Andy Worthington Discusses Bagram and Guantánamo with Jeff Farias


Last week, I was delighted to be invited by Jeff Farias to take part in his radio show, just a week after my previous visit. The show is available here (it starts just over two hours in), and Jeff wanted to talk in particular about my article on the recent appeal in the Military Commissions, in the cases of Salim Hamdan and Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, and also about the latest developments at the US prison at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan.

I wrote about the Military Commissions appeal in “Lawyers Appeal Guantánamo Trial Convictions,” which covers in depth what Jeff and I discussed, focusing primarily on whether it was legitimate to try (and convict) Hamdan and al-Bahlul on charges of supporting material support to terrorism, which even the Obama administration believes may be overturned on appeal. In al-Bahlul’s case, he was also convicted on a conspiracy charge, but what makes his case most alarming is that he was convicted (on the eve of 2008 Presidential election) in a one-sided trial in which he refused to mount a defense, and received a life sentence, which he is now serving in isolation in Guantánamo. Disturbingly, he will remain there, while Guantánamo closes around him, unless the government presses for legislation to move him to a prison on the US mainland.

Jeff and I also discussed how inadvisable it was for the Obama administration to revive the Commissions, given their lamentably poor history under the Bush administration, and their reemergence as what appears to be part of a three-tier quasi-judicial system, involving federal court trials for some prisoners (when the evidence appears to be secure), Military Commissions (when it is less reliable), and, most shockingly, indefinite detention without charge or trial in 50 cases in which the government has no reliable evidence whatsoever.

We also discussed the case of Omar Khadr, the Canadian who was seized in Afghanistan when he was just 15 years old, following a recent ruling by the Canadian Supreme Court, in which Canada’s most important judicial body ruled that the Canadian government violated Khadr’s rights when it sent interrogators to question him at Guantánamo, but failed to order the government to demand his repatriation.

This discussion allowed me to lament Canada’s continuing indifference and hypocrisy regarding Khadr, and also to criticize the Obama administration for reviving his trial by Military Commission. With regard to Canada, I pointed out that the government’s position is particularly hypocritical because the country has done so much to promote the rights of child soldiers in other conflicts, but has been content to abandon one of its own citizens.

Analyzing the US position, I pointed out that it was always unforgivable that the Bush administration chose to prosecute a child soldier, even before the hidden evidence emerged which demonstrates that Khadr was unconscious and buried under a pile of rubble when he allegedly threw a grenade that killed a US soldier. I added that it was deeply distressing that the Obama administration has revived the prosecution, and has failed to realize not only that prosecuting a former juvenile prisoner in a war crimes trial will attract international criticism, but also that it repeats the Bush administration’s unjustifiable claims that, in armed conflict, those who fight for the US are soldiers, but those who oppose them are war criminals and terrorists.

Jeff and I also talked about Bagram, following up on the recent publication of my annotated prisoner list (which, in turn, followed the publication of the first ever prisoner list, obtained by the ACLU), and two accompanying articles, “Dark Revelations in the Bagram Prisoner List,” and “UN Secret Detention Report Asks, ‘Where Are The CIA Ghost Prisoners?,’” analyzing the list and an important new UN report on secret detention, which includes a detailed account of the US secret detention program under George W. Bush. Shortly after the interview, I also published another article, “Bagram: Graveyard of the Geneva Conventions,” which looks at how President Obama has failed to revive the Geneva Conventions regarding the detention of prisoners in wartime, and which also provides new information about other secret prisons in Afghanistan.

After running through the vile — and violent — history of Bagram, where several men were murdered in US custody in 2002, I discussed Bagram’s more recent history, covering the cases of the three men rendered to Bagram from other countries who won habeas corpus petitions last year (in a ruling which has been challenged by the Obama administration) and explaining how I researched the names on the list made available by the Pentagon, with the intention of discovering what happened to the many dozens of foreign prisoners held at Bagram, who are not listed. I also explained that I hope to encourage other people who have information about Bagram to come forward to provide further details about those who are still held — and those who have disappeared — so that I can update the list as a collaborative project, and can continue to expose the disturbing truth about US detention policies in Afghanistan.

As I also explained, the importance of exposing the truth about Bagram and secret prisons in Afghanistan is not just because of the ongoing need for accountability for crimes committed by the Bush administration, but also because of increasing evidence that current US detention policy in Afghanistan remains a disturbingly gray area in the Obama administration’s policies.

There was much more in the interview, which lasts for about 35 minutes (including an analysis of Glenn Greenwald’s important article about the seemingly permanent right-wing drift in American consciousness regarding terrorism), and I look forward to talking to Jeff again in the near future.

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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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