Review Boards Approve Ongoing Imprisonment of Three More Prisoners at Guantánamo, Even As Lawmakers Urge Donald Trump to Scrap Them

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).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 problem with Guantánamo has never been what right-wingers delude themselves into thinking it is — that it’s a perfect acceptable, secure facility for holding terrorists whose existence is undermined by liberals constantly trying to close it down, endangering America’s national security.

Instead, the problem is Guantánamo itself, a place of arbitrary detention, where very few of the 779 people held there by the military over the last 15 years have genuinely been accused of any involvement with terrorism, but where, because of the Bush administration’s contempt for internationally recognized laws and treaties regarding imprisonment, the majority of the men held — overwhelmingly, foot soldiers for the Taliban, and civilians, many sold for bounties — have been deprived of any rights whatsoever, and can only be freed at the whim of the executive branch.

For a brief period from 2008 to 2010, those held could appeal to the US courts, where judges were able to review their habeas corpus petitions, and, in a few dozen cases, order their release, but this loophole was soon shut down by politically motivated judges in the court of appeals in Washington, D.C., and the Supreme Court has persistently refused to revisit the positive rulings it made regarding the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights in 2004 and 2008, hurling the men back into a disgraceful legal limbo in which their only hope for release lies, yet, again, with the presidential whim. 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 »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses Donald Trump and Guantánamo with Brian Becker on Sputnik Radio’s “Loud and Clear”

Donald Trump and a sign at Guantanamo Bay.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’ve been so busy recently that I’ve overlooked, until now, my last media appearance in the US, during my recent tour to call for the closure of Guantánamo. The show was ‘Loud & Clear,’ an hour-long Sputnik Radio show presented by Brian Becker, which is available here as an MP3.

The show began with an interview with CIA whistleblower John Kiriakou, who was jailed under President Obama for exposing details of the CIA torture program, and who was representing 20 US intelligence, diplomatic and military veterans, who, as Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), “signed a statement calling on President Obama to present the proof of allegations that Russia was responsible for hacking during the election.”

As Donald Trump attempts, on as many fronts as possible to remake America in his image, this story now seems like something from another age, as does Guantánamo under President Obama. My segment with Brian starts at 18:40 and ends at 36:00, and I ran through why I was in the US, and Obama’s legacy — his eloquent explanations for why Guantánamo should be closed, but also his failure to prioritize Guantánamo sufficiently so that when Congress raised cynical obstructions to prevent the prison’s closure, he refused to challenge lawmakers as robustly as he should have done, moving so slowly that he ended up releasing men approved for release the day before he left office, and, of course, failed to close the prison, leaving 41 men still held — five approved for release, just ten facing trials, and 26 others eligible for Periodic Review Boards, the latest review process, established in 2013. Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump Proposes to Keep Guantánamo Open, to Prevent Further Releases, and to Reintroduce Torture and “Black Sites”

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 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.

On Wednesday our worst fears on Guantánamo and torture were confirmed, when the New York Times published a leaked draft executive order, “Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants,” indicating that Donald Trump wants to keep Guantánamo open, wants to send new prisoners there, and wants to “suspend any existing transfer efforts pending a new review as to whether any such transfers are in the national security interests of the United States.” Trump also, it seems, wants to reinstate torture and the use of CIA “black sites.”

Specifically, the draft executive order proposes revoking the two executive orders, 13492 and 13491, that President Obama issued on his second day in office in January 2009 — the first ordering the closure of Guantánamo, and the second to close CIA “black sites,” to grant the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all prisoners, and to ensure that interrogators only use techniques approved in the Army Field Manual.

The draft executive order also proposes to “resurrect a 2007 executive order issued by President Bush,” as the New York Times put it, which “responded to a 2006 Supreme Court ruling about the Geneva Conventions that had put CIA interrogators at risk of prosecution for war crimes, leading to a temporary halt of the agency’s ‘enhanced’ interrogations program.” Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the Ten Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Oman, Leaving 45 Men Still Held, Including Nine Approved for Release?

The ten prisoners released from Guantanamo on Jan. 16, 2017. Top, from L to R: Abdul Zahir (Afghanistan) and the Yemenis Mohammed al-Ansi, Mohammed Ahmed Said Haidel (aka Muhammed Ahmad Said Haydar), Salman Yahya Hassan Mohammed Rabei’i and Musa’ab al-Madhwani (aka Musab Omar Ali al Madhwani). Bottom, from L to R: Bostan Karim (aka Karim Bostan) (Afghanistan) and the Yemenis Ghaleb al-Bihani, Mustafa al-Shamiri, Walid Said Bin Said Zaid and Hail al-Maythali (aka Hayil al-Maythali). All the photos are from the files leaked by Chelsea Manning and released by WikiLeaks in 2011 except the photo of al-Bihani, which was taken by the International Red Cross, and made available by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo during the first two months of the incoming Trump administration.

 

So there was great news from Guantánamo on Monday, when ten men — eight Yemenis and two Afghans — were released and sent to Oman, which has previously taken in 20 Yemenis. The Yemenis have been the most difficult category of prisoners to be freed from Guantánamo, because the entire US establishment is unwilling to repatriate them, fearing the security situation in their home country, meaning that third countries must be found that are prepared to offer them a new home — and are prepared to overlook the fact that the US itself is unwilling to do that, and, in fact, that Congress has, for many years, passed laws specifically preventing any Guantánamo prisoner from being brought to the US mainland for any reason.

The ten releases leave 45 men still held at Guantánamo, with three or four more releases expected before President Obama leaves office on Friday, according to the latest reports. At present, however, nine men approved for release are still held, and the release of those left behind when Obama leaves the White House must be a priority for campaigners as soon as Donald Trump takes office.

Of the ten men released, two were approved for release in 2009 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office, while the other eight were approved for release between May 2014 and December 2016 by Periodic Review Boards, another high-level, inter-agency review process, and one that campaigners must also press Donald Trump to keep. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning’s 35-Year Sentence; Whistleblower Who Leaked Hugely Important Guantánamo Files Will Be Freed in May 2017, Not 2045

Protestors holding signs calling for the release of Chelsea Manning during a gay pride parade in San Francisco in 2015 (Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters via ZUMA Press).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 two months.

 

Great news from the White House, as, in the dying days of his presidency, Barack Obama has commuted the 35-year sentence of Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning), the former Army intelligence analyst responsible for the largest ever leak of classified documents, including the “Collateral Murder” video, featuring US personnel indiscriminately killing civilians and two Reuters reporters in Iraq, 500,000 army reports (the Afghan War logs and the Iraq War logs), 250,000 US diplomatic cables, and the Guantánamo files, released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, on which I worked as a media partner.

I regard the Guantánamo files as a hugely significant resource, which, unfortunately, have been used by right-wing, Islamophobic magazines and websites in an effort to justify the continued existence of Guantánamo. Like Biblical fundamentalists, who swear that everything in the Bible is true (and who, as a result, are unable to recognize its many contradictions), the right-wing defenders of Guantánamo fail to recognize the huge number of contradictions in the files.

Any intelligent analysis of the files instead reveals the extent to which they lay bare the cruelty and incompetence of the authorities at Guantánamo, providing the names of the many unreliable witnesses, who, as a result of torture for other forms of abuse, or being bribed with better living conditions, or simply through exhaustion after seemingly endless — and pointless — interrogations, told their interrogators what they wanted to hear. And the interrogators, of course, wanted whatever information would make the prisoners appear significant, when, in truth, they had been rounded up in a largely random manner, or had been bought for bounty payments from the Americans’ Afghan or Pakistani allies, and very few — a maximum of 3% of the 779 men held, I estimate — genuinely had any kind of meaningful connection with al-Qaeda, the leadership of the Taliban, or any related groups. Most were either foot soldiers or civilians in the wrong place at the wrong time, dressed up as “terrorists” to justify a dragnet, from September 2001 to November 2003 (when the transfers to Guantánamo largely ended) that is primarily remarkable because of its stunning incompetence.

I began a detailed study of the Guantánamo files leaked by Manning after their release in 2011, but exhaustion, and a lack of funding, prevented me from analyzing more than the 422 files I covered in detail in 34 articles totaling over half a million words, which are available here, although I do believe that my work on the files constitutes important research. One day I hope to complete the project, but even if I don’t, the files Manning released will provide historians with an unparalleled opportunity to understand the extent to which the so-called intelligence at Guantánamo is a house of cards built on torture and lies, and we should all be grateful to her for leaking them in the first place — just as there are reasons to be grateful for all the other documents she leaked.

Reporting the commuting of Manning’s sentence, Charlie Savage in the New York Times described how Obama’s decision “rescued Ms. Manning, who twice tried to kill herself last year, from an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at the men’s military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.,” adding “She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.”

Savage also noted how this, and a pardon for Gen. James E. Cartwright, “the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who pleaded guilty to lying about his conversations with reporters to FBI agents investigating a leak of classified information about cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear program,” were “a remarkable final step for a president whose administration carried out an unprecedented criminal crackdown on leaks of government secrets. Depending on how they are counted, the Obama administration has prosecuted either nine or 10 such cases, more than were charged under all previous presidencies combined.”

Obama also “commuted the sentence of Oscar Lopez Rivera, who was part of a Puerto Rican nationalist group that carried out a string of bombings in the late 1970s and early 1980s,” who had been held long after the other members had been freed, and “also granted 63 other pardons and 207 other commutations, mostly for drug offenders.”

Manning will be freed on May 17, 2017 rather than in 2045, with a senior administration official explaining that the 120-day delay was “part of a standard transition period for commutations to time served, and was designed to allow for such steps as finding a place for Ms. Manning to live after her release.” Charlie Savage added that the commutation “also relieved the Defense Department of the difficult responsibility of Ms. Manning’s incarceration as she pushes for treatment for her gender dysphoria, including sex reassignment surgery, that the military has no experience providing.”

Several Republican lawmakers criticized the commutation, as did president elect Donald Trump, but Nancy Hollander and Vince Ward — lawyers representing Manning — were euphoric.

“Ms. Manning is the longest serving whistleblower in the history of the United States,” they stated. “Her 35-year sentence for disclosing information that served the public interest and never caused harm to the United States was always excessive, and we’re delighted that justice is being served in the form of this commutation.”

Unlike Manning, no pardon will be forthcoming for Edward Snowden. On Friday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest “discussed the ‘pretty stark difference’ between Ms. Manning’s case for mercy and Mr. Snowden’s,” as the Times put it, adding that, “While their offenses were similar, he said, there were ‘some important differences.’”

“Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing,” Earnest said, whereas “Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy.”

Mr. Earnest also noted that “while the documents Ms. Manning provided to WikiLeaks were ‘damaging to national security,’ the ones Mr. Snowden disclosed were ‘far more serious and far more dangerous.’”

When Manning decided to make public files she uncovered, as Pfc. Bradley Manning, on duty in Iraq, she wrote at the time that she hoped they would incite “worldwide discussion, debates and reforms.”

Charlie Savage noted that the disclosures “set off a frantic scramble as Obama administration officials sought to minimize any potential harm, including getting to safety some foreigners in dangerous countries who were identified as having helped American troops or diplomats,” adding that prosecutors, however, “presented no evidence that anyone had been killed because of the leaks.”

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

Video: Andy Worthington Laments Obama’s Failure to Close Guantánamo – and Fears What Trump Will Do – Outside the Supreme Court on Jan. 11

Andy Worthington calling for the closure of Guantanamo outside the Supreme Court on January 11, the 15th anniversary of the opening of the prison (Photo: Matt Daloisio).Please support my work! I’m currently in the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo and trying to raise $1000 (£800) to support my visit.

 

On Wednesday, I was outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. for the annual protest against the continued existence of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, with representatives from rights groups including Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, plus some powerful spoken word pieces by The Peace Poets.

I spoke about the double disappointment of this depressing anniversary, with Obama just days away from failing to fulfill the promise to close Guantánamo that he made on his second day in office nearly eight years ago, and Donald Trump about to take the prison over with his wild promises to “load it up with some bad dudes,” and I urged those gathered to make it a priority, from Day One of the Trump presidency, to demand that Trump frees those men still held who have been approved for release (19 at present, although we are told that between 13 and 15 will be freed by Obama in his last week), and also to demand that he continues with the latest review process, the Periodic Review Boards, for which 26 of the remaining 55 prisoners continue to be eligible.

The PRBs, which function like parole boards, have reviewed the cases of 64 men in the last three years, and 38 have been approved for release. The 26 other men had their ongoing imprisonment upheld, but their cases are regularly reviewed, and some of them will almost certainly also be approved for release — unless Trump repeals Obama’s 2011 executive order establishing the PRBs. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: Discussing Guantánamo on the 15th Anniversary of the Prison’s Opening – Andy Worthington, Tom Wilner, Jim Moran and Rosa Brooks at New America

The panel at New America on Jan. 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo. From L to R: Peter Bergen, Jim Moran, Rosa Brooks, Tom Wilner and Andy Worthington.Please support my work! I’m currently in the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo, and trying to raise $1000 (£800) to support my visit.

 

Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and a typically busy day for me. My seventh annual visit to Washington, D.C. to call for the closure of Guantánamo on the anniversary began with a protest outside the Supreme Court with representatives from rights groups including Witness Against Torture, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. As usual, there were speakers from all the groups involved, plus some powerful spoken word pieces by The Peace Poets, and video of my talk will hopefully be available soon.

The day continued with a panel discussion, Guantánamo Bay: Year 15, at New America, with my friend and colleague Tom Wilner, counsel of record to the Guantánamo prisoners in their Supreme Court cases in 2004 and 2008, with whom I co-founded the Close Guantánamo campaign five years ago, Jim Moran, former congressional representative for Virginia’s 8th district and a longtime opponent of Guantánamo, and Rosa Brooks, a Senior ASU Future of War Fellow at New America who also served in the Obama administration. The moderator was Peter Bergen, the Vice President of New America and the Director of the International Security Program.

I’m pleased to report that the panel discussion was streamed live, and that a video is available on YouTube. It’s cross-posted below and I do hope you have time to watch it, and to share it if you find it useful. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer Interview on 15th Anniversary of Guantánamo Opening: US Government “Lied to Their Own People to Let Their Soldiers Accept Torturing Us”

Andy Worthington with Shaker Aamer, after his release from Guantanamo, at a meeting in the House of Commons in November 2015.Please support my work! I’m currently in the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo on the 15th anniversary of its opening, and trying to raise $1000 (£800) to support my visit.

 

Regular readers will know that I have had a long involvement in the case of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, who was finally freed in October 2015 after a long campaign to secure his release, which involved MPs, the mainstream British media, and protest groups including We Stand With Shaker, the organization I co-founded in November 2014 with the activist Joanne MacInnes, which used a giant inflatable figure of Shaker to highlight his cause, with some quite spectacular success in the media, and with celebrities and MPs.

Since his release, I have maintained contact with Shaker, and, in October, was delighted when he agreed to make a short video for the Close Guantánamo campaign — another organization I co-founded — which is posted below.

Apart from a flurry of activity immediately after his release, Shaker has had little involvement with the media this year, although his words always have resonance, so I was delighted to see, a few days ago, that he had spoken to Al-Jazeera. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read “Teaching Trump About Gitmo,” An Op-ed in the New York Daily News by Close Guantánamo Co-Founders Tom Wilner and Andy Worthington

A composite image of Donald Trump and Guantanamo, created after his comments last year about keeping Guantanamo open and filling it up with "bad dudes." Please support my work! I’m currently in the US to campaign for the closure of Guantánamo on the 15th anniversary of its opening, and trying to raise $1000 (£800) to support my visit.

 

I’m delighted to report that yesterday, while I was crossing the Atlantic by plane and was offline, the New York Daily News published “Teaching Trump About Gitmo,” an op-ed that I wrote with my friend and colleague Tom Wilner, the US attorney with whom I co-founded the Close Guantánamo campaign exactly five years ago.

The op-ed was a response to the president elect’s recent — and disgraceful — tweet, in which he stated, “There should be no further releases from Gitmo. These are extremely dangerous people and should not be allowed back onto the battlefield.”

In the hope of educating Mr. Trump, Tom and I pointed out that, of the 55 men still held, 19 have been approved for release by two inter-agency review processes — 2009’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, and the current Periodic Review Boards — which are “made up of our nation’s top security, defense and justice officials,” and just ten are facing — or have faced — trials, leaving 26 others whose cases should continue to be reviewed by the Periodic Review Boards, as it seems certain that some of them will also end up being approved for release, like 38 of the 64 men originally whose cases have been reviewed by the PRBs in the last three years. 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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