With Transfer of Ahmed Al-Darbi to Saudi Arabia, Guantánamo’s Population Drops to 40; No New Arrivals on Horizon

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed al-Darbi, with a photo of his children, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

So there was good news on Wednesday, when the Pentagon announced that Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi citizen in Guantánamo, had been repatriated, to serve out the rest of a 13-year sentence that he was given as the result of a plea deal that he agreed in his trial by military commission in February 2014.

Under the terms of that plea deal, al-Darbi acknowledged his role in an-Qaeda attack on a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen’s coast in 2002, and was required to testify against other prisoners at Guantánamo as part of their military commission trials, which he did last summer, and was supposed to be released on February 20 this year.

However, February 20 came and went, and al-Darbi wasn’t released, a situation that threatened to undermine the credibility of the military commission plea deals. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyers Urge International Criminal Court to Investigate US Torture Program

An image produced by AMICC (the American NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court), which advocates for US participation in the ICC. The image was produced in 2016, in an article about the ICC's possible investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan, including those in which US forces were involved.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Ever since evidence first emerged of the US’s post-9/11 torture program — most conspicuously, via the photos of abuse in Abu Ghraib that were revealed in 2004, and the network of CIA “black sites” that were first revealed in the media in late 2005 — opponents of torture have sought to hold accountable those responsible for implementing torture in its various forms: in the CIA’s global network of “black sites,” in proxy prisons in other countries, in Afghanistan and Iraq, and at Guantánamo.

Their efforts have persistently been thwarted. President Obama, notoriously, used the “state secrets doctrine” to prevent torture victims from having their day in the US court system (check out the Jeppesen case in 2010, for example), and, earlier that year, after an internal Justice Department investigation into John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who wrote and approved the notorious “torture memos” of 2002 that purported to re-define torture so that it could be used by the CIA, concluded that they were guilty of “professional misconduct,” the Obama administration allowed a DoJ fixer to override that conclusion, deciding instead that they had merely exercised “poor judgment.”

In December 2014, an important step towards the truth came with the publication of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA’s post-9/11 detention program (the Senate torture report, as it is more colloquially known), which delivered a devastating verdict on the program, even if it was not empowered to hold anyone accountable. And last August, there was good news when James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, former military psychologists who had developed the torture program for the CIA, settled out of court — for a significant, but undisclosed amount — with several survivors of the rendition and torture program, and the family of another man, Gul Rahman, who had died in Afghanistan. Read the rest of this entry »

The Hideous Pointlessness of Donald Trump’s Executive Order Keeping Guantánamo Open

Images of Donald Trump and Guantanamo.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Reading Donald Trump’s pompously-entitled “Presidential Executive Order on Protecting America Through Lawful Detention of Terrorists,” which officially keeps the prison at Guantánamo Bay open, reversing a policy of closing it that was held by both of his predecessors, Barack Obama, and, in his second term, George W. Bush, is to step back in time to when Bush and his administration sought to defend their lawless escapade — back in his first term, before the novelty soured.

Straight after the 9/11 attacks, in the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), Congress authorized 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, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

That document underpins the detention of prisoners at Guantánamo, a detention power the Supreme Court defended in June 2004, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, approving imprisonment until the end of hostilities for the men held at Guantánamo, and, as I have frequently noted, essentially setting up, as a result, a parallel version of the Geneva Conventions, a bizarre development without precedent. Read the rest of this entry »

Leak Reveals How, In Counter-Productive, Backwards Move, Donald Trump Plans to Issue New Executive Order Keeping Guantánamo Open

Collage of Donald Trump and Guantanamo prisoners on the first day of the prison's operations, January 11, 2002.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

The first responses that occurred to me when I saw the news, via Politico, that a leaked State Department cable revealed that Donald Trump was planning to issue an executive order keeping the prison at Guantánamo Bay open — in other words, rescinding President Obama’s unfulfilled 2009 executive order pledging its closure — was, firstly, how leaky this administration is, and, secondly, how Trump seems obsessed with overturning anything associated with his predecessor.

Just a week into Trump’s presidency, last January, the New York Times obtained a leaked executive order in which he proposed to keep Guantánamo open, to prevent further prisoner releases, and to reintroduce torture and “black sites,” rescinding not only Obama’s executive order regarding the closure of Guantánamo, but also his executive order banning the use of torture and ordering “black sites” closed.

He was shouted down on the latter, by everyone within the US establishment who had been stung by how close they had come to prosecution over the brutal and unnecessary post-9/11 CIA torture program, which the Senate Intelligence Committee witheringly dismantled in its 2014 report. However, his desire to keep Guantánamo open never went away, even though advisers surely told him that sending anyone there was impractical, as the courts have a solid track record of successfully prosecuting those accused of terrorism, and Guantánamo’s history reveals it as little more than a place of torture and abuse, intended to be beyond the reach of the US courts, which wrecks viable prosecutions, and, throughout its existence, has routinely warehoused insignificant prisoners at colossal expense. Read the rest of this entry »

Photos: This is NOT the Face of America – Resistance to Donald Trump on the Women’s March in New York, Jan. 20, 2018

Some of my photos from the Women's March in New York on January 20, 2018, via Flickr.

See my photos on Flickr here!

Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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, when I was discussing with Debra Sweet, the national director of the campaigning group the World Can’t Wait, how long to stay in the US on my annual trip to call for the closure of Guantánamo on and around the anniversary of its opening on January 11, we decided that it was worth staying for the Women’s March on January 20. Debra has been coordinating my January visits to the US since 2011, and I had stayed until January 21 last year, and took part in the colossal 500,000-strong march in New York, and we both felt that there was no good reason to miss it this year, as it promised yet again to be an opportunity for millions of women — and men — to tell Donald Trump what they think of him.

Last year, there was a huge outpouring of anger at the arrival in the White House of Trump, who had somehow become president despite his extraordinary unsuitability for the role: his complete lack of political experience, and his very public deficiencies — his rudeness, his vindictiveness, his inability to complete even a simple coherent sentence, his sordid history as a sexual predator, and the groundless illusion of his success as a businessman. This thoroughly unpleasant figure had particularly appalled women because of his “grab ‘em by the p*ssy” comment that had been revealed during the election campaign, but that had somehow failed to derail him.

A year on, the anger against Trump is surely more palpable, and more based on experience, than a year ago. This president is a bitter joke, the dysfunctional head of a dangerously right-wing version of the Republican Party, who governs by tweet, and constantly threatens,and tries to deliver on policies that reveal a profound and troubling racism: his attempted Muslim travel ban, for example, and the marked increase in his assault on the most vulnerable members of US society — the immigrants on whom the US economy depends, but whose presence, as with Brexit and immigrants in the UK, is perceived by self-pitying white people as being the source of their economic woes, rather than the truth: that it is the fault of the neoliberal machinery of political and big business, a world which, fundamentally, Donald Trump is as much a part of as the “elites” for which his supporters have nothing but contempt. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Has Been Open 5,845 Days on Jan. 11: Please Join the New Close Guantánamo Campaign – Take a Photo With a Poster And Send It To Us

Andy Worthington launching the new Close Guantanamo initiative for 2018, showing how long the prison has been open - with the first poster showing 5,845 days on January 11, 2018, the 16th anniversary of its opening. Throughout the year, the Gitmo Clock website will count exactly how many days, hours, minutes an seconds Guantanamo has been open, and posters can be printed from the page for people to take photos with and send to the Close Guantanamo campaign.

Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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, including my current visit to the US.

 

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.

Please print off the poster here for 5,845 days on Jan. 11, and send it to us. After Jan. 11, please print the Gitmo Clock, which counts exactly how many days, hours, minutes and seconds Guantánamo has been open. Send them to us to put up on the website and on social media.

January 11, 2018 is the 16th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, when it will have been open for 5,845 days, and to mark this grim occasion — which ought to be a source of shame for all decent Americans and citizens of the world who respect the rule of law — the Close Guantánamo campaign, set up by journalist Andy Worthington and attorney Tom Wilner exactly six years ago, is launching a new initiative: inviting opponents of Guantánamo’s continued existence to take a photo of themselves holding a poster telling Donald Trump to close the prison, and marking how long it has been open.

Regular readers will, we are sure, know exactly why it is so important for Guantánamo to be closed, but if you’re new to the site — and we hope some of you are — the reason it needs to be closed is because the men held at the prison (41 now, but 779 in total over the last 16 years) were almost all the victims of a horrendous experiment in detention — held not as criminal suspects, to be charged swiftly and prosecuted in federal court, nor as prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Conventions, who can be held unmolested until the end of hostilities.

Instead, the Bush administration decided that the Guantánamo prisoners had no rights whatsoever. Guantánamo — the site of an existing US naval base, in Cuba —was chosen because it was presumed to be beyond the reach of the US courts. As such, hidden from outside scrutiny, they were open to being abused when, as it transpired, most of them had no useful information to impart. What made this situation even more shocking is that many of them had no useful information because they were insignificant. The truth only later emerged — and is still generally unknown — that there was no effective screening in Afghanistan, where all the prisoners were processed, before their arrival at Guantánamo, and, in addition, the majority of the prisoners were not “captured on the battlefield” by US forces, as the Bush administration alleged, but were handed over or sold by their Afghan and Pakistani allies, with the US paying bounties averaging $5,000 a head for prisoners who could be packaged up as being members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. They were then tortured or otherwise abused in an effort to get them to provide useful intelligence, even though most of them had no such information. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyer: It is “Entirely Unprecedented” for Trump to “Take the Position That There Will Be No Transfers out of Guantánamo Without Regard to the Facts”

Abdul Latif Nasser and Sufyian Barhoumi, two of the five prisoners still held at Guantanamo who were approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Just before Christmas, in an article entitled, “Men due to leave Gitmo under Obama seem stuck under Trump,” the Associated Press shone a light on the plight of five men approved for release from Guantánamo by high-level US government review processes under President Obama, but who were not released before Donald Trump took office. I wrote about these men for Al-Jazeera in June, in an article entitled, “Abdul Latif Nasser: Facing life in Guantánamo,” but it was excellent to see an update from the AP, because there has been no progress from Trump, who, while not following up on his ill-considered urges to expand the use of the prison, has effectively sealed it shut, showing no sign that he has any desire to follow up on the decisions to release these five men by freeing them.

In my article in June, I focused in particular on the case of Abdul Latif Nasser, a Moroccan prisoner who was approved for release in July 2016 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process set up in 2013 by President Obama to assess the cases of men previously regarded as legitimate candidates for indefinite detention without charge or trial. They had been regarded as “too dangerous to release” by a previous review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which met once a week throughout 2009, although the officials responsible for the PRBs also conceded that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, a tacit admission that the evidence itself was profoundly untrustworthy. This was definitively established by the PRB process between 2013 and 2016, when 64 men had their cases reviewed, 38 were approved for release, and all but Nasser, and an Algerian, Sufyian Barhoumi, were freed.

As I explained in my article in June, Nasser missed being released by just eight days, because the Moroccan government only notified the US that it would accept his repatriation on December 28, 2006, 22 days before Obama left office, but 30 days’ notification is required by Congress before any prisoner can be freed. Read the rest of this entry »

What Should Trump Do With the US Citizen Seized in Syria and Held in Iraq as an “Enemy Combatant”?

"Detainee Holding Cell": a US military sign, origin unknown.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

It’s nearly a month since my curiosity was first piqued by an article in the Daily Beast by Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman, reporting that a US citizen fighting for ISIS had been captured in Syria and was now in US custody. Ackerman followed up on September 20, when “leading national security lawyers” told him that the case of the man, who was being held by the US military as an “enemy combatant,” after surrendering to US-allied Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Syria around September 12, “could spark a far-reaching legal challenge that could have a catastrophic effect on the entire war against ISIS.”

At the time, neither the Defense Department nor the Justice Department would discuss what would happen to the unnamed individual, although, as Ackerman noted, “Should the Justice Department ultimately take custody of the American and charge him with a terrorism-related crime, further legal controversy is unlikely, at least beyond the specifics of his case.” However, if Donald Trump wanted to send him to Guantánamo (as he has claimed he wants to be able to do), that would be a different matter.

A Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Ben Sakrisson, told Ackerman that, according to George W. Bush’s executive order about “war on terror” detentions, issued on November 13, 2001, and authorizing the establishment of military commissions, “United States citizens are excluded from being tried by Military Commissions, but nothing in that document prohibits detaining US citizens who have been identified as unlawful enemy combatants.” Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Years On, Guantánamo’s Former Chief Prosecutor on Why He Resigned Because of Torture, and How It Must Never Be US Policy Again

A panel at the New America Foundation on January 11, 2012, discussing Guantanamo on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison. From L to R: Tom Wilner, Morris Davis, Andy Worthington and Jim Moran.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Ten years ago, a significant gesture against the torture program introduced by the administration of George W. Bush took place when Air Force Col. Morris Davis, the chief prosecutor of the military commission trial system at Guantánamo Bay, resigned, after being placed in a chain of command below two men who approved the use of torture. Davis did not, and he refused to compromise his position — and on the 10th anniversary, he wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, reiterating his implacable opposition to torture, his incredulity that we are still discussing it ten years on, and his hopes for accountability, via the fact that, in August, torture architects James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen settled a lawsuit brought against them by three men tortured in CIA prisons, and also because, in the near future, “a citizen-led group, the North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture, will hold a public hearing to take testimony from people who were involved in and affected by the interrogation program designed by Mitchell and Jessen.”

I’m cross-posting the op-ed below — but first, a little background.

I remember Col. Davis’s resignation, as it took place just a few months after I’d started writing about Guantánamo on an almost daily basis, and I knew it was a big deal, although I didn’t know the extent of it at the time. I did know, however, that he was not the first prosecutor to resign. Four resigned before him, including Marine Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, who was supposed to prosecute the Mauritanian Mohamedou Ould Slahi, but refused to because of the torture to which he had been subjected, and  prominent resignation after him was of Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, called upon to unjustly prosecute a former child prisoner, Mohamed Jawed, whose story I covered in detail at the time (see, for example, The Dark Heart of the Guantánamo TrialsMeltdown at the Guantánamo TrialsFormer Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns “Chaotic” Trials in Case of Teenage Torture Victim and Former Insider Shatters Credibility of Military Commissions). Read the rest of this entry »

Former Obama Security Official Says Keeping Guantánamo Open “Damages Our National Security”

Photos of some of the campaigners who, throughout 2017, have been photographed with posters urging Donald Trump to close Guantanamo.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

Eight months since Donald Trump became president, and 16 years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, one unfortunate side-effect of 9/11 — the prison at Guantánamo Bay — briefly flickered back into the national consciousness last week.

That faraway facility, where 41 men are still held, was supposed to have been closed by President Obama, but that was a promise he failed to keep, despite having eight years to do. And now Donald Trump — childishly, petulantly, as usual — wants to treat the prison as his own plaything, somewhere to keep open forever, and to send new people to, whom he regards as his version of what Bush administration officials so memorably — and disproportionately — referred to as “the worst of the worst.”

“The worst of the worst” never were held at Guantánamo, as Larry Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell explained to me in an interview in 2009. He told me, “I laughed at this when I first heard it, but now I realize it was probably closer to the truth than anything the administration said — when Bush announced in September 2006, with some degree of trepidation, that he’d transferred these 14 to Guantánamo out of the secret prisons. Now I realize that they made that transfer principally so they could get some hardcore terrorists to Guantánamo.” 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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