Archive for January, 2010

“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” – at the Human Rights, Human Wrongs Film Festival, Oslo, February 6, 2010

Outside the Law: Stories from GuantanamoOn Saturday February 6, 2010, Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, the directors of the new Guantánamo documentary, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” will attend a screening of the film at the Human Rights, Human Wrongs Film Festival, at the Parkteatret, Oslo, and will take part in a Q&A session afterwards.

This is the second year of the festival, organized by Human Rights House, Oslo and Oslo Dokumentarkino, and it takes place over five days, beginning on Wednesday February 3, with films from Burma, Kenya, Iceland and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and continuing on Thursday, with the first of four themed days, devoted to “Migration and Human Wrongs,” and featuring films about the plight of migrants seeking to reach Europe from Africa, and conditions in detention centres for asylum seekers. On Friday, “Worlds Without Witnesses” focuses on places where access is restricted, and includes films on Chechnya and Gaza.

On Saturday, when “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” is being screened, the theme is “Impunity vs. Justice — The Challenge of Righting Wrongs,” and other films featured are “My Neighbour My Killer,” about Rwanda and the Gacaca courts, and “Enemies of the People,” a film by Ron Lemkin (who is also a guest at the festival), based on Thet Sambeth’s attempts to understand the mentality of the Khmer Rouge by meeting regularly with Pol Pot’s right-hand man.

On Sunday, the theme is “Big Business: Outside the Law?” which includes films about the oil business in Nigeria and Ecuador, and a closing debate with Arjan Hamburger, the Netherlands Ambassador for Human Rights, lawyer and human rights activist Maina Kiai, and Mads Gilbert, a Norwegian doctor and activist, answering the questions,Is the ‘international community’ doing anything effective in stopping human rights abuses? If not, why not? And how can it change?”

Details of the films showing can be found here, and highlights of the programme are here.

About the film

“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” is a new documentary film, directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, telling the story of Guantánamo (and including sections on extraordinary rendition and secret prisons) with a particular focus on how the Bush administration turned its back on domestic and international laws, how prisoners were rounded up in Afghanistan and Pakistan without adequate screening (and often for bounty payments), and why some of these men may have been in Afghanistan or Pakistan for reasons unconnected with militancy or terrorism (as missionaries or humanitarian aid workers, for example).

The film is based around interviews with former prisoners (Moazzam Begg and, in his first major interview, Omar Deghayes, who was released in December 2007), lawyers for the prisoners (Clive Stafford Smith in the UK and Tom Wilner in the US), and journalist and author Andy Worthington, and also includes appearances from Guantánamo’s former Muslim chaplain James Yee, Shakeel Begg, a London-based Imam, and the British human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce.

Focusing on the stories of three particular prisoners — Shaker Aamer (who is still held), Binyam Mohamed (who was released in February 2009) and Omar Deghayes — “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” provides a powerful rebuke to those who believe that Guantánamo holds “the worst of the worst” and that the Bush administration was justified in responding to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 by holding men neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects with habeas corpus rights, but as “illegal enemy combatants” with no rights whatsoever.

For further information, interviews, or to inquire about broadcasting, distributing or showing “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” please contact Andy Worthington or Polly Nash.

“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” is a Spectacle Production (74 minutes, 2009), and copies of the DVD are now available. As featured on Democracy Now!, ABC News and Truthout. See here for videos of the Q&A session (with Moazzam Begg, Omar Deghayes, Andy Worthington and Polly Nash) that followed the launch of the film in London on October 21, 2009.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

On YouTube: Guantánamo Guard and Ex-Prisoners Meet (via the BBC)

Ruhal Ahmed, Brandon Neely and Shafiq RasulOn Monday and Tuesday evenings, the BBC’s Newsnight ran an extraordinary two-part feature on Guantánamo, bringing former guard Brandon Neely over from the United States to meet — and apologize to — former prisoners Shafiq Rasul and Ruhal Ahmed, two of “The Tipton Three,” from the West Midlands, who were freed in March 2004 and whose story was later featured in “The Road to Guantánamo,” a powerful film about their experiences.

Brandon Neely served at Guantánamo in the first six months of the prison’s existence, between January and June 2002. He was then deployed to Iraq, but when the Army attempted to recall him from his Inactive Ready Reserve (IRR) status to active duty in May 2007, he ignored every letter and email, until the Army gave up, granting him an honorable discharge in June 2008.

A vocal opponent of the war and president of the Houston chapter of Iraq Veterans Against the War, Brandon has explained that he saw “a lot of bad and horrible things and have done them too while over there,” but it was not until 2008 that he also began tentatively to speak out about Guantánamo.

In October 2008, he told Courage to Resist, “You know, when we first got there they put it into your head — I can remember them telling us, you know, these are the worst of the worst, these are the guys who plotted 9/11,” but added that after the first prisoners arrived, “actually talking to some of these detainees — and there were a lot of young ones too — and some guys, they seemed like common people.”

A month later, I received an email out of the blue from Brandon, in which he thanked me for my work and wrote, “It’s nice to see that someone is helping to give a voice to these people who mostly were wrongfully held.” He also explained, “When I was in Gitmo I was 21. I was young and didn’t know what was going on really. You’re told one thing and go with it, but over time I realized that it was wrong. So many of those people were innocent.”

I’ve been in touch with Brandon on and off ever since, and was pleased when he agreed to give a detailed interview to UC Davis’ Guantánamo Testimonials Project, which was published in February 2009.

In my email exchange with him, Brandon wrote that he had had discussions with the Australian prisoner David Hicks, but I didn’t know until this week that he had also spoken to the British prisoners — Shafiq, Ruhal and Asif Iqbal — and that, around the time he got in touch with me, he found Shafiq on Facebook and sent him a message, apologizing for his part in the ill-treatment of Shafiq and the other prisoners at Guantánamo, which eventually led to the meeting orchestrated by the BBC.

It was a genuinely touching meeting, and I was impressed that Brandon had found the courage to meet Shafiq and Ruhal, and to apologize to them in person (which, after all, is easier said than done), and pleased also that his criticism of Guantánamo — and the fact that Shafiq and Ruhal, who are playing pool when we meet them in the BBC’s film, and are clearly not “the worst of the worst” — put out such a clear message about the injustice of Guantánamo on the eighth anniversary of the prison’s opening.

As Brandon stated at one point, recalling discussions with Ruhal in Guantánamo, “It was no different from me sitting at the bar with a friend of mine talking about women or music. He would say, ‘You ever listen to Eminem or Dr. Dre?’ and he threw off a little rap and it was just funny. I thought how could it be somebody is here who’s doing the same stuff that I do when I’m back home?”

In the United States, in contrast to this important reflection on the human cost of the Bush administration’s largely indiscriminate post-9/11 dragnet, opposition to the closure of Guantánamo has been ramped up horribly in the last two weeks, after opportunist lawmakers and pundits stirred up fear and paranoia in the wake of the failed plane bomb on Christmas Day. With President Obama capitulating to unreasonable demands to prevent the release of any more cleared Yemeni prisoners, the supporters of Guantánamo appear to have derailed the closure of the prison for the foreseeable future.

The two parts of Newsnight’s feature are available on the BBC website here and here, but in the hope of making this meeting available to a global audience, the blogger Rick B announced on his site Ten Percent that he has made the second part (in which the men meet) available as a two-part video on YouTube. Both parts are posted below:

As Rick B explained in a message accompanying the videos, “Note to BBC Newsnight: I have a TV license. I think this story should be seen internationally, so I have taken the liberty of putting this online for a global audience. I hope you take a more enlightened view of copyright on this than the standard corporate line due to its overwhelming public interest value.”

POSTSCRIPT: Revealing that they do indeed have “an enlightened view” of publicity in the age of the Internet, I’ve been informed by the BBC that a TV documentary on the reunion (essentially, the two Newsnight films made into one) will be showing on BBC World from next Wednesday (Jan. 20), so that international viewers can see it, and an extended version will be shown in the UK on the News Channel on Saturday Jan. 23 at 0530, 1430, and 2130 and Sunday Jan. 24 at 0330, 1030 and 1430.

Also, Radio 5 Live ran an extended audio version of the programme on Thursday Jan 14, and the World Service will broadcast it in its Assignment slot from Wednesday Jan. 20, when listeners will be able to download a podcast from the Assignment website. Please spread the word!

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Fear and Paranoia as Guantánamo Marks its Eighth Anniversary

Prisoners in Camp 6, GuantanamoOn the eighth anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, the fate of the 198 prisoners still held is, in many ways, no clearer than it was a year ago. President Obama has released 42 men since taking office on January 20, 2009, but has already admitted that he will miss his self-imposed deadline for the prison’s closure on January 22.

The 103 prisoners cleared for release

On this gloomy anniversary, 103 of the men still held have been cleared for release by an interagency Task Force established by Obama on his second day in office, but their chances of regaining their freedom any time soon are remote. Having failed to seize the initiative last April by rehousing several cleared prisoners in the United States (the Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province, who were swept up mistakenly in a largely indiscriminate dragnet following the invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001), the administration then watched impotently as Congress passed legislation preventing any cleared prisoner from being rehoused on the US mainland. Shorn of this option, the 17 Uighurs — and dozens of other cleared prisoners from countries including Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Uzbekistan, who, like the Uighurs, cannot be repatriated because of fears that they would be tortured or otherwise ill-treated on their return — have had to hope that other solutions could be found.

The administration found new homes for ten of the Uighurs in Bermuda and Palau, and countries in Europe took nine other cleared prisoners, but this still leaves dozens of men who may languish in Guantánamo for the rest of their lives unless the administration — or the American people — acknowledge that the only acceptable response is to give them new homes in the United States. In October, citizens in Amherst, Massachusetts indicated one way forward, passing a resolution asking Congress to overturn its ban, and offering to accept two prisoners — Ahmed Belbacha, an Algerian, and Ravil Mingazov, a Russian — and an escape route from this unacceptable impasse would be for other communities to follow Amherst’s example, and to begin to build a nationwide movement demanding that America take responsibility for cleaning up its own mistakes, rather than asking European allies to do it for them.

Map of YemenNot every cleared prisoner is from a country with a notoriously poor human rights record. Around 40 of the men approved for release are Yemenis, but releasing any of these men initially required the government to overcome its squeamishness about freeing men to a country that presents security concerns, and its unjustifiable fears that they might have been radicalized by their detention.

This was revealed in October in the case of Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, a student seized in Pakistan, whose release had been ordered in May by District Court Judge Gladys Kessler, after she demolished the government’s case against him in his habeas corpus petition. Despite this ruling — and the fact that his lawyer had noted that Ali Ahmed was known as “the sweet kid” in Guantánamo — government officials told the New York Times that “Even if Mr. Ahmed was not dangerous in 2002 … Guantánamo itself might have radicalized him, exposing him to militants and embittering him against the United States.”

To its credit, the administration finally released Ali Ahmed, and another six men were freed before Christmas, but plans to release further Yemenis ran aground just days later.

Hysteria regarding Yemeni prisoners and alleged recidivists

When Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian, attempted to blow up a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day, critics seized on his alleged connections to an al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist group in Yemen to argue that no more Yemeni prisoners should be released. These critics drew on largely inaccurate or unsubstantiated reports that Abdulmutallab had been working with Saudis released from Guantánamo, and overlooked the fact that any Saudi ex-prisoners involved with terrorism in Yemen had been released by George W. Bush, in spite of the intelligence agencies’ concerns that they posed a threat to the US. Also overlooked was the fact that there was no valid reason to suppose that Yemenis held for eight years in Guantánamo, whose connections to any sort of terrorist activity had not been established, would join a terrorist group in their homeland on their return.

The critics’ argument, such as it was, suggested that nationality alone was enough to prove the existence of connections with terrorists (an appallingly broad and ill-defined allegation, which, nonetheless, went largely unchallenged). Moreover, in response to a campaign of almost unprecedented hysteria, mounted by opportunists whose main aim was to prevent the closure of Guantánamo, President Obama capitulated last week, declaring that no more Yemenis would be transferred in the imminent future, and casting a profound gloom over the prison on yesterday’s baleful anniversary.

This was bad enough, but the day after Obama’s announcement, the Pentagon claimed that it had a new report demonstrating that 1 in 5 prisoners released from Guantánamo has become involved in terrorist activities. It would be hard to find a more naked example of the use of propaganda, as no evidence was provided for this claim, and last May the Pentagon’s claim that 1 in 7 released prisoners were recidivists was thoroughly debunked by diligent researchers who demonstrated that the true figure was somewhere between 2 and 4 percent. Nevertheless, the mainstream media not only reported the Pentagon’s claims uncritically; they also failed to question its timing, and failed to ask whose agenda was being served, and whether, in fact, certain figures within the Pentagon were as determined to wreck Obama’s plans to close Guantánamo as hysterical Republicans and cowardly Democrats in Congress.

A new wave of hysteria

Senators Lindsey Graham and John McCainIt remains to be seen if Obama’s capitulation — and the shameful response to the Pentagon’s unsubstantiated propaganda — will fatally derail his plans to close the prison, but already reports are circulating that lawmakers are demanding a halt to any proposed transfers to other countries regarded as unstable — or any further releases at all. The rush towards “guilt by nationality” was led by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-Ariz.). On Thursday, in a letter to President Obama, the two Senators praised his decision to freeze the transfer of Yemeni prisoners but added, “We ask that you expand that order to include the transfer of detainees to countries that have a significant Al-Qaeda presence, at a minimum: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Algeria and Sudan.”

As AFP described it, Senators Graham and McCain also “criticized the president’s approach to releasing detainees from the notorious facility, saying it lacked coherent standards,” and declared that they were “profoundly troubled by the questionable nature of the assurances” from some of the prisoners’ home countries regarding monitoring or continued detention.

Another critic was Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who claimed that “All of the major leaders of the Taliban in the south of Afghanistan are former Gitmo releasees” (a wildly exaggerated claim that also ignored the Bush administration’s responsibility for freeing Taliban leaders from Guantánamo without consulting authorities in Afghanistan who would have been able to identify them), and further criticism has focused on plans to transfer two more prisoners from Guantánamo.

According to legislation passed by Congress, the administration must provide 15 days’ notice before releasing any prisoner, even though Lt. Col. David Frakt, a former military attorney in Guantánamo’s Military Commissions, has called this requirement “blatantly unconstitutional as a violation of the separation of powers,” and an example of “Congressional depravity on any issues related to detainees.” On Friday, The Hill reported that it had learned that the State Department notified Congress on December 22 of its plans to transfer two more prisoners, prompting another wave of opportunistic indignation.

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the ranking member of the House intelligence committee, said that he was “concerned about just one of the two latest detainees set for transfer.” The other, he said, was going to a country “of no concern” — presumably somewhere in Europe. He added that it “baffles the brain” that “We continue to send people back to countries that have weak central governments and ungoverned areas,” but his comments were tepid compared to those of Stephen Miller, a spokesman for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

“We are deeply concerned about pending transfers on the heels of the Christmas Day bombing and news reports suggesting that even more released GITMO detainees have returned to militant activities than previously thought,” Miller said, adding, “All transfers should be put on hold until there has been a chance to analyze emerging numbers about the threat of recidivism, and to begin patching the cracks in the system laid bare by the Christmas day bomb plot.”

Missing in all this hysteria is any acknowledgment that, in contrast to the Bush administration’s often careless release of prisoners for diplomatic reasons and with insufficient safeguards (in the cases of a handful of Saudis and a handful of Afghan Taliban leaders), the Obama administration has been extremely cautious about releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, and has no intention of repeating the previous administration’s mistakes. In this regard, Sen. Sessions’ comments are particularly unhelpful, as his talk of “cracks in the system” suggests, with no justification whatsoever, that some kind of line can be drawn between the screening of airline passengers and the appraisal of Guantánamo prisoners by a government Task Force.

The other 95 prisoners: dubious plans and Congressional obstruction

For the majority of the remaining 95 prisoners, the future is no less uncertain. Although the administration has put six men forward for federal court trials (see here and here), it also revived the much-criticized Military Commission trial system, in conjunction with Congress, and announced its intention to hold other prisoners indefinitely without charge or trial, based on the powers granted by Congress in the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed the week after the 9/11 attacks.

Critics, understandably, were enraged by these developments, pointing out that indefinite detention without charge or trial is an abomination that serves only to perpetuate the fundamental lawlessness of the Bush administration’s policies, and also pointing out that the administration has, effectively, established a three-tier system for dealing with the prisoners that makes a mockery of justice.

In addition, I have explained that the administration’s insistence on claiming that it will, in Obama’s words, continue to hold without charge or trial those who “cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States,” is not only a vile precedent, but also an unnecessary one. For the last 16 months, the District Courts have demonstrated, in dealing with the prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions, that they are perfectly capable of ascertaining whether there is sufficient evidence to continue holding prisoners. Providing an objectivity and an openness that appears to elude the Task Force, the courts have granted 32 out of 41 habeas corpus petitions, and their deliberations still represent the best hope for justice for the majority of the men still held.

Noticeably, however, Obama’s main problem in dealing with the cases of these 95 men concerns his plans to close Guantánamo and move them to the US mainland. Although the administration has chosen the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois as a suitable venue, Congress has so far refused to provide the funds to allow the transfers to take place. Even if this approval is forthcoming this year, officials have conceded that the necessary adjustments to the prison’s security would mean that it is unlikely to open until 2011.

The only bright spot in this otherwise dispiriting story is that the delay will at least allow the District Courts to continue ruling on the prisoners’ habeas petitions, whittling away at the prison’s population until, hopefully, only those regarded as a genuine threat to the United States, and with verifiable connections to terrorism remain. My research, conducted over four years, indicates that the maximum number of prisoners who fit this category is around 40, and certainly not the 95 touted by the administration.

Nevertheless, the imminent failure to close the prison by January 22 is a great disappointment, and the current level of fearmongering is so hysterical, and so disgracefully supported by the mainstream media, that almost every aspect of the prison’s closure will be an uphill struggle.

Eight years after this monstrous experiment in lawless detention and abusive interrogation first opened, this is hardly a good note on which to conclude a review of Obama’s first year, but it is painfully apparent that, in general, courage has been lacking in the administration’s response to Guantánamo. The President would do well to consider that, by attempting to deal pragmatically with his critics and with the baleful legacy he inherited, he continues to undermine the unwavering principles that are needed not only to remove this stain on America’s image and to bring true justice to those still held, but also to fully repudiate the Bush administration’s reckless — and criminal — overreach.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on Truthout.

An interview with Andy Worthington about Guantánamo, on the Eighth Anniversary of the Prison’s Opening

Andy WorthingtonThe following interview, with Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files, was conducted by email by Elizabeth Ferrari, and was originally published on Democratic Underground.

Elizabeth Ferrari: Andy, last week was a terrible week for lies and misinformation regarding Guantánamo, particularly concerning the Yemeni prisoners and a Pentagon statement alleging that 1 in 5 released prisoners had engaged in terrorist activities. You wrote a number of articles about these topics (see here, here and here), and also discussed them on Democracy Now! on Friday, and I was hoping in this interview to follow up on some of these stories.

As you mentioned, the Pentagon is still putting out misleading reports that inflate the numbers of released detainees who “return to the battlefield.” The last one I read was even released by the same spokesman, Geoff Morrell, who did this under Bush and in the same dodgy language. This false report does undercut President Obama’s project to close Guantanamo.

The right wing will go on and makes their ridiculous claims, but more concerning is watching the Pentagon produce these reports at politically sensitive moments for Obama, and also for detainees who have been held without charge for years and years.

For those who missed your interview and your articles, could you run down how the Pentagon puts out these alarming reports and how Seton Hall and others have researched and refuted those claims?

Andy Worthington: Sure. The Pentagon has an alarming habit of releasing reports about alleged recidivists — prisoners who have apparently “returned to the battlefield” — at suspicious times. A claim about 61 recidivists, for example, was touted at a Pentagon press conference just a week before President Obama took office last year, and researchers from the Seton Hall Law School, who have been studying these claims assiduously, issued a wonderful report in response (PDF), in which, along with copious amounts of research, they noted that this was “the 43rd attempt to enumerate the number of detainees who have returned to the battlefield” and that “In each of its forty-three attempts to provide the numbers of the recidivist detainees, the Department of Defense has given different sets of numbers that are contradictory and internally inconsistent with the Department’s own data.”

Last May, the New York Times got in trouble when it published a front-page story based on another conveniently issued report, which claimed that 1 in 7 released prisoners — 74 in total — had returned to the battlefield. The problem was that the Pentagon had only provided names and “confirmation” for 27 of the 74 prisoners cited in the report, so that it was impossible to check any information about the other 47, and a week later, as I explained in my recent article:

[T]he Times allowed Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of the New America Foundation to write an op-ed criticizing Bumiller’s article, in which they concluded, from an examination of the report (PDF) that a more probable figure for recidivism — based on the fact that there were “12 former detainees who can be independently confirmed to have taken part in terrorist acts directed at American targets, and eight others suspected of such acts” — was “about 4 percent of the 534 men who have been released.”

The Times then published an Editor’s Note apologizing for the story, but the damage had already been done, and another Seton Hall report (PDF) — putting the real figure at around thirteen (or 2 percent) — was, as a result, a kind of exercise in damage limitation.

So this latest claim — unsubstantiated by any kind of supporting evidence whatsoever — was typical behavior, but its timing, coming, as it did, the day after Obama announced that no more Yemenis would be released from Guantánamo in the near future, was incredibly suspicious, as it indicated that there were figures within the Pentagon — Bush-era figures like Geoff Morrell, for example, and those pulling his strings — who were capitalizing on the situation to pursue what was presumably their own agenda: doing all they could to prevent the closure of Guantánamo, and to derail further the President’s already tattered plans to close the prison.

Elizabeth Ferrari: Who is setting the agenda at the Pentagon and, more broadly, in our national security establishment, that these reports are still being timed to contradict Obama? Could you speak to that? There seem to be any number of actors in this administration who are not on the same page as the president. Mr. Brennan is on the record supporting torture as a “tool.” Admiral Blair was involved in supporting the Church massacres in East Timor. We’ve just heard that Secretary Gates will be around for another year and, even overlooking his long career of helping politicians skirt the law and his CIA background, he was accommodating of Bush’s human rights violations. This crew is not a bunch of reformers.

Andy Worthington: Unfortunately, I have no idea, but either Obama is playing a devious game, pretending to want to close Guantánamo (which I’ve heard suggested, but actually don’t believe) or he’s not entirely in charge of the Pentagon. It’s long seemed to me that he kept Gates on because he and his close advisors literally didn’t have anyone on board who had the background and the contacts to control the Pentagon, so perhaps that’s it: he’s stuck with Gates, and stuck with other players who have their own agenda.

If this is the case, it’s rather alarming, of course, as it suggests that the military-industrial complex has its own momentum and that the only pressure to shut it down — or, at least, to scale back the profligate warmongering and spending that dominated the Bush years, and that is being repeated under Obama — has to come from the people.

Elizabeth Ferrari: In your articles, and on Democracy Now! you pointed out that President Obama is not making the same mistakes Bush did in that he is being careful about who he releases, whereas Bush made some releases against the advice of the “intelligence” community, which later turned out to be problematic. Could you help us understand the story on Yemen right now and why the president has decided not to release more prisoners to that country?

Andy Worthington: Pure fear. Political pragmatism. The uproar about releasing Yemenis, because of the failed Christmas plane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s alleged connection to a Yemeni group containing Saudi ex-prisoners from Guantánamo (the ones released by Bush) was so intense that he felt he couldn’t take it on, and he did what he did last year, when his counsel Greg Craig was planning to bring some of the innocent Uighurs from Guantánamo to live in the US, but the administration was taking flak for releasing the torture memos and planning to release the photos of the abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. He capitulated, pure and simple.

In defense of John Brennan, the former CIA man who is one of Obama’s senior counter-terrorism advisors, I have to say that he put up a good fight when he appeared on the TV shows the previous weekend, defending how careful the administration has been in approving releases from Guantánamo, and generally putting on a great performance as a career official who appreciates how Obama has learned from and has rectified mistakes made by Bush, for whom Brennan also worked, of course.

To my mind, Obama should have gone with Brennan — perhaps sending him out again to tackle some of those spreading hysteria and misinformation — instead of caving in, because I think Brennan’s on his side and knows how to talk tough to the barking lunatics who are usually the only ones raising their voices. But it didn’t work out like that, and I’m disappointed, as Obama only loses more ground and more authority when he backs down, instead of taking on his critics in a manner they understand. I actually think that the failure — or inability — of senior Democrats to shout down their opponents is one their major failings.

Elizabeth Ferrari: We’ve been inundated with information — or more precisely, with propaganda — by the supporters of the “War on Terror,” and it’s very difficult to keep everything straight and clear. As I understand it, there is a group of detainees who had been cleared for release because they were found by a judge to be students in a guesthouse, not combatants in any way. They were going to be released to Yemen. Is it right that all of that has been tabled?

Why were they being released to Yemen and, if you can, can you give the numbers you’ve assigned to them so we can look them up in your Definitive Prisoner List? It looks like these people are being held hostage to a political struggle in the United States. What will it take to get them released?

Andy Worthington: OK, so you’re talking about Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, a student in a guest house in Pakistan, who triumphantly won his habeas corpus petition last May and was finally released by Obama in October. There were around 15 other men seized in that house — eight of whom are Yemenis — but although one was cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration (because he was only visiting on the night of the raid and didn’t even live there), and although the judge in Ali Ahmed’s case — Judge Gladys Kessler — stated that she thought it probable that the majority of the others seized in the raid were also students, none of them have won any court cases, because the habeas petitions move so slowly (largely through Justice Department obstruction).

It may well be that they have been cleared for release after the deliberations of Obama’s interagency task Force, which has been reviewing all the Guantánamo cases since last January, and has cleared around 40 of the remaining 86 Yemenis for release (in addition to the six men released before Christmas), but there’s no way of finding out, as only the Task Force and the prisoners’ lawyers know, and the lawyers are prevented from discussing the Task Force’s conclusions publicly.

As a result, I can’t give you any specific prisoner numbers to look up in my list, but if you go through all four parts, you’ll be able to find the 86 Yemenis who haven’t been released, and to either follow links to their stories, or find where they’re discussed in my book The Guantánamo Files. Some were also cleared under the Bush administration, but were never released, and a few are amongst the 32 out of 41 prisoners who won their habeas corpus petitions between October 2008 and December 2009, but have also not yet been released.

As for when any of these men will be released, your guess is as good as mine, after Obama’s capitulation. I can only repeat what I’ve said before, which is that someone in the administration needs to find some courage to stick to principles, as pragmatism is a slippery road.

Elizabeth Ferrari: It has been confirmed recently that Erik Prince is or was a CIA asset and that Blackwater has been involved in a multinational assassination program — in Germany, perhaps in Pakistan. To your knowledge, has the CIA used Blackwater operatives at Gitmo or at any of their other prisons, black sites or at Bagram, for example? Blackwater’s impunity in daylight is terrible enough. It’s very concerning to wonder what they do in secret and if they have been involved with detainees of the United States. Have you found any “fingerprints” to this effect?

Andy Worthington: In a word, no, but only, I’m sure, because I haven’t had the time to look. “Contractors” are all over the torture, “extraordinary rendition” and secret prison stories, so I’d be very surprised if Blackwater wasn’t involved somewhere along the line. I actually hope to do some more research into the secret prisons this year.

Elizabeth Ferrari: For those of us trying to follow these cases, what would you suggest tracking right now? What are you yourself looking out for?

Andy Worthington: Most of my time is still spent on the Guantánamo story, trying to publicize the horrendous crimes of the Bush administration — and to highlight the incompetence of senior officials, as much as their cruelty. If readers want a useful avenue to pursue, it would be to look at the cleared prisoners who can’t be repatriated because they face torture in their homelands — dozens of prisoners from Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Uzbekistan, as well as the last seven Uighurs — and to look at the work that Nancy Talanian is putting together at No More Guantánamos, trying to persuade communities across the States to pass resolutions specifically adopting certain prisoners and asking Congress to overturn its ban on accepting cleared prisoners into the US, following the example of Amherst, Massachusetts.

Countries in Europe have taken a handful of these men, but they’re finding little reason to do so when the US won’t take any itself, and my fear is that cleared prisoners will remain in Guantánamo — or in some other hellhole in the States, if that project ever comes off — for years, or for the rest of their lives, without concerted action to demand that the US government accepts responsibility for its own mistakes.

Otherwise, keep educated, spread the word, and keep an eye on the prison at Bagram airbase, which remains as much outside the law as Guantánamo was back in 2004, before the Supreme Court got involved, and lawyers were able to meet with prisoners to begin filing their habeas petitions, and to bring their stories of torture and abuse to the world. That process was derailed by Congress for another four years (although the administration failed to keep the lawyers out), but no lawyer has set foot in Bagram, and, although a District Court judge ruled last March that foreign prisoners rendered to Bagram and held for up to six years have the same habeas rights as the Guantánamo prisoners, the Obama administration appealed, and the Court of Appeals is currently considering that appeal.

Bagram’s also important because it’s where the war meets the detention policies, and I think we need to do all we can to bring together anti-war protestors, torture opponents, and opponents of the lawless detention polices of the last eight years, to try and get a new mass movement going at the start of this new decade.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Guantánamo: Shaker Aamer’s Daughter Delivers Letter to Gordon Brown (Video)

Shaker AamerOn Monday January 11, as part of activities in London to highlight the eighth anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, and to demand justice for the 198 men still held, Johina Aamer, daughter of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident held at the prison, delivered a letter to Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street, asking the Prime Minister to do all in his power to secure the release of her father. Johina was accompanied by the journalist Victoria Brittain (a close friend of the family), Baroness Helena Kennedy, Kate Allen (the Director of Amnesty International UK), actress Vanessa Redgrave, Kate Hudson (the Chair of CND), and solicitor Gareth Peirce, and her letter is reproduced at the end of this article. She also spoke to an al-Jazeera reporter for a news report that is available below (via YouTube).

Shaker Aamer was cleared for release from Guantánamo by a military review board in 2007. Difficulties securing his release appear to hinge on questions about whether he should be sent back to Saudi Arabia, the country of his birth, or to the UK, where his British wife and four children live, but is also apparent that the US authorities have continued to regard him with suspicion, despite clearing him for release.

This, essentially, is because he has been the most vocal opponent of the human rights abuses inflicted on prisoners in the “War on Terror,” and as I mentioned during a speech outside the US embassy yesterday (report and photos here), I believe that it’s possible that his release in the UK — where he would be able to speak freely, unlike in Saudi Arabia — would be embarrassing for the US government because of his extensive knowledge of the abusive regime at Guantánamo, and embarrassing for the British government, because of his claims (which are making their way through the UK courts) that British agents were complicit in his abuse when he was held in US custody in Afghanistan, before his transfer to Guantánamo.

Speaking to al-Jazeera, his US lawyer, Brent Mickum, who had flown in to attend a Parliamentary meeting establishing an Early Day Motion calling for Shaker’s release, raised similar concerns, stating that, because Shaker “speaks English fluently, is a very charismatic individual [and] has been treated appallingly, he will tell that story in no uncertain terms [because] he is not an individual who will play by the Americans’ rules.”

Johina Aamer’s letter to Gordon Brown

Dear Gordon Brown,

I hope you are in good health. I am writing to ask you for my father’s release. As you might know, my father has been away for 8 years, he was taken away since I was four years old. It has been most of my life.

My brother Faris has never seen his father and misses him a lot. Sometimes he thinks other people are his father. Once a man came to do our garden, Faris (has) a lot of fun and laughs with him. When he left, Faris asked my Mum, “Is that my Dad?” He has never felt what it’s like to be with a father or to go out with him.  Faris has had no experience at all of what it’s like to have a father just like every child does.

My mother is very patient but sometimes when she misses him too much she gets depressed. My mother is also a psychiatric patient. Whenever she gets depressed we have to go to my grandparents’ house where my grandparents look after her. When she is ill she is in bed day and night and can’t do much. I really hate it when she gets depressed.

At school, when it is time to go home, most of the children have their fathers pick them up which makes me miss him even more. I never really go[t] to do things with my father.

Also there is no reason for my father to be in prison. There have never been any charges made against him and he is innocent. My father has suffered for eight years in prison for no reason. I hope there can be a change now. He has got so many illnesses such as asthma and many physical problems. He is also the only British resident there.

I take that you understand this as a father and a husband. Nobody would like to be separated from their fathers or mothers. It is not nowhere near fun to be without a father we’ve missed so much.

I hope this letter can make a difference and that my father is released as soon as possible.

Thank you.

From

Johina Aamer
Daughter of Shaker Aamer

In a statement, Kate Allen said, “We need to see the UK government stepping up its efforts to get Shaker Aamer out of Guantánamo. Every extra day he’s kept in Guantánamo is an extra day of cruel injustice for Shaker and his long-suffering family. Guantánamo isn’t over yet.” She added that “besides the need to secure Shaker’s release the government should seek assurances that another Guantánamo prisoner — Ahmed Belbacha, a man formerly living in Britain — is not left behind in Guantánamo or forced back to his native Algeria where he’d be at risk of torture and imprisonment without trial.”

This was a point that I also made in my talk outside the US embassy, when I explained that the British government should not only accept Ahmed Belbacha, but other cleared prisoners as well, instead of standing back and expecting other European countries to do it for them. Dozens of cleared prisoners — from Algeria, China, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Uzbekistan — remain in Guantánamo, unable to return to their home countries because of fears that they will face torture or other ill-treatment on their return, but, to date, only nine men have been rehoused in Europe.

To act on Shaker Aamer’s behalf, please visit this Amnesty International action page, which provides details of how you can download Johina’s letter and send it to PM Gordon Brown, and also how you can write to David Miliband to ask him to demand Shaker’s release. For further information about Shaker Aamer, please feel free to check out the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington), which focuses on the stories of Shaker, Binyam Mohamed and Omar Deghayes. The directors are currently planning a tour of the film around the UK.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

On Eighth Anniversary, Guantánamo Allows Little Hope

Guantanamo, January 11, 2002One year ago, as George W. Bush prepared to leave office, there were high hopes that Barack Obama would move swiftly to undo his ruinous legacy of torture, “extraordinary rendition” and indefinite detention without charge or trial. The most potent icon of the Bush administration’s overreaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 was the “War on Terror” prison in the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, which opened on January 11, 2002.

The new president started well, freezing the much-criticized Military Commission trial system on his first day in office, and issuing executive orders on Day 2, upholding the absolute ban on torture, ordering the humane treatment of wartime prisoners in interrogation, and promising that Guantánamo would be closed within a year.

After this bold start, however, the program slipped, first into inertia, as an interagency Task Force, established to review the prisoners’ cases, found that information about the prisoners was scattered throughout numerous departments and agencies. Instead of drawing on evidence that the men had largely been rounded up by the US military’s allies in Afghanistan, at a time when bounty payments were widespread, the administration began to fear releasing prisoners who might resort to terrorism after their release (perhaps because they had been radicalized by their treatment under George W. Bush).

Senior officials also appeared to ignore court rulings dealing with the prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions, even though, in 4 out of every 5 cases examined, judges found that the government’s supposed evidence consisted mainly of confessions made under torture or duress, or allegations made by other prisoners, who were either unreliable or had been bribed or coerced into doing so.

After the inertia came cowardly backtracking. In April, when Republican uproar followed the court-ordered release of Justice Department memos purporting to redefine torture, so that it could be used by the CIA, and another court order to release photos of the abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama stopped the release of the photos and quashed plans to bring some innocent Guantánamo prisoners to live in the United States.

These men were the Uighurs, Muslims from China’s Xinjiang province, seized by mistake, who could not be repatriated because of fears that the Chinese government would torture them.

By capitulating to pressure, and putting pragmatism before principles, Obama showed Republicans that he would cave in if pushed hard enough, and his opponents — and some cowardly members of his own party — responded by passing legislation preventing any prisoner cleared for release by the Bush administration, by the courts (following successful habeas petitions) or by Obama’s Task Force from being resettled in the United States.

Obama’s capitulation, and his inability to control Congress, also made it extremely difficult to find new homes for the dozens of other cleared prisoners, from countries including Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Uzbekistan, who, like the Uighurs, could not be repatriated because of fears that they would be abused on their return.

America’s allies in Europe were asked to accept these prisoners, and to refrain from pointing out that the US was doing nothing to clean up its own mess, with the result that, by the end of the year, only nine men had been given new homes in Europe.

As Obama’s principled stand eroded, he also dismayed lawyers, progressives and human rights activists by reintroducing the Military Commissions and stating that, according to legislation passed by Congress in the wake of the 9/11 attacks (the Authorization for Use of Military Force), he was entitled to hold dozens of other men indefinitely, without charge or trial.

As critics noted accurately, the result was a three-tier system that made a mockery of justice. Essentially, if a conviction could be guaranteed, prisoners would be put forward for federal court trials, as happened in November with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks. However, if the evidence was weaker, they would face trials by Military Commission, and if it was weaker still or unusable — alarmingly, because it had been obtained through torture, which is unreliable, as well as inadmissible in either federal courts or the Military Commissions — the men in question would be held indefinitely.

As the anniversary approached, and the administration announced that 116 prisoners had been cleared for release by the Task Force, the repatriation of six Yemenis offered the slim hope that one of the major obstacles to the closure of Guantánamo was finally being addressed. Yemenis comprise 86 of the remaining 198 prisoners, but long-standing fears about the Yemeni government’s ability to monitor released prisoners meant that, of the 561 prisoners released between May 2002 and November 2009, only 16 were Yemenis.

However, in the wake of the failed plane bombing on Christmas Day, and exaggerated claims that the would-be bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had connections with Saudi prisoners released from Guantánamo in a terrorist group in Yemen, Barack Obama once more capitulated to hysterical fearmongering, announcing that no more prisoners would be returned to Yemen in the foreseeable future.

This not only cast a dark cloud over Monday’s anniversary, dashing hopes that the prison’s closure will take place any time soon; it also, again, involved a refusal by Obama to fight back against lies and distortions, by holding firm to two important points that were easily ignored in the media’s blizzard of fear.

Firstly, there was no reason to suppose that the cleared Yemenis, held for eight years, had any connection to a recently established terrorist group in their homeland whose ranks appeared to peppered with Saudis, and secondly, the handful of Saudis released from Guantánamo, who had apparently become involved in terrorism, were released not by Barack Obama, but by George W. Bush, despite warnings from the US intelligence services that they posed a threat to the United States.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

This article was published exclusively in the Daily Star, Lebanon, as “At eight, Guantánamo allows little hope.”

Appeals Court Extends President’s Wartime Powers, Limits Guantánamo Prisoners’ Rights

The US flag at GuantanamoOn the eighth anniversary of the opening of the “War on Terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the implications of a ruling last week in the Court of Appeals (PDF) have added another layer of uncertainty to the prisoners’ future, in a week that was notorious for a barrage of lies and misinformation, and a promise by President Obama that he was freezing the release of all Yemeni prisoners until further notice.

The Appeals Court ruling dealt with the case of Ghaleb al-Bihani, a Yemeni who lost his habeas corpus petition, challenging the basis of his detention, in January last year, seven months after the habeas petitions resumed, following the Supreme Court’s ruling, in Boumediene v. Bush, that the prisoners had constitutionally guaranteed habeas rights.

Al-Bihani had traveled to Afghanistan to help the Taliban government fight its rivals in the Northern Alliance, in an inter-Muslim civil war that  preceded the 9/11 attacks and that had, for the most part, nothing to do with al-Qaeda. However, although he had only worked as a cook for a group of Arab fighters supporting the Taliban, and was not alleged to have fired a weapon at US or coalition forces, Judge Richard Leon concluded that it was “not necessary” for the government to prove that he “actually fire[d] a weapon against the US or coalition forces in order for him to be classified as an enemy combatant.” Leon also explained, “Simply stated, faithfully serving in an al-Qaeda-affiliated fighting unit that is directly supporting the Taliban by helping prepare the meals of its entire fighting force is more than sufficient to meet this Court’s definition of ‘support,’” adding, “After all, as Napoleon was fond of pointing out, ‘An army marches on its stomach.’”

Strictly speaking, Judge Leon’s ruling was correct, because the courts were not required to ask whether it was legitimate to imprison a cook indefinitely, but merely to ascertain whether the government had established, by a preponderance of the evidence, that those who came before them had been part of, or had supported al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban.

Nevertheless, I concluded last January, and still believe now, that al-Bihani and others in a similar position, who have also lost their habeas petitions, have fallen foul of a fundamental misconception in the Bush administration’s decision to hold prisoners related to either al-Qaeda or the Taliban as a novel category of human being — “enemy combatants” — rather than as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, if they were soldiers (or the cooks for soldiers), or as criminal suspects, to be tried in US federal courts, if they were terrorists.

This muddle has had grave repercussions — the whole malign project of “extraordinary rendition,” torture redefined so that it could be used by US personnel, and the prisons of which Guantánamo is the most baleful icon — but eight years after its conception, the most practical demonstration of its failings rests with men like Ghaleb al-Bihani, who, by now, is almost a prisoner of war, and will certainly not be released (if ever) until the end of hostilities (whenever that may be), but who still inhabits a place reserved for those who are held neither as soldiers nor terrorists.

Eventually, once trials have been convened for those accused of criminal endeavors and war crimes, and the “enemy combatants” (whatever they are now called) have been whittled won to just a few dozen men, the Supreme Court may have to step in to address this lamentable legacy, and to insist that, in future, those detained by the United States must be either soldiers or criminals, but for now al-Bihani has had to seek redress from the Court of Appeals, and has found that none is forthcoming.

Again, this is unsurprising, because the Appeals Court is not empowered to rule on the actual detention policies inherited by the Obama administration, but although the panel of three judges who heard his appeal concluded unanimously that his continued detention was “authorized by statute” (the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after the 9/11 attacks), because of his unquestionable connection with those engaged in combat against the US, they did not agree unanimously about the scope of the government’s ability to imprison him, and others like him.

Judge Janice Rogers BrownIn the majority opinion, Judge Janice Rogers Brown, supported by Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh (who are two of the most conservative judges on the Circuit Court) discussed the international laws of war and how they reflected on the President’s ability to hold prisoners under the AUMF, which authorized the President to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States,” and which, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, in 2004, involved the assertion that “Congress has clearly and unmistakably authorized detention” of individuals covered by the AUMF.

In a key passage, Judge Brown dismissed claims made by al-Bihani regarding his detention, not merely because his arguments, based on various interpretations of international law, failed to detract from his relationship with the fighting forces and the ongoing nature of the conflict in Afghanistan, but also because they “rel[ied] heavily on the premise that the war powers granted by the AUMF and other statutes are limited by the international laws of war. This premise is mistaken.” Judge Brown also described the international laws of war as not “a fixed code,” refused to “quibble over the intricate application of vague treaty provisions and amorphous customary principles,” and concluded that “their lack of controlling legal force and firm definition render their use both inapposite and inadvisable when courts seek to determine the limits of the President’s war powers.”

Judge Stephen F. WilliamsIn response, Senior Circuit Judge Stephen F. Williams, the third judge, who concurred with the overall judgment and with part of the majority opinion, took exception to this conclusion, noting that the paragraph ending in “This premise is mistaken” was “hard to square with the approach that the Supreme Court took in Hamdi.” Judge Williams quoted Justice Souter, who stated explicitly, “[W]e understand Congress’ grant of authority for the use of ‘necessary and appropriate force’ to include the authority to detain for the duration of the relevant conflict, and our understanding is based on longstanding law-of-war principles.”

This may not be much, but it was refreshing that Judge Williams at least perceived that the Supreme Court had set limits on the Executive’s wartime detention powers, and that he chastised the other judges for putting forward an argument that “goes well beyond what even the government has argued in this case” — that “[t]he authority conferred by the AUMF is informed by the laws of war.”

Despite this dissent, and the fact that the ruling will almost certainly be appealed, meaning that it will be heard en banc (by a full panel of judges), it is worrying that, as Lyle Denniston explained at SCOTUSblog, “Conceivably, the practical result may be that fewer detainees can now win court orders for their release,” and that, although “the government has not appealed to the Circuit Court all of the prior release orders, it presumably now has a free hand to contest almost any such order.”

Although the court concluded that “the facts of the case show al-Bihani was both part of and substantially supported enemy forces,” Judge Brown at least left open the possibility that “the picture may be less clear in other cases where facts may indicate only support, only membership, or neither,” adding, “We have no occasion here to explore the outer bounds of what constitutes sufficient support or indicia of membership to support the detention standard.”

Nevertheless, 2,923 days after Guantánamo opened, I find it dispiriting that everyone involved in this case and others is still essentially wasting time disputing the extent to which a man who cooked for Arab forces supporting the Taliban and never shot a gun at anyone was involved with al-Qaeda, and that judges can conclude that he can be detained indefinitely as a category of human being with less rights than a prisoner of war, when he so clearly should have been a prisoner of war all along.

Forgive me if I have lost some subtle nuances here, but to my mind we’re all missing the bigger picture, which is that the Bush administration has left us with a human quandary — the “enemy combatants” — when such a novel category of human being should no longer be casting its dark shadow on established notions of justice, and those detained should, as I mentioned above, either be held as criminal suspects or as prisoners of war.

Perhaps the Supreme Court will one day intervene to address what Judge Brown described as the “scant guidance” it provided to the lower courts when it came to dealing with “who the President can lawfully detain pursuant to statutes passed by Congress” and “what procedure is due to detainees challenging their detention in habeas corpus proceedings,” or perhaps, as she suggested in a disturbing passage in a separate opinion, Congress will act on the fact that “the Supreme Court has not foreclosed [it] from establishing new habeas standards in line with its Boumediene decision.”

For now, however, Ghaleb al-Bihani remains in Guantánamo as part of a peculiar experiment in isolation that still seems to have no end.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation.

For a sequence of articles dealing with the Guantánamo habeas cases, see: Guantánamo and the Supreme Court: the most important habeas corpus case in modern history and Guantánamo and the Supreme Court: What Happened? (both December 2007), The Supreme Court’s Guantánamo ruling: what does it mean? (June 2008), Guantánamo as Alice in Wonderland (Uighurs’ first court victory, June 2008), What’s Happening with the Guantánamo cases? (July 2008), Government Says Six Years Is Not Long Enough To Prepare Evidence (September 2008), From Guantánamo to the United States: The Story of the Wrongly Imprisoned Uighurs (October 2008), Guantánamo Uyghurs’ resettlement prospects skewered by Justice Department lies (October 2008), Guilt By Torture: Binyam Mohamed’s Transatlantic Quest for Justice (November 2008), After 7 Years, Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo Kidnap Victims (November 2008), Is Robert Gates Guilty of Perjury in Guantánamo Torture Case? (December 2008), A New Year Message to Barack Obama: Free the Guantánamo Uighurs (January 2009), The Top Ten Judges of 2008 (January 2009), No End in Sight for the “Enemy Combatants” of Guantánamo (January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (January 2009), How Cooking For The Taliban Gets You Life In Guantánamo (January 2009), Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics (February 2009), Bad News And Good News For The Guantánamo Uighurs (February 2009), The Nobodies Formerly Known As Enemy Combatants (March 2009), Farce at Guantánamo, as cleared prisoner’s habeas petition is denied (April 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Judge Condemns “Mosaic” Of Guantánamo Intelligence, And Unreliable Witnesses (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), Guantánamo: A Prison Built On Lies (May 2009), Free The Guantánamo Uighurs! (May 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part One): Exposing The Bush Administration’s Lies (July 2009), Obama’s Failure To Deliver Justice To The Last Tajik In Guantánamo (July 2009), Obama And The Deadline For Closing Guantánamo: It’s Worse Than You Think (July 2009), How Judge Huvelle Humiliated The Government In Guantánamo Case (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), As Judge Orders Release Of Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner, Government Refuses To Concede Defeat (Mohamed Jawad, July 2009), Guantánamo As Hotel California: You Can Check Out Any Time You Like, But You Can Never Leave (August 2009), Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Kuwaiti Charity Worker (August 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part Two): Obama’s Shame (August 2009), Guantánamo And The Courts (Part Three): Obama’s Continuing Shame (August 2009), No Escape From Guantánamo: The Latest Habeas Rulings (September 2009), First Guantánamo Prisoner To Lose Habeas Hearing Appeals Ruling (September 2009), A Truly Shocking Guantánamo Story: Judge Confirms That An Innocent Man Was Tortured To Make False Confessions (September 2009), 75 Guantánamo Prisoners Cleared For Release; 31 Could Leave Today (September 2009), Resisting Injustice In Guantánamo: The Story Of Fayiz Al-Kandari (October 2009), Justice Department Pointlessly Gags Guantánamo Lawyer (November 2009), Judge Orders Release Of Algerian From Guantánamo (But He’s Not Going Anywhere) (November 2009), Innocent Guantánamo Torture Victim Fouad al-Rabiah Is Released In Kuwait (December 2009), What Does It Take To Get Out Of Obama’s Guantánamo? (December 2009), “Model Prisoner” at Guantánamo, Tortured in the “Dark Prison,” Loses Habeas Corpus Petition (December 2009), Judge Orders Release From Guantánamo Of Unwilling Yemeni Recruit (December 2009), Serious Problems With Obama’s Plan To Move Guantánamo To Illinois (December 2009), Why Obama Must Continue Releasing Yemenis From Guantánamo (December 2009).

Also see: Justice extends to Bagram, Guantánamo’s Dark Mirror (April 2009), Judge Rules That Afghan “Rendered” To Bagram In 2002 Has No Rights (July 2009), Bagram Isn’t The New Guantánamo, It’s The Old Guantánamo (August 2009), Obama Brings Guantánamo And Rendition To Bagram (And Not The Geneva Conventions) and Is Bagram Obama’s New Secret Prison? (both September 2009).

700 Blog Posts: Will I Get to a Thousand Before Guantánamo Closes?

The Guantanamo Files

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Sometime in the last few days — here, actually — I reached another milestone in my long journey to expose the truth about Guantánamo and the “War on Terror”: that Bush and co. were not only war criminals, but largely incompetent as well, managing to hold only around 1 in 20 men who had anything to do with terrorism at Guantánamo (and no doubt elsewhere as well), but subjecting all of them to a shameful program of abusive interrogations and detention without charge or trial.

To mark the occasion of my 700th blog posting — and the eighth anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (with some highy critical reviews of Obama’s first year to follow) — I’d like to thank all the readers who made 1,700,000 page visits last year, and who have made 60,000 page visits this month alone. I’d also like to thank the many people who have donated to the maintenance of this site — and its busy creator — in the last few months, and the organizations who support me financially: the Guardian, Truthout, the Future of Freedom Foundation, Cageprisoners, and, on occasion, the Daily Star, Lebanon. I’d also like to thank FFF and The World Can’t Wait for bringing me to the US in November to show the new documentary, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and myself).

So thank you again, everyone. Please keep the comments coming to my site, to my inbox and on Facebook. The supportive words really count, as we enter a new year and a new decade that shows no sign of allowing those of us who can see pressing problems ahead — beyond constant warmongering and hysteria about terrorist threats, whether real or imagined — to move beyond the disastrous legacy of the Bush years, and to begin to shape the new world that we need to work towards if our children are to have a meaningful life beyond our general selfishness and stupidity.

In the meantime, I remain committed to doing all I can to overturn the brutalizing effect of those long years of Bush and Cheney, and to keep maintaining the pressure on Barack Obama to understand that tinkering with an illegal and immoral monstrosity is not the same as repudiating it, and to understand that capitulating to the idiocy of opportunistic fearmongers may be pragmatic, but along the way it destroys all principles.

And we need principles more than ever. I leave finance and climate change to other activists, but when it comes to war and national security, I can safely say, after committing the last four years of my life to these topics, that we need to bring justice to the 198 prisoners remaining in Guantánamo, freeing the majority and holding federal court trials for the rest, we need to bring justice to Bagram, where currently there is none, we need to uncover the full parameters of the CIA’s secret detention program, we need to find a way to bring the ruinous wars of the last decade to an end, and, as my 700th blog post indicated, we also need to hold to account the lawyers who purported to redefine torture, and the senior officials who authorized it. To look forwards, we need to have a clear conscience about the past.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Eight Years of Guantánamo: A Call for Europe to Help Close The Prison

The logo of the European UnionToday, on the eighth anniversary of the first transfers to the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, human rights groups and lawyers — Amnesty International, Cageprisoners, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Reprieve — urged more European states, including Germany, Finland, Sweden and Luxembourg, to provide new homes for up to 50 prisoners, who cannot be returned to their home countries for fear of torture or other human rights violations.

These men — from countries including Algeria, China, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Uzbekistan — have been cleared for release by the Obama administration’s interagency task Force, which has been reviewing their cases all year. Many were also cleared by military review boards under the Bush administration, and some were also cleared by the US courts, after judges granted their habeas corpus petitions.

As Amnesty International explained in a press release, “These men remain detained for the sole reason that they have no safe place to go. They have been essentially abandoned at Guantánamo. The plight of these men poses one of the most significant obstacles to the closure of the detention center.“

Although six countries — Belgium, France, Hungary, Ireland, Portugal and the UK — have stepped forward to take prisoners from Guantánamo who are not their own nationals, only nine men have so far been given new homes in Europe. Ten more have been sent to Bermuda and Palau, and two have been transferred to Italy for possible trial.

The groups involved in today’s plea to European states welcomed the actions of those countries which have already come forward to assist, but expressed disappointment that others had not taken concrete steps in line with the EU-US Joint Statement on the Closure of Guantánamo Bay, issued on June 16, 2009, in which EU Member States expressed their willingness readiness to assist with the reception of former prisoners on a case-by-case basis.

Former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg (the Director of Cageprisoners), Clive Stafford Smith (the Director of Reprieve) and a representative from the Center for Constitutional Rights are today beginning a tour across Europe urging more states to offer cleared prisoners a safe haven. The tour will be hosted by Amnesty International’s national sections, and will include visits to a number of European countries — including Germany, Luxembourg and Sweden — which could provide safe and appropriate reception for prisoners from Guantánamo, giving them the chance to rebuild their lives.

The organizations will also be calling on government officials in countries which have already accepted detainees to share expertise, encouragement and examples of good practice with their counterparts in countries which may be considering following suit.

Sharon Critoph, Campaigner on the US at Amnesty International, said, “Although several countries have already led the way, it is disappointing that only a few European governments have stepped forward to help those in need of protection. Amongst those governments which have failed to assist are those previously most vocal in calling for Guantánamo to be closed.”

Sophie Weller of the Center for Constitutional Rights said, “The last decade saw the erosion of the rule of law and international respect for human rights. Guantánamo stands for all that went wrong and it must now be closed. The men who remain detained because they lack a safe haven continue every day to pay the human price for delay and inaction in achieving this aim.”

Clive Stafford Smith, the Director of Reprieve said, “Many European governments have condemned the ongoing detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Now they can do something about it. Actions really do speak louder than words in this case; its time to turn the rhetoric into reality and get Guantánamo closed as soon as possible.”

For further information, please contact:
Sophie Weller of the Center for Constitutional Rights on +44 20 7421 1807 or email.
Josefina Salomón at Amnesty International on: +44 20 7413 5562 or +44 7778 472 116 or email.
Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve on: +44 20 7427 1099 or +44 7931 592 674 or email.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Andy Worthington Discusses the Yemenis Trapped in Guantánamo on the Peter B. Collins Show

On Wednesday I was delighted to talk once more to veteran progressive radio host Peter B. Collins, for another of his mercifully ad-free podcasts, which allow interviewer and interviewee the breathing space to discuss important stories in detail.

In his introduction to the one-hour interview, available here (and here as a MP3), Peter wrote:

Yemenis trapped at Gitmo, Accountability for BushCo? British journalist Andy Worthington is our expert on America’s Gulag and wrote The Guantánamo Files. [He] talks about the new hysteria produced by the failed terrorist action on Christmas Day and the fear projected by American politicians of both parties. He corrects the record about the former Gitmo prisoners released under Bush who are now leading al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula, about Liz and Dick Cheney’s rants and about the six Yemenis released in December and more than 80 who remain.

After a preamble about the recent suicide bombing by an alleged al-Qaeda triple agent in Afghanistan, which killed eight US operatives, Peter and I discussed the shameful publicity given by the mainstream media to the latest Pentagon claim (unsubstantiated by any documentation whatsoever) that 1 in 5 prisoners released from Guantánamo have engaged on terrorist activities, which I then followed up with in an article, “Guantánamo Recidivism: Mainstream Media Parrot Pentagon Propaganda (Again),” and also talked about in an interview on Democracy Now! on Friday.

Peter and I then discussed the debacle of the scaremongering about the Yemenis in Guantánamo, as mentioned above, and as I discussed in my articles, “Guantánamo and Yemen: Obama Capitulates to Critics and Suspends Prisoner Transfers” and “Yemenis in Guantánamo are Victims of Hysteria,” and also on Democracy Now! I talked about the stories of the Saudis who are allegedly involved with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, pointing out that President Bush released them, in spite of advice from the intelligence services that they were a threat to the United States.

We also spoke about the terrible coarsening in US society, fostered so remorselessly in the Bush years, and how it led, in the case of the would-be Christmas bomber, to a poll in which over half the people questioned advocated waterboarding Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, rather than allowing FBI interrogators to question him non-coercively, which they apparently did with some considerable success.

Peter also asked me to run through the stories of some of the six Yemenis released before Christmas, which I reported at length in my article, “Why Obama Must Continue Releasing Yemenis From Guantánamo,” and I talked about Ayman Batarfi, a doctor, and Jamal Mar’i, who both worked for a Saudi charity, and Farouq Ali Ahmed, a missionary whose innocence was first established by a military officer during his tribunal at Guantánamo in 2004, but ignored by the panel, who decided that he was an “enemy combatant” anyway.

It was a pleasure to talk to Peter, as ever, and on the podcast, my interview is followed by an interview with Charlotte Dennett, a journalist and lawyer, whose book The People v. Bush has just been published. Charlotte was a candidate for Vermont Attorney General in 2008, and based her campaign in part on Vincent Bugliosi’s legal strategy to prosecute George W. Bush for murder. She talked about her campaign and the ongoing struggle for accountability, which is largely being resisted by the Obama administration. Both Charlotte and I are members of the Robert Jackson Steering Committee, which has just filed a FOIA request for the long-awaited internal Justice Report on the lawyers who compiled the notorious “torture memos” that purported to redefine torture.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in January 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

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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 (The State of London).
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