Chief Defense Counsel of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions Calls Them a “Poisoned Chalice,” a Betrayal of the Constitution and the Law

A sign for the military commissions at Guantanamo. Behind is the first courtroom used for the commissions, which is no longer in use, but photos of the current courtroom are not allowed. (Photo: Cora Currier/ProPublica).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,” as we continue to monitor the situation at Guantánamo in the dying days of the Obama presidency, we remain concerned for all the categories of men held. Of the last 61 men in the prison the statistics are as follows:

  • 20 men have been approved for release.
  • 23 have had their ongoing imprisonment approved by Periodic Review Boards.
  • Eight are awaiting decisions by Periodic Review Boards.
  • Ten are facing — or have faced — trials.

Of the men approved for release, seven have been languishing at Guantánamo since the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force made decisions about what should happen to the prisoners in 2009, while the other 13 have been approved for release in the last two and a half years by the latest review process, the Periodic Review Boards (for further information, see our definitive Periodic Review Board list). All of these men should be released as soon as possible. Read the rest of this entry »

Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

"End Guantanamo commissions: use fair trials" - an Amnesty International supporter outside the White House.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2800 (£2100) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

In the 15 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has systematically undermined many of the key values it claims to uphold as a nation founded on and respecting the rule of law, having embraced torture, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial, trials of dubious legality and efficacy, and extra-judicial execution.

The Bush administration’s torture program — so devastatingly exposed in the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the program, published in December 2014 — no longer exists, but no one has been held accountable for it. In addition, as the psychologist and journalist Jeffrey Kaye has pointed out, although ostensibly outlawed by President Obama in an executive order issued when he took office, the use of torture is permitted, in particular circumstances, in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual.

When it comes to extrajudicial execution, President Obama has led the way, disposing of perceived threats through drone attacks — and although drones were used by President Bush, it is noticeable that their use has increased enormously under Obama. If the rendition, torture and imprisonment of those seized in the “war on terror” declared after the 9/11 attacks raised difficult ethical, moral and legal questions, killing people in drone attacks — even in countries with which the US is not at war, and even if they are US citizens — apparently does not trouble the conscience of the president, or the US establishment as a whole. Read the rest of this entry »

No Justice for 14 Tortured “High-Value Detainees” Who Arrived at Guantánamo Ten Years Ago

Abu Zubaydah, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, three of the 14 "high-value detainees" who arrived at Guantanamo from CIA "black sites" ten years ago, on September 6, 2006.I wrote the following article (as “Tortured “High-Value Detainees” Arrived at Guantánamo Exactly Ten Years Ago, But Still There Is No Justice”) 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.

Ten years ago, on September 6, 2006, President Bush announced that secret CIA prisons, whose existence he had always denied, had in fact existed, but had now been closed down, and the prisoners held moved to Guantánamo.

14 men in total were transferred to Guantánamo. Three were named by President Bush — Abu Zubaydah, described as “a senior terrorist leader and a trusted associate of Osama bin Laden,” and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, allegedly involved in the 9/11 attacks. Biographies of the 14 were made available, and can be found here. They include three other men allegedly involved in the 9/11 attacks — Walid bin Attash, Ammar al-Baluchi (aka Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali) and Mustafa al-Hawsawi — plus Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, allegedly involved in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian allegedly involved in the US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, Majid Khan, a Pakistani alleged to be an al-Qaeda plotter in the US, the Indonesian Hambali and two Malaysians, Zubair and Lillie, the Libyan Abu Faraj al-Libi, and a Somali, Gouled Hassan Dourad.

After the men’s arrival, they were not heard from until spring 2007, when Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) were held, which were required to make them eligible for military commission trials. As I explained in my book The Guantánamo Files in 2007, KSM and Walid bin Attash confessed to involvement with terrorism, although others were far less willing to make any kind of confession. Ammar al-Baluchi, for example, a nephew of KSM, and another of the alleged 9/11 co-conspirators, denied advance knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, or of al-Qaeda. Read the rest of this entry »

Somali “High-Value Detainee,” Held in CIA Torture Prisons, Seeks Release from Guantánamo via Review Board

Guleed Hassan Ahmed aka Gouled Hassan Dourad, a Somali prisoner in Guantanamo, held in CIA "black sites" from 2004 until his arrival at Guantanamo in September 2006. This photo is from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.This week, Guleed Hassan Ahmed aka Gouled Hassan Dourad (ISN 10023), a Somali prisoner at Guantánamo — who arrived at the prison in September 2006, after being held in CIA “black sites” for two and a half years — became the 55th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. Set up in 2013, the PRBs are reviewing the cases of all the prisoners held at Guantánamo who are not facing trials (just ten of the remaining 76 prisoners) or who were not already approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.

32 men have so far been approved for release via the PRBs (and eleven have been released), while 16 have had their ongoing imprisonment held, a 67% success rate for the prisoners, which rather demolishes the claims made by Obama’s task force that they were “too dangerous to release” or that they should be prosecuted.

Guleed Hassan Ahmed was born in April 1974, and is one of 16 “high-value detainees” who, as noted above, arrived at Guantánamo from CIA “black sites” in September 2006. He was seized in Djibouti in March 2004, by Somalis working with the CIA, but little is known of his whereabouts for the next two and a half years until his arrival at Guantánamo, or, indeed, why he ended up at Guantánamo at all. I always wondered if someone in the Bush administration wanted to have someone connected to events in Somalia at Guantánamo, simply to see if new connections could be made. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: RT America’s One-Hour Special on Guantánamo Featuring Andy Worthington, Joe Hickman, Nancy Hollander and Tom Wilner

Gitmo 2016: a screen shot from RT America's one-hour special on Guantanamo in June 2016.Last week, I was delighted to take part in an hour-long Guantánamo special on RT America, presented by Simone del Rosario, who had recently visited the prison. Simone began by noting that it was the tenth anniversary of three deaths at Guantánamo — 22-year old Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, a Saudi, who was just 17 years old when he was seized in Afghanistan at the end of 2001, 37-year old Salah Ahmed al-Salami (aka Ali al-Salami), a Yemeni, and 30-year old Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, another Saudi.

The deaths were described by the authorities as a triple suicide, but there have always been doubts about that being feasible — doubts that were particularly highlighted in 2010, when the law professor and journalist Scott Horton wrote an alternative account for Harper’s Magazine, “The Guantánamo Suicides,” that drew in particular on a compelling counter-narrative presented by Staff Sgt. Joseph Hickman, who had been in the prison at the time of the men’s deaths, monitoring activities from the guard towers. Hickman’s book Murder in Camp Delta was published in January 2015, and he was also a contributor to RT America’s show.

After this opening, the show dealt in detail with the case of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Mauritanian national, torture victim and best-selling author (of Guantánamo Diary). Slahi is one of the prisoners still held who were designated for prosecution by the Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in January 2009, until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed after a number of critical appeals court rulings and he was, instead, put forward for a Periodic Review Board, the latest review process, which began at the end of 2013. Slahi’s PRB took place on June 2, and, in discussing his case, Simone del Rosario also spoke to one of his attorneys, Nancy Hollander. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington’s Hour-Long Guantánamo Interview on Wake-Up Call Podcast

The logo for Wake-Up Call Podcast, run by Adam Camac and Daniel Laguros.Please support my work!

Have an hour to spare? Want to hear me talk in detail about Guantánamo? Then please listen to me on Wake-Up Call Podcast with Adam Camac and Daniel Laguros, who “interview experts on foreign relations, economics, current events, politics, political theory, and more every weekday.”

They decided to call the show “The Horrible Guantánamo Bay Facility,” which I think is accurate, as I was able to explain in detail what a thoroughly disgraceful facility Guantánamo is at every level.

I began by explaining why the naval base at Guantánamo Bay was chosen as the location for an offshore facility that was supposed to be beyond the reach of the US courts, and how, of course, creating somewhere outside the law made it shamefully easy to begin torturing the men — and boys — who were swept up in the “war on terror” and held there.

See below for the interview on YouTube (and you can also listen to it here): Read the rest of this entry »

Sufyian Barhoumi, An Extremely Well-Behaved Algerian, Seeks Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Board

Guantanamo prisoner Sufyian Barhoumi as a boy and as a prisoner in Guantanamo, in a composite photo made available by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.Last Thursday, two days after Saeed Bakhouche, an Algerian, sought release from Guantánamo via a Periodic Review Board, a high-level, inter-agency US government review process, established in 2013, another Algerian, Sufyian Barhoumi, also went before a PRB to ask for his freedom, and was the 41st prisoner to do so. Of the 30 decisions already taken, 23 have resulted in recommendations for the prisoners’ release, while just seven have resulted in recommendations for the men’s continued detention — and even those are subject to further review. This is a success rate for the prisoners of 77%, thoroughly undermining the excessive caution and misplaced zeal for prosecution that, in 2010, led the previous high-level review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, to describe the men who were later made eligible for PRBs as “too dangerous to release” or as candidates for prosecution.

The former were largely groundless claims, in a prison full of statements obtained through torture and other forms of coercion, while the latter was based on a mistaken understanding of what constitutes war crimes, spelled out in a number of appeals court rulings in 2012 and 2013, which humiliated the government by dismissing some of the handful of convictions secured in the military commission trial system on the embarrassing basis that the war crimes for which the men in question has been convicted had actually been invented by Congress.

Barhoumi, whose prisoner number is 694, is 41 years old, and, as his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights explain, he was “born and raised in Algiers, where his mother still lives and his late father practiced law.” CCR also explain that, as a young man, he “lived in various countries in Europe – Spain, France, and England – as a farm worker and then a street merchant for about four years,” before traveling to Afghanistan, and then Pakistan, where he ended up in US custody. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama Officials Confirm That Nearly 24 Guantánamo Prisoners Will Be Freed By the End of July

Cleared for release: a photo by Debra Sweet of the World Can't Wait.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.

Last week there was confirmation that the Obama administration is still intent on working towards the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay before President Obama leaves office, when officials told Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian that there is an “expectation” within the administration that 22 or 23 prisoners will be released by the end of July “to about half a dozen countries.”

80 men are currently held, so the release of these men will reduce the prison’s population to 57 or 58 prisoners, the lowest it has been since the first few weeks of its existence back in 2002.

As the Guardian explained, however, the officials who informed them about the planned releases spoke on condition of anonymity, because “not all of the foreign destination countries are ready to be identified.” In addition, “some of the transfer approvals have yet to receive certification by Ashton Carter, the defense secretary, as required by law, ahead of a notification to Congress.” Read the rest of this entry »

Alleged Al-Qaida Bomb-Maker Faces Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo

Photos of some of the Guantanamo prisoners, made available when classified military files were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Last Thursday, Jabran al-Qahtani, a Saudi national, became the 39th prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo.

Set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners who were not facing trials (just ten men) or the rather larger group of men who had already been approved for release by the high-level inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, the PRBs involve representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and, since January 2014, they have approved 22 men for release and have defended the ongoing imprisonment of just seven men, a success rate for the prisoners of 76%.

The results are a damning verdict on the task force’s decision to describe 41 men facing PRBs as “too dangerous to release,” even though the task force members also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial; in other words, it was not evidence, but unreliable information extracted from prisoners at Guantánamo and elsewhere in the “war on terror” — including the CIA’s “black sites” — through the use of torture, other forms of abuse or bribery (with better living conditions, for example). It has also become apparent that another reason some prisoners were described as “too dangerous to release” was because the authorities regarded them as having a threatening attitude towards the US, even though it is, to my mind, understandable that some men confronted with long years of abusive and generally lawless detention might react with anti-social behavior and threats. Read the rest of this entry »

Insignificant Afghan Finally Approved for Release from Guantánamo

Afghan prisoner Obaidullah, in a photo taken at Guantanamo and included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Good news from Guantánamo, as another prisoner, Obaidullah, an Afghan, is approved for release by a Periodic Review Board. Decisions have now been taken in the cases of 29 prisoners, with 22 recommended for release, and just seven recommended for ongoing imprisonment. This is a success rate for the prisoners of 76%, which is hugely significant, because, back in 2010, they were either recommended for prosecution or were described as “too dangerous to release” by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which President Obama established, shortly after taking office in 2009, to review the cases of all the prisoners held when he became president. 23 men were in the former category, and 41 in the latter.

The decision also means that, of the 80 men still held, 28 have been approved for release — 15 by the task force in 2010, and 13 by the PRBs (nine of those approved for release by PRBs have already been freed). 35 others are awaiting PRBs, or are awaiting decisions, and just ten men are facing trials — or have already had trials.

Obaidullah, who was just 19 years old when he was seized at his home in Afghanistan in July 2002, is one of the prisoners who had initially been recommended for prosecution — and is the second former prosecution candidate to be recommended for release by a PRB (three others have been recommended for ongoing imprisonment). He had been put forward for a trial by military commission in September 2008, charged with providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy, based on claims that he “stored and concealed anti-tank mines, other explosive devices, and related equipment”; that he “concealed on his person a notebook describing how to wire and detonate explosive devices”; and that he “knew or intended” that his “material support and resources were to be used in preparation for and in carrying out a terrorist attack.” 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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