The Chaotic History of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

See the full list here of everyone charged in the military commissions at Guantánamo.

Recently, a friend asked me for information about all the Guantánamo prisoners who have been put forward for military commission trials at Guantánamo, and after undertaking a search online, I realized that I couldn’t find a single place listing all the prisoners who have been charged in the three versions of the commissions that have existed since 2001, or the total number of men charged.

As a result, I decided that it would be useful to do some research and to provide a list of all the men charged — a total of 30, it transpires — as well as providing some updates about the commissions, which I have been covering since 2006, but have not reported on since October. The full list of everyone charged in the military commissions is here, which I’ll be updating on a regular basis, and please read on for a brief history of the commissions and for my analysis of what has taken place in the last few months.

The commissions were dragged out of the history books by Dick Cheney on November 13, 2001, when a Military Order authorizing the creation of the commissions was stealthily issued with almost no oversight, as I explained in an article in June 2007, while the Washington Post was publishing a major series on Cheney by Barton Gellman (the author of Angler, a subsequent book about Cheney) and Jo Becker. Alarmingly, as I explained in that article, the order “stripped foreign terror suspects of access to any courts, authorized their indefinite imprisonment without charge, and also authorized the creation of ‘Military Commissions,’ before which they could be tried using secret evidence,” including evidence derived through the use of torture. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Joins Dennis Edney, Omar Khadr’s Lawyer, for Amnesty International Event in London, March 18, 2014

Dennis Edney, Omar Khadr’s long-term Canadian civilian lawyer, has been in the UK since last week, on a tour organised by the London Guantánamo Campaign, so I’m posting details of his speaking events for anyone who has not yet heard him talk, and also to notify readers, supporters of Omar Khadr and opponents of  Guantánamo that I’ll be joining Dennis at an event in Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre in Shoreditch tomorrow evening. To support Dennis’s ongoing and extensive legal costs, please visit this page, and to support the costs of the UK tour, please see here.

Regular readers will know that I have been covering Omar’s story since I first began working on Guantánamo eight years ago. I wrote about him in my book The Guantánamo Files, and when I began writing articles on a full-time basis, in June 2007, Omar’s was one of the first cases that I addressed, when he was charged in the second version of the Bush administration’s troubled military commissions, after the first version was thrown out by the US Supreme Court for violating the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions — and, specifically, Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits torture and humiliating and degrading treatment, and requires any trials to be in “a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”

Omar, of course, never received such protections, even when the commissions were revived with Congressional approval, or when, under President Obama, they were brought back for a second time. In the end, to be assured of ever leaving Guantánamo, he accepted a plea deal in October 2010, admitting to war crimes that had been invented by Congress, and, moreover, providing a permanent stain on the reputation of President obama, who not only allowed a plea deal based on invented war crimes to take place, but did so to a former child prisoner (just 15 when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002), even though, according to the the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, to which both the US and Canada are signatories, juvenile prisoners (those under 18 when their alleged crimes take place) must be rehabilitated rather than punished. Read the rest of this entry »

Omar Khadr Condemns His Guantánamo Plea Deal, As Canada Concedes He Is Not A “Maximum-Security Threat”

Good news from Canada, finally, as former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr has been “reclassified as a medium-security risk,” and will be moved from Edmonton, where he is currently held as a maximum-security prisoner, to Bowden Correctional Institution, north of Calgary. The move will probably take place in the next few weeks, as the Edmonton Journal described it on Friday.

Khadr, who was just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, has persistently been treated with disdain by the Canadian government, which, for ten years, failed to stand up for his rights as a Canadian citizen and a juvenile prisoner.

When Khadr finally agreed to a plea deal at Guantánamo, just to be sent home, the Canadian government dragged its heels regarding its own part of the bargain. After the plea deal was agreed, during his trial by military commission at Guantánamo in October 2010, Khadr was supposed to spend just one more year at Guantánamo followed by seven years’ imprisonment in Canada after his repatriation, but it took 23 months for him to be returned, and, since his return, he has been held as a maximum-security prisoner, even though he has never been a high-risk prisoner.

Dennis Edney, the Edmonton lawyer who has been representing Khadr for ten years, explained how the decision to reclassify Khadr as “medium-security,” which was taken by Kelly Hartle, the warden at Edmonton, “reflects a ‘plethora of evidence’ from US authorities and Canada’s prison ombudsman that Khadr never was a maximum-security threat,” as the Edmonton Journal described it. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Omar Khadr’s US Lawyer, Sam Morison, Explains Why His Guantánamo War Crimes Conviction is a Disgrace

If you have the time to watch a 46-minute video about Omar Khadr, the Canadian citizen and former child prisoner held at Guantánamo for 11 years, then I heartily recommend the recording of a recent talk in Canada by Sam Morison, a civilian lawyer working for the US Department of Defense, who recently submitted an appeal against Khadr’s 2010 conviction in his trial by military commission, as I explained in an article two weeks ago entitled, “‘He Didn’t Commit a War Crime’: Omar Khadr’s US Lawyer Challenges His Conviction at Guantánamo.”

The video of the talk, which took place at The King’s University College in Edmonton, was posted on the website of the Free Omar Khadr campaign, and is posted below, via YouTube. It was organized by the University of Alberta’s Chester Ronning Centre for the Study of Religion and Public Life and the Micah Centre at The King’s University College, and a previous talk (also posted below) featured Retired Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis, MD, a psychiatrist who spent hundreds of hours with Omar Khadr at Guantánamo. Both events took place under the heading “Omar Khadr: The Man – The Law.”

Morison, who “has practiced law for more than 20 years and is a nationally recognized expert on federal executive clemency and the restoration of civil rights,” as his website describes him, delivered a compelling explanation for why Khadr is not guilty of war crimes, when the appeal was submitted. Khadr accepted a plea deal in October 2010, pleading guilty to five crimes, including killing a US soldier by throwing a grenade during the firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002 that led to his capture, but there is no evidence that he actually threw the grenade, and he only accepted the plea deal as a way to leave Guantánamo, receiving an eight-year sentence in exchange. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo’s 12th Anniversary and Accountability for Torture with Scott Horton and Peter B. Collins

On Wednesday (November 13), the media, inspired by an article for the Guardian by Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, who has become a formidable critic of the prison since his resignation six years ago, picked up on a baleful anniversary — the 12th anniversary of the creation of one of the main founding documents of the Bush administration’s “war on terror.”

I subsequently spoke to Scott Horton on his hard-hitting political show, the latest in the dozens of interviews with Scott that I have taken part in over the last six years. The half-hour show is available here as an MP3, and I hope you have time to listen to it.

Scott described the show as follows: “Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, discusses how Dick Cheney helped make torture an official US government policy; former Guantanamo inmate Omar Khadr’s fight for justice in a Canadian prison; and how torture has poisoned America’s soul.”

As Scott explained, we did indeed talk about how Omar Khadr, and his appeal against his outrageous 2010 conviction for war crimes (which I wrote about here), as well as also discussing the need for accountability for all of the senior Bush administration officials (up to and including George  W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld) and their lawyers, who approved the use of torture. Read the rest of this entry »

“He Didn’t Commit a War Crime”: Omar Khadr’s US Lawyer Challenges His Conviction at Guantánamo

Last week was a busy week for legal challenges by former Guantánamo prisoners. Just after David Hicks announced that he was appealing against his 2007 conviction for providing material support for terrorism (which I wrote about here), Omar Khadr’s lawyer in the US announced that the Canadian citizen, who was repatriated in September 2012 but is still imprisoned in his home country, is “set to appeal his five war crimes convictions on the grounds that the military commission had no legal authority to try him or accept his guilty pleas,” as Colin Perkel described it for The Canadian Press.

In order to leave Guantánamo, Khadr accepted a plea deal in October 2010, in which he admitted that he was guilty of murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying, even though there are serious problems with the credibility of the main charge against him — that he threw a grenade that killed a US soldier – as an investigation of the evidence indicates that, at the time, he was unconscious, having been shot twice in the back at close range.

Khadr is able to challenge two of the charges against him — providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy — because of two rulings by the court of appeals in Washington D.C. last October and in January this year, when judges threw out two of the only convictions secured in the military commissions at Guantánamo, in 2008 — against Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden, and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a propagandist for al-Qaeda. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner David Hicks Appeals His 2007 Conviction for Non-Existent War Crime

Ever since the conservative court of appeals in Washington D.C. delivered an extraordinary ruling last October, vacating one of the only convictions in the military commission trial system introduced for prisoners at Guantánamo, it has only been a matter of time before other appeals would be lodged.

Last Tuesday, November 5, the first man convicted in the trials — the Australian citizen David Hicks, who agreed to a plea deal in March 2007, on the basis that he would be returned to Australia to serve a seven-month sentence — lodged an appeal with the US Court of Military Commission Review, “arguing for a summary dismissal of the conviction,” as the Sydney Morning Herald described it, “because the offence was not a war crime at the time Mr. Hicks was detained, and his guilty plea was made under duress because of his detention, torture and abuse at Guantánamo.”

Just seven convictions have been secured in Guantánamo’s military commission system (between March 2007 and February 2012), which has struggled — and failed — to achieve any kind of credibility since George W. Bush’s Vice President, Dick Cheney, ill-advisedly dragged the commissions from the history books in November 2001. Ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006, they were then revived by Congress, and revived by Congress a second time under President Obama in 2009, despite warnings by senior administration lawyers that convictions would almost certainly be overturned on appeal. Read the rest of this entry »

Torture: The Elephant in the Room at Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

For seven and a half years now, I have watched as the United States has tried and failed to make its trial system at Guantánamo — the military commissions — function in a way that has any kind of legitimacy.

That, however, is impossible, because the trials involve made-up war crimes, invented by Congress, and, as we see on a regular basis when pre-trial hearings are held in the cases of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and four other men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, because there is an unresolvable tension at the heart of the most serious trials — those involving the “high-value detainees,” like KSM and his co-defendants, and also Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, another “high-value detainee” charged with involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, all of whom were held — and tortured — in secret “black sites” run by the CIA in countries including Thailand and Poland.

This tension was highlighted in “You Can’t Gag Somebody and Then Want to Kill Them,” an article for the Huffington Post last week by Katherine Hawkins, a researcher and lawyer who recently worked as the Investigator for the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, whose powerful report I discussed here. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses the Ongoing Injustice of Guantánamo with Chuck Mertz on “This Is Hell”

On Saturday, I was delighted to talk about Guantánamo past, present and future with Chuck Mertz, who hosts an excellent four-hour radio show, “This is Hell,” every Saturday on WNUR 89.3FM Chicago. Chuck and I have spoken several times in the seven and a half years since I began researching and writing about Guantánamo on a full-time basis, and we had a very thorough discussion on Saturday, which is available here. Scroll down to listen to my 45-minute interview, after interviews with Ann Jones, Juan Cole and Dana Becker, or listen to the whole show here, which also includes Jim Naureckas, Trevor Ewen and Jeff Dorchen.

Our latest discussion was triggered by Chuck’s horrified appreciation of my most recent article for Al-Jazeera, “At Guantánamo, a microcosm of the surveillance state,” in which I discussed the latest scandal to rock the permanently troubled military commission trial system at Guantánamo — a technical upgrade that, through incompetence, or through an aspect of the sweeping surveillance state exposed by Edward Snowden earlier this year, led to 540,000 confidential emails sent by military defense attorneys at Guantánamo ending up with prosecutors, and seven gigabytes of files disappearing completely.

This, for the record, is how Chuck described the show:

If Franz Kafka had access to 21st century technology, we could have booked him on the show to talk about the military commission trials of Guantánamo detainees. Defense files are given to the prosecution, the FBI spies on meetings between lawyers, and charges are sought against only 2.5% of total detainees at the site. Kafka wasn’t available to comment, but investigative journalist Andy Worthington knows the alienation and farcical nature of authority better than anyone outside Camp X-Ray’s walls. Read the rest of this entry »

Read My Latest Article for Al-Jazeera on Guantánamo’s Military Commissions and the Surveillance State

Dear friends and supporters, I hope you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, entitled, “At Guantánamo, a microcosm of the surveillance state,” in which I look at the latest scandal to derail the military commission trial system at Guantánamo, exposed in a pre-trial hearing in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four the men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks — a computer problem that has led to over half a million confidential defense emails being handed over to the prosecution, and other files disappearing completely.

In light of the revelations of mass surveillance made public by Edward Snowden in June, the problems at Guantánamo can be seen as part of a bigger picture, even though the main tension at Guantánamo concerns torture — the government’s wish to hide its use on the “high-value detainees,” and the defense’s mission to expose it — rather than excessive surveillance as a matter of course.

I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to write for Al-Jazeera about the military commissions, which I’ve been writing about for seven and a half years. I got to briefly run through the history of the commissions in my article, reminding me that, when I first began researching Guantánamo in 2006, for my book The Guantánamo Files, the commissions were already regarded as a disgrace, a torture-laundering farce dragged from the history books by Vice President Dick Cheney, which had struggled to establish any credibility whatsoever. Furthermore, this situation didn’t improve after the Supreme Court found the commissions illegal, in June 2006, and Congress then brought them back to life with a raft of invented war crimes. My first article about the commissions was in June 2007, and the broken system exposed there continues to be broken, and to shame America. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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