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 »

“Guantánamo Was Created to Destroy People, to Destroy Muslims”: Ex-Prisoner Djamel Ameziane’s Powerful Statement to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Djamel Ameziane, photographed after his release from Guantanamo by Debi Cornwall.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.

 

Three days ago, I published an article about former Guantánamo prisoner Djamel Ameziane, and specifically about a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), in Mexico City, at which, via his lawyers, and via a statement he had written, he asked the Commission members: “Please issue a merits decision and decide my case. I ask you to order reparations and other relief so that I can get the assistance that I need and move forward with my life, and put Guantánamo behind me forever. I also want an apology. I ask the representatives of the US: Will you say on behalf of your government that you are sorry for what the US Government did to me?”

The IACHR is a key part of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mission is “to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere,” and whose resolutions are supposed to be binding on the US, which is a member state, although the US, of course, has little regard for anyone trying to tell it what to do.

As CCR described it, Ameziane also “urged OAS member states to remain involved in the issue given the current context in the US, and assist in the transfer of Guantánamo detainees and supporting efforts to close the detention center, among others.”

Below, I’m taking the opportunity to cross-post the whole of Djamel Ameziane’s statement, because it provides a powerful indictment of the manner in which the US, after 9/11, abandoned all adherence to the rule of law, setting up a global network of prisons — including at Guantánamo Bay, where Muslim men and boys, largely rounded up without any sense or any application of intelligence, were horribly abused and deprived of hope. Read the rest of this entry »

At Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Former Guantánamo Prisoner Djamel Ameziane Asks US to Apologize, and Calls for Prison’s Closure

Former Guantanamo prisoner Djamel Ameziane, in an infographic put together by his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights.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 week, in Mexico City, a symbolically powerful blow was dealt to the United States’ notion of itself as a nation founded on the rule of law, which respects the rule of law and also respects human rights.

The occasion was a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), a key part of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mission is “to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere,” and whose resolutions are supposed to be binding on the US, which is a member state.

The hearing last Wednesday was for Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian citizen, and an ethnic Berber, who was held at Guantánamo for nearly 12 years.

In the hearing last week, at which Ameziane was represented by the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the lawyers representing him urged the IACHR to “hold the US accountable for the abuse” of Ameziane and the “discrimination” against him. CCR explained, in a press release, that it was “a landmark hearing,” and the following brief explanation of his story:

For nearly 12 years, Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian citizen, was arbitrarily detained without charge at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp. During his detention, Ameziane was tortured and suffered from other forms of abuse. In 2008, the US approved his release from Guantánamo, yet he remained imprisoned for another five years. In December 2013, Ameziane was forcibly repatriated to Algeria despite having fled from violence and persecution for belonging to a minority ethnicity.

As CCR also explained:

The hearing marked the first time the IACHR was asked to issue a merits report based on human rights violations suffered by a former detainee at the Guantánamo Bay detention center. Throughout their presentation, the petitioners highlighted the importance of the Commission’s role in addressing the impunity and lack of reparations in Ameziane’s case, and also highlighted that his detention and torture were never contested by the State. Moreover, the petitioners noted that the decision itself would mark a historic victory for Ameziane and other victims of the War on Terror.

Crucially, the lawyers also “voiced Ameziane’s own requests, which he had previously submitted in writing,” and which have particular relevance because Donald Trump has repeatedly stated his intention to not only keep Guantánamo open, but also to bring new prisoners there. In his statement, as CCR described it, “Ameziane urged OAS member states to remain involved in the issue given the current context in the US, and assist in the transfer of Guantánamo detainees and supporting efforts to close the detention center, among others.”

Ameziane stated, “Members of the Commission, what I respectfully ask of you today is this: Please issue a merits decision and decide my case. I ask you to order reparations and other relief so that I can get the assistance that I need and move forward with my life, and put Guantánamo behind me forever. I also want an apology. I ask the representatives of the US: Will you say on behalf of your government that you are sorry for what the US Government did to me?”

Speaking about the hearing, Elsa Meany, Senior Attorney at CEJIL, said, “This is not a case with complicated considerations of law, as all the violations detailed were committed against Djamel by state actors, while in state custody. The Commission has, in fact, already undertaken much of the legal analysis necessary to decide this case. However, the current legal framework in the US provides civil and criminal immunity for those responsible that effectively provides an amnesty for grave violations of human rights, in contravention of clear Inter-American standards. A decision by the Commission will constitute a decisive step towards accountability and recognition of Djamel’s fight for justice and reparations.”

Wells Dixon, Senior Staff Attorney at CCR, said, “Over the past 16 years, the Commission has not yet issued a Merits Report in relation to the violations committed by the United States within the framework of the War on Terror, despite having multiple pending cases regarding rendition, unlawful and arbitrary detention and torture at Guantánamo. We urge the Commission to build on existing jurisprudence and decide the present case, consolidating a set of standards that will have implications in this region and globally.”

CCR also explained that, at the hearing, “the Commissioners stated they would continue to study the issue and expressed consternation at Ameziane’s prolonged detention at the camp without any charges, indicating that reparations should be made, including, at a minimum, that his personal belongings be returned.”

CCR added, “If the IACHR rules in favor of Ameziane, it would be the first case regarding human rights violations committed at the Guantánamo Bay prison that a regional human rights body issues a decision on. The decision would mark a historic victory for him and Guantánamo Bay detainees and their right to judicial reparations.”

The IACHR and Guantánamo: the background

Djamel Ameziane’s case has, memorably, been before the IACHR before. In April 2012, as I reported at the time, the IACHR accepted jurisdiction over his case, the first time the organization had accepted jurisdiction over the case of a Guantánamo prisoner.

President Obama responded by forcibly repatriating Ameziane (and another Algerian) in December 2013, even though, when the IACHR was first notified go Ameziane’s case in 2008, they had stated, unambiguously, that “[a]ll necessary measures must be taken to ensure Djamel Ameziane is not transferred to a country where he would face persecution” — a requirement that, objectively, the Algerian government could not be trusted to uphold.

Since then, two more Guantánamo prisoners have submitted their cases to the IACHR. The first, as I reported in an article entitled, Guantánamo “An Endless Horror Movie”: Hunger Striker Appeals for Help to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, is Muaz al-Alawi, identified in Guantánamo as Moath al-Alwi, who, in February 2015, urged the IACHR to “issue precautionary measures to end his indefinite detention,” and the second, in March last year, as I reported at the time in an article entitled, US Military Lawyer Submits Petition to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on Behalf of Mohammad Rahim, CIA Torture Victim Held at Guantánamo, was on behalf of one of the so-called “high-value detainees” at the prison.

In March 2015, the IACHR issued a resolution in al-Alwi’s case calling for the US to undertake “the necessary precautionary measures in order to protect the life and personal integrity of Mr. al-Alwi,” on the basis that, “After analyzing the factual and legal arguments put forth by the parties, the Commission considers that the information presented shows prima facie that Mr. Moath al-Alwi faces a serious and urgent situation, as his life and personal integrity are threatened due to the alleged detention conditions.”

Nevertheless, al-Alwi continues to be held, and in February, Judge Richard Leon, a district court judge, denied his efforts to be released based on a plausible argument that, as Buzzfeed described it, “he could no longer be held because the US combat mission in Afghanistan was over,” in which he cited statements to that effect by President Obama.

Meanwhile, on August 9, in Mohammad Rahim’s case, Maj. James Valentine sent out an email noting that the IACHR had issued precautionary measures against the United States on July 25, 2017 relating to his indefinite detention, torture and lack of medical treatment, and requesting that the US respond, within 15 days from the date of August 2, with “pertinent observations” regarding the precautionary measures. There is no news about whether or not the Trump administration has responded.

Note: In a second article to accompany this one, I’ll post Djamel Ameziane’s full statement.

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 music is available 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.

Calling for the Closure of Guantánamo on the 16th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks

A sculpture by José Antonio Elvira in the town of Guantanamo, in Cuba, dated 2006 (Photo: Zósimo, a Creative Commons photo via Wikimedia Commons).It’s the start of my latest quarterly fundraiser. 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.

 

Today, as we remember the terrible terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I am also aware that it was those attacks that, in turn, led to a terrible development by the United States that has consumed my life for the last eleven and a half years — the establishment, four months later, of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, where men have been subjected to torture, and are held indefinitely without charge or trial, for the most without anything resembling evidence.

Largely seized by America’s allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and sold for bounty payments, most of the prisoners arrived at Guantánamo without any information about them at all, and the US authorities then proceeded to create what they pretended was evidence by interrogating the prisoners using torture and other forms of duress, thereby rendering most of it worthless — although that conclusion remains something that, sadly, most US citizens, and a shockingly large number of lawmakers neither know nor care about.

Exactly nine years ago, on the seventh anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, I had an op-ed published in the Guardian, “Bush’s bitter legacy,” in which I began by stating the following, which largely remains relevant today: Read the rest of this entry »

The Absurdity of Guantánamo: As US Prepares to Release Ahmed Al-Darbi in Plea Deal, Less Significant Prisoners Remain Trapped Forever

The sign and flags at Camp Justice, Guantanamo, where the military commission trials take place.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 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.

In the long and cruel history of Guantánamo, a major source of stress for the prisoners has been, from the beginning, the seemingly inexplicable release of prisoners who constituted some sort of a threat to the US, while completely insignificant prisoners have languished with no hope of release.

In the early days, this was because shrewd Afghan and Pakistani prisoners connected to the Taliban fooled their captors, who were too arrogant and dismissive of their allies in the region to seek advice before releasing men who later took up arms against them. Later, in the cases of some released Saudis, it came about because the House of Saud demanded the release of its nationals, and the US bowed to its demands, and in other cases that we don’t even know about it may be prudent to consider that men who were turned into double agents at a secret facility within Guantánamo were released as part of their recruitment — although how often those double agents turned out to betray their former captors is unknown.

Under President Obama, an absurd point was reached in 2010, when, after Congress imposed onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, the only men freed were those whose release had been ordered by a judge (as part of the short-lived success of the prisoners’ habeas petitions, before politicized appeals court judges shut down the whole process) or as a result of rulings or plea deals in their military commission trials. Just five men were freed in a nearly three-year period from 2010 to 2013 — with former child prisoner Omar Khadr, low level al-Qaeda assistant Ibrahim al-Qosi, and military trainer Noor Uthman Muhammed all released via plea deals — as President Obama sat on his hands, and refused to challenge Congress, even though a waiver in the legislation allowed him to bypass lawmakers if he wished. Read the rest of this entry »

Six Months of Trump: Is Closing Guantánamo Still Possible?

A collage of Donald Trump and the sign for Camp Delta 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 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.

Just a few days ago, we passed a forlorn milestone: six months of the presidency of Donald Trump. On every front, this first six months has been a disaster. Trump humiliates America on the international stage, and at home he continues to head a dysfunctional government, presiding by tweet, and with scandal swirling ever closer around him.

On Guantánamo, as we have repeatedly noted, he has done very little. His initial threats to send new prisoners there, and to revive CIA “black sites,” have not materialized. However, if he has not opened the door to new arrivals, he has certainly closed the door on the men still there.

These include, as Joshua A. Geltzer, the senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council from 2015 until Trump took office, wrote in “Is Closing Guantánamo Still Conceivable?,” a recent article for the Atlantic, “the five still held at Guantánamo despite being recommended for transfer.” He added, “This official designation refers to those still believed to be lawfully detained under the law of war, but unanimously recommended for repatriation or resettlement by an interagency group of career officials. In other words, their continued detention has been deemed unnecessary, assuming an appropriate country can be identified to accept them under conditions that ensure their humane treatment and address any lingering threat they might pose.” Read the rest of this entry »

For Witness Against Torture, My Independence Day Article About Tyranny at Guantánamo Bay

A screenshot of my article for Witness Against Torture on US Independence Day 2017.

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 three months of the Trump administration.

 

For the last 41 days, my friends with Witness Against Torture — an organization of volunteer activists, founded in 2005, which “seeks to end torture worldwide, close the Guantánamo detention center, and seek reparations for torture victims” — have been running a campaign, “Forever Human Beings,” which I wrote about when their campaign started. the 41 days chosen for the campaign — from May 26 to July 5 — was chosen to reflect the number of prisoners still held at Guantánamo, and every day they highlighted the story of one particular prisoner.

To coincide with the end of their campaign — and US Independence Day — I wrote an article for Witness Against Torture about the significance of Guantánamo on the day that ordinary Americans celebrate their liberation from tyranny; this year, the 241st anniversary of the new nation’s freedom from the tyranny of King George III in 1776.

Ironically, however, those celebrating, for the most part, are unaware or unwilling to think of the uncomfortable fact that, at Guantánamo, a version of that same tyranny still exists, set up by the very government that is supposed to make sure that the kind of tyranny overthrown in 1776 can never happen again — specifically, imprisonment without charge or trial, which is supposed to be something that countries that claim to be civilized, and that claim to respect the rule of law, condemn without reservation. Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read My New Article for Al-Jazeera About the Five Men Still Held at Guantánamo Who Were Approved for Release Under Obama

A screenshot of my latest article for Al-Jazeera on June 30, 2017.Dear friends and supporters — and any casual passers-by,

I’m delighted to announce that my latest article for Al-Jazeera, Abdul Latif Nasser: Facing life in Guantánamo, has just been published, and I encourage you to read it, and to share it as widely as possible if you find it useful.

In it, I look at the cases of the five men still held at Guantánamo who were approved for release under President Obama, but who didn’t make it out before Donald Trump took over, with a particular focus on Abdul Latif Nasser, a Moroccan whose government sought his release, but failed to get the paperwork to the US authorities in time. I also look at the cases of Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian, and Tawfiq al-Bihani, a Yemeni. The two other men, sadly, don’t wish to have their cases discussed.

It’s important for these men’s cases to be remembered, because, although Donald Trump has not followed up on threats he made after taking office to send new prisoners to Guantánamo and to reintroduce torture, he has effectively sealed the prison shut for the last five months, releasing no one, and showing no signs of wanting to release anyone, and those of us who care about the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo must continue to do what we can to bring this deplorable state of affairs to an end. 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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