A Dream of Freedom Soured: Former Guantánamo Prisoners in Tunisia Face Ongoing Persecution

Salah Sassi, in a screenshot from the Associated Press's interview with him in June 2017.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Back in February — as part of a ongoing effort to cover the stories of former Guantánamo prisoners, as well as maintaining pressure on the Trump administration to close Guantánamo once and for all — I covered the story of Hedi Hammami, a Tunisian who, on release from Guantánamo in March 2010, was given a new home in Georgia, because, at the time, it was regarded as unsafe for Tunisian prisoners to be repatriated. However, after Tunisia’s dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, was overthrown in the first optimistic flourish of the Arab Spring, in January 2011, Hammami “negotiated his return to Tunisia,” as Carlotta Gall described it in an important article for the New York Times.

Gall’s article proceeded to reveal, however, how, although his return began positively, with him “benefiting from a national amnesty for political prisoners and a program of compensation that gave him a job in the Ministry of Health,” the tide soon turned, and Tunisia once more became a repressive regime, with Hammami subject to “a constant regimen of police surveillance, raids and harassment” to such an extent that he told Gall that he had recently visited the Red Cross and “asked them to connect me to the US foreign ministry to ask to go back to Guantánamo.”

Six months on, nothing has improved for Hammami. Reporting for the Associated Press, Bouazza Ben Bouazza found him “on the outskirts of Tunis in a rented room he describes as smaller than his Guantánamo cell.” He told Ben Bouazza,  “I was in a small prison and today I find myself in a larger one in Tunisia.” Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump’s Stumbling Efforts to Revive Guantánamo

A collage of images of Donald Trump and Guantanamo on its first day back in January 2002.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

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.

On Guantánamo, Donald Trump has, essentially, done nothing since he took office, despite promising, on the campaign trail, to fill the prison “with bad dudes,” and to revive the use of torture. Shortly after he took office, a draft executive order was leaked, which saw him proposing to set up new “black sites,” and to send new prisoners to Guantánamo, but on the former he was shut down immediately by critics from across the political spectrum, and even from some of his own appointees, and on the latter we presumed that silence meant that he had been advised that it was not worth sending new prisoners to Guantánamo.

There are a number of reasons why this advice was to be expected: because the federal courts have such a good track record of dealing successfully with terrorism-related cases, and because the legislation authorizing imprisonment at Guantánamo — the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed just days after the 9/11 attacks — focuses on 9/11, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and related forces, and not on newer threats — like Islamic State, for example, for which new legislation would be required.

As a result, although Guantánamo has almost entirely slipped off the radar, with the impression given that the men still held are trapped in a place that Trump has largely chosen to ignore, it has at least been reassuring that he has gone quiet on his previously-promised notions of reviving the prison. Read the rest of this entry »

In Ongoing Court Case, Spotlight On James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, Architects of the Brutal, Pointless CIA Torture Program

Bruce Jessen (left) and James Mitchell (right), the US psychologists who were the architects of the post-9/11 torture program.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues — including the US torture program — over the next three months of the Trump administration.

Today is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which commemorates the entry into force, on June 26, 1987, of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which the US is a signatory).

 

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,” we have always been concerned not only with closing Guantánamo for good, and seeking justice for anyone put forward for a trial, but also with accountability.

We believe that those who authorized the defining characteristics of the “war on terror” declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — a global program of kidnapping and torture, and, at Guantánamo, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial — must one day be held accountable for their actions.

Unfortunately, even before President Obama took office, he expressed “a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” adding that part of his job was “to make sure that, for example, at the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.” Read the rest of this entry »

Life After Guantánamo: Yemeni Freed in Estonia Says, “Part of Me is Still at Guantánamo”

Ahmed Abdul Qader, photographed at Guantanamo in 2009 or 2010 by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family, who made it publicly available via his lawyers.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

For some months now, I’ve been meaning to post a handful of articles about former Guantánamo prisoners resettled in third countries, as part of my ongoing efforts not only to tell the stories of the men still held in Guantánamo and to call for the prison’s closure, but also to focus what has happened to released prisoners, especially those resettled in third countries, as part of an ongoing process of encouraging people to reflect on what the United States’ responsibilities ought to be towards men resettled in third countries without any internationally agreed arrangements regarding their status. In recent months, I have written about Mansoor al-Dayfi, a Yemeni released in Serbia, and, earlier this week, Tariq al-Sawah, an Egyptian released in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In a handful of new articles, I’ll be catching up on some stories that were published last year, but that I didn’t get the opportunity to cover at the time, and the first of these is about Ahmed Abdul Qader, a Yemeni who was given a new home in Estonia in January 2015.

Last spring, Charlie Savage of the New York Times visited Estonia to meet with Qader and to interview him, over a number of days, for a story, “After Yemeni’s 13 Years in Guantánamo, Freedom for the Soul Takes Longer,” which was published in the New York Times at the end of July. Read the rest of this entry »

North Carolina Citizens’ Group Launches Investigation of CIA’s Bush-Era Rendition and Torture Program

Christina Cowger and Allyson Caison of North Carolina Stop Torture Now protesting against Aero Contractors, who flew rendition flights for the CIA’s torture program, in January 2013. Cowger is now part of the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture (Photo: Bob Geary).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Last month, the Associated Press picked up on an important anti-torture initiative in North Carolina, which, in turn, was picked up by the New York Times. and, in the UK, the Independent. I didn’t have the opportunity to mention it at the time, so I’m doing so now, as I want to play my part in trying to get it to a wider audience.

The Times ran the article under the headline, “Citizens’ Group Aims to Investigate CIA Rendition Program,” explaining how, on Wednesday March 15 in Raleigh, North Carolina, the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture — a group of academics, retired military officers and ministers — announced plans “to hold public hearings in North Carolina to highlight a government program they hope won’t be repeated: the secret CIA interrogation sites where suspected terrorists might be tortured.”

As their website describes it, the NCCIT was “set up to investigate and encourage public debate about the role that North Carolina played in facilitating the US torture program carried out between 2001 [and] 2009. This non-governmental inquiry responds to the lack of recognition by North Carolina’s publicly elected officials and the US government of citizens’ need to know how their tax dollars and state assets were used to support unlawful detention, torture, and rendition.” Read the rest of this entry »

Convincing the US He Wasn’t Part of Al-Qaeda: Abu Zubaydah’s 2008 and 2009 Declarations Regarding His Torture

Abu Zubaydah, in an illustration by Jared Rodriguez, used to accompany an article on Truthout.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

Last week I published an article, 15 Years of Torture: The Unending Agony of Abu Zubaydah, in CIA “Black Sites” and  Guantánamo, marking the 15th anniversary of the capture, in Pakistan, of Abu Zubaydah (Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), the gatekeeper of an independent training camp in Afghanistan who was mistakenly regarded by the US authorities as a key player in al-Qaeda and subjected to torture in secret CIA prisons in Thailand, Poland and elsewhere before arriving at Guantánamo with 13 other “high-value detainees” in September 2006.

My article last week ran though the main elements of Abu Zubaydah’s post-capture story — in particular, how he has been severely mentally and physically damaged by his torture, and how, embarrassingly for the US, he was not even who the authorities claimed he was.

As I stated, “We know … that Abu Zubaydah’s torture was profoundly damaging to his mental and physical health, and that he suffers from seizures, and we also know that, ignominiously, the US authorities have walked back from almost all their claims about him. Once mistakenly touted as al-Qaeda’s No. 3, even though the FBI knew that claim was idiotic, it was eventually conceded that he wasn’t a member of al-Qaeda and knew nothing about the 9/11 attacks in advance.” Read the rest of this entry »

After Four-Year Legal Struggle, Judges Support Government Claims That Videotapes of Force-Feeding at Guantánamo Must Remain Secret

A restraint chair at Guantanamo, used to force-feed prisoners (Photo by Jason Leopold).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

On Friday, in the appeals court in Washington, D.C., judges appear to have brought to an unsatisfactory end a four-year struggle to make public videotapes of prisoners at Guantánamo — and specifically Jihad Dhiab (aka Diyab), a Syrian, also known as Abu Wa’el Dhiab — being force-fed and violently extracted from their cells.

The case, as explained in a detailed timeline on the website of Reprieve, began in June 2013, during the prison-wide hunger strike that year, which attracted international opposition to President Obama’s lack of activity in releasing prisoners and working towards fulfilling the promise to close the prison that he made on his second day in office in January 2009.

I also covered the case extensively at the time — see my archive here, here, here and here (which included Dhiab’s release to Uruguay and subsequent struggle to adapt to his new life), ending with an appeal court ruling in May 2015, when the D.C. Circuit Court refused to accept an appeal by the government arguing against the release of the videotapes, and a rebuke to the government in July 2015, by Judge Gladys Kessler in the federal court, who had initially ordered the release of the tapes, and who “ordered the government to stop wasting time with ‘frivolous’ appeals against her rulings,” and to release the tapes. Read the rest of this entry »

The Anguish of Hedi Hammami, A Tunisian Released from Guantánamo in 2010, But Persecuted in His Homeland

A recent photograph of former Guantanamo prisoner Hedi Hammami (Photo: Youssef Bouafif).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

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.

The media circus has currently taken one of its darker turns regarding Guantánamo, after an evidently troubled former prisoner, Jamal al-Harith, a British citizen released 13 years ago, blew himself up in Iraq. Too much of the coverage has focused on the UK’s alleged failure to keep him under surveillance, and on the financial settlement he (and all the other released British prisoners) received from the British government in 2010, and not enough on how disgraceful and unacceptable his treatment was in the first place, and how that might have caused lasting damage.

The full-time surveillance of individuals is an expensive matter, and not one that states that respect the rule of law undertake lightly, especially in relation to individuals against whom no case for wrongdoing was ever established. Al-Harith is one of a number of individuals who were only sent to Guantánamo after they had been liberated by the US from a Taliban prison, where they had been held — and abused — because the Taliban thought they were spies, and it is inconceivable that these men were not damaged in some way by being subsequently sent to Guantánamo to be “held in extrajudicial detention for years and subjected to torture on a regular basis,” as the Guardian described it, adding, in al-Harith’s case, that this was “with the complicity of the UK.”

As the Guardian spelled out, the official reason given for al-Harith’s transfer to Guantánamo was “because the US thought he might have useful information on the treatment of prisoners by the Taliban – who had held him as a suspected British spy – not because he was considered dangerous,” and in the end, although the US authorities “thought some questions remained” about al-Harith, they “concluded he had no links to the Taliban or al-Qaida,” an assessment that seems accurate. It is not yet certain what led him to travel to Syria in 2014 to join Islamic State fighters, but it would be unwise to rule out the effects of the time spent in brutal prisons run by both the Taliban and the United States. Read the rest of this entry »

Case of Al-Qaeda Suspect Captured in Yemen Seen As Test of Trump’s Plan to Send New Prisoners to Guantánamo

"Not one step back: Close Guantanamo" - campaigners outside the White House during the Obama presidency, with a message that may be even more significant under Donald Trump.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

For the New York Times on Monday, in ‘Case of Captive in Yemen Could Test Trump’s Guantánamo Pledge,’ Adam Goldman, Matt Apuzzo and Eric Schmitt wrote about the case of Abu Khaybar, an al-Qaeda suspect, around 40 years of age, who was seized in Yemen last fall, and “is being held there by another country, according to four current and former senior administration officials.” The authors added that “[t]he circumstances of his detention are not clear, but he is wanted on terrorism charges in New York.”

However, Abu Khaybar may also be wanted by Donald Trump, to send to Guantánamo, to follow up on his pledge to send new prisoners to the prison. As the authors note, his “suspected affiliation with Al Qaeda gives the United States clear authority to hold him” at Guantánamo, where the detention of prisoners is approved by the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed in the days after the 9/11 attacks, which authorizes the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

As the Times noted, the new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, “has repeatedly said that terrorists should not be prosecuted in civilian courts,” a worrying stance given that the military commissions at Guantánamo have been a colossal failure, while federal courts have proven more than capable of successfully prosecuting terrorists, something they have done throughout the last 15 years, even when the Bush administration was most aggressively touting Guantánamo as a new paradigm of detention. Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump Reportedly Close to Finalizing Executive Order Approving Imprisonment of Islamic State Prisoners at Guantánamo

A collage of Donald Trump and Guantanamo prisoners on the first day of the prison's operations, January 11, 2002.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

In shocking news from the Trump administration regarding Guantánamo, the New York Times has obtained a new draft executive order, “Protecting America Through Lawful Detention of Terrorist and Other Designated Enemy Elements,” directing the Pentagon to bring Islamic State prisoners to Guantánamo.

Two weeks ago, the Times published a leaked draft executive order, “Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants” (which I wrote about here), calling for two executive orders issued by President Obama when he first took office in January 2009 to be revoked — one banning the CIA’s use of “black sites” and torture techniques, and the other ordering the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay. The draft order also called for new prisoners to be sent to Guantánamo, and for “any existing transfer efforts” to be suspended “pending a new review.”

After a huge outcry regarding the torture proposals, these were dropped from a revised order that Charlie Savage was told about, which he discussed in an article on February 4 — and which I mentioned yesterday in an article for the Close Guantánamo campaign looking primarily at opposition to the draft executive order from senior Democrats and rights groups.

Now, however, with the leaking of the new draft executive order, it has become clear that, although Trump has given up on his torture plans, he is close to telling defence secretary James Mattis to bring Islamic State prisoners to Guantánamo, “despite warnings from national security officials and legal scholars that doing so risks undermining the effort to combat the group,” as Charlie Savage described it. 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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