Pentagon Defends Bowe Bergdahl/Guantánamo Prisoner Swap as Government Accountability Office Delivers Critical Opinion

In a move that has no legal weight, but which will embolden supporters of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, the Government Accountability Office, the non-partisan investigative arm of Congress, which is “charged with examining matters relating to the receipt and payment of public funds,” has concluded that the Department of Defense broke the law when, in May, five Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo were released in Qatar in a prisoner swap for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only US prisoner of war in Afghanistan.

The GAO concluded that the DoD acted in violation of section 8111 of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act, 2014, which “prohibits DOD from using appropriated funds to transfer any individuals detained at Guantánamo Bay unless the Secretary of Defense notifies certain congressional committees at least 30 days before the transfer.”

When the prisoner swap was announced, a tsunami of manufactured outrage poured forth from Republicans and right-wing pundits, even though both defense secretary Chuck Hagel and President Obama provided robust explanations about why they had bypassed Congress. As I explained at the time, Hagel said that the decision to go ahead with the swap — which, it should be noted, had been mooted for at least two years — came about after intelligence suggested Bergdahl’s “safety and health were both in jeopardy, and in particular his health was deteriorating.” Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read Tom Wilner’s Op-Ed About the Bowe Bergdahl/Taliban Prisoner Swap

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.

It has been almost three weeks now since President Obama announced that five Taliban prisoners had been released from Guantánamo in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, but the fallout from that prisoner exchange continues to cast a shadow over grown-up discussions about why the prison must be closed, and why every day that it remains open is a profound shame.

Below is an op-ed by Tom Wilner, the co-founder of the  “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which was recently published on the Warscapes website, following up on articles by Andy Worthington, the other co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, on PolicyMic, here and for Al-Jazeera.

The response to the prisoner exchange — which has been cynical, opportunistic and disgraceful — is well exposed by Tom in his article, in which he reminds readers of the limits of the detention powers used at Guantánamo (the Authorization for Use of Military Force), with particular reference to the Supreme Court’s ruling about detention powers, back in June 2004, when Justice Sandra Day O’Connor ruled that the US “may detain, for the duration of these hostilities, individuals legitimately determined to be Taliban combatants who ‘engaged in an armed conflict against the United States.’” Read the rest of this entry »

“It Is All Theater, It Is All A Game,” Yemeni “Forever Prisoner” Says from Guantánamo

It is, I believe, impossible to argues with the logic of Muaz al-Alawi, a Yemeni prisoner in Guantánamo, who recently told his lawyer, Ramzi Kassem, that, when attempting to make sense of Guantánamo, only one analysis is necessary: “It is all political,” al-Alawi told him. “It is all theater, it is all a game.”

The US has such disdain for the prisoners at Guantánamo that, 12 and a half years on from the prison’s opening, they are still identified by the names given to them at the time of their capture, by personnel unfamiliar with the languages of their home countries — Arabic, for example. As a result, al-Alawi is identified as Moath al-Alwi.

His comments, made to Kassem, an associate professor of law at the City University of New York who directs the Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic, which represents prisoners at Guantánamo and elsewhere, were in the context of the manufactured hysteria regarding the release of five Taliban prisoners in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, which I have written about here, here and here (and also see my Democracy Now! appearance). Read the rest of this entry »

Please Read My Latest Article About Guantánamo for Al-Jazeera, “Is Bowe Bergdahl Worth Five Taliban Prisoners?”

Dear friends and supporters,

I hope you have time to read my latest article for Al-Jazeera, “Is Bowe Bergdahl Worth Five Taliban Prisoners?” in which I provide an overview of the manufactured outrage over the last two weeks regarding the Obama administration’s release, in Qatar, of five Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, with particular reference to defense secretary Chuck Hagel’s appearance at a whistle Congressional hearing last week, in which he nevertheless defended the administration’s position.

Please like the article, share it, and tweet it if you find it useful.

As I explain, “lawmakers, with support from large parts of the media, have been waging a sustained attack on the Obama administration … accusing both the president and defence secretary Chuck Hagel of recklessness, incompetence and breaking the law in relation to the exchange.” 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 »

On Democracy Now! Andy Worthington Discusses the Cynical Hysteria About the Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Exchange for Bowe Bergdahl

The logo for "Democracy Now!"I was delighted to be invited onto Democracy Now! today to discuss the ongoing hysteria in the US about the Obama administration’s decision to release five Taliban prisoners at Guantánamo in exchange for the sole US prisoner of war in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

This hysteria — in Congress and the media — has involved outrageous claims that Bergdahl should have been abandoned because he was a deserter, even though this claims has never been proven, and that the Taliban prisoners should not have been released (to monitored freedom in Qatar), because they pose a phenomenal threat to the US (there is absolutely no evidence of this).

Some of the cynical opportunists attacking the president are also calling for him to be impeached because he failed to observe a Congressional requirement to give lawmakers a 30-day notification prior to the release of any prisoners (even though the administration has explained why it failed to do so — primarily because of immediate fears for Bergdahl’s life). Depressingly, those attacking the president are also threatening to try to prevent him from releasing any more prisoners from Guantánamo, even though the majority of the men still held have been cleared for release. 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 »

Close Guantánamo, Free the Afghans

In the coverage of the ongoing, prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which is now in its fourth month, there has been widespread recognition that it is unacceptable to indefinitely detain the 86 prisoners (out of 166 in total) who were cleared for release over three years ago by the President’s own inter-agency task force. These men are still held because of Presidential inertia, Congressional obstruction, and the failures of some branches of the US judiciary to uphold justice.

56 of these 86 men are Yemenis, and, in some quarters, it has also been accepted that the ban President Obama imposed on releasing cleared Yemenis from Guantánamo, following a failed airline bomb plot on Christmas Day 2009 that was hatched in Yemen, constitutes collective punishment, and is also fundamentally unacceptable because it means that prisoners whose release was recommended by the President’s own task force continue to be detained not because of what they have done, but because of what they might do in future.

Of the 30 others, however, there has been little or no discussion beyond a recognition that one of them, Shaker Aamer, a British resident with a British wife and four British children, could and should be released immediately.

Around a dozen of these 30 men cannot be repatriated, as they are from countries to which it is not safe to return — China, for example, in the case of the three remaining Uighur prisoners (Muslims from Xinjiang province who face government persecution), and war-torn Syria, which has four cleared prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Does the Government So Desperately Want Indefinite Detention for Terror Suspects?

What is the government doing? Last year, when Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), with its contentious passages endorsing the mandatory military detention of terror suspects, there was uproar across the political spectrum from Americans who believed that it would be used on US citizens.

In fact, it was unclear whether or not this was the case. The NDAA was in many ways a follow-up to the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks, which authorized the President “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

As confirmed by the Supreme Court in June 2004, in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the NDAA also allowed those seized — who were allegedly involved with al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban — to be held until the end of hostilities. The AUMF was, and remains the basis for the detention of prisoners at Guantánamo, but on two occasions President Bush decided that it applied to US citizens — in the cases of Jose Padilla and Yaser Hamdi, who were held on US soil as “enemy combatants” and subjected to torture. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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