Archive for May, 2011

WikiLeaks: The Unknown Prisoners of Guantánamo (Part Three of Five)

Freelance investigative journalist Andy Worthington continues his 70-part, million-word series telling, for the first time, the stories of 776 of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002. Adding information released by WikiLeaks in April 2011 to the existing documentation about the prisoners, much of which was already covered in Andy’s book The Guantánamo Files and in the archive of articles on his website, the project will be completed in time for the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening on January 11, 2012.

This is Part 3 of the 70-part series.

One of the great publicity coups in WikiLeaks’ recent release of classified military documents relating to the majority of the 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo, as I explained in the first part of this five-part series, was to shine a light on the stories of the first 201 prisoners to be freed from the prison between its opening, in January 2002, and September 2004, when 35 prisoners were repatriated to Pakistan, and 11 were repatriated to Afghanistan.

A handful of these 46 prisoners were cleared for release as a result of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, a one-sided process, which ran from August 2004 to March 2005 and was designed to rubber-stamp the prisoners’ prior designation as “enemy combatants,” who could continue to be held indefinitely. Information about the 558 prisoners who passed through the CSRT process (PDF) was first made publicly available in 2006, but no records have ever been publicly released by the US government which provide any information whatsoever about the 201 released, or approved for release before the CSRTs began, except for a prisoner list released in May 2006 (PDF), which contains the names, nationalities, and, where known, dates of birth and places of birth for 759 prisoners (all but the 20 who arrived at Guantánamo between September 2006 and March 2008).

In the years since the documents relating to the CSRTs were released (and information relating to their annual follow-ups, the Administrative Review Boards, or ARBs), I attempted to track down the stories of these 201 men, and managed, largely through successful research that led to relevant media reports, interviews and reports compiled by NGOs, to discover information about 114 of these prisoners, but nothing at all was known about 87 others (except for their names, and, in some cases, their date of birth and place of birth). With the release of the WikiLeaks files, all but three of these 87 stories have emerged for the very first time, and in this series of articles, I am transcribing and condensing these stories, and providing them with some necessary context. The first 17 stories were in Part One, the second 17 were in Part Two, and the third 17 are below. Also see Part Four and Part Five. Read the rest of this entry »

Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks: New Film by the Guardian Tells His Troubling Story

To mark the first anniversary of the arrest of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the alleged whistleblower responsible for leaking hundreds of thousands of classified US military documents and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks, the Guardian has produced a 19-minute film, “The madness of Bradley Manning?” telling his story, and including elements that have not been reported before.

Arrested in Kuwait on May 26, 2010, after computer hacker Adrian Lamo, with whom he had apparently been communicating about his activities downloading confidential material and handing it on to WikiLeaks, reported him to the FBI, Manning was held in solitary confinement in a military brig in Quantico, Virginia, for nine months from July 2010 to April 2011, when he was moved to Fort Leavenworth in Texas, where some social interaction is allowed.

The film is available below, as are cross-posts of two Guardian stories published to accompany it, Bradley Manning: the bullied outsider who knew US military’s inner secrets and Bradley Manning: fellow soldier recalls ‘scared, bullied kid’. Read the rest of this entry »

Andy Worthington Discusses WikiLeaks and Guantánamo with Linda Olson-Osterlund on KBOO FM in Portland, Oregon

On Thursday, I was delighted to discuss Guantánamo, President Obama’s failure to close the prison as promised, and my role in helping WikiLeaks release classified military documents relating to the Guantánamo prisoners, with Linda Olson-Osterlund of KBOO FM in Portland, Oregon, on her show, “A Deeper Look.” The 30-minute show is available here.

Linda is a longtime supporter of my work — we first spoke three years ago, and have spoken on several occasions since — and I always appreciate her considered approach, her research, and her evident humanity and revulsion at the actions undertaken by the US government in the last ten years.

After expressing appreciation that I was being acknowledged as an independent expert on Guantánamo, Linda asked me to explain what was particularly significant in the WikiLeaks documents, allowing me to run through the stories of tortured and bribed prisoners — including the “high-value detainee” Abu Zubaydah, for example, and the notoriously unreliable Yemeni informant Yasim Basardah — whose false statements permeate the documents, establishing how unreliable a set of documents are that are based, primarily, on statements made by prisoners held in such distressing conditions. Read the rest of this entry »

Happy Birthday, Amnesty International: Peter Benenson’s “The Forgotten Prisoners” Published 50 Years Ago Today

Exactly 50 years ago, on May 28, 1961, the Observer gave over its front page to an article entitled, “The Forgotten Prisoners,” by the lawyer Peter Benenson, who had conceived of a worldwide campaign, “Appeal for Amnesty,” to urge governments to release or give a fair trial to people imprisoned because of their political or religious views. Benenson drew on Article 18 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the extraordinary post-war manifesto for a better world, which had been launched 13 years before, and his appeal — with its description of “prisoners of conscience” and its immortal line, “if these feelings of disgust all over the world could be united into common action, something effective could be done” — immediately drew supporters.

Within a year, Amnesty International was formed, which, as a blog post stated yesterday, “has grown to a global movement of 3 million supporters, members and activists with 18 national sections and 850 groups in over 27 countries.” Along the way, Peter Benenson’s original vision has been broadened to include, from the 1980s onwards, work on refugees and human rights education. In 1991, Amnesty decided to promote all the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and in 2001 began to focus on “economic, social and cultural rights, paving the way for global campaigns on maternal mortality, slums and corporate accountability.”

On this important day, I’d like to wish Amnesty International a very happy 50th birthday, and to note how delighted I have been to work with Amnesty as part of its campaign to close Guantánamo and to secure justice for the prisoners still held there, including Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, particularly through the ongoing tour of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash. Mainly involving screenings to Amnesty student groups, the tour grew out of an invitation to speak at last year’s student conference in London. This was a wonderful and inspiring event, which, in turn, followed a screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” at Amnesty’s London headquarters in February 2010. Read the rest of this entry »

Supreme Court Fails to Tackle Torture – in the Past or in the Future

Since the dying days of the Bush administration, when the Supreme Court savaged the indifference of the executive branch and of Congress towards the cruel mess they had created at Guantánamo, by ensuring that the prisoners had constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights, it has, sadly, all been downhill when it comes to judicial oversight of the national security state. Moreover, in two recent decisions, the Supreme Court has shown indifference to torture, either in the past or in the future.

In the three years since that landmark case, Boumediene v. Bush, the prisoners’ initial success in the District Court in Washington DC., where they won 38 of the first 52 cases, has been abruptly halted, as right-wing judges in the D.C. Circuit Court, led by Senior Judge A. Raymond Randolph, have pushed back, insisting that little evidence is required to continue holding men indefinitely, even if, as in most cases, they were nothing more than insignificant foot soldiers for the Taliban, rather than international terrorists.

In response to this repeated hurling down of gauntlets by Judge Randolph, who is notorious for approving every piece of Guantánamo-related legislation that was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court, there has been no repeat of Boumediene. In the last few months, lawyers for the prisoners have tried to undermine Judge Randolph and his colleagues on numerous fronts. Eight Guantánamo cases have made their way to the Supreme Court, as SCOTUSblog reported back in December, but all have failed. Read the rest of this entry »

WikiLeaks and the 14 Missing Guantánamo Files

In the classified US military files recently released by WikiLeaks, and identified as Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs), files relating to 765 of the 779 prisoners held at the prison since it opened on January 11, 2002 have been released. The other 14 files are missing, and this article addresses who these prisoners are and why their files are missing, and also, where possible, tells their stories. As of May 18, this list includes an Afghan prisoner, Inayatullah, who “died of an apparent suicide” at the prison, according to the US military.

Two suspicious omissions: Abdullah Tabarak and Abdurahman Khadr

Of the 14 missing stories, just two are overtly suspicious. The first of these is the file for Abdullah Tabarak Ahmad (ISN 56), a Moroccan who, according to a Washington Post article in January 2003, “was one of [Osama] bin Laden’s long-time bodyguards,” and who, in order to help bin Laden to escape from the showdown with US forces in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains in December 2001, “took possession of the al-Qaeda leader’s satellite phone on the assumption that US intelligence agencies were monitoring it to get a fix on their position.” Whether or not there is any truth to this story is unknown, as the Post‘s source was a number of “senior Moroccan officials,” who have visited Guantánamo, and had interviewed Tabarak. One official said, “He agreed to be captured or die. That’s the level of his fanaticism for bin Laden. It wasn’t a lot of time, but it was enough.” Moroccan officials also stated that Tabarak, who was 43 years old at the time, “had become the ’emir,’ or camp leader,” at Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

During Obama’s UK Visit, Shaker Aamer’s Children – and Campaigners – Call for His Return from Guantánamo

On Tuesday, as President Obama, on his first state visit to the UK, was welcomed by the Queen at Buckingham Palace, campaigners from the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign and the London Guantánamo Campaign were outside, on the Mall, making a noise about the need to secure the return to the UK of the last British resident, Shaker Aamer, as I discussed in an article on Monday, During State Visit by Barack Obama, Amnesty International Asks David Cameron to Call for Return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer.

As can be seen from the accompanying photo (click on it to enlarge), they did such a good job that the Associated Press noticed, and the story of the plucky protestors, included at the end of an AP report, went around the world, picked up on by countless newspapers. What the AP said — which was excellent apart from the mistaken use of the past tense — was:

[E]ven at Buckingham Palace, it’s impossible to banish all the discordant notes. Just beyond the palace’s black-and-gold gates, about a dozen orange-jumpsuit clad demonstrators were rallying for the freedom of Guantánamo Bay detainee Shaker Aamer, a former British resident who had been held without charge for some nine years. One man wore plastic shackles and an Obama mask. Read the rest of this entry »

White House Threatens to Veto War Provisions and Restrictions on Closing Guantánamo in Defense Bill

Two weeks ago, when the “peace dividend” that should follow the death of Osama bin Laden was hijacked by cynical lawmakers intent on using bin Laden’s death to expand the “War on Terror” by revising its founding document, the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress the week after 9/11, and also seeking to endorse torture and to defend Guantánamo, I addressed these baleful developments in a hard-hitting article, entitled, No End to the “War on Terror,” No End to Guantánamo.

Earlier today I also cross-posted a memorandum sent to the House Armed Services Committee by the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights First and 20 other organisations, urging the Committee not to support the reckless and unjustifiable expansion of Presidential war powers, as contained in a section of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

That article also included a link to an ACLU campaign page where US citizens can write to their elected representatives asking them to oppose these vile plans by warmongers drunk on their addiction to permanent war. I hope that anyone concerned will do so, as it is extremely important, but I’d also like to remind readers of other sections inserted into the NDAA, which deal with Guantánamo, as I also mentioned in No End to the “War on Terror,” No End to Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

Rights Groups Tell Congress: Vote No to Dangerous New “War on Terror” Provisions

Note: You can write to your elected representative asking them to “Say No to Worldwide War” via this ACLU page here.

Following the death of Osama bin Laden, as I explained in my article, No End to the “War on Terror,” No End to Guantánamo:

[T]here is a perfect opportunity for the Obama administration to bring to an end the decade-long “War on Terror” by withdrawing from Afghanistan and closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The justification for both the invasion of Afghanistan (in October 2001) and the detention of prisoners in Guantánamo (which opened in January 2002) is the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress on September 14, 2001, just three days after the 9/11 attacks. […]

With bin Laden’s death, the route should now be open for the President to assert that he has used “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” [as mandated by the AUMF] and to get out of the unwinnable morass that is the ongoing occupation of Afghanistan. Read the rest of this entry »

Free John Walker Lindh, Scapegoat of the “War on Terror”

With the death of Osama bin Laden, there is now an opportunity for a huge peace dividend — an end to the occupation of Afghanistan, and an opportunity to close Guantánamo — which will probably not happen, even though it should, because of powerful vested interests. These include the lawmakers intent on using bin Laden’s death as an excuse to further ramp up the “War on Terror” by revising the Authorization for Use of Military Force, the founding document of the phoney war, and to claim, in spite of all the evidence, that George W. Bush’s torture program was a good idea and helped to track down bin Laden (which it didn’t), and that Guantánamo was useful for producing reliable intelligence (which it wasn’t).

I tackled all of these dangerous lies and distortions in my articles, With Osama bin Laden’s Death, the Time for US Vengeance Is Over, Osama bin Laden’s Death, and the Unjustifiable Defense of Torture and Guantánamo and No End to the “War on Terror,” No End to Guantánamo, but although I also implied that it was ridiculous to continue holding people at Guantánamo whose only crime seems to have been that they saw Osama bin Laden from afar while attending a training camp in Afghanistan, what I didn’t reflect on directly were specific victims of the hysteria of the “War on Terror.”

Clearly, this process includes dressing up soldiers at Guantánamo as terrorists to placate those who believe that being strong means being both brutal and stupid, but, as the lawyer Frank Lindh explained in an op-ed in the New York Times last week, it also includes his son, John Walker Lindh, forever tarred as “the American Taliban,” who was one of the first scapegoats of the “War on Terror.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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