Eleven years ago, on January 11, 2002, the Bush administration proudly presented to the world one of its major responses to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — a prison on the grounds of the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, designed to hold hundreds of men and boys seized in the “war on terror” that was declared in the wake of the attacks, where the prisoners were to be neither criminals not soldiers, but “enemy combatants” without any rights whatsoever.
The base was chosen because it was presumed to be beyond the reach of the US courts, and when the prisoners were deliberately excluded from the protections of the Geneva Conventions, in a directive issued by President Bush on February 7, 2002, it became a genuinely evil experiment, devoted to torture and other forms of coercion, indefinite detention without charge or trial, and the extraction of false statements from the prisoners that were then dressed up as evidence to justify holding them.
This was in spite of the fact that, for the most part, the prisoners knew nothing about Al-Qaeda or international terrorism, and were sold to US forces for bounty payments by their Afghan and Pakistani allies, or seized as a result of inept US intelligence. Many of the prisoners were living in Pakistan or visiting Pakistan, or were visiting Afghanistan as missionaries, humanitarian aid workers, refugees or economic migrants. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Finally, five months after the Canadian citizen and former child prisoner Omar Khadr was supposed to leave Guantánamo, to be returned to Canada as a result of a plea deal agreed in October 2010, it appears that he may be back in the country of his birth by the end of May.
The delay has been a disgrace, as the plea deal was supposed to guarantee that Khadr, who is now 25, would be held for one more year at Guantánamo, and would then return to Canada, to serve seven more years in prison, although it is widely expected that he “will serve only a short time in a Canadian prison before being released,” as London Free Press described it, primarily because lawyers will be able to point out the court rulings in which judges ruled that the Canadian government had persistently violated Khadr’s rights.
That first year of Khadr’s post-plea deal detention ended on October 31 last year, but he was not repatriated from Guantánamo, primarily, it seemed, because of an unwillingness to speedily facilitate his return on the part of the Canadian authorities, who have a dreadful record when it comes to doing anything to secure his return since his capture at the age of 15, when he was severely wounded, in Afghanistan in July 2002. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday the shameful dinosaurs of the Senate — hopelessly out of touch with reality, for the most part, and haunted by specters of their own making — approved, by 93 votes to 7, the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (PDF), which contains a number of astonishingly alarming provisions — Sections 1031 and 1032, designed to make mandatory the indefinite military detention of terror suspects until the end of hostilities in a “war on terror” that seems to have no end (if they are identified as a member of al-Qaeda or an alleged affiliate, or have planned or carried out an attack on the United States), ending a long and entirely appropriate tradition of trying terror suspects in federal court for their alleged crimes, and Sections 1033 and 1034, which seek to prevent the closure of Guantánamo by imposing onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, and banning the use of funds to purchase an alternative prison anywhere else. I have previously remarked on these depressing developments in articles in July and October, as they have had a horribly long period of gestation, in which no one with a grip on reality — and admiration for the law — has been able to wipe them out.
The four sections are connected, as cheerleaders for the mandatory military detention of terror suspects want them to be sent to Guantánamo, and have done, if I recall correctly, at least since Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the failed Christmas plane bomber in 2009, was arrested, read his Miranda rights, and interrogated by the FBI. Recently, Abdulmutallab, who told his interrogators all they wanted to know without being held in military custody — and, for that matter, without being tortured, which is what the hardcore cheerleaders for military detention also want — was tried and convicted in a federal court.
Hundreds of other terror suspects have been successfully prosecuted in federal court, throughout the Bush years, and under Obama, but supporters of military custody like to forget this, as it conflicts with their notions, held since the aftermath of 9/11 and the Bush administration’s horrendous flight from the law, that terrorists are warriors. Underpinning it all is the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the founding document of the “war on terror,” passed the week after the 9/11 attacks. This authorizes the President to pursue anyone, anywhere who he thinks was involved in the 9/11 attacks, and it is a dreadfully open-ended excuse for endless war whose repeal I have long encouraged, but which some lawmakers have been itching to renew, even after the death of Osama bin Laden, and the obvious incentives for the winding-down of the ruinous, decade-long “war on terror.” Read the rest of this entry »
Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, has just visited Guantánamo, for the first time in a number of years, as his colleagues have been undertaking visits instead, and has returned with a renewed sense of horror at the continued existence of Guantánamo, that bleak icon of the Bush administration’s disregard for the law, which President Obama has found himself unable to close.
This is a time of grim anniversaries. The 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in September was followed, in October, by the 10th anniversary of the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, and, as the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo approaches, on January 11, 2012, we have now reached the point where we can begin to mark the 10th anniversary of the dates on which the 171 men still held there were first seized, and to reflect on what it says about America’s notions of justice and fairness that they are, for the most part, still held without charge or trial.
On his visit to Guantánamo, Stafford Smith was visiting Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, whose case has long been of concern to British citizens and to opponents of Guantánamo in the US and elsewhere in the world. I have written about his case extensively over the years, and his story also features in the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with the filmmaker Polly Nash. Read the rest of this entry »
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