Senate Passes Bill to Help Close Guantánamo; Now President Obama Must Act

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.

It’s rare that there is good news about Guantánamo, and even rarer that the good news involves Congress. However, on Tuesday, the Senate accepted a version of the annual National Defense Authorization Act, which originated in the Senate Armed Services Committee, and was put forward by the chair, Sen. Carl Levin, along with Sen. John McCain.

The Levin-McCain version of the NDAA is intended to make it much easier than it has been for the last three years for President Obama to release cleared prisoners from Guantánamo, and to seriously revisit his failed promise to close the prison once and for all, and we note, with thanks, the efforts of Senators and officials in the Obama administration to secure this victory.

This important version of the NDAA contains provisions relating to Guantánamo which allow President Obama to release prisoners to other countries without the onerous restrictions imposed by Congress for the last three years. These restrictions have led to the number of released prisoners dwindling to almost zero, even though 84 of the remaining 164 prisoners were cleared for release from the prison in January 2010 by a high-level, inter-agency task force appointed by President Obama shortly after he took office in 2009. Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo: We Still Have Three Urgent Demands for President Obama

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 Monday, President Obama fulfilled the first of three promises he made a month ago to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, by appointing an envoy at the State Department to deal with prisoner transfers.

In a speech on national security issues on May 23, in which the President spoke at length about Guantánamo, he made the following promises: “I am appointing a new, senior envoy at the State Department and Defense Department whose sole responsibility will be to achieve the transfer of detainees to third countries. I am lifting the moratorium on detainee transfers to Yemen, so we can review them on a case by case basis. To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries.”

In fulfilling the first promise, President Obama has appointed Clifford Sloan, described by The Hill as “a veteran Washington attorney and civil servant.” He was “an associate counsel to former President Clinton and an assistant to the solicitor general in the first Bush administration,” and also “worked as associate counsel in the Office of Independent Counsel investigating the Iran-Contra affair and clerked for Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.” More recently, he was the publisher of Slate magazine, and legal counsel for the Washington Post‘s online operations. Read the rest of this entry »

Torture, Torture Everywhere

For those of us who have been arguing for years that senior officials and lawyers in the Bush administration must be held accountable for the torture program they introduced and used in their “war on terror,” last week was a very interesting week indeed, as developments took place in Strasbourg, in London and in Washington D.C., which all pointed towards the impossibility that the torturers can escape accountability forever.

That may be wishful thinking, given the concerted efforts by officials in the US and elsewhere to avoid having to answer for their crimes, and the ways in which, through legal arguments and backroom deals, they have suppressed all attempts to hold them accountable. However, despite this, it seems that maintaining absolute silence is impossible, and last week one breakthrough took place when, unanimously, a 17-judge panel of the European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of Khaled El-Masri, a German used car salesman of Lebanese origin, who is one of the most notorious cases of mistaken identity in the whole of the “war on terror.” See the summary here.

Describing the ruling, the Guardian described how the court stated that “CIA agents tortured a German citizen, sodomising, shackling, and beating him, as Macedonian state police looked on,” and “also found Macedonia guilty of torturing, abusing, and secretly imprisoning [him],” also noting, “It is the first time the court has described CIA treatment meted out to terror suspects as torture.” Read the rest of this entry »

Deranged Senate Votes for Military Detention of All Terror Suspects and a Permanent Guantánamo

Yesterday the shameful dinosaurs of the Senate — hopelessly out of touch with reality, for the most part, and haunted by specters of their own making — approved, by 93 votes to 7, the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (PDF), which contains a number of astonishingly alarming provisions — Sections 1031 and 1032, designed to make mandatory the indefinite military detention of terror suspects until the end of hostilities in a “war on terror” that seems to have no end (if they are identified as a member of al-Qaeda or an alleged affiliate, or have planned or carried out an attack on the United States), ending a long and entirely appropriate tradition of trying terror suspects in federal court for their alleged crimes, and Sections 1033 and 1034, which seek to prevent the closure of Guantánamo by imposing onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, and banning the use of funds to purchase an alternative prison anywhere else. I have previously remarked on these depressing developments in articles in July and October, as they have had a horribly long period of gestation, in which no one with a grip on reality — and admiration for the law — has been able to wipe them out.

The four sections are connected, as cheerleaders for the mandatory military detention of terror suspects want them to be sent to Guantánamo, and have done, if I recall correctly, at least since Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the failed Christmas plane bomber in 2009, was arrested, read his Miranda rights, and interrogated by the FBI. Recently, Abdulmutallab, who told his interrogators all they wanted to know without being held in military custody — and, for that matter, without being tortured, which is what the hardcore cheerleaders for military detention also want — was tried and convicted in a federal court.

Hundreds of other terror suspects have been successfully prosecuted in federal court, throughout the Bush years, and under Obama, but supporters of military custody like to forget this, as it conflicts with their notions, held since the aftermath of 9/11 and the Bush administration’s horrendous flight from the law, that terrorists are warriors. Underpinning it all is the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the founding document of the “war on terror,” passed the week after the 9/11 attacks. This authorizes the President to pursue anyone, anywhere who he thinks was involved in the 9/11 attacks, and it is a dreadfully open-ended excuse for endless war whose repeal I have long encouraged, but which some lawmakers have been itching to renew, even after the death of Osama bin Laden, and the obvious incentives for the winding-down of the ruinous, decade-long “war on terror.” Read the rest of this entry »

Hellhole: The Most Devastating Article About Long-Term Solitary Confinement in US Prisons, and Why It Is Torture

With contested claims that the three-week long hunger strike in California’s prisons has come to an end (as I discussed in a recent article, The California Prison Hunger Strike Opposing Solitary Confinement as Torture — and the Insulting Response of Prison Officials), the horrendous human rights abuses in America’s prisons may once more slip off the radar, which would be a depressing development, as the hunger strike that began in Pelican Bay prison — and specifically in the Security Housing Units, where prisoners are held in solitary confinement, often for years and often for reasons that have nothing to do with them posing a threat to anyone or having engaged in violent behaviour — is highlighting a problem that is largely ignored in the mainstream US media.

That problem, in a nutshell, is that at least 100,000 prisoners in America’s prisons — both in “supermax” facilities and in other prisons — are held in long-term solitary confinement, which, to be blunt, is a form of torture.

In the hope of providing convincing information about this horrendous problem at the heart of America, I’m cross-posting below a wonderfully thorough article on the whole problem of solitary confinement that was written by Atul Gawande, a US surgeon and journalist, for the New Yorker in 2009. The article covers everything that need to be considered if — and it’s a big if — the American people want to step back from barbarity and address the fundamental problems with their approach to prison, in which far too many people are imprisoned, and far too many of those are being imprisoned inhumanely,subjected to isolation that is so damaging that the use of the word torture to describe it is not an exaggeration. Read the rest of this entry »

Congress and the Dangerous Drive Towards Creating a Military State

“Some issues,” the New York Times declared in an editorial on June 25, “require an unwavering stand. Preserving the role of law enforcement agencies in stopping and punishing terrorists is one of them. This country is not and should never be a place where the military dispenses justice, other than to its own.”

Fine words, indeed, although the Times itself has, over the last ten years, in common with most, if not all of the American establishment, failed to thoroughly and repeatedly condemn efforts, first by George W. Bush, and then by the Obama administration, to hold military trials for the mixed bag of soldiers and terrorist suspects held at Guantánamo.

This is where the rot set in, for which everyone in a position of authority, whether in politics or the media, bears responsibility. However, the failure to stem the poison flowing from this wound to the established order — in which terrorists are criminals, and soldiers are not terrorists — has led to an outrageous situation in which lawmakers (both Republicans and Democrats) have decided that the aberrations introduced by the Bush administration, which should, by now, have been thoroughly discredited, were, instead, just the first steps in the creation of an all-encompassing military state.

In this dystopian future, coming to America within months, if lawmakers are successful, anyone regarded as a terrorist must be held in military detention, where, it is planned, they may be subjected to abuse with impunity, and, if required, held forever without a trial and without any rights. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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