Torture on Trial in the US Senate, as the UK Government Unreservedly Apologizes for Its Role in Libyan Rendition

Sen. John McCain gives his reason for refusing the nomination of Gina Haspel as the next Director of the CIA (graphic by CBS News).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.

In the last few days, two very different approaches to torture have been on display in the US and the UK.

On Wednesday, the US Senate conducted confirmation hearings for Gina Haspel, Donald Trump’s nomination as the next Director of the CIA, who has attracted widespread criticism since her nomination was announced back in March, for two particularly valid reasons: firstly, because, towards the end of 2002, she was in charge of the CIA’s first post-9/11 “black site” in Thailand, where several “high-value detainees” were held and tortured, and secondly because, in 2005, she was involved in the destruction of videotapes documenting the torture of prisoners, even though a court had ordered the tapes to be preserved.

At the time of her nomination, we signed up to a letter from a number of rights groups opposing her nomination, and also published an article on our website, entitled, The Torture Trail of Gina Haspel Makes Her Unsuitable to be Director of the CIA. Read the rest of this entry »

Life After Guantánamo: In Morocco, Younous Chekkouri’s Struggle to Rebuild His Life

Younous Chekkouri, photographed by Sudarshan Raghavan for the Washington Post.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.

 

Regular readers will know that I have been following the stories of the prisoners held at Guantánamo for over 12 years, first through the 14 months’ research and writing I did for my book The Guantánamo Files (which, I just found out, I completed exactly eleven years ago today!), and then through the nearly 2,200 articles I have written about Guantánamo over the last eleven years.

One story that leapt out at me while researching The Guantánamo Files was that of Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a Moroccan national who, as I discovered through the transcript of a cursory military review of his case, “strenuously denied having had anything to do with Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, whose philosophy he despised” (as I described it in an article in 2016, drawing on an interview with him in February 2016, after his release from Guantánamo in September 2015, that was published by the Associated Press).

The cursory military review was a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT), of which hundreds were conducted in 2004 before a tribunal of military officers who were meant to rubber-stamp the prisoners’ designation, on capture, as “enemy combatants’ who could be detained indefinitely without charge or trial. Read the rest of this entry »

In Guantánamo Habeas Corpus Case, Lawyers Insist That Trump’s Stated Intention of Not Releasing Any Prisoners Renders Their Imprisonment “Perpetual” — and Illegal

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly and a photo of the prison at Guantanamo Bay on the day of its opening, Jan. 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.

 

On January 11, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, lawyers for eleven of the 41 prisoners still held submitted a habeas corpus petition to the District Court in Washington, D.C., arguing, as a press release by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights put it, that “[Donald] Trump’s proclamation against releasing anyone from Guantánamo, regardless of their circumstances, which has borne out for the first full year of the Trump presidency, is arbitrary and unlawful and amounts to ‘perpetual detention for detention’s sake.’”

CCR’s press release also stated that the lawyers’ filing “argues that continued detention is unconstitutional because any legitimate rationale for initially detaining these men has long since expired; detention now, 16 years into Guantánamo’s operation, is based only on Trump’s raw antipathy towards Guantánamo prisoners – all foreign-born Muslim men – and Muslims more broadly.” The lawyers added that “Donald Trump’s proclamation that he will not release any detainees during his administration reverses the approach and policies of both President Bush and President Obama, who collectively released nearly 750 men.”

In an article marking the submission of the habeas petition, I explained that the eleven men whose lawyers submitted the petition are “Tawfiq al-Bihani (ISN 893) aka Tofiq or Toffiq al-Bihani, a Yemeni who was approved for release by Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010, Abdul Latif Nasser (ISN 244) aka Abdu Latif Nasser, a Moroccan approved for release in 2016 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process, and nine others whose ongoing imprisonment was upheld by their PRBs: Yemenis Zohair al-Sharabi aka Suhail Sharabi (ISN 569), Said Nashir (ISN 841), Sanad al-Kazimi (ISN 1453) and Sharqawi al-Hajj (ISN 1457), Pakistanis Abdul Rabbani (ISN 1460) and Ahmed Rabbani (ISN 1461), the Algerian Saeed Bakhouche (ISN 685), aka Said Bakush, mistakenly known as Abdul Razak or Abdul Razak Ali, Abdul Malik aka Abdul Malik Bajabu (ISN 10025), a Kenyan, and one of the last men to be brought to the prison — inexplicably — in 2007, and Abu Zubaydah (ISN 10016), one of Guantánamo’s better-known prisoners, a stateless Palestinian, for whom the post-9/11 torture program was initially conceived, under the mistaken belief that he was a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda.” Read the rest of this entry »

Trapped in Guantánamo: Haroon Gul, a Case of Mistaken Identity Silenced By Donald Trump

Guantanamo prisoner Haroon Gul photographed before his capture. Photo provided by Shelby Sullivan-Bennis.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.

 

To Donald Trump, with his simplistic and wrong-headed approach to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, none of the 41 men still held should ever be released, and, if he were to get his way, new prisoners would be added to the prison’s population.

Blinded by a deep-seated racism, and supported by officials and lawmakers who continue to be driven by a ferocious spirit of vengeance, 16 and a half years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Mr. Trump fails to understand that most of the men held at Guantánamo are not, and never were “the worst of the worst,” and fails to understand that holding anyone indefinitely without charge or trial, as it the case for the majority of the prisoners, is a fundamental and profound betrayal of the respect for the rule of law that was supposed to underpin the very creation of the United States of America, 242 years ago this July.

Of the 41 men still held, just seven are facing trials — or, to be more accurate, are caught up in seemingly interminable pre-trial hearings, with one having recently had his trial indefinitely halted by his judge — and with one other man, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, having been convicted in 2008 (although most elements of his conviction have since been overturned). Two others have agreed to plea deals, one of whom was supposed to have been repatriated to continuing imprisonment in Saudi Arabia last month.  Read the rest of this entry »

Reviewing the Guantánamo Art Show in New York That Dared to Show Prisoners As Human Beings, and Led to a Pentagon Clampdown

Artwork by former Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed al-Ansi, shown in 'Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantanamo Bay', an exhibition in New York. This is a screenshot of the home page of the website.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.

Back in November, a disturbing story emerged from Guantánamo — of how a ten-year policy of allowing prisoners to give away art they have made at the prison to their lawyers and, via them, to family members had been stopped by the authorities, in response to an exhibition of prisoners’ artwork at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York, which is known for its criminal justice, forensic science, forensic psychology, and public affairs programs.

The Pentagon had taken exception to an email address provided for people who were “interested in purchasing art” from the artists featured in the show. A Pentagon spokesman, Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson, said on November 15 that “all Guantánamo detainee art is ‘property of the US government’ and ‘questions remain on where the money for the sales was going.’”

One problem with this position was that some of the art was by prisoners who are no longer at the prison,which surely raises questions about the extent of the Pentagon’s claimed “ownership” of their work, but the Department of Defense wasn’t interested in having that pointed out. Instead, a spokeswoman at the prison, Navy Cmdr. Anne Leanos, said in a statement that “transfers of detainee made artwork have been suspended pending a policy review,” and Ramzi Kassem, a professor at City University of New York School of Law whose legal clinic represents Guantánamo prisoners, said that one particular prisoner had been told that, if any prisoner were to be allowed to leave Guantánamo (which, crucially, has not happened under Donald Trump), “their art would not even be allowed out with them and would be incinerated instead.” Read the rest of this entry »

Exactly 16 Years Ago, George W. Bush Opened the Floodgates to Torture at Guantánamo

George W. Bush and one of the iconic images of prisoner abuse from Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

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.

 

Since the terrible elevation of the grotesquely inadequate figure of Donald Trump to the position of President of the United States, there has been a bizarre propensity, on the part of those in the center and on the left of US political life, to seek to rehabilitate the previous Republican president, George W. Bush.

So let’s nip this in the bud, shall we? Because unless you’ve been away from the planet for the last 20 years, you must be aware that it was George W. Bush who initiated the US’s brutal and thoroughly counter-productive “war on terror” in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which involved authorizing the CIA to set up a secret detention and torture program, establishing a prison outside the law at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, establishing deportation and surveillance programs within the US, invading one country (Afghanistan) in response to the attacks, where US troops remain to this day, despite having long ago ”snatched defeat from the jaws of victory,” as the author Anand Gopal once explained to me, and invading another country (Iraq) that had nothing to do with 9/11 or al-Qaeda, but which was nevertheless destroyed, along the way serving as the crucible for the creation of a newer threat, Daesh, or Islamic State, as it is more colloquial known in the West, a kind of turbo-charged reincarnation of al-Qaeda.

Today, February 7, is the 16th anniversary of one particularly sinister and misguided development in Bush’s “war on terror” — a memorandum, entitled, “Humane Treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda Detainees,” which was sent to just a handful of recipients including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, CIA director George Tenet, and General Richard B. Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Read the rest of this entry »

Good News: Court Orders Trump Administration to Explain Its Position on Guantánamo After A Year of Shocking Inaction

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly and a photo of the prison at Guantanamo Bay on the day of its opening, Jan. 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.

 

Two and a half weeks ago, on the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, lawyers for eleven of the 41 men still held at Guantánamo, from the Center for Constitutional Rights, Reprieve, and other legal firms, filed a habeas corpus lawsuit with the District Court in Washington, D.C., in which, as I explained in an article at the time, drawing on a CCR press release:

[I]t “argues that Trump’s proclamation against releasing anyone from Guantánamo, regardless of their circumstances, which has borne out for the first full year of the Trump presidency, is arbitrary and unlawful and amounts to ‘perpetual detention for detention’s sake.’”

CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei said, “It’s clear that a man who thinks we should water-board terror suspects even if it doesn’t work, because ‘they deserve it, anyway’ has no qualms about keeping every last detainee in Guantanamo, so long as he holds the jailhouse key.”

CCR’s press release also stated, “The filing argues that continued detention is unconstitutional because any legitimate rationale for initially detaining these men has long since expired; detention now, 16 years into Guantánamo’s operation, is based only on Trump’s raw antipathy towards Guantánamo prisoners – all foreign-born Muslim men – and Muslims more broadly,” adding that “Donald Trump’s proclamation that he will not release any detainees during his administration reverses the approach and policies of both President Bush and President Obama, who collectively released nearly 750 men.”

Read the rest of this entry »

As Guantánamo Enters Its 17th Year of Operations, Lawyers Hit Trump with Lawsuit Stating That His Blanket Refusal to Release Anyone Amounts to Arbitrary Detention

After launching the new lawsuit against Donald Trump, lawyers with the Center for Constitutional Rights came to the White House to join the annual protest against Guantanamo's continued existence (on the left, legal director Baher Azmy, and on the right, Omar Farah and Pardiss Kebriaei. In the center is Advocacy Program Manager Aliya Hussain (Photo: Andy Worthington).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.

 

January 11 was the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo, and as campaigners (myself included) were making their way to the White House to prepare for the annual protest against the prison’s continued existence — the first under Donald Trump — and, in my case, to launch the new poster campaign counting how many days Guantánamo has been open, and urging Donald Trump to close it, lawyers with the Center for Constitutional Rights and Reprieve were launching a new lawsuit at the National Press Club prior to joining the protesters.

The lawsuit was brought on behalf of eleven prisoners, and, as CCR’s press release states, it “argues that Trump’s proclamation against releasing anyone from Guantánamo, regardless of their circumstances, which has borne out for the first full year of the Trump presidency, is arbitrary and unlawful and amounts to ‘perpetual detention for detention’s sake.’”

CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei said, “It’s clear that a man who thinks we should water-board terror suspects even if it doesn’t work, because ‘they deserve it, anyway’ has no qualms about keeping every last detainee in Guantanamo, so long as he holds the jailhouse key.”

CCR’s press release also stated, “The filing argues that continued detention is unconstitutional because any legitimate rationale for initially detaining these men has long since expired; detention now, 16 years into Guantánamo’s operation, is based only on Trump’s raw antipathy towards Guantánamo prisoners – all foreign-born Muslim men – and Muslims more broadly,” adding that “Donald Trump’s proclamation that he will not release any detainees during his administration reverses the approach and policies of both President Bush and President Obama, who collectively released nearly 750 men.” 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 »

Guantánamo Hunger Striker Khalid Qassim Says, “We Are Like Lab Rats,” Says Doctor Told Him, “If You Lose Organs, It Is Your Choice”

Guantanamo prisoner Khalid Qassim, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.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 Thursday, as I travelled across London to show solidarity with the victims of a recent injustice in the UK — the Grenfell Tower fire in June, in which 71 people died needlessly because safety standards had been so gravely eroded by those responsible for residents’ safety — the victim of another injustice, not adequately dealt with for 16 years, had an article published in the Guardian.

That victim of injustice is Khalid Qassim (aka Qasim), a Yemeni prisoner at Guantánamo, held for almost 16 years without charge or trial. That would be unacceptable if he were a prisoner of war, as it is longer than the absurdly long Vietnam War, and it is insulting to claim that any war can last forever. However, Qassim and all the men held at Guantánamo since January 2002 have never been held as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, who can be held unmolested until the end of hostilities.

Instead, they are, essentially, the same prisoners without any rights whatsoever that the Bush administration first defined them as back in January 2002. Just ten of the 41 men still held are facing or have faced trials (in the military commission trial system that, in any case, is not fit for purpose), while the rest are still largely invisible, never tried, never charged, and unable to be freed except at the whim of the president. 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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