The Rule of Law Oral History Project: How the Guantánamo Prisoners Have Been Failed by All Three Branches of the US Government

Two days ago I posted excerpts from an interview about Guantánamo and my work that I undertook as part of The Rule of Law Oral History Project, a five-year project run by the Columbia Center for Oral History at Columbia University Library in New York, which was completed at the end of last year.

In this follow-up article I’m posting further excerpts from my interview — with Anne McClintock, Simone de Beauvoir Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — although, as in the previous article, I also encourage anyone who is interested in the story of Guantánamo and the “war on terror” — and the struggle against the death penalty in the US — to visit the website of The Rule of Law Oral History Project, and to check out all 43 interviews, with, to name but a few, retired Justice John Paul Stevens of the Supreme Court; A. Raymond Randolph, Senior Judge in the US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; Ricardo M. Urbina and James Robertson, retired Senior Judges in the US District Court for the District of Columbia; Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell; Joseph P. Hoar, Former Commander-in-Chief, United States Central Command (CENTCOM); former military commission prosecutor V. Stuart Couch and former chief prosecutor Morris D. Davis; Brittain Mallow, Commander, Criminal Investigation Task Force, and Mark Fallon, Deputy Commander, Criminal Investigation Task Force. Also included are interviews with former prisoners, lawyers for the men, psychologists and a psychiatrist, journalists and other relevant individuals.

In this second excerpt from the interview, I explain how, at the time Anne and I were talking (in June 2012), the situation for the Guantánamo prisoners had reached a new low point, as the Supreme Court had just failed to take up any of the appeals submitted by seven of the men still held. These all related to the men’s habeas corpus petitions, and the shameful situation whereby, for ideological reasons, primarily related to fearmongering, a handful of appeals court judges, in the D.C. Circuit Court, had effectively ordered District Court judges to stop granting habeas corpus petitions submitted by the prisoners (after the prisoners secured 38 victories), by demanding that anything that purported to be evidence submitted by the government — however risible — be given the presumption of accuracy unless it could be specifically refuted. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington’s Interview about Guantánamo and Torture for Columbia University’s Rule of Law Oral History Project

Read my full interview here.

On Independence Day in the US, I’d like to direct readers to a wonderful resource, The Rule of Law Oral History Project, undertaken by the Columbia Center for Oral History at Columbia University Library in New York. The project’s website explains that The Rule of Law Oral History Project was “initiated in 2008 to explore and document the state of human and civil rights in the post-9/11 world. In its first year, the project conducted a series of interviews with attorneys in order to document legal challenges against capital punishment in the United States. Recognizing important intersections between litigation challenging the administration of capital punishment and the legal architecture of post-9/11 detention policies and practices, the Rule of Law Oral History Project expanded in 2010 to study the statutory and constitutional challenges of the use of the detention facilities at Guantánamo Bay.”

I was interviewed for this project two years ago by Anne McClintock, a delightful interviewer who is Simone de Beauvoir Professor of English and Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and who was very generous in support of my work, as this exchange shows:

Q (Anne): [D]o you know Adam Hochschild?

Worthington: No.

Q: A wonderful writer. He wrote a fabulous book called King Leopold’s Ghost. He’s a historian; he’s a journalist at [University of California] Berkeley. But he talks about the great forgettings of history, and I think U.S. history is a history that’s based on cultural amnesia. That’s why I think your work is so extraordinarily important because you’re taking this forgotten history, the great forgettings, and you’re insisting in recalling it to memory. Read the rest of this entry »

Judge Reluctantly Allows US to Resume Force-Feeding Guantánamo Hunger Striker

As I explained last week, the Guantánamo prisoners secured a massive court victory on May 16, when a federal court judge ordered the government to halt the force-feeding of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner. He is one of 77 men still held (out of 154 in total) who have been cleared for release from the prison, and he is on a hunger strike and being force-fed, in large part because of his despair at ever being released, despite being told in January 2010 that the US government no longer wished to hold him.

The judge in question, Judge Gladys Kessler, also ordered the government to preserve video evidence of his force-feeding, to stop him being subjected to “forcible cell extractions” — in which guards in riot gear storm prisoner’s cells and move them to be force-fed if they refuse to go — and to preserve  all evidence of his “forcible cell extractions.”

This was the first time a judge had intervened to hold the government to account for its treatment of prisoners (following a helpful appeals court ruling in February), and on Wednesday Judge Kessler held a meeting with Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers and lawyers from the Justice Department at which she ordered the government to hand over videotapes and Mr. Dhiab’s medical records to his lawyers. Read the rest of this entry »

For First Time, US Judge Orders Government to Release Videotapes of Force-Feeding to Guantánamo Prisoner’s Lawyers

Yesterday, for the first time in Guantánamo’s long and ignoble history, a federal court judge ordered the US government to hand over videotapes recording a prisoner being forcibly dragged from his cell by a riot team, and then being force-fed.

The prisoner in question, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, is a Syrian, cleared for release from the prison in 2009 by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, along with 74 other men who are still held. In despair at ever being released, because of Congressional obstructions and President Obama’s unwillingness to bypass Congress, even though a waiver in the legislation allowed him to do so, Mr. Dhiab was one of the many prisoners who embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike last year, and was soon subjected to force-feeding, a horribly painful process condemned by medical professionals.

Last Friday, Abu Wa’el Dhiab secured a momentous victory when District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the government to stop force-feeding him and to stop him being subjected to “forcible cell extractions,” and also ordered the government to preserve all videotapes recording his “forcible cell extractions” and his force-feeding. The motion on behalf of Abu Wa’el Dhiab only came about when one of his lawyers, Jon B. Eisenberg, found out through persistent questioning of a Justice Department official that the videotapes existed, and, with his fellow lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve, submitted an emergency motion. Read the rest of this entry »

Two More Guantánamo Hunger Strikers Ask Judges to Order Government to Preserve Video Evidence of Force-Feeding

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.

On Friday, as I reported here, there was wonderful news from the District Court in Washington D.C., as Judge Gladys Kessler responded to an emergency motion submitted by a Syrian prisoner in Guantánamo, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, who is on a hunger strike and is being force-fed, and ordered the government to stop force-feeding him, and to preserve all videotapes showing his force-feeding.

The existence of the videos only came to light last week, in correspondence between the Justice Department and Jon B. Eisenberg, one of Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s lawyers. In court documents, the lawyers described how the admission that videotapes exist came about “only under persistent questioning by Petitioners’ counsel during a protracted email exchange.”

As well as recording the prisoners’ force-feeding, the videos also record the “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs) undertaken by a team of guards in riot gear who violently move prisoners who refuse to leave their cells. Judge Kessler also ordered the government to preserve all videos of the “forcible cell extractions,”and also ordered the government to stop the FCEs. Read the rest of this entry »

Breakthrough on Guantánamo: Judge Orders US Government to Stop Force-Feeding Syrian Prisoner and to Preserve Video Evidence

In a hugely important ruling in the US District Court in Washington D.C., relating to the treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Judge Gladys Kessler has ordered the government to suspend the force-feeding of a hunger-striking prisoner, and to preserve video evidence of his force-feeding.

The prisoner, Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a father of four, is a Syrian national, who is confined to a wheelchair as a result of his deteriorating health during his 12 years in US custody. Significantly, he was cleared for release by President Obama’s high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2009, but is still held, along with 74 other men cleared for release by the task force. The majority of these men are Yemenis, who have not been freed because of US concerns about the security situation in Yemen, but in Dhiab’s case, he is still held because of the civil war in his home country, and the need for a third country to be found to take him in.

The fact that he is on a hunger strike, in despair at his abandonment in Guantánamo, and is being force-fed in response ought to be a source of profound shame for the administration, although it is worth noting that he is not the only prisoner cleared for release who was involved in the prison-wide hunger strike last year, and is still on a hunger strike now. Read the rest of this entry »

Shaker Aamer’s Statements Regarding His Torture and Abuse in Afghanistan and at Guantánamo

Please sign and share the international petition calling for Shaker Aamer’s immediate release from Guantánamo.

Two weeks ago, lawyers for Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, submitted a motion to the District Court in Washington D.C. asking a judge to order his release because of his profound mental and physical health problems. These were confirmed in a report by an independent psychiatrist, Dr. Emily A. Keram, who had been allowed to visit Shaker for five days in December, following a request by his lawyers last October.

I wrote about the motion in an article last week, entitled, “Gravely Ill, Shaker Aamer Asks US Judge to Order His Release from Guantánamo,” and I’m following up on that article by reproducing the passages in Dr. Keram’s report in which Shaker talked about the torture and abuse to which he was subjected in US custody, primarily in the prisons in Bagram and Kandahar in Afghanistan, following his capture in Afghanistan in late 2001. Also included are passages dealing with his 12 years of torture and abuse in Guantánamo, as well as passages dealing with his  torture and abuse during his initial detention in Northern Alliance custody. Please note that the sub-headings are my own.

I’d like to thank my friend and colleague Jeff Kaye for posting most of these excerpts from Shaker’s testimony last week, in a widely-read article for Firedoglake entitled, “‘You are completely destroyed’: Testimony on Torture from Shaker Aamer’s Medical Report at Guantánamo,” and I hope I’m not treading on his toes by posting it again in the hope of reaching some readers who didn’t catch it the first time around. Read the rest of this entry »

Gravely Ill, Shaker Aamer Asks US Judge to Order His Release from Guantánamo

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 and share the international petition calling for Shaker Aamer’s release.

Last Monday, lawyers for Shaker Aamer, 45, the last British resident in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, asked a federal judge to order his release because he is chronically ill. A detailed analysis of Mr. Aamer’s mental and physical ailments was prepared by an independent psychiatrist, Dr. Emily A. Keram, following a request in October, by Mr. Aamer’s lawyers, for him to receive an independent medical evaluation.

The very fact that the authorities allowed an independent expert to visit Guantánamo to assess Mr. Aamer confirms that he is severely ill, as prisoners are not generally allowed to be seen by external health experts unless they are facing trials. Mr. Aamer, in contrast, is one of 75 of the remaining 154 prisoners who were cleared for release from Guantánamo over four years ago by a high-level, inter-agency task force established by President Obama shortly after he took office in 2009.

As a result, the authorities’ decision to allow an independent expert to assess Mr. Aamer can be seen clearly for what it is — an acute sensitivity on their part to the prospect of prisoners dying, even though, for many of the men, being held for year after year without justice is a fate more cruel than death, as last year’s prison-wide hunger strike showed. Read the rest of this entry »

Sulaiman Abu Ghaith’s Unexpected Testimony in New York Terrorism Trial

On Wednesday, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith (also identified as Sulaiman Abu Ghayth), the Kuwaiti cleric who is on trial in New York accused of terrorism, surprised the court by taking to the witness stand to defend himself.

Abu Ghaith, 48, who was held for over ten years under a form of house arrest in Iran before being freed in Turkey, and, via Jordan, ending up in US custody last year, appeared in broadcasts from Afghanistan immediately after the 9/11 attacks as a spokesman for Al-Qaeda.

He is charged with conspiracy to kill United States nationals, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists, and providing material support and resources to terrorists — charges that include the claim that he had knowledge of Al-Qaeda’s operations, including plots involving shoe bombs (for which a British man, Richard Reid, was arrested, tried and convicted in 2002). As the New York Times described it, the government “said in court papers that as part of his role in the conspiracy and the support he provided to Al Qaeda, Mr. Abu Ghaith spoke on behalf of the terrorist group, ‘embraced its war against America,’ and sought to recruit others to join in that conspiracy.” Read the rest of this entry »

From Guantánamo, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s Declaration in the New York Trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith

So here’s a fascinating document from the trial of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith in New York — a 14-page statement by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, written in response to questions Abu Ghaith’s lawyers submitted to him at Guantánamo, where he has been held since September 2006, following three and half years in “black sites” run by the CIA, and where, notoriously, he was subjected on 183 occasions to waterboarding, an ancient torture technique that is a form of controlled drowning. I am posting a transcript of the statement below, as I believe it is significant, and it is, of course, rare to hear directly from any of the “high-value detainees” held at Guantánamo, because every word they speak or write is presumptively classified, and the authorities generally refuse to unclassify a single word.

Abu Ghaith (also identified as Sulaiman Abu Ghayth) is charged with conspiracy to kill United States nationals, conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists, and providing material support and resources to terrorists, primarily for his alleged role as a spokesperson for Al-Qaeda immediately after the 9/11 attacks. Following the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, he fled to Iran, where he was held under a form of house arrest — and where he met and married one of Osama bin Laden’s daughters, who was also held under house arrest — until January 2013, when he was released to Turkey.

It was at this point that the US authorities became aware of his release from Iranian custody. At the request of the US, he was briefly detained, but soon released because he had not committed any crime on Turkish soil. The Turkish government then apparently decided to deport him to Kuwait, but on a stop-over in Amman, Jordan, he was arrested by Jordanian officials and turned over to US officials, who subsequently extradited him to the United States. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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