Another Sad, Forgotten Anniversary for Guantánamo’s Dead

Yasser-al-Zahrani, photographed at Guantanamo before his suspicious death in June 2006.

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Today, June 10, is an important date in the Guantánamo calendar — the 11th anniversary of the deaths, in dubious circumstances, of three men at Guantánamo in 2006: Yasser al-Zahrani, a Saudi who was just 17 when he was seized in Afghanistan in December 2001, Mani al-Utaybi, another Saudi, and Ali al-Salami, a Yemeni.

According to the US authorities, the three men committed suicide, hanging themselves in their cells, after having stuffed rags down their own throats, but that explanation has never seemed convincing to anyone who has given it any kind of scrutiny. Even accepting that the guards were not paying attention, how did they manage to tie themselves up and stuff rags down their own throats?

An official investigation by the NCIS yielded an inadequate statement defending the official narrative in August 2008, and then, in January 2010, an article in Harper’s Magazine by Scott Horton presented the US authorities with a powerful critic of the official suicide narrative, Staff Sgt. Joe Hickman, who was in charge of the guards in the towers overlooking the prison. On the night of June 9, 2006, just before the deaths were acknowledged, Hickman had noticed unusual movements by vehicles traveling to and from the prison, in the direction of a secret facility he and his colleagues identified as “Camp No,” where, he presumed, they had been killed — whether deliberately or not — during torture sessions. Read the rest of this entry »

Seven Ex-Guantánamo Prisoners Unite in London to Call for Prison’s Closure on Jan. 11; Shaker Aamer Photographed With Inflatable Figure of Himself Outside US Embassy

A historic moment: Former Guantanamo prisoner Shaker Aamer photographed outside the US Embassy on January 7, 2015 with the inflatable figure of himself that was at the heart of the We Stand With Shaker campaign for his release (Photo: Stefano Massimo).Monday January 11 is the 14th anniversary of the opening of the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, and, as over a dozen rights groups hold a protest outside the White House, calling for President Obama to close Guantánamo in his last year in office, seven former Guantánamo prisoners from the UK will gather outside the US Embassy to also demand the closure of the prison.

The seven former prisoners are Shaker Aamer, Moazzam Begg, Ruhal Ahmad, Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul, Bisher al-Rawi and Tarek Dergoul.

Ruhal Ahmad, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul (the Tipton Three) and Tarek Dergoul were released in 2004, Moazzam Begg was released in 2005, Bisher al-Rawi in 2007, and, after extraordinary campaigning from activists, MPs and the media, Shaker Aamer was released on October 30, 2015, eight years after he was first told that the US no longer wanted to hold him.

As the co-founder and co-director of the We Stand With Shaker campaign (with Joanne Macinnes), I will be taking part in the protest outside the White House, as part of a short tour to coincide with the 14th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, and I have brought with from the UK the giant inflatable figure of Shaker Aamer that was the centerpiece of the campaign. The photo above is of Shaker outside the US Embassy on January 7, when Joanne MacInnes and I met up with him to take the photo with campaign photographer Stefano Massimo. Read the rest of this entry »

On Guantánamo’s 10th Anniversary, British Ex-Prisoners Talk About Their Lives, and Call for the Release of Shaker Aamer

With the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo fast approaching (on January 11), I was delighted that, on Sunday, the Observer not only ran a double-page feature about the British ex-prisoners (and Shaker Aamer, the last British prisoner still held), but also that Tracy McVeigh, Chief Reporter for the Observer, spoke to me on the phone, quoted me in the article, and used my phrase “toxic legacy” to describe Guantánamo since outgoing President George W. Bush handed it on to President Obama, who, notoriously, failed to close it within a year, as he promised when he took office three years ago.

As I have been explaining since the 9th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo a year ago, it is now appropriate to regard most of, if not all of the remaining 171 prisoners as political prisoners, given that the Obama administration, Congress and the judiciary have all made sure that Guantánamo may never close, and that few, if any of the remaining prisoners will ever be released, even though 89 of them were cleared for release (or, technically, “approved for transfer”) by the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established in January 2009.

The situation is no better for the other 82 prisoners, who are either scheduled to face trials that, in most cases, show no signs of materializing, or, in 46 cases, have been specifically designated as prisoners to be held indefinitely without charge or trial by President Obama, in an executive order last March. Although the President promised periodic reviews for these prisoners, his executive order essentially enshrines the indefensible —  indefinite detention without charge or trial — as an official policy of his administration, even though he and senior officials have been at pains to point out that it applies only to these men, and is not to be construed as lending credibility to indefinite detention in general. Read the rest of this entry »

More Evidence of the Use of Water Torture at Guantánamo and in Afghanistan and Iraq

Three weeks ago, my colleague Jeffrey Kaye, a full-time psychologist in California who also manages to find time to pursue a second career as a blogger producing important work on America’s torture program, wrote an article for Truthout about the use of water torture at Guantánamo, which pulled together information that was previously available, but scattered around a number of different sources, and which, I’m delighted to note, secured a wide audience online, also attracting interest in the mainstream media.

As a follow-up, Jeff recently wrote another article for Truthout, providing further examples of the use of water as a torture technique, not only in Guantánamo, but also in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to mark my return to work after two weeks away in Greece, I’m cross-posting his latest article as my own follow-up, because I cross-posted his earlier article just before my departure for Athens and Agistri, and I hope that making both articles available here will ensure that they reach new readers who have not yet come across Jeff’s work.

More Evidence of Water Torture “Depravity” in Rumsfeld’s Military
By Jeffrey Kaye, Truthout, August 18, 2011

There have been a number of cases of detainees held by the Department of Defense (DoD) who have been subjected to water torture, including some that come very close to waterboarding, according to an investigation by Truthout. The prisoners have been held in a number of settings, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Guantánamo Bay.

In a number of settings, DoD spokespeople in the past — most notably former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld — have denied the use of waterboarding by DoD personnel. But as examples of DoD water torture have multiplied, it appears government denials about “waterboarding” were overly legalistic, and that behind them, DoD personnel were hiding torture involving similar methods of choking, suffocation or near-drowning by water. Read the rest of this entry »

WikiLeaks and the Guantánamo Prisoners Released from 2002 to 2004 (Part Six of Ten)

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Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening on January 11, 2012.

This is Part 11 of the 70-part series.

In late April, WikiLeaks released its latest treasure trove of classified US documents, a set of 765 Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) from the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Compiled between 2002 and January 2009 by the Joint Task Force that has primary responsibility for the detention and interrogation of the prisoners, these detailed military assessments therefore provided new information relating to the majority of the 779 prisoners held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba throughout its long and inglorious history, including, for the first time, information about 84 of the first 201 prisoners released, which had never been made available before.

Superficially, the Detainee Assessment Briefs appear to contain allegations against numerous prisoners which purport to prove how dangerous they are or were, but in reality the majority of these statements were made by the prisoners’ fellow prisoners, in Kandahar or Bagram in Afghanistan prior to their arrival at Guantánamo, in Guantánamo itself, or in the CIA’s secret prisons, and in all three environments, torture and abuse were rife.

I ran through some of the dubious witnesses responsible for so many of the claims against the prisoners in the introduction to Part One of this new series, and, while this is of enormous importance in the cases of many of the men still held (and also in the cases of some of those released), it is not particularly relevant to the overwhelmingly insignificant prisoners released between 2002 and September 2004, whose detention was so pointless that the authorities didn’t even bother trying to build cases against them through the testimony of their fellow prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

Relatives of Disputed Guantánamo Suicides Speak Out As Families Appeal in US Court

Late on Sunday evening, I publicized a conference call taking place on Monday to discuss an appeal in a court case brought by the families of two of the three men who died at Guantánamo on June 9, 2006 under mysterious circumstances. The supposed triple suicide of the three men — Yasser Talal al-Zahrani, Salah Ahmed al-Salami and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi — was questioned when it took place five years ago by former prisoners who knew the men, as I reported in an article last year, Murders at Guantánamo: The Cover-Up Continues, and the official story was challenged in the most spectacular manner last January, when law professor and Harper’s columnist Scott Horton drew on the testimony of four soldiers who were manning the watch towers on the night in question. Their accounts indicate that the men could not have committed suicide, as alleged, and that there must be some other explanation — possibly that they were killed either by accident or design during torture sessions at a remote facility, identified as “Camp No,” located outside the main perimeter fence of the Guantánamo prison.

Despite the gravity of these allegations, there has been no independent investigation into the soldiers’ claims, as aired in Harper’s Magazine, and the families’ attempts to have their questions about the deaths answered in a US court have also been thwarted. Although the families of Yasser al-Zahrani and Salah al-Salami launched a case in January 2009, and later resubmitted it with new material from the Harper’s story, a judge in the District Court in Washington D.C. — Judge Ellen Huvelle — declared last September that she was unable to proceed with the case, because existing legislation (the Military Commissions Act) prevented a court from “‘hear[ing] or consider[ing] any other action against the United States or its agents relating to any aspect of the detention, transfer, treatment, trial, or conditions of confinement’ of an alien detained and determined to be an enemy combatant,” and also because the courts have accepted the government’s arguments that judges must not intrude on national security issues. 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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