly unjust waters, with Donald Trump resolute that no one should leave the prison under any circumstances, and, as a result, 41 men held in what must appear to be a never-ending limbo, even though five of them were approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama, and another man, Ahmed al-Darbi, continues to be held despite being promised his release — to be re-imprisoned in Saudi Arabia — four years ago in a plea deal in his military commission trial.

Twenty-six other men are held indefinitely — and lawyers for some of them submitted a habeas corpus petition on their behalf on January 11, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison, on the basis that, as the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights explained, “[Donald] Trump’s proclamation against releasing anyone from Guantánamo, regardless of their circumstances, which has borne out for the first full year of the Trump presidency, is arbitrary and unlawful and amounts to ‘perpetual detention for detention’s sake.’”

The other men still held — nine in total — have been through the military commission process, or are facing trials, and this latter category of Guantánamo prisoner came under the spotlight recently in an article written for a new website, The Outline, by P. Leila Barghouty, a journalist and filmmaker based in New York City, whose work has appeared on Al Arabiya, National Geographic, Slate, CNN, Vice News and Netflix. Read the rest of this entry »

The Torture Trail of Gina Haspel Makes Her Unsuitable to be Director of the CIA

Gina Haspel, the current Deputy Director of the CIA, and Donald Trump, who last week appointed her as the CIA's next Director, a nomination that should face hurdles in Congress because of her role overseeing a "black site" in Thailand, and her role in destroying videotapes of torture at the site.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.

Last Tuesday, Donald Trump announced that Mike Pompeo, the current Director of the CIA, would become the new Secretary of State, replacing Rex Tillerson, while Gina Haspel, the current Deputy Director of the CIA, would be promoted to Director, “the first woman so chosen.”

There was nothing positive about this development. As usual, Trump, defying protocol and any notion of politeness, announced Tillerson’s sacking, and the new appointments, by tweet. Tillerson, formerly the CEO of ExxonMobil, had been an indifferent Secretary of State, but Pompeo is a poor choice to be the nation’s top diplomat — hawkish on Iran, and a supporter of the continuing existence of Guantánamo. Interestingly, the New Yorker noted that Tillerson was fired shortly after agreeing with the British government that Russia “appears” to have been responsible for the recent nerve-gas attack on a former Russian spy in Salisbury, in the UK. Pompeo, however, is not averse to criticizing Russia, in contrast to Trump himself, who, ignoring his advisers, on Tuesday congratulated Vladimir Putin on his recent election victory.

However, the bulk of the criticism after Trump’s announcement has, deservedly, been reserved for the promotion of Gina Haspel, who oversaw the last few months’ existence of the CIA’s first post-9/11 “black site” in Thailand, and later conspired to destroy videotapes of the torture that took place there. Unlike Mike Pompeo, who has taken a stance agains torture, there is no sign from Haspel that she recognizes the illegality of torture, and in Donald Trump, of course, she has a president who is an enthusiastic advocate for the use of torture. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Collapse of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri’s Military Commission Trial at Guantánamo

Col. Vance Spath and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, both at the heart of a meltdown in the military commission trial system at Guantanamo.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.

It’s three weeks since a judge in Guantánamo’s military commission trial system, Air Force Col. Vance Spath, indefinitely halted proceedings in one of the trials’ only active cases — that of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi accused of masterminding the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, when 17 US sailors were killed.

Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, who first reported the story, announced that Col. Spath “shut down the proceedings because of his inability to get defense lawyers back to the death-penalty case.” In October, three civilian lawyers quit the case for reasons that were not specified, but that observers presumed related to them discovering that they were being spied on by prosecutors — or, at least, by the military authorities at Guantánamo, on whose behalf the prosecutors are working.

I reported this story in November, when, adding insult to injury, Judge Spath briefly imprisoned Brig. Gen. John Baker, the Chief Defense Counsel of the military commissions, for refusing a request by him to reinstate the defense team — Rick Kammen, Rosa Eliades and Mary Spears — even though Brig. Gen. Baker was entirely justified in doing so. The loss of Kammen was a particular blow, as he is a death penalty expert, who has been on the case since al-Nashiri was first charged nearly ten years ago, and, by his own reckoning, has “devoted at least 10,000 hours working on the case, traveled to at least seven foreign countries in trial preparation and to Guantánamo 50 times to meet with Nashiri or appear in court,” as Carol Rosenberg explained in October. Read the rest of this entry »

UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Condemns US Treatment of Ammar Al-Baluchi at Guantánamo, Says All Prisoners Arbitrarily Detained

Guantanamo prisoner Ammar al-Baluchi photographed at Guantanamo, and the logo of the United Nations.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 (as “U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Condemns U.S. Treatment of ‘High-Value Detainee’ Ammar Al-Baluchi at Guantánamo”) 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 a strongly-worded press release, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared on Sunday evening their finding that “detention conditions at Guantánamo [and the] military commission procedures violate international law.”

The Working Group, which consists of “international legal experts mandated to investigate arbitrary deprivations of liberty,” issued its press release following the release last month of Opinion 89/2017, “a comprehensive condemnation of the United States’ continuing commission of torture and due process violations at Guantánamo Bay,” specifically focusing on the case of “high-value detainee” Ammar al Baluchi (aka Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali).

The press release explained that the Working Group’s Opinion “was issued in January 2018 following substantive briefings to the Working Group by the United States government and counsel for Mr. al Baluchi.” Alka Pradhan, civilian counsel for Mr. al Baluchi, declared, “This is a major public denunciation of the United States’ illegal prison and military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, and a specific call to change Mr. al Baluchi’s circumstances immediately.” Read the rest of this entry »

Will Donald Trump Actually Close Guantánamo?

'Guantanamo: Closing down', an image used by Reprieve to accompany their new petition calling for the closure of Guantanamo.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. Please also sign the new petition launched by Reprieve, from which the image accompanying this article was taken, calling for Guantánamo’s closure.

 

I wrote the following article, as “Alberto Mora, U.S. Navy’s Former Top Lawyer, Explains How Donald Trump Might Close Guantánamo,” 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.

Forgive me for what must appear to be a weirdly upbeat headline, given that it’s just over a week since Donald Trump issued a practically pointless but symbolically malevolent executive order keeping the prison at Guantánamo Bay open. However, as Alberto Mora, the General Counsel of the Department of the Navy under George W. Bush, has just explained in an op-ed for the Atlantic’s Defense One website, despite Trump’s seeming obsession with keeping Guantánamo open, it may be that a review of detention policies that he included in his executive order will conclude that he should close it after all.

Alberto Mora, who nowadays is a Senior Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, played a key role in resisting some of the most dangerously lawless innovations of the Bush administration in his role as the Navy’s General Counsel. In December 2002, when he was advised by David Brant, the director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), that military interrogators, were “engaging in escalating levels of physical and psychological abuse,” as Jane Mayer described it in a groundbreaking New Yorker article in 2006, he was appalled, and when Brant revealed that the abuse wasn’t “rogue activity,” but was “rumored to have been authorized at a high level in Washington,” he confronted William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, and Donald Rumsfeld, who had approved a memo authorizing torture at Guantánamo on December 2, 2002,  unearthing the memo, and threatening to go public about its contents unless it was withdrawn. Rumsfeld complied, but secretly convened a working group to reinstate the policies Mora objected to, which had the approval of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, as written by John Yoo, the author of the infamous CIA “torture memos,” which cynically sought to redefine torture so that the CIA could use it.

As a result, Mora is well-placed to comment on Guantánamo 15 years on from his struggle to prevent the use of torture at the prison, and his suggestion that Donald Trump might close it is based on Trump’s “command to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to ‘reexamine our military detention policy’ and report back to him within 90 days and his request to Congress to ensure that ‘we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists.’” I’m not sure that I agree with Mora that this shows “unexpected open-mindedness” on Trump’s part, and I cannot agree with his assessment that, in “asking Mattis to take charge,” and also including Congress in an assessment of detention policy, Trump “acted prudently and, dare I say it, wisely.” Read the rest of this entry »

Comic Book Star: My Role in a Comic Explaining Why Guantánamo is Such a Bad Idea, and Why It Must Be Closed

A panel from the comic 'Guantanamo Bay is Still Open. Still. STILL!' by Jess Parker and Sarah Mirk, featuring Andy Worthington.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.

 

Three weeks ago, while I was in the US on my annual tour calling for the prison at Guantánamo Bay to be closed, to coincide with the 16th anniversary of its opening, on January 11, I received some great news from a writer friend, Sarah Mirk, that a comic about Guantánamo, in which I featured, had just been published on the website of The Nib, “a daily comics publication that is part of First Look Media,” the organization set up in 2013 by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, which also includes The Intercept.

A panel from the comic 'Guantanamo Bay is Still Open. Still. STILL!' by Jess Parker and Sarah Mirk, featuring Andy Worthington.The comic is entitled, Guantánamo Bay is Still Open. Still. STILL!, and Sarah had interviewed me for it in October, although I didn’t know at the time that I would actually be immortalized in comic form!

As I explained when I posted the link on Facebook, “OK, this is very, very cool. I am now a comic book star! What else is left to achieve? Sarah Mirk, who I met in 2009 when she came to the UK with former Guantánamo guard Chris Arendt for Cageprisoners’ powerful ‘Two Sides, One Story‘ tour of the UK, with Moazzam Begg and other ex-prisoners, interviewed me recently, and used that interview as the basis for a comic about Guantánamo, illustrated by the talented Australian artist Jess Parker.”

Read the rest of this entry »

The Hideous Pointlessness of Donald Trump’s Executive Order Keeping Guantánamo Open

Images of Donald Trump and Guantanamo.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.

 

Reading Donald Trump’s pompously-entitled “Presidential Executive Order on Protecting America Through Lawful Detention of Terrorists,” which officially keeps the prison at Guantánamo Bay open, reversing a policy of closing it that was held by both of his predecessors, Barack Obama, and, in his second term, George W. Bush, is to step back in time to when Bush and his administration sought to defend their lawless escapade — back in his first term, before the novelty soured.

Straight after the 9/11 attacks, in the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), Congress authorized the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

That document underpins the detention of prisoners at Guantánamo, a detention power the Supreme Court defended in June 2004, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, approving imprisonment until the end of hostilities for the men held at Guantánamo, and, as I have frequently noted, essentially setting up, as a result, a parallel version of the Geneva Conventions, a bizarre development without precedent. Read the rest of this entry »

Good News: Court Orders Trump Administration to Explain Its Position on Guantánamo After A Year of Shocking Inaction

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly and a photo of the prison at Guantanamo Bay on the day of its opening, Jan. 11, 2002.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.

 

Two and a half weeks ago, on the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, lawyers for eleven of the 41 men still held at Guantánamo, from the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve, and other legal firms, filed a habeas corpus lawsuit with the District Court in Washington, D.C., in which, as I explained in an article at the time, drawing on a CCR press release:

[I]t “argues that Trump’s proclamation against releasing anyone from Guantánamo, regardless of their circumstances, which has borne out for the first full year of the Trump presidency, is arbitrary and unlawful and amounts to ‘perpetual detention for detention’s sake.’”

CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei said, “It’s clear that a man who thinks we should water-board terror suspects even if it doesn’t work, because ‘they deserve it, anyway’ has no qualms about keeping every last detainee in Guantanamo, so long as he holds the jailhouse key.”

CCR’s press release also stated, “The filing argues that continued detention is unconstitutional because any legitimate rationale for initially detaining these men has long since expired; detention now, 16 years into Guantánamo’s operation, is based only on Trump’s raw antipathy towards Guantánamo prisoners – all foreign-born Muslim men – and Muslims more broadly,” adding that “Donald Trump’s proclamation that he will not release any detainees during his administration reverses the approach and policies of both President Bush and President Obama, who collectively released nearly 750 men.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Leak Reveals How, In Counter-Productive, Backwards Move, Donald Trump Plans to Issue New Executive Order Keeping Guantánamo Open

Collage of Donald Trump and Guantanamo prisoners on the first day of the prison's operations, January 11, 2002.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.

The first responses that occurred to me when I saw the news, via Politico, that a leaked State Department cable revealed that Donald Trump was planning to issue an executive order keeping the prison at Guantánamo Bay open — in other words, rescinding President Obama’s unfulfilled 2009 executive order pledging its closure — was, firstly, how leaky this administration is, and, secondly, how Trump seems obsessed with overturning anything associated with his predecessor.

Just a week into Trump’s presidency, last January, the New York Times obtained a leaked executive order in which he proposed to keep Guantánamo open, to prevent further prisoner releases, and to reintroduce torture and “black sites,” rescinding not only Obama’s executive order regarding the closure of Guantánamo, but also his executive order banning the use of torture and ordering “black sites” closed.

He was shouted down on the latter, by everyone within the US establishment who had been stung by how close they had come to prosecution over the brutal and unnecessary post-9/11 CIA torture program, which the Senate Intelligence Committee witheringly dismantled in its 2014 report. However, his desire to keep Guantánamo open never went away, even though advisers surely told him that sending anyone there was impractical, as the courts have a solid track record of successfully prosecuting those accused of terrorism, and Guantánamo’s history reveals it as little more than a place of torture and abuse, intended to be beyond the reach of the US courts, which wrecks viable prosecutions, and, throughout its existence, has routinely warehoused insignificant prisoners at colossal expense. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Andy Worthington Discusses “Guantánamo, Torture and the Trump Agenda” with Carl Dix at Revolution Books in Harlem, Jan. 16, 2018

Andy Worthington and Carl Dix at Andy's talk about Guantanamo at Revolution Books in Harlem on January 16, 2018.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’m delighted that the video is now available of my speaking event, “Guantánamo, Torture and the Trump Agenda,” at Revolution Books in Harlem, which took place last week as part of my annual visit to the US to call for the closure of the prison on and around the anniversary of its opening — on January 11.

This year — the 16th anniversary of its opening, and the first anniversary in which it was open under the control of Donald Trump — I was particularly aware of the passage of time, and the prison’s horrendously long existence. As a result, I came up with a revival of the Gitmo Clock that I first set up under President Obama in 2013, counting how many days the prison has been open — 5,845 days on the anniversary, and 5,859 days today — and if you’re interested at in the closure of Guantánamo, then please get involved. Posters for every 25 days are available on the Gitmo Clock website, and the next poster is for 5,875 days on February 6. Please take a photo with the poster, and send it to us, and we’ll post it on the Close Guantánamo website and on social media.

In my various talks on my trip, and in discussions with fellow activists, I also made frequent allusions to how long the prison has been open, noting that my son, who just turned 18, was only two years old when Guantánamo opened, and asking people to think about how long it would take them to think of 5,845 things, one for each day the prison has been open. I’d actually like to make a video featuring one image of each day Guantánamo has been open, and if you’re a filmmaker, and this is of interest to you, then do get in touch. 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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