Life After Guantánamo: The Story of Mourad Benchellali, Freed 13 Years Ago But Still Stigmatized

Former Guantanamo prisoner Mourad Benchellali, who was released in 2004, but is still not free from the unjustified stigma of having been in Guantanamo.

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Three weeks ago, around the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, there was a sudden flurry of media interest in Guantánamo, which was reassuring amidst the general indifference about the prison since Donald Trump became president. Most of the articles published focused on the alleged perpetrators of the attacks, and the inability of the military commission trial system to deliver justice because of its own inadequacies, and because the men allegedly responsible were all tortured for years in secret prisons run by the CIA, which I covered at the time, while others looked at former prisoners’ stories.

Four days after the anniversary, for example, the New York Times published a moving article by Mansoor Adayfi, resettled in Serbia last year, which I cross-posted here with my own commentary, while Al-Jazeera profiled Mourad Benchellali, a French national who was released in 2004, and has since become known for his efforts to prevent the radicalization of impressionable young people.

I’ve known about Benchellali’s story since I first began researching Guantánamo 12 years ago, in the fall of 2015, because the stories of most of the European nationals freed from the prison were well-reported — and contributed enormously to people’s general understanding of how malignant a project Guantánamo really is. Read the rest of this entry »

Fugitive From Justice: A Timeline of the Crimes Committed by Guantánamo’s Torture Chief, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, As He Fails to Show Up at a French Court

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, photographed in Baghdad on May 17, 2004 (Photo: AFP/Damir Sagol).In the long quest for accountability for those who ordered and implemented the crimes committed by the United States since 9/11 in its brutal and counter-productive “war on terror,” victory has so far proven elusive, and no one has had to answer for the torture, the extraordinary rendition, the CIA “black sites,” the proxy torture prisons elsewhere, the shameful disregard of the Geneva Conventions and the embrace of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial that has been such a shame and disgrace for anyone not blinded by the violence and vengeance that have consumed so much of the US’s actions and attitudes in the last 14 and a half years.

In the US itself, President Obama made it clear from the beginning that he was looking forwards and not backwards when it came to accountability, as though sweeping the crimes mentioned above under the carpet would remove their poison from infecting US society as a whole. An early example of refusing to allow any victims of extraordinary rendition and torture anywhere near a courtroom was the Obama administration, in 2009 (and into 2010), invoking the “state secrets doctrine” (a blanket denial of any effort to challenge the government’s actions) to prevent the British resident and torture victim Binyam Mohamed and others from challenging the Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen for its role as the CIA’s travel agent for torture.

In February 2010, President Obama also allowed a Justice Department fixer to override the conclusions of an ethics investigation into John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who wrote and approved the 2002 “torture memos” that cynically purported to redefine torture so it could legally be used by the CIA. The investigation had concluded that they were guilty of “wrongful conduct,” but they received only a slapped wrist after Deputy Attorney General David Margolis concluded instead that they had merely exercised “poor judgment.” Read the rest of this entry »

Chef Held at Guantánamo Calls Shaker Aamer a “Beautiful, Great Man” But Warns of Difficulties Adapting to Freedom

Ahmed Errachidi on a poster at a protest in Birmingham in September 2005, outside Hiatt's, the manufacturers of the shackles used in Guantanamo (photo via Indymedia).The Guardian, yesterday, featured former Guantánamo prisoner Ahmed Errachidi speaking of his admiration for Shaker Aamer, the British resident released from the prison on October 30, but warning that it will be difficult for him to adapt to his freedom after nearly 14 years in US custody.

A Moroccan national and a chef, Errachidi, 49, had lived and worked in London for 18 years before he travelled to Pakistan and then Afghanistan in late 2001 in what appears to have been an ill-conceived combination of a business trip and a desire to aid the Afghan people. Seized and taken to Guantánamo, he was initially regarded as a significant prisoner. As Ben Quinn explained in an article for the Guardian, “he earned the nickname ‘The General’ by guards, after he was cast as the unofficial leader of more than 700 detainees — organising protests that included hunger strikes, a role he says occurred largely because he was one of the few English speakers.”

Oddly, Quinn failed to mention that Errachidi was bipolar, and suffered psychotic episodes at Guantánamo, sometimes during interrogations, and that it wasn’t until he was assigned Clive Stafford Smith as a lawyer that a claim that he was in a training camp was debunked, when Stafford Smith was able to secure the wage slips from a restaurant in Bond Street where Errachidi was actually working at the time. That was the key evidence that paved the way for his release in April 2007. Quinn also neglected to mention that, in 2013, his memoir, The General: The Ordinary Man Who Challenged Guantánamo, was published by Random House. Read the rest of this entry »

WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released After the Tribunals, 2004 to 2005 (Part Two of Five)

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Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening on January 11, 2012.

This is Part 17 of the 70-part series.

In late April, WikiLeaks pushed Guantánamo back onto the international media’s agenda by publishing thousands of pages of classified military documents — the Detainee Assessment Briefs — relating to almost all of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002, which drew on the testimony of witnesses — in most cases, the prisoners’ fellow prisoners — whose words are unreliable, either because they were subjected to torture or other forms of coercion (sometimes not in Guantánamo, but in secret prisons run by the CIA), or because they provided false statements to secure better treatment in Guantánamo.

As an independent media partner of WikiLeaks, I liaised both before and after the publication of these documents with WikiLeaks’ mainstream media partners (including the Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, the Daily Telegraph, Der Spiegel, Le Monde and El Pais), and then, after the killing of Osama bin Laden pushed Guantánamo aside once more, and allowed apologists for torture, and those who engineered its use by US forces, to resume their malignant, criminal and deeply mistaken defense of torture, and of the existence of Guantánamo, I began to analyze all of the Detainee Assessment Briefs in depth.

I began, in May and June, with a five-part series, “WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo,” telling the stories of 84 prisoners, released between 2002 and 2004, whose stories had never been told before. These men and boys were amongst the first 201 prisoners released, and unlike the other prisoners, for whom information was released to the public from 2006 onwards, as a result of court cases involving Freedom of Information requests, no information had been officially released about the first 201 prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Three of Ten)

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Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening on January 11, 2012.

This is Part 8 of the 70-part series.

In late April, WikiLeaks released its latest treasure trove of classified US documents, a set of 765 Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) from the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Compiled between 2002 and January 2009 by the Joint Task Force that has primary responsibility for the detention and interrogation of the prisoners, these detailed military assessments therefore provided new information relating to the majority of the 779 prisoners held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba throughout its long and inglorious history, including, for the first time, information about 84 of the first 201 prisoners released, which had never been made available before.

Superficially, the Detainee Assessment Briefs appear to contain allegations against numerous prisoners which purport to prove how dangerous they are or were, but in reality the majority of these statements were made by the prisoners’ fellow prisoners, in Kandahar or Bagram in Afghanistan prior to their arrival at Guantánamo, in Guantánamo itself, or in the CIA’s secret prisons, and in all three environments, torture and abuse were rife.

I ran through some of the dubious witnesses responsible for so many of the claims against the prisoners in the introduction to Part One of this new series, and, while this is of enormous importance in the cases of many of the men still held (and also in the cases of some of those released), it is not particularly relevant to the overwhelmingly insignificant prisoners released between 2002 and September 2004, whose detention was so pointless that the authorities didn’t even bother trying to build cases against them through the testimony of their fellow prisoners. 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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