Slow Death at Guantánamo: Why Torture and Open-Ended Arbitrary Detention Are Such Bad Ideas

An undated photo of a prisoner at Guantánamo being escorted by guards (Photo: Chris Hondros / Getty Images).

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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.

Let’s be clear about two things before we start: torture and indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial are never acceptable under any circumstances. Torture is prohibited under the UN Convention Against Torture, introduced in 1985 and ratified by Ronald Reagan, and Article 2.2 of the Convention states, unequivocally, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” 

In addition, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is unacceptable because there are only two ways in which it is acceptable for countries that claim to respect the rule of law to deprive someone of their liberty: either by trying them for a crime in federal court, or holding them as a prisoner of war until the end of hostiliites, with the protections of the Geneva Conventions. 

After 9/11, however, the US created a network of torture prisons around the world, and invented a third category of prisoner — illegal or unlawful enemy combatants — who had no rights whatsoever. 

Read the rest of this entry »

The Case for Closing Guantánamo: The New Yorker’s Major Profile of Mohamedou Ould Salahi and His Former Guard Steve Wood

Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Slahi) on the right, and his former guard Steve Wood on the left. The photo was taken by Salahi in Mauritania in January 2019, when Wood had come to visit him.

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.




 

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.

Over the 13 years that I’ve been working to close Guantánamo, some of the most rewarding moments I’ve experienced have been when former prisoners or former guards have got in touch to thank me for my work. 

I was enormously gratified when Moazzam Begg said that he turned to my book The Guantánamo Files to find out who he was at Guantánamo with, because he was held in solitary confinement, and when Omar Deghayes told me that I wrote about Guantánamo as though I had been in the prison with him and the other prisoners. 

I was also moved when former guards got in touch — Brandon Neely, for example, who had been at Guantánamo in its early days, and who got in touch with me when his discomfort with what he had been required to do, which had haunted him, turned into public criticism that persists to this day. On another occasion, I recall, a former guard got in touch. He didn’t want go public, but he wanted to talk about Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who he had been guarding. 

Read the rest of this entry »

Video: I Discuss Guantánamo with Chris Hedges on His Show ‘On Contact’ on RT America

A screenshot of Chris Hedges and Andy Worthington discussing Guantanamo on Chris’s show ‘On Contact’ on RT America.

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.




 

An injustice does not become any less unjust the longer it endures, and yet, when it comes to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, you could be forgiven for not thinking that this is the case. Over 17 years since the prison opened, it is still holding men indefinitely without charge or trial, and yet these days the prison is rarely in the news, either in the US or internationally.

The is shameful, because, although only 40 men are still held (out of the 779 men held in total by the US military since the prison opened in January 2002), the blunt truth is that no one should be held indefinitely without charge or trial, because that is what dictatorships do, not countries that, like the US, profess to care about the rule of law.

I’m pleased to report that, in an effort to continue to shine a light on the ongoing horrors of Guantánamo, Chris Hedges, one of the most significant critics of America’s current lawlessness, interviewed me for his show ‘On Contact,’ on RT America, which was broadcast on Saturday, and is embedded below via YouTube:

Read the rest of this entry »

‘Guantánamo Kid’: A Graphic Novel Telling the Harrowing Story of Child Prisoner Mohammed El-Gharani by Jérôme Tubiana and Alexandre Franc

Promotion for 'Guantanamo Kid' featuring a review by 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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

On Tuesday March 12, the British publisher SelfMadeKid is releasing ‘Guantánamo Kid,’ a graphic novel by Jérôme Tubiana and Alexandre Franc, which tells the harrowing story of former child prisoner Mohammed El-Gharani. It was first published last year, in French, by Dargaud.

I’m pleased to note that the publishers asked me to write a review for the book, which they have used in the promotional image at the top of this article, and in which I stated, “Mohammed El-Gharani knows all about the horrors of Guantánamo, as a child subjected to torture by the US authorities and held in the prison for eight years. And yet far too many people still don’t know about Guantánamo’s long and abusive history, and one main reason is that no footage or photos of any of the torture and abuse has ever surfaced. Overcoming this critical lack of images, Jérôme Tubiana, a journalist who spent time with Mohammed after his release in 2010, hearing his story, has worked with the talented comic artist Alexandre Franc to bring his ordeal to life in a graphic novel that deserves to be read as widely as possible, as, in page after page of harrowing memories, Mohammed tells his story with wit, endurance and unbreakable spirit.”

I covered Mohammed El-Gharani’s story extensively while he was held at Guantánamo, originally in my book The Guantánamo Files, published in September 2007, in which I explained what I had been able to piece together at the time about his story, via US military documents, and his lawyers, at the London-based legal action charity Reprieve. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Message to the Trump Administration: Close Guantánamo Now!

Former Guantanamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, in a photo he posted on his Twitter account on December 31, 2018.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.




 

It’s now over two weeks since the 17th anniversary of the opening of the US’s post-9/11 “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, which, disgracefully, is still open, holding 40 men, mostly without charge or trial, in defiance of all international norms, and in some cases in endless pre-trial hearings in the military commissions, a broken system that is incapable of delivering justice.

As has been the case since 2011, I was in the US earlier this month to call for its closure, including at a vigil outside the White House and at a panel discussion in the New America think-tank on the anniversary itself. Earlier that day, a Congressional briefing had been held on Capitol Hill, co-sponsored by Amnesty International USA and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, at which former prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi spoke by video link from Mauritania.

This was significant, because former Guantánamo prisoners are not allowed to visit the US, a prohibition that, not accidentally, helps to preserve the notion that those held at the prison were “the worst of the worst”, a piece of enduring black propaganda that has never been even remotely true, as independent assessments, including my own, have established that only a few percent of the 779 men held by the US military at the prison since it opened have had any significant connection to either al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Read the rest of this entry »

More Video and Radio from the Resistance to the Continued Existence of Guantánamo on the 17th Anniversary of Its Opening

Witness Against Torture campaigners form a circle outside the White House towards the end of the annual vigil calling for the closure of Guantanamo, on January 11, 2019 (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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

How time flies. It’s almost a week since I left the US after my annual visit to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on and around the anniversary of its opening, and here I am still posting videos and audio links of shows I took part in.

That’s a good sign, however. On the last two anniversaries, the focus on Guantánamo had almost entirely disappeared. Two years ago, we were caught in the limbo between the outgoing administration of Barack Obama and the imminent arrival of Donald Trump, and last year, after Trump’s first year in office, the outrage and exhaustion was such that Guantánamo barely got a look-in.

A year on, and you’d be excused for thinking that the situation would only be worse, but although that certainly seems true when it comes to Trump — now obsessed with his Mexican wall, and having shut down the federal government for the longest period in US history (marking a calendar month today) — it is not true of those opposing him on many fronts, including Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

The Forgotten Torture Report: It’s Ten Years Since the Publication of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Pioneering ‘Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody’

George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.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.




 

On December 9, I published an article marking the 4th anniversary of the publication of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA’s detention and interrogation program, a five-year, $40 million project that demonstrated that torture was “not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees”, that the interrogations “were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others,” that the CIA made “inaccurate claims” about the “effectiveness” of the programme in an attempt to justify it and that it “led to friction with other agencies that endangered national security, as well as providing false statements that led to costly and worthless wild goose chases,” as I explained in an article at the time for Al-Jazeera.

With peoples’ minds still, hopefully, focused on questions of accountability, I also wanted to flag up that December 11 marked the 10th anniversary of an earlier report, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s ‘Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody,’ released on December 11, 2008, that, rather than focusing on the CIA, specifically exposed wrongdoing at the highest levels of the Bush administration.

The bipartisan report, issued by the committee’s chairman, Sen. Carl Levin, and its senior Republican, Sen. John McCain, runs to 232 pages, with a 29-page executive summary, and was based on a two-year investigation. In the course of its investigations the committee “reviewed more than 200,000 pages of classified and unclassified documents, including detention and interrogation policies, memoranda, electronic communications, training manuals, and the results of previous investigations into detainee abuse.” The committee also “interviewed over 70 individuals in connection with its inquiry,” mostly DoD, but also DoJ and FBI, “issued two subpoenas and held two hearings to take testimony from subpoenaed witnesses,” sent “written questions to more than 200 individuals,” and also “held public hearings on June 17, 2008 and September 25, 2008,” the transcripts of which, running to 380 pages, can be found here. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington: An Archive of Articles About Guantánamo, My UK Housing Activism, Photography and Music – Part 24, January to June 2018

Andy Worthington marks 6,000 days of Guantanamo on June 15, 2018.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 article is the 24th in an ongoing series of articles listing all my work in chronological order. It’s a project I began in January 2010, when I put together the first chronological lists of all my articles, in the hope that doing so would make it as easy as possible for readers and researchers to navigate my work — the 3,000+ articles I have published since I first began publishing articles here in May 2007, which, otherwise, are not available in chronological order in any readily accessible form.

I receive no institutional funding for my work, and so, if you appreciate what I do as a reader-funded journalist and activist, please consider making a donation via the Paypal ‘Donate’ button above. Any amount, however large or small, will be very gratefully received — and if you are able to become a regular monthly sustainer, that would be particularly appreciated. To do so, please tick the box marked, “Make this a monthly donation,” and fill in the amount you wish to donate every month.

As I note every time I put together a chronological list of my articles, my mission, as it has been since my research in 2006-07, for my book The Guantánamo Files, first revealed the scale of the injustice at Guantánamo, continues to revolve around four main aims — to humanize the prisoners by telling their stories; to expose the many lies told about them to supposedly justify their detention; to push for the prison’s closure and the absolute repudiation of indefinite detention without charge or trial as US policy; and to call for those who initiated, implemented and supported indefinite detention and torture to be held accountable for their actions. Read the rest of this entry »

16 Years Since John Yoo and Jay Bybee’s “Torture Memos” Were Issued, Abu Zubaydah Remains in Guantánamo, Silenced and Alone

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 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.




 

I was on vacation recently when a terrible anniversary passed unnoticed by the mainstream media — the 16th anniversary of two official US government memos authorizing the use of torture, and specifically approving it for use on Abu Zubaydah, which were issued on August 1, 2002.

A Saudi-born Palestinian, Zubaydah — whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn — was seized in a house raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan on March 28, 2002, and held and tortured in CIA “black sites” until, in September 2006, he was sent to Guantánamo, where he remains to this day, held largely incommunicado, and without being charged or put on trial. 

In a useful article for the generally dreadful Lawfare blog, whose existence normalizes the notion of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial, one of his lawyers, Charles R. Church, recently wrote an article entitled, “What Politics and the Media Still Get Wrong About Abu Zubaydah,” in which he wrote, “Perhaps not since the French political scandal known as the Dreyfus Affair, at the turn of the 20th century, has there been such a concerted campaign to promulgate false information about a prisoner. In our client’s case, the motive was to gain permission to torture Abu Zubaydah and to provide a basis for holding him incommunicado and in isolation.” Read the rest of this entry »

“The World Has Forgotten Me” Says Ahmed Rabbani, 95-Pound Hunger Striker in Guantánamo

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani in a photo made available by his lawyers at Reprieve, and taken before his weight dropped to under 100 pounds as a hunger striker.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.




 

Over 16 and a half years since the ill-conceived prison at Guantánamo Bay opened, and over two and a half years into the presidency of Donald Trump, the terrible injustice of Guantánamo has, sadly, largely slipped off the radar.

The reasons are many — and none reflect well on the US, its institutions and its people. The American people have never cared sufficiently about what is being done in their name at Guantánamo, where the fundamental right not to be imprisoned without due process has been done away with since the prison opened, a product of the country’s all-consuming vengeance after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Few people, it seems, either know or care that very few people accused of terrorism have actually been held at Guantánamo, and that most of those held were foot soldiers in an inter-Muslim civil war in Afghanistan, or civilians swept up in incompetent dragnets, and that the majority — whether soldiers or civilians — were not “captured on the battlefield,” but were sold to the US by their Afghan and Pakistani allies.

When it comes to America’s institutions, everyone has failed to live up to their responsibilities — President Obama, for example, who took eight years to fail to close the prison, despite promising to do so on his second day in office; Congress, where lawmakers generally take little interest in anything other than appeasing big business; and the courts, who have failed to fundamentally challenge the lawlessness of Guantánamo. 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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