Two Guantánamo Cases Make It to the Supreme Court; Experts Urge Justices to Pay Attention

Ali Hamza al-Bahlul and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Guantanamo prisoners who have submitted petitions to the Supreme Court.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

Even before the Bush administration set up its “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, legal experts were profoundly alarmed by proposals for how those seized as alleged terrorists would be tried. On November 13, 2001, President Bush signed a military order prepared by Vice President Dick Cheney and his senior lawyer, David Addington, which authorized the use of military commissions to try prisoners seized in the “war on terror,” preventing any prisoner from having access to the US courts, and authorized indefinite detention without due process.

Under the leadership of Michael Ratner at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, lawyers prepared to challenge the proposals in the military order in the courts. The stripping of the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights and the prevention of their access to the courts eventually made it to the Supreme Court in June 2004, when, in Rasul v. Bush, the Court, for the first time ever in wartime, ruled against the government, granting the prisoners habeas corpus rights.

Lawyers were allowed into Guantánamo, piercing the veil of secrecy that had allowed a regime of torture and abuse to thrive unmonitored, although President Bush immediately persuaded Congress to pass new legislation that again stripped the prisoners of their habeas rights. Further legal struggles then led to habeas rights being reintroduced in another Supreme Court case, Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyer Michel Paradis: Military Commissions are Based on Legal Apartheid

An illustration of guards on duty at military commission pre-trial hearings at Guantanamo in 2013, by the artist Molly Crabapple from the first of four articles she wrote and drew for Vice News.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

Here at Close Guantánamo, we have been campaigning since our founding over five years ago to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, because, as we explain in our mission statement, “Guantánamo harms our nation every day it stays open, and it continues to serve as a potent symbol for terrorist recruitment. Guantánamo also undermines our bedrock commitment to the rule of law, making that fundamental principle less secure for all Americans.”

In practical terms, most of our opposition to Guantánamo’s existence has focused on the injustice of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial. During President Obama’s last five years in office, we persistently encouraged him to release the men unanimously approved for release by high-level, inter-agency government review processes, including the Periodic Review Boards. These began in November 2013, but their deliberations ended up dominating much of the discussion about Guantánamo in his last year in office.

However, we also recognize that, while failing to charge prisoners with crimes and to put them on trial, or to treat them as soldiers and to hold them according to the Geneva Conventions, is an inexcusable derogation from internationally accepted norms regarding imprisonment, the situation for those facing trials at Guantánamo is, fundamentally, no better. Just ten of the 41 men still held are facing, or have faced trials in the military commission system launched under George W. Bush in 2001, revived by Congress in 2006 after the Supreme Court ruled it illegal, and — ill-advisedly — revived again under President Obama in 2009, but the system remains unfit for purpose, and a betrayal of US values. Read the rest of this entry »

After Four-Year Legal Struggle, Judges Support Government Claims That Videotapes of Force-Feeding at Guantánamo Must Remain Secret

A restraint chair at Guantanamo, used to force-feed prisoners (Photo by Jason Leopold).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

On Friday, in the appeals court in Washington, D.C., judges appear to have brought to an unsatisfactory end a four-year struggle to make public videotapes of prisoners at Guantánamo — and specifically Jihad Dhiab (aka Diyab), a Syrian, also known as Abu Wa’el Dhiab — being force-fed and violently extracted from their cells.

The case, as explained in a detailed timeline on the website of Reprieve, began in June 2013, during the prison-wide hunger strike that year, which attracted international opposition to President Obama’s lack of activity in releasing prisoners and working towards fulfilling the promise to close the prison that he made on his second day in office in January 2009.

I also covered the case extensively at the time — see my archive here, here, here and here (which included Dhiab’s release to Uruguay and subsequent struggle to adapt to his new life), ending with an appeal court ruling in May 2015, when the D.C. Circuit Court refused to accept an appeal by the government arguing against the release of the videotapes, and a rebuke to the government in July 2015, by Judge Gladys Kessler in the federal court, who had initially ordered the release of the tapes, and who “ordered the government to stop wasting time with ‘frivolous’ appeals against her rulings,” and to release the tapes. Read the rest of this entry »

15 Years of Torture: The Unending Agony of Abu Zubaydah, in CIA “Black Sites” and Guantánamo

Abu Zubaydah: illustration by Brigid Barrett from an article in Wired in July 2013. The photo used is from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2013.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months of the Trump administration.

 

In the eleven years since I first began working on Guantánamo full-time, researching its history and the stories of the men held there, writing about them and working to get the prison closed down, one date has been burned into my mind: March 28, 2002, when Abu Zubaydah (Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), an alleged “high-value detainee,” was seized in a house raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan. That night dozens of prisoners were seized in a number of house raids in Faisalabad, and some were taken to CIA “black sites” or sent abroad on behalf of the CIA to torture facilities in other countries, run by their own torturers. Most ended up, after a few months, in Guantánamo, and most — through not all — have now been released, but not Abu Zubaydah.

He, instead, was sent to a CIA “black site” in Thailand, where he was the first prisoner subjected to the CIA’s vile post-9/11 torture program, revealed most clearly to date in the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report about the program, published in December 2014. Although the executive summary was heavily redacted, and the full report has never been made public, it remains the most powerful official indictment of the torture program, which, it is clear, should never have been embarked upon in the first place.

After Thailand, where he was subjected to waterboarding (an ancient form of water torture) on 83 occasions, Abu Zubaydah was sent to Poland, and, after other flights to other locations (a “black site” in Guantánamo, briefly), and others in Morocco, Lithuania, and — probably — Afghanistan, he ended up back at Guantánamo, though not covertly, in September 2006, when President Bush announced to the world that he and 13 other “high-value detainees” had been removed from the CIA “black sites” whose existence he had previously denied, but which, he now admitted, had existed but had just been shut down. Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump’s New Immigration Ban Is Still Unconstitutional, Barring Muslims From Six Countries Despite No Evidence That They Pose a Security Threat

"We are all immigrants": a protestor in Boston's Copley Square on January 29, 2017, after Donald Trump issued his first Muslim ban (Photo: NBC Boston).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

Donald Trump’s alarming presidency began with a blizzard of disgraceful executive orders, of which the most prominent was the immigration ban preventing visitors from seven mainly Muslim countries — Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen — from coming to the US for a 90-day period. Refugees from these countries were banned for 120 days, and refugees from Syria were banned permanently. The ban was so chaotic that legal US residents — who had left the US for a vacation, for example, or on business —  were also banned, as were dual nationals, and, of course, it was unconstitutional because it was effectively a ban on Muslims, and, as David Cole, National Legal Director of the ACLU and professor at Georgetown University Law Center, has explained, as such it “violates the first principle of the Establishment Clause, which forbids the government from singling out particular religions for favor or disfavor (Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 228, 247 (1982)).”

Trump’s original executive order, which I wrote about in my article Trump’s Dystopian America: The Unforgivable First Ten Days, was almost immediately subjected to successful legal challenges, as I explained in my articles, Heroes of the Resistance: Judge James Robart, Who Has Suspended Donald Trump’s Unacceptable Immigration Ban, and Washington State AG Bob Ferguson (on February 5), As 9th Circuit Judges Uphold Stay on Donald Trump’s Disgraceful Immigration Ban, 29 Experts from The Constitution Project Condemn Spate of Executive Orders (on February 10) and Court Rules That Donald Trump’s Disgraceful Immigration Ban Discriminates Against Muslims (on February 14).

With some thought having gone into this revised executive order, some of the worst aspects of the original have been removed — an exception has been made for legal residents and dual nationals, and the ban on Iraq has also been lifted, because, as Aryeh Neier, president of the Open Society Institute from 1993-2012 and a founder of Human Rights Watch, explained in a Guardian column, “Apparently, officials of the administration persuaded the president that it is not a good idea to stigmatize Iraqis as terrorists at a time when Iraqi forces, with American assistance, are fighting to expel the Islamic State from Mosul.” Neier added, “Also, some of the most damaging publicity resulting from the previous version of the order involved the exclusion of Iraqis. Those detained by federal agents as they tried to enter the United States included Iraqis who had assisted US forces when they occupied the country after the 2003 invasion by acting as translators.” Read the rest of this entry »

Court Rules That Donald Trump’s Disgraceful Immigration Ban Discriminates Against Muslims

No Muslim Ban: a poster by Redbubble.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

As a Russia-related scandal engulfs the White House, with the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn, Donald Trump’s disgraceful immigration ban continues to attract condemnation in US courts. The ban, which bars entry to the US to anyone from seven countries with mainly Muslim populations (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) for 90 days, and refugees for 120 days (with a total ban on refugees from Syria) was first subjected to a nationwide stay nine days ago, when District Judge James Robart, a senior judge in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, declared that the ban was unconstitutional, and granted a temporary restraining order against it that applied nationwide. Washington State’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson had successfully argued in court that the ban “violated the guarantee of equal protection and the first amendment’s establishment clause, infringed the constitutional right to due process and contravened the federal Immigration and Nationality Act,” as the Guardian described it.

Last week, three judges in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld Judge Robart’s ruling, having found that the government had “pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States,” and added that, “[r]ather than present evidence to explain the need for the executive order, the government has taken the position that we must not review its decision at all,” in the Guardian’s words.

Yesterday, in Virginia, a third blow for the government came when District Judge Leonie Brinkema, in Aziz v. Trump, issued a preliminary injunction against the order based specifically on the issue of religious discrimination. Read the rest of this entry »

As 9th Circuit Judges Uphold Stay on Donald Trump’s Disgraceful Immigration Ban, 29 Experts from The Constitution Project Condemn Spate of Executive Orders

Protestors against Donald Trump's immigration ban at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in Dallas, Jan. 28, 2017 (Photo: Reuters).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

There was great news yesterday from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California, as a panel of three judges unanimously upheld the stay on President Trump’s Executive Order barring entry to the US from seven countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) whose populations are predominantly Muslim. The stay was issued five days ago by District Judge James Robart, a senior judge in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, and he is one of several high-level heroes resisting Trump’s racist contempt for the constitution, previously discussed in my articles, Trump’s Dystopian America: The Unforgivable First Ten Days and Disgraceful: Trump Sacks Acting US Attorney General Sally Yates, Who Refused to Support His Vile Immigration Ban.

As the Guardian reported, the court found that “the government has not shown a stay is necessary to avoid irreparable injury.” In particular, its ruling noted that “the government has pointed to no evidence that any alien from any of the countries named in the order has perpetrated a terrorist attack in the United States. Rather than present evidence to explain the need for the executive order, the government has taken the position that we must not review its decision at all.”

In a press release, the Constitution Project (a Washington-Based non-profit organization whose goal is to build bipartisan consensus on significant constitutional and legal questions) noted that the court rejected the Trump administration’s argument that “the president’s decisions about immigration policy, particularly when motivated by national security concerns, are unreviewable, even if those actions potentially contravene constitutional rights and protections,” and stated, “There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.” The Constitution Project also noted that the court added that Fifth Amendment protection against “deprivation of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” applies to everyone within the United States, not just citizens. Read the rest of this entry »

Heroes of the Resistance: Judge James Robart, Who Has Suspended Donald Trump’s Unacceptable Immigration Ban, and Washington State AG Bob Ferguson

Protestors against Donald Trump's immigration ban at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on January 28, 2017 (Photo: Genna Martin, seattlepi.com).Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

A week after Donald Trump issued his disgraceful executive order banning visitors from seven mainly Muslim countries (Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen), District Judge James Robart, a senior judge in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, appointed by George W. Bush, “granted a temporary restraining order … after hearing arguments from Washington State and Minnesota that the president’s order had unlawfully discriminated against Muslims and caused unreasonable harm,” as the Guardian described it.

In a second article, the Guardian explained that Judge Robart had “declared the entire travel ban unconstitutional,” noting that, although other states are also suing the government, Washington State’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson had “argued the widest case: that the Trump order violated the guarantee of equal protection and the first amendment’s establishment clause, infringed the constitutional right to due process and contravened the federal Immigration and Nationality Act.”

Outside the courtroom, Ferguson said, “We are a nation of laws. Not even the president can violate the constitution. No one is above the law, not even the president. This decision shuts down the executive order immediately — shuts it down. That relief is immediate, happens right now. That’s the bottom line.” Read the rest of this entry »

In Contentious Split Decision, Appeals Court Upholds Guantánamo Prisoner Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul’s Conspiracy Conviction

Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the 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.

Last week, in the latest development in a long-running court case related to Guantánamo, the court of appeals in Washington, D.C. (the D.C. Circuit) upheld Ali Hamza al-Bahlul’s November 2008 conviction for conspiracy in his trial by military commission, but in a divided decision that means the case will almost certainly now make its way to the Supreme Court.

Al-Bahlul, a Yemeni, was seized in Afghanistan in December 2001, and taken to Guantánamo, where, in June 2004, he was charged in the first version of the military commissions that were ill-advisedly dragged out of the history books by the Bush administration in November 2001, primarily on the basis that he had made a promotional video for al-Qaeda.

Two years later, the commissions were scrapped after the Supreme Court ruled that they were illegal, but they were subsequently revived by Congress, and in February 2008 he was charged again, and convicted in November 2008, after a trial in which he refused to mount a defense, on “17 counts of conspiracy, eight counts of solicitation to commit murder and 10 counts of providing material support for terrorism,” as I described it at the time. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama’s Failure to Close Guantánamo: Revisiting a Major Article in the New Yorker

"Inaugurate Justice, Close Guantanamo": a message from Witness Against Torture activists outside the White House on January 13, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of the prison, just a week before President Obama's second term inauguration (Photo: Andy Worthington).With just over 100 days remaining for President Obama to fulfill his promise to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay that he inherited from George W. Bush, where men subjected to torture and other forms of abuse are still held without charge or trial, undermining the US’s belief that it is a nation that respects the rule of law, I continue to work to close the prison, through my writing here, and through the Close Guantánamo campaign that I established with the US attorney Tom Wilner in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

A specific initiative of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign is the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, in which, every 50 days, those who wish to see Guantánamo closed have been submitting photos of themselves with posters reminding President Obama how many days he has left. Please print off the latest poster, marking 100 days remaining for President Obama to fulfill his promise on October 11, take a photo of yourself with it, and send it to us to add your voice to those calling for the prison’s closure.

This January, as President Obama prepares to leave office after eight years as president, it will be 15 years since Guantánamo opened, unless he somehow manages to close it — by executive order, perhaps — in the brief period between the presidential election in November and the inauguration of the next president in January 2017. That seems unlikely, however, because Congress has, for years, imposed bans on spending any money to bring any prisoners to the US mainland for any reason, and overriding lawmakers will unleash a fury. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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