Really? Trump Lawyer Argues in Court that Guantánamo Prisoners Can Be Held for 100 Years Without Charge or Trial

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).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.

 

Last Wednesday, as I flagged up in a well-received article the day before, lawyers for eleven of the 40 prisoners still held at Guantánamo finally got the opportunity to follow up on a collective habeas corpus filing that they submitted to the District Court in Washington D.C. on January 11, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison. The filing, submitted by lawyers from organizations including the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Reprieve on behalf of 11 of the remaining 40 prisoners, argued, as CCR described it after the hearing, that “their perpetual detention, based on Trump’s proclamation that he will not release anyone from Guantánamo regardless of their circumstances, is arbitrary and unlawful.”

CCR added that the motions of eight of the 11 men were referred to Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan, who heard the argument today”, and stated that the lawyers had “asked the judge to order their release.”

CCR Legal Director Baher Azmy, who argued the case in court, said after the hearing, “Our dangerous experiment in indefinite detention, after 16 years, has run its course. Due process of law does not permit the arbitrary detention of individuals, particularly at the hands of a president like Donald Trump, who has pledged to prevent any releases from Guantánamo. That position is based not on a meaningful assessment of any actual threat, but on Trump’s animosity towards Muslims, including these foreign-born prisoners at Guantanamo — the height of arbitrariness. Short of judicial intervention, Trump will succeed.” Read the rest of this entry »

Tomorrow, Lawyers Will Argue in Court That Donald Trump’s Guantánamo Policy Is “Arbitrary, Unlawful, and Motivated by Executive Hubris and Anti-Muslim Animus”

Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan of the District Court in Washington, D.C. and a photo of prisoners at Guantanamo on the day of the prison's opening, January 11, 2002. 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 a big day for Guantánamo tomorrow, as lawyers for eleven prisoners still held at the prison will be arguing before Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan in the District Court in Washington, D.C. that, as the New York-based Center for Constitutonal Rights describe it, “[Donald] Trump’s proclamation that he will not release anyone from Guantánamo regardless of their circumstances is arbitrary, unlawful, and motivated by executive hubris and anti-Muslim animus.”

The lawyers submitted a habeas corpus petition for the men on January 11 this year, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison, as I explained in an article at the time, entitled, As Guantánamo Enters Its 17th Year of Operations, Lawyers Hit Trump with Lawsuit Stating That His Blanket Refusal to Release Anyone Amounts to Arbitrary Detention.

As I also explained in that article, “The eleven men are: Tawfiq al-Bihani (ISN 893) aka Tofiq or Toffiq al-Bihani, a Yemeni who was approved for release by Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010, Abdul Latif Nasser (ISN 244) aka Abdu Latif Nasser, a Moroccan approved for release in 2016 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process, and nine others whose ongoing imprisonment was upheld by their PRBs: Yemenis Zohair al-Sharabi aka Suhail Sharabi (ISN 569), Said Nashir (ISN 841), Sanad al-Kazimi (ISN 1453) and Sharqawi al-Hajj (ISN 1457), Pakistanis Abdul Rabbani (ISN 1460) and Ahmed Rabbani (ISN 1461), the Algerian Saeed Bakhouche (ISN 685), aka Said Bakush, mistakenly known as Abdul Razak or Abdul Razak Ali, Abdul Malik aka Abdul Malik Bajabu (ISN 10025), a Kenyan, and one of the last men to be brought to the prison — inexplicably — in 2007, and Abu Zubaydah (ISN 10016), one of Guantánamo’s better-known prisoners, a stateless Palestinian, for whom the post-9/11 torture program was initially conceived, under the mistaken belief that he was a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda.”

On January 18, as I explained in a follow-up article, Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly (who ruled on several Guantánamo habeas corpus cases before the appeals court gutted habeas corpus of all meaning for the prisoners) responded, “requiring the government to explain its Guantánamo policy with respect to the men now petitioning the court,” as Scott Roehm, the Washington Director of the Center for Victims of Torture, explained in an article for Just Security, adding, “Specifically, the judge ordered the government to provide the following information by Feb. 16.”

In response, as I explained in another article, the government claimed that, because “the laws of war permit the detention of enemy combatants for the duration of a conflict,” the petititoners “are not entitled to release simply because the conflict for which they were detained — the non-international armed conflict between the United States and its coalition partners against al Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces — has been lengthy.”

Lawyers for the prisoners then responded by stating, “The government’s opposition proceeds as if the continuing detention of Petitioners for up to 16 years without charge or trial and without prospect of release by the Trump administration is utterly normal. It is not normal — as a matter of fact and law,” and further explaining that “the government cannot dispute the Trump administration’s stated determination to foreclose any transfers, regardless of individual facts and circumstances — including of those Petitioners cleared for transfer,” and that “there is no legal support for perpetual detention of this sort,” and that “[p]erpetual non-criminal detention violates due process.”

Revisiting these arguments, CCR stated, in a press release a few days ago, “The government maintains that the continuing detention of our clients without charge or trial, and without a prospect of release, is normal. But it is not normal, as a matter of fact and law. We argue that the petitioners’ perpetual detentions violate the Due Process clause of the Constitution and the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). These ‘forever prisoners’ may never leave Guantánamo alive, unless the court intervenes.”

Reporting on the case, the Guardian explained that, unfortunately, the prisoners “will not be allowed to listen to oral arguments at their own hearing, as the Guantánamo administration said there [was] no single room at the camp where they could all be put in restraints while listening to a live feed,” adding that the court “accepted the absence of a room big enough for all the petitioners to be shackled to the floor as a valid reason for them not to hear a direct broadcast of their hearing, and that a recording or transcript at a later date was an adequate substitute.”

The Guardian then discussed the case of Tawfiq al-Bihani, who is represented by Reprieve, one of the organizations involved in the habeas petition, describing how he is “a Saudi-born Yemeni who was arrested in Iran in 2002, where he had fled bombing in Afghanistan,” and who “was flown back to Afghanistan and ultimately transferred to the US authorities.”

The Guardian added that, “According to his lawyers, he was handed over for a price, at a time when bounties were paid for bearded Arabs caught in the region around Afghanistan,” and, “According to the Senate Intelligence committee[‘s torture report, whose executive summary was made public in December 2014], he was taken to a CIA ‘black site’ secret interrogation centre, where he was one of 33 inmates subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques,’ before being flown to Guantánamo.”

The Guardian also noted that al-Bihani “was cleared of any involvement in terrorism by US intelligence agencies in January 2010 and given his release papers on three occasions,” and, in 2016, “was even measured for new clothes he was going to wear on being freed, but his release was cancelled at the last minute.”

The Guardian also explained how the Trump administration “has continued to hold him citing ‘a variety of substantive concerns relevant to [his] circumstances, including factors not related to [Bihani] himself,’” prompting al-Bihani himself to ask, “What good is having a court case when there is no hope of justice?” according to his lawyers. He added, “I am still sitting here. Hearing about my court case just gets my hopes up, and my emotions go up and down like a see-saw. I’m happier without the meetings.”

Speaking of the prisoners’ exclusion from their own hearing, Shelby Sullivan-Bennis of Reprieve told the Guardian, “This latest affront to fairness and justice should shock every American, but sadly it doesn’t surprise us. None of the men Reprieve represents has ever been charged with a crime, and two have been cleared for transfer, but they remain stuck in Guantánamo, apparently indefinitely. That the US government now claims they can’t safely be chained to the floor, to hear their own lawyers argue that they should be tried or released, is the latest sick twist in a shameful saga with no end in sight.”

As the Guardian also explained, al-Bihani “has passed his 15 years on Guantánamo writing poetry and has more recently began painting in acrylics,” as his lawyers explained, adding that he also “watches wildlife documentaries, plays football and is following the World Cup.” The lawyers also explained that he is from “a family of 12 siblings,” and that his mother died during his long imprisonment.

“I am able to see the ocean here,” al-Bihani said to his lawyers, adding, “When I feel upset, seeing the ocean helps me go into a trance and deal with my emotions. I have not lost hope, but I got used to the rhythm here. It is the first place I have lived for this long. Before, at home, I was always moving.”

The Guardian also explained how Reprieve has pointed out how ruinously expensive it is to keep prisoners at Guantánamo, stating that “every day al-Bihani spends in Guantánamo costs the US $29,000. Altogether, it has cost more than $170m to keep him in the camp without charge.” On the mainland, in contrast, it costs only a little more than $29,000 to hold a prisoner for an entire year.

In its publicity before tomorrow’s hearing, CCR focused on their client Sharqawi Al Hajj, described as “a 43-year-old Yemeni who has been detained without charge for over 16 years, who is sick and on hunger strike, and for whom the prospect of years more in Guantánamo may mean a death sentence.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from six years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of a new documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, The Complete Guantánamo Files, the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Obama’s Mixed Messages on Guantánamo, as Justice Department Tells Judge Not to Intervene in Case of 75-Pound Hunger Striker at Risk of Death

Members of the campaigning group Witness Against Torture hold up a banner featuring an image of Tariq Ba Odah outside the White House in June 2015 (Photo: Matt Daloisio via Flickr).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.

One day, when we’re looking back on Guantánamo and apportioning blame to those who contributed most powerfully to its cruelty, and to keeping it open long after the most senior officials in two governments conceded that it should be closed, a spotlight will be shone on the lawyers in the Civil Division of the Justice Department who have worked so assiduously to prevent prisoners from being released.

I have criticized these lawyers occasionally, but I have rarely heard any criticism of them in the mainstream media, and yet, from the moment that the Supreme Court granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights in Rasul v. Bush in June 2004, they have been making life difficult for lawyers representing the prisoners, micro-managing their meetings with their clients and their travel arrangements, and often, it is impossible not to conclude, in an effort to obstruct the lawyers’ ability to represent their clients.

In addition, as I noted in an article in August, the Civil Division lawyers “have fought tooth and nail against every single habeas petition submitted by the prisoners, with just one exception — the severely ill Sudanese prisoners Ibrahim Idris, whose petition was granted unopposed in 2013.” I added, “Disgracefully, the Justice Department lawyers have repeatedly challenged habeas petitions submitted by prisoners whose release has already been approved by the Guantánamo Review Task Force,” the high-level, inter-agency task force set up by President Obama shortly after taking office in January 2009, which issued its final report a year later, recommending 156 men for release, 36 for trials and 48 others for ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, on the alarming basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” but that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

“Indefinite Detention is the Worst Form of Torture”: A Guantánamo Prisoner Speaks

On March 28, 2013, lawyers for Musa’ab al-Madhwani, a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, and a victim of torture at a “black site” in Afghanistan in 2002, prior to his arrival at the prison, submitted an emergency motion to US District Court Judge Thomas F. Hogan, in which they reported what al-Madhwani, held for the last ten and a half years, had told them in a phone call on March 25.

At the time, the emergency motion attracted some media attention because of al-Madhwani’s claims that prisoners were being denied access to drinking water and subjected to freezing cold temperatures in an attempt to break the ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo. The hunger strike, which I have been covering assiduously, began two months ago, but the US authorities only reluctantly began to acknowledge its existence around three weeks ago, and although their response to al-Madhwani’s claims was an attempt to brush them aside, there are no valid reasons for trusting the authorities instead of al-Madhwani.

Col. John Bogdan, who responded to al-Madhwani’s complaints, oversees the prisoners at Guantánamo, and has explicitly been blamed by them for the deteriorating conditions of their detention, whereas al-Madhwani was described by Judge Hogan as a “model prisoner” over three years ago, when he denied his habeas corpus petition. Because of his perception that government allegations about a tenuous connection between al-Madhwani and al-Qaeda were correct (even though al-Madhwani continues to insist that no such connection existed), Judge Hogan said, as the Washington Post described it, that the government had met its burden in proving the accusations,” although “he did not think Madhwani was dangerous.” 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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