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 »

Obama to Release Ten Guantánamo Prisoners Including Shaker Aamer, Says Washington Post

Shaker Aamer's sons outside the Houses of Parliament on March 17, 2015, before a Parliamentary debate about his father's case (Photo: Andy Worthington).The media is suddenly buzzing with the suggestion, first aired in the Washington Post, that all the men approved for release in Guantánamo — 57 out of the 122 men still held — will be freed by the end of the year, and, if Congress proves obstructive, the Obama administration might close the facility before the end of Obama’s presidency by unilaterally moving the remaining prisoners to the US mainland.

Realistically, however, it might be wisest to view these suggestions as the administration stating its best-case scenario.

It is certainly true that the release of prisoners is likely to resume soon, with willingness on the part of the administration, and with the new defense secretary, Ashton Carter, imminently to be presented with a number of cases to sign off on. According to US law, implemented in the last few years, Congress must be notified of intended releases 30 days before they happen, but this is not a process that involves significant roadblocks. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Hunger Striker Abu Wa’el Dhiab and Other Guantánamo Prisoners Freed in Uruguay Discuss Their Problems

Abu Wa'el Dhiab (aka Jihad Dhiab) photographed for the Washington Post by Joshua Partlow in March 2015, four months after his release from Guantanamo.

To donate to support the six men released in Uruguay, please follow this link to a Just Giving page set up by Cage for Reprieve.

A month ago, I wrote a well-received article, “Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Uruguay Struggle to Adapt to Freedom,” looking at the problems faced by the six former Guantánamo prisoners given new homes in Uruguay in December. The six men, long cleared for release, couldn’t be safely repatriated, as four are from war-torn Syria, one is from Tunisia, where, it appears, the US is now concerned about the security situation, and the sixth is Palestinian, and the Israeli government has always prevented Palestinians held in Guantánamo from being returned home.

As I pointed out in my article, and in a follow-up interview with a Uruguayan journalist, “Strangers in a Strange Land: My Interview About the Struggles of the Six Men Freed from Guantánamo in Uruguay,” the former prisoners are struggling to adapt to a new country, in which they don’t speak the language and there is no Muslim community, and in which they are still separated from their families, over 13 years since they were first seized in Afghanistan or Pakistan by or on behalf of US forces.

Most of all, however, I believe that, while there have been murmurings in Uruguay about the men’s apparent unwillingness to work, those complaining are overlooking the fact that all six men are evidently grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after their long ordeal in a experimental prison where abusive indefinite detention without charge or trial is the norm. Read the rest of this entry »

Poland and Lithuania Haunted by Their Involvement in Hosting CIA Torture Prisons

In the long search for accountability for the torturers of the Bush administration, which has largely been shut down by President Obama, lawyers and human rights activists have either had to try shaming the US through the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, or have had to focus on other countries, particularly those that hosted secret CIA torture prisons, or had explicit involvement in extraordinary rendition.

Successes have been rare, but hugely important — the conviction of CIA officials and operatives in Italy, for the blatant daylight kidnap of Abu Omar, a cleric, on a street in Milan in February 2003, and the court victory in Macedonia of Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen kidnapped in Macedonia, where he had gone on a holiday, and sent to a CIA “black site” in 2003 until the US realized that his was a case of mistaken identity. In the UK, the whiff of complicity in torture at the highest levels of the Blair government led to pay-offs for the British nationals and residents sent to Guantánamo.

Court cases were also launched in Spain, although they were suppressed, in part because of US involvement (under President Obama), and currently there are efforts to hold the US accountable before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights for its use of Djibouti in a number of cases involving “extraordinary rendition” and “black sites.” Read the rest of this entry »

African Human Rights Commission Hears Evidence About CIA Rendition and Torture Case from 2003

Last Saturday, for the first time, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, founded in 1986, heard a case relating to the program of rendition and torture established under George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks, with particular reference to US crimes committed on African soil.

The case was brought by the Global Justice Clinic, based at the Center for Human Rights and Justice at New York University School of Law and by the London-based INTERIGHTS (the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights), and it concerns the role played by Djibouti, in the Horn of Africa, as part of the program of rendition, secret detention and torture run by the CIA on Bush’s orders, with specific reference to the case of Mohammed al-Asad, a Yemeni citizen, who, as the Global Justice Clinic explained in a press release, “was secretly detained, tortured and interrogated in Djibouti for several weeks in 2003 and 2004 before being forcibly transferred to a CIA ‘black site.'”

As the press release also explained:

In December 2003, Mohammed al-Asad was abducted from his family home in Tanzania and taken to a secret detention site in Djibouti where he was placed in isolation in a filthy cell, interrogated, and subjected to cruel treatment. He was deprived of all contact with the outside world, and was not able to contact a lawyer, his family, or the ICRC. After two weeks, Djibouti handed al-Asad to CIA agents who assaulted him, stripped him naked, photographed him, then dressed him in a diaper, and strapped him to the floor of a CIA transport plane. He endured 16 months of secret detention before he was transferred to Yemen and eventually released without ever being charged with a terrorism-related crime. Read the rest of this entry »

Will the End of War in Afghanistan Spur Obama to Close 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.

The short answer to the question, “Will the End of War in Afghanistan Spur Obama to Close Guantánamo?” is probably no, for reasons I will explain below, although it is, of course, significant to numerous interested parties that the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan next year provides an opportunity for new discussions about the ongoing detention of 164 prisoners at Guantánamo, and, probably, new legal challenges on their behalf.

On October 18, the Washington Post discussed these issues in an article entitled, “Afghan war’s approaching end throws legal status of Guantánamo detainees into doubt,” in which Karen DeYoung suggested, “The approaching end of the US war in Afghanistan could help President Obama move toward what he has said he wanted to do since his first day in office: close the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.”

The article described how officials in the Obama administration were “examining whether the withdrawal of US troops at the end of 2014 could open the door” for some of the remaining 164 prisoners “to challenge the legal authority of the United States to continue to imprison them.” Read the rest of this entry »

Close Guantánamo, Free the Afghans

In the coverage of the ongoing, prison-wide hunger strike at Guantánamo, which is now in its fourth month, there has been widespread recognition that it is unacceptable to indefinitely detain the 86 prisoners (out of 166 in total) who were cleared for release over three years ago by the President’s own inter-agency task force. These men are still held because of Presidential inertia, Congressional obstruction, and the failures of some branches of the US judiciary to uphold justice.

56 of these 86 men are Yemenis, and, in some quarters, it has also been accepted that the ban President Obama imposed on releasing cleared Yemenis from Guantánamo, following a failed airline bomb plot on Christmas Day 2009 that was hatched in Yemen, constitutes collective punishment, and is also fundamentally unacceptable because it means that prisoners whose release was recommended by the President’s own task force continue to be detained not because of what they have done, but because of what they might do in future.

Of the 30 others, however, there has been little or no discussion beyond a recognition that one of them, Shaker Aamer, a British resident with a British wife and four British children, could and should be released immediately.

Around a dozen of these 30 men cannot be repatriated, as they are from countries to which it is not safe to return — China, for example, in the case of the three remaining Uighur prisoners (Muslims from Xinjiang province who face government persecution), and war-torn Syria, which has four cleared prisoners. Read the rest of this entry »

Editorials Call for the Closure of Guantánamo in the New York Times, Washington Post and Guardian

As the prison-wide hunger strike in Guantánamo continues (sign the petition calling for its closure here!), nearly three months since the majority of the 166 prisoners still held began refusing food, it is abundantly clear that, after several years in which, frankly, almost everyone had forgotten about Guantánamo or had given up on it, the prison — and the remaining 166 prisoners — are now back in the news and showing no signs of being as easily dismissed as they were three years ago, when everyone went silent after President Obama’s promise to close the prison within a year fizzled out dismally.

The need to exert concerted pressure on the Obama administration is more important than ever, because, until the prisoners appealed to the world by putting their lives on the line, President Obama had been content to abandon them, and had been encouraged to do so by Congress, where lawmakers had blocked all his attempts to close the prison, and had ended up imposing restrictions, in the National Defense Authorization Acts passed at the end of 2011 and 2012, that made it almost impossible to release any prisoners.

In the last week, the editors of the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Guardian have all published powerful editorials calling for the closure of Guantánamo, which I’m cross-posting below. The first, on April 26, was the New York Times editorial, which delivered crushing words to President Bush as he sought to reclaim his legacy with the opening of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum about his prison which “should never have been opened,” and which “became the embodiment of his dangerous expansion of executive power and the lawless detentions, secret prisons and torture that went along with them.” Read the rest of this entry »

As Hunger Strike Continues, Tom Wilner Calls for the Closure of Guantánamo in the Washington Post

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.

As the hunger strike continues at Guantánamo — which we publicized here in two previous articles, “How Long Can the Government Pretend that the Massive Hunger Strike at Guantánamo Doesn’t Exist?” and “Voices from the Hunger Strike in Guantánamo” — we’re delighted to report that Tom Wilner, the co-founder of “Close Guantánamo” with Andy Worthington, had an opinion piece published in the Washington Post last week, which we’re cross-posting below.

Tom, who is on the steering committee of “Close Guantánamo” with Andy, was counsel of record to the Guantánamo prisoners in Rasul v. Bush and Boumediene v. Bush, the two Supreme Court cases that established the prisoners’ right to habeas corpus.

In his opinion piece, “Get serious about closing Guantánamo,” Tom ran through the reasons why the prisoners are in despair, after eleven years of imprisonment, in almost all cases without charge or trial, and four years after President Obama promised to close the prison, and established an interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force, who recommended that 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners should be released. They are still held, as Tom pointed out, because of Congressional opposition — and also, it should be noted, because of President Obama’s own inaction. 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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