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.
Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are deeply concerned about the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which we first wrote about here, and its effect on prisoners already ground down by what, for the majority of them, is eleven years of indefinite detention without charge or trial, with no end to their imprisonment in sight after President Obama failed to fulfill his promise to close the prison.
The President has been hindered by the intervention of Congress, where lawmakers, for cynical reasons, intervened to impose almost insurmountable restrictions to the release of prisoners, but President Obama is also to blame — through his refusal to make Guantánamo an issue, since that promise to close it on his second day in office, and through his imposition of an unjustifiable ban on releasing Yemenis cleared for release by his own inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force.
Of the 166 men still held, 86 were cleared for release by the Task Force, and two-thirds of these men are Yemenis, consigned to Guantánamo, possibly forever, because, over three years ago, a Nigerian man, recruited in Yemen, tried and failed to blow up a plane bound for the US and a moratorium on releasing Yemenis was issued by President Obama. The others are either hostages of Congress, or men in need of third countries to offer them a new home, because they face torture or other ill-treatment their home countries. Read the rest of this entry »
At Guantánamo, reports first began to emerge on February 23 about a camp-wide hunger strike, of a scale not seen since before Barack Obama became President. On the “Free Fayiz and Fawzi” page on Facebook, run by lawyers for Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, the last two Kuwaitis in the prison, the following message appeared: “Information is beginning to come out about a hunger strike, the size of which has not been seen since 2008. Preliminary word is that it’s due to unprecedented searches and a new guard force.”
Fayiz al-Kandari’s team of military lawyers arrived at the prison on February 25, and the day after announced, “Fayiz has lost more than twenty pounds and lacks the ability to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time due to a camp wide hunger strike. Apparently there is a dispute over searches and the confiscations. We believe there is a desperation setting amongst the prisoners whereby GTMO is forgotten and its condemned men will never get an opportunity to prove their innocence or be free.”
On February 27, the team reported, “Today, we had a communication with the Kuwait legal team concerning Fayiz and Fawzi’s physical condition in GTMO. It is difficult meeting with a man who has not eaten in almost three weeks, but we are scheduled for an all-day session tomorrow which we are sure Fayiz will not be able to complete due his failing physical condition. Additionally, we learned that our other client Abdul Ghani, [an Afghan] who has been cleared for release since 2010, is also on a hunger strike. Eleven years without an opportunity to defend themselves.” Read the rest of this entry »
In the six months following the opening of the Bush administration’s cruel and lawless ”war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on January 11, 2002, twelve Kuwaitis joined the hundreds of other “detainees” deprived of their rights as “enemy combatants.” In Guantánamo, these men were subjected to torture and abuse that was supposedly designed to produce “actionable intelligence,” but that, in reality, was a house of cards constructed of false statements made under duress — not only in Guantanamo, but also in other “war on terror” prisons, including those where “high-value detainees” were held and tortured — or made by those who, having had enough of the abuse, volunteered false statements in exchange for better living conditions. (For more, see “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” my ongoing analysis of the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011).
Of the twelve Kuwaitis, ten were eventually released, between 2005 and 2009, but two remain — Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah. Both men are victims of the false statements that plague the government’s supposed evidence, as I have repeatedly reported (see here, here and here, for example), but they are also victims of the legal fallout of the “war on terror”; namely, the limited opportunities for a review of their cases, through their habeas corpus petitions, which they and the other prisoners struggled to secure for many years.
Although the Guantánamo prisoners secured major victories in the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008, when they were granted habeas corpus rights, the impact of those rulings has suffered from imprecise terms of reference, from an all-out assault by right-wing judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C., who have conspired to gut habeas corpus of all meaning for the Guantánamo prisoners, and, most recently, through the complete indifference of the Supreme Court, which has refused to wrest control from the Circuit Court judges. Despite the absence of evidence against them, both Fayiz and Fawzi had their habeas petitions turned down (see here and here). Read the rest of this entry »
171 men are still held in the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, even though an interagency task force established by President Obama concluded over two years ago that 89 of them should be released. However, it is now 15 months since the last prisoner left Guantánamo alive, and as the long struggle to resume the release of prisoners from the prison continues, attention has focused on a number of specific cases: on Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo (please sign the UK petition and/or the international petition); on five Taliban leaders and the negotiations to release them as part of the Afghan peace process (or part of a prisoner swap); on Omar Khadr, the Canadian former child prisoner who was supposed to be released last November according to a plea deal he agreed the year before; and on the last two Kuwaitis, Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah.
I have written extensively about Fayiz and Fawzi at various times in the last five years, and in February was delighted to be invited to Kuwait to step up the campaign to secure their release, which I wrote about here and here. I also posted videos of the Kuwaiti TV show that I took part in with Tom Wilner, my colleague in the new “Close Guantánamo” campaign and the US civilian lawyer for Fayiz and Fawzi. I was also there with Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, the military defense attorney for Fayiz, and I met Adel AbdulHadi and Sanabil Jafar of the Al-Oula Law Firm, which represents Fayiz in Kuwait, and Khalid al-Odah, the father of Fawzi al-Odah, and the head of the long-established Kuwaiti Freedom Project.
I was also delighted to meet Jenifer Fenton, a journalist who has become fascinated by the Kuwaitis’ story in the last year or so, and has been undertaking the kind of research and investigations that, in general, have been sorely lacking in the mainstream media. Last week, I cross-posted the first of two articles that she wrote following our visit, based on interviews with former prisoners, and published on Al-Jazeera’s website, and I’m now cross-posting the second article, analyzing the weakness of the supposed evidence against Fayiz and Fawzi. Read the rest of this entry »
Last month, I was invited to visit Kuwait to try and help raise awareness of the need for the Kuwaiti people to push for their government to demand the release from Guantánamo of the last two Kuwaitis — out of 12 in total — to be held in Guantánamo. These two men are Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, and, like dozens of the 171 men still at Guantánamo, they are held, possibly with the intention that they will be held for the rest of their lives, not because there is any evidence that either of them ever raised arms against US forces or were involved in any way with any acts of international terrorism, but because of institutional cowardice within the Obama administration, and because of fearmongering in Congress, in the mainstream media and in a particular court of appeals in Washington D.C.
That court is the D.C. Circuit Court, where a number of prominent judges have whittled away at the habeas corpus rights that the Supreme Court granted the Guantánamo prisoners in June 2008 (and which led to the release of 26 prisoners between December 2008 and January 2011), gutting habeas corpus of all meaning for the Guantánamo prisoners, by demanding that the government’s supposed evidence be given the presumption of accuracy, even though it has been well established (in the 38 cases won by the prisoners, for example), that the supposed evidence is an unreliable mix of statements and confessions made by the prisoners themselves, or by their fellow prisoners, in circumstances where torture, coercion and even bribery were widely used by the interrogators, and of post-capture reports, compiled by US personnel in situations whereby the prisoners were actually seized by Afghan or Pakistani forces, at a time when generous bounty payments were being offered for anyone who could be dressed up as an al-Qaeda or Taliban suspect.
I wrote about my visit to Kuwait here and here, and posted videos of the Kuwaiti TV show that I took part in with Tom Wilner, my colleague in the new “Close Guantánamo” campaign and the US civilian lawyer for the two Kuwaitis, and I have since followed up with profiles of the two men on the “Close Guantánamo” website (written by Tom, his colleague Neil Koslowe and myself). My visit was organized by Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, the military defense attorney for Fayiz, who was put forward for a trial by military commission in November 2008, just before George W. Bush left office, and who, absurdly, remains a candidate for a trial by military commission, even though nothing that could objectively be called evidence exists in his case. I also met other members of Lt. Col. Wingard’s team, Adel AbdulHadi and Sanabil Jafar of the Al-Oula Law Firm, which represents Fayiz in Kuwait, Khalid al-Odah, the father of Fawzi al-Odah, and the head of the long-established Kuwaiti Freedom Project, and the former prisoner Fouad al-Rabiah, with whom I had lunch. Read the rest of this entry »
On Friday, I was delighted to be asked by Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio to discuss the ongoing shame of a world in which the prison at Guantánamo continues to remain open for business. The springboard for our interview was last week’s plea deal in the trial by military commission of Majid Khan, a Pakistani and former US resident, who was held for three and a half years in secret CIA prisons, where he was subjected to torture, after his capture in Pakistan in March 2003, and has been held in Guantánamo, with 13 other supposed “high-value detainees,” since September 2006. His plea deal is noteworthy because it indicates that Khan will be a witness in the trials of other, much more significant figures than himself — specifically, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the supposed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
The interview is here, but in the end Scott and I spent most of our 18-minute interview discussing my visit to Kuwait, and also the detention situation in Afghanistan. I was very glad that Scott had asked me about my visit to Kuwait, as it had been such a great insight into the background of the two remaining Kuwaiti prisoners, Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, and the context of their capture.
I wrote about that visit here and here –and videos of a TV show I took part in with the attorney Tom Wilner are here — and Scott provided me with a great opportunity to discuss the exaggerated fears about releasing prisoners, and the outstanding problems for the majority of the men still held — the fact that the US government continues to rely on fundamentally unreliable evidence (the man who claimed that Fayiz was a spiritual advisor to Osama bin Laden, for example, was the most notorious liar in Guantánamo), and the fact that, even if people had been in Afghanistan as foot soldiers for the Taliban, that is not the same thing as being involved in international terrorism. Moreover, in the cases of Fayiz and Fawzi, although both men lost their habeas corpus petitions, nothing resembling proof was actually provided to demonstrate that they had ever been involved in any anti-American activities. Read the rest of this entry »
Originally posted on the “Close Guantánamo” website.
Last week, the attorney Tom Wilner and the journalist Andy Worthington (the steering committee of the “Close Guantánamo” project) were in Kuwait to raise awareness of the ongoing detention of Fayiz Al-Kandari and Fawzi Al-Odah, the last two Kuwaiti citizens in Guantánamo, and to encourage the Kuwaiti people and the government to push for their release, after ten long years in the terrible experimental prison at Guantánamo Bay, where justice has gone missing, and arbitrary detention has become the norm.
Please see here for videos of Tom and Andy (dubbed into Arabic) discussing the men’s cases on Kuwaiti TV (the Al-Rai channel), and emphasizing the need for concerted action to secure their release, along with subtitled clips from the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which Andy co-directed with Polly Nash. And see here for the petition for Fayiz, calling for the U.S. government to release him, which is hosted by Al-Oula Law, the website of his Kuwaiti lawyers. Read the rest of this entry »
Following up on my visit to Kuwait last week, to assist the lawyers and activists and family members pushing for the release from Guantánamo of the last two Kuwaiti prisoners, Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, I’m pleased to make available below a series of videos of the 70-minute program that was broadcast on Friday evening on Al-Rai TV. In the show, alongside subtitled excerpts from the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash, the attorney Tom Wilner and I had, as I explained in an article yesterday, “a chance to explain why, shamefully, Guantánamo is still open, despite President Obama’s promise to close it, why Fayiz and Fawzi are still held, how they are surviving their long ordeal, and, most crucially, why the Kuwaiti people need to keep exerting pressure on their government to do more to secure their return.”
As I also noted:
We were able to explain how it is insulting for such a close ally of the US as Kuwait to be treated so badly when it comes to securing the return of Fayiz and Fawzi, how, sadly, Guantánamo has become normalized under President Obama, and the remaining 171 prisoners are now, effectively, subjected to arbitrary and indefinite detention, and how no one will be released without great effort on the part of those who, like the Kuwaiti people, have prisoners still held.
We were also able to explain how the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, just last month, provides a spur for renewed calls for the prison’s closure — and for calling for an end to the continued detention of men like Fayiz and Fawzi, against whom nothing in the way of evidence has actually been presented. We also had the opportunity to explain how another new possibility for bringing this dark chapter of US-Kuwaiti relations to an end has been presented in recent legislation passed in the US (the National Defense Authorization Act), in which the President and his administration now have the opportunity to bypass restrictions on the release of prisoners that were imposed by Congress and have prevented the release of any prisoner from Guantánamo since January 2011. Read the rest of this entry »
Now that my first ever visit to Kuwait has come to an end — in which I was involved in events and discussions designed to raise the profile in Kuwait, and internationally, of the two remaining Kuwaitis in Guantánamo, Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah — I feel as though I have been away from my home in London for weeks, and not just for five days, as the time was so busy.
I recorded an interview for the Al-Rai TV station along with the attorney Tom Wilner, which was aired along with a subtitled version of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the documentary film that I co-directed with Polly Nash, and I also traveled out to Kuwait’s main prison, to visit the rehabilitation center which was established for the four remaining prisoners in 2009, but which, after two of these four were freed that year, has been lying empty ever since, its staff and facilities awaiting the return of Fayiz and Fawzi, who, like the majority of the 171 prisoners stili in Guantánamo, 89 of whom have been cleared for release, remain trapped because of the cynical twists and turns of American politics — in the Obama administration, in Congress and in the courts.
I was also driven through the desert, on the highway to Iraq, to visit the grand and spacious farm of a prominent sheikh, in order to discuss the cases of Fayiz and Fawzi, and I also attended two dewaniyas (social events described by Wikipedia as being “the core of Kuwait’s social, business and political life, the places where topics of interest are discussed, associates introduced, alliances formed, and similar networking activities undertaken”), with lawyers and with the family of Fayiz. In addition, I met up with the former prisoner Fouad al-Rabiah and with Khalid al-Odah, Fawzi’s father, and briefly met another former prisoner, Adel al-Zamel. Read the rest of this entry »
Please note that the screening has been postponed until Friday evening (February 24) at 10:30 pm.
Greetings from Kuwait, where the weather is fresh and warm, and the people are very friendly. Although I have been studying Guantánamo and the “war on terror” for the last six years, this is my first visit to the Middle East, and I’m here to play whatever part I can to secure the return from Guantánamo of Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, the last two Kuwaitis in the prison.
I’m here with Lt. Col. Barry Wingard, the Pentagon-appointed military defense attorney for Fayiz al-Kandari, and his colleagues Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Bogucki and Sgt. Chad Darby, and also with the civilian attorney Tom Wilner, my colleague in the new “Close Guantánamo” campaign. I am also grateful for the support of Adel Abdulhadi of the Al-Oula law firm, and am delighted to have finally met the journalist Jenifer Fenton, who has recently been focusing on the stories of the Kuwaiti prisoners. The centerpiece of my visit is the screening, at 9.30 pm on Thursday (February 23), on Alrai TV, of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash, followed by a studio discussion with Tom Wilner and myself. Both Tom and I feature in the film, and we had a very productive question and answer session today, when we pre-recorded the studio talk to accompany the broadcast of the film tomorrow evening.
This is a great occasion, as it is not only the biggest audience by far for the film, but also its first screening in Arabic, following a heroic mission by Polly and a number of Arabic speakers in the UK and Canada to complete the sub-titling of the film in the days before my flight to Kuwait on Monday. I hope — and anticipate — that the film’s comprehensive analysis of the many crimes and failures of the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” and the compelling human stories of the men affected by America’s journey to the “dark side,” will be as informative for the Kuwaiti audience as they have been for the Western audiences who have seen the film in screenings in the US, the UK and Europe over the last two years. Read the rest of this entry »
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