Slow Death at Guantánamo: Why Torture and Open-Ended Arbitrary Detention Are Such Bad Ideas

An undated photo of a prisoner at Guantánamo being escorted by guards (Photo: Chris Hondros / Getty Images).

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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.

Let’s be clear about two things before we start: torture and indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial are never acceptable under any circumstances. Torture is prohibited under the UN Convention Against Torture, introduced in 1985 and ratified by Ronald Reagan, and Article 2.2 of the Convention states, unequivocally, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” 

In addition, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is unacceptable because there are only two ways in which it is acceptable for countries that claim to respect the rule of law to deprive someone of their liberty: either by trying them for a crime in federal court, or holding them as a prisoner of war until the end of hostiliites, with the protections of the Geneva Conventions. 

After 9/11, however, the US created a network of torture prisons around the world, and invented a third category of prisoner — illegal or unlawful enemy combatants — who had no rights whatsoever. 

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 »

Two More Guantánamo Prisoners, Including Hambali, Recommended for Ongoing Imprisonment by Review Boards

Guleed Hassan Ahmed aka Gouled Hassan Dourad, a Somali prisoner in Guantanamo, held in CIA "black sites" from 2004 until his arrival at Guantanamo in September 2006. This photo is from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

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The Periodic Review Boards at Guantánamo, which have been reviewing the cases of all the men still held who are not approved for release or facing trials (currently, exactly half of the 60 men still held), have recently made public their decisions in two of the five remaining cases for which decisions had not already been taken. The review boards, which began in November 2013, consist of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,  and are similar to parole boards, assessing whether prisoners show contrition for their alleged crimes, whether they can demonstrate that they do not hold any ill-will towards the US, and whether they can establish a credible scenario for a peaceful life after Guantánamo.

The decisions — to approve the ongoing imprisonment of two men, Guleed Hassan Ahmed and Hambali — mean that, of the 64 cases considered, 34 have ended with recommendations for release (and 21 of those men have been freed), while 27 have led to recommendations that the men in question should continue to be imprisoned without charge or trial — but with regular reviews of their cases continuing to take place, for which the men and their lawyers can continue to provide information that they think will help to secure a recommendation for the release. For further information, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website.

This is a success rate for the prisoners of 56%, although there is, it should be noted, a distinct difference in the results of the PRBs based on the two types of prisoners put forward for the reviews. Read the rest of this entry »

Four “High-Value Detainees” Have Their Ongoing Imprisonment at Guantánamo Upheld by Periodic Review Boards

Afghan prisoner Muhammad Rahim, in a photo taken in Guantanamo by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family, who made it publicly available via his lawyers.

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On September 8, as I reported here, Hassan bin Attash, a former child prisoner and the younger brother of a “high-value detainee,” became the 64th and last prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board. Set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who are not facing trials (just ten men) or who had not already been approved for release by an earlier review process (2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force), the PRBs began in November 2013, and function like parole boards. If prisoners can demonstrate contrition, and can also demonstrate that they bear no malice towards the US, and have coherent post-release work plans, and, preferably, supportive families, then they can be recommended for release.

Noticeably, of the 64 prisoners whose cases have been considered, 33 — over half —have had their release approved (and 20 of those have been freed), while 23 others have had their ongoing imprisonment approved. Eight decisions have yet to be taken. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website for further details.

At the time of Hassan bin Attash’s PRB, just 19 men had had their ongoing imprisonment approved, but in the last three weeks four more decisions were announced — all decisions to continue holding the men whose cases had been reviewed. Fundamentally, this was not a surprise — the four men were all “high-value detainees,” men held and tortured in CIA “black sites” before their arrival at Guantánamo, and although seven HVDs have had PRBs, none have yet been approved from release (the three others are awaiting decisions). Read the rest of this entry »

“High-Value Detainee” Hambali Seeks Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Hambali (Riduan Isamuddin), photographed at Guantanamo, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On August 18, Hambali, a “high-value detainee” held at Guantánamo since September 2006, became the 60th Guantánamo prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. The PRBs were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials, and the last of 64 reviews will be taking place next week. To date, 33 men have been approved for release, while just 19 men have had their ongoing imprisonment upheld. Eleven further decisions have yet to be taken. For further details, see my definitive Periodic Review Board list on the Close Guantánamo website.

Hambali, an Indonesian born in April 1964, was born Encep Nurjaman, but is also known as Riduan Isamuddin. In the US government’s unclassified summary for his PRB, he was described as “an operational mastermind in the Southeast Asia-based Islamic extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI),” who “served as the main interface between JI and al-Qa’ida from 2000 until his capture in mid-2003.”

Hambali was seized in Bangkok, Thailand in August 2003, with another “high-value detainee,” Mohammed Bashir bin Lap aka Lillie (ISN 10022), whose review took place three weeks ago, in the same week as another of Hambali’s associates, Mohd Farik bin Amin aka Zubair (ISN 10021). Read the rest of this entry »

Two Malaysian “High-Value Detainees” Seek Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Boards

Mohd Farik bin Amin (aka Zubair) and Mohammed Bashir bin Lap (aka Lillie), two Malaysian prisoners at Guantanamo, who are also “high-value detainees,” held in CIA “black sites” for three years prior to their arrival at Guantanamo in September 2006. Nearly ten years later, both men had their cases considered by Periodic Review Boards.In the last three weeks, six Periodic Review Boards have taken place at Guantánamo, and I’ll be writing about them in a number of articles this week and next, beginning with two reviews that took place, on August 9 and 11, for two Malaysian “high-value detainees,” Mohd Farik bin Amin aka Zubair (ISN 10021), seized in Bangkok, Thailand in June 2003, and Mohammed Bashir bin Lap aka Lillie (ISN 10022). Bin Amin was seized in Bangkok in June 2003, followed in August 2003 by bin Lap and Hambali, another “high-value detainee” whose PRB took place on August 18 (which I’ll be writing about soon).

The PRBs, which include representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release and not facing trials, and, since November 2013, have been reviewing the cases of 64 men, with, to date, recommendations that 33 should be released, while 19 should continue to be held. See my definitive Periodic Review Board list for details.

41 of these 64 men were recommended for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by a previous review process (2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force), on the basis that they were allegedly “too dangerous to release,” although the authorities conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, while the 23 others were recommended for trials, until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed after judges in Washington, D.C. struck down some of the few convictions achieved in the much-criticized military commission trial system, on the basis that the war crimes in question had actually been invented by Congress and had no legitimacy. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama Plans to Move 24 Guantánamo Prisoners to US Mainland, Send A Dozen for Trials in Other Countries

Campaigners in Florida call for the closure of Guantanamo outside the gates of US Southern Command, January 9, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).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.

As the Countdown to Close Guantánamo continues, with over 150 people now having submitted photos of themselves holding posters telling President Obama how many days he has left to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay (see the photos here and here), Ben Fox of the Associated Press has provided an informative update about how the Obama administration plans to close the prison before President Obama leaves office.

With just 91 men left at Guantánamo, we have been calling for the 34 men currently approved for release to be released as soon as possible, for arrangements to be made for the men facing (or having faced) trials (just ten of those still held) to be moved to the US mainland, and for reviews to take place as swiftly as possible for the 47 other men, who are all eligible for Periodic Review Boards.

A high-level, inter-agency review process, the PRBs were set up in 2013 to ascertain whether to release or continue holding 46 men previously regarded as “too dangerous to release” (despite a lack of evidence against them) and 25 others recommended for prosecution in military commissions until the courts struck down the charges in most of the trials because they had been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Presenting the First Annotated List of the 64 Guantánamo Prisoners Eligible for Periodic Review Boards

Photos of some of the Guantanamo prisoners, made available when classified military files were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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.

Check out the list here.

On Monday, we published the first annotated list of the 64 Guantánamo prisoners eligible for Periodic Review Boards, which we hope will be useful to anyone who wants detailed information about who is still held at Guantánamo (also feel free to check out our full prisoner list here, listing all 107 men still held).

71 men were initially listed as eligible for Periodic Review Boards — 46 who were designated for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009 (which issued its final report in January 2010), and 25 others who were recommended for prosecution by the task force, until the basis for prosecuting them — generally, charges of providing material support for terrorism — were struck down by the appeals court in Washington D.C. in two particular rulings in October 2012 and January 2013.

Of the 71, five were freed, and two others were reabsorbed into the ailing military commission system, leaving 64 men eligible for PRBs. 20 have had reviews since the PRBs began two years ago, with 15 approved for release (of whom four have been freed) and two others awaiting decisions, but 44 others are still awaiting reviews, and at the current rate it will take over four years — until sometime in 2020 — until they are all completed. Read the rest of this entry »

Despite His Conviction Being Quashed Three Times, Guantánamo Prisoner Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul Remains in Solitary Confinement

Guantanamo prisoner Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.For some prisoners held in the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, it seems there really is no way out. One example would seem to be Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a 45-year old Yemeni prisoner and a propagandist for al-Qaeda, who made a promotional video glorifying the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, in which 17 US soldiers died, and who received a life sentence for providing material support for terrorism, conspiring with al-Qaeda and soliciting murder after a one-sided military commission trial in the dying days of the Bush administration.

Al-Bahlul has been held in solitary confinement ever since — on what is known as “Convicts’ Corridor,” according to Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, even though, since January 2013, he has had every part of his conviction overturned in the US courts — most recently in a ruling by the appeals court in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court) on June 12.

In January 2013, a three-judge panel in the D.C. Circuit Court overturned the material support and solicitation convictions, on the basis that the charges of which he was convicted were not recognized as war crimes at the time he was accused of committing them; or, to put it another way, that they had been invented as war crimes by Congress. That ruling drew on a ground-breaking ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court three months earlier, overturning the material support conviction against another man, Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden who was freed in December 2008. The decision in al-Bahlul’s case was confirmed by a full panel of judges in July 2014, and the judges last month overturned the conspiracy conviction — on the basis that conspiracy is not a crime under the international law of war. Read the rest of this entry »

A Few Surprises in the New Guantánamo Prisoner List

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.

On February 20, my friend and colleague, the investigative journalist Jason Leopold, published a prisoner list from Guantánamo, which he had just obtained from the Pentagon, and which had not previously been made public.

The list, “71 Guantánamo Detalnees Determined Eligible to Receive a Periodic Review Board as of April 19, 2013,” identifies, by name, 71 of the 166 prisoners who were held at the time, and, as Jason explained in an accompanying article: 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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