Judge Calls for An End to Unjust Provisions Governing Guantánamo Prisoners’ Habeas Corpus Petitions

In preventing the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, all three branches of the US government are responsible. President Obama promised to close the prison within a year of taking office, but he lacked a concrete plan, and soon caved in to criticism, blocking a plan by White House counsel Greg Craig to bring some cleared prisoners who couldn’t be safely repatriated — the Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province — to live in the US, and imposing a ban on releasing all Yemenis after it was discovered that a failed plot to blow up a plane bound for the US on Christmas Day 2009 was hatched in Yemen.

Congress, in turn, imposed ban on bringing prisoners to the US mainland, and, in the last two versions of the National Defense Authorization Act, a ban on releasing prisoners to any country where even a single released prisoner has allegedly engaged in recidivism (returning to the battlefield), and a requirement that, if a prisoner were to be released, the Secretary of Defense would have to certify that they would not be able, in future, to engage in any terrorist activities — a requirement that appears to be impossible to fulfill.

Largely overlooked has been the responsibility of the judiciary — and specifically, the Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court), and the Supreme Court, but their role in keeping men at Guantánamo is also crucial.

Nine years ago, in June 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights, a momentous ruling that pierced the veil of secrecy that had allowed the Bush administration to establish a torture regime at Guantánamo, and also allowed the prisoners to be represented by lawyers, who were allowed to visit them. Read the rest of this entry »

EXCLUSIVE: Two Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Mauritania

Note: Please read the comments below for updates. As at 3pm GMT on June 1, there has been no confirmation of the releases. Sources in Mauritania are still saying the men have been freed, but are not yet reunited with their families, while the US authorities are denying it. Some reports claim that only the man from Bagram has been returned home.

Update June 2: It now appears clear that only the man in Bagram was returned, and that the human rights representative in Mauritania was mistaken about the releases from Guantánamo. This is very sad news, particularly for Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, who is one of the 86 prisoners still in Guantánamo who were cleared for release over three years ago by President Obama’s inter-agency task force, and who emphatically should have been freed. Further commentary to follow soon.

In news that has so far only been available in Arabic, and which I was informed about by a Mauritanian friend on Facebook, I can confirm that two prisoners from Guantánamo have been released, and returned to their home country of Mauritania. The links are here and here.

The two men are Ahmed Ould Abdul Aziz and Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and they were accompanied by a third man, Hajj Ould Cheikh Hussein, who was apparently captured in Pakistan and held at Bagram in Afghanistan, which later became known as the Parwan Detention Facility.

According to one of the Arabic news sources, US officials handed the men to the Mauritanian security services who took them to an unknown destination. They have also reportedly met with their families.

I have no further information for now, but this appears to be confirmation that President Obama’s promise to resume the release of prisoners from Guantánamo was not as hollow as many of his promises have turned out to be. It also follows hints, in the Wall Street Journal (which I wrote about here), indicating that he would begin not with any of the 56 Yemeni prisoners out of the 86 prisoners cleared for release by the inter-agency task force that he established in 2009, but with some of the 30 others. Read the rest of this entry »

Will Guantánamo Ever Be Closed?

Nearly eleven years after the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison opened on the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, its much-mooted closure seems as remote as ever.

Last week, there were encouraging noises, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, presented a report prepared by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), looking at the feasibility of housing prisoners in the US. The report found that there were 104 suitable facilities; 98 run by the Department of Justice, and six by the military. Releasing the report, Sen. Feinstein said, “This report demonstrates that if the political will exists, we could finally close Guantánamo without imperiling our national security.”

On the military side, there are three Naval brigs — at Charleston, South Carolina, Chesapeake, Virginia, and Miramar, California — as well as the correction facilities at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and Lewis-McChord in Washington, and the Disciplinary Barracks at Leavenworth. In total, these facilities are almost half-empty. Read the rest of this entry »

Conservative Judges Demolish the False Legitimacy of Guantánamo’s Terror Trials

When is a war crime not a war crime? When it is invented by the executive branch and Congress, and implemented for six years until a profoundly Conservative appeals court strikes it down.

The invented war crime is “providing material support to terrorism,” and on October 16, 2012, a panel of three judges in the D.C. Circuit Court (the Court of Appeals in Washington D.C.) threw out the conviction of Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden, who had received a five and a half year sentence for “providing material support to terrorism” at the end of his trial by military commission in August 2008 (although he was freed just five months later, as his sentence included time already served).

In its ruling, the court stated, “When Hamdan committed the conduct in question, the international law of war proscribed a variety of war crimes, including forms of terrorism. At that time, however, the international law of war did not proscribe material support for terrorism as a war crime.”

For anyone who has followed the history of the military commissions in any depth, the result was not completely unexpected. Revived by the Bush administration in November 2001, specifically for trying prisoners seized in the “war on terror,” the commissions were struck down by the Supreme Court in June 2006, but were then revived by Congress, when “providing material support to terrorism” and “conspiracy” were included as war crimes, even though there was no precedent for doing so. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the 55 Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners on the List Released by the Obama Administration?

I wrote the following report exclusively for the “Close Guantánamo” campaign and website, which I established in January 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.

POSTSCRIPT January 2013: The Center for Constitutional Rights has confirmed that a 56th prisoner was added to this list after its initial drafting — Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian mentioned below.

UPDATE March 14, 2014: Please note that this list of 56 men cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force (plus the 30 other Yemenis cleared for release but held in “conditional detention” until the authorities are satisfied that the security situation in Yemen has improved) reflected the situation at Guantánamo from the time of its publication in October 2012 until August 2013, when two Algerians on the list were released, followed by eight other cleared prisoners in December, and one more in March 2014. I have noted who has been released on the list. As a result of these releases, there are now 76 cleared prisoners (46 plus the 30 Yemenis in “conditional detention”). For a breakdown of who is who (including the identities of the 30 Yemenis in “conditional detention”), see the “Close Guantánamo” prisoner list.

On September 21, lawyers for the Guantánamo prisoners — and others who had been watching Guantánamo closely — were completely taken by surprise when, as part of a court case, the Justice Department released the names of 55 of the 86 prisoners cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force.

The Task Force was made up of officials and lawyers from all the relevant government departments and from the intelligence agencies, and its final report was issued in January 2010. Of the 166 prisoners still held, 86 of those were recommended for release, but are still held, and the list reveals, for the first time ever, 55 of those names. Read the rest of this entry »

Lawyers for Adnan Latif, the Latest Prisoner to Die at Guantánamo, Issue A Statement

This article was published simultaneously here, and on the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 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.

Over the weekend, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni, became the ninth prisoner to die in Guantánamo. Adnan had been repeatedly cleared for release — under President Bush and President Obama, and by a US court — but had never been freed, like so many others in that disgraceful prison, which remains an insult to the rule of law ten years and eight months since it first opened.

Adnan was one of the prisoners profiled in the major report I wrote in June, Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago, and the overturning of his successful habeas corpus petition by politically motivated judges in the D.C. Circuit Court in October last year — and the refusal of the Supreme Court to rebuke the court, just three months ago — was notorious amongst attorneys for the prisoners and those interested in justice and the law, even though — sadly and shockingly — it had not awakened appropriate outrage in the mainstream media.

Last May, when the eighth prisoner died at Guantánamo — a man named Hajji Nassim, known to the US authorities as Inayatullah, who had serious mental health problems — I wrote an article entitled, The Only Way Out of Guantánamo Is In a Coffin, which was horribly accurate, as the last two prisoners to leave Guantánamo had left in coffins. The other, Awal Gul, had died in February. Read the rest of this entry »

My Photos on Flickr: Visiting Kuwait to Campaign for the Last Two Kuwaiti Prisoners in Guantánamo

Welcome to KuwaitHotel foyer, KuwaitCooking breakfast in KuwaitServing breakfast in KuwaitBread and cakes for breakfastJuice for breakfast
Luxury restroomsThe Gents, Arab styleDowntown KuwaitLiberation Tower, KuwaitAt a dewaniya in KuwaitThe Kuwait Towers
Kuwait skylineKuwait's shorelineA beautiful oasis becomes a dead landLe cafe and the total destructionDewaniya with Fayiz al-Kandari's family (1)Dewaniya with Fayiz al-Kandari's family (2)
Lamb kebabs with the al-KandarisCooking kebabs at the al-Kandaris' houseThe brainstorming suite, KuwaitLeaving Kuwait

Visiting Kuwait to Campaign for the Last Two Kuwaiti Prisoners in Guantánamo, a set on Flickr.

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 »

Meet the Seven Guantánamo Prisoners Whose Appeals Were Turned Down by the Supreme Court

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 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 week, the Supreme Court took a decision not to accept appeals by seven Guantánamo prisoners who, over the last few years, either had their habeas petitions denied, or had their successful petitions overturned on appeal. The ruling came the day before the 4th anniversary of Boumediene v. Bush, the 2008 case in which the Supreme Court granted the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights.

That led to a number of stunning court victories for the prisoners between 2008 and 2010, but in the last two years no prisoners have had their habeas petitions granted, because judges in the D.C. Circuit Court, a bastion of Bush-era paranoia about the “war on terror,” where the deeply Conservative Senior Judge A. Raymond Randolph holds sway, have unfairly rewritten the rules in the government’s favor, so that it is now almost impossible for a habeas petition to be granted. Read the rest of this entry »

The Supreme Court Abandons the Guantánamo Prisoners

On Monday, when the Supreme Court decided to turn down seven appeals submitted by prisoners held at Guantánamo, without providing any explanation, a particularly low point was reached in the prison’s history.

The decision came just one day before the fourth anniversary of Boumediene v. Bush, the hugely significant 2008 ruling granting the prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights.

That ruling reaffirmed a previous Supreme Court ruling, Rasul v. Bush, in June 2004, granting the prisoners habeas rights, and involved the Court establishing that Congressional attempts to strip habeas rights from the prisoners — in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 — had been unconstitutional.

Boumediene led to a flurry of activity, as long-frozen cases were revived. District Court judges in Washington D.C. then decided the evidentiary standards required, assessing that the government needed only to establish its case by a preponderance of the evidence, and not beyond a reasonable doubt, as is required in criminal cases. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: On Democracy Now! Andy Worthington Discusses the Failure of Every Branch of the US Government to Deliver Justice to the Prisoners at Guantánamo

Yesterday, I made my way to a TV studio opposite the Houses of Parliament to take part in an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! — my first since last April, when the classified military files released by WikiLeaks, on which I worked as a media partner, were first published.

I was joined by Shayana Kadidal, senior managing attorney of the Guantánamo Global Justice Initiative at the Center for Constitutional Rights, and I was delighted that the story was the main feature on yesterday’s show, and that so much time was devoted to it, and to analyzing the sweeping failures, across the entire US administration, that have led to a situation in which, although 87 of the remaining 169 prisoners have been cleared for release, only two prisoners have been freed in the last 18 months, and there are no signs of when — if ever — any of these 87 men will be released.

The interview, like my interview with RT on Monday, was scheduled last week, following the publication of my report, Guantánamo Scandal: The 40 Prisoners Still Held But Cleared for Release At Least Five Years Ago, but it assumed alarming new significance on Monday, when the Supreme Court refused to consider any of the appeals that had been submitted over the last year by seven of the 169 remaining prisoners in Guantánamo. It’s posted below, via YouTube: Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Campaigning investigative journalist and commentator, author, filmmaker, photographer, singer-songwriter and Guantánamo expert
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