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.
The ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo is now in its third month, and shows no sign of coming to an end. As stories have emerged from the prisoners, via their lawyers, we have learned that it was inspired by deteriorating conditions at the prison, and by the prisoners’ despair at ever being released.
Their despair, sadly, is understandable.
Although 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners were cleared for release at least three years ago by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established by President Obama, they are still held because of cynical Congressional obstruction, and weakness on the part of President Obama — in particular through his failure to close the prison, as he promised when he took office, and because of a ban he imposed in January 2010 on releasing any cleared Yemenis, who make up two-thirds of the cleared prisoners, which he issued in the wake of a failed bomb plot involving a Nigerian man recruited in Yemen. 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 »
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 »
Exactly 25 years ago, on June 26, 1987, the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force, and in December 1997, the UN General Assembly proclaimed June 26 the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, “with a view to the total eradication of torture and the effective functioning of the Convention against Torture.”
As is painfully clear today, despite the support of 150 countries, the use of torture is still rife, and many of the countries that claim to adhere to the Convention have, in fact, shown a cynical — and in some cases blatant — disregard for its provisions.
One of those countries is, of course, the United States of America, which, under President George W. Bush, cynically attempted to redefine torture so that it could be used on “high-value detainees” seized in the “war on terror” in a network of secret prisons, and, moreover, withdrew the protections of the Geneva Conventions from the prisoners in Guantánamo, who were also tortured, and also tortured prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq — most notoriously in Bagram, the “Dark Prison” and the “Salt Pit” in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib in Iraq, although its use was also widespread at other locations in Iraq.
To date, no one — beyond a few low-level personnel who did not design the abusive detention and interrogation regime that was introduced after 9/11 — has been held accountable for these crimes, and in the meantime, numerous torture victims — including 13 of the 14 “high-value detainees” who were delivered to Guantánamo in September 2006 from secret torture prisons run by the CIA, where they had been held for up to four and a half years — remain imprisoned, with no indication, for most of them, of when, if ever, they will even receive a trial. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week, at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Professor Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, spoke about the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged WikiLeaks whistleblower, telling the news agency AFP, “I believe Bradley Manning was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in the excessive and prolonged isolation he was put in during the eight months he was in Quantico.”
This was a reference to the US military brig near Washington D.C., where Manning was held after his arrest in Kuwait, and before he was moved to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas (on April 20 last year). when his treatment noticeably improved. I wrote about Manning’s ill-treatment at the time, in my articles, Is Bradley Manning Being Held as Some Sort of “Enemy Combatant”?, Psychologists Protest the Torture of Bradley Manning to the Pentagon; Jeff Kaye Reports, and Former Quantico Commander Objects to Treatment of Bradley Manning, the Alleged WikiLeaks Whistleblower. In addition, as I noted in an article last November, after Manning had been charged, and when a date was set for his first hearing:
Among the disturbing details to emerge was information about his chronic isolation, and about the enforced use of nudity to humiliate him, all of which provided uncomfortable echoes of the Bush administration’s torture program, as used in military brigs on the US mainland on two US citizens, Jose Padilla (who lost his mind as the result of his torture) and Yaser Hamdi, and US resident Ali al-Marri. Read the rest of this entry »
On Monday, marking the third anniversary of President Obama’s failed promise to close the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo within a year, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed what a UN news release described as “deep disappointment” that the Obama administration had failed to close Guantánamo and had, instead, “entrenched a system of arbitrary detention.” She also said she was “disturbed at the failure to ensure accountability for serious human rights violations, including torture,” that took place at Guantánamo.
In her exact words, Navi Pillay said:
It is ten years since the US Government opened the prison at Guantánamo, and now three years since 22 January 2009, when the President ordered its closure within twelve months. Yet the facility continues to exist and individuals remain arbitrarily detained — indefinitely — in clear breach of international law.
I was encouraged by the mention of arbitrary detention, as I have been attempting, for over a year, to ascertain when it would be appropriate to describe the prisoners as being subjected to arbitrary detention, given that they remain held, whether or not they have been cleared for release. 89 of the remaining 171 prisoners were cleared for release at least two years ago by an interagency Task Force established by President Obama, but they remain held, because of hysteria regarding the security situation in Yemen, and because of Congressional obstruction. Now, perhaps, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention will be able to exert pressure on the administration, by requesting a visit to the prison. Read the rest of this entry »
On Tuesday, Professor Juan Méndez, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, “called on all countries to ban the solitary confinement of prisoners except in very exceptional circumstances and for as short a time as possible, with an absolute prohibition in the case of juveniles and people with mental disabilities,” as a UN news release explained. Presenting his first interim report (PDF) on the practice to the UN General Assembly (which was published in August), Professor Méndez noted that the use of solitary confinement was “global in nature and subject to widespread abuse,” as the news release also explained.
An abhorrence of solitary confinement is central to my work — both for its inherent cruelty and because it is a form of torture — and I was delighted to read Professor Mendez’s comments, as I had the pleasure to meet him in January at an event on the future of Guantánamo and accountabiity for torture at the American University Washington College of Law, where he is a Visiting Professor of Law, when he delivered a powerful critique of the use of torture, and the need for the absolute ban on its use to be upheld.
Professor Mendez’s opinions are important, not just because he is a survivor of torture in Argentina, but because much of the solitary confinement in the world’s prisons is taking place in the United States, where he is currently based. Back in January, I thought how appropriate it was, given US history under the Bush administration, that the UN Rapporteur on Torture was based in America, and I remain convinced that it is appropriate, because, of course, lawyers in the Bush administration cynically and inappropriately attempted to redefine torture, and the use of torture was approved by senior officials, including President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld — and also, of course, because President Obama has failed to hold any of his predecessors accountable for their crimes. Read the rest of this entry »
What a strange and alarming place we’re in, when the US government, under a Democratic President, kills two US citizens it dislikes for their thoughts and their words, without formally charging them with any crime, or trying or convicting them, using an unmanned drone directed by US personnel many thousands of miles away.
And yet, that is what happened on Friday, when Anwar Al-Awlaki (aka al-Awlaqi, or Aulaqi) and Samir Khan, both US citizens, were killed in a drone strike in Yemen, along with several companions. Al-Awlaki, an imam who had left the US in 2002, had aroused the US government’s wrath because his anti-American sermons were in English, and readily available online, and because he openly advocated violence against the United States.
It has also been widely reported that he apparently met three of the 9/11 hijackers, that he had been in email contact with Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the sole suspect in the killing of 13 military personnel at Fort Hood, in Texas, in November 2009, who he later reportedly described as a “hero,” and that he was allegedly involved in planning the failed plane bombing on a flight into Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, for which a Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was arrested. Read the rest of this entry »
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