In June 2004, in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, a notorious memo from August 2002 was leaked. It was written by John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and it claimed to redefine torture and to authorize its use on prisoners seized in the “war on terror.” I had no idea at the time that its influence would prove to be so long-lasting.
Ten years and four months since it was first issued, this memo — one of two issued on the same day, which will forever be known as the “torture memos” — is still protecting the senior Bush administration officials who commissioned it (as well as Yoo, and his boss, Jay S. Bybee, who signed it).
Those officials include George W. Bush, former Vice President Dick Cheney and their senior lawyers, Alberto Gonzales and David Addington. None of these men should be immune from prosecution, because torture is illegal under US domestic law, and is prohibited under the terms of the UN Convention Against Torture, which the US, under Ronald Reagan, signed in 1988 and ratified in 1994. As Article 2.2 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.” Read the rest of this entry »
In the last two weeks, the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay enjoyed a brief resurgence of interest as pre-trial hearings took place in the cases of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of directing and supporting the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national accused of masterminding the attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in October 2000, in which 17 US sailors were killed, when suicide bombers blew up a bomb-laden boat beside the warship.
Guantánamo has largely been ignored during the Presidential election campaign, even though 166 men still languish there, and over half of them — 86 men in total — have been cleared for release for at least three years (although in many cases for far longer), and one of these men — Adnan Latif, a Yemeni — died in September, eight years after the authorities first decided that they had no interest in holding him any longer.
The ongoing detention of these men ought to be a major news story, but instead it is generally overlooked, and the media’s attention is largely reserved for pre-trial hearings in the cases of the men mentioned above, even though these hearings are generally inconclusive, and involve prosecutors following the government’s position — which focuses on hiding all mention of torture by US forces — while the prisoners’ defense teams argue that justice cannot be delivered if the torture of these men is not mentioned. Read the rest of this entry »
The last time the US government wheeled out Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four other men accused of initiating and being involved in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 was in May this year, and, as is usual, the mainstream media turned out in force. That occasion was the formal arraignment of the men, and it was tempestuous, as the defendants largely refused to cooperate. This week, as pre-trial hearings resumed, the mainstream media also returned in force, for proceedings that largely focused on issues of secrecy and transparency.
The rest of the time, sadly, most of the mainstream media doesn’t care much about Guantánamo, even though the prison remains a national disgrace, a place where, beyond the handful of men accused of genuine involvement with terrorism, over half of the remaining 166 prisoners have been cleared for release but are still held, and 46 others are regarded as too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence exists to put them on trial.
In other contexts, this would mean that the so-called evidence is actually hearsay, or innuendo — and in fact even the most cursory investigation by serious reporters would reveal that most of what passes for evidence consists of dubious statements made by the prisoners about themselves and their fellow prisoners as a result of torture, other forms of abuse, and bribery. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week we were reminded, via the Miami Herald, of how Guantánamo is not on the agenda for the forthcoming Presidential election. In 2008, President Obama was preparing to order the prison’s closure, but his executive order in January 2009, promising to close it within a year, failed to lead to the prison’s closure, and this time around the Democrats’ official message is more nuanced. “We are substantially reducing the population at Guantánamo Bay without adding to it,” their official literature proclaims, adding, “And we remain committed to working with all branches of government to close the prison altogether because it is inconsistent with our national security interests and our values.”
Mitt Romney has also not spoken about Guantánamo on the campaign trail, although in 2007, while he was unsuccessfully seeking the Republican nomination, he said, during a debate on Fox News, that “we ought to double Guantánamo.”
Sadly, although Guantánamo has dropped off the radar, despite being a permanent source of shame for all Americans who respect the rule of law, torture, it seems, is back as a topic of discussion. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m sorry to report that it’s two years since the Pakistani neuroscientist Dr. Aafia Siddiqui received an 86-year sentence in a court in New York for allegedly having tried and failed to shoot the US soldiers in whose custody she was being held in Afghanistan in August 2008. There is a protest outside the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square tomorrow afternoon — September 23 — at which I’ll be speaking, along with many other people, so if you’re in London please come along. See a map here, and the Facebook page here.
The trial of Aafia Siddiqui, which culminated in her sentence, and which I described at the time as “barbaric,” appeared to be a cover for a much grimmer story — one of the darkest in the whole of the torture-filled “war on terror” — in which, on the basis of alleged connections with terrorism that have never been proved, she had disappeared with her children in Pakistan in March 2003 and was then held in a “black site” until her engineered reappearance in Ghazni in 2008.
According to the US authorities, after being captured in a bewildered state, she allegedly tried and failed to shoot the Americans guarding her, which provided an excuse to render her to the US to be put on trial — an unusual move given that most people accused of anti-American activities in Afghanistan did not end up in the US — and for her to be silenced as a result of the 86-year sentence handed down after a trial that critics called “a grave miscarriage of justice,” and to be held in isolation in a psychiatric prison/hospital for women in Carswell, Texas, notoriously referred to as the “hospital of horrors”, where her health continues to deteriorate, and where she is denied meaningful contact with her family. Read the rest of this entry »
Eleven years since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the majority of the remaining 168 men in Guantánamo are not held because they constitute an active threat to the United States, but because of inertia, political opportunism and an institutional desire to hide evidence of torture by US forces, sanctioned at the highest levels of government. That they are still held, mostly without charge or trial, is a disgrace that continues to eat away at any notion that the US believes in justice.
It seems like an eternity since there was the briefest of hopes that George W. Bush’s “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo would be shut down. That was in January 2009, but although Barack Obama issued an executive order promising to close Guantánamo within a year, he soon reneged on that promise, failing to stand up to Republican critics, who seized on the fear of terrorism to attack him, and failing to stand up to members of his own party, who were also fearful of the power of black propaganda regarding Guantánamo and the alleged but unsubstantiated dangerousness of its inmates.
The President himself also became fearful when, in January 2010, the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which he himself had appointed, and which consisted of career officials and lawyers from government departments and the intelligence agencies, issued its report based on an analysis of the cases of the 240 prisoners inherited from George W. Bush (PDF). The Task Force recommended that, of the 240 men held when he came to power, only 36 could be prosecuted, but 48 others were regarded as being too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »
I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 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.
Ten years and seven months after the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison opened at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, it is less clear than it was under George W. Bush that the prison is a moral, legal and ethical abomination, a place where men bought for bounty payments are held, and men picked up on the basis of deeply flawed intelligence, and others labeled as terrorists when they were nothing more than soldiers fighting with the Taliban against the Northern Alliance in an inter-Muslim civil war that had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks or any other acts of international terrorism.
It is worth remembering that, of the 168 men still held, only around three dozen were allegedly involved in terrorism — and even those claims require scrutiny, as they include Omar Khadr, the Canadian former child prisoner obliged to admit that he committed war crimes by engaging in military conflict with US forces, which, to right-minded people, is a permanent mark of shame against Barack Obama. They also include the kind of low-level prisoners already freed after trials — the Australian David Hicks; Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden; and Ibrahim al-Qosi, a cook in an al-Qaeda compound, and also an occasional driver for bin Laden. Only a handful of the men still held are actually regarded as dangerous international terrorists.
Under President Bush, when international criticism began to sting — primarily during his second term in office — 532 prisoners were released. It was clear that the process was political, and the subtext, though never admitted publicly, was also clear — that Guantánamo was a huge, embarrassing mistake. Read the rest of this entry »
Exactly ten years ago, on August 1, 2002, Jay S. Bybee, who, at the time, was the Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, signed two memos (see here and here) that will forever be known as the “torture memos.” Also known as the Bybee memos, because of Bybee’s signature on them, they were in fact mainly written by John Yoo, a law professor at UC Berkeley, who worked as a lawyer in the OLC from 2001 to 2003.
Although the OLC is supposed to provide impartial legal advice to the executive branch, Yoo was not interested in being impartial. As one of six lawyers close to Vice President Dick Cheney — along with David Addington, Cheney’s Legal Counsel, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, White House Deputy Counsel Tim Flanigan, William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, and his deputy, Daniel Dell’Orto — he played a significant role in formulating the notion that, in the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” prisoners could be held as “enemy combatants” without the traditional protections of the Geneva Conventions; in other words, without any rights whatsoever.
This position was confirmed in an executive order issued by President Bush on February 7, 2002, and was not officially challenged until the Supreme Court reminded the government, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in June 2006, that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits torture and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment,” applies to all prisoners seized in wartime. Read the rest of this entry »
Exactly ten years ago, two memos written by John Yoo, a lawyer in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, were signed by his immediate boss, Jay S. Bybee. In these two memos, Yoo, also a law professor at UC Berkeley, attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used on Abu Zubaydah, an alleged “high-value detainee” seized in the “war on terror,” even though the US is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits the use of torture under any circumstances.
These two memos, generally known as the Bybee memos, but forever known to anyone with a conscience as the “torture memos,” marked the start of an official torture program that will forever be a black mark on America’s reputation — as well as providing cover for torturers worldwide, and turning America into such a dubious and lawless nation that President Obama and his administration have shied away form holding any of their predecessors accountable for their actions, and have swallowed the Bush administration’s rhetoric about a “war on terror” to such an extent that, although torture has been officially repudiated, the administration has presided over a massive increase in the use of unmanned drones to assassinate those regarded as a threat, without any judicial process, and in countries with which the US is not at war, including US citizens.
In an article to follow soon, I will examine this anniversary more closely, but for now I wanted to make sure that I marked it in some manner, having been away at the WOMAD world music festival for most of the run-up to it, and I’m delighted to use the occasion to cross-post an op-ed from the Los Angeles Times written by Col. Morris Davis, the former chief prosecutor of the military commissions at Guantánamo, who resigned five years ago, when he was placed in a chain of command under William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon’s General Counsel, and one of the main drivers of the torture program. Read the rest of this entry »
A millionaire Saudi businessman accused of being the brains behind the terrorist attack on the USS Cole off the coast of Yemen in 2000, in which 17 US soldiers died, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri is also a notorious victim of the torture program initiated by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks.
No less a source than the CIA Inspector General noted in a report in 2004 on the “high-value detainee” interrogation program (PDF) that — while held in a secret facility in Poland after his capture in the United Arab Emirates in the fall of 2002 and his initial imprisonment in a CIA “black site” in Thailand — he was threatened with a gun and a power drill, while hooded and restrained, to scare him into talking, even though the federal torture statute prohibits threatening prisoners with imminent death. Moreover, in February 2008, then-CIA director Michael Hayden admitted that al-Nashiri was one of three prisoners subjected to waterboarding, an ancient torture technique that involves controlled drowning.
In Poland, where al-Nashiri was moved in December 2002, he has been recognized by a prosecutor investigating the CIA’s secret prison on Polish soil as a “victim,” but in the US, since his transfer to Guantánamo in September 2006, he has been silenced, like the other 13 “high-value detainees” transferred with him, even though the Bush administration put him forward for a trial by military commission in July 2008, and the Obama administration followed suit in November 2009. Read the rest of this entry »
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