What Should Trump Do With the US Citizen Seized in Syria and Held in Iraq as an “Enemy Combatant”?

"Detainee Holding Cell": a US military sign, origin unknown.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

It’s nearly a month since my curiosity was first piqued by an article in the Daily Beast by Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman, reporting that a US citizen fighting for ISIS had been captured in Syria and was now in US custody. Ackerman followed up on September 20, when “leading national security lawyers” told him that the case of the man, who was being held by the US military as an “enemy combatant,” after surrendering to US-allied Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Syria around September 12, “could spark a far-reaching legal challenge that could have a catastrophic effect on the entire war against ISIS.”

At the time, neither the Defense Department nor the Justice Department would discuss what would happen to the unnamed individual, although, as Ackerman noted, “Should the Justice Department ultimately take custody of the American and charge him with a terrorism-related crime, further legal controversy is unlikely, at least beyond the specifics of his case.” However, if Donald Trump wanted to send him to Guantánamo (as he has claimed he wants to be able to do), that would be a different matter.

A Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Ben Sakrisson, told Ackerman that, according to George W. Bush’s executive order about “war on terror” detentions, issued on November 13, 2001, and authorizing the establishment of military commissions, “United States citizens are excluded from being tried by Military Commissions, but nothing in that document prohibits detaining US citizens who have been identified as unlawful enemy combatants.” Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump, Guantánamo and Torture: What Do We Need to Know?

An image made by supporters of Donald Trump based on his comments about Guantanamo.I wrote the following article (as “Donald Trump and Guantánamo: What Do We Need to Know?) 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.

So the bad news, on Guantánamo, torture, Islamophobia and war, is that, as Charlie Savage explained in the New York Times this week, “As a presidential candidate, Donald J. Trump vowed to refill the cells of the Guantánamo Bay prison and said American terrorism suspects should be sent there for military prosecution. He called for targeting mosques for surveillance, escalating airstrikes aimed at terrorists and taking out their civilian family members, and bringing back waterboarding and a ‘hell of a lot worse’ — not only because ‘torture works,’ but because even ‘if it doesn’t work, they deserve it anyway.’”

As Savage also noted, “It is hard to know how much of this stark vision for throwing off constraints on the exercise of national security power was merely tough campaign talk,” but it is a disturbing position for Americans — and the rest of the world — to be in, particularly with respect to the noticeable differences between Trump and Barack Obama.

The outgoing president has some significant failures against his name, which will be discussed in detail below, but America’s first black president did not, of course, appoint a white supremacist to be his chief strategist and Senior Counselor, as Trump has done with Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, an alarming far-right US website. Nor did he call for a “total and complete shutdown” of America’s borders to Muslims, as Trump did last December, and nor did he suggest that there should be a registry of all Muslims, as Trump did last November. 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 »

Shameful: US Judge Increases Prison Sentence of Tortured US Enemy Combatant Jose Padilla

Of the tens of thousands of victims of the Bush administration’s novel approach to detention in the “war on terror” — which involved shredding the Geneva Conventions, the use of torture and indefinite detention without charge or trial, and, in some cases, extraordinary rendition —  few of the victims were American citizens, but three particular individuals need to be remembered, because they were not only tortured and held without charge or trial for years, but their torture and lawless detention took place on US soil.

The three men are Jose Padilla, Yaser Hamdi and Ali al-Marri (the latter a legal US resident rather than a citizen), and Padilla — a former Chicago gang member who converted to Islam, and was held as an “enemy combatant” on US soil from May 2002, when he was seized after returning him from Pakistan, until November 2005 — was back in the news last week when a judge extended to 21 years the sentence of 17 years and four months he received in January 2008, when he was convicted of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people abroad, and providing material support for terrorism.

The sentence was a disgrace, as I explained at the time in an article entitled, “Why Jose Padilla’s 17-year prison sentence should shock and disgust all Americans,” because of Padilla’s torture, which had destroyed his mind, because the judge prohibited all mention of his torture during the trial, and because the “dirty bomb plot” he had allegedly been involved in had turned out to be non-existent, and his trial and sentence was based instead on his involvement in a handful of phone calls that made reference to jihad. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Does the Government So Desperately Want Indefinite Detention for Terror Suspects?

What is the government doing? Last year, when Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), with its contentious passages endorsing the mandatory military detention of terror suspects, there was uproar across the political spectrum from Americans who believed that it would be used on US citizens.

In fact, it was unclear whether or not this was the case. The NDAA was in many ways a follow-up to the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks, which authorized the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

As confirmed by the Supreme Court in June 2004, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the NDAA also allowed those seized — who were allegedly involved with al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban — to be held until the end of hostilities. The AUMF was, and remains the basis for the detention of prisoners at Guantánamo, but on two occasions President Bush decided that it applied to US citizens — in the cases of Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi, who were held on US soil as “enemy combatants” and subjected to torture. Read the rest of this entry »

Pentagon Report into the Drugging of Guantánamo Prisoners Is Released

Ten and a half years into the Guantánamo experiment, as it becomes ever harder for those who are still appalled by the prison’s existence, and by the failures of all three branches of the US government — under Barack Obama — to close it, my friends and colleagues Jeffrey Kaye and Jason Leopold are to be commended for not giving up, and for digging away at the secrets that still shroud Guantánamo, and that, moreover, are still capable of providing a shock when uncovered, even if they are generally ignored by the mainstream media.

On Wednesday, the mainstream media decided to pay attention for a change, and Jeff and Jason’s report on a drugging scandal at Guantánamo, published on Truthout, where Jason is the lead investigative reporter and Jeff, a full-time psychologist, is also a regular contributor, was picked up by mainstream media outlets including the Associated Press, AFP and Britain’s Daily Mail.

Their article was based on the release of a Pentagon report, “Investigation of Allegations of the Use of Mind-Altering Drugs to Facilitate Interrogations of Detainees” that they requested through Freedom of Information legislation two years ago, and it paints a depressing story of prisoners at Guantánamo being given given powerful anti-psychotic medication and then, on occasions, interrogated, even though they were in no fit state to answer questions competently. Read the rest of this entry »

Still No Accountability for Torture

Last week, the bad news from the Supreme Court was not just manifested in the court’s decision to abdicate its responsibilities towards the prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, by turning down appeals submitted by seven of the 169 men still held, although that was a dreadful decision, establishing, as it did, that the D.C. Circuit Court could continue in its mission to extinguish the habeas corpus rights that had been granted to the prisoners by the Supreme Court in June 2008.

However, it was also accompanied by a refusal to consider an appeal by Jose Padilla, the US citizen held as an “enemy combatant” in a military brig on the US mainland for three and half years from June 2002 to November 2005, and tortured, particularly through the use of prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation and sensory deprivation.

On May 2, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in California, reversed a lower court decision (PDF) allowing Padilla to pursue a lawsuit against John Yoo, the Justice Department lawyer who wrote the notorious “torture memos,” in which he cynically attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA. Padilla — and his mother, Estela Lebron — sought to hold Yoo “liable for damages they allege they suffered” during his “unlawful” detention, which was “in violation of his constitutional and statutory rights,” but the court disagreed. As Scott Horton explained for Harper’s Magazine: Read the rest of this entry »

US Judge Rules Against Military Detention of US Terror Suspects – But What About the Foreigners in Guantánamo?

Last week, in New York, a US judge, District Judge Katherine Forrest, took a stand against a contentious provision inserted into the current National Defense Authorization Act (PDF), ruling that it was unconstitutional for lawmakers to demand that, in future, those accused of involvement with terrorism — including US citizens and residents — must be subjected to mandatory military custody, and held indefinitely without charge or trial (PDF).

The provision (Section 1021), designed to allow detention without trial until the end of the hostilities in the “war on terror,” is meant to apply to anyone “who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks,” or anyone “who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.”

Of particular concern to the plaintiffs in the case — led by the journalist Chris Hedges, and also including Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, the Icelandic parliamentarian and WikiLeaks activist Birgitta Jónsdóttir, Kai Wargalla of Occupy London, and the US journalists and activists Jennifer Bolen and Alexa O’Brien — was the inclusion of anyone who “has directly supported … hostilities in aid of such enemy forces,” because they perceived that it could apply to speech, or the written word, endangering journalists and activists, for example, and would contravene Americans’ First Amendment rights. Read the rest of this entry »

John Yoo: A Fugitive from Justice, With the Help of the US Courts, in the Torture of Jose Padilla

Three weeks ago, Jose Padilla, a US citizen and a notorious victim of torture by representatives of his own government, had a courtroom door shut firmly in his face, when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in California, reversed a lower court decision (PDF) allowing Padilla — held as an “enemy combatant” in a military brig on the US mainland from 2002 to 2005, and isolated and tortured so severely that he lost his mind — to pursue a lawsuit against John Yoo.

A law professor at UC Berkeley, Yoo worked for the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in the early years of the “war on terror,” as part of Dick Cheney’s inner circle of lawyers pushing to eradicate existing laws preventing arbitary detention and torture, and it was for the OLC — which is supposed to provide impartial legal advice to the executive branch — that he wrote a notorious series of memos — the “torture memos” — in which he cynically attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA. This was a decision that not only led to the CIA torturing prisoners in its own secret prisons, in Thailand, Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Morocco, but also infected the whole of the US military. Not uncoincidentally, Yoo’s boss at the OLC was Jay S. Bybee, who signed off on the “torture memos,” and is now a judge on — wait for it! — the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Analyzing this scandalous denial of justice (and also the D.C. Circuit Court’s equally unjust interventions to gut habeas corpus of all meaning for the Guantanamo prisoners, most recently in the case of Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a Yemeni whose story I covered here), Scott Horton of Harper’s Magazine wrote a powerful article in which, after noting that “one of the lasting challenges to America’s federal judiciary will be addressing American complicity in the tortures and disappearances of the past ten years,” he explained that Padilla v. Yoo and Latif v. Obama “show us how judicial panels are tackling these issues: by shielding federal officials and their contractors from liability, and even by glorifying the fruits of their dark arts. In the process, legal prohibitions on torture are being destroyed through secrecy and legal sleight of hand, and our justice system is being distorted and undermined.” Read the rest of this entry »

As the Underwear Bomber Receives a Life Sentence in Federal Court, Lawmakers’ Obsession with Military Trials Looks Idiotic

Last Thursday, February 16, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called “underwear bomber,” received a life sentence in a courtroom in Detroit. Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, had tried and failed to blow up a plane bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, receiving serious burns when the bomb failed to detonate.

After he was apprehended, he was read his Miranda rights, and interrogated non-coercively by the FBI, but this was not acceptable to supporters of torture, who proceeded to demonstrate that a new phase of fearmongering and paranoia was opening up in what should, by then, have been the dying days of the “war on terror.”

In this new spirit of hysteria, the discovery that he had been recruited for his failed mission in Yemen led to a chorus of demands that no more Guantánamo prisoners should be released to Yemen — from Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich.), Rep. Peter King (R-NY), and even Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, who told Politico, “In terms of sending more of them to return to Yemen, it would be a bit of a reach. I’d, at a minimum, say that whatever we were about to do we’d at least have to scrub it again from top to bottom.” 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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