A Devastating Condemnation of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions by Palestinian-American Journalist P. Leila Barghouty

An illustration by Hokyoung Kim for The Outline showing defense lawyers for Ammar al-Baluchi arriving at the home of Guantanamo's military commissions.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.

Six years and three months since Tom Wilner and I launched the Close Guantánamo campaign, we are becalmed in horribly unjust waters, with Donald Trump resolute that no one should leave the prison under any circumstances, and, as a result, 41 men held in what must appear to be a never-ending limbo, even though five of them were approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama, and another man, Ahmed al-Darbi, continues to be held despite being promised his release — to be re-imprisoned in Saudi Arabia — four years ago in a plea deal in his military commission trial.

Twenty-six other men are held indefinitely — and lawyers for some of them submitted a habeas corpus petition on their behalf on January 11, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison, on the basis that, as the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights explained, “[Donald] Trump’s proclamation against releasing anyone from Guantánamo, regardless of their circumstances, which has borne out for the first full year of the Trump presidency, is arbitrary and unlawful and amounts to ‘perpetual detention for detention’s sake.’”

The other men still held — nine in total — have been through the military commission process, or are facing trials, and this latter category of Guantánamo prisoner came under the spotlight recently in an article written for a new website, The Outline, by P. Leila Barghouty, a journalist and filmmaker based in New York City, whose work has appeared on Al Arabiya, National Geographic, Slate, CNN, Vice News and Netflix. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Collapse of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri’s Military Commission Trial at Guantánamo

Col. Vance Spath and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, both at the heart of a meltdown in the military commission trial system at Guantanamo.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.

It’s three weeks since a judge in Guantánamo’s military commission trial system, Air Force Col. Vance Spath, indefinitely halted proceedings in one of the trials’ only active cases — that of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi accused of masterminding the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, when 17 US sailors were killed.

Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, who first reported the story, announced that Col. Spath “shut down the proceedings because of his inability to get defense lawyers back to the death-penalty case.” In October, three civilian lawyers quit the case for reasons that were not specified, but that observers presumed related to them discovering that they were being spied on by prosecutors — or, at least, by the military authorities at Guantánamo, on whose behalf the prosecutors are working.

I reported this story in November, when, adding insult to injury, Judge Spath briefly imprisoned Brig. Gen. John Baker, the Chief Defense Counsel of the military commissions, for refusing a request by him to reinstate the defense team — Rick Kammen, Rosa Eliades and Mary Spears — even though Brig. Gen. Baker was entirely justified in doing so. The loss of Kammen was a particular blow, as he is a death penalty expert, who has been on the case since al-Nashiri was first charged nearly ten years ago, and, by his own reckoning, has “devoted at least 10,000 hours working on the case, traveled to at least seven foreign countries in trial preparation and to Guantánamo 50 times to meet with Nashiri or appear in court,” as Carol Rosenberg explained in October. Read the rest of this entry »

Ahmed Al-Darbi: Still Held, the Guantánamo Prisoner Who Was Supposed to Have Been Sent Home Two Weeks Ago

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.

 

On Friday, Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi prisoner at Guantánamo, publicly criticized his government for failing to secure his release from the prison on February 20. The  release date had been agreed last October as part of a plea deal he had initially agreed to in February 2014.

In what the New York Times described as “an unusual statement” conveyed through his lawyer, he said, “It’s shameful. Unlike other countries, the Saudi government never even provided me with an attorney all these years.” He added, “And now my own government is an obstacle to my repatriation. What kind of country abandons its citizens in the custody of another government for 16 years? My country won’t take a step that was agreed on four years ago so that I can finally go home. It’s been my daily dream for four years to see my wife and children.”

Under the terms of his plea deal, al-Darbi admitted that he played a part in a 2002 attack by Al-Qaeda on a French oil tanker, the Limburg, off the Yemeni coast, in exchange for a promise that he would be repatriated, after cooperating further with the US, to serve out the rest of his sentence in Saudi Arabia. As I explained in October, when he was given a 13-year sentence, his sentencing didn’t take place before “because it was dependent upon him providing testimony for the trials of other prisoners, testimony that he undertook [last] 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.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Latest Scandal of the Military Commissions at Guantánamo: A Death Penalty Case Without a Death Penalty Lawyer

The US flag, seen through barbed wire, at Guantanamo.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.

 

The military commissions at Guantánamo, since they were ill-advisedly dragged out of the history books by the Bush administration, have persistently failed to demonstrate anything more than a tangential relationship to justice, as I have been reporting for over ten years. Last September, I summarized the trial system’s many failures in an article entitled, Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions.

Under Donald Trump, there has been no improvement. Pre-trial hearings drag on, seemingly interminably, as defense lawyers seek to expose evidence of the torture of their clients in CIA “black sites,” while prosecutors, for the government, do everything they can to hide that evidence. Earlier this month, however, as I explained in a recent article, a new low point was reached when, astonishingly, the chief defense counsel, Brig. Gen. John Baker, was briefly imprisoned for defending the right of three civilian defense attorneys to resign after they found out that the government had been spying on them.

The loss of the attorneys led to a disgraceful situation in which the government insisted on limping on the with the capital case — against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a victim of CIA torture, and the alleged mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 — even though it is illegal to pursue a capital case without a qualified death penalty lawyer on board. That role was filled by Rick Kammen, who had been on al-Nashiri’s case for nine years. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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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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