Torture on Trial in the US Senate, as the UK Government Unreservedly Apologizes for Its Role in Libyan Rendition

Sen. John McCain gives his reason for refusing the nomination of Gina Haspel as the next Director of the CIA (graphic by CBS News).Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

In the last few days, two very different approaches to torture have been on display in the US and the UK.

On Wednesday, the US Senate conducted confirmation hearings for Gina Haspel, Donald Trump’s nomination as the next Director of the CIA, who has attracted widespread criticism since her nomination was announced back in March, for two particularly valid reasons: firstly, because, towards the end of 2002, she was in charge of the CIA’s first post-9/11 “black site” in Thailand, where several “high-value detainees” were held and tortured, and secondly because, in 2005, she was involved in the destruction of videotapes documenting the torture of prisoners, even though a court had ordered the tapes to be preserved.

At the time of her nomination, we signed up to a letter from a number of rights groups opposing her nomination, and also published an article on our website, entitled, The Torture Trail of Gina Haspel Makes Her Unsuitable to be Director of the CIA. Read the rest of this entry »

Life After Guantánamo: In Morocco, Younous Chekkouri’s Struggle to Rebuild His Life

Younous Chekkouri, photographed by Sudarshan Raghavan for the Washington Post.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

Regular readers will know that I have been following the stories of the prisoners held at Guantánamo for over 12 years, first through the 14 months’ research and writing I did for my book The Guantánamo Files (which, I just found out, I completed exactly eleven years ago today!), and then through the nearly 2,200 articles I have written about Guantánamo over the last eleven years.

One story that leapt out at me while researching The Guantánamo Files was that of Younous Chekkouri (aka Younus Chekhouri), a Moroccan national who, as I discovered through the transcript of a cursory military review of his case, “strenuously denied having had anything to do with Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, whose philosophy he despised” (as I described it in an article in 2016, drawing on an interview with him in February 2016, after his release from Guantánamo in September 2015, that was published by the Associated Press).

The cursory military review was a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT), of which hundreds were conducted in 2004 before a tribunal of military officers who were meant to rubber-stamp the prisoners’ designation, on capture, as “enemy combatants’ who could be detained indefinitely without charge or trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Writer Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Devastating Criticism of US Claims That It Owns and Can Destroy Prisoners’ Art

Mohamedou Ould Slahi in a photo that accompanied an interview with him on the Warscapes website in December 2016.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

A month ago, following a report in the Miami Herald about the US authorities at Guantánamo claiming that they own prisoners’ art and can destroy it — a position apparently taken in response to an art exhibition that had rattled the Pentagon — I wrote an article explaining why this was both disgraceful and also typical of the US authorities, who have always behaved at Guantánamo as though every aspect of the prisoners’ lives — even their memories — are owned by them.

That article was entitled, Persistent Dehumanization at Guantánamo: US Claims It Owns Prisoners’ Art, Just As It Claims to Own Their Memories of Torture, and I followed it with two cross-posts of powerful and eloquent articles written by Erin Thompson, one of the curators of the exhibition, at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York — here and here.

Last week, in the Washington Post, another witness to the power of creativity and the distressing censorship and control exercised by the US authorities stepped forward with another powerful and eloquent analysis — Mohamedou Ould Slahi, from Mauritania, who was tortured in Jordan, Afghanistan and Guantánamo on the mistaken basis that he was a member of Al-Qaeda, and who, after the torture at Guantánamo “broke” him, was regarded, again mistakenly, as such a useful informant that he was moved from out of the general population of the prison, and allowed to write a memoir, “Guantánamo Diary,” that, ironically, eventually ended up being published and becoming a best-seller. Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump’s Racism and Dangerous Lawlessness Revealed in Response to New York Attack; Proposal to Send Sayfullo Saipov to Guantánamo is Shameful

Don't say you weren't warned: the New York Daily News' front page on the day Trump announced his intention to run as a presidential candidate - in June 2015.Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! 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.

 

What a nasty racist clown Donald Trump is.

In response to the arrest of Sayfullo Saipov, a permanent US resident of Uzbek origin who is charged with killing eight people in an attack in New York, the Washington Post reported the following:

President Trump said Wednesday that he is considering sending the Uzbek immigrant accused of killing eight people in Tuesday’s terrorist attack in New York to the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and that the United States must be “much tougher” with its treatment of terror suspects.

Trump also called on Congress to immediately dismantle the State Department’s Diversity Visa Lottery program, through which authorities have said the suspected attacker, Sayfullo Saipov, came to the United States from Uzbekistan.

Read the rest of this entry »

Donald Trump Is Still Trying to Work Out How to Expand the Use of Guantánamo Rather Than Closing It for Good

Opponents of Guantanamo urge Donald Trump to close the prison in a poster campaign rugby the Close Guantanamo campaign, which began on the day of his inauguration.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.

In a dispiriting sign of counter-productive obstinacy on the part of the Trump administration, the New York Times recently reported that, according to Trump administration officials who are “familiar with internal deliberations,” the administration is “making a fresh attempt at drafting an executive order on handling terrorism detainees.” As Charlie Savage and Adam Goldman described it, these efforts “reviv[e] a struggle to navigate legal and geopolitical obstacles” to expand the use of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, which opened over 15 and a half years ago.

Drafts of proposed executive orders relating to Guantánamo had been leaked in Trump’s first week in office, although, as the Times noted, “Congress and military and intelligence officials pushed back against ideas in early drafts, like reopening the CIA’s overseas ‘black site’ prisons where the Bush administration tortured terrorism suspects.” As a result, the White House “dropped that and several other ideas, but as the drafts were watered down, momentum to finish the job faltered.”

Alarmingly, however, Savage and Goldman noted that the Trump administration officials they spoke to told them that Trump “had been expected to sign a detention policy order three weeks ago,” and that the plan only “changed after he fired his first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, on July 28 and replaced him with John F. Kelly,” a retired Marine Corps general who was the commander of US Southern Command, which oversees prison operations at Guantánamo, from November 2012 to January 2016. Read the rest of this entry »

Another Legal Hero in the Struggle Against Trump’s Bigotry: Hawaii’s Judge Derrick Watson Issues Nationwide Restraining Order on Immigration Ban

Demonstrators hold signs at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta on January 29, 2017 after Donald Trump issued his first Muslim ban (Photo: Branden Camp/AP).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.

 

Congratulations to District Judge Derrick K. Watson, in Hawaii, who, on Wednesday, issued what the Washington Post described as “a sweeping freeze of President Trump’s new executive order hours before it would have temporarily barred the issuance of new visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries and suspended the admission of new refugees.” I wrote about the original ban here, and the rulings shutting it down here and here, and wrote a follow-up about the reissued ban here, on March 7.

With some accuracy, the Post described Judge Watson’s 43-page opinion as “blistering,” adding that it “pointed to Trump’s own comments and those of his close advisers as evidence that his order was meant to discriminate against Muslims,” and noting that Judge Watson “declared there was a ‘strong likelihood of success’ that those suing would prove the directive violated the Constitution.”

In particularly damning language, Judge Watson declared that “a reasonable, objective observer — enlightened by the specific historical context, contemporaneous public statements, and specific sequence of events leading to its issuance — would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion.” Read the rest of this entry »

Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions

"End Guantanamo commissions: use fair trials" - an Amnesty International supporter outside the White House.

Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2800 (£2100) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo for the next three months.

 

In the 15 years since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has systematically undermined many of the key values it claims to uphold as a nation founded on and respecting the rule of law, having embraced torture, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial, trials of dubious legality and efficacy, and extra-judicial execution.

The Bush administration’s torture program — so devastatingly exposed in the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the program, published in December 2014 — no longer exists, but no one has been held accountable for it. In addition, as the psychologist and journalist Jeffrey Kaye has pointed out, although ostensibly outlawed by President Obama in an executive order issued when he took office, the use of torture is permitted, in particular circumstances, in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual.

When it comes to extrajudicial execution, President Obama has led the way, disposing of perceived threats through drone attacks — and although drones were used by President Bush, it is noticeable that their use has increased enormously under Obama. If the rendition, torture and imprisonment of those seized in the “war on terror” declared after the 9/11 attacks raised difficult ethical, moral and legal questions, killing people in drone attacks — even in countries with which the US is not at war, and even if they are US citizens — apparently does not trouble the conscience of the president, or the US establishment as a whole. Read the rest of this entry »

For Review Board, Revelations That Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner Mohammed Al-Qahtani Was Profoundly Mentally Ill Before Capture

Guantanamo prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani, in a photo taken before his capture in 2001.I wrote the following article — as “Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner Mohammed Al-Qahtani Was Profoundly Mentally Ill Before His Capture” — 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, a Periodic Review Board at Guantánamo raised a number of uncomfortable questions for the US authorities: what do you do with a prisoner allegedly involved with Al-Qaeda, but who you have tortured? And what do you do if it then transpires that, before you captured and tortured this man, he already had a history of severe mental health problems?

The prisoner in question is Mohammed al-Qahtani, the 47th prisoner to face a PRB, since they were set up in 2013 to review the cases of all the prisoners not already approved for release or facing trials. Tortured for 50 days straight at the end of 2002, he was “subjected to constant interrogations marked by extreme sleep deprivation, low temperatures, stress positions and forced nudity as well as being threatened with a military dog,” and “had to be hospitalized twice with a dangerously low heart rate,” as the Washington Post described it last week.

It was also in the Washington Post, in January 2009, that, for the first, and, to date, only time, a senior Pentagon official, Susan Crawford, the convenor of Guantánamo’s military commissions, admitted that a prisoner in US custody had been tortured. “We tortured Qahtani. His treatment met the legal definition of torture,” Crawford said, adding that that was why she didn’t refer his case for prosecution, even though he had been charged in February 2008 with five other men who are still facing prosecution for the 9/11 attacks. Read the rest of this entry »

Playing Politics with the Closure of Guantánamo

A campaigner reminds President Obama of his promise to close Guantanamo on January 11, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of the prison (Photo: Andy Worthington).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.

Supporters of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign have long been aware that the very existence of the “war on terror” prison at the US naval base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba is an affront to all notions that the United States respects justice and the rule of law, and we remember that as the closure of the prison becomes, yet again, an undignified game of political football, with Congress continuing to erect obstacles to the release of prisoners and the transfer of anyone to the US mainland for any reason, and the Obama administration trying to come up with a workable plan for the prison’s closure.

Although Congress, the week after the 9/11 attacks, passed a law — the Authorization for Use of Military Force — that purports to justify the detention of prisoners without charge or trial at Guantánamo, and the Supreme Court ruled in June 2004 that the government can hold them until the end of hostilities, this thin legal veneer has persistently failed to disguise the fact that everything about Guantánamo is wrong.

The Bush administration established the prison to be beyond the reach of the US courts, and for nearly two and a half years the men — and boys — held there had no rights whatsoever. In a second decision delivered in June 2004, the Supreme Court ruled that they had habeas corpus rights, a decision that allowed lawyers into the prison, breaking the veil of secrecy that had shrouded the prison for all that time, enabling torture and other forms of abuse to take place. Even so, it was not until June 2006 that the Supreme Court, in another ruling, reminded the administration that no one can be held without rights, and that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits torture and “humiliating and degrading treatment,” applied to everyone in US custody. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Truth, Lies and Distortions in the Coverage of Shaker Aamer, Soon to be Freed from Guantánamo

Shaker Aamer, photographed at Guantanamo in 2012.In the week since it was announced that Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in Guantánamo, is to be released, to be returned to his family in the UK, there has been a huge sigh of relief from the many, many people who campaigned for his release — supporters of the long-standing Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, which I have been involved with for many years, attending protests and speaking at events, of We Stand With Shaker, the campaign I established with Joanne MacInnes last November, which drew huge support for photos of celebrities and MPs standing with a giant inflatable figure of Shaker, and supporters of the Shaker Aamer Parliamentary Group, established last November by John McDonnell MP, a persistent supporter of worthy causes and fighter against injustice, who, with Caroline Lucas (our sole Green MP), Jeremy Corbyn and Shaker’s constituency MP, Jane Ellison, has been the most consistent MP supporting Shaker’s cause.

My article celebrating the news of Shaker’s forthcoming release was liked and shared by over 1,500 people on Facebook. Posted on the Close Guantánamo page, it has reached over 21,000 people; on the We Stand With Shaker page it has reached over 11,000 people. Thank you to everyone who has supported the various campaigns to secure Shaker’s release, including the MPs who traveled to Washington D.C. in May to call for his release, meeting with Senators and Obama administration officials — David Davis and Andrew Mitchell of the Conservatives, and Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Slaughter of the Labour Party.

Now, of course, Jeremy is the leader of the Labour Party, and John McDonnell is the shadow chancellor — a wonderful development for those who care about tackling injustice. Jeremy was elected on an anti-austerity platform, and because of his honesty and decency, and all of the above was apparent in his speech as leader to the Labour Party Conference, when he specifically thanked Shaker’s supporters, and in particular the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign: 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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