US Appeals Court Rules that Guantánamo Prisoners Can Challenge Force-Feeding, and Their Conditions of Detention

In the latest news from Guantánamo, the court of appeals in Washington D.C. ruled yesterday that hunger-striking prisoners can challenge their force-feeding in a federal court — and, more generally, ruled that judges have “the power to oversee complaints” by prisoners “about the conditions of their confinement,” as the New York Times described it, further explaining that the judges ruled that “courts may oversee conditions at the prison as part of a habeas corpus lawsuit,” and adding that the ruling “was a defeat for the Obama administration and may open the door to new lawsuits by the remaining 155 Guantánamo inmates.”

In summer, four prisoners, all cleared for release since at least January 2010 — Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian and Nabil Hadjarab, another Algerian, who was later releasedasked federal court judges to stop the government from force-feeding them, but the judges ruled (see here and here) that an existing precedent relating to Guantánamo prevented them from intervening. The prisoners then appealed, and reports at the time of the hearing in the D.C. Circuit Court indicated that the judges appeared to be inclined to look favorably on the prisoners’ complaints.

As was explained in a press release by Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent the men involved in the appeal, along with Jon B. Eisenberg in California, the D.C. Circuit Court “held that the detainees should be allowed a ‘meaningful opportunity’ back in District Court to show that the Guantánamo force-feeding was illegal.” They also “invited the detainees to challenge other aspects of the protocol.” Read the rest of this entry »

Watch the Shocking New Animated Film About the Guantánamo Hunger Strike

Below is a powerful new animated film, six minutes in length, which tells the story of the hunger strike at Guantánamo that began in February, and involved the majority of the 164 prisoners still held over the six-month period that followed. At its height, 46 prisoners were being force-fed, and even though just 17 prisoners are still taking part in the hunger strike, 16 of them are being force-fed. Force-feeding is a brutal process, condemned by the medical profession, but it is difficult to understand what is happening at Guantánamo because no images are available of prisoners being force-fed.

To overcome the difficulty for people to empathize with people whose suffering is deliberately kept hidden, the new animated film, “Guantánamo Bay: The Hunger Strikes,” produced by Mustafa Khalili and Guy Grandjean of the Guardian, and the animation company Sherbet, features the testimony of four prisoners, all of whom have been cleared for release but are still held (a situation in which 84 of the remaining 164 prisoners find themselves). The film, which depicts life in the prison, including the horrible reality of force-feeding, is narrated by the actors David Morrisey and Peter Capaldi. See here for an account of the making of the film in today’s Observer, and see here for David Morrissey’s comments about it.

The men whose stories are featured are Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Younus Chekhouri (aka Younous Chekkouri), a Moroccan who has strong ties to Germany, Samir Moqbel (aka Mukbel), a Yemeni whose op-ed in the New York Times in April drew attention to the hunger strike, and Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian who lived in the UK before his capture. The film also includes testimony from Nabil Hadjarab, one of just two prisoners released since President Obama promised to resume releasing cleared prisoners in May, and all of the statements were provided by the men’s lawyers at Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity. Read the rest of this entry »

Algeria’s Ongoing Persecution of Former Guantánamo Prisoner Abdul Aziz Naji

Three weeks ago, two Algerian prisoners were released from Guantánamo, who were the first prisoners to be released without a court order or a plea deal since September 2010, when Congress raised obstacles that President Obama refused to challenge or overcome until this year, when a prison-wide hunger strike, and widespread criticism of his inaction, both domestically and internationally, obliged him to promise, in a major speech on national security issues in May, that he would resume releasing prisoners.

This was the very least that he could do, given that, at the time, 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners had been cleared for release, since January 2010, by an inter-agency task force that the president had established when he took office in 2009, and many of these men had also been cleared for release years before, under the Bush administration. With the release of the Algerians, that number is down to 84, but this is clearly no occasion for satisfaction on the part of the Obama administration, and every day that these 84 men are still held further erodes President Obama’s credibility.

As for the Algerians, all that has been heard about the two men since their repatriation is that, back in Algeria, they were placed “under ‘judicial control,’ a type of supervised parole,” after being “detained pending interrogation by a prosecutor.” Joseph Breham, the French lawyer for one of the men, Nabil Hadjarab, who was featured in a New York Times op-ed by John Grisham just before his release, told the Associated Press that he was “working on getting him resettled in France, where his whole family lives.” Breham said, “We are overjoyed he has been cleared (for parole) and now we are going to work to return him to France.” He added that Hadjarab “would have to check in with [the] authorities every month.” Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Two Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Algeria?

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 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. The portrait on the left is by the artist Molly Crabapple, who has been visiting Guantánamo this year, and is one of seven portraits, with accompanying text, commissioned and published this week by Creative Time Reports and also published by the Daily Beast

Last week, President Obama released the first two prisoners from Guantánamo since he promised to resume releasing cleared prisoners in a major speech on May 23. That speech was prompted by high-level domestic and international criticism, which, in turn, arose in response to a prison-wide hunger strike that the prisoners embarked upon in February, in despair at ever being freed or receiving justice.

The release of these two prisoners, both Algerians, is to be applauded, as President Obama has been so paralyzed by inertia for the last few years that only five prisoners were freed between October 2010 and July 2013 (either through court orders or through plea deals in their military commission trials) and the last prisoners to be freed as a result of the president’s own intentions were released three years ago, in September 2010, when two men who could not be safely repatriated were released in Germany.

Since then, Congress has raised serious obstacles to the release of prisoners, and the administration was required to certify to lawmakers that it was safe to release the men. As the Miami Herald reported after their release last week, “Last month, the White House announced that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, for the first time, had certified the release under requirements imposed by Congress’ current National Defense Authorization Act with the approval of Secretary of State John Kerry and the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.” Read the rest of this entry »

GTMO Clock: 100 Days Since President Obama Promised to Resume Releasing Prisoners from Guantánamo, Just Two Men Freed

Getting men released from Guantánamo has become more difficult than getting blood out of a stone, even though over half of the 164 men still held were approved for release in January 2010 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force.

Please visit, like, share and tweet the GTMO Clock website, which I launched a month ago, and which shows that it is now 100 days since President Obama promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, in a major speech on national security issues on May 23, but, to date, just two men have been released.

President Obama only made his promise because he had been provoked into action by a barrage of domestic and international criticism, which was in turn prompted by the prisoners embarking on a prison-wide hunger strike in February, to raise awareness of their ongoing and unacceptable imprisonment without charge or trial.

The difficulty in releasing prisoners has arisen in part because of severe obstacles raised by Congress, and in part because of President Obama’s unwillingness to spend political capital overcoming these obstacles. Read the rest of this entry »

Congratulations to John Grisham for Writing about the Injustice of Guantánamo

In the long and horrendous history of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, it has been noticeable that very few celebrities have challenged the myriad injustices of Guantánamo — the torture; the indefinite detention without charge or trial; the decision by the Bush administration to tear up every domestic and international law and treaty regarding the treatment of prisoners; the refusal to make a distinction between soldiers and terrorists; the bounty payments issued to America’s Afghan and Pakistani allies, which led to numerous civilians being rounded up and sent to Guantánamo; the pressure exerted on the prisoners to make them tell lies about themselves and their fellow prisoners, to create the majority of what passes for evidence at Guantánamo; the failure of President Obama to hold any Bush administration officials (up to and including President Bush) responsible for their actions; the failure of President Obama to close the prison as he promised; the failure of President Obama to resume releasing prisoners, as he promised in a major speech in May this year; the opportunistic fearmongering of Congress, which has raised almost insurmountable obstacles to prevent the release of prisoners or the closure of the prison; the decision by judges in the appeals court in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court) to gut habeas corpus of all meaning in relation to the Guantánamo prisoners, and to shut the Great Writ down as a route out of the prison; and the decision by the Supreme Court to allow this cynical manipulation of the law to stand, and not to assert its authority over the appeals court.

As a result of the general indifference towards Guantánamo, it came as a great and pleasant surprise when, at the weekend, the author John Grisham, whose books have sold over 250 million copies, wrote an op-ed for the New York Times about the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo, focusing, in particular, on the case of Nabil Hadjarab, an Algerian national, and an orphan, with relatives in France who have been seeking his release for many years. Grisham found out about him because he was alerted to the fact that prisoners were being prevented from reading his books, and that Nabil was one of them — and I imagine he was made aware of this through his support for the Innocence Project, a non-profit organization in the US dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people, which Nabil’s lawyers at Reprieve have also been involved in over many years.

Grisham, I’m glad to say, has understood perfectly the horrors of Guantánamo, as the following passages from his article show: Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer and Other Guantánamo Prisoners Call Force-Feeding Torture, Ask Appeals Court for Help

On June 30, as I reported here, lawyers for four prisoners in Guantánamo — Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha, both Algerians, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian — filed a motion with the District Court in Washington D.C., asking a judge to issue a ruling compelling the government to “stop force-feeding in the prison and stop force-medicating prisoners, particularly with Reglan, a drug used by the US during the force-feeding process that when used for extended periods of time can cause severe neurological disorders, including one that mimics Parkinson’s disease,” as it was described in a press release by Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers filed the motion, along with Jon B. Eisenberg in the US.

The men are amongst the 86 prisoners (out of the 166 men still held), who were cleared for release by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama when he took office in 2009. In addition, all are involved in the prison-wide hunger strike that began six months ago, and both Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha are amongst the 41 prisoners who are being force-fed.

Although the prisoners made a compelling argument for the need for intervention, the judge ruling in Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s case, Judge Gladys Kessler, was unable to grant the motion, because of a legal precedent from February 2009, when, in the case of Mohammed al-Adahi, a Yemeni who sought to stop his force-feeding, a court ruled that “no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement of an alien who is or was detained by the United States and has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant.” Read the rest of this entry »

Justice Department Tells Court that Force-Feeding Guantánamo Hunger Strikers is “Maintaining the Status Quo”

What a disgrace the Justice Department lawyers dealing with Guantánamo are. On Wednesday, Andrew Warden, Timothy Walthall and Daniel Barish of the Civil Division’s Federal Programs Branch argued in federal court in Washington D.C. against a motion submitted on behalf of four of the prisoners involved in the prison-wide hunger strike that is nearing its sixth month, asking Judge Rosemary Collyer to order the government to stop force-feeding prisoners engaged in the hunger strike, and also to stop administering medication without the prisoners’ consent.

45 of the prisoners are currently being force-fed, and according to the government 106 of the remaining 166 prisoners are on a hunger strike. The prisoners themselves claim that around 120 of them are refusing food. Two of the four men represented in the motion are being force-fed — Ahmed Belbacha and Nabil Hadjarab, both Algerians — while the other two are taking part in the hunger strike but are not being force-fed. They are Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian.

All four were cleared for release from the prison in January 2010, by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established when he took office, and all but Abu Wa’el Dhiab were also cleared for release under President Bush. 86 men in total were cleared for release by Obama’s task force, but are still held. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Hunger Strike: Nabil Hadjarab Tells Court, “I Will Consider Eating When I See People Leaving This Place”

Yesterday, I wrote about a motion submitted to the District Court in Washington D.C. by Reprieve, the legal action charity, and Jon B. Eisenberg, an attorney in Oakland, California, on behalf of four prisoners taking part in the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo that is about to enter its sixth month. According to the authorities, 106 prisoners are taking part in the hunger strike, although the prisoners claim that the true number is at least 120.

The four men are Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha, both Algerians, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian, and they are amongst the 86 men (out of 166 prisoners in total) who were cleared for release by President Obama’s inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010, but are still held — in part because of Congressional opposition, but also because of indifference on the part of President Obama.

Despite promising to resume releasing prisoners in a major speech on national security issues on May 23, which he can do through a waiver that exists in the legislation passed by Congress that otherwise makes it all but impossible to release prisoners, the President has not released a single one of these 86 cleared prisoners since that promise was made.

As well as being cleared prisoners and hunger strikers, both Ahmed Belbacha and Nabil Hadjarab are currently being force-fed, along with 42 others out of the remaining 166 prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer and Other Prisoners Ask US Court to Stop the Force-Feeding and Forced Medication at Guantánamo

Lawyers at the London-based legal action charity Reprieve, and co-counsel Jon B. Eisenberg, an attorney in Oakland, California filed a motion with the District Court in Washington D.C. on Sunday evening, on behalf of four prisoners in Guantánamo, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison. The motion was submitted in response to the authorities’ force-feeding and forced medication of hunger strikers engaged in a prison-wide hunger strike that will enter its sixth month on Saturday. According to the authorities, 106 of the remaining 166 prisoners are taking part in the hunger strike, protesting about their indefinite detention, but according to the prisoners themselves the total is at least 120.

The motion, available here, asks Judge Rosemary Collyer to issue a ruling to compel the government to “stop force-feeding in the prison and stop force-medicating prisoners, particularly with Reglan, a drug used by the US during the force-feeding process that when used for extended periods of time can cause severe neurological disorders, including one that mimics Parkinson’s disease,” as Reprieve put it in a press release. Please also see additional submissions by Cori Crider, Reprieve’s Strategic Director, and by Steven Miles, Professor of Medicine at the University of Minnesota, and by Stephen Xenakis, a retired brigadier general and Army medical corps officer with 28 years of active service, who is now an Adjunct Clinical Professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.

Shaker Aamer is one of 86 prisoners cleared for release by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, appointed by President Obama, which issued its recommendations three and half years ago. The three other prisoners represented in the motion — Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha, both Algerians, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian — were also cleared for release three and a half years ago, but are still held despite President Obama’s promise to overcome restrictions imposed by Congress and resume releasing prisoners, which he made in a major speech on national security issues on May 23; in other words, nearly six weeks ago. Since that time, not a single prisoner has yet been released. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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