UN Says Force-Feeding at Guantánamo Constitutes Ill-Treatment in Violation of the Convention Against Torture

A powerful image from Witness Against Torture in the US.I’ve been so busy lately with the launch of We Stand With Shaker, the new campaign to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, that I haven’t had time to write anything — until now — about the United States’ recent appearance before the United Nations Committee Against Torture to explain its position on the torture and ill-treatment of prisoners in its custody.

The session — which took place on November 12 and 13, and was the first US report to the Committee Against Torture since 2006, when George W. Bush was president — led to numerous criticisms in the Committee’s response, adopted on November 20; in the Guardian‘s words, of “indefinite detention without trial; force-feeding of Guantánamo prisoners; the holding of asylum seekers in prison-like facilities; widespread use of solitary confinement; excessive use of force and brutality by police; shootings of unarmed black individuals; and cruel and inhumane executions.”

The Committee was also concerned about the US record on torture, expressing “its grave concern over the extraordinary rendition, secret detention and interrogation programme operated by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) between 2001 and 2008, which involved numerous human rights violations, including torture, ill-treatment and enforced disappearance of persons suspected of involvement in terrorism-related crimes” — concerns expressed in a 2010 UN report about secret detention on which I was the lead author (and also see here, here and here) — and reminded the US about “the absolute prohibition of torture reflected in article 2, paragraph 2, of the Convention [Against Torture], stating that ‘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.'” The Committee also called for the long-delayed Senate Intelligence Committee torture report — or, more accurately, its executive summary — to be issued without further delay. Read the rest of this entry »

76 US Lawmakers Ask Obama to Let Them See Guantánamo Force-Feeding Videos

Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who sent a letter to President Obama on October 30, 2014, asking to be allowed to see videotapes of force-feeding at Guantanamo.

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.

On Thursday, 76 members of the US Congress — the Congressional Progressive Caucus, represented by co-chairs Raúl Grijalva and Keith Ellison — sent a letter to President Obama asking to be allowed to see videotapes of force-feeding at Guantánamo.

In May, District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered videotapes of the force-feeding — and “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs) — of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, to be made available to his lawyers, who had to travel to the Pentagon’s secure facility outside Washington D.C. to see them. After viewing them, Cori Crider, his lawyer at the legal action charity Reprieve, said, “While I’m not allowed to discuss the contents of these videos, I can say that I had trouble sleeping after viewing them,” and added, “I have no doubt that if President Obama forced himself to watch them, he would release my client tomorrow.”

On October 3, in response to a motion submitted in June by 16 major US media organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, McClatchy, the Guardian, the Associated Press and others, Judge Kessler ordered the videotapes — eleven hours of footage, consisting of 28 tapes in total — to be publicly released, once they have been “redacted for ‘all identifiers of individuals’ other than Mr. Dhiab.” Read the rest of this entry »

12 Nobel Peace Prize Winners Tell President Obama to Reveal Full Details of the US Torture Program and to Close Guantánamo

Yesterday (October 27), 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, sent a powerful and important letter to President Obama — himself a recipient of the prize — calling for him to disclose in full “the extent and use of torture and rendition by American soldiers, operatives, and contractors, as well as the authorization of torture and rendition by American officials,” and to provide “[c]lear planning and implementation for the closure of Guantánamo prison, putting an end to indefinite detention without due process.”

The 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners also called for verification that all “black sites” abroad have been closed, and also called for the “[a]doption of firm policy and oversight restating and upholding international law relating to conflict, including the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention against Torture, realigning the nation to the ideals and beliefs of their founders — the ideals that made the United States a standard to be emulated.”

It is unfortunate that these demands remain necessary — that, as the authors of the letter explain, “In recent decades, by accepting the flagrant use of torture and other violations of international law in the name of combating terrorism, American leaders have eroded the very freedoms and rights that generations of their young gave their lives to defend.” Read the rest of this entry »

Fifth Guantánamo Prisoner’s Release Recommended by Periodic Review Board, But When Will These Men Be Released?

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.

“What does it take to get out of Guantánamo?” is a question I have asked before, but it remains, sadly, one of permanent relevance. Last week it surfaced again when two decisions were announced regarding men — both Saudis — whose cases had been considered by Periodic Review Boards (PRBs), a process established last year to review the cases of the Guantánamo prisoners who have not been approved for release, and are not facing trials. At the time the PRBs were set up, that involved 71 men, but some of those men have since been freed.

The PRBs decided that one man, Muhammad Murdi lssa al-Zahrani, whose review took place in June, should be freed. The board explained that they “considered the uncorroborated nature of the information about the detainee’s level of involvement with al-Qaeda, the detainee and his family’s lack of ongoing contacts or ties with at-large extremists, the detainee’s behavior while in detention, and the detainee’s candor with the board about his presence on the battlefield, expressions of regret, and desires for a peaceful life after Guantánamo.”

The board members also stated that they had “considered the Saudi rehabilitation program,” and were “confident in the efficacy of the program for a detainee with his particular mindset,” adding, “The detainee demonstrated an understanding of the Saudi rehabilitation program and a willingness to participate, and his family also expressed support for the program.” Read the rest of this entry »

Is President Obama Planning an Executive Order for the Closure of Guantánamo?

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.

Last Thursday, out of the blue, Carol E. Lee and Jess Bravin of the Wall Street Journal reported that senior Obama administration officials had told them that the White House was drafting options that would allow President Obama to close the “war on terror” prison established by President Bush at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, through the use of an executive order.

Such an order would bypass lawmakers in Congress, who have imposed a ban on bringing prisoners to the US mainland since 2010, in response to President Obama’s proposal to transfer prisoners from Guantánamo to a maximum-security prison in Thomson, Illinois. Lawmakers have also passed legislation designed to make it difficult to release prisoners to other countries.

Reading on, it became apparent that this was only an option being considered. As the article explained, the officials said that President Obama “strongly prefers a legislative solution over going around Congress.” However, because, as one official said, the president is “unwavering in his commitment” to closing the prison, which he promised to close on his second day in office, he “wants to have all potential options available on an issue he sees as part of his legacy.” Read the rest of this entry »

Gitmo Clock: 500 Days Since Obama’s Promise to Resume Releasing Prisoners; 79 Cleared Men Still Held

Please visit, like, share and tweet the Gitmo Clock, marking 500 days since President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo.

On May 23, 2013, President Obama promised, in a major speech on national security issues, to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, after a period of nearly three years in which just five prisoners were released.

The slow-down in prisoner releases came about because of Congressional obstruction to the release of prisoners for largely cynical reasons (in passages in the annual National Defense Authorization Act), and because President Obama was unwilling to spend political capital overcoming those obstructions, even though a waiver in the legislation allowed him to do so.

The slow-down was unacceptable because over half of the remaining prisoners had been approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009 — and yet they were held, year after year, making a mockery of America’s claims that it believes in justice. Read the rest of this entry »

On Guantánamo, No News is Bad News

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.

On Guantánamo, the news has largely dried up in recent weeks, which is not reassuring for the 79 men — out of the 149 men still held — who have had their release approved but are still held. 75 of these men were recommended for release in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, and four others were recommended for release this year by Periodic Review Boards, established to review the cases of the majority of the men who were not cleared for release by the task force.

Since last May, when President Obama promised to resume releasing prisoners — after a period of nearly three years when only five men were released — 17 men have been released, which is obviously progress of sorts. The drought of releases from 2010 to 2013 was because of obstacles raised by Congress and the president’s refusal to use a waiver in the legislation to bypass Congress, but although it is reassuring that 17 men have been freed, the last of those releases was at the end of May, and campaigners for the closure of Guantánamo can be forgiven for wondering when the next prisoner will be released, especially as that last prisoner release — six Taliban leaders in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan — attracted such cynical and hysterical opposition.

According to reports in May, six of the cleared prisoners, from Syria, Palestine and Tunisia — all men who cannot be safely repatriated — were offered new homes in Uruguay after President Mujica responded positively to a request for assistance from the US. Read the rest of this entry »

Calling for the Closure of Guantánamo on the 13th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks

I wrote the following article, under the heading, “On the 13th Anniversary of 9/11, It’s Time for Guantánamo to Close,” 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.

It’s 13 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, but while it remains important to remember all those who died on that dreadful day, it is also important to acknowledge the terrible mistakes made by the Bush administration in response to the attacks.

First came the invasion of Afghanistan, to overthrow the Taliban and defeat Al-Qaeda, in which, as Anand Gopal, the author of No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes, told me, the US vastly overstayed its welcome, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Then there was the illegal invasion of Iraq, and the blowback from that conflict that is evident in the rise of ISIS/ISIL in Iraq and Syria, as well as the hundreds of thousands of civilians killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In addition, the US also embarked, after 9/11, on a program of extraordinary rendition and torture, in defiance of domestic and international laws, as documented in the still-unreleased Senate Intelligence Committee report, and established, at Guantánamo, a prison where those held have been held neither as criminal suspects, nor as prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Conventions, but as “enemy combatants,” indefinitely imprisoned without charge or trial. For the first two and a half years of their imprisonment, they had no rights at all, and even though they eventually secured habeas corpus rights, the legal avenue to their release has been cynically cut off by appeals court judges. Read the rest of this entry »

Pentagon Defends Bowe Bergdahl/Guantánamo Prisoner Swap as Government Accountability Office Delivers Critical Opinion

In a move that has no legal weight, but which will embolden supporters of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, the Government Accountability Office, the non-partisan investigative arm of Congress, which is “charged with examining matters relating to the receipt and payment of public funds,” has concluded that the Department of Defense broke the law when, in May, five Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo were released in Qatar in a prisoner swap for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only US prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

The GAO concluded that the DoD acted in violation of section 8111 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014, which “prohibits DOD from using appropriated funds to transfer any individuals detained at Guantánamo Bay unless the Secretary of Defense notifies certain congressional committees at least 30 days before the transfer.”

When the prisoner swap was announced, a tsunami of manufactured outrage poured forth from Republicans and right-wing pundits, even though both defense secretary Chuck Hagel and President Obama provided robust explanations about why they had bypassed Congress. As I explained at the time, Hagel said that the decision to go ahead with the swap — which, it should be noted, had been mooted for at least two years — came about after intelligence suggested Bergdahl’s “safety and health were both in jeopardy, and in particular his health was deteriorating.” Read the rest of this entry »

Free the Yemenis! Gitmo Clock Marks 450 Days Since President Obama’s Promise to Resume Releasing Prisoners from Guantánamo

The logo for the new "Gitmo Clock" website, designed by Justin Norman.Please visit, like, share and tweet the Gitmo Clock, which marks how many days it is since President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo (450), and how many men have been freed (17). This article was published yesterday, as “Gitmo Clock Marks 450 Days Since President Obama’s Promise to Resume Releasing Prisoners from Guantánamo; Just 17 Men Freed,” on 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.

Last August, we at “Close Guantánamo” launched the Gitmo Clock, an initiative designed to perform two functions: firstly, to measure how long it is since President Obama’s promise, in a major speech on national security on May 23, 2013, to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo; and, secondly, how many men have been released.

Yesterday (August 16) marked 450 days since that promise, and we hope that you will visit the Gitmo Clock, like it, share it and tweet it to act as a reminder of what has been achieved in the last 15 months, and, more importantly, what remains to be achieved.

In the two years and eight months up to President Obama’s promise, just five men were released from Guantánamo, even though, throughout that period, 86 of the remaining prisoners were cleared for release. Those recommendations were made by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established, shortly after taking office in 2009, to review the cases of all the prisoners still held at the time, and to decide whether they should be released or prosecuted, or whether, in some cases, they should continue to be held without charge or trial. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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