Missing the Point on the Guantánamo Taliban Prisoner Swap and the Release of Bowe Bergdahl

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 Saturday, at the White House, President Obama announced that, in exchange for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, held for five years by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network, he had released five Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo to Qatar.

Although the announcement was initially greeted positively, the president was soon under pressure from critics claiming that the five men were “battle-hardened Taliban commanders,” as the Washington Post put it, whose release posed a threat to America’s national security.

Some of the critical voices also claimed that Bowe Bergdahl was a deserter who should have been abandoned, and others chided President Obama for failing to notify Congress 30 days before the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, as required by the National Defense Authorization Act. Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo, Free the Afghans

In the coverage of the ongoing, prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which is now in its fourth month, there has been widespread recognition that it is unacceptable to indefinitely detain the 86 prisoners (out of 166 in total) who were cleared for release over three years ago by the President’s own inter-agency task force. These men are still held because of Presidential inertia, Congressional obstruction, and the failures of some branches of the US judiciary to uphold justice.

56 of these 86 men are Yemenis, and, in some quarters, it has also been accepted that the ban President Obama imposed on releasing cleared Yemenis from Guantánamo, following a failed airline bomb plot on Christmas Day 2009 that was hatched in Yemen, constitutes collective punishment, and is also fundamentally unacceptable because it means that prisoners whose release was recommended by the President’s own task force continue to be detained not because of what they have done, but because of what they might do in future.

Of the 30 others, however, there has been little or no discussion beyond a recognition that one of them, Shaker Aamer, a British resident with a British wife and four British children, could and should be released immediately.

Around a dozen of these 30 men cannot be repatriated, as they are from countries to which it is not safe to return — China, for example, in the case of the three remaining Uighur prisoners (Muslims from Xinjiang province who face government persecution), and war-torn Syria, which has four cleared prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

US in Talks to Return the 17 Afghan Prisoners in Guantánamo

Earlier this year, there was much discussion in the US media about the possibility that, as part of negotiations aimed at securing peace in Afghanistan, the US would release five high-level Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo to Qatar, where they would be held under a form of house arrest.

Those plans came to nothing, but last week the Associated Press reported that the Obama administration was “considering a new gambit to restart peace talks with the Taliban,” which would involve some — or all — of the 17 remaining Afghan prisoners still held in Guantánamo being transferred to Afghanistan, to be held in the Parwan Detention Facility near Bagram, the huge prison established to replace the original prison at Bagram, where several prisoners were killed in the early years of the “war on terror.”

As part of the Obama administration’s 2014 deadline for withdrawing forces from Afghanistan, the Parwan Detention Facility is scheduled to be transferred to Afghan control in September this year, and the fate of the remaining Afghans in Guantánamo is clearly part of the negotiations for all parties involved — the Taliban and the Karzai government, as well as the US. Read the rest of this entry »

The “Taliban Five” and the Forgotten Afghan Prisoners in Guantánamo

In the last three months, much discussion has focused on the possibility that, as part of negotiations aimed at securing peace in Afghanistan, the US would release five high-level Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo. Almost entirely forgotten are 12 other Afghan prisoners at Guantánamo, who are mostly so insignificant that they have no one to lobby for them, and are being rather disgracefully overlooked.

The first information about discussions regarding the release of prisoners emerged in a Reuters article on December 19 last year, which explained how secret negotiations between the US government and the Taliban had begun ten months earlier. As part of “the accelerating, high-stakes diplomacy,” Reuters explained, the US was “considering the transfer of an unspecified number of Taliban prisoners from the Guantánamo Bay military prison into Afghan government custody.”

The day after, at a UN Security Council debate on Afghanistan, the Afghan deputy foreign minister Jawed Ludin “stressed the government’s determination to pursue reconciliation efforts despite Taliban attacks and assassinations,” as AFP described it. “We believe the process may benefit from the establishment of an office, within or outside Afghanistan, whereby formal talks between relevant Afghan authorities and representatives of armed opposition, including the Taliban, could be facilitated,” Ludin told the council, and AFP noted that Afghan authorities had “put forward Saudi Arabia or Turkey as the best places to set up a Taliban liaison office abroad to enable peace talks to end the devastating 10-year insurgency.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo and the Death of Habeas Corpus

Last month, the third anniversary of Boumediene v. Bush (on June 12) passed without mention. This was a great shame, not only because it was a powerful ruling, granting the Guantánamo prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights, but also because, after that bold intervention, which led to the release of 26 prisoners who subsequently won their habeas corpus petitions, the prisoners at Guantánamo have once more been abandoned by the courts.

The courts’ failure has come about largely because a number of judges in the D.C. Circuit Court, where appeals against the habeas rungs are filed, have revealed themselves to be at least as right-wing as the architects of the “War on Terror” in the Bush administration. Led by Judge A. Raymond Randolph, whose previous claim to fame on national security issues was that he supported every piece of Guantánamo-related legislation that was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court, the Circuit Court has, in the last year, succeeded in gutting habeas corpus of all meaning, when its relief is sought by any of the 171 men still held at Guantánamo.

Throughout this year, I have followed, with despair, the Circuit Court’s rulings, which are distressing on two fronts: firstly, because judges have whittled away at the lower courts’ demands that the government establish its case “by a preponderance of the evidence,” which is a very low standard in the first place; and secondly, because the Circuit Court has reinforced the misconception at the heart of the “War on Terror,” almost delighting, it seems, in failing to acknowledge that soldiers are different from terrorists. 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 (The State of London).
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