In a hugely significant court ruling on April 22, US District Court Senior Judge Justin Quackenbush, in Spokane, Washington State, allowed a lawsuit to proceed against James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, the psychologists who designed and implemented the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program. Both men had worked for the military’s SERE program (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), which trains US personnel to resist torture, if captured by a hostile enemy, by subjecting them to torture techniques to prepare them to resist.
The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), on behalf of three victims of the torture program — Gul Rahman, who died, and Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, who are both still alive.
As the ACLU described it, when Judge Quackenbush announced his ruling from the bench, he “gave attorneys in the case 30 days to come up with a plan for discovery, a first in a lawsuit concerning CIA torture.” Read the rest of this entry »
Over ten years since I started working full-time on Guantánamo, there has been undeniable progress in some areas, and absolutely no movement in others. Hundreds of prisoners have been freed, which has been hugely important for a place in which only a few percent of the men — and boys — held there have ever, realistically, been accused of involvement with terrorism, and, after far too many years of delays and inaction, President Obama has been pushing to finally get the prison closed, albeit over seven years since he first promised to do so within a year.
Just 80 men are currently held, and while it is still unclear if the president will be able to close Guantánamo before he leaves office, as Congress will have to drop its ban on bringing any prisoner to the US mainland for any reason, or he will have to close it by executive action, which may or may not be practical or possible, it is conceivable that the end of Guantánamo is within sight.
And yet, for all of the men abused in Guantánamo, and elsewhere in America’s brutal “war on terror,” it is noticeable that no one has been held accountable for their suffering, and, for some of the 80 men still held, it also appears that no end to their suffering is in sight. I’m thinking in particular of some of the so-called “high-value detainees,” 15 men, including 13 who were brought to the US from CIA “black sites” — torture prisons — in September 2006, after up to four and a half years held incommunicado. One of those men — the first to be seized, in fact — may be the most unfortunate of all: Abu Zubaydah. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, as I reported here, a Periodic Review Board was convened to look at the case of Obaidullah, an Afghan prisoner at Guantánamo, to see if he can be approved for release. The PRBs are a high-level, US government process, assessing the cases of prisoners who are not facing trials, and have not already been approved for release by the last review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.
31 men have so far had their cases considered, and in 20 cases have been approved for release, while eight men have had their ongoing imprisonment approved (although they are eligible for further reviews), and three are awaiting the results of their reviews.
The 31st prisoner to have his case considered, two days after Obaidullah, was Hani Saleh Rashid Abdullah (ISN 841), a 46-year old Yemeni, also identified as Said Salih Said Nashir. He is one of a group of six men seized in house raids in Karachi, Pakistan on September 11, 2002, on the same day that alleged 9/11 co-conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh was seized, who were then sent to CIA-run torture prisons for six weeks. They were initially regarded as recruits for a specific terrorist attack, although the government has long since walked away from this claim, as became apparent when the first of the six, Ayub Murshid Ali Salih (ISN 836), had his PRB in February, and was approved for release last month. Read the rest of this entry »
On Tuesday evening, April 19, I attended a Parliamentary briefing, in the Grimond Room, in Portcullis House, across the road from the Houses of Parliament, about Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a best-selling author who has been held in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay without charge or trial for nearly 14 years.
A notorious torture victim, for whom a specific torture program was developed at Guantánamo, Slahi had previously been held in Jordan, for eight months, where he was also tortured. He was rendered to Jordan by US forces, after he had been seized by the Mauritanian authorities at the request of the US. In fact, he handed himself in willingly, not thinking for a moment that, as he later described it so memorably, he would be in a position where “my country turned me over, short-cutting all kinds of due process, like a candy bar to the United States.”
This was Slahi’s description of how he was betrayed by his home country, as delivered at a hearing in Guantánamo in 2004 to assess his status as an “enemy combatant” who could be held without rights, and essentially, to rubber-stamp that designation. They were the words I first encountered when researching Slahi’s story in 2006, for my book The Guantánamo Files, and they reflect the Slahi who emerges from Guantánamo Diary, his extraordinary memoir, written at Guantánamo over a decade ago, but not published until January 2015, after the US government finally allowed a redacted copy to be published, which has since gone on to become a New York Times best-seller, and has been translated into numerous other languages. Read the rest of this entry »
In the long quest for accountability for those who ordered and implemented the crimes committed by the United States since 9/11 in its brutal and counter-productive “war on terror,” victory has so far proven elusive, and no one has had to answer for the torture, the extraordinary rendition, the CIA “black sites,” the proxy torture prisons elsewhere, the shameful disregard of the Geneva Conventions and the embrace of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial that has been such a shame and disgrace for anyone not blinded by the violence and vengeance that have consumed so much of the US’s actions and attitudes in the last 14 and a half years.
In the US itself, President Obama made it clear from the beginning that he was looking forwards and not backwards when it came to accountability, as though sweeping the crimes mentioned above under the carpet would remove their poison from infecting US society as a whole. An early example of refusing to allow any victims of extraordinary rendition and torture anywhere near a courtroom was the Obama administration, in 2009 (and into 2010), invoking the “state secrets doctrine” (a blanket denial of any effort to challenge the government’s actions) to prevent the British resident and torture victim Binyam Mohamed and others from challenging the Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen for its role as the CIA’s travel agent for torture.
In February 2010, President Obama also allowed a Justice Department fixer to override the conclusions of an ethics investigation into John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who wrote and approved the 2002 “torture memos” that cynically purported to redefine torture so it could legally be used by the CIA. The investigation had concluded that they were guilty of “wrongful conduct,” but they received only a slapped wrist after Deputy Attorney General David Margolis concluded instead that they had merely exercised “poor judgment.” Read the rest of this entry »
The November 2015 issue of The American Lawyer featured a “Special Report: The Guantánamo Bar,” consisting of six interviews with attorneys who have worked on Guantánamo. I’m cross-posting them below, as I think they will be of interest, and I also estimate that many of you will not have come across them previously.
The six lawyers featured were: Thomas Wilner of Shearman & Sterling; David Remes, formerly of Covington & Burling; Jennifer Cowan of Debevoise & Plimpton; J. Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights; Public Defender David Nevin; and Lee Wolosky of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. Wolosky was appointed last June as the White House’s special envoy for Guantánamo closure, while the rest have represented prisoners held at Guantánamo.
Thomas Wilner represented a number of Kuwaiti prisoners, and also represented the prisoners in their habeas corpus cases before the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008. He is co-founder, with me, of the Close Guantánamo campaign, launched in January 2012, through which, for the last four years, we have been attempting to educate people about why Guantánamo must be closed, and who is held there, and I’m pleased to note that The American Lawyer described him as “the most vocal proponent in the Guantánamo bar for the closure of the offshore prison.” Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al-Hajj (aka Abdu Ali Sharqawi), a 41-year old Yemeni, became the 29th Guantánamo prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board, the review process that, since 2013, has been reviewing the cases of all the prisoners not facing trials (just ten men) and those not already approved for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in January 2009.
Of the 91 men currently held, 24 were approved for release by the task force but are still held, while 12 others have been approved for release by Periodic Review Boards. Discounting the ten facing trials, that leaves 45 men awaiting PRBs, or the results of PRBs, which, it seems certain, will add to the number of men approved for release.
23 men have so far had decisions taken on their PRBs, and in 19 of those cases the review boards have recommended them for release, a success rate of 83%. What ought to make this shameful for the administration is that the men facing PRBs were described by the task force as “too dangerous to release” six years ago, but those claims have unravelled under further scrutiny. At the time, the task force accepted that it was holding men who couldn’t be put on trial, because the information used to defend their detention wouldn’t stand up in a court, but refused to acknowledge that this meant that it was fundamentally unreliable. The task force also regarded men as dangerous based on their resistance in Guantánamo, but the PRBs are now functioning more like a parole process, and allowing prisoners the opportunity to demonstrate why they do not pose a threat, and will not pose a threat in the future. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday I published an article about the most recent Periodic Review Board to take place at Guantánamo, and I was reminded of how I’ve overlooked a couple of interesting articles about the PRBs published in the Guardian over the last six weeks.
When it comes to President Obama’s intention to close Guantánamo before he leaves office next January, the most crucial focus for his administration needs to be the Periodic Review Boards, featuring representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, and the offices of the Director of National Intelligence and Joint Chiefs of Staff, as I have been highlighting through the recently launched Countdown to Close Guantánamo. Of the 91 men still held, 34 have been approved for release, and ten are undergoing trials (or have already been through the trial process), leaving 47 others in a disturbing limbo.
Half these men were, alarmingly, described as “too dangerous to release” by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established shortly after taking office in 2009, even though the task force acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »
Below are the last two videos from an event before Christmas at Deptford Cinema, a community cinema in south east London, when I talked about Guantánamo, and my band The Four Fathers played a set of political songs. I spoke about my ten years of research, writing and campaigning about Guantánamo, including the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I launched in November 2014 with the activist Joanne MacInnes to secure the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, who was finally freed on October 30 after nearly 14 years in US custody.
Following my talk, The Four Fathers played eight songs — “Song for Shaker Aamer,” the song I wrote that was featured in the campaign video for We Stand With Shaker, updated to reflect Shaker’s release, my roots reggae anthem “Fighting Injustice,” band member Richard Clare’s song “She’s Back” (about Pussy Riot), a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War,” and four other songs of mine, “Tory Bullshit Blues” and “81 Million Dollars,” about the US torture program ($81m being the amount that was paid, by the Bush administration, to two contractors, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who set up and ran the program), and the new songs “Riot” and “London.”
You can buy our album “Love and War” here, as an eight-track download, or on CD with two extra tracks (including “Masters of War”) — or you can buy tracks individually from just 60p ($0.93) each, although you’re welcome to pay more to support us. Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday, after an exclusive interview with the Mail on Sunday, published the day before (which I wrote about here and here), both the BBC and ITV News ran interviews with Shaker Aamer, who, until October 30, when he was freed, was the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.
I am delighted to have played a part in securing Shaker’s release through ten years of writing about Guantánamo, and campaigning to get the prison closed, and, for the last eleven months of Shaker’s imprisonment, through the We Stand With Shaker campaign that I launched with the activist Joanne MacInnes last November.
I have also had the pleasure of meeting Shaker since his release, and was delighted to find that everything I had worked out about him from the reports that have emerged from Guantánamo and from those who know him — his eloquence, his intelligence and his implacable devotion to tackling injustice — was accurate, and this was also evident in his interview with Victoria Derbyshire for her morning show on BBC2, which I’m posting below via YouTube where it has already received over 55,000 views.
Note: Please be aware there are a few glitches in the video, where the sound and images are lost for a few seconds and there is only disturbing white noise. Read the rest of this entry »
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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