15 Years After 9/11, Still Waiting for the Closure of Guantánamo

The US flag at Guantanamo.Exactly 15 years ago, terrorists attacked the United States, killing 2,996 people, in the World Trade Center and on two hijacked aeroplanes, and changing the world forever.

Within a month, the US had invaded Afghanistan, aiming to destroy al-Qaeda and to topple the Taliban regime that had harbored them. That mission was largely accomplished by early 2002, but instead of leaving, the US outstayed its welcome, “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,” as Anand Gopal, the journalist and author of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes, explained to me several years ago.

In addition, of course, the Bush administration — led by a president who knew little about the world, attended by two Republican veterans, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who believed in the president’s right to act as he saw fit in times of emergency, unfettered by any kind of checks and balances (the unitary executive theory) — also set up a secret CIA program of kidnap and torture on a global scale, and prisons in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, in Cuba, where the Geneva Conventions did not apply, and where they tried to pretend that indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial was the new normal, rather than a dangerous aberration. Read the rest of this entry »

Torture Victim Abu Zubaydah, Seen For the First Time in 14 Years, Seeks Release from Guantánamo

Abu Zubaydah: illustration by Brigid Barrett from an article in Wired in July 2013. The photo used is from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On August 23, 2016, the most notorious torture victim in Guantánamo, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, better known as Abu Zubaydah, became the 61st prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board, and was seen for the first time by anyone outside of the US military and intelligence agencies, apart from representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, his attorneys and translators, since his capture 14 years and five months ago.

For the Guardian, David Smith wrote, “His dark hair was neat, his moustache and beard impeccably trimmed. His shirt was high-collared and spotlessly white. He sat at the head of the table with a calm, composed mien. It was the first time that the world has seen Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Husayn, also known as Abu Zubaydah, since his capture in Pakistan 14 years ago.” He added that, “[a]fter a brief technical hitch, a TV screen showed a room with a plain white wall and black shiny table. Anyone walking in cold might have assumed that Abu Zubaydah, with the appearance of a doctor or lawyer, was chairing the meeting. To his left sat an interpreter, dressed casually in shirtsleeves, and to his right were two personal representatives in military uniform with papers before them. A counsel was unable to attend due to a family medical emergency.”

Smith also noted that he “sat impassive, expressionless and silent throughout, sometimes resting his head on his hand or putting a finger to his mouth or chin, and studying his detainee profile intently as it was read aloud by an unseen woman.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Man They Don’t Know: Saeed Bakhouche, an Algerian, Faces a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo

Not Saeed Bakhouche: The US authorities claim that this photo is of Algerian Guantanamo prisoner, who was facing a periodic review Board last week, but as Bakhouche's attorney, Candace Gorman, has pointed out, the man in this photo is not Saeed Bakhouche, and no one seems to know who it is. is it possible to trust the US authorities when, in Saeed Bakhouche's case, they don't seem to know who they are holding?On Tuesday May 24, Saeed Bakhouche, a 45-year old Algerian who has been held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay since June 2002, became the 40th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo.

Like many Guantánamo prisoners, Bakhouche has also been known by another name – in his case, Abdel Razak Ali, a name he gave when he was captured – but to the best of my knowledge he is the only prisoner whose classified military file, compiled in 2008 and released by WikiLeaks in 2011, has a photo that purports to be him, but is not him at all. No one seems to know who it is, but it is not Saeed Bakhouche.

Moreover, his attorney, Candace Gorman, told me that a different photo – again, not of her client – was displayed outside his cell for a year and a half, a mistake that had disturbing ramifications, because this was the same photo shown to other prisoners during interrogations, leading to a situation whereby information about someone else was added his file as though it related to him.

The fact that the US authorities have, historically, not known who Saeed Bakhouche is, does not, however, appear to have been conveyed to the members of his PRB, which involves 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. Set up in 2013, the boards are reviewing the cases of 41 men previously described, by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office, as “too dangerous to release,” although that has turned out to have been outrageous hyperbole. Of the 40 men whose cases have so far been reviewed, eleven are awaiting decisions, just seven have had their ongoing imprisonment approved, while 22 have had their release recommended — and nine of those have, to date, been freed. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: After Guantánamo, Shaker Aamer’s 90-Minute BBC Interview with Victoria Derbyshire

Shaker Aamer, in a screenshot from his interview with the BBC, broadcast on December 14, 2015.On Monday, after an exclusive interview with the Mail on Sunday, published the day before (which I wrote about here and here), both the BBC and ITV News ran interviews with Shaker Aamer, who, until October 30, when he was freed, was the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

I am delighted to have played a part in securing Shaker’s release through ten years of writing about Guantánamo, and campaigning to get the prison closed, and, for the last eleven months of Shaker’s imprisonment, through the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I launched with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November.

I have also had the pleasure of meeting Shaker since his release, and was delighted to find that everything I had worked out about him from the reports that have emerged from Guantánamo and from those who know him — his eloquence, his intelligence and his implacable devotion to tackling injustice — was accurate, and this was also evident in his interview with Victoria Derbyshire for her morning show on BBC2, which I’m posting below via YouTube where it has already received over 55,000 views.

Note: Please be aware there are a few glitches in the video, where the sound and images are lost for a few seconds and there is only disturbing white noise. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s Latest Words from Guantánamo; On a Hunger Strike, Fearful That He Won’t See His Family Again

A birthday card is delivered to 10 Downing Street for Shaker Aamer's birthday on December 21, 2014, by MPs and other supporters. From L to R: Andy Worthington, the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, Jeremy Corbyn MP, Andy Slaughter MP, Peter Tatchell, Caroline Lucas MP, John McDonnell MP and John Leech MP (Photo: Stefano Massimo). The birthday card is by Dot Young, and the message, of course, was ironic, and meant to shame both the British and American governments.Yesterday, just ten days after the announcement that Shaker Aamer is finally to be freed from Guantánamo and returned to his family, was quite a disturbing day for those of us who care about Shaker and his health, as the Mail on Sunday ran a seven-page feature on Shaker that centered on his lawyer Clive Stafford Smith’s report of his latest words from Guantánamo, via a recent phone call.

Shaker stated, as the Mail on Sunday put it, that “he is on a hunger strike in protest at an assault by guards, who, he says, forced him to give blood samples,” and that he is “still being subjected to brutal physical abuse” by the authorities, and he also expressed his fears that he will not make it out of Guantánamo alive. As he said in his own words: “I know there are people who do not want me ever to see the sun again. It means nothing that they have signed papers, as anything can happen before I get out. So if I die, it will be the full responsibility of the Americans.”

This is rather bleak, and it made those of us who worry about Shaker’s health very unsettled. In my conversations with people yesterday, we also reflected on how the news must have been very disturbing for Shaker’s family. However, it is not all darkness. In another key passage, not picked up by the headline writers, Shaker said, powerfully, in words that illuminate his passion for justice and the tenacity that so many of us have admired over the years, “I do not want to be a hero. I am less than a lot of people who suffered in this place. But all this time I stood for certain principles: for human rights, freedom of speech, and democracy. I cannot give up.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Truth, Lies and Distortions in the Coverage of Shaker Aamer, Soon to be Freed from Guantánamo

Shaker Aamer, photographed at Guantanamo in 2012.In the week since it was announced that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, is to be released, to be returned to his family in the UK, there has been a huge sigh of relief from the many, many people who campaigned for his release — supporters of the long-standing Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, which I have been involved with for many years, attending protests and speaking at events, of We Stand With Shaker, the campaign I established with Joanne MacInnes last November, which drew huge support for photos of celebrities and MPs standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker, and supporters of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, established last November by John McDonnell MP, a persistent supporter of worthy causes and fighter against injustice, who, with Caroline Lucas (our sole Green MP), Jeremy Corbyn and Shaker’s constituency MP, Jane Ellison, has been the most consistent MP supporting Shaker’s cause.

My article celebrating the news of Shaker’s forthcoming release was liked and shared by over 1,500 people on Facebook. Posted on the Close Guantánamo page, it has reached over 21,000 people; on the We Stand With Shaker page it has reached over 11,000 people. Thank you to everyone who has supported the various campaigns to secure Shaker’s release, including the MPs who traveled to Washington D.C. in May to call for his release, meeting with Senators and Obama administration officials — David Davis and Andrew Mitchell of the Conservatives, and Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Slaughter of the Labour Party.

Now, of course, Jeremy is the leader of the Labour Party, and John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor — a wonderful development for those who care about tackling injustice. Jeremy was elected on an anti-austerity platform, and because of his honesty and decency, and all of the above was apparent in his speech as leader to the Labour Party Conference, when he specifically thanked Shaker’s supporters, and in particular the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign: Read the rest of this entry »

UK Appeals Court Rules Abdel Hakim Belhaj, Rendered to Torture in Gaddafi’s Libya, Can Sue British Government

What a long road to justice this is turning out to be. Back in December 2011, Abdel Hakim Belhaj (aka Belhadj), a former opponent of the Gaddafi regime, who, in 2004, in an operation that involved the British security services, was kidnapped in China with his pregnant wife and delivered to Colonel Gaddafi, first attempted to sue the British government — and, specifically, the former foreign secretary, Jack Straw, MI6’s former director of counter-terrorism, Sir Mark Allen, the Foreign Office, the Home Office and MI5.

Since then, the government has fought to prevent him having his day in court, but on Thursday the court of appeal ruled, as the Guardian described it, that the case “should go ahead despite government attempts to resist it on grounds of the ‘act of state doctrine’, arguing that the courts could not inquire into what happened because it involved a foreign state.” The Guardian added that the ruling “establishes a significant precedent for other claims,” although it is possible, of course, that the Foreign Office will appeal to the Supreme Court.

The Guardian also noted that the British government had “maintained that the UK’s relations with the US would be seriously damaged if Belhaj was allowed to sue and make his case in a British court.” However, the judgment said that “while the trial relating to the couple’s rendition was likely to require a British court to assess the wrongfulness of acts by the CIA and Libyan agents, that was no reason to bar the claim.” Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington’s Interview about Guantánamo and Torture for Columbia University’s Rule of Law Oral History Project

Read my full interview here.

On Independence Day in the US, I’d like to direct readers to a wonderful resource, The Rule of Law Oral History Project, undertaken by the Columbia Center for Oral History at Columbia University Library in New York. The project’s website explains that The Rule of Law Oral History Project was “initiated in 2008 to explore and document the state of human and civil rights in the post-9/11 world. In its first year, the project conducted a series of interviews with attorneys in order to document legal challenges against capital punishment in the United States. Recognizing important intersections between litigation challenging the administration of capital punishment and the legal architecture of post-9/11 detention policies and practices, the Rule of Law Oral History Project expanded in 2010 to study the statutory and constitutional challenges of the use of the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay.”

I was interviewed for this project two years ago by Anne McClintock, a delightful interviewer who is Simone de Beauvoir Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and who was very generous in support of my work, as this exchange shows:

Q (Anne): [D]o you know Adam Hochschild?

Worthington: No.

Q: A wonderful writer. He wrote a fabulous book called King Leopold’s Ghost. He’s a historian; he’s a journalist at [University of California] Berkeley. But he talks about the great forgettings of history, and I think U.S. history is a history that’s based on cultural amnesia. That’s why I think your work is so extraordinarily important because you’re taking this forgotten history, the great forgettings, and you’re insisting in recalling it to memory. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo, Where Unsubstantiated Suspicion of Terrorism Ensures Indefinite Detention, Even After 12 Years

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Last week, in a decision that I believe can only be regarded objectively as a travesty of justice, a Periodic Review Board (PRB) at Guantánamo — consisting of representatives of six government departments and intelligence agencies — recommended that a Yemeni prisoner, Abdel Malik al-Rahabi (aka Abd al-Malik al-Rahabi), should continue to be held. The board concluded that his ongoing imprisonment “remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

In contrast, this is how al-Rahabi began his statement to the PRB on January 28:

My family and I deeply thank the board for taking a new look at my case. I feel hope and trust in the system. It’s hard to keep up hope for the future after twelve years. But what you are doing gives me new hope. I also thank my personal representatives and my private counsel, and I thank President Obama. I will summarize my written statement since it has already been submitted to the board. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Sudanese Prisoners Released from Guantánamo, 79 Cleared Prisoners Remain

As the 12th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay approaches (on January 11, 2014), the run of good news regarding the situation at the prison continues, with the news that two prisoners — Ibrahim Idris, 52, and Noor Uthman Muhammed, 51, have been released to Sudan, and the Senate has voted to ease restrictions imposed by Congress over the last three years. The release of the two men brings the number of prisoners released this year to eight, and the total number of prisoners still held to 158.

Until recently, there had been three years of inaction regarding Guantánamo, when just five prisoners were released by President Obama. This inaction had been caused because of opposition in Congress and the president’s refusal to spend political capital overcoming that opposition. Of the five men released, two — Ibrahim al-Qosi and Omar Khadr — were amongst the handful of prisoners regarded as so significant that they had been put forward for military commission trials, and had agreed to plea deals that stipulated how much longer they should be held, and three — an Algerian and two Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province — had their release ordered by a US judge, after they had their habeas corpus petitions granted (before the appeals court in Washington D.C. rewrote the habeas rules, so that no prisoner could be released through a legal challenge).

The three years of inaction came to an end in August, when two Algerian men — Nabil Hadjarab and Mutia Sayyab — were released, who, like over half the men still held, had been cleared for release by a high-level, inter-agency task force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in 2009. Their release followed a promise to resume releasing prisoners that President Obama made in a major speech on national security issues in May. 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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