Archive for January, 2010

Guantánamo 8th anniversary: Demo at US embassy, Parliamentary Meeting for Shaker Aamer, January 11, 2010

Shaker AamerOn January 11, 2010, the 8th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, the following events will be taking place in London:

12.30 to 2 pm: The London Guantánamo Campaign will hold a demonstration outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, London, W1

The demonstration will call on the US administration to close down the Guantánamo Bay detention camp as soon as possible and ensure justice for all the prisoners held there. At 12.30 pm, bound demonstrators in orange jumpsuits and black hoods will hold a vigil outside the embassy calling for liberty and justice, and between 1 pm and 2 pm the following speakers will address the issues: Ed Davey (Liberal Democrat MP), Jean Lambert (Green MEP), Yvonne Ridley (journalist), Andy Worthington (journalist), Chloe Davies (Reprieve), Joy Hurcombe (Brighton Against Guantánamo), John Clossick (Save Shaker Aamer Campaign).

For more information, please e-mail the London Guantánamo Campaign or call Aisha on 07809 757 176.

2 pm: A letter will be delivered to Prime Minister Gordon Brown at 10 Downing Street calling for the release of Shaker Aamer

Those delivering the letter are: Johina Aamer, Shaker’s daughter, the journalist Victoria Brittain, Kate Allen (Director, Amnesty International UK), Kate Hudson (Chair, CND), Baroness Helena Kennedy, Gareth Peirce (lawyer for the family), the actress and activist Vanessa Redgrave, and Caroline Lucas MEP (the head of the Green Party in England and Wales).

Shaker Aamer has been held illegally without charge or trial at Guantánamo Bay for eight years. He is a British resident and his wife and four children are citizens of the UK and reside here. He is the most influential prisoner in Guantánamo Bay amongst the prisoners and also the US authorities and has championed prisoners’ rights. He has faced horrendous and humiliating treatment and is in very ill health. Despite being cleared for release since 2007, efforts to repatriate him have inexplicably stalled.

4 pm to 6 pm: Parliamentary Meeting to establish an Early Day Motion calling for the release of Shaker Aamer

The meeting, at the Jubilee Room in the House of Commons, is open to the public, and speakers are: former prisoners Moazzam Begg (Director, Cageprisoners) and Binyam Mohamed, Brent Mickum (Shaker’s US lawyer), Martin Linton (Shaker’s MP), Kate Allen, Gareth Peirce, Vanessa Redgrave and Saeed Siddique (Shaker’s father-in-law).

For further information, or to request interviews, please contact the Cageprisoners Press Office on 020 7953 4074 or Humza Qureshi on 07728 627 911. Please note that Johina will not be available for interview.

For further information about Shaker Aamer, please see my articles “Forgotten in Guantánamo: British resident Shaker Aamer,” “UK Court Orders Release Of Torture Evidence In The Case Of Shaker Aamer, The Last British Resident In Guantánamo,” and “Shaker Aamer: UK Government Drops Opposition To Release Of Torture Evidence.” Also 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.

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.

Screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” in Edinburgh, January 12, 2010

Outside the Law: Stories from GuantanamoOn Tuesday January 12, at 7.30pm, at the Friends Meeting House, 7 Victoria Terrace, Edinburgh, SACC (Scotland Against Criminalising Communities) presents an open meeting and screening of the new documentary film “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington) to mark the 8th anniversary of the opening of the “War on Terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay. The screening will be followed by a discussion.

About the film

“Outside the Law” tells the story of Guantánamo (and includes 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. It 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.

Featuring former prisoners Omar Deghayes and Moazzam Begg, lawyers Clive Stafford Smith and Tom Wilner and journalist Andy Worthington, “Outside the Law” tells the story of Guantánamo and the “War on Terror” primarily by focusing on the stories of Shaker Aamer (who is still held), Binyam Mohamed and Omar Deghayes.

Andy Worthington says:

One year ago, it looked feasible that Guantánamo would close by January 2010. We now know that President Obama’s self-imposed deadline will be missed, partly through the unprincipled agitating of opportunistic opponents in Congress and the media, and partly through the government’s own lack of courage in the face of this opposition, but this is no reason for complacency. As the eighth anniversary of the prison’s opening approaches, it remains imperative that those who oppose the existence of indefinite detention without charge or trial — and who call, instead, for the full reinstatement of the Geneva Conventions for prisoners of war, and federal court trials for terrorists — maintain the pressure to close Guantánamo, and to charge or release the prisoners held there, as swiftly as possible.

For further information about the film, and inquiries about screenings, visit this page, and to order it on DVD, visit the Spectacle website. As featured on Truthout, Democracy Now! and ABC News.

For further information about Tuesday’s screening, please contact Richard Haley.

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 Democracy Now! Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo, Yemen, Lies, Hysteria and the False Recidivism Report

Today, I made my way to a TV studio in central London to hook up with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez in New York to discuss the recent uproar over the release of Yemeni prisoners from Guantánamo, and the Pentagon’s most recent claims that 1 in 5 released prisoners have engaged in terrorist activities, for Democracy Now! The segment, entitled, “After Years in Guantánamo Prison Without Charge, Future Even More Uncertain For Yemeni Detainees,” is available below via YouTube, and is featured here on the Democracy Now! website:

I have covered both stories in a number of recent articles — Why Obama Must Continue Releasing Yemenis From Guantánamo (which contains profiles of the six men released before Christmas), Guantánamo and Yemen: Obama Capitulates to Critics and Suspends Prisoner Transfers, Yemenis in Guantánamo are Victims of Hysteria and Guantánamo Recidivism: Mainstream Media Parrot Pentagon Propaganda (Again) — but was delighted to have the opportunity to discuss them with Amy and Juan, as they demonstrate some of the worst lies, distortions and fearmongering (and cowardice on the part of the administration) that have occurred since Barack Obama came to power nearly a year ago.

Essentially, the Yemeni story involves inflated claims about the failed Christmas bomber’s links with Saudis released from Guantánamo, an almost total aversion to recognizing that the “Saudi recidivists” were released by George W. Bush, despite the advice of the intelligence agencies, a similar aversion to recognizing that, in contrast, Obama has been extremely careful about releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, and a complete disregard for the fact that the cleared Yemenis have now been made a victim of political maneuvering.

I also spoke about how Obama’s capitulation to criticism was sadly typical, despite the fact that, on TV shows at the weekend, John Brennan made a great case for the government’s record on releasing Yemenis, and ran through a few of the men’s stories, to demonstrate how innocent men — some of them students seized in a house raid in Pakistan — are being made to pay the price for political opportunism and presidential cowardice.

With reference to the claims of recidivism, I ran through the whole sordid story of how the mainstream media uncritically reports whatever nonsense the Pentagon chooses to leak at strategic moments like this, despite the fact that genuine investigations have demonstrated that no more than 12 to 20 prisoners have engaged in any form of terrorism since their release. This allowed me to ask how it was possible that 80 to 90 men had “returned to the battlefield” since last May, when the last “report” was issued, and also gave me the opportunity to question the Pentagon’s timing, and, perhaps most crucially, to ask whether Obama is actually in charge of the Defense Department.

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 Recidivism: Mainstream Media Parrot Pentagon Propaganda (Again)

The PentagonLast May, the New York Times uncritically published a front-page story entitled, “1 In 7 Detainees Rejoined Jihad, Pentagon Finds,” in which Elisabeth Bumiller, relying on an unpublished Pentagon report, stated that “74 prisoners released from Guantánamo have returned to terrorism, making for a recidivism rate of nearly 14 percent.”

While right-wingers seized on the story as proof that no one should ever be released from Guantánamo, anyone with any sense realized that the Times had just published a propaganda piece on its front page, as the Pentagon had only provided names and “confirmation” for 27 of the 74 prisoners cited in the report.

A week later, the 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.”

Eventually, the Times apologized by publishing an Editor’s Note, which featured the following admission:

In the Pentagon report, 27 former Guantánamo prisoners were described as having been confirmed as engaging in terrorism, with another 47 suspected of doing so without substantiation. The article should have distinguished between the two categories, to say that about one in 20 of former Guantánamo prisoners described in the Pentagon report were now said to be engaging in terrorism.

As I explained at the time, however, “That’s 5 percent, then, which is certainly more appropriate, but … the damage has already been done,” as it led directly to the following assertion by former Vice President Dick Cheney, discussing the prisoners still held at Guantánamo:

Keep in mind that these are hardened terrorists picked up overseas since 9/11. The ones that were considered low-risk were released a long time ago. And among these, we learned yesterday, many were treated too leniently, because 1 in 7 cut a straight path back to their prior line of work and have conducted murderous attacks in the Middle East.

The Seton Hall Law School, which has been studying the Pentagon’s recidivism reports for many years, also criticized the article — and the Pentagon’s own figures — in its own report (PDF), in which the authors noted:

The latest “Fact Sheet” drafted by the Department of Defense (“DOD”), dated April 7, 2009 claims that 74 out of more than 530 former Guantánamo detainees have “reengaged in terrorist activities.” Undermining that claim is the further assertion that out of the 74, only 27 are considered “confirmed” recidivists. The total shrinks further since only 15 of the alleged 27 are named in the document, and only 13 of these 15 can be shown to have actually been detained at Guantánamo. Even assuming that the DOD’s number of 13 “confirmed” recidivist former Guantánamo detainees is accurate, this number represents virtually no change over [reports issued in] the past year, and remains a far cry from the alleged 74. The April 2009 report marks the fourth list of names issued by the DOD since 2007, and, in an ongoing trend, each of these “partial” lists has proven rife with errors, inconsistencies, and inflated statistics.

Despite this, two US officials, “speaking on condition of anonymity,” as Reuters described it, announced on Wednesday that a “new Pentagon assessment showed the percentage had grown to 20 percent.” Although no further information was provided by the officials — such as facts and figures — Reuters nevertheless uncritically ran an article entitled, “One in 5 ex-Guantánamo detainees joining militants,” and other media outlets also joined in, including Bloomberg, FOX News, Voice of America and the Associated Press, whose story was picked up by USA Today and — oh dear! — the New York Times, which failed to notice that the following line might encourage people to remember what happened in May: “The rate of those returning to militancy was first reported early last year to be 11 percent. In April it was 14 percent.”

Here are the opening paragraphs of the Bloomberg article, and those responsible, as with those at the other outlets responsible for uncritically disseminating this kind of unsubstantiated reporting — without referring to the New York Times scandal in May, and without waiting to examine any actual evidence — ought to be ashamed of themselves:

As many as one in five former Guantánamo Bay detainees are suspected of or are confirmed to have engaged in terrorist activity after their release, US officials said, citing the latest government statistics.

The 20 percent rate is an increase over the 14 percent of former inmates an April Pentagon report said were thought to have joined terrorist efforts, said the officials, who requested anonymity. The officials didn’t provide the numbers on which the 20 percent is based.

Really? They didn’t provide any numbers? Is that any wonder? Could it be because this is nothing more than a pack of lies and distortions, which demonstrates only that those who call themselves responsible reporters are, in fact, nothing of the sort?

A question worth asking might have been why this “1 in 5” statistic was mentioned now, just a day after President Obama conceded that no more cleared Yemeni prisoners would be repatriated for the foreseeable future. Obama was reacting with cowardice to the unprecedented uproar regarding the alleged contact between Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be Christmas plane bomber, and terrorists in Yemen, including a Saudi released from Guantánamo by George W. Bush, but the timing of this new “report” suggests that there are some in the Pentagon who are more than happy to see Guantánamo remain open for as long as possible.

“Does Barack Obama know about this?” and “Does he care?” might also be a couple of apposite questions to ask as well.

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. Cross-posted on Uruknet.

Yemenis in Guantánamo are Victims of Hysteria

Map of YemenThe following article, published on Nieman Watchdog, began as an email Q&A with Dan Froomkin, but after seeing my responses, Dan very kindly reworked it as a stand-alone article. As a contribution to the unprecedented fearmongering right now (focused on Yemen), it provides details about the Yemenis still held at Guantánamo, and it also gave me the opportunity to highlight how the alleged terrorists in Yemen (purportedly connected to the failed plane bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab) are Saudis released, ill-advisedly, by George W. Bush, and have nothing to do with the Yemenis in Guantánamo who have been cleared for release.

The Christmas Day attempted bombing of an American airliner had nothing directly to do with the Yemeni detainees cleared for release from Guantánamo, writes journalist Andy Worthington, who has exhaustively chronicled the stories of those held in the island prison. And by capitulation to the unprincipled fearmongering following the Christmas bomb plot, the Obama administration is playing into the hands of those whose only wish is to keep Guantánamo open forever.

Throughout 2009, the interagency task force President Obama established by executive order on January 22, 2009, has been reviewing the cases of all the detainees being held at Guantánamo in order to determine who should be prosecuted and who should be released.

There are currently 198 prisoners still being held, 86 of whom — or 43 percent — are from Yemen.

In October, the Task Force reported that 78 prisoners had been cleared for release, including 27 Yemenis, and last month the total number of prisoners cleared had been revised upwards to 116, indicating that 40 to 45 Yemenis had been cleared (the administration did not provide exact figures this time around).

One of these men, Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, a student seized in a Pakistani guest house whose release had been ordered by a District Court judge in May, after she granted his habeas corpus petition, was released in October, and six more men were released the week before Christmas.

Then, on Christmas Day, a Nigerian man named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly tried but failed to blow up a plane bound for Detroit by setting off a bomb concealed in his underwear.

Initial reports suggested that Abdulmutallab had connections with an al-Qaeda-inspired group in Yemen, which included prisoners released from Guantánamo. And that was enough for critics of Obama’s decision to close the prison to demand that no more Yemenis should be released.

Although Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser John Brennan mounted a solid defense of the administration’s plans last weekend, on Tuesday the White House succumbed to continuing criticism and announced that no more transfers to Yemen would take place until some unspecified point in the future.

The problem with the argument that new information precludes their release is that none of it has anything to do with men who have been held in Guantánamo for the past eight years, entirely out of circulation, and obviously with no links to any terrorist group that has emerged in recent years. Moreover, the Obama administration has been reviewing the cases of the Yemenis in Guantánamo with some diligence, and had no intention of releasing men who might pose a danger. It has also been coordinating its efforts with the Yemeni government.

Furthermore, conclusions are being reached based, at least initially, on a poorly researched ABC News report, which indicated that two former prisoners had assumed leadership positions in al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the group that claimed responsibility for the failed attack. However, these connections have not been verified, and, moreover, one of the two former prisoners identified by ABC News had actually handed himself in to the Yemeni authorities in February last year, long before Abdulmutallab arrived in Yemen.

Indeed, what’s actually significant about these new developments is how the nationality of these men and who was responsible for releasing them in the first place have been overlooked in all the hysteria. The fact that these men were Saudis, and not Yemenis, has, rather shamefully, been ignored by the lawmakers and pundits calling for an end to the Yemeni transfers. Even more damning is the fact that they — and a handful of other released Saudis who are reportedly associated with terrorism — were released not by President Obama but by George W. Bush, after military review boards in which representatives of the intelligence services concluded that they should not be released, because they still posed a threat to the US.

The inescapable conclusion from all this is that the refusal to release any more Yemeni prisoners, whose cases have been studied in depth by numerous government representatives, represents nothing less than a capitulation to the most dismal kind of hysteria.

One of the most astonishing arguments in this entire debate has been that Guantánamo inmates such as these Yemenis, even if they were innocent to begin with, have been radicalized by their false imprisonment and brutal treatment and are now dangers to the US. But this kind of thinking must be vigorously countered.

Back in October, when the administration was attempting not to release Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed — despite a judge ordering his release — officials told the New York Times, “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.”

But as I argued at the time, only at Guantánamo can fear trump justice to such an alarming degree. If the rationale for not releasing any of the Yemenis from Guantánamo was extended to the US prison system, for instance, it would mean that no prisoner would ever be released at the end of their sentence. It would also, of course, lead to no prisoner ever being released from Guantánamo.

If prisoners are not going to be released, despite being cleared by Obama’s own Task Force (and, in some cases, by the US courts), the entire system is revealed as a mockery of justice. And in its capitulation to the unprincipled fearmongering following the failed Christmas bomb plot, it seems to me that the Obama administration has played into the hands of those whose only wish is to keep Guantánamo open forever.

Background

86 of the remaining 198 prisoners are Yemeni (that’s 43 percent). In common with the rest of the prisoners — and in contrast to the Bush administration’s claims that they were “the worst of the worst” and were all “captured on the battlefield” — they were seized in a variety of locations.

Around 22 were seized in Afghanistan, another 35 were seized crossing from Afghanistan into Pakistan in December 2001, 25 were seized between February and September 2002 in house raids in Pakistan (including Ramzi bin al-Shibh, one of the alleged 9/11 plotters), and four were seized in other countries — Egypt, Georgia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. Like two of the prisoners seized in Pakistan, including bin al-Shibh, these four were held in a number of secret prisons before their transfer to Guantánamo.

Ascertaining what these men were doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan remains a challenge. Some, encouraged by fatwas issued in their homeland, had traveled to Afghanistan to help the Taliban establish what was described as a “pure Islamic state.” This involved helping the Taliban defeat their enemies (the Northern Alliance) in an inter-Muslim civil war that began many years before the 9/11 attacks and had nothing to do with al-Qaeda. Others, however, had traveled for other reasons: to teach the Koran, or to provide humanitarian aid, and, in the cases of those who had traveled to Pakistan, some were students or were visiting in search of cheap medical treatment. Few are accused of any direct involvement in terrorism.

Part of the problem is that the Bush administration deliberately confused a war (against the Taliban) with the attempt to destroy al-Qaeda (a terrorist organization), holding everyone seized as “enemy combatants.” Instead, those accused of aiding the Taliban should have been held as prisoners of war, and protected by the Geneva Conventions, and those accused of aiding al-Qaeda should have been held as criminal suspects and put forward for federal court trials, as happened with Ramzi Yousef, the original World Trade Center bomber, the 1998 African embassy bombers, the shoe bomber Richard Reid, and the would-be 9/11 hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui.

It did not help that the majority of the prisoners (86 percent at least) were seized not by US forces, but by their Afghan and Pakistani allies, at a time when bounty payments, averaging $5,000 a head, were widespread, as researchers at the Seton Hall Law School demonstrated in 2006 (PDF), through an analysis of the Pentagon’s own allegations.

Nor did it help that, despite the US military’s intentions, none of the prisoners received competent tribunals under Article 5 of the Geneva Conventions. Held close to the time and place of capture, and used in every war from Vietnam onwards, the tribunals were designed to allow prisoners whose status was in doubt (because they were not wearing uniforms, for example, or did not have a regular command structure) to call witnesses, to establish whether they were combatants or civilians caught by mistake. In the first Gulf War, 1,196 hearings were held, and 886 men were released. In Afghanistan, however, the need for tribunals was dismissed by the administration, with the result that, in the words of Maj. Gen. Michael Dunlavey, the commander of Guantánamo in 2002, the prison began filling up with “Mickey Mouse prisoners,” who had no involvement whatsoever with terrorism.

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.

Cross-posted on Common Dreams.

Campaign Group Files FOIA Request For OPR Report On Torture Memos

The logo for the website of the Robert Jackson Steering CommitteeOn Thursday, members of the Robert Jackson Steering Committee (RJSC) filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act requesting the long-suppressed report from the Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) regarding the conduct of President Bush’s top lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel who authored memos purporting to authorize torture and aggressive war.

Founded in September 2008, the RJSC works to bring about the criminal prosecution of top government officials in the United States alleged to have committed war crimes. The committee was named in honor of US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who was the top US prosecutor of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg. Originally chaired by Lawrence Velvel, the RJSC’s current members are David Swanson (chair), John Bonifaz, Kristina Borjesson, Shahid Buttar, Marjorie Cohn, Colleen Costello, Ben Davis, Charlotte Dennett, Valeria Gheorghiu, Jeanne Mirer, Chris Pyle, Elaine Scarry, Peter Weiss, Andy Worthington and Kevin Zeese (see here for further details).

The request, reproduced below along with a transmittal letter, asks for the OPR report that has long been promised by Attorney General Eric Holder, as well as an earlier OPR report completed during the last months of the Bush administration. The request also seeks the 10-page rebuttal of the 2008 report by then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey. Both the letter and the request were submitted to Marlene M. Wahowiak, the OPR’s Special Counsel for the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts.

Charlotte Dennett, an attorney member of the RJSC and one of the authors of the FOIA request, said: “The time has come to squarely address the role of these lawyers. Did they create new laws redefining the crime of torture after American forces had already begun torturing prisoners? And if so, for what purpose and on whose orders? We cannot countenance further delays or accept a greatly watered-down version of the original report. We must know the facts and then decide whether President Obama’s Department of Justice is continuing the cover-up begun under his predecessor.”

Peter Weiss, another RJSC attorney member  and author of the FOIA request, added: “We are not simply requesting that a long-promised report be released sooner rather than later. We are requesting transparency in the unprecedented procedure of letting the very subjects of a DOJ misconduct report propose changes to it. The current Chilcot Inquiry in England of the build-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq has revealed an editing process in which the attorney general of that nation reversed his opinion that the war would be illegal. If a similar editing job has been performed on the original OPR report, the American public has a right to know it.”

David Swanson, Chair of the Robert Jackson Steering Committee who also worked on the FOIA request, said: “Much awaits this report. Bar associations have delayed disbarment. Congressional committees have delayed subpoenas and impeachments. The Department of Justice has delayed prosecutions. One of the lawyers under review, John Yoo, is facing a civil suit from one of the victims of his actions, Jose Padilla. If the Justice Department is refusing to release the report in order to deny the report to Padilla’s legal counsel, the public has a right to know.”

Justice Robert H. Jackson’s words in his opening statement as Chief Prosecutor at Nuremberg have special relevance to today: “The common sense of mankind demands that law shall not stop with the punishment of petty crimes by little people. It must also reach men who possess themselves of great power … [for they, too,] as Lord Chief Justice Coke put it to King James, [are] ‘under … the law.’ And let me make clear that while this law is first applied against German aggressors, the law includes, and if it is to serve a useful purpose it must condemn aggression by any other nations, including those which sit here now in judgment.”

The FOIA Request

This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 522, and is submitted on behalf of the Robert Jackson Steering Committee.

We request the following:

1. The long-overdue ethics report of the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) regarding the performance of Bush administration lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) from 2002-2007. The Attorney General last promised to release this report by the end of November 2009, and it still has not been released.

2. The first OPR ethics report on the performance of Bush administration lawyers in the OLC, completed in December 2008.

3. Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s 10-page rebuttal of the December 2008 report, referenced in the New York Times of May 6, 2009.

4. A copy of OPR regulations regarding settled procedure on conducting a misconduct investigation and producing a report.

5. A copy of any OPR regulations that allow the subjects of the investigation to a) read the final report, b) make changes to the report, and c) allow the Attorney General to rebut the report.

6. Copies of all written warnings from 2001 on from veteran members of the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training program to the Department of Justice, including the OLC, stating that SERE methods of interrogation on detainees were ineffective in eliciting the truth and designed more to elicit false confessions.

7. Copies of all communications from military and national security lawyers and professionals to the Department of Justice, including the Office of Legal Counsel, objecting to the form of interrogation methods proposed by the CIA and adopted by the Bush White House and the OLC lawyers in 2002.

8. Given John Yoo’s statement on p. 15 of the New York Times Magazine of January 3, 2010, that “if there’s a conflict between the president and the Congress, then you have to pick one or the other,” we also request any documents shedding light on whom an OLC lawyer is supposed to “represent” in rendering a legal opinion: the President, Congress, the Constitution, or the entire framework of domestic and international law?

For purposes of FOIA fee assessment, we ask that our request be placed in the category of news media requester. A good number of our members are journalists, including two of the undersigned, and frequently write on the subject of the treatment of detainees. The information obtained from this request will be disseminated to the public.

Additionally, we request a waiver of all processing fees because the release of this information will contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of the activity and operations of the government.

The letter

Dear Attorney Wahowiak:

Included with this letter is a Freedom of Information Act request for production of the long-overdue ethics report of the Office of Professional Responsibility regarding the performance of Bush administration lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel from 2002-2007.

You will see that we are also requesting the OPR report completed in December 2008, Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s rebuttal of that report, and a number of specific documents relating to unsolicited objections from interrogators and government attorneys regarding the torture program envisioned by the OLC attorneys. As we understand it, OPR is responsible for investigating allegations of misconduct by Department attorneys that relate, inter alia, to their authority to provide legal advice. The documents requested in the attached document relate to such misconduct; as such, they should not be exempted as either predecisional or postdecisional formulations of policy, but rather considered as evidence of how the OLC attorneys skewed their legal opinions to justify illegal torture techniques.

The Robert Jackson Steering Committee, founded in September 2008, works to bring about the criminal prosecution of top government officials in the United States whom there is probable cause to believe have committed war crimes.  The committee was named in honor of former US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who in his opening statements as Chief Prosecutor of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg, stated:

If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them. And we are not prepared to lay down the rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us. We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.

We look forward to your response. Thank you.

Sincerely,

Charlotte Dennett, Esq.
Peter Weiss, Esq.
David Swanson, chair
On Behalf of The Robert Jackson Steering Committee

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 and Yemen: Obama Capitulates to Critics and Suspends Prisoner Transfers

Umar Farouk AbdulmutallabFor the last 12 days, since Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab slipped through every security net going, and tried and failed to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit, Republican critics of Barack Obama have tried every trick in the book to undermine the President’s authority, with former Vice President Dick Cheney claiming that the incident demonstrated that Obama’s “low key response” to the failed attack “makes us less safe,” and numerous lawmakers and pundits — joined by a few easily frightened Democrats — stating that no more Yemeni prisoners should be released from Guantánamo, following the transfer to Yemeni custody of six men the weekend before the failed attack.

The first of these assaults on the administration was dealt with robustly, in response to Dick Cheney’s statement to Politico, when the former VP claimed:

[I]t is clear once again that President Obama is trying to pretend we are not at war. He seems to think if he has a low-key response to an attempt to blow up an airliner and kill hundreds of people, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and reads them their Miranda rights, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if we bring the mastermind of Sept. 11 to New York, give him a lawyer and trial in civilian court, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he closes Guantánamo and releases the hard-core al-Qaeda-trained terrorists still there, we won’t be at war. He seems to think if he gets rid of the words, “war on terror,” we won’t be at war. But we are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe.

Cheney’s statement ended bizarrely: “Why doesn’t he want to admit we’re at war? It doesn’t fit with the view of the world he brought with him to the Oval Office. It doesn’t fit with what seems to be the goal of his presidency — social transformation — the restructuring of American society.”

However, when replying on the official White House blog, communications director Dan Pfeiffer ignored Cheney’s attempt to cast Obama’s aspirations for US society in a dark light, and focused on the failings of his predictable attempt to portray Obama as “soft on terror,” pointing out that he knows the country is at war but “doesn’t need to beat his chest to prove it,” and adding:

To put it simply: the president is not interested in bellicose rhetoric. He is focused on action. Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al-Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country. And it seems strangely off-key now, at a time when our country is under attack, for the architect of those policies to be attacking the president.

John BrennanOn Sunday, John Brennan, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, delivered an even more damning verdict on Cheney’s remarks, telling FOX News Sunday:

It’s disappointing to me that either the vice president or others have willfully mischaracterized President Obama’s position and actions or they’re just ignorant of the facts. I think in either case, it doesn’t speak well to the reasons why they went out and said these things. I came back into government for the express purpose of making sure that we can make this country safer than it’s ever been in the past. I have worked with the president over the past 12 months now and he is as determined as anybody I’ve worked with. I’m neither Republican nor Democrat. I’ve worked with the previous five administrations and this president is determined. And I think he has demonstrated [that] in his language. He says we’re at war with al-Qaeda, we’re going to destroy al-Qaeda the organization and we’re going to demonstrate through our actions, whether it be in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other places, that al-Qaeda might be able to run, but they’re not going to be able to hide.

As a CIA veteran who was “widely seen as Mr. Obama’s likeliest choice to head the intelligence agency,” until he “withdrew his name from consideration after liberal critics attacked his alleged role in the agency’s detention and interrogation program” (as the New York Times explained in December 2008), Brennan is perfectly qualified to defend Obama against criticism from Republican opportunists, but it is a sign of how skewed what passes for debate is nowadays that his resounding defense of his boss’s anti-terror credentials is necessary at all, as, for the most part, Obama’s defense of Bush-era policies regarding Military Commissions, indefinite detention, Bagram and “state secrets” — as well as his surge in Afghanistan — has left progressives wondering how much difference there actually is between Obama and his predecessor.

The truth is that the noisy, negative wing of the Republican party will not be happy however much Obama demonstrates that he shares their concerns, but whereas anyone capable of rational thought will have concluded that Brennan’s appearance on Sunday should have silenced the snipers, the administration has had far less success fighting back against the voices raised in support of calls to call off any proposed transfers of Yemeni prisoners from Guantánamo.

Supporters of Guantánamo, and critics of releasing any more of the 198 men still held, were fired up in particular by an inaccurate report on ABC News, in which it was stated that two former Guantánamo prisoners were amongst the leaders of the al-Qaeda-inspired group in Yemen that claimed responsibility for the failed attack. ABC News later conceded that one of these two men had in fact surrendered to the Yemeni authorities in February 2009, and therefore could have had nothing to do with the plot, but by then the damage had been done.

For these critics, the truth is nothing more than an inconvenient obstacle to their political maneuvering. None of them care that the solitary former prisoner accused of involvement with the terrorist group is a Saudi, and that he was released by President George W. Bush, despite the intelligence services’ insistence that he posed a threat to the United States. Neither do they care that no proof has been provided that he was directly involved in the failed plane bombing. Moreover, none of them has paused for a moment to consider that there is no reason whatsoever to dream up connections between the Saudi — Said al-Shihri — and the 40 or so Yemenis in Guantánamo that the Obama administration proposes to transfer to Yemeni custody, because, unlike President Bush, the Obama administration had been reviewing the cases of these men throughout 2009, and has no intention of repeating its predecessors’ mistakes.

On Sunday, John Brennan attempted to seize the initiative on this issue as well. On CNN’s “State of the Union,” when Gloria Borger named a second Saudi — Ibrahim al-Rubaysh — who is reportedly connected to the Yemeni al-Qaeda cell, declared (without providing proof) that he was connected to the Christmas plot, and asked, “Does it make you rethink your decision to release six prisoners back into Yemen last month from Guantánamo?” Brennan delivered a stout defense of the administration’s policies:

No, it doesn’t, because that was the result of a very meticulous and rigorous process that we’ve had in place since the beginning of this administration. Now let me put some facts out here. The last administration released 532 detainees from Guantánamo. During this administration, we have transferred in fact 42 of these individuals overseas. I have been in constant dialogue with the Yemenis about the arrangements that are in place.

Several of those individuals were put into custody as soon as they returned to Yemen. So we are making sure that we don’t do anything that is going to put American citizens, whether they be in Yemen or here in the States, at risk by our decisions about releasing — transferring these detainees.

Pressed as to what would happen to the Yemenis approved for transfer to Yemen by the administration’s interagency Task Force (up to half of the 86 Yemenis still in Guantánamo), Brennan explained that they would be “transferred back to Yemen at the right time and the right pace and in the right way,” and elaborated on the procedures that had already taken place regarding the release of the six men on the weekend of December 19/20, whose stories I described in an article last week:

[W]e made a decision that we would send back six because we were very pleased with the way of Yemeni government handled the one individual we sent back about eight weeks ago [Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, whose release was ordered by a US judge in May]. And so we’re making sure that the situation on the ground is taken into account. That we continue to work with the Yemeni government, and we do this in a very common-sense fashion because we want to make sure that we are able to close Guantánamo. Guantánamo has been used as a propaganda tool by al-Qaeda and others. We need to close that facility. And we’re determined to do that.

Pressed further, Brennan refused to draw spurious connections between the Christmas plot and the cleared Yemenis in Guantánamo, telling Borger, “The attempted attack by Mr. Abdulmutallab on Christmas Day was a unique incident. We have been monitoring and watching the situation in Yemen develop over time. That one incident on the 25th of December doesn’t change the situation on the ground in Yemen one bit.”

As far as I was concerned, John Brennan’s appearance was a masterful display of common sense in the face of a whirlwind of manufactured fear, but it seems that not everyone in the White House thought so, and, no doubt making decisions based on voter feedback rather than on fixed principles, the administration took a step back on Tuesday, sending White House spokesman Robert Gibbs out to tell reporters, “While we remain committed to closing the facility, the determination has been made that right now any additional transfers to Yemen is not a good idea.”

Later in the evening, in a televised statement, President Obama reiterated the message, saying, “Given the unsettled situation, I’ve spoken to the attorney general and we’ve agreed that we will not be transferring additional detainees back to Yemen at this time.” He added, “Make no mistake. We will close Guantánamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al-Qaeda. In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

If this is the case, it might have made more sense to defuse the “recruiting tool” sooner rather than later, sending back some more of the patently innocent Yemenis still in Guantánamo rather than allowing the eighth anniversary of the prison’s opening on Monday to be marked by inaction.

Moreover, by capitulating to pressure from unprincipled critics, the Obama administration has also tacitly acknowledged that Cheney-style rhetoric, and mistaken inferences about Saudi prisoners released by George W. Bush, in spite of advice not to do so, are being allowed to dictate the current government’s more considered response to Yemenis deprived of their liberty for no reason for eight years. As the Center for Constitutional Rights complained in a press release following the announcement:

Dozens of men from Yemen who have been cleared for release after extensive scrutiny by the government’s Guantánamo Review Task Force are about to be left in limbo once more due to politics, not facts … Halting the repatriation of Yemeni men cleared by the Task Force after months of careful review is unconscionable.

When he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize, President Obama said, “We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend. And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it’s easy, but when it is hard.” What he said in December should be just as true a month later.

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.

An edited version of this article was published exclusively on the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation. Cross-posted on Campaign for Liberty, Infowars, Prison Planet and DoomDaily.

Afghan Nobody Faces Trial by Military Commission

Camp Justice at Guantanamo, home of the Military CommissionsYesterday evening, the Associated Press reported that, in court filings, Justice Department lawyers stated that Attorney General Eric Holder has decided that a sixth Guantánamo prisoner — an Afghan named Obaidullah — will be put forward for trial by Military Commission. On November 13, when Holder announced that five prisoners — including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed — would face federal court trials for their alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks, he also announced that five other men, previously charged in the Bush administration’s Military Commissions, would be tried in a revamped version of the Commissions that the administration and Congress concocted over the summer.

Notwithstanding the weaknesses of the Military Commission trial system (some of which emerged in its first faltering outing last month), and the very real fear that it is being used by the Obama administration as a second-tier system of justice, the decision to charge Obaidullah is particularly dispiriting, as he is so clearly a peripheral character of such insignificance that putting him up for a war crimes trial risks ridicule.

As I explained in September 2008, when he became the 18th prisoner to be put forward for a trial by Military Commission, he was

charged with “conspiracy” and “providing material support to terrorism,” based on the thinnest set of allegations to date: essentially, a single claim that, “[o]n or about 22 July 2002,” he “stored and concealed anti-tank mines, other explosive devices, and related equipment”; that he “concealed on his person a notebook describing how to wire and detonate explosive devices”; and that he “knew or intended” that his “material support and resources were to be used in preparation for and in carrying out a terrorist attack.”

As I also explained:

It doesn’t take much reflection on these charges to realize that it is a depressingly clear example of the US administration’s disturbing, post-9/11 redefinition of “war crimes,” which apparently allows the US authorities to claim that they can equate minor acts of insurgency committed by a citizen of an occupied nation with terrorism.

This was not all. In his Combatant Status Review Tribunal and Administrative Review Boards at Guantánamo (the military review boards established to ascertain whether he had been correctly designated as an “enemy combatant,” and whether he still posed a threat to the US), he made it clear that he had made false allegations against himself and another Afghan prisoner still held — a shopkeeper named Bostan Karim — because of the abuse he had suffered, at the hands of US forces, in a forward operating base in Khost and in the main US prison in Afghanistan, at Bagram airbase.

The following exchange, from his ARB in 2005, when he explained that he had been “forced” to make false confessions about Karim while held in Bagram is particularly enlightening:

Board Member: Who forced you to say things?
Detainee: Americans.
Board Member: How did they force you?
Detainee: The first time when they captured me and brought me to Khost they put a knife to my throat and said if you don’t tell us the truth and you lie to us we are going to slaughter you.
Board Member: Were they wearing uniforms?
Detainee: Yes … They tied my hands and put a heavy bag of sand on my hands and made me walk all night in the Khost airport … In Bagram they gave me more trouble and would not let me sleep. They were standing me on the wall and my hands were hanging above my head. There were a lot of things they made me say.

Back in September 2008, I concluded my article by asking, “So tell me, after reading this: does charging Obaidullah for ‘war crimes’ look like justice?”

With the news that Obaidullah is to be charged again, when he is not actually accused of harming a single American, and when he may, in fact, have been tortured, through sleep deprivation and “Palestinian hanging,” to produce false confessions against himself and at least one other prisoner, leads me not only to repeat the question, but to actively call for the open mockery of Attorney General Eric Holder and the lawyers and bureaucrats in the Justice Department and the Pentagon who thought that reviving the charges against him was a good idea.

POSTSCRIPT: No one seems to be entirely sure if Obaidullah is the sixth or the seventh prisoner to be put forward for trial by Military Commission under Obama. On December 11, as Carol Rosenberg reported for the Miami Herald, the Pentagon withdrew charges “without prejudice” against Mohammed Kamin, an Afghan accused of “joining al-Qaeda and then conducting surveillance on US and allied troops.” As Rosenberg also explained, “The move by the prosecutor’s office averted a hearing next week” in Kamin’s case, “and derailed at least temporarily Kamin’s lawyers federal appeals court challenge in Washington, D.C., to the constitutionality of military commissions.” She added, however, “Pentagon officials have said they would refile charges against Kamin, who has been described as an ‘al Qaeda scout’ in his homeland, using new regulations approved by Congress in the Military Commissions Act of 2009.”

For information about Mohammed Kamin’s experiences of the Military Commission trial system under George W. Bush, see here (when, after he was first charged in March 2008, I described him as “an unworthy candidate for any kind of war crimes trial at all”), here and here, where he boycotted his hearings, see here for a report on his pre-trial hearing in September last year, and see this report by David Danzig of Human Rights First of his last pre-trial hearing on November 19, six days after Eric Holder announced that five men would face trials by Military Commission — but did not include Kamin. As Danzig explained:

Mohammed Kamin is, in the words of his defense attorney, “someone who almost no one in the western world has ever heard of.”

When Attorney General Eric Holder announced on Friday that the five men charged with conspiring to plan the 9/11 attacks would be moved to federal court, there was no mention of what would be done with Kamin.

It was unclear how — if at all — a Department of Justice-led review of detainees held at Guantanamo might impact the case against Kamin. No one had bothered to tell his lawyer.

“The fact that we are standing here in this courtroom today suggests that we are going to proceed to military commissions,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. Richard Federico, the military attorney charged with defending the Afghan detainee, said uncertainly at the beginning of the proceedings today. “That would be my assumption too,” chipped in Judge Thomas Cumbie.

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 on the Huffington Post, CounterPunch, Antiwar.com and ZNet. Cross-posted on The Public Record.

See the following for a sequence of articles dealing with the stumbling progress of the Military Commissions: The reviled Military Commissions collapse (June 2007), A bad week at Guantánamo (Commissions revived, September 2007), The curse of the Military Commissions strikes the prosecutors (September 2007), A good week at Guantánamo (chief prosecutor resigns, October 2007), The story of Mohamed Jawad (October 2007), The story of Omar Khadr (November 2007), Guantánamo trials: where are the terrorists? (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo charged with 9/11 attacks: why now, and what about the torture? (February 2008), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (ex-prosecutor turns, February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), African embassy bombing suspect charged (March 2008), The US military’s shameless propaganda over 9/11 trials (April 2008), Betrayals, backsliding and boycotts (May 2008), Fact Sheet: The 16 prisoners charged (May 2008), Afghan fantasist to face trial (June 2008), 9/11 trial defendants cry torture (June 2008), USS Cole bombing suspect charged (July 2008), Folly and injustice (Salim Hamdan’s trial approved, July 2008), A critical overview of Salim Hamdan’s Guantánamo trial and the dubious verdict (August 2008), Salim Hamdan’s sentence signals the end of Guantánamo (August 2008), Controversy still plagues Guantánamo’s Military Commissions (September 2008), Another Insignificant Afghan Charged (September 2008), Seized at 15, Omar Khadr Turns 22 in Guantánamo (September 2008), Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Running the 9/11 Trials? (September 2008), two articles exploring the Commissions’ corrupt command structure (The Dark Heart of the Guantánamo Trials, and New Evidence of Systemic Bias in Guantánamo Trials, October 2008), The collapse of Omar Khadr’s Guantánamo trial (October 2008), Corruption at Guantánamo (legal adviser faces military investigations, October 2008), An empty trial at Guantánamo (Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, October 2008), Life sentence for al-Qaeda propagandist fails to justify Guantánamo trials (al-Bahlul, November 2008), 20 Reasons To Shut Down The Guantánamo Trials (profiles of all the prisoners charged, November 2008), How Guantánamo Can Be Closed: Advice for Barack Obama (November 2008), More Dubious Charges in the Guantánamo Trials (two Kuwaitis, November 2008), The End of Guantánamo (Salim Hamdan repatriated, November 2008), Torture, Preventive Detention and the Terror Trials at Guantánamo (December 2008), Is the 9/11 trial confession an al-Qaeda coup? (December 2008), The Dying Days of the Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns Chaotic Trials (Lt. Col. Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Torture taints the case of Mohamed Jawad (January 2009), Bush Era Ends with Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Chaos and Lies: Why Obama Was Right to Halt The Guantánamo Trials (January 2009), Binyam Mohamed’s Plea Bargain: Trading Torture For Freedom (March 2009).

And for a sequence of articles dealing with the Obama administration’s response to the Military Commissions, see: Don’t Forget Guantánamo (February 2009), Who’s Running Guantánamo? (February 2009), The Talking Dog interviews Darrel Vandeveld, former Guantánamo prosecutor (February 2009), Obama’s First 100 Days: A Start On Guantánamo, But Not Enough (May 2009), Obama Returns To Bush Era On Guantánamo (May 2009), New Chief Prosecutor Appointed For Military Commissions At Guantánamo (May 2009), Pain At Guantánamo And Paralysis In Government (May 2009), My Message To Obama: Great Speech, But No Military Commissions and No “Preventive Detention” (May 2009), Guantánamo And The Many Failures Of US Politicians (May 2009), A Child At Guantánamo: The Unending Torment of Mohamed Jawad (June 2009), A Broken Circus: Guantánamo Trials Convene For One Day Of Chaos (June 2009), Obama Proposes Swift Execution of Alleged 9/11 Conspirators (June 2009), Predictable Chaos As Guantánamo Trials Resume (July 2009), David Frakt: Military Commissions “A Catastrophic Failure” (August 2009), 9/11 Trial At Guantánamo Delayed Again: Can We Have Federal Court Trials Now, Please? (September 2009), Torture And Futility: Is This The End Of The Military Commissions At Guantánamo? (September 2009), Resisting Injustice In Guantánamo: The Story Of Fayiz Al-Kandari (October 2009), Military Commissions Revived: Don’t Do It, Mr. President! (November 2009), The Logic of the 9/11 Trials, The Madness of the Military Commissions (November 2009), Rep. Jerrold Nadler and David Frakt on Obama’s Three-Tier Justice System For Guantánamo (November 2009), Guantánamo: Idealists Leave Obama’s Sinking Ship (November 2009).

Screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” at start of 12-day action in Washington D.C.

Witness Against Torture logo for Guantanamo Vigil, January 2010On Monday January 11 — the eighth anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo — the campaigning group Witness Against Torture, with the support of numerous other organizations, including the Center for Constitutional Rights, After Downing Street, No More Guantánamos and The World Can’t Wait, will hold a 12-day fast and vigil outside the White House to protest about the continued existence of the Bush administration’s “War on Terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The vigil runs until January 22, the day on which, according to the deadline established by President Obama last January, the prison would be closed, but as we all now know, that deadline will be missed, and it remains unclear when this dreadful icon of injustice will finally be shut down.

On the evening before the vigil begins (Sunday January 10), there will be a screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” the new documentary film (directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files), and a number of other events are scheduled for January 11, as described below:

Outside the Law: Stories from GuantanamoSunday, January 10, 2010: Screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” and discussion
7pm, St. Stephens Episcopal Church 1525 Newton Street, NW @16th St. NW

Monday, January 11, 2010: Eight Years since the opening of the Guantánamo Prison
11:30 am: Gather at the White House
(plaza between the White House and Lafayette Park) for “No More Guantánamos” Theater and Rally

Following a theater performance comparing the Bush and Obama records on human rights, indefinite detention and Guantánamo, speakers will address the White House, demanding that Guantánamo be closed, the rule of law restored, and those who designed and executed torture policies held to account. We will launch the Fast and Vigil for Justice, which will end on January 22, the administration’s self-imposed deadline for closing the Guantánamo prison. Nearly 100 people from around the country (and 40 or so in Washington, D.C.) will participate in the 12-day fast. We will have orange jumpsuits, hoods and signs at the White House. Please join us, and bring colleagues and friends.

12:30pm: Guantánamo Prisoner Procession
From the White House to the National Press Club, 529 14th Street NW, Washington, D.C.

1pm: Public Briefing with the Center for Constitutional Rights
National Press Club, 529 14th Street NW, Washington, D.C.
Human rights activists and lawyers from CCR, Witness Against Torture, and other groups will hold a public briefing. The briefing will include an update on conditions at Guantánamo and the struggle of detainees for justice, as well as the reading of letters from released and exonerated detainees addressing the Obama administration’s failure to fulfill the terms of his Executive Order closing Guantánamo.

7pm: Eight Years Too Long – Resisting Torture, Indefinite Detention and Abuse at Guantánamo and Beyond: A Grassroots Conversation
Georgetown University Law School McDonough, Room 207, 600 New Jersey Ave., NW, Washington, D.C.

Here’s a statement from Witness Against Torture:

Barack Obama’s historic election, the end of the Bush administration, the new tone and tenor of politics in Washington, an executive order, rhetoric about core standards of conduct, human rights and democracy — all of this is hollow and meaningless if not accompanied by actions that lead to justice, freedom and accountability. Closing Guantánamo, breaking with Bush-era policies, ending torture, rendition and indefinite detention is hard, but it must be done. It is taking too long.

January 11, 2010 will mark eight years since the Bush administration turned the US Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba into a “enemy combatant” detention facility, re-commissioning it as a torture chamber and legal black hole they hoped no one would notice and from which they hoped none would emerge.

Witness Against Torture did notice, and along with many other groups, we have been working to challenge this detention and torture apparatus, to ensure legal representation for the men there, and justice and release for the vast majority — most of whom were swept up in raids in the early days of the US occupation in Afghanistan or are the victims of false condemnation by people eager to collect hefty bounties for “terrorists.”

And here’s a statement from Debra Sweet of The World Can’t Wait:

You care about justice, human rights and the rule of law. You had hoped that the election of Barack Obama and his order to shut down Guantánamo and end torture would mean a decisive break the Bush administration. Almost a year later, you are disheartened that more than 200 men remain at Guantánamo, frustrated that the administration promising hope and change is delivering too little of either, and worried about plans for a new system of indefinite detention at an Illinois prison.  And you are fearful, as the right again stirs up fear and hatred, that even the modest shifts away from Bush-era policies, such as plans to hold civilian trials for some detainees, will be undone. You are not alone.

For further information, please contact Frida Berrigan (Witness Against Torture) or Debra Sweet (The World Can’t Wait). World Can’t Wait also calls for people everywhere to mark the 8th anniversary of Guantánamo with street protests and showings of the film “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.” Contact Stephanie of World Can’t Wait for further information, or buy your own copy of the DVD from Spectacle Productions.

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: The Definitive Prisoner List (Updated for 2010)

The Guantanamo Files

Please support my work!


Back in March, I published a four-part list identifying all 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002, as “the culmination of a three-year project to record the stories of all the prisoners held at the US prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.” Now updated (as my ongoing project nears its four-year mark), the four parts of the list are available here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four.

As I explained at the time, the first fruit of my research was my book The Guantánamo Files, in which, based on an exhaustive analysis of 8,000 pages of documents released by the Pentagon (plus other sources), I related the story of Guantánamo, established a chronology explaining where and when the prisoners were seized, told the stories of around 450 of these men (and boys), and provided a context for the circumstances in which the remainder of the prisoners were captured.

The list provided references to the chapters in The Guantánamo Files where the prisoners’ stories can be found, and also provided numerous links to the hundreds of articles that I wrote between May 2007 and March 2009, for a variety of publications, expanding on and updating the stories of all 779 prisoners. In particular, I covered the stories of the 143 prisoners released from Guantánamo from June 2007 onwards in unprecedented depth, and also covered the stories of the 27 prisoners charged in Guantánamo’s Military Commission trial system in more detail than was available from most, if not all other sources.

In addition, the list also included links to the 12 online chapters, published between November 2007 and February 2009, in which I told the stories of over 250 prisoners that I was unable to include in the book (either because they were not available at the time of writing, or to keep the book at a manageable length).

As a result — and notwithstanding the fact that the New York Times had made a list of documents relating to each prisoner available online — I believe that I was justified in stating that the list was “the most comprehensive list ever published of the 779 prisoners who have been held at Guantánamo,” providing details of the 533 prisoners released at that point (and the dates of their release), and the 241 prisoners who were still held (including the 59 prisoners who had been cleared for release by military review boards under the Bush administration), for the same reason that my book provides what I have been told is an unparalleled introduction to Guantánamo and the stories of the men held there: because it provides a much-needed context for these stories that is difficult to discern in the Pentagon’s documents without detailed analysis.

When I first published the list in March, I promised — perhaps rather rashly — that I would update the list as more prisoners were released, a task that proved easier to promise than to accomplish. As a result, this update to the four parts of the list draws on the 290 or so articles that I have published in the last ten months, tracking the Obama administration’s stumbling progress towards closing the prison, reporting the stories of the 41 prisoners released since March, and covering other aspects of the Guantánamo story; in particular, the prisoners’ habeas corpus petitions in the US courts, in which, since March, nine prisoners have had their habeas corpus petitions granted by the US courts, and six have had their petitions refused (the total, to date, is 32 victories for the prisoners, and just nine for the government). Overall, as it stood at December 31, 2009, 574 prisoners had been released from Guantánamo (42 under Obama), one — Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani — had been transferred to the US mainland to face a federal court trial, six had died, and 198 remained, including one man, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who is serving a life sentence after a one-sided trial by Military Commission in 2008.

As for my intention, it remains the same as it did when I first published the list. As I explained at the time:

It is my hope that this project will provide an invaluable research tool for those seeking to understand how it came to pass that the government of the United States turned its back on domestic and international law, establishing torture as official US policy, and holding men without charge or trial neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects to be put forward for trial in a federal court, but as “illegal enemy combatants.”

I also hope that it provides a compelling explanation of how that same government, under the leadership of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, established a prison in which the overwhelming majority of those held — at least 93 percent of the 779 men and boys imprisoned in total — were either completely innocent people, seized as a result of dubious intelligence or sold for bounty payments, or Taliban foot soldiers, recruited to fight an inter-Muslim civil war that began long before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and that had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or international terrorism.

To this I would only add that, nearly a year after President Obama took office, I hope that the list and its references provide a useful antidote to the current scaremongering regarding the failed Christmas plane bomber, Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and his alleged ties with one — just one — of the 574 prisoners released from Guantánamo, in a Yemen-based al-Qaeda cell. This purported connection is being used by those who want the evil stain of Guantánamo to endure forever (still led by former Vice President Dick Cheney, but also including a number of spineless Democrats) to argue that no more of the Yemenis — who make up nearly half of the remaining prisoners — should be released, even though the ex-prisoner in question is a Saudi, even though no more than a dozen or so of the 574 prisoners released have gone on to have any involvement whatsoever with terrorism, and even though all of these men were released during the presidency of George W. Bush.

One year ago, it looked feasible that Guantánamo would close by January 2010. We now know that President Obama’s self-imposed deadline will be missed, partly through the unprincipled agitating of opportunistic opponents in Congress and the media, and partly through the government’s own lack of courage in the face of this opposition, but this is no reason for complacency. As the eighth anniversary of the prison’s opening approaches, it remains imperative that those who oppose the existence of indefinite detention without charge or trial — and who call, instead, for the full reinstatement of the Geneva Conventions for prisoners of war, and federal court trials for terrorists — maintain the pressure to close Guantánamo, and to charge or release the prisoners held there, as swiftly as possible.

Andy Worthington
London
January 2010

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.

Cross-posted on The Public Record. Also discussed by Andrew Sullivan on The Daily Dish, by Juan Cole on Informed Comment (with a link to my recent article about the six Yemenis released before Christmas) and by The Talking Dog. It was also highlighted on the front page of Common Dreams, an edited version was posted in the UK on Liberal Conspiracy and Counterpoint, the blog of the British Council, and it was also cross-posted on various other sites including AlterNet, Global ResearchThe World Can’t Wait, psychologist and anti-torture blogger Jeff Kaye’s Invictus, Psyche, Science and Society, the blog of psychoanalyst, psychologist, researcher and activist Stephen Soldz, Free Detainees, Uruknet, Blog from Middle East and Shadow on the Sun. It was also discussed on Open Salon by Debra Sweet of The World Can’t Wait (and on Debra’s own site) and on Democratic Underground, was mentioned on The Guantánamo Blog, was linked to prominently on the front page of Antiwar.com, and was “Website of the Day” on CounterPunch.

Thanks, everybody!

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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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