In the eleven years since I first began working on Guantánamo full-time, researching its history and the stories of the men held there, writing about them and working to get the prison closed down, one date has been burned into my mind: March 28, 2002, when Abu Zubaydah (Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), an alleged “high-value detainee,” was seized in a house raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan. That night dozens of prisoners were seized in a number of house raids in Faisalabad, and some were taken to CIA “black sites” or sent abroad on behalf of the CIA to torture facilities in other countries, run by their own torturers. Most ended up, after a few months, in Guantánamo, and most — through not all — have now been released, but not Abu Zubaydah.
He, instead, was sent to a CIA “black site” in Thailand, where he was the first prisoner subjected to the CIA’s vile post-9/11 torture program, revealed most clearly to date in the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report about the program, published in December 2014. Although the executive summary was heavily redacted, and the full report has never been made public, it remains the most powerful official indictment of the torture program, which, it is clear, should never have been embarked upon in the first place.
After Thailand, where he was subjected to waterboarding (an ancient form of water torture) on 83 occasions, Abu Zubaydah was sent to Poland, and, after other flights to other locations (a “black site” in Guantánamo, briefly), and others in Morocco, Lithuania, and — probably — Afghanistan, he ended up back at Guantánamo, though not covertly, in September 2006, when President Bush announced to the world that he and 13 other “high-value detainees” had been removed from the CIA “black sites” whose existence he had previously denied, but which, he now admitted, had existed but had just been shut down. Read the rest of this entry »
So last week was an interesting week for events focused on Guantánamo, torture and the military commissions in London, as Alka Pradhan, a lawyer with the defense team for Ammar al-Baluchi (aka Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali), a “high-value detainee,” and one of five men facing a trial for his alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks, was in town, and as a result MPs who, for the most part, had been involved in the campaign to free Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, had arranged a Parliamentary meeting.
The meeting was also called to coincide with a visit from Andrew Tyrie MP (Conservative, Chichester), the chair of the long-standing All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, and the election of officers for a new APPG on Guantánamo. It was chaired by Tom Brake MP (Liberal Democrat, Carshalton and Wallington), who held a Parliamentary meeting earlier this year for Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the torture victim and best-selling author who was recently released from Guantánamo, and attended by MPs including Chris Law (SNP, Dundee West), who will be the chair of the new APPG, and Andy Slaughter (Labour, Hammersmith), who, in 2014, visited Washington, D.C. to call for Shaker Aamer’s release with the Conservative MPs David Davis and Andrew Mitchell, and Jeremy Corbyn, before he became the leader of the Labour Party. Caroline Lucas (Green, Brighton Pavilion) and Mark Durkan (SDLP) were unable to make it to the meeting, but will also be involved in the APPG.
At the meeting, Alka briefed MPs on the story of her client, which I recently wrote about for Al-Jazeera, as he sought to persuade the US government to allow the UN Rapporteur for Torture to make an independent visit to Guantánamo to assess the conditions in which they are held, and to talk freely with them about their torture in CIA “black sites.” Unsurprisingly, no independent visit has been allowed, because the US government is determined to continue hiding evidence of the CIA’s torture program, despite the publication, nearly two years ago, of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA’s torture program, with its damning verdict on the brutality and futility of the program, and the CIA’s repeated lies about it. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s been some time since I wrote about Abu Zubaydah (Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), one of 14 “high-value detainees” transferred from secret CIA prisons to Guantánamo in September 2006, beyond discussions of his important case against the Polish government, where he was held in a secret CIA torture prison in 2002 and 2003. This led to a ruling in his favor in the European Court of Human Rights last July, and a decision in February this year to award him — and another Guantánamo prisoner and torture victim, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri — $262,000 in damages, for which, just last week, a deadline for payment was set for May 16, even though, as the Guardian noted, “neither Polish officials nor the US embassy in Warsaw would say where the money is going or how it was being used.”
I wrote extensively about Abu Zubaydah from 2008 to 2010, when there was generally little interest in his case, and I have also followed his attempts to seek justice in Poland since the investigation by a prosecutor began in 2010, leading to his recognition as a “victim” in January 2011, just before I visited Poland for a brief tour of the film I co-directed, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” with the former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg.
I have continued to follow Abu Zubaydah’s story in the years since, as other developments took place — when Jason Leopold, then at Al-Jazeera America, got hold of his diaries, which the US authorities had refused to release, and last December, when the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA’s torture program was released, and one of Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers, Helen Duffy, wrote an article for the Guardian, entitled, “The CIA tortured Abu Zubaydah, my client. Now charge him or let him go.” This followed the revelations in the report that, if he survived his torture, his interrogators wanted assurances that he would “remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life,” and senior officials stated that he “will never be placed in a situation where he has any significant contact with others and/or has the opportunity to be released.” Read the rest of this entry »
I’m just catching up on a story from two weeks ago that I was unable to post at the time because I was busy with another couple of stories — the dismissal of David Hicks’ Guantánamo conviction, and the ongoing campaign to free Shaker Aamer.
The story I didn’t have time to report involved the European Court of Human Rights and the CIA “black site” that existed on Polish soil from December 2002 to September 2003. In July last year, the court delivered an unprecedented ruling — that, as the Guardian described it, Poland “had violated international law by allowing the CIA to inflict what ‘amounted to torture’ in 2002 at a secret facility in the forests of north-east Poland. The court found that Poland ‘enabled the US authorities to subject [the detainees] to torture and ill‑treatment on its territory’ and was complicit in that ‘inhuman and degrading treatment.'”
The ruling dealt with two of the “high-value detainees” held in the site — Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia, for whom the torture program was specifically developed, even though it was subsequently discovered that he was not involved with Al-Qaeda, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi accused of involvement in the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. Both men were subjected to the ancient torture technique known as waterboarding, as well as a variety of other torture techniques, and, while Abu Zubaydah is still held without charge or trial, al-Nashiri is facing a war crimes trial in the military commissions at Guantánamo, a process that has been stuck on the pre-trial phase for years, as his defense team tries to raise the question of his torture and prosecutors do all they can to keep it hidden. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week there was some extremely important news for those of us who have spent many long years hoping to hold senior US officials — up to and including former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney — accountable for approving and implementing a torture program in the “war on terror,” when the European Court of Human Rights unanimously condemned the US for implementing a program of extraordinary rendition and torture, and condemned Poland for its involvement in the program by hosting a secret torture prison — a CIA “black site” — on its soil in 2002-03.
The rulings were delivered in the cases of two men, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national accused of masterminding the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and Abu Zubaydah (a Saudi-born Palestinian whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), mistakenly described as al-Qaeda’s number 3 after his capture in March 2002. In its report on the rulings, the New York Times provided a more appropriate description of Zubaydah as someone who is “believed to have overseen the operation of guesthouses in Pakistan,” who vetted recruits and “provided letters of recommendation allowing them to be accepted for training at a paramilitary camp in Afghanistan” — which, it should be noted, was not affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Both men are currently held at Guantánamo, where they have been since September 2006, but they were held for over four years in “black sites” where they were subjected to torture, including the site in Poland that the European Court of Human Rights highlighted in its rulings. Read the rest of this entry »
In the long search for accountability for the torturers of the Bush administration, which has largely been shut down by President Obama, lawyers and human rights activists have either had to try shaming the US through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or have had to focus on other countries, particularly those that hosted secret CIA torture prisons, or had explicit involvement in extraordinary rendition.
Successes have been rare, but hugely important — the conviction of CIA officials and operatives in Italy, for the blatant daylight kidnap of Abu Omar, a cleric, on a street in Milan in February 2003, and the court victory in Macedonia of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen kidnapped in Macedonia, where he had gone on a holiday, and sent to a CIA “black site” in 2003 until the US realized that his was a case of mistaken identity. In the UK, the whiff of complicity in torture at the highest levels of the Blair government led to pay-offs for the British nationals and residents sent to Guantánamo.
Court cases were also launched in Spain, although they were suppressed, in part because of US involvement (under President Obama), and currently there are efforts to hold the US accountable before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights for its use of Djibouti in a number of cases involving “extraordinary rendition” and “black sites.” Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday and Tuesday, as I explained in a subsequent article, “an important step took place in the quest for those who ordered and undertook torture in the Bush administration’s ‘war on terror’ to be held accountable for their actions,” when a ground-breaking hearing took place in Strasbourg. For the first time since the start of the “war on terror” and the abuses that, in particular, took place between 2002 and 2006, the European Court of Human Rights listened to evidence about the role of the Polish authorities in the extraordinary rendition, secret detention and torture of two men currently held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Both men were held at a secret prison at Stare Kiejkuty in the northeast of the country, between December 2002, when they were moved from a previous CIA “black site” in Thailand, until October 2003, when they were moved for five months to “Strawberry Fields,” a secret facility in Guantánamo, until the Bush administration realized that the Supreme Court was about to grant the Guantánamo prisoners habeas corpus rights, thereby allowing lawyers to visit and to shatter the secrecy that was necessary for torture abuse to take place unchallenged. They were then shunted around other “black sites” in Romania, Lithuania and Morocco, until they were returned to Guantánamo in September 2006, with 12 other “high-value detainees” held in “black sites” for several years.
Writing about the hearing, Crofton Black, an investigator with Reprieve, one of the organizations representing Abu Zubaydah, stated that the court had “heard overwhelming and uncontested evidence that the CIA was running a secret torture prison on Polish soil, with the Polish government’s knowledge.” As I wrote in my article, “although I am prepared for disappointment, I certainly hope that the European Court of Human Rights will find that the Polish authorities acted unlawfully in hosting a CIA ‘black site’ on their territory.” Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday and Tuesday, an important step took place in the quest for those who ordered and undertook torture in the Bush administration’s “war on terror” to be held accountable for their actions, when the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg held a hearing to examine the role of the Polish authorities in the extraordinary rendition, secret detention and torture of two men currently held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba — Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.
Both men are amongst the 14 “high-value detainees” who arrived at Guantánamo in September 2006 after years of incommunicado detention and torture in a variety of CIA “black sites,” one of which was in Poland, and as Interights, the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights, explained in a news release, “This historic court hearing [is] the first time a European country has been taken to court for allowing the CIA to run a torture site on its territory and comes after years of silence from the Polish government about the CIA’s prison there.”
The cases of these two men are enormously significant for everyone seeking accountability, as they are two of only three prisoners whom the US had admitted were subjected to waterboarding, the ancient torture technique that involves controlled drowning. With another “high-value detainee,” Ramzi bin al-Shibh, they were the only men held at a CIA “black site” in Thailand prior to their transfer to Poland in December 2002. In October 2003, they were moved to a secret “black site” within Guantánamo, identified as “Strawberry Fields,” and were then moved around a number of other CIA “black sites” in Romania, Lithuania and Morocco until their eventual return to Guantánamo in 2006. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s almost exactly eight years since Dana Priest of the Washington Post first broke the story, on November 2, 2005, that, “according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents,” the CIA had been “hiding and interrogating some of its most important al-Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe … part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba.”
The Post bowed to pressure from the Bush administration not to reveal the name of any of the countries in Eastern Europe, but just days later, on November 7, 2005, Human Rights Watch announced that the facilities were in Poland — on the grounds of an intelligence training facility near the village of Stare Kiejkuty, in the north east of the country — and Romania. In June 2007, Council of Europe special investigator Dick Marty issued a detailed report about Europe’s role in the US rendition and torture program in which he stated that he had “enough evidence to state” that there definitely had been CIA prisons in Poland and Romania. It later emerged, in December 2009, that a third European torture prison was in Lithuania, but to this day no one in the Bush administration or the CIA has been held accountable for America’s post-9/11 torture program.
Since the stories of the secret prisons first emerged, only Poland has shown any willingness to tackle the revelations with anything approaching the rigor they deserve. The Romanian government has refused to even acknowledge the existence of its prison, despite a detailed investigation exposing its existence, conducted by the Associated Press and Germany’s ARD Panorama, and although the Lithuanian government opened an official investigation, it was closed in 2011 when the government claimed that there was insufficient evidence, also citing restrictions imposed by its statute of limitations. Read the rest of this entry »
In June 2004, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, a notorious memo from August 2002 was leaked. It was written by John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and it claimed to redefine torture and to authorize its use on prisoners seized in the “war on terror.” I had no idea at the time that its influence would prove to be so long-lasting.
Ten years and four months since it was first issued, this memo — one of two issued on the same day, which will forever be known as the “torture memos” — is still protecting the senior Bush administration officials who commissioned it (as well as Yoo, and his boss, Jay S. Bybee, who signed it).
Those officials include George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and their senior lawyers, Alberto Gonzales and David Addington. None of these men should be immune from prosecution, because torture is illegal under US domestic law, and is prohibited under the terms of the UN Convention Against Torture, which the US, under Ronald Reagan, signed in 1988 and ratified in 1994. As Article 2.2 states, unequivocally, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” 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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