Note: Please read the comments below for updates. As at 3pm GMT on June 1, there has been no confirmation of the releases. Sources in Mauritania are still saying the men have been freed, but are not yet reunited with their families, while the US authorities are denying it. Some reports claim that only the man from Bagram has been returned home.
Update June 2: It now appears clear that only the man in Bagram was returned, and that the human rights representative in Mauritania was mistaken about the releases from Guantánamo. This is very sad news, particularly for Ahmed Ould Abdel Aziz, who is one of the 86 prisoners still in Guantánamo who were cleared for release over three years ago by President Obama’s inter-agency task force, and who emphatically should have been freed. Further commentary to follow soon.
In news that has so far only been available in Arabic, and which I was informed about by a Mauritanian friend on Facebook, I can confirm that two prisoners from Guantánamo have been released, and returned to their home country of Mauritania. The links are here and here.
The two men are Ahmed Ould Abdul Aziz and Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and they were accompanied by a third man, Hajj Ould Cheikh Hussein, who was apparently captured in Pakistan and held at Bagram in Afghanistan, which later became known as the Parwan Detention Facility.
According to one of the Arabic news sources, US officials handed the men to the Mauritanian security services who took them to an unknown destination. They have also reportedly met with their families.
I have no further information for now, but this appears to be confirmation that President Obama’s promise to resume the release of prisoners from Guantánamo was not as hollow as many of his promises have turned out to be. It also follows hints, in the Wall Street Journal (which I wrote about here), indicating that he would begin not with any of the 56 Yemeni prisoners out of the 86 prisoners cleared for release by the inter-agency task force that he established in 2009, but with some of the 30 others. Read the rest of this entry »
No one who has spent any time studying and writing about Guantánamo, as I have, could fail to realize that, although the terrible innovation of Guantánamo is indefinite detention without charge or trial, its orange jumpsuits, and the perceived normality of solitary confinement as standard operating procedure, arrived at the prison directly from America’s domestic prison system — where there are 2.2 million prisoners (and almost 7 million people under correctional supervision (including probation and parole), and up to 100,000 prisoners are subjected to solitary confinement at any one time. Most harrowingly, many thousands of these prisoners are subjected to solitary confinement not as occasional punishment, but as a policy, and have spent years, or even decades without any human contact.
As Kevin Gosztola explained in July 2011, in an article for FireDogLake, “40 states and the federal government have supermax prisons holding upwards of 25,000 inmates. Tens of thousands more are held in solitary confinement in lockdown units within other prisons and jails. There’s no up-to-date nationwide count, but according to best estimates, there are at least 75,000 and perhaps more than 100,000 prisoners in solitary confinement on any given day in America.”
Over the years, I have endeavored to cover the horrors of solitary confinement in America’s prisons. In December 2010, I joined a call for a worldwide ban on the use of solitary confinement, and in 2011 I covered the hunger strikes that began in California’s notorious Pelican Bay facility — see here, here, here and here. I also cross-posted a hugely important article about long-term solitary confinement, “Hellhole,” written by Atul Gawande for the New Yorker in 2009, and in 2012 reported on calls by Professor Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, for an end to the use of solitary confinement, and an appeal to the UN by Pelican Bay prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »
“It is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practise of torture.” These powerful words are from “The Report of the Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment,” a 600-page report involving a detailed analysis of the treatment of prisoners following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The project took two years to complete, and its conclusions are difficult to dismiss, as the eleven-member panel constitutes a cross-section of the US establishment.
The co-chairs are Asa Hutchinson, who, as the Atlantic described it, “served in the Bush Administration as a Department of Homeland Security undersecretary from 2003 to 2005, and as the administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration before that,” and James R. Jones, “a former US ambassador to Mexico and a Democratic member of the House of Representatives for seven terms.”
Other members of the panel include “Talbot D’Alemberte, a former president of the American Bar Association; legal scholar Richard Epstein; David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics; David Irvine, a former Republican state legislator and retired brigadier general; Claudia Kennedy, ‘the first woman to receive the rank of three-star general in the United States army’; naval veteran and career diplomat Thomas Pickering; [and] William Sessions, director of the FBI in three presidential administrations.”
The project was undertaken because, as the Task Force explained, “the Obama administration declined, as a matter of policy, to undertake or commission an official study of what happened, saying it was unproductive to ‘look backwards’ rather than forward.” Read the rest of this entry »
As the world’s media marked the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq on Tuesday, I was honoured to be asked to speak to Dennis Bernstein, the veteran progressive radio host at KPFA in Berkeley.
Dennis and I have spoken before, and it’s always a pleasure to talk with him, but I was particularly pleased that I was asked to speak about Guantánamo as part of a program about Iraq, as far too few people in the media make the connections between the invasion of Iraq, the invasion of Afghanistan, Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, the use of torture and “black sites.”
At the start of the show, Dennis spoke to Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi exile who works for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and who delivered a searing indictment of the apologist for the Iraq war, ten years on, who pretend that it was, on an level, worthwhile, when, as he pointed out, it led to “one million dead, five million displaced, and the country in a shambles.”
My segment starts at 28 minutes in and last for a quarter of an hour, and began with Dennis asking me to recap how I researched the story of Guantánamo, and got to know about the stories of the men held there (through an analysis of 8,000 pages released by the Pentagon as the result of an FOIA lawsuit), and why the lies told about them — that they were “the worst of the worst” — were so outrageous: primarily, because the majority of the prisoners were bought for bounty payments from their Afghan and Pakistani allies, and because most of what purports to be evidence against them consists of dubious or patently false statements made by the prisoners themselves, or by their fellow prisoners, through the use of torture, abuse, or bribery (the promise of better living conditions). Read the rest of this entry »
On Friday, following the publication of my article “America’s Disappeared” on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation, I was interviewed by Scott Horton, with whom I have been talking since August 2007, when he first picked up on my Guantánamo work, and then followed up via an article about Jose Padilla, the US citizen imprisoned as an “enemy combatant” on the US mainland, and tortured until he lost his mind.
Scott and I have mostly discussed Guantánamo in the last five and a half years, although we have also dealt with related issues — the US prison at Bagram in Afghanistan, for example — and on Friday the initial topic of our discussion was torture, the CIA’s “black sites” and the lack of accountability for the Bush administration’s torture program — all of which was dealt with in my article. This followed the publication, by the Open Society Justice Initiative, of “Globalizing Torture: CIA Secret Detention and Extraordinary Rendition,” the first major report identifying the prisoners subjected to torture and disappearance since a UN report on disappearances in 2010, on which I was the lead author of the sections on disappearances in the “war on terror.” Read the rest of this entry »
Injustices do not become any less unjust the longer they are not addressed, and when it comes to the “war on terror” launched by President Bush following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, those injustices continue to fester, and to poison America’s soul.
One of those injustices is Guantánamo, where 166 men are still imprisoned, even though 86 of them were cleared for release by a task force established by the President four years ago, and another is Bagram in Afghanistan (renamed and rebranded the Parwan Detention Facility), where the Geneva Conventions were torn up by George W. Bush, and have not been reinstated, and where foreign prisoners seized elsewhere and rendered to US custody in Afghanistan remain imprisoned. Some of these men have been held for as long as the men in Guantánamo, but without being allowed the rights to be visited by civilian lawyers, which the men in Cuba were twice granted by the Supreme Court — in 2004 and 2008 — even if those rights have now been taken away by judges in the Court of Appeals in Washington D.C., demonstrating a susceptibility to the general hysteria regarding the “war on terror,” rather than a desire to bring justice to the men in Guantánamo.
Another profound injustice — involving the kidnapping of prisoners anywhere in the world, and their rendition to “black sites” run by the CIA, or to torture dungeons in other countries — also remains unaddressed. Read the rest of this entry »
The power of Islamophobia, it seems, is such that when a tabloid newspaper — the Daily Star — published an article with the headline “Mosque terror doc fundraiser,” claiming that “Britain’s biggest mosque is under investigation after it scheduled a fundraising event for a convicted would-be killer,” it led to the event being moved.
The mosque in question was the East London Mosque, in Whitechapel, and the alleged investigation was by the Charity Commission. The Star reported that the Charity Commission “said it had started a probe into the mosque,” and had “not yet launched a full investigation,” but was “looking into the issue.” That sounds very vague, but it was enough to get the mosque jumpy, and the event has, as a result, been moved to another venue in Whitechapel.
As for the “fundraising event for a convicted would-be killer,” another way of putting it would be that the Justice for Aafia Coalition (also see here) is putting on a fundraising event for a US-educated Pakistani neuroscientist who disappeared for nearly five and a half years, from March 2003 to July 2008, when, they contend, she was kidnapped and she and two of her three children were held in secret prisons run by or for the CIA and the US government. The third child, a baby at the time of her disappearance, may, it appears, have been shot and killed at the time of Dr. Siddiqui’s kidnapping. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week at Guantánamo, a farcical dance played out, as it does every six months or so. Representatives of the US mainstream media — and other reporters from around the world — flew to the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to witness the latest round of the seemingly interminable pre-trial hearings in the cases of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of masterminding, or otherwise facilitating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on New York and Washington D.C.
The farce of the Guantánamo trials is, by now, well established, although last week’s hearings introduced the novelty of a hidden hand, unknown even to the judge, flicking an invisible switch to silence potentially embarrassing testimony, and the proceedings also took place against the backdrop of two courtroom appeals that have dealt savage blows to the claimed legitimacy of the commissions.
In the case of the 9/11 trial, a permanent feature is the seemingly insoluble tussle between the prosecution and the defense. On the one hand are the attorneys for the accused, whose job is to try and ensure that their clients do not receive unfair trials. This involves attempting, incessantly, to point out the elephant in the room — the fact that all the men were held for many years in “black sites” run by the CIA, where they were subjected to torture, approved at the highest levels of the government during the Bush administration, even though torture is a crime. On the other hand are the prosecutors, whose job, above all, appears to be to hide all mention of torture. In the middle is the judge — in the case of the “high-value detainees,” Army Col. James L. Pohl, who replaced Marine Col. Ralph Kohlmann as the Chief Presiding Officer for the Military Commissions on January 6, 2009. Read the rest of this entry »
No More Drones and Close Guantánamo: Protest at CIA Headquarters, a set on Flickr.
On January 12, 2013, during my ten-day visit to the US to campaign for the closure of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo on the 11th anniversary of its opening, I joined around a hundred protestors, from groups including Witness Against Torture, Code Pink, Episcopal Peace Fellowship DC, Northern Virginians for Peace & Justice, Pax Christi and World Can’t Wait to protest against the Obama administration’s use of drones in its ongoing “war on terror,” and also to protest about the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, the day after the 11th anniversary of the prison’s opening.
The protest took place outside one of the entrances to the headquarters of the CIA, in McLean, Virginia, and I was delighted to be asked to address the crowd, drawing connections between Obama’s use of drones and Bush’s use of torture, “extraordinary rendition” and the indefinite detention to which the prisoners at Guantánamo are still subjected. Before and after, I was reunited with various friends in the activist community, and also met others for the first time, as I wandered around with my camera, capturing the photos in this set. Read the rest of this entry »
Protestors Call for the Closure of Guantánamo outside the White House, a set on Flickr.
These photos, following on from the previous set, capture some of the key images and the principled, decent and tireless campaigners for justice involved in the protest in Washington D.C. on January 11, 2013 to mark the 11th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and to call on President Obama to fulfil the promise he made to close the prison when he took office in January 2009, or be remembered as a failure, who succumbed to political expediency and settled for a path of cowardice rather than confronting his political opponents, both in the Republican Party and in his own party, and doing what needed to be done.
This, of course, involved the still-pressing need to restore some semblance of justice in the wake of the horrors inflicted on the law, on America’s reputation, and on hundreds of thousands of Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere in the so-called “war on terror,” but instead of addressing the issues, President Obama has expanded the US government’s drone program of extrajudicial assassinations, and has failed those in Guantánamo — especially the 86 men (out of 166 still held in total), who were cleared for release by the interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established after taking office in 2009. The Task Force spent a year reviewing the prisoners’ cases before reaching its sober and considered conclusions, and, in addition, some of these men were actually cleared by military review boards under the Bush administration, some as long ago as 2004. Read the rest of this entry »
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