Experts Deliver Damning Testimony at Guantánamo Force-Feeding Trial

For an update on October 9, see below.

This week, a historic and unprecedented trial has been taking place in Washington D.C., as lawyers for Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner at Guantánamo, have been challenging the government’s claimed legality for force-feeding prisoners.

Mr. Dhiab has been a frequent hunger striker for the last seven years, and weighs just 152 pounds, despite being six feet five inches tall. Last February, he took part in a hunger strike that involved up to two-thirds of the remaining prisoners, who were in despair at ever being released or given justice, and he has continued his hunger strike, even though throughout this period he has been subjected to painful force-feeding. He is one of 75 of the remaining 149 prisoners who were approved for release by a government task force in 2009 — and four others have had their release approved this year through another review process, the Periodic Review Boards. He is also in a wheelchair as a result of his physical decline during his 12 years in US custody.

Last summer, Mr. Dhiab challenged the legality of his force-feeding in court, and, as I explained in an article on Sunday, in May, after some to-ing and fro-ing, Judge Gladys Kessler, in the District Court in Washington D.C., “briefly ordered the government to stop force-feeding Mr. Dhiab. This order was swiftly rescinded, as Judge Kessler feared for his life, but she also ordered videotapes of his ‘forcible cell extractions’ (FCEs) and his force-feeding to be made available to his lawyers.” Read the rest of this entry »

In Ground-Breaking Ruling, US Judge Gladys Kessler Orders Guantánamo Force-Feeding Videos to be Made Public

Congratulations to Judge Gladys Kessler of the District Court in Washington D.C., who, yesterday, followed up on a powerful order prohibiting the government from holding a secret hearing in the case of Guantánamo hunger striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab, which I wrote about here, with an even more powerful order calling on the government to prepare for public release eleven hours of videotapes showing Mr. Dhiab being dragged from his cell and force-fed.

This ruling is the latest in a string of powerful rulings by Judge Kessler, who, in May, briefly ordered the government to stop force-feeding Mr. Dhiab. This order was swiftly rescinded, as Judge Kessler feared for his life, but she also ordered videotapes of his “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs) and his force-feeding to be made available to his lawyers, who had to travel to the Pentagon’s secure facility outside Washington D.C. to see them. After viewing them, Cori Crider, his lawyer at Reprieve, said, “While I’m not allowed to discuss the contents of these videos, I can say that I had trouble sleeping after viewing them,” and added, “I have no doubt that if President Obama forced himself to watch them, he would release my client tomorrow.”

In a press release, Reprieve explained that the eleven hours of video footage — consisting of 28 tapes in total — “is to be redacted for ‘all identifiers of individuals’ other than Mr. Dhiab,” and further explained how Judge Kessler’s ruling came in response to a motion submitted in June by 16 major US media organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, McClatchy, the Guardian, the Associated Press and others, seeking to have the videotapes unsealed. Read the rest of this entry »

Judge in Guantánamo Force-Feeding Case Rejects Government’s Call for Secret Hearing

Sometimes, when it comes to Guantánamo, the shamelessness of the US government know no bounds.

The most recent example is in the case of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a Syrian prisoner, long cleared for release and confined to a wheelchair as a result of his treatment over the last 12 years. In despair at ever being released, Mr. Dhiab embarked on a hunger strike last year, as part of the prison-wide hunger strike that reminded many people of the existence of Guantánamo — and in May he won an unprecedented court victory, when, as I described it recently, a US judge — District Judge Gladys Kessler, in  Washington D.C. — ordered the government to stop force-feeding him, and to preserve videotaped evidence of his force-feeding, and his “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs), whereby a team of armored guards drags him out of his cell to take him to be force-fed.

Soon after, Judge Kessler reluctantly dropped her ban on Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding, fearing that otherwise he would die. However, she also ordered the government to release the videotapes to Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers, which was another unprecedented decision.

On August 12, as I explained in another article, Judge Kessler ordered the authorities at Guantánamo to allow two independent doctors to visit the prison to evaluate Mr. Dhiab’s health. As his lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve explained in a press release, his health had “deteriorated so much that there are now concerns for his life.” As Reprieve also explained, the doctors will “also testify, along with a force-feeding expert, at a hearing scheduled for October 6, about the medical effects of the force-feedings on Mr Dhiab.” Read the rest of this entry »

Life Sentence for Sulaiman Abu Ghaith Discredits Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

On Tuesday, in a courtroom in New York City, a long-running chapter in the “war on terror” came to an end, when Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, 48, a Kuwaiti-born cleric who appeared in media broadcasts as a spokesman for Al-Qaeda the day after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, received a life sentence based on the three counts for which he was convicted after his trial in March: conspiracy to kill Americans, providing material support to terrorists and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.

The life sentence came as no surprise, as it is permissible for the main conspiracy charge, although Abu Ghaith’s lead defense lawyer, Stanley L. Cohen, had, as the New York Times described it, “sought a sentence of 15 years, saying in a court submission that his client was facing ‘the harshest of penalties for talk — and only talk.’” The Times added that Cohen had likened Abu Ghaith to “an outrageous daytime ‘shock-radio’ host, or a World War II radio propagandist for a losing ideology.”

In court, as the Times also noted, Cohen “emphasized that his client had played no role in specific acts of terrorism,” but the government had argued otherwise, stating in a sentencing memorandum that there was “no fathomable reason to justify a sentence other than life.” Read the rest of this entry »

Shameful: US Judge Increases Prison Sentence of Tortured US Enemy Combatant Jose Padilla

Of the tens of thousands of victims of the Bush administration’s novel approach to detention in the “war on terror” — which involved shredding the Geneva Conventions, the use of torture and indefinite detention without charge or trial, and, in some cases, extraordinary rendition –  few of the victims were American citizens, but three particular individuals need to be remembered, because they were not only tortured and held without charge or trial for years, but their torture and lawless detention took place on US soil.

The three men are Jose Padilla, Yaser Hamdi and Ali al-Marri (the latter a legal US resident rather than a citizen), and Padilla — a former Chicago gang member who converted to Islam, and was held as an “enemy combatant” on US soil from May 2002, when he was seized after returning him from Pakistan, until November 2005 — was back in the news last week when a judge extended to 21 years the sentence of 17 years and four months he received in January 2008, when he was convicted of conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people abroad, and providing material support for terrorism.

The sentence was a disgrace, as I explained at the time in an article entitled, “Why Jose Padilla’s 17-year prison sentence should shock and disgust all Americans,” because of Padilla’s torture, which had destroyed his mind, because the judge prohibited all mention of his torture during the trial, and because the “dirty bomb plot” he had allegedly been involved in had turned out to be non-existent, and his trial and sentence was based instead on his involvement in a handful of phone calls that made reference to jihad. Read the rest of this entry »

The Despair of Guantánamo’s Most Prominent Hunger Striker

Guantánamo’s most prominent hunger striker is Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a 43-year old Syrian prisoner, married with four children and long cleared for release, who is in a wheelchair as a result of his treatment in US custody, and has been on a hunger strike since last spring.

Others have been on a hunger strike for longer — one man has been refusing food since 2005, and others have been starving themselves since 2007 — but Mr. Dhiab is particularly well-known because, in May, a US judge — District Judge Gladys Kessler, in Washington D.C. — ordered the government to stop force-feeding him, and to preserve videotaped evidence of his force-feeding, and his “forcible cell extractions” (FCEs), when a team of armored guards drags him out of his cell to take him to be force-fed.

Soon after, Judge Kessler reluctantly dropped her ban on Mr. Dhiab’s force-feeding, fearing that otherwise he would die. However, she also ordered the government to release the videotapes to Mr. Dhiab’s lawyers, and, after seeing them, one of his legal team, Cori Crider of the legal action charity Reprieve, said that she “had trouble sleeping after viewing them.” Read the rest of this entry »

Two Long-Term Yemeni Prisoners Repatriated from Bagram; Are Guantánamo Yemenis Next?

Last week there was some good news from Bagram, in Afghanistan, bringing one of the many long injustices of the “war on terror” to an end, when Amin al-Bakri and Fadi al-Maqaleh, two Yemenis held without charge or trial since 2002 and 2003 respectively, were repatriated.

Al-Bakri, who is 44 or 45 years old and has three children, was a shrimp merchant and gemstone dealer, and was seized in Thailand on a business trip. Al-Maqaleh, who is 30 years old, was held at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq before being transferred to Bagram. The site of America’s main prison in Afghanistan from 2002 until its handover to the Afghan authorities in March 2013, Bagram (renamed the Parwan Detention Facility in 2009) also housed a secret CIA prison where al-Bakri and al-Maqaleh were held, and they continued to be held in a secretive US facility that was part of the Bagram/Parwan complex after the handover of Bagram to the Afghan government. According to the International Justice Network, which represents both men, they were also held in other “black sites” prior to their arrival at Bagram.

The men’s release follows years of legal wrangling. Despite official silence regarding the stories of the men held in Bagram’s “black site,” lawyers managed to find out about a number of the men held, including al-Bakri and al-Maqaleh, in part drawing on research I had undertaken in 2006 for my book The Guantánamo Files. Habeas corpus petitions were then submitted, for the two Yemenis, and for a Tunisian named Redha al-Najar, seized in Karachi, Pakistan in 2002, and Haji Wazir, an Afghan businessman seized in the United Arab Emirates, also in 2002. Read the rest of this entry »

Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul, David Hicks and the Legal Collapse of the Military Commissions at 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.

Last week, lawyers for former Guantánamo prisoner David Hicks, an Australian who, in March 2007, was the first Guantánamo prisoner to accept a guilty plea in a military commission trial in order to get out of the prison, appealed his conviction — for the second time in the last ten months.

Hicks had accepted a plea of providing material support for terrorism in exchange for being returned to Australia and being freed after just nine months. However, in October 2012 the court of appeals in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court) threw out the conviction of another prisoner who had been convicted of providing material support for terrorism in a military commission trial, paving the way for Hicks to challenge his conviction.

That man was Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni who had worked as a paid driver for Osama bin Laden, and who had been convicted in the summer of 2008. As the Circuit Court described it, “When Hamdan committed the conduct in question, the international law of war proscribed a variety of war crimes, including forms of terrorism. At that time, however, the international law of war did not proscribe material support for terrorism as a war crime.” Read the rest of this entry »

US Judge Orders Guantánamo Authorities to Allow Independent Doctors to Assess Health of Hunger Striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab

Last week there was some good news regarding Guantánamo in the US courts in the long-running case of Abu Wa’el Dhiab, a hunger striker who has spent the last 14 months attempting to get the US courts to stop him being force-fed, and who, in the last three months, briefly secured an order stopping his force-feeding, and also secured access for his lawyers to videotapes of his force-feeding and the “forcible cell extractions” used to remove him from his cell. In response, the authorities have now taken to confiscating his wheelchair, and, as Reprieve put it, “manhandling him to be force-fed.”

On August 12, District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the authorities at Guantánamo to allow two independent doctors to visit the prison to evaluate Mr. Dhiab’s health. As his lawyers at the legal action charity Reprieve explained in a press release, his health “has deteriorated so much that there are now concerns for his life.” As Reprieve also explained, the doctors will “also testify, along with a force-feeding expert, at a hearing scheduled for October 6, about the medical effects of the force-feedings on Mr Dhiab.”

Mr. Dhiab is one of 75 men still held (out of the remaining 149 prisoners) who were cleared for release by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force  appointed by President Obama shortly after taking office in January 2009. He has not been released because he cannot be safely repatriated and a third country must be found that will take him. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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