The Chaotic History of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

See the full list here of everyone charged in the military commissions at Guantánamo.

Recently, a friend asked me for information about all the Guantánamo prisoners who have been put forward for military commission trials at Guantánamo, and after undertaking a search online, I realized that I couldn’t find a single place listing all the prisoners who have been charged in the three versions of the commissions that have existed since 2001, or the total number of men charged.

As a result, I decided that it would be useful to do some research and to provide a list of all the men charged — a total of 30, it transpires — as well as providing some updates about the commissions, which I have been covering since 2006, but have not reported on since October. The full list of everyone charged in the military commissions is here, which I’ll be updating on a regular basis, and please read on for a brief history of the commissions and for my analysis of what has taken place in the last few months.

The commissions were dragged out of the history books by Dick Cheney on November 13, 2001, when a Military Order authorizing the creation of the commissions was stealthily issued with almost no oversight, as I explained in an article in June 2007, while the Washington Post was publishing a major series on Cheney by Barton Gellman (the author of Angler, a subsequent book about Cheney) and Jo Becker. Alarmingly, as I explained in that article, the order “stripped foreign terror suspects of access to any courts, authorized their indefinite imprisonment without charge, and also authorized the creation of ‘Military Commissions,’ before which they could be tried using secret evidence,” including evidence derived through the use of torture. Read the rest of this entry »

Torture Began at Guantánamo with Bush’s Presidential Memo 12 Years Ago

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with 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.

This is a grim time of year for anniversaries relating to Guantánamo. Two days ago, February 6, was the first anniversary of the start of last year’s prison-wide hunger strike, which woke the world up to the ongoing plight of the prisoners — over half of whom were cleared for release by a Presidential task force over four years ago but are still held.

The hunger strike — which, it should be noted, resumed at the end of last year, and currently involves dozens of prisoners — forced President Obama to promise to resume releasing prisoners, after a three-year period in which the release of prisoners had almost ground to a halt, because of opposition in Congress, and President Obama’s unwillingness to overcome that opposition, even though he had the power to do so.

To mark the anniversary, a number of NGOs — the ACLU, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights First and Human Rights Watch — launched a campaign on Thursday, “Take a Stand for Justice,” encouraging people to call the White House (on 202-456-1111) to declare their support for President Obama’s recent call for Guantánamo to be closed for good (in his State of the Union address, he said, “With the Afghan war ending, this needs to be the year Congress lifts the remaining restrictions on detainee transfers and we close the prison at Guantánamo Bay”). Please call the White House if you can, and share the page via social media. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo’s 12th Anniversary and Accountability for Torture with Scott Horton and Peter B. Collins

On Wednesday (November 13), the media, inspired by an article for the Guardian by Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, who has become a formidable critic of the prison since his resignation six years ago, picked up on a baleful anniversary — the 12th anniversary of the creation of one of the main founding documents of the Bush administration’s “war on terror.”

I subsequently spoke to Scott Horton on his hard-hitting political show, the latest in the dozens of interviews with Scott that I have taken part in over the last six years. The half-hour show is available here as an MP3, and I hope you have time to listen to it.

Scott described the show as follows: “Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, discusses how Dick Cheney helped make torture an official US government policy; former Guantanamo inmate Omar Khadr’s fight for justice in a Canadian prison; and how torture has poisoned America’s soul.”

As Scott explained, we did indeed talk about how Omar Khadr, and his appeal against his outrageous 2010 conviction for war crimes (which I wrote about here), as well as also discussing the need for accountability for all of the senior Bush administration officials (up to and including George  W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld) and their lawyers, who approved the use of torture. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Culture of Impunity Part Two – Andy Worthington on Bush’s War Crimes, Bradley Manning and Guantánamo

Six weeks ago, on June 26, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, initiated by the United Nations in 1997, on the 10th anniversary of the the day that the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force, I posted the first half of a newly released documentary film, “Culture of Impunity,” for which I was interviewed along with the law professor and author Marjorie Cohn, the professor, author and filmmaker Saul Landau, the author and activist David Swanson, Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch and Stephen Rohde of the ACLU.

The documentary, which looks at the many ways in which the most senior figures in the Bush administration — including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — have escaped accountability for the crimes committed in the “war on terror” declared after the 9/11 attacks, was produced by Alternate Focus, which describes itself as “working for peace and justice by offering the American public media which shows another side of Middle Eastern issues,” and I was interviewed for it in April.

The producer, John Odam, has just sent me a link to the second part of this powerful documentary, on YouTube, which I’ve made available below, along with the first part. It features all of the experts interviewed in the first half, as well as Stephen Zunes, a Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Culture of Impunity – New Online Film Includes Andy Worthington Talking About Guantánamo, Torture and Ibn Al-Shaykh Al-Libi

As today is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, initiated by the United Nations in 1997, on the 10th anniversary of the the day that the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force, I’d like to take this opportunity to promote a newly released half-hour documentary film, “Culture of Impunity,” for which I was interviewed along with the law professor and author Marjorie Cohn, the professor, author and filmmaker Saul Landau, the author and activist David Swanson, Laura Pitter of Human Rights Watch, and Stephen Rohde of the ACLU.

The film, the first of a two-part documentary (with the second part to follow later in the year) was produced by Alternate Focus, which describes itself as “working for peace and justice by offering the American public media which shows another side of Middle Eastern issues,” and I was interviewed for it in April.

Dealing with the illegal invasion of Iraq, the establishment of Guantánamo, “extraordinary rendition,” CIA “black sites,” America’s secret torture program, and the guilt of those responsible for initiating the war, the arbitrary detention and the torture — including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice  — the film also covers the case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who I spoke about. Read the rest of this entry »

“It is Indisputable that the United States Engaged in Torture”: So When Do the Prosecutions Begin?

“It is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practise of torture.” These powerful words are from “The Report of the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment,” a 600-page report involving a detailed analysis of the treatment of prisoners following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The project took two years to complete, and its conclusions are difficult to dismiss, as the eleven-member panel constitutes a cross-section of the US establishment.

The co-chairs are Asa Hutchinson, who, as the Atlantic described it, “served in the Bush Administration as a Department of Homeland Security undersecretary from 2003 to 2005, and as the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration before that,” and James R. Jones, “a former US ambassador to Mexico and a Democratic member of the House of Representatives for seven terms.”

Other members of the panel include “Talbot D’Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar Association; legal scholar Richard Epstein; David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics; David Irvine, a former Republican state legislator and retired brigadier general; Claudia Kennedy, ‘the first woman to receive the rank of three-star general in the United States army’; naval veteran and career diplomat Thomas Pickering; [and] William Sessions, director of the FBI in three presidential administrations.”

The project was undertaken because, as the Task Force explained, “the Obama administration declined, as a matter of policy, to undertake or commission an official study of what happened, saying it was unproductive to ‘look backwards’ rather than forward.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Long Pursuit of Accountability for the Bush Administration’s Torture Program

In June 2004, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, a notorious memo from August 2002 was leaked. It was written by John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and it claimed to redefine torture and to authorize its use on prisoners seized in the “war on terror.” I had no idea at the time that its influence would prove to be so long-lasting.

Ten years and four months since it was first issued, this memo — one of two issued on the same day, which will forever be known as the “torture memos” — is still protecting the senior Bush administration officials who commissioned it (as well as Yoo, and his boss, Jay S. Bybee, who signed it).

Those officials include George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and their senior lawyers, Alberto Gonzales and David Addington. None of these men should be immune from prosecution, because torture is illegal under US domestic law, and is prohibited under the terms of the UN Convention Against Torture, which the US, under Ronald Reagan, signed in 1988 and ratified in 1994. As Article 2.2 states, unequivocally, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Years of Torture: Marking the 10th Anniversary of John Yoo’s “Torture Memos”

Exactly ten years ago, on August 1, 2002, Jay S. Bybee, who, at the time, was the Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, signed two memos (see here and here) that will forever be known as the “torture memos.” Also known as the Bybee memos, because of Bybee’s signature on them, they were in fact mainly written by John Yoo, a law professor at UC Berkeley, who worked as a lawyer in the OLC from 2001 to 2003.

Although the OLC is supposed to provide impartial legal advice to the executive branch, Yoo was not interested in being impartial. As one of six lawyers close to Vice President Dick Cheney — along with David Addington, Cheney’s Legal Counsel, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, White House Deputy Counsel Tim Flanigan, William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, and his deputy, Daniel Dell’Orto — he played a significant role in formulating the notion that, in the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” prisoners could be held as “enemy combatants” without the traditional protections of the Geneva Conventions; in other words, without any rights whatsoever.

This position was confirmed in an executive order issued by President Bush on February 7, 2002, and was not officially challenged until the Supreme Court reminded the government, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in June 2006, that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits torture and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment,” applies to all prisoners seized in wartime. Read the rest of this entry »

On the 10th Anniversary of Yoo and Bybee’s “Torture Memos,” Col. Morris Davis Reminds Americans About Justice and the Law

Exactly ten years ago, two memos written by John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, were signed by his immediate boss, Jay S. Bybee. In these two memos, Yoo, also a law professor at UC Berkeley, attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used on Abu Zubaydah, an alleged “high-value detainee” seized in the “war on terror,” even though the US is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits the use of torture under any circumstances.

These two memos, generally known as the Bybee memos, but forever known to anyone with a conscience as the “torture memos,” marked the start of an official torture program that will forever be a black mark on America’s reputation — as well as providing cover for torturers worldwide, and turning America into such a dubious and lawless nation that President Obama and his administration have shied away form holding any of their predecessors accountable for their actions, and have swallowed the Bush administration’s rhetoric about a “war on terror” to such an extent that, although torture has been officially repudiated, the administration has presided over a massive increase in the use of unmanned drones to assassinate those regarded as a threat, without any judicial process, and in countries with which the US is not at war, including US citizens.

In an article to follow soon, I will examine this anniversary more closely, but for now I wanted to make sure that I marked it in some manner, having been away at the WOMAD world music festival for most of the run-up to it, and I’m delighted to use the occasion to cross-post an op-ed from the Los Angeles Times written by Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, who resigned five years ago, when he was placed in a chain of command under William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, and one of the main drivers of the torture program. Read the rest of this entry »

US Government Turns Down Request for Trial by Guantánamo Prisoner and CIA Torture Victim Abu Zubaydah

Last week, lawyers for Abu Zubaydah, an alleged “high-value detainee” in the “war on terror,” who was held in secret CIA prisons for four and a half years until his transfer to Guantánamo in September 2006, submitted a letter to the Convening Authority for the military commissions at Guantánamo, Retired Vice Admiral Bruce MacDonald, asking for their client to be charged, after more than ten years in US custody. I followed up on this by writing an article pointing out that seven other “high-value detainees” held at Guantánamo — mostly since September 2006, but in two cases since 2007 and 2008 — have also not been charged, and asked, with regard to these eight men, “Are there any plans to try them? Or is the Obama administration happy for them to be held for the rest of their lives without charge or trial — a confirmation, if any were needed, that indefinite detention without charge or trial has, through Guantánamo, become normalized?”

Today, I had planned to publish the letter that Joe Margulies and the other lawyers for Abu Zubaydah wrote to Bruce MacDonald, which Marcy Wheeler made available on her website Empty Wheel, and I am proceeding with that plan, as the letter contains an important summary of the Bush administration’s disgraceful and illegal torture program, for which no one in authority has yet been held accountable, as well as summarizing the scandalous treatment of Abu Zubaydah, and how the claims about his significance have melted away with the passage of time. It also is an indictment of the Obama administration’s unwillingness to deal adequately with the toxic inheritance left by the Bush administration.

In addition, however, I am also publishing the response to the letter that Bruce MacDonald wrote on May 17, in which he pointed out that the decision on whether or not to prosecute lies with the Office of the Chief Prosecutor — and that therefore, by inference, it is a decision that also involves defense secretary Leon Panetta and President Obama as the Commander in Chief — and also pointed out that  Abu Zubaydah can “challenge the legality of his detention by seeking a writ of habeas corpus.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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