The Rule of Law Oral History Project: How the Guantánamo Prisoners Have Been Failed by All Three Branches of the US Government

Two days ago I posted excerpts from an interview about Guantánamo and my work that I undertook as part of The Rule of Law Oral History Project, a five-year project run by the Columbia Center for Oral History at Columbia University Library in New York, which was completed at the end of last year.

In this follow-up article I’m posting further excerpts from my interview — with Anne McClintock, Simone de Beauvoir Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — although, as in the previous article, I also encourage anyone who is interested in the story of Guantánamo and the “war on terror” — and the struggle against the death penalty in the US — to visit the website of The Rule of Law Oral History Project, and to check out all 43 interviews, with, to name but a few, retired Justice John Paul Stevens of the Supreme Court; A. Raymond Randolph, Senior Judge in the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; Ricardo M. Urbina and James Robertson, retired Senior Judges in the US District Court for the District of Columbia; Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell; Joseph P. Hoar, Former Commander-in-Chief, United States Central Command (CENTCOM); former military commission prosecutor V. Stuart Couch and former chief prosecutor Morris D. Davis; Brittain Mallow, Commander, Criminal Investigation Task Force, and Mark Fallon, Deputy Commander, Criminal Investigation Task Force. Also included are interviews with former prisoners, lawyers for the men, psychologists and a psychiatrist, journalists and other relevant individuals.

In this second excerpt from the interview, I explain how, at the time Anne and I were talking (in June 2012), the situation for the Guantánamo prisoners had reached a new low point, as the Supreme Court had just failed to take up any of the appeals submitted by seven of the men still held. These all related to the men’s habeas corpus petitions, and the shameful situation whereby, for ideological reasons, primarily related to fearmongering, a handful of appeals court judges, in the D.C. Circuit Court, had effectively ordered District Court judges to stop granting habeas corpus petitions submitted by the prisoners (after the prisoners secured 38 victories), by demanding that anything that purported to be evidence submitted by the government — however risible — be given the presumption of accuracy unless it could be specifically refuted. Read the rest of this entry »

For Ramadan, Please Write to the Prisoners in Guantánamo, Forgotten Again

Every six months, I ask people to write to the prisoners in Guantánamo, to let them — and the US authorities — know that they have not been forgotten.

The letter-writing campaign was started four years ago by two Facebook friends, Shahrina J. Ahmed and Mahfuja Bint Ammu, and it has been repeated every six months (see here, here, here, here, here and here). This latest campaign also coincides with the holy month of Ramadan, which began on June 29.

Guantánamo remains a legal, moral and ethical abomination, a place where the men still held — 149 in total — are, for the most part, indefinitely imprisoned without charge or trial, even though over half of them — 75 men — were cleared for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama when he took office in 2009, and three others were cleared for release in recent months by a new review process, the Periodic Review Boards.

In 2010, the task force recommended who to release, who to prosecute, and who to continue holding without charge or trial, on the extremely dubious basis that they were “too dangerous to release,” even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. What this means, of course, is that the supposed evidence is no such thing, and consists largely of extremely unreliable statements made either by the prisoners themselves, or their fellow prisoners, in circumstances that were not conducive to telling the truth — involving the use of torture, for example, or other forms of abuse, and in some cases, bribery, when prisoners told lies to secure favorable treatment. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyers Urge Obama Administration to Approve Release of Six Men to Uruguay

Lawyers for six prisoners at Guantánamo — four Syrians, a Palestinian and a Tunisian, who have long been cleared for release from the prison, but are unable to return home — sent a letter to the Obama administration on Thursday calling for urgent action regarding their clients. I’m posting the full text of the letter below.

It’s now over three months since President José Mujica of Uruguay announced that he had been approached by the Obama administration regarding the resettlement of five men — later expanded to six — and was willing to offer new homes to them. I wrote about the story here, where I also noted that one of the men is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian man, consigned to a wheelchair as a result of his suffering at Guantánamo. Dhiab is on a hunger strike and being force-fed, and has, in recent months, mounted a prominent legal challenge to his treatment, securing access for his lawyers to videotapes showing his force-feeding and violent cell extractions. The other Syrians are Abdelhadi Faraj (aka Abdulhadi Faraj), Ali Hussein al-Shaaban and Ahmed Adnan Ahjam, the Palestinian is Mohammed Taha Mattan (aka Mohammed Tahamuttan), and the Tunisian, whose identity is revealed for the first time, is Adel El-Ouerghi (aka Abdul Ourgy (ISN 502)).

All six men were cleared for release from the prison in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama appointed shortly after taking office in 2009, and in their letter the lawyers provided detailed explanations of how the deal has progressed since first being mooted late last year and how it appeared to be confirmed months ago, before it had first been mentioned publicly. “In February,” they wrote, “some or us were informed that, while it was not possible to ascertain precisely when transfer would occur, it was ‘a matter of weeks, not months.'” Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Talks to Scott Horton and Peter B. Collins About the Latest Manufactured Guantánamo Scandal

That manufactured scandal, as I hope everyone reading this realizes, is the feigned outrage of lawmakers and media pundits regarding President Obama’s decision to rescue a captured US soldier from Afghanistan by exchanging him for five Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo, who were sent to Qatar, which I first wrote about here, and followed up with an article entitled, “Missing the Point on the Guantánamo Taliban Prisoner Swap and the Release of Bowe Bergdahl.” Yesterday, I was invited to discuss the manufactured scandal on Democracy Now! and in the last few days I have also spoken about it on the Scott Horton Show (just days after my previous appearance on the show), and with Peter B. Collins on his show from the Bay Area.

My 20-minute interview with Scott is here, and my 40-minute interview with Peter is here. Although it is for subscribers only, you can pay just $1 for a day pass, although other subscription offers, from $5 a month, are also available.

According to the unprincipled, opportunistic lawmakers and commentators laying into the Obama administration regarding the prisoner exchange, the rescued US soldier, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, held by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network in Afghanistan for the last five years, is a deserter who should have been abandoned, even though no objective investigation has established the truth — or otherwise  — of this claim.

With regard to the five Taliban officials released in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, it is true that these are men who, to varying degrees, held leadership positions with the Taliban and who had not been cleared for release from the prison — unlike 78 of the remaining 149 prisoners, cleared for release for years but still held — but while the critics have been wailing about how they were too dangerous to release, the facts and the justifications for the deal say otherwise. Read the rest of this entry »

Missing the Point on the Guantánamo Taliban Prisoner Swap and the Release of Bowe Bergdahl

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 Saturday, at the White House, President Obama announced that, in exchange for the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, held for five years by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani Network, he had released five Taliban prisoners from Guantánamo to Qatar.

Although the announcement was initially greeted positively, the president was soon under pressure from critics claiming that the five men were “battle-hardened Taliban commanders,” as the Washington Post put it, whose release posed a threat to America’s national security.

Some of the critical voices also claimed that Bowe Bergdahl was a deserter who should have been abandoned, and others chided President Obama for failing to notify Congress 30 days before the release of prisoners from Guantánamo, as required by the National Defense Authorization Act. Read the rest of this entry »

My Article for PolicyMic: Engineered Outrage About the Bowe Bergdahl/Taliban Prisoner Swap Ignores the Men Still Held at Guantánamo

Dear friends and supporters,

If you have a few minutes to spare, I hope you’ll read “What We Should Really Be Talking About With the Bowe Bergdahl Controversy,” my first article for PolicyMic, looking at how the largely cynical attacks on President Obama for his prisoner swap at the weekend (in which five Taliban prisoners at Guantánamo were released in Qatar in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan) is obscuring the plight of the men still held at Guantánamo — and, specifically, the 78 men (out of 149 in total) who have been cleared for release.

All but three of these men were cleared for release in January 2010 by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009. The three others were cleared for release in recent months by Periodic Review Boards, and yet all are still held, because, in Guantánamo’s disgusting, topsy-turvy world, in which the administration, Congress and the judiciary have all, in various ways, failed the prisoners, it is, in many ways, easier to be released from Guantánamo if you are regarded as somehow “significant,” than if you are palpably insignificant and cleared for release. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: Andy Worthington Discusses Obama’s Failure to Close Guantánamo on the Scott Horton Show

On Thursday, just after President Obama had spoken about Guantánamo, for the first time since the global protests on May 23 (the first anniversary of his promise to resume releasing prisoners after two year and eight months in which just five men had been released), the ever-indignant radio host Scott Horton asked if I was free to talk.

As one of the first radio hosts to take an interest in my work (back in August 2007), Scott is someone I always like to talk to, especially as we hadn’t spoken since February, and there was much to discuss. Our half-hour interview is available here, or see here for the link to the show on Scott’s own website. For the first time we used Skype for the interview, and I have to say that the sound quality is wonderfully clear.

President Obama had spoken about Guantánamo in a speech about America’s foreign policy at the US Military Academy at West Point, in which he said, “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being. But what makes us exceptional is not our ability to flout international norms and the rule of law; it’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions. That’s why I will continue to push to close GTMO — because American values and legal traditions don’t permit the indefinite detention of people beyond our borders.” Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read “Waiting for Progress on Guantánamo,” My Latest Article for Al-Jazeera

The logo of Al-Jazeera.Dear friends and supporters,

I hope you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, “Waiting for Progress on Guantánamo,” and to like, share and tweet it if you find it useful. Written to mark the first anniversary of President Obama’s promise to resume releasing prisoners from Guantánamo (on May 23, when a global day of action was held to call for renewed action from the president), it provides a round-up of progress — or the lack of it — in the last year.

As I note, although President Obama appointed envoys in the Pentagon and the State Department to work on the release of prisoners and the closure of the prison, and 12 men have been freed since last August, 78 of the prisoners, out of 154 in total who are still held, have been approved for release — 75 in January 2010 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force, and three others in recent months by Periodic Review Boards, established to review the cases of the majority of the men have not been cleared for release, including one man, Ghaleb al-Bihani, whose release was approved just yesterday. Read the rest of this entry »

Judge Reluctantly Allows US to Resume Force-Feeding Guantánamo Hunger Striker

As I explained last week, the Guantánamo prisoners secured a massive court victory on May 16, when a federal court judge ordered the government to halt the force-feeding of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner. He is one of 77 men still held (out of 154 in total) who have been cleared for release from the prison, and he is on a hunger strike and being force-fed, in large part because of his despair at ever being released, despite being told in January 2010 that the US government no longer wished to hold him.

The judge in question, Judge Gladys Kessler, also ordered the government to preserve video evidence of his force-feeding, to stop him being subjected to “forcible cell extractions” — in which guards in riot gear storm prisoner’s cells and move them to be force-fed if they refuse to go — and to preserve  all evidence of his “forcible cell extractions.”

This was the first time a judge had intervened to hold the government to account for its treatment of prisoners (following a helpful appeals court ruling in February), and on Wednesday Judge Kessler held a meeting with Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers and lawyers from the Justice Department at which she ordered the government to hand over videotapes and Mr. Dhiab’s medical records to his lawyers. Read the rest of this entry »

Long-Term Guantánamo Hunger Striker Emad Hassan Describes the Torture of Force-Feeding

Yesterday, two disturbing letters from Guantánamo were released by Reprieve US, the US branch of the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers represent 15 of the 154 men still held at the prison, and I’m posting them below, because they shed light on what Reprieve described in a press release as the “escalating, brutal punishment of hunger strikers,” who continue to be force-fed, even though the World Medical Association denounced force-feeding in the Declaration of Malta, in 2006, calling it “unjustifiable,” “never ethically acceptable,” and “a form of inhuman and degrading treatment,” if inflicted on a patient — or a prisoner — who is capable of making a rational decision about his refusal to eat.

The letters were written by Emad Hassan, a Yemeni prisoner who has been on a hunger strike — and force-fed — since 2007, even though he was cleared for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in January 2010. 77 of the men still held have been cleared for release — 75 by the task force, and two in recent months by a Periodic Review Board — and 57 of these men are Yemenis, but they are still held because of US fears about the security situation in Yemen — fears which may be legitimate, but which are an unacceptable basis for continuing to hold men that high-level review boards said should no longer be held.

In February, I made available a harrowing letter written by Emad, and in March he launched a historic legal challenge, becoming “the first Guantánamo Bay prisoner to have his claims of abuse at the military base considered by a US court of law,” as Reprieve described it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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