Guantánamo, The Torture Report and Human Rights Day: America’s Unaddressed Legacy of Torture and Arbitrary Detention

A graphic dealing with CIA torture report, whose executive summary was released in December 2014.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.

 

This time of year has always been a significant time for anyone concerned with human rights to reflect on what has or hasn’t been achieved in the last twelve months, and to make plans for the new year.

A crucial, and long established date is December 10, which the United Nations designated as Human Rights Day in 1950, on the second anniversary of the ratification by the UN of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which, in a Facebook post on Human Rights Day, I described as “probably the most wonderful aspirational document in human history, born out of the soul-churning horrors of the Second World War.”

The UN, on its Human Rights Day page, says of the UDHR that it “sets out universal values and a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. It establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person. Thanks to the Declaration, and States’ commitments to its principles, the dignity of millions has been uplifted and the foundation for a more just world has been laid. While its promise is yet to be fully realized, the very fact that it has stood the test of time is testament to the enduring universality of its perennial values of equality, justice and human dignity.”

Amongst the UDHR’s 30 articles are prohibitions on the use of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and arbitrary arrest, as well as the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial, all of which have long been of great significance to those like myself who have been writing about Guantánamo and working to get the prison closed. Read the rest of this entry »

Detailed Los Angeles Review of Books Article Asks, “What Are We Still Doing in Guantánamo?”

A prisoner being moved by guards in Camp Six at Guantanamo (Photo: J. Moore, Getty Images).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.

 

As we approach the 16th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, those of us who care about justice, the rule of law and a sense of proportion will also be attempting to remind the world that we’re just four months away from another 16th anniversary, directly released to 9/11 — the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, which took place on January 11, 2002.

Ostensibly a prison for “the worst of the worst,” seized in the “war on terror” that the Bush administration declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Guantánamo has, instead, become, to those who care, a symbol of everything that is wrong with the US response to 9/11 — a place where men seized through dubious intelligence, or bought for bounty payments from America’s allies in Pakistan and Afghanistan, were tortured or abused to make false statements incriminating themselves or their fellow prisoners, and are held, mostly without charge or trial, in defiance of domestic and international laws and treaties establishing how prisoners can only be held if they are criminal suspects facing trials, or prisoners of war protected by the Geneva Conventions,

The Guantánamo prisoners are neither, and are, still, men held essentially without any rights, although unfortunately most people — or most Americans, in particular — neither know nor care, and 15 years and eight months after the prison opened, the 41 men still held are at the mercy of the third president in charge of their fate — Donald Trump, who, rather than accepting that Guantánamo is an aberration that must be closed (as George W. Bush eventually realized, and Barack Obama knew all along, despite lacking the political will to deliver on his promise to close it), intends to officially keep it open, and, if he can manage it, to send new prisoners there — a plan that anyone rational abhors, although, unfortunately, rational thought is currently quite severely endangered, especially, it seems, in the Republican Party. Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump’s Stumbling Efforts to Revive Guantánamo

A collage of images of Donald Trump and Guantanamo on its first day back in January 2002.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.

On Guantánamo, Donald Trump has, essentially, done nothing since he took office, despite promising, on the campaign trail, to fill the prison “with bad dudes,” and to revive the use of torture. Shortly after he took office, a draft executive order was leaked, which saw him proposing to set up new “black sites,” and to send new prisoners to Guantánamo, but on the former he was shut down immediately by critics from across the political spectrum, and even from some of his own appointees, and on the latter we presumed that silence meant that he had been advised that it was not worth sending new prisoners to Guantánamo.

There are a number of reasons why this advice was to be expected: because the federal courts have such a good track record of dealing successfully with terrorism-related cases, and because the legislation authorizing imprisonment at Guantánamo — the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed just days after the 9/11 attacks — focuses on 9/11, al-Qaeda, the Taliban and related forces, and not on newer threats — like Islamic State, for example, for which new legislation would be required.

As a result, although Guantánamo has almost entirely slipped off the radar, with the impression given that the men still held are trapped in a place that Trump has largely chosen to ignore, it has at least been reassuring that he has gone quiet on his previously-promised notions of reviving the prison. Read the rest of this entry »

On the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, It’s Time for Someone to Leak the Whole of the US Senate Torture Report

The cover of a version of the executive summary of the Senate torture report, made publicly available in December 2014.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.

 

Today is an important day — 30 years since the entry into force of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and 20 years since the establishment, on that anniversary, of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, and to mark the occasion it would be wonderful if someone in the huge, sprawling organization that is the United States government would release — leak, if you prefer — the full Senate Intelligence Committee Study on CIA Detention and Interrogation Program.

The report took five years to compile, contains 6,700 pages, and cost $40m, and it was approved for publication by the committee members on December 13, 2012, by nine votes to six, although it was not until December 9, 2014 that a partly-redacted 525-page document — the executive summary and certain key findings — was released. See Senator Dianne Feinstein’s page on the report for all the publicly available documents.

The executive summary was a profoundly shocking document, despite the redactions, and despite consisting of less than one-tenth of the total, as I explained at the time, when I wrote that the report found that: Read the rest of this entry »

In Ongoing Court Case, Spotlight On James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, Architects of the Brutal, Pointless CIA Torture Program

Bruce Jessen (left) and James Mitchell (right), the US psychologists who were the architects of the post-9/11 torture program.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues — including the US torture program — over the next three months of the Trump administration.

Today is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which commemorates the entry into force, on June 26, 1987, of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which the US is a signatory).

 

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.

Here at “Close Guantánamo,” we have always been concerned not only with closing Guantánamo for good, and seeking justice for anyone put forward for a trial, but also with accountability.

We believe that those who authorized the defining characteristics of the “war on terror” declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — a global program of kidnapping and torture, and, at Guantánamo, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial — must one day be held accountable for their actions.

Unfortunately, even before President Obama took office, he expressed “a belief that we need to look forward as opposed to looking backwards,” adding that part of his job was “to make sure that, for example, at the CIA, you’ve got extraordinarily talented people who are working very hard to keep Americans safe. I don’t want them to suddenly feel like they’ve got spend their all their time looking over their shoulders.” Read the rest of this entry »

15 Years of Torture: The Unending Agony of Abu Zubaydah, in CIA “Black Sites” and Guantánamo

Abu Zubaydah: illustration by Brigid Barrett from an article in Wired in July 2013. The photo used is from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2013.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.

 

In the eleven years since I first began working on Guantánamo full-time, researching its history and the stories of the men held there, writing about them and working to get the prison closed down, one date has been burned into my mind: March 28, 2002, when Abu Zubaydah (Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), an alleged “high-value detainee,” was seized in a house raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan. That night dozens of prisoners were seized in a number of house raids in Faisalabad, and some were taken to CIA “black sites” or sent abroad on behalf of the CIA to torture facilities in other countries, run by their own torturers. Most ended up, after a few months, in Guantánamo, and most — through not all — have now been released, but not Abu Zubaydah.

He, instead, was sent to a CIA “black site” in Thailand, where he was the first prisoner subjected to the CIA’s vile post-9/11 torture program, revealed most clearly to date in the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report about the program, published in December 2014. Although the executive summary was heavily redacted, and the full report has never been made public, it remains the most powerful official indictment of the torture program, which, it is clear, should never have been embarked upon in the first place.

After Thailand, where he was subjected to waterboarding (an ancient form of water torture) on 83 occasions, Abu Zubaydah was sent to Poland, and, after other flights to other locations (a “black site” in Guantánamo, briefly), and others in Morocco, Lithuania, and — probably — Afghanistan, he ended up back at Guantánamo, though not covertly, in September 2006, when President Bush announced to the world that he and 13 other “high-value detainees” had been removed from the CIA “black sites” whose existence he had previously denied, but which, he now admitted, had existed but had just been shut down. Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump Proposes to Keep Guantánamo Open, to Prevent Further Releases, and to Reintroduce Torture and “Black Sites”

A collage of images of Donald Trump and Guantanamo on its first day back in January 2002.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 first two 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 Wednesday our worst fears on Guantánamo and torture were confirmed, when the New York Times published a leaked draft executive order, “Detention and Interrogation of Enemy Combatants,” indicating that Donald Trump wants to keep Guantánamo open, wants to send new prisoners there, and wants to “suspend any existing transfer efforts pending a new review as to whether any such transfers are in the national security interests of the United States.” Trump also, it seems, wants to reinstate torture and the use of CIA “black sites.”

Specifically, the draft executive order proposes revoking the two executive orders, 13492 and 13491, that President Obama issued on his second day in office in January 2009 — the first ordering the closure of Guantánamo, and the second to close CIA “black sites,” to grant the International Committee of the Red Cross access to all prisoners, and to ensure that interrogators only use techniques approved in the Army Field Manual.

The draft executive order also proposes to “resurrect a 2007 executive order issued by President Bush,” as the New York Times put it, which “responded to a 2006 Supreme Court ruling about the Geneva Conventions that had put CIA interrogators at risk of prosecution for war crimes, leading to a temporary halt of the agency’s ‘enhanced’ interrogations program.” Read the rest of this entry »

Humanizing a Torture Victim: Abu Zubaydah’s Letters from Guantánamo

Abu Zubaydah as a young man (Photo by Abu Zubaydah’s childhood friend, Muhammad Shams al-Sawalha).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

On Tuesday, I wrote about the recent decision, by a Periodic Review Board, to approve the ongoing imprisonment of Abu Zubaydah, one of 14 men described as “high-value detainees,” who were brought to Guantánamo from CIA “black sites” just over ten years ago, in September 2006.

Zubaydah — whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn — was actually the first victim of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture program, but although the US government initially touted him as a significant figure in al-Qaeda, by 2010 they had backed down from their claims, accepting that he was not a member of al-Qaeda, and was not involved in the 9/11 attacks. In legal documents, the government claimed that they had “not contended … that Petitioner was a member of al-Qaeda or otherwise formally identified with al-Qaeda” and had “not contended that Petitioner had any personal involvement in planning or executing either the 1998 embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, or the attacks of September 11, 2001.”

Nevertheless, in approving Zubaydah’s ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial, the members of the review board — consisting of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — sought to still identify him with al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and drew on a videotaped interview, made by militants after the 9/11 attacks, in which he spoke of how closely he and bin Laden had been working together for ten years, a claim that sounds suspiciously like Zubaydah making false claims about his own significance. In contrast, at a tribunal at Guantánamo in 2007, Zubaydah stated that he was tortured by the CIA to admit that he worked with Osama bin Laden, but insisted, “I’m not his partner and I’m not a member of al-Qaeda.” Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo’s Military Commissions: More Chaos in the Cases of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri and Majid Khan

"High-value detainee" Majid Khan, photographed at Guantanamo in 2009.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2700 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

At Guantánamo, as I have been reporting recently, the military commissions, a broken trial system ill-advisedly dragged out of historical retirement for prisoners seized in the “war on terror,” have reconvened after a summer break — see my articles Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions and Chief Defense Counsel of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions Calls Them a “Poisoned Chalice,” a Betrayal of the Constitution and the Law. Also see my updated Full List of Prisoners Charged in the Military Commissions at Guantánamo.

That the commissions are a poor substitute for justice can readily be understood from the fact that only eight convictions have been secured, and four of those have subsequently been overturned by appeals court judges, and from the realization that the only ongoing cases are almost permanently deadlocked because, on the one hand, prosecutors seek to hide the fact that the men facing trials were tortured, while on the other those defending the men insist that fair trial cannot take place until the torture is openly discussed.

The failures of the commissions have also been made clear in a recent appeals court ruling in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of involvement in the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and in a hearing at Guantánamo for Majid Khan, who first agreed to a plea deal over four and a half years ago, in February 2012, but who has not yet been sentenced. 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 »

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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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