The Permanent Injustice of Guantánamo

Last summer, I wrote an article reviewing ten years of Guantánamo for the Future of Freedom Foundation, for whom I write a weekly column for their online Email Update. This article, however, was for their monthly magazine, Freedom Daily. It was published in the January 2012 issue, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo on January 11, 2012, and was published online on April 12, and I’m cross-posting it here in the hope that it will provide other readers with an understanding of the depth of the lawlessness that has prevailed at Guantánamo for the last ten years.

The Permanent Injustice of Guantánamo
By Andy Worthington, Freedom Daily, January 2012

When the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba opened on January 11, 2002 as part of the Bush administration’s global “war on terror,” in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it was not immediately apparent that it was a dangerous aberration from recognized laws and treaties that would tarnish America’s name forever.

There had been hints that this was the case — primarily, the fact that a war had been declared when a crime had taken place, and the military order issued by the President in November 2001, “Detention, Treatment, and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism,” in which he stated that members of al-Qaeda or those who harbored them could be held by the US military and, if required, subjected to military trials.

Also worrying, when Guantánamo opened, were the photos of the first prisoners to arrive at the prison, shackled in orange jumpsuits, and subjected to sensory depravation, with their eyes and ears closed with blackout goggles and headphones. The photos shocked many of America’s supporters, if not Americans themselves, who were used to orange jumpsuits from their domestic prisons, and had been primed relentlessly since the 9/11 attacks to enthuse over Wild West-style vengeance, and not to ask too many questions. Read the rest of this entry »

The Torture Trials at Guantánamo

In the last few weeks, Guantánamo has been under the spotlight as, for the first time since President Obama took office, the military commission trial system — the government’s preferred method for trying terror suspects held in Guantánamo — has been readied for trying “high-value detainees”; those who, as well as being held in Guantánamo, were previously held in “black sites” run by the CIA, where the use of torture was widespread.

This has always been a problem for the government — under George W. Bush as well as under Obama — because the use of torture is not only illegal, but information derived through its use cannot be used in US courts. To get around the first inconvenience, President Bush’s lawyers arranged for torture to be redefined, and, to overcome the second, the Bush administration initially brought the military commissions out of retirement with the intention that the prohibition on torture could be ignored.

When the first incarnation of the commissions was felled by the Supreme Court in June 2006, and Congress then dutifully brought the trial system back to life a few months later, the use of information derived through torture was banned, although gray areas were acceptable at the discretion of the military judges. To get around this, the Bush administration tried, at one point, to send in “clean teams” of FBI agents and military interrogators to try and persuade those who had been tortured to repeat their tortured confessions voluntarily. Presumably, there was as little concern about the accuracy of the confessions as there was when the men were first being tortured, because, as any expert can confirm, torture is not a useful method for extracting reliable information, but is very good for producing false confessions. Read the rest of this entry »

George W. Bush’s Torture Program Began Ten Years Ago

Last month was the 10th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo, and as this year progresses it is appropriate to remember that there will be other grim 10-year anniversaries to note.

Last week, one of those 10-year anniversaries passed almost unnoticed. On February 7, 2002, as Andrew Cohen noted in the Atlantic, in the only article marking the anniversary:

President George W. Bush signed a brief memorandum [PDF] titled “Humane Treatment of Taliban and al-Qaeda Detainees.” The caption was a cruel irony, an Orwellian bit of business, because what the memo authorized and directed was the formal abandonment of America’s commitment to key provisions of the Geneva Convention. This was the day, a milestone on the road to Abu Ghraib, that marked our descent into torture — the day, many would still say, that we lost part of our soul. Read the rest of this entry »

Rights Groups Call for the Arrest of George W. Bush for Torture as He Arrives in Canada

As former US President George W. Bush arrives in Canada today to address a regional economic summit, where attendees will pay $599 a head to hear him and former President Bill Clinton as featured speakers, human right groups opposed to Bush’s visit, having petitioned the government to intervene, but with no response, are initiating a private prosecution, by four Guantánamo prisoners, accusing Bush of torture. In addition, campaigners on the ground are planning a huge protest.

It is anticipated that those turning out to protest Bush’s visit will dwarf the hundreds of protestors who turned up to campaign against a visit by former US Vice President Dick Cheney in Vancouver last month, where the “Vice President for Torture” was addressing diners who had paid $500 a head for the privilege. As CTV News noted, however, “The numbers at the Bush rally could dwarf those at the Cheney event because many protesters from the Occupy Vancouver movement camped out at the Vancouver Art Gallery are planning to head to Surrey to take part.”

Amnesty International got the ball rolling last week, calling for Bush’s arrest for war crimes and torture. In a press release, Susan Lee, Americas Director at Amnesty International, explained, “Canada is required by its international obligations to arrest and prosecute former President Bush given his responsibility for crimes under international law including torture. As the US authorities have, so far, failed to bring former President Bush to justice, the international community must step in.  A failure by Canada to take action during his visit would violate the UN Convention against Torture and demonstrate contempt for fundamental human rights.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo: Military Commissions and the Illusion of Justice

When something is irredeemably broken, the sensible course of action is to get rid of it. However, when it comes to military trials for terror suspects in the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” however broken the system is, government officials and lawmakers have repeatedly gathered round to put it back together again, and continue to do so, even though, in nearly ten years, the commissions have resulted in just two trials, and four other cases that have ended with plea deals.

The military commissions, which were last used on Nazi saboteurs in World War II, were brought back from the dead by Vice President Dick Cheney almost ten years ago — in an alarming military order dated November 13, 2001 — as a means of swiftly trying and executing terror suspects seized in the “war on terror” without the impediment of due process or a ban on evidence derived through the use of torture.

Ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006, the commissions were then resuscitated by Congress, and although Barack Obama froze them temporarily when he took office, he soon thawed them out again, even though the wisest of his advisors recommended him not to, as the primary charges in the commissions — conspiracy and providing material support to terrorism, for example — were appropriate crimes to be tried in federal courts, but had only been invented as war crimes by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Years After 9/11, America Deserves Better than Dick Cheney’s Self-Serving Autobiography

On August 30, when In My Time, former Vice President Dick Cheney’s self-serving autobiography was published, the timing was pernicious. Cheney knows by now that every time he opens his mouth to endorse torture or to defend Guantánamo, the networks welcome him, and newspapers lavish column inches on his opinions, even though astute editors and programmers must realize that, far from being an innocuous elder statesman defending the “war on terror” as a robust response to the 9/11 attacks, Cheney has an ulterior motive: to keep at bay those who are aware that he and other Bush administration officials were responsible for authorizing the use of torture by US forces, and that torture is a crime in the United States.

As a result, Cheney knew that, on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that launched the “war on terror” that he is still so concerned to defend, his voice would be echoing in the ears of millions of his countrymen and women, helping to disguise a bitter truth: that, following the 9/11 attacks, Cheney was largely responsible for the abomination that is Guantánamo, and for the torture to which prisoners were subjected from Abu Ghraib to Bagram to Guantánamo and the “black sites” that littered the world.

Alarmingly, while Cheney has been largely successful in claiming that the use of torture was helpful, despite a lack of evidence that this was the case, what strikes me as even more alarming is that many Americans are still unaware of the extent to which the torture for which Cheney was such a cheerleader did not keep them safe from terrorist attacks, but actually provided a lie that was used to justify the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Read the rest of this entry »

The Time is Right for Americans to Pay Attention to Human Rights Watch’s New Torture Report

Last Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released a new 107-page report, “Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees,” which is important, even though it is depressingly familiar to those of us who have been calling for accountability for the torturers of the Bush administration ever since evidence of their crimes became apparent — first with the Abu Ghraib scandal in April 2004, and, soon after, through the leaked memo seeking to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA, the first of two now notorious “torture memos” written by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo, signed by Jay S. Bybee, his boss in the Office of legal Counsel, and dated August 1, 2002, which was leaked in the summer of 2004.

Seven years is a long time to wait for something — anything — resembling justice, and, of course, the Obama administration has been a thorough disappointment, allowing the damning conclusions of an ethics investigation into Yoo and Bybee’s shameful betrayal of the principles of the OLC (which is obliged to provide impartial legal advice to the Executive branch) to be whitewashed, raising “state secrets” as a blanket shield for any attempt to ask questions in court about the Bush administration’s torture program, and, most recently, deciding that just two cases of torture that exceeded the rules bent so cynically by John Yoo, and which led to the murder of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, would lead to possible prosecutions. Read the rest of this entry »

Col. Morris Davis Discusses Guantánamo, Torture and Intelligence in the Wake of the Latest WikiLeaks Revelations

In the long years of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” — perpetuated, lamentably, by President Obama — in which soldiers are terrorists, and terrorists are “warriors,” and both of these parties are “enemy combatants” or “alien unprivileged enemy belligerents,” those called upon to play a part in this dangerous aberration from international norms have frequently rebelled, placing their allegiance to the Constitution above the President’s whims, for example, in the cases of the many military defense attorneys who fought against the government, as well as defending their clients, in the Military Commission trial system that was ghoulishly resuscitated by Dick Cheney in November 2001.

Prosecutors, too, have resigned rather than take part in an unfair process, including, most famously,  Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, who resigned rather than prosecuting torture victim Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, who denounced the system’s inability to deliver justice in September 2008, leading, in part, to the release of former child prisoner Mohamed Jawad.

Also of note is Col. Morris Davis, the chief prosecutor of the Military Commissions from September 2005 to October 2007, when, having been a stauch advocate of the Commissions, he resigned because he had been put in a chain of command under the Pentagon’s senior lawyer Wiliam J. Haynes II, who believed in using information derived from torture in the Commisisons, thereby crossing a line that Davis was not prepared to cross. 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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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