Abandoning Guantánamo: The Supreme Court’s Shame as a Military Commission Appeal Is Turned Down

Protestors against rh existence of Guantanamo outside the US Supreme Court on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison (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.

 

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 Tuesday (October 10), when the Supreme Court turned down an appeal submitted by Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a Guantánamo prisoner convicted of terrorism charges in October 2008 in a military commission trial, the justices demonstrated that, for over nine years now, they have proved incapable of fulfilling their role of upholding the law when it comes to issues relating to terrorism.

This is a profound disappointment, because, four months before al-Bahlul’s conviction, on June 12, 2008, those who respect the law — and basic human decency — were thrilled when the Supreme Court delivered a major ruling in favor of the prisoners at Guantánamo. In Boumediene v. Bush, the justices ruled that the prisoners had constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights; in other words, that they could ask an impartial judge to rule on whether or not their imprisonment was justified.

The ruling was the third major ruling by the Supreme Court regarding Guantánamo. In June 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the court had ruled that the military commission trial system at Guantánamo did not have “the power to proceed because its structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949.” The court also ruled that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, prohibiting torture and “humiliating and degrading treatment,” had been violated. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Guantánamo Cases Make It to the Supreme Court; Experts Urge Justices to Pay Attention

Ali Hamza al-Bahlul and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Guantanamo prisoners who have submitted petitions to the Supreme Court.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.

Even before the Bush administration set up its “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, legal experts were profoundly alarmed by proposals for how those seized as alleged terrorists would be tried. On November 13, 2001, President Bush signed a military order prepared by Vice President Dick Cheney and his senior lawyer, David Addington, which authorized the use of military commissions to try prisoners seized in the “war on terror,” preventing any prisoner from having access to the US courts, and authorized indefinite detention without due process.

Under the leadership of Michael Ratner at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, lawyers prepared to challenge the proposals in the military order in the courts. The stripping of the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights and the prevention of their access to the courts eventually made it to the Supreme Court in June 2004, when, in Rasul v. Bush, the Court, for the first time ever in wartime, ruled against the government, granting the prisoners habeas corpus rights.

Lawyers were allowed into Guantánamo, piercing the veil of secrecy that had allowed a regime of torture and abuse to thrive unmonitored, although President Bush immediately persuaded Congress to pass new legislation that again stripped the prisoners of their habeas rights. Further legal struggles then led to habeas rights being reintroduced in another Supreme Court case, Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008. Read the rest of this entry »

Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

"End Guantanamo commissions: use fair trials" - an Amnesty International supporter outside the White House.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2800 (£2100) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

In the 15 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has systematically undermined many of the key values it claims to uphold as a nation founded on and respecting the rule of law, having embraced torture, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial, trials of dubious legality and efficacy, and extra-judicial execution.

The Bush administration’s torture program — so devastatingly exposed in the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the program, published in December 2014 — no longer exists, but no one has been held accountable for it. In addition, as the psychologist and journalist Jeffrey Kaye has pointed out, although ostensibly outlawed by President Obama in an executive order issued when he took office, the use of torture is permitted, in particular circumstances, in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual.

When it comes to extrajudicial execution, President Obama has led the way, disposing of perceived threats through drone attacks — and although drones were used by President Bush, it is noticeable that their use has increased enormously under Obama. If the rendition, torture and imprisonment of those seized in the “war on terror” declared after the 9/11 attacks raised difficult ethical, moral and legal questions, killing people in drone attacks — even in countries with which the US is not at war, and even if they are US citizens — apparently does not trouble the conscience of the president, or the US establishment as a whole. Read the rest of this entry »

“America’s Shame,” Rolling Stone’s Detailed – and Damning – Article About Guantánamo

Prisoners regarded as "compliant" sharing communal facilities inside Guantanamo's Camp Six (Photo: JTF GTMO Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elisha Dawkins).As all eyes are focused on Iowa, on the first caucus of this year’s Presidential election race, I thought I’d cross-post an interesting article about Guantánamo that was recently published in Rolling Stone, written by Janet Reitman. This is a long and detailed article, taking as its springboard a visit to one of the pre-trial hearings in Guantánamo’s military commissions, the alternative trial system set up for the “war on terror,” at the particular instigation of Dick Cheney and his legal adviser David Addington, which seems able only to demonstrate, in its glacially slow proceedings, that it is unable to deliver justice.

I confess that, in recent years, I have rather taken my eye off the military commissions, although I commend those who still visit Guantánamo to write about them, chief amongst whom is Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald. I put together a detailed list of who has been charged — plus the eight convictions and the four verdicts that have subsequently been overturned — two years ago, and in that article I stated:

I’ve been covering the commissions since 2006, and I have never found that they have established any kind of legitimacy, compared to federal courts, where crimes should be tried. This conclusion has only been strengthened in recent years, as conservative appeals court judges in Washington D.C. have overturned two of the eight convictions on the basis that they were for war crimes that were invented by Congress rather than being internationally recognized.

Read the rest of this entry »

Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul, David Hicks and the Legal Collapse of the Military Commissions at Guantánamo

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.

Last week, lawyers for former Guantánamo prisoner David Hicks, an Australian who, in March 2007, was the first Guantánamo prisoner to accept a guilty plea in a military commission trial in order to get out of the prison, appealed his conviction — for the second time in the last ten months.

Hicks had accepted a plea of providing material support for terrorism in exchange for being returned to Australia and being freed after just nine months. However, in October 2012 the court of appeals in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court) threw out the conviction of another prisoner who had been convicted of providing material support for terrorism in a military commission trial, paving the way for Hicks to challenge his conviction.

That man was Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni who had worked as a paid driver for Osama bin Laden, and who had been convicted in the summer of 2008. As the Circuit Court described it, “When Hamdan committed the conduct in question, the international law of war proscribed a variety of war crimes, including forms of terrorism. At that time, however, the international law of war did not proscribe material support for terrorism as a war crime.” Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

“He Didn’t Commit a War Crime”: Omar Khadr’s US Lawyer Challenges His Conviction at Guantánamo

Last week was a busy week for legal challenges by former Guantánamo prisoners. Just after David Hicks announced that he was appealing against his 2007 conviction for providing material support for terrorism (which I wrote about here), Omar Khadr’s lawyer in the US announced that the Canadian citizen, who was repatriated in September 2012 but is still imprisoned in his home country, is “set to appeal his five war crimes convictions on the grounds that the military commission had no legal authority to try him or accept his guilty pleas,” as Colin Perkel described it for The Canadian Press.

In order to leave Guantánamo, Khadr accepted a plea deal in October 2010, in which he admitted that he was guilty of murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder in violation of the law of war, conspiracy, providing material support for terrorism, and spying, even though there are serious problems with the credibility of the main charge against him — that he threw a grenade that killed a US soldier — as an investigation of the evidence indicates that, at the time, he was unconscious, having been shot twice in the back at close range.

Khadr is able to challenge two of the charges against him — providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy — because of two rulings by the court of appeals in Washington D.C. last October and in January this year, when judges threw out two of the only convictions secured in the military commissions at Guantánamo, in 2008 — against Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden, and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a propagandist for al-Qaeda. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner David Hicks Appeals His 2007 Conviction for Non-Existent War Crime

Ever since the conservative court of appeals in Washington D.C. delivered an extraordinary ruling last October, vacating one of the only convictions in the military commission trial system introduced for prisoners at Guantánamo, it has only been a matter of time before other appeals would be lodged.

Last Tuesday, November 5, the first man convicted in the trials — the Australian citizen David Hicks, who agreed to a plea deal in March 2007, on the basis that he would be returned to Australia to serve a seven-month sentence — lodged an appeal with the US Court of Military Commission Review, “arguing for a summary dismissal of the conviction,” as the Sydney Morning Herald described it, “because the offence was not a war crime at the time Mr. Hicks was detained, and his guilty plea was made under duress because of his detention, torture and abuse at Guantánamo.”

Just seven convictions have been secured in Guantánamo’s military commission system (between March 2007 and February 2012), which has struggled — and failed — to achieve any kind of credibility since George W. Bush’s Vice President, Dick Cheney, ill-advisedly dragged the commissions from the history books in November 2001. Ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006, they were then revived by Congress, and revived by Congress a second time under President Obama in 2009, despite warnings by senior administration lawyers that convictions would almost certainly be overturned on appeal. Read the rest of this entry »

Meet the Guantánamo Prisoner Who Wants to be Prosecuted Rather than Rot in Legal Limbo

Throughout the spring and summer, while the prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo raged, taking up most of my attention, as I reported prisoners’ accounts, and campaigned to get President Obama to release the 86 prisoners cleared for release in January 2010 by his own inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, I missed some other developments, which I intend to revisit over the next few weeks, beginning with an article by Jess Bravin for the Wall Street Journal in July.

Bravin, the Supreme Court correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and the author of the acclaimed book The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay, wrote an article entitled, “Guantánamo Detainee Begs to Be Charged as Legal Limbo Worsens,” which perfectly captured the Alice in Wonderland-style absurdity of the prison, eleven and half years after it opened, with the remaining 164 prisoners no closer to securing justice than they were when George W. Bush set up the prison, which, at the time, was intended to be a place where they could be held without any rights whatsoever.

Highlighting one aspect of this ongoing injustice, Bravin looked at the case of Sufyian Barhoumi, identified in his article as Sufiyan Barhoumi, who, as he described it, “has decided to plead guilty to war crimes, throw himself on the mercy of the court and serve whatever sentence a US military commission deems just.” As Bravin added, however, “There’s just one problem: The Pentagon refuses to charge him.” Read the rest of this entry »

US Military Admits Only 2.5 Percent of All Prisoners Ever Held at Guantánamo Will Be Tried

So it’s official, then. Eleven and a half years after the “war on terror” prison opened at Guantánamo, the maximum number of prisoners that the US military intends to prosecute, or has already prosecuted, is 20 — or just 2.5 percent of the 779 men held at the prison since it opened in January 2002.

The news was announced on Monday June 10 by Army Brig. Gen. Mark Martins, the chief prosecutor for the military commissions at Guantánamo, and it is a humiliating climbdown for the authorities.

When President Obama appointed an inter-agency task force to review the cases of the remaining Guantánamo prisoners, which issued its report in January 2010, the task force recommended that 36 of the remaining prisoners should be tried.

Just five of the 36 have since been to trial — one in the US, and four through plea deals in their military commissions at Guantánamo. Another man — Ali Hamza al-Bahlul — had already been tried and convicted, in the dying days of George W. Bush’s second term, and two others had been sent home after their trials — David Hicks after a plea deal in March 2007, and Salim Hamdan after a trial in July 2008 — making a total of 39 prosecutions, or intended prosecutions, after eleven and a half years of the prison’s existence. That was just 5 percent of the men held throughout Guantánamo’s history, but now that figure, which was, in itself, an extremely poor reflection on the efficacy of the prison and its relationship to any acceptable notions of justice, has been halved.

As Reuters described it, Brig. Gen. Martins explained that the number set by the task force was “ambitious” in light of two rulings last October and in January this year by judges in the court of appeals in Washington D.C. 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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