The Absurdity of Guantánamo: As US Prepares to Release Ahmed Al-Darbi in Plea Deal, Less Significant Prisoners Remain Trapped Forever

The sign and flags at Camp Justice, Guantanamo, where the military commission trials take place.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.

In the long and cruel history of Guantánamo, a major source of stress for the prisoners has been, from the beginning, the seemingly inexplicable release of prisoners who constituted some sort of a threat to the US, while completely insignificant prisoners have languished with no hope of release.

In the early days, this was because shrewd Afghan and Pakistani prisoners connected to the Taliban fooled their captors, who were too arrogant and dismissive of their allies in the region to seek advice before releasing men who later took up arms against them. Later, in the cases of some released Saudis, it came about because the House of Saud demanded the release of its nationals, and the US bowed to its demands, and in other cases that we don’t even know about it may be prudent to consider that men who were turned into double agents at a secret facility within Guantánamo were released as part of their recruitment — although how often those double agents turned out to betray their former captors is unknown.

Under President Obama, an absurd point was reached in 2010, when, after Congress imposed onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, the only men freed were those whose release had been ordered by a judge (as part of the short-lived success of the prisoners’ habeas petitions, before politicized appeals court judges shut down the whole process) or as a result of rulings or plea deals in their military commission trials. Just five men were freed in a nearly three-year period from 2010 to 2013 — with former child prisoner Omar Khadr, low level al-Qaeda assistant Ibrahim al-Qosi, and military trainer Noor Uthman Muhammed all released via plea deals — as President Obama sat on his hands, and refused to challenge Congress, even though a waiver in the legislation allowed him to bypass lawmakers if he wished. Read the rest of this entry »

Six Months of Trump: Is Closing Guantánamo Still Possible?

A collage of Donald Trump and the sign for Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay.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.

Just a few days ago, we passed a forlorn milestone: six months of the presidency of Donald Trump. On every front, this first six months has been a disaster. Trump humiliates America on the international stage, and at home he continues to head a dysfunctional government, presiding by tweet, and with scandal swirling ever closer around him.

On Guantánamo, as we have repeatedly noted, he has done very little. His initial threats to send new prisoners there, and to revive CIA “black sites,” have not materialized. However, if he has not opened the door to new arrivals, he has certainly closed the door on the men still there.

These include, as Joshua A. Seltzer, the senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council from 2015 until Trump took office, wrote in “Is Closing Guantánamo Still Conceivable?,” a recent article for the Atlantic, “the five still held at Guantánamo despite being recommended for transfer.” He added, “This official designation refers to those still believed to be lawfully detained under the law of war, but unanimously recommended for repatriation or resettlement by an interagency group of career officials. In other words, their continued detention has been deemed unnecessary, assuming an appropriate country can be identified to accept them under conditions that ensure their humane treatment and address any lingering threat they might pose.” Read the rest of this entry »

“Choose Peace”: An Inspiring Message of Tolerance From Former Guantánamo Prisoner and Torture Victim Mustafa Ait Idir

Former Guantanamo prisoner Mustafa Ait Idir, photographed after his release from Guantanamo in December 2008 (Photo: Amer Kapetanovic).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 year, I was honored to be asked to write a short review to promote a Guantánamo memoir by two former prisoners, Lakhdar Boumediene and Mustafa Ait Idir, two of six Algerians living and working in Bosnia-Herzegovina, who had been kidnapped by the US authorities in January 2002 and flown to Guantánamo, where they were severely abused. The US authorities mistakenly thought they were involved in a plot to bomb the US embassy in Sarajevo, despite no evidence to indicate that this was the case. Before their kidnapping, the Bosnian authorities had investigated their case, as demanded by the US, but had found no evidence of wrongdoing. However, on the day of their release from Bosnian custody, US forces swooped, kidnapping them and beginning an outrageous ordeal that lasted for six years.

Five of the six — including Boumediene and Ait Idir — were eventually ordered released by a federal court judge, who responded to a habeas corpus petition they submitted in 2008, after the Supreme Court granted the Guantánamo prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights, by telling the US government, in no uncertain terms, that they had failed to establish that they had any connection to Al-Qaeda or had any involvement in terrorism.

Ait Idir, who had worked for Qatar Charities in Bosnia before his capture, where he had been widely recognized as a talented athlete and coach, was returned to his wife and family in Sarajevo, where he is now a computer science teacher at a secondary school, while Boumediene, an aid worker for the Red Crescent Society in Bosnia before his kidnapping, who gave his name to the Supreme Court case establishing the prisoners’ habeas rights, was resettled in France in May 2009. 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 »

For Witness Against Torture, My Independence Day Article About Tyranny at Guantánamo Bay

A screenshot of my article for Witness Against Torture on US Independence Day 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.

 

For the last 41 days, my friends with Witness Against Torture — an organization of volunteer activists, founded in 2005, which “seeks to end torture worldwide, close the Guantánamo detention center, and seek reparations for torture victims” — have been running a campaign, “Forever Human Beings,” which I wrote about when their campaign started. the 41 days chosen for the campaign — from May 26 to July 5 — was chosen to reflect the number of prisoners still held at Guantánamo, and every day they highlighted the story of one particular prisoner.

To coincide with the end of their campaign — and US Independence Day — I wrote an article for Witness Against Torture about the significance of Guantánamo on the day that ordinary Americans celebrate their liberation from tyranny; this year, the 241st anniversary of the new nation’s freedom from the tyranny of King George III in 1776.

Ironically, however, those celebrating, for the most part, are unaware or unwilling to think of the uncomfortable fact that, at Guantánamo, a version of that same tyranny still exists, set up by the very government that is supposed to make sure that the kind of tyranny overthrown in 1776 can never happen again — specifically, imprisonment without charge or trial, which is supposed to be something that countries that claim to be civilized, and that claim to respect the rule of law, condemn without reservation. Read the rest of this entry »

For US Independence Day, Please Join Us in Telling Donald Trump to Close Guantánamo

Supporters of the Close Guantanamo campaign urging Donald Trump to close the prison.Please send us a photo of yourself with a poster urging Donald Trump to close Guantánamo!

Please also 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.

Just hours before the United States celebrates the 241st anniversary of its freedom from the yoke of British tyranny, all is not well in the Land of the Free. With Donald Trump in the White House, the US’s reputation abroad is floundering. Trump seems to govern by tweet and to have no idea of what the position of president entails, and far from “draining the swamp” as he promised, cleaning up politics and standing up for ordinary Americans, he has, predictably, embarked on a corporate-pleasing, right-wing agenda, slashing healthcare for poorer Americans, being gung-ho for war, showing contempt for the environment and love for energy companies, and hammering away at creating a travel ban for Muslims that is disgracefully racist and unacceptably wide-reaching and imprecise in its scope.

On Guantánamo, he has, to date, done very little despite threatening to send new prisoners there and to reintroduce torture — both ambitions that wiser heads counselled him to drop. However, inaction does absolutely nothing to deal with the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo, something that Trump cares nothing about, but that continues to trouble those of us who care about justice and the rule of law.

In a law-abiding world, there are only two ways to deprive someone of their liberty — as a criminal, put forward for a trial without excessive delay, or as a combatant seized in wartime, who can be held off the battlefield, unmolested, until the end of hostilities, under the terms of the Geneva Conventions. The men at Guantánamo are neither. After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration arbitrarily rounded up hundreds of men, and claimed that they had no rights whatsoever. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read My New Article for Al-Jazeera About the Five Men Still Held at Guantánamo Who Were Approved for Release Under Obama

A screenshot of my latest article for Al-Jazeera on June 30, 2017.Dear friends and supporters — and any casual passers-by,

I’m delighted to announce that my latest article for Al-Jazeera, Abdul Latif Nasser: Facing life in Guantánamo, has just been published, and I encourage you to read it, and to share it as widely as possible if you find it useful.

In it, I look at the cases of the five men still held at Guantánamo who were approved for release under President Obama, but who didn’t make it out before Donald Trump took over, with a particular focus on Abdul Latif Nasser, a Moroccan whose government sought his release, but failed to get the paperwork to the US authorities in time. I also look at the cases of Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian, and Tawfiq al-Bihani, a Yemeni. The two other men, sadly, don’t wish to have their cases discussed.

It’s important for these men’s cases to be remembered, because, although Donald Trump has not followed up on threats he made after taking office to send new prisoners to Guantánamo and to reintroduce torture, he has effectively sealed the prison shut for the last five months, releasing no one, and showing no signs of wanting to release anyone, and those of us who care about the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo must continue to do what we can to bring this deplorable state of affairs to an end. 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 »

On the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, It’s Time for Someone to Leak the Whole of the US Senate Torture Report

The cover of a version of the executive summary of the Senate torture report, made publicly available in December 2014.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.

 

Today is an important day — 30 years since the entry into force of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and 20 years since the establishment, on that anniversary, of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, and to mark the occasion it would be wonderful if someone in the huge, sprawling organization that is the United States government would release — leak, if you prefer — the full Senate Intelligence Committee Study on CIA Detention and Interrogation Program.

The report took five years to compile, contains 6,700 pages, and cost $40m, and it was approved for publication by the committee members on December 13, 2012, by nine votes to six, although it was not until December 9, 2014 that a partly-redacted 525-page document — the executive summary and certain key findings — was released. See Senator Dianne Feinstein’s page on the report for all the publicly available documents.

The executive summary was a profoundly shocking document, despite the redactions, and despite consisting of less than one-tenth of the total, as I explained at the time, when I wrote that the report found that: Read the rest of this entry »

Two Guantánamo Cases Make It to the Supreme Court; Experts Urge Justices to Pay Attention

Ali Hamza al-Bahlul and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Guantanamo prisoners who have submitted petitions to the Supreme Court.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.

Even before the Bush administration set up its “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, legal experts were profoundly alarmed by proposals for how those seized as alleged terrorists would be tried. On November 13, 2001, President Bush signed a military order prepared by Vice President Dick Cheney and his senior lawyer, David Addington, which authorized the use of military commissions to try prisoners seized in the “war on terror,” preventing any prisoner from having access to the US courts, and authorized indefinite detention without due process.

Under the leadership of Michael Ratner at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, lawyers prepared to challenge the proposals in the military order in the courts. The stripping of the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights and the prevention of their access to the courts eventually made it to the Supreme Court in June 2004, when, in Rasul v. Bush, the Court, for the first time ever in wartime, ruled against the government, granting the prisoners habeas corpus rights.

Lawyers were allowed into Guantánamo, piercing the veil of secrecy that had allowed a regime of torture and abuse to thrive unmonitored, although President Bush immediately persuaded Congress to pass new legislation that again stripped the prisoners of their habeas rights. Further legal struggles then led to habeas rights being reintroduced in another Supreme Court case, Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008. 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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