Today is the 20th Anniversary of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture: Will the Torture and the Impunity Ever Stop?

No free pass for torture: an image prepared by the ACLU.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.

 

June 26 is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, and today marks its 20th anniversary. When it first took place in 1998, the date was chosen because it is a particularly significant day in the field of human rights. Eleven years previously, on June 26, 1987, the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the UN Convention Against Torture), an enormous breakthrough in the global moral struggle against the use of torture, came into effect, and June 26 also marks the date in 1945 when the UN Charter, the founding document of the United Nations, was signed by 50 of the 51 original member countries (Poland signed it two months later).

The establishment of the UN and of key pledges regarding human rights has been a high point for the aspiration for a better world, which, of course, came about as a response to the horrors of the Second World War. After the UN was founded, the next major milestone in this quest was the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948, and in 1950, in a similar vein, the newly formed Council of Europe established the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) (originally known as the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms), which entered into force on September 3, 1953.

Unfortunately, although aspirations for a better world are profoundly worthwhile, they constantly jostle with the political realities of a world in which the thirst for power, paranoia, nationalism and capitalism seek to undermine them. Nevertheless, they constantly provide a benchmark for higher human ideals, and it is always reassuring when human rights are prominently observed. Read the rest of this entry »

European Court of Human Rights Condemns Romania and Lithuania for CIA “Black Sites” Where Abu Zubaydah and Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri Were Tortured

Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, two prisoners held in secret CIA "black sites" in Lithuania and Romania, whose governments were condemned for their involvement in the "black sites" and torture in two devastating rulings delivered by the European Court of Human Rights in May 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.

 

In two devastating rulings on May 31, the European Court of Human Rights found that the actions of the Romanian and Lithuanian governments, when they hosted CIA “black sites” as part of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture program, and held, respectively, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, who have both been held at Guantánamo since September 2006, breached key articles of the European Convention on Human Rights; specifically, Article 3, prohibiting the use of torture, Article 5 on the right to liberty and security, Article 8 on respect for private life, and Article 13 on the right to an effective legal remedy.

The full rulings can be found here: Abu Zubaydah v. Lithuania and Al-Nashiri v. Romania.

In the case of al-Nashiri, who faces a capital trial in Guantánamo’s military commission trial system, as the alleged mastermind of the bombing of USS Cole in 2000, in which 17 US sailors died, the Court also found that the Romanian government had denied him the right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the ECHR, and had “exposed him to a ‘flagrant denial of justice’ on his transfer to the US,” as Deutsche Welle described it, adding that the judges insisted that the Romanian government should “seek assurances from the US that al-Nashiri would not be sentenced to the death penalty, which in Europe is outlawed.” Abu Zubaydah, it should be noted, has never been charged with anything, even though the torture program was initially created for him after his capture in a house raid in Pakistan in March 2002. At the time, the US authorities regarded him as a senior figure in Al-Qaeda, although they subsequently abandoned that position. Read the rest of this entry »

Ali Al-Marri, Held and Tortured on US Soil, Accuses FBI Agents of Involvement in His Torture

A previously unseen screenshot of Ali al-Marri during his imprisonment without charge or trial and his torture in the US naval brig in Charleston.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 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 Thursday April 26, in Amsterdam, Ali al-Marri, one of only three men held and tortured as an “enemy combatant” on the US mainland in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, spoke for the first time publicly, since his release in 2015, about his long ordeal in US custody, and launched a report about his imprisonment as an “enemy combatant,” implicating several FBI agents and stating that he is an innocent man, who only pleaded guilty to providing material support to terrorism in May 2009 because he could see no other way to be released and reunited with his family in Qatar.

Primarily through a case analysis of 35,000 pages of official US documents, secured through Freedom of Information legislation, al-Marri, supported by the British NGO CAGE and his long-standing US lawyer, Andy Savage, accuses several named FBI agents, and other US government representatives, of specific involvement in his torture. The generally-accepted narrative regarding US torture post-9/11 is that it was undertaken by the CIA (and, at Guantánamo, largely by military contractors), while the FBI refused to be engaged in it. Al-Marri, however, alleges that FBI agents Ali Soufan and Nicholas Zambeck, Department of Defense interrogator Lt. Col. Jose Ramos, someone called Russell Lawson, regarded as having had “a senior role in managing [his] torture,” and two others, Jacqualine McGuire and I. Kalous, were implicated in his torture.

Al-Marri’s story is well-known to those who have studied closely the US’s various aberrations from the norms of detention and prisoner treatment in the wake of the 9/11 attacks — at Guantánamo, in CIA-run “black sites,” in proxy prisons run by other governments’ security services, and, for al-Marri, and the US citizens Jose Padilla and Yasser Hamdi, on US soil — but it is a sad truth that the majority of Americans have not heard of him. Read the rest of this entry »

Lawyers for Guantánamo Torture Victim Mohammed Al-Qahtani Urge Court to Enable Mental Health Assessment and Possible Repatriation to Saudi Arabia

Mohammed al-Qahtani, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011. 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 Thursday, lawyers for Mohammed al-Qahtani, the only prisoner at Guantánamo whose torture was admitted by a senior official in the George W. Bush administration, urged Judge Rosemary Collyer of the District Court in Washington, D.C. to order the government “to ask for his current condition to be formally examined by a mixed medical commission, a group of neutral doctors intended to evaluate prisoners of war for repatriation,” as Murtaza Hussain reported for the Intercept. He added that the commission “could potentially order the government to release him from custody and return him home to Saudi Arabia, based on their evaluation of his mental and physical state.”

A horrendous torture program, approved by defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was developed for al-Qahtani after it was discovered that he was apparently intended to have been the 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks. As Hussain stated, court documents from his case state that he was subject to “solitary confinement, sleep deprivation, extreme temperature and noise exposure, stress positions, forced nudity, body cavity searches, sexual assault and humiliation, beatings, strangling, threats of rendition, and water-boarding.” On two occasions he was hospitalized with a dangerously low heart rate. The log of that torture is here, and as Hussain also explained, “The torture that Qahtani experienced at Guantánamo also exacerbated serious pre-existing mental illnesses that he suffered as a youth in Saudi Arabia — conditions so severe that he was committed to a mental health facility there in 2000, at the age of 21.”

The high-level acknowledgement of al-Qahtani’s torture, mentioned above, came just before George W. Bush left office, when Susan Crawford, the convening authority for the military commission trial system at Guantánamo, told Bob Woodward, “We tortured Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture.” She was explaining why she had refused to refer his case for prosecution. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Camp X-Ray at Guantánamo Mustn’t Be Destroyed

One of the photos taken on the day Guantanamo opened, January 11, 2002, by Shane T. McCoy of the US Navy.

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.

 

On March 6, indefatigable Guantánamo chronicler Carol Rosenberg, of the Miami Herald, reported that the Pentagon “plans to tear down Camp X-Ray, a weed-filled warren of chain-link-fence cells where the Bush administration held its first 311 war-on-terror prisoners at Guantánamo — and famously released a photo of kneeling captives in orange jumpsuits that stirred allegations of torture.”

Rosenberg added that, for many years, the prison’s various commanders had said that the site “was under a federal court protective order and could not be razed.” However, on March 5, Justice Department attorney Andrew Warden wrote to lawyers who represent Guantánamo prisoners, informing them that “the FBI has created an interactive, simulated three-dimensional, digital virtual tour of Camp X-Ray that shows all areas of the camp where detainees were held, interrogated, or otherwise present.”

Rosenberg added that “Trump administration attorneys consider it a suitable substitute,” and also explained that, although the prison supposedly closed in April 2002, when the first more permanent cells of Camp Delta were erected, it was used later in 2002 for the torture of Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi prisoner regarded as the intended 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks. Just before George W. Bush left office, Susan Crawford, the convening authority of the military commission trial system set up under Bush at Guantánamo, explained to the Washington Post that she had refused to have al-Qahtani prosecuted because of the torture to which he was subjected, which included sleep deprivation, being threatened by dogs, sexual abuse, forced nudity, being shackled in painful positions, and being physically beaten. Read the rest of this entry »

The Torture Trail of Gina Haspel Makes Her Unsuitable to be Director of the CIA

Gina Haspel, the current Deputy Director of the CIA, and Donald Trump, who last week appointed her as the CIA's next Director, a nomination that should face hurdles in Congress because of her role overseeing a "black site" in Thailand, and her role in destroying videotapes of torture at the site.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 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.

Last Tuesday, Donald Trump announced that Mike Pompeo, the current Director of the CIA, would become the new Secretary of State, replacing Rex Tillerson, while Gina Haspel, the current Deputy Director of the CIA, would be promoted to Director, “the first woman so chosen.”

There was nothing positive about this development. As usual, Trump, defying protocol and any notion of politeness, announced Tillerson’s sacking, and the new appointments, by tweet. Tillerson, formerly the CEO of ExxonMobil, had been an indifferent Secretary of State, but Pompeo is a poor choice to be the nation’s top diplomat — hawkish on Iran, and a supporter of the continuing existence of Guantánamo. Interestingly, the New Yorker noted that Tillerson was fired shortly after agreeing with the British government that Russia “appears” to have been responsible for the recent nerve-gas attack on a former Russian spy in Salisbury, in the UK. Pompeo, however, is not averse to criticizing Russia, in contrast to Trump himself, who, ignoring his advisers, on Tuesday congratulated Vladimir Putin on his recent election victory.

However, the bulk of the criticism after Trump’s announcement has, deservedly, been reserved for the promotion of Gina Haspel, who oversaw the last few months’ existence of the CIA’s first post-9/11 “black site” in Thailand, and later conspired to destroy videotapes of the torture that took place there. Unlike Mike Pompeo, who has taken a stance agains torture, there is no sign from Haspel that she recognizes the illegality of torture, and in Donald Trump, of course, she has a president who is an enthusiastic advocate for the use of torture. Read the rest of this entry »

Ahmed Al-Darbi: Still Held, the Guantánamo Prisoner Who Was Supposed to Have Been Sent Home Two Weeks Ago

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed al-Darbi, with a photo of his children, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.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.

 

On Friday, Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi prisoner at Guantánamo, publicly criticized his government for failing to secure his release from the prison on February 20. The  release date had been agreed last October as part of a plea deal he had initially agreed to in February 2014.

In what the New York Times described as “an unusual statement” conveyed through his lawyer, he said, “It’s shameful. Unlike other countries, the Saudi government never even provided me with an attorney all these years.” He added, “And now my own government is an obstacle to my repatriation. What kind of country abandons its citizens in the custody of another government for 16 years? My country won’t take a step that was agreed on four years ago so that I can finally go home. It’s been my daily dream for four years to see my wife and children.”

Under the terms of his plea deal, al-Darbi admitted that he played a part in a 2002 attack by Al-Qaeda on a French oil tanker, the Limburg, off the Yemeni coast, in exchange for a promise that he would be repatriated, after cooperating further with the US, to serve out the rest of his sentence in Saudi Arabia. As I explained in October, when he was given a 13-year sentence, his sentencing didn’t take place before “because it was dependent upon him providing testimony for the trials of other prisoners, testimony that he undertook [last] summer, providing videotaped testimony against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is on trial for his alleged involvement in the bombing off the USS Cole in 2000, and a deposition in the case of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, another prisoner facing a trial by military commission.” Read the rest of this entry »

UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Condemns US Treatment of Ammar Al-Baluchi at Guantánamo, Says All Prisoners Arbitrarily Detained

Guantanamo prisoner Ammar al-Baluchi photographed at Guantanamo, and the logo of the United Nations.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 wrote the following article (as “U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Condemns U.S. Treatment of ‘High-Value Detainee’ Ammar Al-Baluchi at Guantánamo”) 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.

In a strongly-worded press release, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared on Sunday evening their finding that “detention conditions at Guantánamo [and the] military commission procedures violate international law.”

The Working Group, which consists of “international legal experts mandated to investigate arbitrary deprivations of liberty,” issued its press release following the release last month of Opinion 89/2017, “a comprehensive condemnation of the United States’ continuing commission of torture and due process violations at Guantánamo Bay,” specifically focusing on the case of “high-value detainee” Ammar al Baluchi (aka Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali).

The press release explained that the Working Group’s Opinion “was issued in January 2018 following substantive briefings to the Working Group by the United States government and counsel for Mr. al Baluchi.” Alka Pradhan, civilian counsel for Mr. al Baluchi, declared, “This is a major public denunciation of the United States’ illegal prison and military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, and a specific call to change Mr. al Baluchi’s circumstances immediately.” Read the rest of this entry »

Stunning Victory as US Court Rules That Contractors’ Treatment of Prisoners at Abu Ghraib Constituted “Torture, War Crimes, and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment”

An image of the crucified figure from Abu Ghraib that I found on a 2009 Uprising Radio page.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.

 

It has taken ten years, but on Wednesday (February 21), a US judge, District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema of the District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, ruled that “the treatment of three Iraqi individuals formerly detained at the infamous ‘hard site’ at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq constitutes torture, war crimes, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, based on a thorough review of US domestic and international law.”

The victory was described in a press release by the Center for Constitutional Rights, who, with other lawyers, first submitted the case ten long years ago, under the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), which “allows non-US citizens to sue for violations of international law committed abroad that ‘touch and concern’ the United States. I wrote about it back in September, when Judge Brinkema allowed the case to proceed.

As I also explained at the time:

In the long legal journey to this important day, as CCR stated, “the Fourth Circuit denied CACI’s attempt to have the case dismissed under the ‘political question’ doctrine” in October 2016, and in June this year the District Court “affirmed that war crimes, torture, and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are well-recognized and definable norms and thus fall within the court’s jurisdiction” under the Alien Tort Statute. The court then “ordered both parties to brief whether the record supports a finding that the plaintiffs suffered these violations,” and, as CCR noted, “Shortly after, CACI moved to dismiss the case,” the move that has just been turned down.

Read the rest of this entry »

Exactly 16 Years Ago, George W. Bush Opened the Floodgates to Torture at Guantánamo

George W. Bush and one of the iconic images of prisoner abuse from Abu Ghraib in Iraq.

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.

 

Since the terrible elevation of the grotesquely inadequate figure of Donald Trump to the position of President of the United States, there has been a bizarre propensity, on the part of those in the center and on the left of US political life, to seek to rehabilitate the previous Republican president, George W. Bush.

So let’s nip this in the bud, shall we? Because unless you’ve been away from the planet for the last 20 years, you must be aware that it was George W. Bush who initiated the US’s brutal and thoroughly counter-productive “war on terror” in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which involved authorizing the CIA to set up a secret detention and torture program, establishing a prison outside the law at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, establishing deportation and surveillance programs within the US, invading one country (Afghanistan) in response to the attacks, where US troops remain to this day, despite having long ago ”snatched defeat from the jaws of victory,” as the author Anand Gopal once explained to me, and invading another country (Iraq) that had nothing to do with 9/11 or al-Qaeda, but which was nevertheless destroyed, along the way serving as the crucible for the creation of a newer threat, Daesh, or Islamic State, as it is more colloquial known in the West, a kind of turbo-charged reincarnation of al-Qaeda.

Today, February 7, is the 16th anniversary of one particularly sinister and misguided development in Bush’s “war on terror” — a memorandum, entitled, “Humane Treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda Detainees,” which was sent to just a handful of recipients including Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, CIA director George Tenet, and General Richard B. Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. 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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