Getting out of Guantánamo is such a feat these days (with just three men released in the last 18 months) that it is remarkable that Ibrahim al-Qosi, a Sudanese prisoner who agreed to a plea deal at his war crimes trial in Guantánamo in July 2010, guaranteeing that he would be freed after two years, has been repatriated as promised. 168 prisoners now remain in Guantánamo.
With a typical disregard for the principle that a prisoner — any prisoner — must be freed when their sentence comes to an end, the US has maintained, since the “war on terror” began nearly 11 years ago, that prisoners at Guantánamo can continue to be held after their sentence has come to an end, and be returned to the general population as “enemy combatants,” even though President Bush failed to do this when he had the opportunity — with Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden who was freed after serving a five-month sentence handed down after his military trial in 2008.
A source with knowledge of al-Qosi’s case, who does not wish to be identified, told me that the Obama administration was unwilling to detain al-Qosi after his sentence came to an end, and I believe that one of the reasons that the President negotiated a waiver to the provisions in the National Defense Authorization Act, allowing him to bypass restrictions on releasing prisoners that were imposed by Congress, was to prevent Republicans from trying to force him to continue holding al-Qosi. 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 »
Last week, lawyers for Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen and former child prisoner who has been imprisoned in Guantánamo for nearly ten years, held a press conference in Ottawa to complain about the Canadian government’s failure to honor a deal that was supposed to guarantee his return to Canada eight months ago.
It is to be hoped that the press conference has succeeded in putting pressure on the government — and particularly on Public Safety Minister Vic Toews — to stop procrastinating, and to secure Khadr’s return, as agreed in the plea deal he signed at his military commission in Guantánamo in October 2010, when he was told that he would serve one more year at Guantánamo, and then be returned to Canada to serve the last seven years of an eight-year sentence.
At the press conference, John Norris, one of Khadr’s Canadian civilian lawyers, explained that his client was “trying to pursue an education as part of his rehabilitation,” and his two US military lawyers — Lt. Col. Jon Jackson and Maj. Matthew Schwartz — explained that they had spent hundreds of hours with him, and described him as “an intelligent young man” who is quick to learn and has a “love of learning.” As the Toronto Star put it, “Schwartz taught him geography, history and practiced singing O Canada and the American anthem with him,” and “Jackson taught science and mathematics, and read Shakespeare, The Hunger Games and The Road [by Cormac McCarthy] with him.” Lt. Col. Jackson explained, “His insights into those books shows he gets it, he gets what it means to be a useful member of society.” Read the rest of this entry »
I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January with 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.
Frustrated that Omar Khadr, the only Canadian citizen in Guantánamo, is still detained, eight months after he was supposed to be returned to Canada under the terms of a plea deal negotiated in October 2010, his US and Canadian lawyers — and the Canadian Senator Romeo Dallaire — held a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday to demand that the Canadian government honors its part of the agreement and secures Khadr’s return to Canada, the country of his birth.
Khadr was seized in July 2002 after a firefight in Afghanistan where he had been taken by his father, Ahmed Khadr, who is generally described as a fundraiser for Osama bin Laden. At the time of his capture he was just 15 years old, and should have been rehabilitated, under the terms of 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.
Instead, however, he was horribly abused in US custody, and abandoned by the Canadian government. In October 2010, under the terms of the plea deal, he accepted that he had killed US Special Forces soldier Sgt. Christopher Speer, who died in a grenade attack during the firefight, and that he was an “alien unprivileged enemy belligerent,” who had no right to engage in combat with US forces at all, even though there is serious doubt about the claim that he threw the grenade that killed Sgt. Speer, and even though his confession effectively established a scenario in which the US claimed that it was illegal to raise arms against US forces in a war zone. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, lawyers for Abu Zubaydah, an alleged “high-value detainee” in the “war on terror,” who was held in secret CIA prisons for four and a half years until his transfer to Guantánamo in September 2006, submitted a letter to the Convening Authority for the military commissions at Guantánamo, Retired Vice Admiral Bruce MacDonald, asking for their client to be charged, after more than ten years in US custody. I followed up on this by writing an article pointing out that seven other “high-value detainees” held at Guantánamo — mostly since September 2006, but in two cases since 2007 and 2008 — have also not been charged, and asked, with regard to these eight men, “Are there any plans to try them? Or is the Obama administration happy for them to be held for the rest of their lives without charge or trial — a confirmation, if any were needed, that indefinite detention without charge or trial has, through Guantánamo, become normalized?”
Today, I had planned to publish the letter that Joe Margulies and the other lawyers for Abu Zubaydah wrote to Bruce MacDonald, which Marcy Wheeler made available on her website Empty Wheel, and I am proceeding with that plan, as the letter contains an important summary of the Bush administration’s disgraceful and illegal torture program, for which no one in authority has yet been held accountable, as well as summarizing the scandalous treatment of Abu Zubaydah, and how the claims about his significance have melted away with the passage of time. It also is an indictment of the Obama administration’s unwillingness to deal adequately with the toxic inheritance left by the Bush administration.
In addition, however, I am also publishing the response to the letter that Bruce MacDonald wrote on May 17, in which he pointed out that the decision on whether or not to prosecute lies with the Office of the Chief Prosecutor — and that therefore, by inference, it is a decision that also involves defense secretary Leon Panetta and President Obama as the Commander in Chief — and also pointed out that Abu Zubaydah can “challenge the legality of his detention by seeking a writ of habeas corpus.” Read the rest of this entry »
On Saturday, the eyes of the world were on Guantánamo, as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of planning and facilitating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi and Walid bin Attash — appeared in a courtroom for the first time since December 2008. All were dressed in white, apparently at the insistence of the authorities at Guantánamo, and most observers made a point of noting that Mohammed’s long gray beard was streaked red with henna.
For the Obama administration and the Pentagon, the five men’s appearance — for their arraignment prior to their planned trial by military commission — was supposed to show that the commissions are a competent and legitimate alternative to the federal court trial that the Obama administration announced for the men in November 2009, but then abandoned after caving in to pressure from Republicans. The five defendants face 2,976 counts of murder — one for each of the victims of the 9/11 attacks — as well as charges of terrorism, hijacking, conspiracy and destruction of property, and the prosecution is seeking the death penalty.
Unfortunately for the administration, the omens were not good. The military commissions have been condemned as an inadequate trial system ever since the Bush administration first resurrected them in November 2001, intending, in the heat of post-9/11 vengeance, to use them to swiftly try and execute those it regarded as terrorists. However, after long delays and chaotic hearings, this first reincarnation of the commissions was struck down as illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006. The commissions were then revived by Congress a few months later, and were then tweaked and revived by President Obama in the summer of 2009, despite criticism from legal experts. Read the rest of this entry »
According to the US Justice Department, Obaidullah (also referred to as Obaydullah), one of 17 Afghan prisoners still held in Guantánamo, “was plainly a member of an Al-Qaeda bomb cell,” even though Obaidullah himself, and his lawyers, have always contended that, like so many of the 200 or so Afghans who have been repatriated from Guantánamo over the last ten years, he was actually seized by mistake.
In February, when discussions between the US government and the Taliban were underway, regarding the possibility that five of the 17 — all apparently significant figures in the Taliban — would be transferred to Qatar as part of the peace process in Afghanistan, the New York Times picked up on Obaidullah’s case, and reporter Charlie Savage recognized that, unlike the five senior Taliban figures, no one was pushing for his release, because he was “not an important enough figure to be a bargaining chip.”
As Charlie Savage also reported:
It is an accident of timing that Mr. Obaidullah is at Guantánamo. One American official who was formerly involved in decisions about Afghanistan detainees said that such a “run of the mill” suspect would not have been moved to Cuba had he been captured a few years later; he probably would have been turned over to the Afghan justice system, or released if village elders took responsibility for him. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, the Canadian government received a formal request for the return of Omar Khadr from Guantánamo Bay. Julie Carmichael, an aide to Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, told the Globe and Mail, “The government of Canada has just received a completed application for the transfer of prisoner Omar Ahmed Khadr. A decision will be made on this file in accordance with Canadian law.”
Khadr, who was seized at the age of 15 after a firefight in Afghanistan in July 2002, accepted a plea deal in his war crimes trial at Guantánamo in October 2010, on the basis that he would serve an eight-year sentence, but with only one year to be served in Guantánamo.
However, as the Globe and Mail described it, the government of Stephen Harper “has been reluctant to accept Mr. Khadr,” and “diplomatic wrangling over his transfer has persisted.” Despite this, as I noted last month, the US government has been putting pressure on the Canadian government, because US officials need other prisoners to be reassured that, if they accept plea deals in exchange for providing evidence against other prisoners, the terms of those plea deals will be honored. Read the rest of this entry »
In the last few weeks, Guantánamo has been under the spotlight as, for the first time since President Obama took office, the military commission trial system — the government’s preferred method for trying terror suspects held in Guantánamo — has been readied for trying “high-value detainees”; those who, as well as being held in Guantánamo, were previously held in “black sites” run by the CIA, where the use of torture was widespread.
This has always been a problem for the government — under George W. Bush as well as under Obama — because the use of torture is not only illegal, but information derived through its use cannot be used in US courts. To get around the first inconvenience, President Bush’s lawyers arranged for torture to be redefined, and, to overcome the second, the Bush administration initially brought the military commissions out of retirement with the intention that the prohibition on torture could be ignored.
When the first incarnation of the commissions was felled by the Supreme Court in June 2006, and Congress then dutifully brought the trial system back to life a few months later, the use of information derived through torture was banned, although gray areas were acceptable at the discretion of the military judges. To get around this, the Bush administration tried, at one point, to send in “clean teams” of FBI agents and military interrogators to try and persuade those who had been tortured to repeat their tortured confessions voluntarily. Presumably, there was as little concern about the accuracy of the confessions as there was when the men were first being tortured, because, as any expert can confirm, torture is not a useful method for extracting reliable information, but is very good for producing false confessions. Read the rest of this entry »
As we at “Close Guantánamo” continue our series profiling prisoners still held at Guantánamo — and specifically, at this time, the Afghans who are still held — our latest profile is of Abdul Ghani, an unfortunate villager from Kandahar province, who farmed pomegranates and scavenged for scrap metal, and was seized in November 2002 and arrived in Guantánamo nine years ago.
Alarmingly, Abdul Ghani was one of a number of insignificant Afghan prisoners put forward for a trial by military commission under President Bush in 2008. The authorities claimed that he had played a part in attacks and planned attacks as part of the insurgency against US forces, although Ghani himself, and his lawyers, have consistently disputed his purported involvement.
It should, however, be noted that, even if Abdul Ghani had been involved in the activities of which he is accused, it is extraordinary that, over nine years later, he remains in Guantánamo, a prison cynically described as holding “the worst of the worst” terrorists by the Bush administration, when, if he had been held in Afghanistan instead of being flown to Guantánamo, he would have been released many years ago. Read the rest of this entry »
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