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 »
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. Also, please listen to me talking about Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s case on Sputnik International, and please sign the petitions to Ashton Carter calling for his release — on Change.org and via the ACLU.
Last Thursday, one of the few well-known prisoners at Guantánamo, Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a 45-year old Mauritanian, became the 43rd prisoner to face a Periodic Review Board. Slahi was subjected to a specially tailored torture program in Guantánamo, approved by Bush’s defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, and, though still imprisoned, is a best-selling author. While imprisoned, he wrote a memoir that, after a long struggle with the US government, was published in redacted form. Nevertheless, the power of Slahi’s account of his life, his rendition, his torture and his long years in Guantánamo, is such that the book, Guantánamo Diary, has become a best-seller.
Although the Bush administration attempted to make a case that Slahi was a member of Al-Qaeda, which was why they put pressure on the Mauritanian government to hand him over to them in November 2001, and why he was subsequently tortured in Jordan (on behalf of the US) and in Guantánamo by US operatives, the case evaporated under scrutiny. In April 2010, Judge James Robertson, a US District Court judge, after scrutinizing his habeas corpus petition, ordered his release, finding that the government had failed to establish that what looked suspicious in his case — primarily, the fact that he was related to senior Al-Qaeda member Abu Hafs, and, while living in Germany, had met some of the 9/11 hijackers and had helped them to visit Afghanistan for military training — was actually evidence of involvement with Al-Qaeda. Slahi has admitted that he had joined Al-Qaeda, but that was in 1992, when he had visited Afghanistan during the civil war that followed the Soviet withdrawal, and he insisted that he had not maintained any contact with the organization after that time.
The government, however, refused to accept Judge Robertson’s ruling, and appealed, and in November 2010 the D.C. Circuit Court vacated that ruling, sending it back to the lower court to be reconsidered, where, as I described it in an article about Slahi’s case in April, “it has languished ever since, mocking all notions of justice every day it has remained unaddressed.” Read the rest of this entry »
At lunchtime on Monday January 12, the day after the 13th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (when I was speaking outside the White House), I took part in “Leaving the Dark Side? Emptying Guantánamo and the CIA Torture Report,” a panel discussion at New America.
With me at New America (formerly the New America Foundation) was Tom Wilner, who represented the Guantánamo prisoners before the Supreme Court in their habeas corpus cases in 2004 and 2008, and with whom I co-founded the Close Guantánamo campaign in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, and Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, who resigned in 2007, in protest at the use of torture, and has since become an outspoken critic of the prison and the “war on terror.”
The moderator was journalist and author Peter Bergen, the Director of the International Security, Future of War, and Fellows Programs at New America, who I have known since the early 1890s, when we were both at Oxford together. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, just before the defense rested its case in the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, I was delighted that my book The Guantánamo Files was cited as a significant source of reliable information about the prisoners in Guantánamo — more reliable, in fact, than the information contained in the previously classified military files (the Detainee Assessment Briefs) leaked by Manning and released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, on which I worked as a media partner.
The trial began at the start of June, but on February 28, Manning accepted responsibility for the largest leak of classified documents in US history — including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files.
When Manning accepted responsibility for the leaks, the Guardian described it as follows: “In a highly unusual move for a defendant in such a serious criminal prosecution, Manning pleaded guilty to 10 lesser charges out of his own volition – not as part of a plea bargain with the prosecution.” The Guardian added that the charges to which Manning pleaded guilty “carry a two-year maximum sentence each, committing Manning to a possible upper limit of 20 years in military prison,” but pointed out that he “pleaded not guilty to 12 counts which relate to the major offences of which he is accused by the US government. Specifically, he denied he had been involved in ‘aiding the enemy’ — the idea that he knowingly gave help to al-Qaida and caused secret intelligence to be published on the internet, aware that by doing so it would become available to the enemy.” Read the rest of this entry »
With a prison-wide hunger strike raging at Guantánamo, the world’s media — and people all around the world — have woken up to the fact that a chronic injustice is still ongoing at Guantánamo, and that nothing will be done about it unless serious pressure is exerted on President Obama and on Congress, who, between them, have ensured that none of the remaining prisoners at Guantánamo — 166 in total — can leave the prison alive under any circumstances.
This is a monstrous betrayal of all notions of justice and decency. The men at Guantánamo are indefinitely detained without charge or trial — a situation that is unacceptable under any circumstances — even though 86 of them were cleared for release at least three years ago by a sober and responsible inter-agency task force that President Obama established when he took office in January 2009 — when, of course, he also promised to close Guantánamo within a year.
In the hope of persuading President Obama to take the necessary steps to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, and to revisit his failed promise to close the prison once and for all, following the fine words he uttered at a press conference yesterday, my colleague Col. Morris Davis has launched a petition, via Change.org, entitled, “President Obama: Close Detention Facility at Guantanamo Bay,” which has gone viral, attracting over 65,000 signatures in less than 24 hours, a sure sign that the American people — and people around the world — have woken up to the horrors of Guantánamo, and do not intend to be brushed aside. Read the rest of this entry »
On Friday, the 11th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, myself and the attorney Tom Wilner, the steering committee of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, held our annual reunion at the New America Foundation in Washington D.C. with Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions, who resigned in 2007, the day after he was placed in a chain of command under William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s senior lawyer and one of the Bush administration officials most involved in developing the administration’s notorious torture program. The event was moderated by Peter Bergen, the director of the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation.
For three years now, we have gathered on the anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo to call on President Obama to fulfill the promise to close the prison that he made on taking office in January 2009.
This year our call was more passionate, intense, and driven by righteous indignation than ever before. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s over 24 hours since I arrived in the US, with the support of Witness Against Torture, World Can’t Wait and Close Guantánamo, for a series of events to mark the 11th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, a shameful anniversary that should not have come to pass. Four years ago, when he took office, President Obama promised to close the prison within a year, but he failed to fulfil that promise. His lack of courage has been matched by opportunistic intervention from Congress, where lawmakers have passed legislation designed to thwart any efforts to close Guantánamo. To complete the failures of all three branches of the US government, the courts too have added their own contribution, with the D.C. Circuit Court gutting the habeas corpus rights of the prisoners, which lawyers spent many years fighting for, and the Supreme Court refusing to revisit the prisoners’ cases, when given the opportunity last year.
As I — and others who still care about the closure of Guantánamo — continue to point out, the ongoing existence of Guantánamo is an affront to all notions of justice and fairness. Distressingly, of the 166 men still held, 86 were cleared for release by President Obama’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, and yet, through the combination of cowardice, indifference, opportunism and scaremongering outlined above, they remain held, even though one long-cleared prisoner, Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, died at Guantánamo last September, and even though President Obama won reelection in November, and is now free to act to secure his legacy rather than focusing all his attention on campaigning — and not mentioning anything contentious. If he wants a legacy that doesn’t describe him, amongst other things, as the man who promised to close Guantánamo but then failed to do because it was politically inconvenient, he needs to act now. 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.
CORRECTION: Please note that the panel discussion at the New America Foundation in Washington D.C. On January 11 will now take place at 10am, and not at 3pm, as listed below.
As the 11th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay approaches, we at “Close Guantánamo” are making our preparations for being in Washington D.C. to call on President Obama to fulfill the promise he made four years ago, when he took office, to close the prison for good.
At 12 noon on Friday January 11, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, the attorney Tom Wilner and the journalist Andy Worthington, who make up the steering committee of “Close Guantánamo,” will be joining members of 24 other groups outside the Supreme Court to call for the closure of Guantánamo. See Amnesty International’s page here, and the flyer here. Read the rest of this entry »
Exactly ten years ago, two memos written by John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, were signed by his immediate boss, Jay S. Bybee. In these two memos, Yoo, also a law professor at UC Berkeley, attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used on Abu Zubaydah, an alleged “high-value detainee” seized in the “war on terror,” even though the US is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits the use of torture under any circumstances.
These two memos, generally known as the Bybee memos, but forever known to anyone with a conscience as the “torture memos,” marked the start of an official torture program that will forever be a black mark on America’s reputation — as well as providing cover for torturers worldwide, and turning America into such a dubious and lawless nation that President Obama and his administration have shied away form holding any of their predecessors accountable for their actions, and have swallowed the Bush administration’s rhetoric about a “war on terror” to such an extent that, although torture has been officially repudiated, the administration has presided over a massive increase in the use of unmanned drones to assassinate those regarded as a threat, without any judicial process, and in countries with which the US is not at war, including US citizens.
In an article to follow soon, I will examine this anniversary more closely, but for now I wanted to make sure that I marked it in some manner, having been away at the WOMAD world music festival for most of the run-up to it, and I’m delighted to use the occasion to cross-post an op-ed from the Los Angeles Times written by Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, who resigned five years ago, when he was placed in a chain of command under William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, and one of the main drivers of the torture program. Read the rest of this entry »
Close Guantanamo, Washington D.C., January 2012, a set on Flickr.
In the small hours of this morning, I posted the first set of photos on my new Flickr account, of my wanderings in New York in January, at the start of my two-week US tour to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison.
My tour — my fifth visit to the US to call for the closure of Guantánamo, and to publicize the stories of the men held there — was organized by the campaigning group The World Can’t Wait, and in New York and Washington D.C., I spent a lot of time with The World Can’t Wait’s National Director, Debra Sweet, a relentless campaigner for justice, who, very deservedly, recently won an American Humanist Award as a “Humanist Heroine.” Read the rest of this entry »
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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