For some prisoners held in the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, it seems there really is no way out. One example would seem to be Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a 45-year old Yemeni prisoner and a propagandist for al-Qaeda, who made a promotional video glorifying the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, in which 17 US soldiers died, and who received a life sentence for providing material support for terrorism, conspiring with al-Qaeda and soliciting murder after a one-sided military commission trial in the dying days of the Bush administration.
Al-Bahlul has been held in solitary confinement ever since — on what is known as “Convicts’ Corridor,” according to Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, even though, since January 2013, he has had every part of his conviction overturned in the US courts — most recently in a ruling by the appeals court in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court) on June 12.
In January 2013, a three-judge panel in the D.C. Circuit Court overturned the material support and solicitation convictions, on the basis that the charges of which he was convicted were not recognized as war crimes at the time he was accused of committing them; or, to put it another way, that they had been invented as war crimes by Congress. That ruling was confirmed by a full panel of judges in July 2014, and the judges last month overturned the conspiracy conviction — on the basis that conspiracy is not a crime under the international law of war. Read the rest of this entry »
For nine years, I’ve been following the story of Omar Khadr, the former child prisoner at Guantánamo, who was released on bail in Canada a month ago. I first wrote about Omar in my book The Guantánamo Files, which I wrote in 2006-07, and since then I’ve written 94 articles about him, watching as he was first put forward for a trial by military commission in June 2007, shortly after I started writing articles about Guantánamo on an almost daily basis, and writing a major profile of him in November 2007.
In 2008, I followed his pre-trial hearings in the military commissions (see here and here, for example), and watched in horror as videos of his profoundly insensitive interrogations by Canadian agents were released, and in October 2008 I wrote a detailed article about him based on the Bush administration’s refusal to recognize the rights of juvenile prisoners.
I then wrote about the Obama administration’s lamentable decision to charge Omar — again — in the revived military commissions, and watched as the pre-trial hearings unfolded, leading to one of the bleakest moments in the Obama presidency — the plea deal Omar agreed to, in order to leave Guantánamo, in which, to his eternal shame, President Obama allowed a former child to be prosecuted, in a war crimes trial, not for war crimes, but for having engaged in armed conflict with US soldiers during a war — something that has never been a war crime and never will be. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, as three prominent Democratic Senators — Patrick Leahy, Dianne Feinstein and Dick Durbin — wrote to President Obama urging him to take urgent action to release the 57 men still held at Guantánamo who have been approved for release by high-level governmental review boards, and who, for the most part, have been waiting over five years to be freed, Justice John Paul Stevens, a Supreme Court Justice from 1975 until his retirement in 2010, made a speech at which he not only urged the release of these men, but also suggested that some of them may be due compensation for their long and ultimately unjustifiable ordeal. The 57 men make up almost half of the total of 122 men still held, and include, prominently, Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison.
This is not, of course, the first time that former Justice Stevens, who is now 95 years old, has dealt with Guantánamo. When he retired, SCOTUSblog — the official Supreme Court blog — ran a series of articles about him, and in one of these articles, “Justice Stevens, Guantánamo, and the Rule of Law,” Daniel A. Farber, a law professor at Berkeley who clerked for him in 1976, explained the importance of his role in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 Supreme Court rulings that granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights (Rasul v. Bush in June 2004 and Boumediene v. Bush in June 2008, which I wrote about here), and that dealt with the legality — or rather the lack of it — of the military commission trial system at Guantánamo (Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in 2006).
Justice Stevens wrote the majority opinion in Rasul v. Bush, in which, almost two and a half years after Guantánamo opened, and after a long journey through the lower courts, the Supreme Court “held that the habeas statute covered Guantánamo,” and turned down the Bush administration’s argument that the prison was on foreign soil. Although Congress then passed legislation that purported to block the prisoners’ habeas rights, the ruling allowed lawyers to take on prisoners as clients, and to visit the prison, breaking through the veil of secrecy that had allowed torture and other forms of abuse to proceed unchecked. Read the rest of this entry »
Last night, as Britain collapsed into five more years of Tory rule, from the party that believes only in enriching the already rich, privatising everything that hasn’t yet been privatised, and permanently abusing the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, one of the only glimmers of light was not in the UK, but was in Canada, on a suburban street where former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr was holding his first press conference since being released from prison.
Now 28, Omar was held for twelve years and ten months — ten years and two months in US custody (almost all in Guantánamo), and two years and eight months in Canadian prisons. This was in spite of the fact that he was just 15 years old when he was seized after a firefight in Afghanistan, where he had been taken by his father, and was therefore a juvenile, and not responsible for his actions.
Abused by the Americans, Omar also had his rights ignored by Canadian agents who visited him at Guantánamo, and who destroyed his hopes that his home country would help him. He then had to plead guilty at a disgraceful war crimes trial, in the military commissions at Guantánamo, to secure his release from the prison, receiving an eight-year sentence, with one more year to be served at Guantánamo, and the rest in Canada. Read the rest of this entry »
UPDATE: I’m delighted to report that Justice Myra Bielby has granted Omar’s bail. “Mr. Khadr, you are free to go,” she said at the hearing today in the appeals court in Edmonton. The Toronto Star reported that Omar “broke into a big, wide smile when the decision was read. His supporters in the courtroom erupted in cheers.”
As the Guardian described it, however, “Khadr’s legal ordeal is far from over. The government has given notice that it intends to challenge the bail order itself.” Nevertheless, I believe the government needs to accept that its vindictive demonization of Omar has run its course. On June 25, Omar will go before a parole board, providing another opportunity for him to be granted his freedom.
Omar’s long-established attorney Dennis Edney, with whom he will be living, told reporters, “I intend to drive him straight home,” and added, as the Guardian put it, that “he had squeezed [his] finger and said: ‘We did it.'” His other longtime attorney, Nathan Whitling, said, “Whatever anyone may think of Mr. Khadr, he’s now served his time.” Read the rest of this entry »
On February 18, David Hicks’ conviction for providing material support to terrorism was overturned by the US Court of Military Commission Review. Hicks, an Australian, had been charged in the military commissions at Guantánamo, unwisely brought back from the history books by the Bush administration, under the guidance of Dick Cheney, and his conviction came about through a plea deal in March 2007. Almost immediately repatriated, he was a free man by the end of 2007, but was haunted by his conviction and those who used it against him to portray him as some sort of terrorist, when he was no such thing.
As I explained in an article for Al-Jazeera following the ruling, this was the fourth conviction to be overturned, out of only eight cases that have resulted in convictions, and, as a result, it ought to sound the death knell for the commissions, which should never have been revived — either by the Bush administration, or, in 2009, by President Obama.
I continue to call for the commissions to be scrapped, but in the meantime, I wanted to publicize a rare interview on David Hicks’ part — with the World Socialist Web Site, conducted by Richard Phillips and published on March 5, in which, as the WSWS explained, he spoke “about the court ruling, the response of the Australian government and media, and his concerns about escalating attacks on basic democratic rights and preparations for war.” Read the rest of this entry »
I’m delighted to let you know that on Tuesday evening, March 3, I was interviewed by Jon Gold for his show, “We Were Lied to About 9/11,” which is part of Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox.
Jon is a long-time advocate for 9/11 justice, and the author of the book 9/11 Truther: The Fight For Peace, Justice And Accountability, and we have known about each other, and communicated, on several occasions over the years, but this was our first interview, and I’m very pleased with the result — over 80 minutes of detailed analysis of the history of Guantánamo, the torture that has taken place there, and the discredited military commission process, which, from the beginning, has been a disaster, and ought to be a source of shame to any US citizen who believes in the rule of law.
We also spoke about the futility of war — and I was able to put a shout out for my friend Anand Gopal‘s heartbreakingly powerful book about the US occupation of Afghanistan, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes, and Jon also asked me about the number of deaths at Guantánamo (nine), which gave me an opportunity to plug another book, the recently published Murder at Camp Delta by Joseph Hickman, a former Staff Sergeant, who was in charge of the guard towers at Guantánamo on the night in June 2006 when, according to the official report, which his account demolishes, three prisoners died by committing suicide simultaneously. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael’s show was entitled, “From the Torture Chambers of Guantánamo to the Deadly Streets of the US: American Thugs on the Rampage,” which is a great title, and I was delighted to be on the same show as Larry Siems, the editor of Guantánamo Diary, the extraordinarily powerful book by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who is still held at Guantánamo (Larry and I were previously on another show, in Chicago, which you can find here). Also on the show was the activist Carl Dix.
The hour-long show is here, and I’m on for the first 16 minutes, bringing Michael’s listeners up to date on the current situation at Guantánamo, and also speaking about We Stand With Shaker, the campaign to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, which I launched in November with the activist Joanne MacInnes. Read the rest of this entry »
I hope you have time to read my new article for Al-Jazeera English, “The collapse of Guantánamo’s military commissions,” which, at the time of writing, has over 350 Facebook likes and shares, and has been tweeted over 125 times.
It’s my response to the news, on Wednesday February 18, that the US Court of Military Commission Review dismissed the conviction against David Hicks, an Australian, and the first prisoner to be convicted in the much-criticized military commission trial system, in March 2007.
This was an expected result, following previous dismissals of convictions, beginning in October 2012, but it does not make it any less significant. Hicks first announced an appeal in October 2013, and then lodged a second appeal last August, both with the Court of Military Commission Review that was established in August 2007 because, until then, no review process existed for the commissions, and two of the judges involved had raised issues that only the court could resolve. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m delighted to be cross-posting below an interview conducted by my good friend The Talking Dog (functioning below the radar under a pseudonym in New York City) with another good friend, Army Maj. Todd Pierce (retired), who, as a Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer, was part of the defense team for two Guantánamo prisoners charged in the military commissions — Ali Hamza al-Bahlul (still held) and Ibrahim al-Qosi (released in 2012).
Todd became fascinated by the philosophical origins of the Bush-Cheney military commissions in the Nazi era, and efforts to justify the commissions through a warped interpretation of US Civil War precedents. Since retiring, he has continued to pursue these interests, and has also become part of Sam Adams Associates, who describe themselves as “a movement of former CIA colleagues of former intelligence analyst Sam Adams, together with others who hold up his example as a model for those in intelligence who would aspire to the courage to speak truth to power,” and who, every year since 2002, have presented the Sam Adams Associates Award for Integrity in Intelligence to whistleblowers — most recently to Chelsea Manning, at an event in Oxford that I attended in February.
I do hope you have time to read the interview — which also includes Todd’s latest thoughts on the case of Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who has been successfully appealing against his 2008 conviction and life sentence — with profound repercussions for the entire military commissions project, which, it should be noted, should never have been revived by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in the first place.
If you enjoy it, please share it, and please also follow the links I’m posting at the end of this article to the Talking Dog’s extensive archive of interviews about Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Read the rest of this entry »
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