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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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?
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 »
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 »
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 »
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