The Messed-Up Trial of the Century: Lawdragon’s Exhaustive Report on the 9/11 Pre-Trial Hearings at Guantánamo

The co-defendants in the painfully slow-moving and contentious 9/11 trial at Guantanamo. From top to bottom: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali (aka Ammar al-Baluchi) and Walid bin Attash.The military commissions at Guantánamo, as I have been reporting for ten years, are a shamefully deficient excuse for justice, a system dreamt up in the heat of America’s post-9/11 sorrow, when hysteria and vengeance trumped common sense and a respect for the law, and it was decided, by senior Bush administration officials and their lawyers, that prisoners seized in the “war on terror” and subjected to torture should be tried in a system that allowed the use of information derived through the use of torture, and swiftly found guilty and executed.

Military prosecutors, however, soon turned against the system and pointedly resigned, and in 2006 the Supreme Court ruled the whole system illegal. Nevertheless, the Bush administration, with the enthusiastic support of Congress, revived the commissions in the fall of 2006, followed by further resignations (see here and here), and a third version of the commissions ill-advisedly emerged under President Obama in his first year in office (see here and here). The commissions have been tweaked to be less unjust, but they are still a Frankenstein’s Monster facsimile of a working trial system, full of so many holes that it is difficult for them to function at all, and at their heart is the specter of torture, which the government endlessly tries to hide, while the prisoners’ defence teams, of course, try constantly to expose it, as no fair trial can take place without it being discussed.

In recent years, my coverage of the commissions has been less thorough than it was between 2007 and the summer of 2014, largely because it seemed to me that the commissions were so broken and were going round and round in circles so pointlessly that it was no longer even worth trying to follow what was — or, more often, what wasn’t — happening. In one way, this was a fair reflection of the futility of the commissions’ efforts to secure anything resembling justice, but the more fundamental reality was that, however broken the proceedings may have been, pre-trial hearings were still taking place, however little they were being reported, which, one day, would constitute a damning indictment of America’s post-9/11 flight from justice and the law, and its embrace of torture and indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial. As a result, the commissions really ought not to be allowed to drop off the radar. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo’s Military Commissions: More Chaos in the Cases of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri and Majid Khan

"High-value detainee" Majid Khan, photographed at Guantanamo in 2009.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2700 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

At Guantánamo, as I have been reporting recently, the military commissions, a broken trial system ill-advisedly dragged out of historical retirement for prisoners seized in the “war on terror,” have reconvened after a summer break — see my articles Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions and Chief Defense Counsel of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions Calls Them a “Poisoned Chalice,” a Betrayal of the Constitution and the Law. Also see my updated Full List of Prisoners Charged in the Military Commissions at Guantánamo.

That the commissions are a poor substitute for justice can readily be understood from the fact that only eight convictions have been secured, and four of those have subsequently been overturned by appeals court judges, and from the realization that the only ongoing cases are almost permanently deadlocked because, on the one hand, prosecutors seek to hide the fact that the men facing trials were tortured, while on the other those defending the men insist that fair trial cannot take place until the torture is openly discussed.

The failures of the commissions have also been made clear in a recent appeals court ruling in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of involvement in the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and in a hearing at Guantánamo for Majid Khan, who first agreed to a plea deal over four and a half years ago, in February 2012, but who has not yet been sentenced. Read the rest of this entry »

Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

"End Guantanamo commissions: use fair trials" - an Amnesty International supporter outside the White House.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2800 (£2100) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

In the 15 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has systematically undermined many of the key values it claims to uphold as a nation founded on and respecting the rule of law, having embraced torture, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial, trials of dubious legality and efficacy, and extra-judicial execution.

The Bush administration’s torture program — so devastatingly exposed in the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the program, published in December 2014 — no longer exists, but no one has been held accountable for it. In addition, as the psychologist and journalist Jeffrey Kaye has pointed out, although ostensibly outlawed by President Obama in an executive order issued when he took office, the use of torture is permitted, in particular circumstances, in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual.

When it comes to extrajudicial execution, President Obama has led the way, disposing of perceived threats through drone attacks — and although drones were used by President Bush, it is noticeable that their use has increased enormously under Obama. If the rendition, torture and imprisonment of those seized in the “war on terror” declared after the 9/11 attacks raised difficult ethical, moral and legal questions, killing people in drone attacks — even in countries with which the US is not at war, and even if they are US citizens — apparently does not trouble the conscience of the president, or the US establishment as a whole. Read the rest of this entry »

No Justice for 14 Tortured “High-Value Detainees” Who Arrived at Guantánamo Ten Years Ago

Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, three of the 14 "high-value detainees" who arrived at Guantanamo from CIA "black sites" ten years ago, on September 6, 2006.I wrote the following article (as “Tortured “High-Value Detainees” Arrived at Guantánamo Exactly Ten Years Ago, But Still There Is No Justice”) 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.

Ten years ago, on September 6, 2006, President Bush announced that secret CIA prisons, whose existence he had always denied, had in fact existed, but had now been closed down, and the prisoners held moved to Guantánamo.

14 men in total were transferred to Guantánamo. Three were named by President Bush — Abu Zubaydah, described as “a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden,” and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, allegedly involved in the 9/11 attacks. Biographies of the 14 were made available, and can be found here. They include three other men allegedly involved in the 9/11 attacks — Walid bin Attash, Ammar al-Baluchi (aka Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali) and Mustafa al-Hawsawi — plus Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, allegedly involved in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian allegedly involved in the US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, Majid Khan, a Pakistani alleged to be an al-Qaeda plotter in the US, the Indonesian Hambali and two Malaysians, Zubair and Lillie, the Libyan Abu Faraj al-Libi, and a Somali, Gouled Hassan Dourad.

After the men’s arrival, they were not heard from until spring 2007, when Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) were held, which were required to make them eligible for military commission trials. As I explained in my book The Guantánamo Files in 2007, KSM and Walid bin Attash confessed to involvement with terrorism, although others were far less willing to make any kind of confession. Ammar al-Baluchi, for example, a nephew of KSM, and another of the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators, denied advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, or of al-Qaeda. 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 »

Guantánamo “High-Value Detainee” Abu Faraj Al-Libi Seeks Release Via Periodic Review Board

Abu Faraj al-Libi, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.On August 16, Mustafa Faraj Muhammad Muhammad Mas’ud al-Jadid al-Uzaybi (ISN 10017), a Libyan prisoner in Guantánamo who is better known as Abu Faraj al-Libi, became the 59th prisoner to have his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board.

The PRBs — which include representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who had not already been approved for release or were facing trials as a result of the recommendations made in reviews conducted in 2009 by another high-level government review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force.

41 of the men judged to be eligible for PRBs were described by the task force as “too dangerous to release,” although the task force conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, meaning that it was not evidence at all, but — and on this the task force was silent — generally untrustworthy information extracted from prisoners subjected to torture or other forms of abuse, or from prisoners bribed with the promise of better living conditions. Read the rest of this entry »

Periodic Review Board Decides Yemeni at Guantánamo Still Poses A Threat 14 Years After Capture

Guantanamo prisoner Suhayl al-Sharabi (aka Zohair al-Shorabi) in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.I wrote the following article 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.

In its latest “Unclassified Summary of Final Determination,” a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo — a high-level review process involving representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — decided, by consensus, that “continued law of war detention” of Suhayl Abdul Anam al-Sharabi (aka Zohair al-Shorabi, ISN 569), a 38- or 39-year old Yemeni, “remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

The decision, dated March 31, 2016, and following on from his PRB on March 1, is not entirely surprising for two reasons — firstly, because of allegations levelled against al-Sharabi, suggesting that he was actually involved with terrorists, unlike the majority of prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened in January 2002, and, coupled with this, a failure on his part to show contrition, and to come up with a plan for his future.

In its determination, the board stated that its members had “considered the detainee’s past involvement with terrorist activities to include contacts with high-level al Qaeda figures, living with two of the 9/11 hijackers in Malaysia, and possible participation in KSM’s plot to conduct 9/11-style attacks in Southeast Asia. The Board noted the detainee’s refusal to admit the extent of his past activities, as well as his evasive and implausible responses to basic questions. Further, the Board considered the detainee’s defiant behavior while in detention, which has only recently changed to be more compliant, and the detainee’s lack of a credible plan for the future.” Read the rest of this entry »

The American Lawyer’s Six Guantánamo Bar Profiles: Thomas Wilner, David Remes, Jennifer Cowan, Wells Dixon, David Nevin and Lee Wolosky

Thomas Wilner of Shearman & Sterling (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi).

The November 2015 issue of The American Lawyer featured a “Special Report: The Guantánamo Bar,” consisting of six interviews with attorneys who have worked on Guantánamo. I’m cross-posting them below, as I think they will be of interest, and I also estimate that many of you will not have come across them previously.

The six lawyers featured were: Thomas Wilner of Shearman & Sterling; David Remes, formerly of Covington & Burling; Jennifer Cowan of Debevoise & Plimpton; J. Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Public Defender David Nevin; and Lee Wolosky of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. Wolosky was appointed last June as the White House’s special envoy for Guantánamo closure, while the rest have represented prisoners held at Guantánamo.

Thomas Wilner represented a number of Kuwaiti prisoners, and also represented the prisoners in their habeas corpus cases before the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008. He is co-founder, with me, of the Close Guantánamo campaign, launched in January 2012, through which, for the last four years, we have been attempting to educate people about why Guantánamo must be closed, and who is held there, and I’m pleased to note that The American Lawyer described him as “the most vocal proponent in the Guantánamo bar for the closure of the offshore prison.” Read the rest of this entry »

Obama Plans to Move 24 Guantánamo Prisoners to US Mainland, Send A Dozen for Trials in Other Countries

Campaigners in Florida call for the closure of Guantanamo outside the gates of US Southern Command, January 9, 2016 (Photo: Andy Worthington).I wrote the following article 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.

As the Countdown to Close Guantánamo continues, with over 150 people now having submitted photos of themselves holding posters telling President Obama how many days he has left to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay (see the photos here and here), Ben Fox of the Associated Press has provided an informative update about how the Obama administration plans to close the prison before President Obama leaves office.

With just 91 men left at Guantánamo, we have been calling for the 34 men currently approved for release to be released as soon as possible, for arrangements to be made for the men facing (or having faced) trials (just ten of those still held) to be moved to the US mainland, and for reviews to take place as swiftly as possible for the 47 other men, who are all eligible for Periodic Review Boards.

A high-level, inter-agency review process, the PRBs were set up in 2013 to ascertain whether to release or continue holding 46 men previously regarded as “too dangerous to release” (despite a lack of evidence against them) and 25 others recommended for prosecution in military commissions until the courts struck down the charges in most of the trials because they had been invented by Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

“America’s Shame,” Rolling Stone’s Detailed – and Damning – Article About Guantánamo

Prisoners regarded as "compliant" sharing communal facilities inside Guantanamo's Camp Six (Photo: JTF GTMO Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elisha Dawkins).As all eyes are focused on Iowa, on the first caucus of this year’s Presidential election race, I thought I’d cross-post an interesting article about Guantánamo that was recently published in Rolling Stone, written by Janet Reitman. This is a long and detailed article, taking as its springboard a visit to one of the pre-trial hearings in Guantánamo’s military commissions, the alternative trial system set up for the “war on terror,” at the particular instigation of Dick Cheney and his legal adviser David Addington, which seems able only to demonstrate, in its glacially slow proceedings, that it is unable to deliver justice.

I confess that, in recent years, I have rather taken my eye off the military commissions, although I commend those who still visit Guantánamo to write about them, chief amongst whom is Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald. I put together a detailed list of who has been charged — plus the eight convictions and the four verdicts that have subsequently been overturned — two years ago, and in that article I stated:

I’ve been covering the commissions since 2006, and I have never found that they have established any kind of legitimacy, compared to federal courts, where crimes should be tried. This conclusion has only been strengthened in recent years, as conservative appeals court judges in Washington D.C. have overturned two of the eight convictions on the basis that they were for war crimes that were invented by Congress rather than being internationally recognized.

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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