If you haven’t already seen it, I urge you to watch the first full-length, post-release interview with former Guantánamo prisoner, torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Slahi, freed last October, which was shown on CBS’s 60 Minutes show on Sunday. A transcript is here.
Slahi was handed over to the CIA in November 2001, on the mistaken basis that he possessed important information about al-Qaeda, and was then tortured in Guantánamo, in a special program approved by defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, until, after being taken out on a boat and beaten for hours while freezing from ice packed into his clothing, and after being told that his mother was being brought to Guantánamo, he was “broken” and began telling his interrogators whatever they wanted to hear — lies, but lies that were somehow regarded as credible.
Moved into separate housing with another perceived informant, he was then allowed to write the memoir that was eventually published as Guantánamo Diary in 2015, a devastating account of US torture and incompetence that was profoundly shocking despite its many redactions, and that also revealed Slahi as a witty, perceptive and thoroughly likeable human being. I should note also that I find it ironic that Slahi was only allowed to write a memoir in the first place because of his torture and his subsequent cooperation. Read the rest of this entry »
The first was with an old friend, Linda Olson-Osterlund, for KBOO FM, a community station in Portland, Oregon, and our 27-minute interview is available here, as an MP3, starting at 4:38, after adverts for the radio station.
Linda and I have spoken many, many times before, and it was a pleasure to talk to her again. I was delighted that she opened the show with “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the campaign song I wrote and played with my band The Four Fathers for We Stand With Shaker.
We Stand With Shaker is the campaign I launched two and a half months ago with the activist Joanne MacInnes, to call for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison.
This is how Linda described the show: “Host Linda Olson-Osterlund talks with British author and film-maker Andy Worthington about the news coming out of the illegal prison at Guantánamo Bay and the international protest movement against it. You will hear both good news and bad from prisoner releases to revelations about torture experimentation and murder at the facility. You will also hear about the January 10th protest on Dick Cheney’s lawn and January 11th at the White House.” Read the rest of this entry »
In January 2015, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a prisoner at Guantánamo, will become the first prisoner still held to have his memoir published. Guantánamo Diary, which he wrote by hand as a 466-page manuscript, beginning in 2005, will be published in the US by Little, Brown and Company and in the UK by Canongate, and the date of publication is January 20, 2015. His lawyers tenaciously fought for seven years to have his diary declassified, and were ultimately successful, although parts of it remain classified. The publishers describe it as “not merely a vivid record of a miscarriage of justice, but a deeply personal memoir — terrifying, darkly humorous, and surprisingly gracious”, and “a document of immense historical importance”.
A Mauritanian, Mohamedou Ould Slahi is a cousin of Abu Hafs al-Mauritani (real name Mahfouz Ould al-Walid), a spiritual advisor to al-Qaeda, who disagreed with the 9/11 attacks, and he also briefly communicated with the 9/11 attackers while living in Germany. These connections led Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, to describe him as a “Forrest Gump” character, “in the sense that there were a lot of noteworthy events in the history of al-Qaida and terrorism, and there was Slahi, lurking somewhere in the background,” although, as Col. Davis stressed, in early 2007 “we had a big meeting with the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Justice, and we got a briefing from the investigators who worked on the Slahi case, and their conclusion was there’s a lot of smoke and no fire.”
Ironically, Abu Hafs is now a free man, while Slahi is still held. Slahi handed himself in to the Mauritanian authorities on November 2001, and was then rendered to a secret torture prison in Jordan by the CIA, where he was interrogated for eight months until the Jordanians concluded that he was an innocent man. Nevertheless, the US then flew him to to Bagram in Afghanistan, and then on to Guantánamo, where “he was designated a ‘special project’ and subjected to isolation, beatings, sexual humiliation, death threats, and a mock kidnapping and rendition,” as his publishers explained — and as was mentioned in an article in the Guardian. Read the rest of this entry »
Since I began researching Guantánamo and the “war on terror” on a full-time basis over six years ago, my motive has been to pierce the lies told about the prisoners, falsely tarred as “the worst of the worst,” even though most of them were rounded up for money, or through poor intelligence, and to expose the horrors that ensue when a rogue government — saturated in vengeance and with a long-standing disdain for restraints on executive power — disregards domestic and international law, deliberately confusing a terrorist attack with a war, depriving prisoners seized in wartime of the rights of the Geneva Conventions, and introducing arbitrary detention and torture.
Torture has permeated every aspect of America’s “war on terror,” and I have researched and written about what is known of its use at Guantánamo, and in prisons in Afghanistan, through the stories of the men held there and the documents about them that have been publicly released. I have also undertaken research into prisoners held in other locations — in the proxy prisons in countries including Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Syria, where the torturers of those regimes extracted information on behalf of the CIA, and in the “black sites” run by the CIA, in a disturbingly novel departure from its traditional modus operandi, in Thailand, Poland, Romania, Lithuania and Morocco.
My main contribution to the documentation of these prisoners is a section of a UN report published in 2010, the “Joint Study on Global Practices in Relation to Secret Detention in the Context of Countering Terrorism,” dealing with US secret detention policies after 9/11, on which I was the lead author. That report is available here as a PDF, and in June 2010 I cross-posted the chapter dealing with US secret detention in three parts on my website — see UN Secret Detention Report (Part One): The CIA’s “High-Value Detainee” Program and Secret Prisons, UN Secret Detention Report (Part Two): CIA Prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq and UN Secret Detention Report (Part Three): Proxy Detention, Other Countries’ Complicity, and Obama’s Record. Read the rest of this entry »
In a significant gesture in the run-up to the UN International Day in Support of the Victims of Torture, which takes place on June 26, and was inaugurated in 1998, on the 11th anniversary of the ratification of the UN Convention Against Torture, ten human rights groups in the US, including the ACLU, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch and the PEN American Center, have sent a letter to President Obama, urging him to honor the overlooked lawyers, officials and soldiers who, under the Bush administration, took a stand against torture, often at great risk to their careers.
As the groups point out, these individuals — who include Sgt. Joe Darby, former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora, Col. Morris Davis, Lt. Col. V. Stuart Couch, Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld and former CIA Inspector General John Helgersen — upheld America’s values and its laws when the Bush administration had moved over to the “dark side” embraced by former Vice President Dick Cheney, and their contributions deserve to be officially acknowledged, especially as others who actively contributed to the illegal and immoral torture program were rewarded by President Bush.
Obviously, the elephant in the room, when it comes to asking President Obama to honor those who publicly opposed the Bush administration’s torture program, is that this should also be accompanied by a call for the officials who authorized the program (up to and including President Bush, who boasted about authorizing waterboarding — a crime — in his autobiography last year) or attempted to justify the torture program (like John Yoo and Jay S. Bybee in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, who wrote and approved what are now known as the “torture memos”) to be prosecuted according to the US federal anti-torture statute. Read the rest of this entry »
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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