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.
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 »
According to the US Justice Department, Obaidullah (also referred to as Obaydullah), one of 17 Afghan prisoners still held in Guantánamo, “was plainly a member of an Al-Qaeda bomb cell,” even though Obaidullah himself, and his lawyers, have always contended that, like so many of the 200 or so Afghans who have been repatriated from Guantánamo over the last ten years, he was actually seized by mistake.
In February, when discussions between the US government and the Taliban were underway, regarding the possibility that five of the 17 — all apparently significant figures in the Taliban — would be transferred to Qatar as part of the peace process in Afghanistan, the New York Times picked up on Obaidullah’s case, and reporter Charlie Savage recognized that, unlike the five senior Taliban figures, no one was pushing for his release, because he was “not an important enough figure to be a bargaining chip.”
As Charlie Savage also reported:
It is an accident of timing that Mr. Obaidullah is at Guantánamo. One American official who was formerly involved in decisions about Afghanistan detainees said that such a “run of the mill” suspect would not have been moved to Cuba had he been captured a few years later; he probably would have been turned over to the Afghan justice system, or released if village elders took responsibility for him. Read the rest of this entry »
Finally, five months after the Canadian citizen and former child prisoner Omar Khadr was supposed to leave Guantánamo, to be returned to Canada as a result of a plea deal agreed in October 2010, it appears that he may be back in the country of his birth by the end of May.
The delay has been a disgrace, as the plea deal was supposed to guarantee that Khadr, who is now 25, would be held for one more year at Guantánamo, and would then return to Canada, to serve seven more years in prison, although it is widely expected that he “will serve only a short time in a Canadian prison before being released,” as London Free Press described it, primarily because lawyers will be able to point out the court rulings in which judges ruled that the Canadian government had persistently violated Khadr’s rights.
That first year of Khadr’s post-plea deal detention ended on October 31 last year, but he was not repatriated from Guantánamo, primarily, it seemed, because of an unwillingness to speedily facilitate his return on the part of the Canadian authorities, who have a dreadful record when it comes to doing anything to secure his return since his capture at the age of 15, when he was severely wounded, in Afghanistan in July 2002. Read the rest of this entry »
Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we have been watching with interest the ongoing negotiations regarding five of the 17 remaining Afghan prisoners at Guantánamo. In December, it was revealed that, for the previous ten months, the US government and the Taliban had been conducting secret negotiations, and that the US was considering releasing the five men from Guantánamo, all of whom were allegedly significant Taliban prisoners.
It was not until January that it became clear that the men were to be exchanged for a US prisoner, Bowe Bergdahl, a 25-year-old US Army sergeant from Hailey, Idaho, who was taken prisoner on June 30, 2009 in Afghanistan, and that the negotiations would involve the five Taliban prisoners being released in Qatar, where they would be held under a form of house arrest, and, at the prisoners’ request, would be reunited with their families.
These releases are now on hold, as the Taliban suspended negotiations with the US last week, following the killing of 16 civilians, including nine children, by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. Read the rest of this entry »
In January, when I visited the US for events to mark the 10th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, and to renew calls for the prison to be closed, as President Obama promised on his second day in office, I paid a flying visit to San Francisco to take part in a conversation about Guantánamo past, present and future with my friend and colleague Jason Leopold, the lead investigative reporter for Truthout. Our hour-long conversation was filmed, and I posted an unedited version last month, but now I’m delighted to present an edited, 20-minute version, along with an insightful commentary, which was posted on Truthout yesterday.
The video was filmed and edited by Hans Bennett, a multi-media journalist whose work focuses on the movement to free Mumia Abu-Jamal and all political prisoners, and was produced in association with Angola 3 News, a project of the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3. As Angola 3 News noted, “In 2007 and 2011, Amnesty International issued statements in support of Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox, the two members of the Angola 3 who remain in prison today, after more than 39 years of solitary confinement.”
I’m very pleased with the analysis of our conversation, which is posted below. I don’t want to flag up too much of it in this introduction, as I hope you have the time to read it — and to watch the video — but I was delighted with the explanation about Guantánamo’s “True Secret,” which was my response to a journalist suggesting, at a press conference in Washington D.C. on January 11, that “perhaps President Obama has not shut Guantánamo down because of some ‘dark secrets’ that cannot be made public for legitimate reasons of national security.” As I explained at the press conference, and again in San Francisco: 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 »
Last month, when I was in the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison, I paid a visit, during my 30-hour visit to San Francisco and the Bay Area, to KPFA in Berkeley for an interview on “The Morning Mix with Project Censored,” which also featured the wonderful singer/songwriter David Rovics, Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights, and Almerindo Ojeda of UC Davis, who runs the university’s Guantánamo Testimonials Project.
That half-hour show is here, and it was regarded by the producers as covering so much important material in such a short amount of time that a decision was made to run an extended version, as part of a fundraising drive, on February 17, and the resultant two and a half hour show is available here, and is embedded below. Read the rest of this entry »
The new “Close Guantánamo” website, an initiative I was involved in launching last month, with a petition on the White House’s “We the People” website, has now entered a new phase — presenting the prisoners’ stories, as told by their attorneys — which is a project that, hopefully, will run throughout the year, and will feed into new campaigns and projects. Please sign up here if you’re interested in adding your voice, and in receiving regular updates.
In the meantime, to help promote the “Close Guantánamo” campaign and the prisoner profiles, I’m cross-posting below the introduction to the prisoner profiles and the first profile, a thorough and detailed account of Abdul Razak Qadir, one of five Uighurs (Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province) who are still held at Guantánamo, written by his attorney Seema Saifee. Please note that many of the links have been added especially for this cross-post.
When the “Close Guantánamo” website was established a month ago, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, we had two aims — to push for the closure of the prison, particularly by focusing on the injustice of holding 89 prisoners cleared for release, out of 171 prisoners in total; and to dispel the still prevalent myths about the prisoners being “the worst of the worst,” by telling their stories. Read the rest of this entry »
The story of Guantánamo’s Uighurs has always been one of monstrous injustice — as well as a monstrous failure of intelligence, and an equally monstrous failure when it comes to the US government taking responsibility for its own mistakes. This is not a unique occurrence in Guantánamo, of course, but it has long been emblematic of the many failures of Guantánamo.
Briefly, the Uighurs are Muslims from Xinjiang province in north-western China, an area subjected to persecution by the Chinese government. The 22 Uighurs who ended up at Guantánamo were, for the most part, refugees who had been thwarted in their attempts to reach Turkey or Europe in search of work, or who, in some instances, nursed futile hopes of rising up against their oppressors. None had any involvement with al-Qaeda, terrorism or militancy against the United States, and they only ended up in Guantánamo because the rundown settlement in which they had been living in the mountains of Afghanistan was bombed by US forces, and, after they fled to Pakistan, they were sold to US forces by Pakistani villagers.
It was clear from the beginning that prisoners whose only enemy was the Chinese government should never have been held at Guantánamo, but they were used as pawns in negotiations with the Chinese government prior to the invasion of Iraq, and although five of the Uighurs were found a new home in Albania in May 2006, it took until 2008 — and a humiliating court defeat — for the Bush administration to give up its claim that the other 17 were “enemy combatants.” As a result, their habeas corpus petitions were granted in October 2008, but although a judge ordered them to be released in the United States, the Bush administration, and then the Obama administration disagreed, and appealed the ruling, securing a favorable response in February 2009 from the right wing judges in the D.C. Circuit Court. Read the rest of this entry »
Ten years ago, foreign prisoners, seized in other countries, began to arrive in the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan. Some were held in a secretive part of the prison, and had often passed through other secret facilities in Afghanistan or elsewhere. The majority of these prisoners ended up in Guantánamo, but some were stealthily repatriated at various times. Others, however, continued to be held, beyond the rule of law.
The prison never conformed to the Geneva Conventions, which were, essentially, discarded when the Bush administration decided to hold prisoners in its “war on terror” as “illegal enemy combatants,” and have never been reinstated. Moreover, the prisoners remained beyond the law even when the Supreme Court granted habeas corpus rights to the Guantánamo prisoners in June 2004, and again in June 2008, after Congress had tried to remove these rights in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (PDF).
In March 2009, in Washington D.C., District Judge John D. Bates briefly brought this era of secrecy and unaccountability to an end, granting the habeas corpus petitions of three foreign prisoners — Redha al-Najar, a Tunisian seized in Karachi, Pakistan in May 2002; Amin al-Bakri, a Yemeni gemstone dealer seized in Bangkok, Thailand in late 2002; and Fadi al-Maqaleh, a Yemeni seized in 2004. Read the rest of this entry »
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