Penny Lane: What We Learned This Week About Double Agents at Guantánamo

On Tuesday, out of nowhere, the Associated Press ran a story about a secret prison at Guantánamo that attracted a huge amount of attention from the media around the world — more attention, in fact, than at any time since the prison-wide hunger strike earlier this year, which, surprisingly, managed to retain much of the media’s attention for several months.

That, however, was a current story, whereas the AP’s story dealt with a secret facility that apparently existed between 2003 and 2006, in a now overgrown clearing at the end of a dirt road behind a ridge near the administrative offices of the prison.

There, in eight small cottages, the CIA housed and trained a handful of prisoners they had persuaded to become double agents, according to Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo, who spoke to around ten current and former US officials for their story. All spoke anonymously “because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the secret program.”

Goldman and Apuzzo described the program as “a risky gamble,” because although the double agents might locate terrorist leaders for them, they might also turn against their employers. That, of course, is always a problem with double agents, although the AP was correct to note the stench of hypocrisy when it came to recruiting double agents at Guantánamo. “At the same time the government used the threat of terrorism to justify imprisoning people indefinitely,” Goldman and Apuzzo wrote, “it was releasing dangerous people from prison to work for the CIA.” Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington: An Archive of Guantánamo Articles, Other Writing and Photos – Part 13, July to December 2012

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Next March it will be eight years since I gave my life over to chronicling Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there, and campaigning to get the prison closed. I did this initially through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, for the last six and a half years, I have continued to seek the prison’s closure — and to educate people about the men held there and the lies told in the “war on terror” — as a full-time independent investigative journalist.

Nearly four years ago, I began to put together 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 2100 articles and pages I have published since May 2007. Unfortunately, I have found it difficult to keep up to date with this project for the last two years, hence this belated entry covering all the articles I wrote from July to December 2012.

In this period, as well as relentlessly covering Guantánamo, I continued to be involved in campaigning to resist the age of austerity cynically introduced by the Tory-led government here in the UK, which is being used to wage a disgusting and disgraceful civil war against the poor, the unemployed and the disabled, and whose main aim is to destroy the state provision of services. In the period covered in this article, my previous efforts to save the NHS from privatisation fed into a campaign even closer to home, as the government and senior NHS managers proposed to severely cut services at Lewisham Hospital, my local hospital in south east London, to pay for the debts of a neighbouring NHS trust that had got into financial difficulties — in part because of ruinous private finance (PFI) deals, providing unjustifiable profits to private companies building hospitals for the government. Read the rest of this entry »

New Report Condemns Role of Doctors, Psychologists and Psychiatrists as Torturers in Bush’s “War on Terror”

Unusually, there has been so much Guantánamo-related news lately that I haven’t had time to write about it all. A case in point is “Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror” (also available here on Scribd), a 156-page report by the Task Force on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centers, an independent panel of 19 military, ethics, medical, public health, and legal experts, who spent two years working on their report, with the support of the Institute on Medicine as a Profession and the Open Society Foundations.

The report was published on November 5, and, as a press release explained, the task force of experts “charged that US military and intelligence agencies directed doctors and psychologists working in US military detention centers to violate standard ethical principles and medical standards to avoid infliction of harm.”

The task force also concluded that, “since September 11, 2001, the Department of Defense (DoD) and CIA improperly demanded that US military and intelligence agency health professionals collaborate in intelligence gathering and security practices in a way that inflicted severe harm on detainees in US custody,” which included “designing, participating in, and enabling torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” of prisoners seized in the “war on terror.” Read the rest of this entry »

African Human Rights Commission Hears Evidence About CIA Rendition and Torture Case from 2003

Last Saturday, for the first time, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, founded in 1986, heard a case relating to the program of rendition and torture established under George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks, with particular reference to US crimes committed on African soil.

The case was brought by the Global Justice Clinic, based at the Center for Human Rights and Justice at New York University School of Law and by the London-based INTERIGHTS (the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights), and it concerns the role played by Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, as part of the program of rendition, secret detention and torture run by the CIA on Bush’s orders, with specific reference to the case of Mohammed al-Asad, a Yemeni citizen, who, as the Global Justice Clinic explained in a press release, “was secretly detained, tortured and interrogated in Djibouti for several weeks in 2003 and 2004 before being forcibly transferred to a CIA ‘black site.’”

As the press release also explained:

In December 2003, Mohammed al-Asad was abducted from his family home in Tanzania and taken to a secret detention site in Djibouti where he was placed in isolation in a filthy cell, interrogated, and subjected to cruel treatment. He was deprived of all contact with the outside world, and was not able to contact a lawyer, his family, or the ICRC. After two weeks, Djibouti handed al-Asad to CIA agents who assaulted him, stripped him naked, photographed him, then dressed him in a diaper, and strapped him to the floor of a CIA transport plane. He endured 16 months of secret detention before he was transferred to Yemen and eventually released without ever being charged with a terrorism-related crime. Read the rest of this entry »

Torture: The Elephant in the Room at Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

For seven and a half years now, I have watched as the United States has tried and failed to make its trial system at Guantánamo — the military commissions — function in a way that has any kind of legitimacy.

That, however, is impossible, because the trials involve made-up war crimes, invented by Congress, and, as we see on a regular basis when pre-trial hearings are held in the cases of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) and four other men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks, because there is an unresolvable tension at the heart of the most serious trials — those involving the “high-value detainees,” like KSM and his co-defendants, and also Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, another “high-value detainee” charged with involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, all of whom were held — and tortured — in secret “black sites” run by the CIA in countries including Thailand and Poland.

This tension was highlighted in “You Can’t Gag Somebody and Then Want to Kill Them,” an article for the Huffington Post last week by Katherine Hawkins, a researcher and lawyer who recently worked as the Investigator for the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, whose powerful report I discussed here. Read the rest of this entry »

In Court, Guantánamo Prisoner Shaker Aamer Asks for Independent Medical Evaluation

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 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. Please also sign the international petition calling for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, which currently has over 4,900 signatures. Please also see the declarations by Clive Stafford Smith and Ramzi Kassem.

On Tuesday, lawyers for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, filed a motion with the District Court in Washington D.C., seeking to persuade Judge Rosemary Collyer to compel the US government to “permit his examination by a medical expert of his choice,” retained by his lawyers.

Mr. Aamer’s legal team, who include Ramzi Kassem of City University of New York School of Law (who made this new motion available to me), Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, and David Remes, note that, although their client was cleared for release from Guantánamo “years ago by the US government’s own interagency process,” he is still held, and, they maintain, “An examination by an independent medical expert is needed for the Court to exercise its jurisdiction meaningfully by accurately assessing the reliability and voluntariness of any statements Mr. Aamer reportedly gave American (and any other) interrogators.”

Mr. Kassem and the other lawyers also state that an independent medical examination will aid the Court and the lawyers “in determining if Mr. Aamer can fully participate in his habeas proceedings.” As in the cases of the majority of the prisoners still held, Mr. Aamer has not had a judge rule on the merits of his habeas corpus petition, even though the Supreme Court recognized over five years ago, in Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008, that the prisoners at Guantánamo have constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington: An Archive of Guantánamo Articles and Other Writing – Part 12, January to June 2012

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Since March 2006, I have been researching and writing about Guantánamo and the 779 men (and boys) held there, initially through my book The Guantánamo Files, and, since May 2007, as a full-time independent investigative journalist, assiduously chronicling the crimes of the Bush administration, and for the last four years and 10 months, President Obama’s failure to close the prison, as he promised, as well as the obstacles raised by Congress and parts of the judiciary.

In an effort to make it as easy as possible for readers and researchers to find my work, I began, three years ago, to put together chronological lists of all my articles, in the hope that they will provide a useful tool for navigation, and will provide researchers — and anyone else interested in this particularly bleak period of modern history — with a practical archive. Unfortunately, time restraints left me unable to find the time to make lists for my work from the start of 2012 onwards, so I’m remedying this now with a list covering all my articles from January to June 2012, and will follow up soon with two further articles covering July to December 2012 and January to June this year.

In this period, as well as relentlessly covering Guantánamo, I was also involved in campaigning to try to save the NHS from a full-on assault by the Tory-led government here in the UK, intent of privatising it, as well as, more broadly, resisting the age of austerity cynically introduced by the Tories to wage a disgusting and disgraceful civil war against the poor, the unemployed and the disabled. These are themes that continue to inform my work, as well as the horrors of Guantánamo, torture and indefinite detention. As a famous saying states, “The mark of a civilised society is how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Read the rest of this entry »

Book and Video: Ahmed Errachidi, The Cook Who Became “The General” in Guantánamo

In the busy months in spring, when the prisoners at Guantánamo forced the world to remember their plight by embarking on a prison-wide hunger strike, I was so busy covering developments, reporting the prisoners’ stories, and campaigning for President Obama to take decisive action that I missed a number of other related stories.

In the last few weeks, I’ve revisited some of these stories — of Sufyian Barhoumi, an Algerian who wants to be tried; of Ahmed Zuhair, a long-term hunger striker, now a free man; and of Abdul Aziz Naji, persecuted after his release in Algeria.

As I continue to catch up on stories I missed, I’m delighted to revisit the story of Ahmed Errachidi, a Moroccan prisoner, released in 2007, whose story has long been close to my heart. In March, Chatto & Windus published Ahmed’s account of his experiences, written with Gillian Slovo and entitled, The General: The Ordinary Man Who Challenged Guantánamo.

As I explained in an article two years ago, when an excerpt from the book was first showcased in Granta:

[In 2006,] when I first began researching the stories of the Guantánamo prisoners in depth, for my book The Guantánamo Files, one of the most distinctive and resonant voices in defense of the prisoners and their trampled rights as human beings was Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, whose lawyers represented dozens of prisoners held at Guantánamo.

One of the men represented by Stafford Smith and Reprieve was Ahmed Errachidi, a Moroccan chef who had worked in London for 16 years before his capture in Pakistan, were he had traveled as part of a wild scheme to raise money for an operation that his son needed. What made Ahmed’s story so affecting were three factors: firstly, that he was bipolar, and had suffered horribly in Guantánamo, where his mental health issues had not been taken into account; secondly, that he had been a passionate defender of the prisoners’ rights, and had been persistently punished as result, although he eventually won a concession, when the authorities agreed to no longer refer to prisoners as “packages” when they were moved about the prison; and thirdly, that he had been freed after Stafford Smith proved that, while he was supposed to have been at a training camp in Afghanistan, he was actually cooking in a restaurant on the King’s Road in London. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Joins Film-Makers and Authors to Judge Contest for Short Films About Torture

Are you a film-maker and an anti-torture activist? If so, then a video contest, for which I’m a judge, will be of interest to you. The Tackling Torture Video Contest, launched in Minneapolis on June 30 by by Tackling Torture at the Top, a committee of WAMM (Women Against Military Madness), is open to both amateur and professional filmmakers.

The deadline for entries is January 9, 2014. For full details see here — and see here for the home page.

Videos can be anything from 30 seconds to 5 minutes in duration. The contest is open to any citizen of any nation, but all videos must be in English or have full translations of all sound and text into English as part of the videos themselves.

There are four prizes in the competition: a $500 jury prize in the “serious” category; a $500 jury prize in the “humorous/satirical” category; and two $300 Audience Favorite prizes, one for “serious” and one for “humorous/satirical.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer and Other Guantánamo Prisoners Call Force-Feeding Torture, Ask Appeals Court for Help

On June 30, as I reported here, lawyers for four prisoners in Guantánamo — Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha, both Algerians, and Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian — filed a motion with the District Court in Washington D.C., asking a judge to issue a ruling compelling the government to “stop force-feeding in the prison and stop force-medicating prisoners, particularly with Reglan, a drug used by the US during the force-feeding process that when used for extended periods of time can cause severe neurological disorders, including one that mimics Parkinson’s disease,” as it was described in a press release by Reprieve, the London-based legal action charity whose lawyers filed the motion, along with Jon B. Eisenberg in the US.

The men are amongst the 86 prisoners (out of the 166 men still held), who were cleared for release by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, established by President Obama when he took office in 2009. In addition, all are involved in the prison-wide hunger strike that began six months ago, and both Nabil Hadjarab and Ahmed Belbacha are amongst the 41 prisoners who are being force-fed.

Although the prisoners made a compelling argument for the need for intervention, the judge ruling in Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s case, Judge Gladys Kessler, was unable to grant the motion, because of a legal precedent from February 2009, when, in the case of Mohammed al-Adahi, a Yemeni who sought to stop his force-feeding, a court ruled that “no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider 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 who is or was detained by the United States and has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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