A New Low for Guantánamo’s Credibility: The Brief But Absurd Imprisonment of the Military Commissions’ Chief Defense Counsel

A collage of Brig. Gen. John Baker and Camp 6 at Guantanamo, produced by the Daily Beast.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

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 the “you couldn’t make it up” department of Guantánamo absurdity, the prison last week secured its first new prisoner since March 2008 — not an ISIS- or al-Qaeda-related prisoner sent there by Donald Trump, as he persistently threatens to do — but Brig. Gen. John Baker, the Chief Defense Counsel of the troubled military commission trial system.

Writing in Slate, Philip Carter, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University, who briefly served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Policy under President Obama, correctly identified Brig. Gen. Baker’s only offence as having been to “stand[] up for the rule of law and being held in contempt by a judge overseeing the military tribunals at Guantánamo.”

Carter proceeded to explain that the US has two legal systems: the best, “on display every week in federal courthouses, where processes unfold neatly and along well-worn lines established by centuries of statute and precedent,” and the worst, “on display at Guantánamo, where a dispute over government surveillance of defense counsel has resulted in a Marine general being detained (and released two days later) and civilian counsel being threatened with the same fate.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ahmed Al-Darbi, Admitted Terrorist at Guantánamo, Receives 13-Year Sentence Following 2014 Plea Deal

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed al-Darbi, with a photo of his children, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Last Friday, the US authorities secured a rare success at Guantánamo, when a panel of US military officers gave a 13-year sentence to Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi prisoner, for what the New York Times described as “his admitted role in a 2002 attack by Al Qaeda on a French oil tanker off the Yemeni coast.”

Al-Darbi had pleaded guilty in his military commission trial in February 2014, but his sentencing had not taken place until now because it was dependent upon him providing testimony for the trials of other prisoners, testimony that he undertook this summer, providing videotaped testimony against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is on trial for his alleged involvement in the bombing off the USS Cole in 2000, and a deposition in the case of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, another prisoner facing a trial by military commission.

Under the terms of the plea deal, as Charlie Savage described it in the New York Times, “the commission could have imposed a sentence of 13 to 15 years.” However, the prosecutors joined with al-Darbi’s defense team to ask for “the minimum available term in light of his extensive assistance to the government.” As Savage put it, al-Darbi “has renounced Islamist ideology and lived apart from the general detainee population for years.” Read the rest of this entry »

Abandoning Guantánamo: The Supreme Court’s Shame as a Military Commission Appeal Is Turned Down

Protestors against rh existence of Guantanamo outside the US Supreme Court on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison (Photo: Andy Worthington).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

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.

On Tuesday (October 10), when the Supreme Court turned down an appeal submitted by Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a Guantánamo prisoner convicted of terrorism charges in October 2008 in a military commission trial, the justices demonstrated that, for over nine years now, they have proved incapable of fulfilling their role of upholding the law when it comes to issues relating to terrorism.

This is a profound disappointment, because, four months before al-Bahlul’s conviction, on June 12, 2008, those who respect the law — and basic human decency — were thrilled when the Supreme Court delivered a major ruling in favor of the prisoners at Guantánamo. In Boumediene v. Bush, the justices ruled that the prisoners had constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights; in other words, that they could ask an impartial judge to rule on whether or not their imprisonment was justified.

The ruling was the third major ruling by the Supreme Court regarding Guantánamo. In June 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the court had ruled that the military commission trial system at Guantánamo did not have “the power to proceed because its structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949.” The court also ruled that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, prohibiting torture and “humiliating and degrading treatment,” had been violated. Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Years On, Guantánamo’s Former Chief Prosecutor on Why He Resigned Because of Torture, and How It Must Never Be US Policy Again

A panel at the New America Foundation on January 11, 2012, discussing Guantanamo on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison. From L to R: Tom Wilner, Morris Davis, Andy Worthington and Jim Moran.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Ten years ago, a significant gesture against the torture program introduced by the administration of George W. Bush took place when Air Force Col. Morris Davis, the chief prosecutor of the military commission trial system at Guantánamo Bay, resigned, after being placed in a chain of command below two men who approved the use of torture. Davis did not, and he refused to compromise his position — and on the 10th anniversary, he wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, reiterating his implacable opposition to torture, his incredulity that we are still discussing it ten years on, and his hopes for accountability, via the fact that, in August, torture architects James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen settled a lawsuit brought against them by three men tortured in CIA prisons, and also because, in the near future, “a citizen-led group, the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture, will hold a public hearing to take testimony from people who were involved in and affected by the interrogation program designed by Mitchell and Jessen.”

I’m cross-posting the op-ed below — but first, a little background.

I remember Col. Davis’s resignation, as it took place just a few months after I’d started writing about Guantánamo on an almost daily basis, and I knew it was a big deal, although I didn’t know the extent of it at the time. I did know, however, that he was not the first prosecutor to resign. Four resigned before him, including Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, who was supposed to prosecute the Mauritanian Mohamedou Ould Slahi, but refused to because of the torture to which he had been subjected, and  prominent resignation after him was of Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, called upon to unjustly prosecute a former child prisoner, Mohamed Jawed, whose story I covered in detail at the time (see, for example, The Dark Heart of the Guantánamo TrialsMeltdown at the Guantánamo TrialsFormer Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns “Chaotic” Trials in Case of Teenage Torture Victim and Former Insider Shatters Credibility of Military Commissions). Read the rest of this entry »

Detailed Los Angeles Review of Books Article Asks, “What Are We Still Doing in Guantánamo?”

A prisoner being moved by guards in Camp Six at Guantanamo (Photo: J. Moore, Getty Images).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

As we approach the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, those of us who care about justice, the rule of law and a sense of proportion will also be attempting to remind the world that we’re just four months away from another 16th anniversary, directly released to 9/11 — the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, which took place on January 11, 2002.

Ostensibly a prison for “the worst of the worst,” seized in the “war on terror” that the Bush administration declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Guantánamo has, instead, become, to those who care, a symbol of everything that is wrong with the US response to 9/11 — a place where men seized through dubious intelligence, or bought for bounty payments from America’s allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, were tortured or abused to make false statements incriminating themselves or their fellow prisoners, and are held, mostly without charge or trial, in defiance of domestic and international laws and treaties establishing how prisoners can only be held if they are criminal suspects facing trials, or prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Conventions,

The Guantánamo prisoners are neither, and are, still, men held essentially without any rights, although unfortunately most people — or most Americans, in particular — neither know nor care, and 15 years and eight months after the prison opened, the 41 men still held are at the mercy of the third president in charge of their fate — Donald Trump, who, rather than accepting that Guantánamo is an aberration that must be closed (as George W. Bush eventually realized, and Barack Obama knew all along, despite lacking the political will to deliver on his promise to close it), intends to officially keep it open, and, if he can manage it, to send new prisoners there — a plan that anyone rational abhors, although, unfortunately, rational thought is currently quite severely endangered, especially, it seems, in the Republican Party. Read the rest of this entry »

The Absurdity of Guantánamo: As US Prepares to Release Ahmed Al-Darbi in Plea Deal, Less Significant Prisoners Remain Trapped Forever

The sign and flags at Camp Justice, Guantanamo, where the military commission trials take place.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

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 the long and cruel history of Guantánamo, a major source of stress for the prisoners has been, from the beginning, the seemingly inexplicable release of prisoners who constituted some sort of a threat to the US, while completely insignificant prisoners have languished with no hope of release.

In the early days, this was because shrewd Afghan and Pakistani prisoners connected to the Taliban fooled their captors, who were too arrogant and dismissive of their allies in the region to seek advice before releasing men who later took up arms against them. Later, in the cases of some released Saudis, it came about because the House of Saud demanded the release of its nationals, and the US bowed to its demands, and in other cases that we don’t even know about it may be prudent to consider that men who were turned into double agents at a secret facility within Guantánamo were released as part of their recruitment — although how often those double agents turned out to betray their former captors is unknown.

Under President Obama, an absurd point was reached in 2010, when, after Congress imposed onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, the only men freed were those whose release had been ordered by a judge (as part of the short-lived success of the prisoners’ habeas petitions, before politicized appeals court judges shut down the whole process) or as a result of rulings or plea deals in their military commission trials. Just five men were freed in a nearly three-year period from 2010 to 2013 — with former child prisoner Omar Khadr, low level al-Qaeda assistant Ibrahim al-Qosi, and military trainer Noor Uthman Muhammed all released via plea deals — as President Obama sat on his hands, and refused to challenge Congress, even though a waiver in the legislation allowed him to bypass lawmakers if he wished. Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump’s Stumbling Efforts to Revive Guantánamo

A collage of images of Donald Trump and Guantanamo on its first day back in January 2002.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

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.

On Guantánamo, Donald Trump has, essentially, done nothing since he took office, despite promising, on the campaign trail, to fill the prison “with bad dudes,” and to revive the use of torture. Shortly after he took office, a draft executive order was leaked, which saw him proposing to set up new “black sites,” and to send new prisoners to Guantánamo, but on the former he was shut down immediately by critics from across the political spectrum, and even from some of his own appointees, and on the latter we presumed that silence meant that he had been advised that it was not worth sending new prisoners to Guantánamo.

There are a number of reasons why this advice was to be expected: because the federal courts have such a good track record of dealing successfully with terrorism-related cases, and because the legislation authorizing imprisonment at Guantánamo — the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed just days after the 9/11 attacks — focuses on 9/11, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and related forces, and not on newer threats — like Islamic State, for example, for which new legislation would be required.

As a result, although Guantánamo has almost entirely slipped off the radar, with the impression given that the men still held are trapped in a place that Trump has largely chosen to ignore, it has at least been reassuring that he has gone quiet on his previously-promised notions of reviving the prison. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Guantánamo Cases Make It to the Supreme Court; Experts Urge Justices to Pay Attention

Ali Hamza al-Bahlul and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Guantanamo prisoners who have submitted petitions to the Supreme Court.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

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.

Even before the Bush administration set up its “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, legal experts were profoundly alarmed by proposals for how those seized as alleged terrorists would be tried. On November 13, 2001, President Bush signed a military order prepared by Vice President Dick Cheney and his senior lawyer, David Addington, which authorized the use of military commissions to try prisoners seized in the “war on terror,” preventing any prisoner from having access to the US courts, and authorized indefinite detention without due process.

Under the leadership of Michael Ratner at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, lawyers prepared to challenge the proposals in the military order in the courts. The stripping of the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights and the prevention of their access to the courts eventually made it to the Supreme Court in June 2004, when, in Rasul v. Bush, the Court, for the first time ever in wartime, ruled against the government, granting the prisoners habeas corpus rights.

Lawyers were allowed into Guantánamo, piercing the veil of secrecy that had allowed a regime of torture and abuse to thrive unmonitored, although President Bush immediately persuaded Congress to pass new legislation that again stripped the prisoners of their habeas rights. Further legal struggles then led to habeas rights being reintroduced in another Supreme Court case, Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008. Read the rest of this entry »

Abu Zubaydah Will Not Testify at Guantánamo Military Court Because the US Government Has “Stacked the Deck” Against Him

Abu Zubaydah at Guantanamo, in a photo taken by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross. His lawyer Mark Denbeaux released the photo in May 2017, and stated that it was a recent image.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Yesterday, for Close Guantánamo, the campaign I co-founded in January 2012 with the attorney Tom Wilner, I published an article, Abu Zubaydah Waives Immunity to Testify About His Torture in a Military Commission Trial at Guantánamo, explaining how Zubydah (aka Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), a Saudi-born Palestinian, an alleged “high value detainee,” and the unfortunate first victim of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture program, was planning to appear as a witness today a pre-trial hearing at Guantánamo involving Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of five men accused of involvement in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

Zubaydah was planning to discuss bin al-Shibh’s claims that “somebody is intentionally harassing him with noises and vibrations to disrupt his sleep,” as Carol Rosenberg described it for the Miami Herald, but as Mark Denbeaux, one of his lawyers, explained, by taking the stand his intention was for the truth to emerge, and for the world “to know that he has committed no crimes and the United States has no basis to fear him and no justification to hold him for 15 years, much to less subject him to the torture that the world has so roundly condemned.”

Denbeaux also explained how “the Prosecution here in the Military Commissions is afraid to try him or even charge him with any crime,” adding, “The failure to charge him, after 15 years of torture and detention, speaks eloquently. To charge him would be to reveal the truth about the creation of America’s torture program.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyer Michel Paradis: Military Commissions are Based on Legal Apartheid

An illustration of guards on duty at military commission pre-trial hearings at Guantanamo in 2013, by the artist Molly Crabapple from the first of four articles she wrote and drew for Vice News.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

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.

Here at Close Guantánamo, we have been campaigning since our founding over five years ago to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, because, as we explain in our mission statement, “Guantánamo harms our nation every day it stays open, and it continues to serve as a potent symbol for terrorist recruitment. Guantánamo also undermines our bedrock commitment to the rule of law, making that fundamental principle less secure for all Americans.”

In practical terms, most of our opposition to Guantánamo’s existence has focused on the injustice of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial. During President Obama’s last five years in office, we persistently encouraged him to release the men unanimously approved for release by high-level, inter-agency government review processes, including the Periodic Review Boards. These began in November 2013, but their deliberations ended up dominating much of the discussion about Guantánamo in his last year in office.

However, we also recognize that, while failing to charge prisoners with crimes and to put them on trial, or to treat them as soldiers and to hold them according to the Geneva Conventions, is an inexcusable derogation from internationally accepted norms regarding imprisonment, the situation for those facing trials at Guantánamo is, fundamentally, no better. Just ten of the 41 men still held are facing, or have faced trials in the military commission system launched under George W. Bush in 2001, revived by Congress in 2006 after the Supreme Court ruled it illegal, and — ill-advisedly — revived again under President Obama in 2009, but the system remains unfit for purpose, and a betrayal of US values. 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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