Last week at Guantánamo, a farcical dance played out, as it does every six months or so. Representatives of the US mainstream media — and other reporters from around the world — flew to the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to witness the latest round of the seemingly interminable pre-trial hearings in the cases of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of masterminding, or otherwise facilitating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on New York and Washington D.C.
The farce of the Guantánamo trials is, by now, well established, although last week’s hearings introduced the novelty of a hidden hand, unknown even to the judge, flicking an invisible switch to silence potentially embarrassing testimony, and the proceedings also took place against the backdrop of two courtroom appeals that have dealt savage blows to the claimed legitimacy of the commissions.
In the case of the 9/11 trial, a permanent feature is the seemingly insoluble tussle between the prosecution and the defense. On the one hand are the attorneys for the accused, whose job is to try and ensure that their clients do not receive unfair trials. This involves attempting, incessantly, to point out the elephant in the room — the fact that all the men were held for many years in “black sites” run by the CIA, where they were subjected to torture, approved at the highest levels of the government during the Bush administration, even though torture is a crime. On the other hand are the prosecutors, whose job, above all, appears to be to hide all mention of torture. In the middle is the judge — in the case of the “high-value detainees,” Army Col. James L. Pohl, who replaced Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann as the Chief Presiding Officer for the Military Commissions on January 6, 2009. Read the rest of this entry »
In the last two weeks, the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay enjoyed a brief resurgence of interest as pre-trial hearings took place in the cases of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of directing and supporting the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national accused of masterminding the attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in October 2000, in which 17 US sailors were killed, when suicide bombers blew up a bomb-laden boat beside the warship.
Guantánamo has largely been ignored during the Presidential election campaign, even though 166 men still languish there, and over half of them — 86 men in total — have been cleared for release for at least three years (although in many cases for far longer), and one of these men — Adnan Latif, a Yemeni — died in September, eight years after the authorities first decided that they had no interest in holding him any longer.
The ongoing detention of these men ought to be a major news story, but instead it is generally overlooked, and the media’s attention is largely reserved for pre-trial hearings in the cases of the men mentioned above, even though these hearings are generally inconclusive, and involve prosecutors following the government’s position — which focuses on hiding all mention of torture by US forces — while the prisoners’ defense teams argue that justice cannot be delivered if the torture of these men is not mentioned. Read the rest of this entry »
The last time the US government wheeled out Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other men accused of initiating and being involved in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 was in May this year, and, as is usual, the mainstream media turned out in force. That occasion was the formal arraignment of the men, and it was tempestuous, as the defendants largely refused to cooperate. This week, as pre-trial hearings resumed, the mainstream media also returned in force, for proceedings that largely focused on issues of secrecy and transparency.
The rest of the time, sadly, most of the mainstream media doesn’t care much about Guantánamo, even though the prison remains a national disgrace, a place where, beyond the handful of men accused of genuine involvement with terrorism, over half of the remaining 166 prisoners have been cleared for release but are still held, and 46 others are regarded as too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence exists to put them on trial.
In other contexts, this would mean that the so-called evidence is actually hearsay, or innuendo — and in fact even the most cursory investigation by serious reporters would reveal that most of what passes for evidence consists of dubious statements made by the prisoners about themselves and their fellow prisoners as a result of torture, other forms of abuse, and bribery. Read the rest of this entry »
Exactly 25 years ago, on June 26, 1987, the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force, and in December 1997, the UN General Assembly proclaimed June 26 the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, “with a view to the total eradication of torture and the effective functioning of the Convention against Torture.”
As is painfully clear today, despite the support of 150 countries, the use of torture is still rife, and many of the countries that claim to adhere to the Convention have, in fact, shown a cynical — and in some cases blatant — disregard for its provisions.
One of those countries is, of course, the United States of America, which, under President George W. Bush, cynically attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used on “high-value detainees” seized in the “war on terror” in a network of secret prisons, and, moreover, withdrew the protections of the Geneva Conventions from the prisoners in Guantánamo, who were also tortured, and also tortured prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq — most notoriously in Bagram, the “Dark Prison” and the “Salt Pit” in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib in Iraq, although its use was also widespread at other locations in Iraq.
To date, no one — beyond a few low-level personnel who did not design the abusive detention and interrogation regime that was introduced after 9/11 — has been held accountable for these crimes, and in the meantime, numerous torture victims — including 13 of the 14 “high-value detainees” who were delivered to Guantánamo in September 2006 from secret torture prisons run by the CIA, where they had been held for up to four and a half years — remain imprisoned, with no indication, for most of them, of when, if ever, they will even receive a trial. 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 »
Law-abiding US citizens have been appalled that Jose Rodriguez, the director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service until his retirement in 2007, was invited onto CBS’s “60 Minutes” program last weekend to promote his book Hard Measures: How Aggressive CIA Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives, in which he defends the use of torture on “high-value detainees” captured in the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” even though that was — and is — illegal under US and international law.
Rodriguez joins an elite club of war criminals — including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld — who, instead of being prosecuted for using torture, or authorizing its use, have, instead, been allowed to write books, go on book tours and appear on mainstream TV to attempt to justify their unjustifiable actions.
All claim to be protected by the “golden shield” offered by their inside man, John Yoo, part of a group of lawyers who aggressively pushed the lawlessness of the “war on terror.” Abusing his position as a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, whose mandate is to provide impartial legal advice to the executive branch, Yoo instead attempted to redefine torture and approved its use — including the use of waterboarding, an ancient torture technique and a form of controlled drowning — on an alleged “high-value detainee,” Abu Zubaydah, in two memos, dated August 1, 2002, that will forever be known as the “torture memos.” Read the rest of this entry »
In the last few weeks, Guantánamo has been under the spotlight as, for the first time since President Obama took office, the military commission trial system — the government’s preferred method for trying terror suspects held in Guantánamo — has been readied for trying “high-value detainees”; those who, as well as being held in Guantánamo, were previously held in “black sites” run by the CIA, where the use of torture was widespread.
This has always been a problem for the government — under George W. Bush as well as under Obama — because the use of torture is not only illegal, but information derived through its use cannot be used in US courts. To get around the first inconvenience, President Bush’s lawyers arranged for torture to be redefined, and, to overcome the second, the Bush administration initially brought the military commissions out of retirement with the intention that the prohibition on torture could be ignored.
When the first incarnation of the commissions was felled by the Supreme Court in June 2006, and Congress then dutifully brought the trial system back to life a few months later, the use of information derived through torture was banned, although gray areas were acceptable at the discretion of the military judges. To get around this, the Bush administration tried, at one point, to send in “clean teams” of FBI agents and military interrogators to try and persuade those who had been tortured to repeat their tortured confessions voluntarily. Presumably, there was as little concern about the accuracy of the confessions as there was when the men were first being tortured, because, as any expert can confirm, torture is not a useful method for extracting reliable information, but is very good for producing false confessions. Read the rest of this entry »
On Friday, I was delighted to be asked by Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio to discuss the ongoing shame of a world in which the prison at Guantánamo continues to remain open for business. The springboard for our interview was last week’s plea deal in the trial by military commission of Majid Khan, a Pakistani and former US resident, who was held for three and a half years in secret CIA prisons, where he was subjected to torture, after his capture in Pakistan in March 2003, and has been held in Guantánamo, with 13 other supposed “high-value detainees,” since September 2006. His plea deal is noteworthy because it indicates that Khan will be a witness in the trials of other, much more significant figures than himself — specifically, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the supposed mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.
The interview is here, but in the end Scott and I spent most of our 18-minute interview discussing my visit to Kuwait, and also the detention situation in Afghanistan. I was very glad that Scott had asked me about my visit to Kuwait, as it had been such a great insight into the background of the two remaining Kuwaiti prisoners, Fayiz al-Kandari and Fawzi al-Odah, and the context of their capture.
I wrote about that visit here and here –and videos of a TV show I took part in with the attorney Tom Wilner are here — and Scott provided me with a great opportunity to discuss the exaggerated fears about releasing prisoners, and the outstanding problems for the majority of the men still held — the fact that the US government continues to rely on fundamentally unreliable evidence (the man who claimed that Fayiz was a spiritual advisor to Osama bin Laden, for example, was the most notorious liar in Guantánamo), and the fact that, even if people had been in Afghanistan as foot soldiers for the Taliban, that is not the same thing as being involved in international terrorism. Moreover, in the cases of Fayiz and Fawzi, although both men lost their habeas corpus petitions, nothing resembling proof was actually provided to demonstrate that they had ever been involved in any anti-American activities. Read the rest of this entry »
Guantánamo briefly emerged from the shadows on Wednesday, when Majid Khan, a Pakistani national described as one of 14 “high-value detainees” when he arrived at Guantánamo in September 2006, after three and a half years in secret CIA prisons, appeared in public for the first time since his capture almost nine years ago.
Khan, now 32, pleaded guilty to five charges — conspiracy, murder and attempted murder in violation of the law of war, providing material support for terrorism and spying — as part of a plea deal designed to help him avoid spending the rest of his life imprisoned, and to help the US authorities to prosecute other “high-value detainees” also held in Guantánamo.
A resident of Baltimore from 1996 onwards, Khan was granted asylum in 1998, graduated from high school in 1999, and was working in computing when, in January 2002, he traveled to Pakistan, was introduced to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the “high-value detainee” who stated in his tribunal at Guantánamo in 2007 that he was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and apparently became involved with al-Qaeda until his capture at his home in Karachi on March 5, 2003. Read the rest of this entry »
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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