Video: I Discuss 9/11, Guantánamo and the Significance of the US Defeat in Afghanistan on Salaamedia in South Africa

A screenshot of Andy Worthington on South African broadcaster Salaamedia’s show, “Reflections on 9/11: The Impact on Afghanistan and the Muslim World,” on Sept. 8, 2021.

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On Wednesday, I was pleased to take part in a discussion — “Reflections on 9/11: The Impact on Afghanistan and the Muslim World” — on Salaamedia in South Africa, with whom I have spoken many times, including this time last year, when I took part in a discussion with former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, about Guantánamo, torture and the US’s endless wars.

This year, with the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan dominating the news, the former involved four commentators responding to questions from the host Inayet Wadee — myself, the political commentator and foreign policy adviser Sami Hamdi, the academic Ibrahim Moiz, and, rather less successfully, Taji Mustafa from the fundamentalist group Hizb ut-Tahrir Britain.

Please feel free to watch it all if it sounds like it will be of interest, but if you’d like to hear me discussing the lawless prison system established by the US after 9/11, at Guantánamo, at Bagram and other locations in Afghanistan, and in the system of “black sites” established as torture prisons around the world by the CIA, who also rendered other prisoners to proxy torture prisons in other rights-abusing countries, that begins around seven minutes in, and lasts for about six and a half minutes.

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On the 20th Anniversary of the 9/11 Attacks, the US Needs to Close Guantánamo and Bring to an End the Broken Military Commission Trials

The 9/11 attacks and Camp 6 at Guantánamo, photographed in 2016.

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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 the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States’ response to those attacks, both militarily and in terms of the law, couldn’t, in all honesty, have ended up more broken, unjust and embarrassing.

Having invaded Afghanistan a month after the attacks, the last US troops withdrew last month, effectively conceding defeat to the Taliban, whose overthrow had been one of the two justifications for the invasion, the other being the destruction of Al-Qaeda, the organization allegedly responsible for the attacks.

In fact, the Taliban were quite swiftly defeated after the US-led invasion, but, instead of withdrawing, US forces stayed on, blundering around the country, largely unable to identify allies from enemies, and definitively losing “heart and minds” through repeated bombing raids, often based on poor intelligence, that killed an enormous number of Afghan civilians, and through imprisoning many thousands of Afghans in lawless and often brutal conditions at Bagram and Guantánamo.

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The Taliban’s Victory in Afghanistan Mustn’t Prevent the Closure of Guantánamo

Asadullah Haroon Gul and Muhammad Rahim, the last two Afghans in Guantánamo. Following the Taliban victory in Afghanistan, in which it has been revealed that two former Guantánamo prisoners hold leadership positions in the Taliban, some right-wing commentators are insinuating that Guantánamo should remain open. However, neither Gul nor Rahim, nor any of the other 37 men still held, were members of the Taliban, and, as “forever prisoners,” held without charge or trial, the two Afghans are amongst 17 of the remaining 39 prisoners who, it is now widely recognized in US circles, must be released if they are not to be charged with crimes.

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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.

As the final US troops left Afghanistan two weeks ago, and the Taliban rolled into Kabul, taking the Presidential Palace on August 15 after President Ashraf Ghani fled, the presence of one particular Taliban member — Mullah Abdul Qayyum Zakir — caught the attention of the western media, when he declared that he had been held at Guantánamo for eight years.

Guantánamo: the mere mention of the word, from the mouth of a conquering Talib, standing in the very place so recently occupied by the US-backed president, reinvigorated the right-wingers in Congress, and in the US media, who had been worried that President Biden might finally close their beloved gulag once and for all.

Once upon a time, the merest mention of Guantánamo had summoned up images of bloodthirsty Al-Qaeda terrorists, hell-bent on the destruction of America, that had helped to keep ordinary Americans docile, and in a state of fear. However, over the years, as the horrors of Guantánamo leaked out to the world, revealing the use of torture and other forms of abuse on prisoners who, for the most part, were not involved in any kind of terrorism at all, defending its existence became more difficult. By his second term, even George W. Bush was aware that it was an embarrassment, and left office having released 532 of the 779 men he had imprisoned there.

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How the Disaster of Guantánamo Foretold US Defeat in Afghanistan

Razor wire and the US flag at Guantánamo.

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In the last few weeks, since the last US troops left Afghanistan and the Taliban swept into Kabul, bringing the US’s nearly 20-year occupation of the country to an ignominious end — in defeat — I’ve been thinking about the extent to which that defeat is linked to the existence of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and the significance of the Afghans held there — around 220 in total — as well as the numerous other Afghans held in the US’s prison at Bagram Airbase.

When we think of Guantánamo, we have been encouraged to think of the “high-value detainees” moved there from CIA “black sites” in September 2006, or the hundreds of Arabs — mostly Saudis and Yemenis — who had been in Afghanistan at the time of the 9/11 attacks, and who were subsequently regarded as terrorists, even though most of them had only gone to Afghanistan to help the Taliban secure victory in their long-standing inter-Muslim civil war with the Northern Alliance.

And yet the Afghans were the largest group by nationality who were held at Guantánamo, and from the beginning their treatment in US prisons in Afghanistan, and the subsequent rendition of many of them to the lawless prison on the US naval base in Cuba was revelatory in terms of understanding the shameful extent to which the US failed to win the “hearts and minds” of the people it was supposedly liberating.

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9/11 at 19: Endless Wars, Guantánamo and 37 Million People Displaced

The 9/11 attacks on New York City, and prisoners at Guantánamo on the day that the prison opened, exactly four months later, on January 11, 2002.

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It’s 19 years today since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on the US mainland, in New York City and Washington, D.C., and I’m shocked to discover that one-third of my life has elapsed since the attacks took place. I was 38 years old when 9/11 happened, and now I’m 57. Even more shocking is the realization that my son, who is 20 now, was just one year old at the time.

On the morning of 9/11, my partner, Dot, called me to urgently come and watch the TV after the first plane had hit, and together we watched as the second plane hit. I remember thinking that it was blowback for American imperialism, and worrying how George W. Bush and his administration would react, but I had no idea what was to come. Instead, I got on with my life. Our baby son had been very ill, so I proposed marriage to his mother as a positive event to unite us, on Boxing Day 2001, just 16 days before the prison at Guantánamo opened, when the Marines were preparing the cages of Camp X-Ray.

We got married in July 2002, just before the “torture memos” prepared by John Yoo and signed by Jay S. Bybee were issued (in secret, of course), and in September I began work on what would be my first book, Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion, a counter-cultural history of Stonehenge that was published in June 2004, after the first British prisoners had been released (and whose accounts massively piqued my curiosity about just what was going on at Guantánamo), and just before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Rasul v Bush, establishing that the prisoners had habeas corpus rights.

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The Long Persecution of John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban”

John Walker Lindh, strapped to a gurney in Camp Rhino, near Kandahar, after his capture in December 2001, when he had already survived a massacre at the Qala-i-Janghi fort.

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The US establishment is nervous about John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban.” 

A US citizen, Lindh was taken into custody by US forces in Afghanistan in December 2001, along with around 85 other Taliban fighters, survivors of a massacre — the Qala-i-Janghi massacre — that is largely forgotten. He received a 20-year prison sentence in a federal court on the US mainland in May 2002 for providing material support to terrorism, but had his sentence reduced by three years because of good behavior. 

He was released on May 23, but with restrictions imposed by a federal judge. As the Associated Press described it, “Lindh’s internet devices must have monitoring software; his online communications must be conducted in English; he must undergo mental health counseling; he is forbidden to possess or view extremist material; and he cannot hold a passport or leave the US.”

Donald Trump opposed his early release, as did Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It was reported back in 2015 that, from prison, he had expressed support for Daesh (aka Islamic State or Isis). For the Atlantic, staff writer Graeme Wood, based on prison correspondence with Lindh, claimed that he was “permanently devoted” to violent jihad, and that “public security demands nothing less than close observation [of Lindh] for a very, very long time.” 

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Guantánamo’s Periodic Review Boards: The Escape Route Shut Down by Donald Trump

Four of the Guantanamo prisoners currently going through the Periodic Review Board process. Clockwise from top left: Omar al-Rammah, Moath al-Alwi, Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abd al-Salam al-Hilah.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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

Anyone paying close attention to the prison at Guantánamo Bay will know that its continued existence, nearly 17 years after it first opened, is largely down to the success of some wildly inaccurate claims that were made about it when its malevolent business first began — claims that it held “the worst of the worst” terrorists, who were all captured on the battlefield.

In fact, as my research, and that of other researchers has shown, very few of the 779 men held by the US military at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002 can realistically be described as having had any meaningful involvement with al-Qaeda or the Taliban; perhaps just 3 percent, and certainly less than 5 percent. No one was captured on the battlefield, and the majority were either foot soldiers for the Taliban in an inter-Muslim civil war that predated 9/11, or civilians swept up in ill-advised dragnets. Many, if not most of those who ended up at Guantánamo were sold to the US by their Afghan and Pakistani allies for bounty payments, which averaged $5,000 a head, a huge amount of money in that part of the world.

Just 40 men are still held at Guantánamo, after George W. Bush released 532 men, and Barack Obama released 196. Nine men died, one was transferred to the US, to face a trial in which he was successfully prosecuted, and one more was reluctantly released by Donald Trump, or, rather, was transferred back to Saudi Arabia for ongoing imprisonment, as part of a plea deal negotiated in his military commission trial proceedings in 2014. Read the rest of this entry »

Really? Trump Lawyer Argues in Court that Guantánamo Prisoners Can Be Held for 100 Years Without Charge or Trial

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (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.




 

Last Wednesday, as I flagged up in a well-received article the day before, lawyers for eleven of the 40 prisoners still held at Guantánamo finally got the opportunity to follow up on a collective habeas corpus filing that they submitted to the District Court in Washington D.C. on January 11, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison. The filing, submitted by lawyers from organizations including the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Reprieve on behalf of 11 of the remaining 40 prisoners, argued, as CCR described it after the hearing, that “their perpetual detention, based on Trump’s proclamation that he will not release anyone from Guantánamo regardless of their circumstances, is arbitrary and unlawful.”

CCR added that the motions of eight of the 11 men were referred to Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan, who heard the argument today”, and stated that the lawyers had “asked the judge to order their release.”

CCR Legal Director Baher Azmy, who argued the case in court, said after the hearing, “Our dangerous experiment in indefinite detention, after 16 years, has run its course. Due process of law does not permit the arbitrary detention of individuals, particularly at the hands of a president like Donald Trump, who has pledged to prevent any releases from Guantánamo. That position is based not on a meaningful assessment of any actual threat, but on Trump’s animosity towards Muslims, including these foreign-born prisoners at Guantanamo — the height of arbitrariness. Short of judicial intervention, Trump will succeed.” Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: My Discussion with Scott Horton About the Shameful Rehabilitation of George W. Bush, As I Recall His 2002 Memo Authorizing Torture

Radio host Scott Horton and Andy Worthington, photographed calling for the closure of Guantanamo outside the White House on January 11, 2018, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison.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 I was delighted to be invited to discuss Guantánamo, George W. Bush, torture and the “war on terror” by Scott Horton, the libertarian, Texan-based radio host, and the author of Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan, in which, as Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg notes in a review, he “masterfully explains the tragedy of America’s longest war and makes the case for immediate withdrawal.”

Scott and I have been talking several times a year — and sometime more frequently — since September 2007, when we first spoke about the case of US “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla, tortured on the US mainland. Our interviews have generally been for 20-25 minutes, but for our latest interview the brakes were off, and we spoke for a whole hour.

The show is available here, or here as an MP3, and I wholeheartedly recommend it as a tour through the darkness of the “war on terror” declared by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks, as manifested in CIA “black sites,” in the CIA’s “extraordinary renditions” to torture prisons in other countries, in Guantánamo, and in the wars — and the accompanying lawless prisons — in Afghanistan and Iraq. We also looked at the sad failures of the Obama years — not only his failure to close Guantánamo, but how extrajudicial assassination by drones replaced the messy detention, rendition and torture program of the Bush years, but is no more legally or morally acceptable. Read the rest of this entry »

Review Boards Approve Ongoing Imprisonment of Three More Prisoners at Guantánamo, Even As Lawmakers Urge Donald Trump to Scrap Them

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (Photo: Andy Worthington).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.

The problem with Guantánamo has never been what right-wingers delude themselves into thinking it is — that it’s a perfect acceptable, secure facility for holding terrorists whose existence is undermined by liberals constantly trying to close it down, endangering America’s national security.

Instead, the problem is Guantánamo itself, a place of arbitrary detention, where very few of the 779 people held there by the military over the last 15 years have genuinely been accused of any involvement with terrorism, but where, because of the Bush administration’s contempt for internationally recognized laws and treaties regarding imprisonment, the majority of the men held — overwhelmingly, foot soldiers for the Taliban, and civilians, many sold for bounties — have been deprived of any rights whatsoever, and can only be freed at the whim of the executive branch.

For a brief period from 2008 to 2010, those held could appeal to the US courts, where judges were able to review their habeas corpus petitions, and, in a few dozen cases, order their release, but this loophole was soon shut down by politically motivated judges in the court of appeals in Washington, D.C., and the Supreme Court has persistently refused to revisit the positive rulings it made regarding the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights in 2004 and 2008, hurling the men back into a disgraceful legal limbo in which their only hope for release lies, yet, again, with the presidential whim. 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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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