Ever since the conservative court of appeals in Washington D.C. delivered an extraordinary ruling last October, vacating one of the only convictions in the military commission trial system introduced for prisoners at Guantánamo, it has only been a matter of time before other appeals would be lodged.
Last Tuesday, November 5, the first man convicted in the trials — the Australian citizen David Hicks, who agreed to a plea deal in March 2007, on the basis that he would be returned to Australia to serve a seven-month sentence — lodged an appeal with the US Court of Military Commission Review, “arguing for a summary dismissal of the conviction,” as the Sydney Morning Herald described it, “because the offence was not a war crime at the time Mr. Hicks was detained, and his guilty plea was made under duress because of his detention, torture and abuse at Guantánamo.”
Just seven convictions have been secured in Guantánamo’s military commission system (between March 2007 and February 2012), which has struggled — and failed — to achieve any kind of credibility since George W. Bush’s Vice President, Dick Cheney, ill-advisedly dragged the commissions from the history books in November 2001. Ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006, they were then revived by Congress, and revived by Congress a second time under President Obama in 2009, despite warnings by senior administration lawyers that convictions would almost certainly be overturned on appeal. Read the rest of this entry »
So it’s official, then. Eleven and a half years after the “war on terror” prison opened at Guantánamo, the maximum number of prisoners that the US military intends to prosecute, or has already prosecuted, is 20 — or just 2.5 percent of the 779 men held at the prison since it opened in January 2002.
The news was announced on Monday June 10 by Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo, and it is a humiliating climbdown for the authorities.
When President Obama appointed an inter-agency task force to review the cases of the remaining Guantánamo prisoners, which issued its report in January 2010, the task force recommended that 36 of the remaining prisoners should be tried.
Just five of the 36 have since been to trial — one in the US, and four through plea deals in their military commissions at Guantánamo. Another man — Ali Hamza al-Bahlul — had already been tried and convicted, in the dying days of George W. Bush’s second term, and two others had been sent home after their trials — David Hicks after a plea deal in March 2007, and Salim Hamdan after a trial in July 2008 — making a total of 39 prosecutions, or intended prosecutions, after eleven and a half years of the prison’s existence. That was just 5 percent of the men held throughout Guantánamo’s history, but now that figure, which was, in itself, an extremely poor reflection on the efficacy of the prison and its relationship to any acceptable notions of justice, has been halved.
As Reuters described it, Brig. Gen. Martins explained that the number set by the task force was “ambitious” in light of two rulings last October and in January this year by judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
Eleven years since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the majority of the remaining 168 men in Guantánamo are not held because they constitute an active threat to the United States, but because of inertia, political opportunism and an institutional desire to hide evidence of torture by US forces, sanctioned at the highest levels of government. That they are still held, mostly without charge or trial, is a disgrace that continues to eat away at any notion that the US believes in justice.
It seems like an eternity since there was the briefest of hopes that George W. Bush’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo would be shut down. That was in January 2009, but although Barack Obama issued an executive order promising to close Guantánamo within a year, he soon reneged on that promise, failing to stand up to Republican critics, who seized on the fear of terrorism to attack him, and failing to stand up to members of his own party, who were also fearful of the power of black propaganda regarding Guantánamo and the alleged but unsubstantiated dangerousness of its inmates.
The President himself also became fearful when, in January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which he himself had appointed, and which consisted of career officials and lawyers from government departments and the intelligence agencies, issued its report based on an analysis of the cases of the 240 prisoners inherited from George W. Bush (PDF). The Task Force recommended that, of the 240 men held when he came to power, only 36 could be prosecuted, but 48 others were regarded as being too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
On Friday, when the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began, 168 men still held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba must have wondered if their long ordeal will ever come to an end. Now held for as long as the First and Second World Wars combined, these men — of whom only a handful are accused of any involvement with terrorism — have become scapegoats, the victims of a cowardly administration, a cynical Congress and fearful judges.
How else are we to explain the presence of 87 men whose release was approved by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Obama himself, when he took office in January 2009 and promised to close Guantánamo within a year? Consisting of around 60 representatives of the relevant government departments and the intelligence services, the Task Force concluded in its final report (PDF), issued in January 2010, that, of the 168 men still held, 33 should be tried and 46 should be held indefinitely without charge or trial, while the other 87 should be released.
Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we are rigorously and implacably opposed to President Obama’s claim that it is acceptable to hold 46 men indefinitely without charge or trial, because it is fundamentally unjust to claim, as the administration does, that these 46 men represent a danger to the United States, even though there is insufficient evidence to put them on trial. What this means is that the so-called evidence is fatally tainted, produced through the use of torture, or other forms of coercion, and is therefore fundamentally unreliable. Read the rest of this entry »
Getting out of Guantánamo is such a feat these days (with just three men released in the last 18 months) that it is remarkable that Ibrahim al-Qosi, a Sudanese prisoner who agreed to a plea deal at his war crimes trial in Guantánamo in July 2010, guaranteeing that he would be freed after two years, has been repatriated as promised. 168 prisoners now remain in Guantánamo.
With a typical disregard for the principle that a prisoner — any prisoner — must be freed when their sentence comes to an end, the US has maintained, since the “war on terror” began nearly 11 years ago, that prisoners at Guantánamo can continue to be held after their sentence has come to an end, and be returned to the general population as “enemy combatants,” even though President Bush failed to do this when he had the opportunity — with Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden who was freed after serving a five-month sentence handed down after his military trial in 2008.
A source with knowledge of al-Qosi’s case, who does not wish to be identified, told me that the Obama administration was unwilling to detain al-Qosi after his sentence came to an end, and I believe that one of the reasons that the President negotiated a waiver to the provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act, allowing him to bypass restrictions on releasing prisoners that were imposed by Congress, was to prevent Republicans from trying to force him to continue holding al-Qosi. Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday, the eyes of the world were on Guantánamo, as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of planning and facilitating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi and Walid bin Attash — appeared in a courtroom for the first time since December 2008. All were dressed in white, apparently at the insistence of the authorities at Guantánamo, and most observers made a point of noting that Mohammed’s long gray beard was streaked red with henna.
For the Obama administration and the Pentagon, the five men’s appearance — for their arraignment prior to their planned trial by military commission — was supposed to show that the commissions are a competent and legitimate alternative to the federal court trial that the Obama administration announced for the men in November 2009, but then abandoned after caving in to pressure from Republicans. The five defendants face 2,976 counts of murder — one for each of the victims of the 9/11 attacks — as well as charges of terrorism, hijacking, conspiracy and destruction of property, and the prosecution is seeking the death penalty.
Unfortunately for the administration, the omens were not good. The military commissions have been condemned as an inadequate trial system ever since the Bush administration first resurrected them in November 2001, intending, in the heat of post-9/11 vengeance, to use them to swiftly try and execute those it regarded as terrorists. However, after long delays and chaotic hearings, this first reincarnation of the commissions was struck down as illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006. The commissions were then revived by Congress a few months later, and were then tweaked and revived by President Obama in the summer of 2009, despite criticism from legal experts. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, Guantánamo briefly resurfaced in the news when one of the remaining 171 prisoners, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was arraigned for his planned trial by Military Commission, for his alleged role in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.
Al-Nashiri’s trial will not begin for a least a year, and his fleeting appearance was not sufficient to keep attention focused on Guantánamo, especially as the 24-hour news cycle — and people’s addiction to it — now barely allows stories to survive for a day before they are swept aside for the latest breaking news.
As a result, the opportunity to ask bigger questions, such as, “Who is still at Guantánamo?” and “Why are they still held?” was largely missed. These are topics I have been discussing all year, but they are rarely mentioned in the mainstream media, so it was refreshing, last week, to see Peter Finn in the Washington Post address these questions.
In “Guantánamo detainees cleared for release but left in limbo,” Finn, with assistance from Julie Tate, began by revisiting the final report of the Guantánamo Review Task Force, the 60 or so officials and lawyers from government departments and the intelligence agencies who reviewed the cases of all the prisoners throughout 2009, and who, as Finn noted, cleared 126 prisoners for transfer out of Guantánamo (PDF) — and also recommended 36 for trials, and 48 for indefinite detention without charge or trial. Read the rest of this entry »
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