The Chaotic History of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

See the full list here of everyone charged in the military commissions at Guantánamo.

Recently, a friend asked me for information about all the Guantánamo prisoners who have been put forward for military commission trials at Guantánamo, and after undertaking a search online, I realized that I couldn’t find a single place listing all the prisoners who have been charged in the three versions of the commissions that have existed since 2001, or the total number of men charged.

As a result, I decided that it would be useful to do some research and to provide a list of all the men charged — a total of 30, it transpires — as well as providing some updates about the commissions, which I have been covering since 2006, but have not reported on since October. The full list of everyone charged in the military commissions is here, which I’ll be updating on a regular basis, and please read on for a brief history of the commissions and for my analysis of what has taken place in the last few months.

The commissions were dragged out of the history books by Dick Cheney on November 13, 2001, when a Military Order authorizing the creation of the commissions was stealthily issued with almost no oversight, as I explained in an article in June 2007, while the Washington Post was publishing a major series on Cheney by Barton Gellman (the author of Angler, a subsequent book about Cheney) and Jo Becker. Alarmingly, as I explained in that article, the order “stripped foreign terror suspects of access to any courts, authorized their indefinite imprisonment without charge, and also authorized the creation of ‘Military Commissions,’ before which they could be tried using secret evidence,” including evidence derived through the use of torture. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo, Where Unsubstantiated Suspicion of Terrorism Ensures Indefinite Detention, Even After 12 Years

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Last week, in a decision that I believe can only be regarded objectively as a travesty of justice, a Periodic Review Board (PRB) at Guantánamo — consisting of representatives of six government departments and intelligence agencies — recommended that a Yemeni prisoner, Abdel Malik al-Rahabi (aka Abd al-Malik al-Rahabi), should continue to be held. The board concluded that his ongoing imprisonment “remains necessary to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”

In contrast, this is how al-Rahabi began his statement to the PRB on January 28:

My family and I deeply thank the board for taking a new look at my case. I feel hope and trust in the system. It’s hard to keep up hope for the future after twelve years. But what you are doing gives me new hope. I also thank my personal representatives and my private counsel, and I thank President Obama. I will summarize my written statement since it has already been submitted to the board. Read the rest of this entry »

Gitmo Clock Marks 300 Days Since Obama’s Promise to Resume Releasing Guantánamo Prisoners; Just 12 Men Freed

Please visit, like, share and tweet the Gitmo Clock, which I established last year (via the “Close Guantanamo” campaign) to mark how many days it is since President Obama’s promise to resume releasing cleared prisoners from Guantánamo, and how many have been freed.

Today (March 19, 2014), it is 300 days since President Obama promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, in a major speech on national security issues last May, and I’m asking you to promote the Gitmo Clock, which I established last year with the designer Justin Norman, to show how many days it is since the promise, and how many prisoners have been released (just 12). At this rate, it will take over five years for all the cleared prisoners at Guantánamo to be released.

When President Obama made his promise, he was responding to widespread criticism triggered by the prisoners themselves, who, in February, had embarked on a major hunger strike — involving nearly two-thirds of the remaining prisoners — and his promise came after a period of two years and eight months in which just five men had been released from Guantánamo.

What was particularly appalling about the release of prisoners being reduced to a trickle was that over half of the men — 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners at the time — had been approved for release from the prison in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009 — and some of these men had previously been cleared for release by military review boards under President Bush, primarily in 2006 and 2007. Read the rest of this entry »

A Few Surprises in the New Guantánamo Prisoner List

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 February 20, my friend and colleague, the investigative journalist Jason Leopold, published a prisoner list from Guantánamo, which he had just obtained from the Pentagon, and which had not previously been made public.

The list, “71 Guantánamo Detalnees Determined Eligible to Receive a Periodic Review Board as of April 19, 2013,” identifies, by name, 71 of the 166 prisoners who were held at the time, and, as Jason explained in an accompanying article: Read the rest of this entry »

In Open Letter, Major Obama Supporters Call for Action to Close Guantánamo as Promised

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.

In a sharply-worded open letter to President Obama, 42 prominent figures in the legal community in Illinois — retired lawmakers and judges, as well as working lawyers — have criticized the president for his failure to close the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo, as he promised to do on his second day in office in January 2009.

In an article for Yahoo News, the reporter Liz Goodwin explained how the signatories’ words carried particular weight because they included “[o]ne-time mentors and fundraisers” for the president. Goodwin explain that, in the letter, posted below, “a bipartisan group of Chicago lawyers — many who know Obama personally — argue that the president has all the authority he needs now to transfer prisoners out and has no excuse for inaction.”

Goodwin added, “Signatories include Chicago civil rights attorney Judson Miner, who gave Obama his first job out of law school, and Steven Cohen, a top bundler who raised more than $650,000 for the president during his two campaigns. Judge Abner Mikva, who offered a young Obama a clerkship and later became his mentor, also signed the letter. Some Republicans also joined, including former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson.” Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo Now: Transcript of Andy Worthington’s Speech at an Inter-Faith Event in Los Angeles, January 15, 2014

On January 15, as part of my two-week “Close Guantánamo Now” US tour, marking the 12th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo, I was the keynote speaker at a lunch event in a Methodist church in Los Angeles, which was convened by Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP), a Los Angeles area interfaith coalition who describe themselves as being “united behind the message that religious communities must stop blessing war and violence.”

Although the event was not filmed, an audio recording was made by Jenny Jiang, a journalist who runs a news site, “What the Folly?” which includes transcripts she makes of various talks and speeches. Jenny got in touch with me before my visit to ask for permission to record and transcribe my talk, and I was delighted that she wanted to do so.

Jenny subsequently published the transcript of my talk (unscripted as always), in which I ran through the history of Guantánamo, discussed the various legal challenges that have taken place over the years, discussed President Obama’s failure to close the prison as he promised, and the reasons for that failure, and also addressed where we are now, and what we can do in the coming year to keep the pressure on President Obama and on Congress to try and ensure that the prison is finally closed. Read the rest of this entry »

GTMO Clock Marks 250 Days Since President Obama’s Promise to Resume Releasing Prisoners from Guantánamo; 77 Cleared Men Still Held

Today the GTMO Clock, an initiative launched last August by the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which I established two years ago with the US attorney Tom Wilner, marks a particular anniversary. It is 250 days since, stung by criticism caused by the Guantánamo prisoners embarking on a prison-wide hunger strike, President Obama delivered a major speech on national security issues in which he promised to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo. This came after two and a half years in which the release of prisoners had almost ground to halt as a result of Congressional opposition, and the president’s own refusal to spend political capital overcoming those obstacles.

At the time of his promise, 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners had been cleared for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that he appointed when he took office in 2009. in the last 250 days, eleven prisoners have been freed, which is progress, but 77 cleared prisoners remain (including the first prisoner to have his case reviewed by a Periodic Review Board), and at this rate it will take another 1,750 days — or nearly five years — for the remaining cleared prisoners to be freed.

The GTMO Clock was set up to mark how many days it has been since President Obama’s promise, and how many men have been freed, so please visit the GTMO Clock, like it, share it and tweet it if you regard the painfully slow release of prisoners as unacceptable. Read the rest of this entry »

Indefinitely Detained Guantánamo Prisoner Asks Review Board to Recommend His Release

Two days ago, I published an article looking at the outcome of the first Periodic Review Board held at Guantánamo — a much delayed review process for ascertaining whether 71 of the remaining 155 prisoners should continue to be held indefinitely without charge or trial. This process was supposed to begin three years ago, after President Obama issued an executive order authorizing the ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial of 48 prisoners, based on the recommendations, delivered in January 2010, of his inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, but the first PRB didn’t take place until November 2013.

As I explained in my article, the board members recommended that the prisoner whose case was reviewed — Mahmoud al-Mujahid, a Yemeni — should be released, which is good news, as al-Mujahid was wrongly regarded as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, based on the unreliable testimony of a fellow prisoner. However, it means nothing unless he is released, as, with an irony that is evidently being strenuously ignored by the Obama administration, the review board’s decision to recommend him for release means only that he joins a list of 55 other Yemeni prisoners who were cleared for release by Obama’s task force four years ago, but are still held because of fears of political instability in Yemen.

As I also mentioned in that article, the second PRB, for another Yemeni, Abd-al Malik Wahab al-Rahabi, took place yesterday, January 28, and, unlike the first PRB, from which the media and observers were excluded, limited transparency was provided by the Pentagon, which made available a facility in Arlington, Virginia, where a very small section of the review board could be seen and heard, although not the testimony of al-Rahabi himself, nor anything regarded as classified by the military. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo: Where Being Cleared for Release Means Nothing

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.

First, the good news: on January 9, the Pentagon announced that the first Guantánamo prisoner to undergo a Periodic Review Board (PRB) had been recommended for release. The PRBs were first mentioned nearly three years ago, in March 2011, when President Obama issued an executive order authorizing the ongoing imprisonment of 48 prisoners without charge or trial, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

In issuing the executive order, President Obama was following recommendations made by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that he had appointed after taking office in 2009, who spent a year meeting once a week to review the cases of the remaining prisoners. Lawyers and human rights groups were appalled by President Obama’s decision to issue an executive order specifically authorizing indefinite detention without charge or trial, and were only vaguely reassured that, as compensation, Periodic Review Boards would be established to ascertain whether or not the men continued to be regarded as a threat, featuring representatives of six US government agencies — including the State Department and Homeland Security — who would hear testimony from the prisoners at Guantánamo via video link in Washington D.C. Read the rest of this entry »

Video: On the 12th Anniversary of the Opening of Guantánamo, Former Prisoner Sami Al-Haj Speaks

A hallucinatory image of force-feeding at Guantanamo by Sami al-Haj, as reproduced by British artist Lewis PeakeLate last year, as the coalition of groups calling for the closure of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba began deliberations for this year’s protest on the anniversary of the prison’s opening (on January 11), I reached out — as part of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign — to Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity, founded and led by Clive Stafford Smith, whose lawyers represent 15 prisoners still held at Guantánamo.

As we discussed ways to publicize the plight of the prisoners on the 12th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, Reprieve suggested asking Sami al-Haj, a Sudanese prisoner released in 2008, to record a video statement that could be used, and I’m delighted to note that Sami agreed, and his video message to President Obama is posted below.

Sami is the only journalist to have been held at Guantánamo, and he was working as a cameraman for Al-Jazeera when he was seized on assignment crossing from Pakistan to Afghanistan in December 2001. I subsequently covered his story, in particular in the months before his release, when he had embarked on a hunger strike and was providing information to the world about it via Clive. In this period, he also made a number of drawings about the hunger strike. When these were seized by the Pentagon’s censors, Reprieve described them to a British cartoonist, Lewis Peake, who recreated them based on the descriptions, and I told Sami’s story, and reproduced the drawings, in an article entitled, “Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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