My Exchange with Guantánamo Spokesperson Who Called Me An “Activist” and Not A “Real Journalist”


In the early morning on Saturday June 1, drawing on reports published in in the Arabic- and French-speaking media in Mauritania, I published a story based on those reports, which, in turn, drew on comments made by a human rights representative in Mauritania, who stated that the last two Mauritanian prisoners in Guantánamo had been released, along with a man held in Bagram in Afghanistan.

It turned out that the Mauritanian source was mistaken, and later that day, after Agence France-Presse (AFP) and the Associated Press had also reported the story, the Pentagon stated, “All 166 detainees who have been at the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay remain at the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay. There have been no transfers out of Guantánamo since Omar Khadr was transferred to Canada in October.”

While I was monitoring the various reports and denials relating to the story, I responded, at 7.12 pm GMT yesterday, to a comment from a reader on my website about how the US government and the US military don’t always tell the truth by writing, “It now seems clear that only the prisoner from Bagram was returned to Mauritania, but I have no time for Pentagon spokespeople smugly explaining how there are still 166 men in Guantánamo, and no one has been released since last October. There’s no reason for anyone to be even vaguely proud of that fact.”

My comment led Ron Flanders of Southcom to send me a comment at 1.54 am GMT on June 3, which I’m cross-posting below, along with my reply, as Mr. Flanders singled me out for criticism for not consulting with the authorities prior to publishing my story, and made some allegations about my status as a journalist — and some statements about the truthfulness of Pentagon spokespeople when it comes to Guantánamo that are, I believe, worth publicizing.

Mr. Flanders wrote:

There was nothing smug in the Pentagon spokesperson’s quote about the 166 detainees. He was asked a question by a reporter about the story online about two Mauritanians being released. He answered the question. It’s not his fault someone irresponsibly reported that two detainees had been released from Guantánamo without bothering to call and make a basic fact-check.

I understand there’s a difference between an activist and a real journalist, but it’s not helpful to anyone when errors such as this are made. Please feel free to call us and double-check the next time you hear rumors about a Guantánamo detainee. You will get an honest answer, as Mr. Leopold and Ms. Rosenberg did this time.

Here’s my reply, which I’m publishing here, directly, rather than sending to Mr. Flanders at Southcom, as I think his comments deserve as wide an audience as possible:

No offense, Ron, but the US military at Guantánamo doesn’t have a great reputation for telling the truth over the last eleven years and nearly five months that the prison has been open. Next you’ll be telling me that you run a “humane” and “transparent” facility where the prisoners — sorry, “detainees’ — are so well looked after that it’s inexplicable that they’ve been on a hunger strike for nearly four months. The truth is that Guantánamo is a legal, moral and ethical abomination, and its continued existence corrodes any notion America might have of itself as a beacon of hope, justice or fairness.

As for Pentagon spokespeople telling the truth, I was lied to when I called, many years ago, and asked why there were missing ISN numbers on the prisoner lists released in 2006. I was told that those numbers hadn’t been used. It wasn’t until WikiLeaks released the Guantánamo files in 2011 that I was able to establish that I had been lied to. ISN 212, for example, one of the missing numbers, was repeatedly referred to and named — he was Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who died in Libya in 2009 after being returned there following years in “black sites” run by the CIA or by proxy torturers, and who may have been held at Guantánamo at some point in the secret facility that the CIA had between September 2003 and March 2004, code-named “Strawberry Fields.”

Another area in which Pentagon spokespeople do not have a great reputation for truth-telling is in the comments made about prisoners who have died at Guantánamo, who were never given Article 5 Geneva Convention hearings or trials to establish whether the supposed evidence against them was at all reliable. Nine prisoners, you may recall, have died at the facility — seven of whom allegedly committed suicide — and yet, on several occasions, statements have been made, following prisoners’ deaths, describing them as threats to the US with connections to al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban. These are statements not based on objectively tested evidence, and, moreover, they reek of cowardice and cruelty, aimed at those who can no longer answer back because they have died in Guantánamo waiting, in vain, for justice.

I thought the response was smug, because my definition of smugness, from a spokesperson from Guantánamo, is saying how many people are held, and when the last time was that anyone was released, without adding that it is disgraceful to have to report this, considering that 56 of the 166 men still held — the majority of whom are on a hunger strike to protest about their indefinite detention — were told over three years ago that an inter-agency task force, established by the President, had found that there was no reason for them to be tried or indefinitely detained, and that they would not be spending the rest of their lives in Guantánamo.

I understand that you are feeling smug about snidely referring to me as an “activist” rather than a “real journalist,” and I’m sure that people worldwide will be glad to know that others who are not “real journalists,” and who “irresponsibly reported” the story are Agence France-Presse (AFP), who also published a story based on the statement from Mauritania from the human rights representative, which, it turned out, was mistaken, the Associated Press, who did the same, and the numerous other news outlets who ran the stories by AFP and the AP.

We made a mistake. Don’t target me for it without also acknowledging that the entire history of the Guantánamo prison’s PR machine has been devoted to telling the world lies about the prison, and the men held there, for eleven years.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and 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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

70 Responses

  1. Patty Guerrero says...

    Of course, Mr . Flanders may be correct—the reply from the person may not have been smug, But who the *&*() cares?
    What we do care about is what is happening to the men in Guantanamo, not some inane answer and whether or not it was “smug.”
    People are more important than a mistake in language. Get a life, Mr. Flanders!!!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Patty. Good to hear from you.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Jane Stillwater wrote:

    According to “Profiles In Courage,” Robert Taft lost his bid for the Presidency when he stated that the Nuremberg trials were unconstitutional because they charged Nazis with ex post facto crimes. Taft thought the Nuremberg trials were illegal? Boy he would be turning over in his grave now if he knew about what is happening at Gitmo! Making up ex post facto laws as they go along.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Abzter Buffness wrote:


  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Abzter Buffness wrote:


  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Monique D’hooghe wrote:

    don’t know a more dedicated researcher/journalist than you… keep it up Andy, you’re just getting under their skin, that is all

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Toia Tutta Jung wrote:

    I think that many of us need to believe that something new is going to happen. Because we know that we’re coming to a point of no return. So we believe when we hear that two prisoners have been released. But it’s a mistake to believe that those responsible for these men’s fate have any empathy.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Jane, for the historical perspective, and thanks, Abzter, Monique and Toia for the supportive comments. I do take it as a recognition of the quality of my work in general that I don’t normally hear from the authorities.

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Gerry Lindgren wrote:

    hey, u have support from people who truly care about usa constitutional and usa world human rights. like my attorney told me, it is because I tell the truth that these idiots come forth and have nothing to say but insults and harsassment.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Gerry. Much appreciated.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Gerry Lindgren wrote:

    keep it up as these bozos will always be bozos like the so called “rev” phelps. to engage or not to engage with these idiots is contingent upon the variables of the situation. go with your instinct, yet freedom was not won by being a pacifist.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks again, Gerry. I generally try to present the truth in as unassailable a manner as possible, given that so many lies have been told for so many years, but that they are transparent to those who examine them with even a modicum of intelligence. This time, though, I thought a reply was needed.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Mui JS wrote:

    Yep, missing prisoners, isn numbers, “suicides”, fake charges. You go too easy on the Gitmo command, Andy in my humble opinion. You could also bring up other “little falsehoods” they’ve told like making El Gharani, 18 instead of ya know like 14 according to Reprieve. Your coverage has been the best so far.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Mui. That’s very reassuring.

  15. Beth Coffoletti says...

    I knew it was too good to be true. This is the way it has been going for more than a decade: promises, hopes, only to be dashed again and again. But for a brief moment we dared to believe that our country really could rise to the occasion and do the right thing by these men and their families.

    When will it end? Those who write to expose the lies will always hold the moral high ground, no matter the rhetoric used by those who are mired in those same lies.

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    Beth, I do sincerely believe that there will be progress, but we need to keep exerting pressure. The various groups involved in campaigning for the closure of Guantanamo – myself included, as a representative of the Close Guantanamo campaign – will be launching a new initiative soon. There were plans to do so today, but I think we all tacitly realized that today’s big news is the first day of Bradley Manning’s trial.

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Edwards wrote:

    Andy, take it as a compliment, considering what journalism has become…

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Mary. Yes, I do take it as a compliment. It reminded me of why I refused to play the game. After I called in 2007 with questions about the missing ISN numbers, I thought, well, this is just a mild form of what “objective” reporting is about. Why bother asking the oppressors for comments when they’ll just lie?

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Monique D’hooghe wrote:

    i can but agree with mary (and reprieve) nobody does quite as thorough a job as you (although Jason Leopold does a really decent job too of course)
    the medias underfunding of in depth reporting has reduced journalism to reposting press releases and it is good o know that there are enough people out there to donate to crowd sourcing efforts so that decent journalists like you are capable of doing a good job in researching such important matters like the lives of those held in gitmo…
    i for one am still exceedingly grateful that through my friends here on fb i got into contact with you before you reached your 5000 friends limit and that i can now easily stay abreast of all you write…

    anybody interested in the ongoings of guantanamo only really has to delve into your impressive archive…

    i say more power to you, Andy

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Monique, wholeheartedly. The investigative journalist Nick Davies of the Guardian had a word for what you describe – cutting and pasting press releases and putting them out as news. he called it “churnalism” in his great book Flat Earth News:

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    Monique D’hooghe wrote:

    churnalism…. hahahhaaaaaa great word to know, coins the phrase for sure… love flat earth news but missed out on that one

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, Monique, Nick Davies has been an inspiration throughout my life, actually – from him hitching a lift with the convoy en route to Stonehenge in 1985, on the fateful journey that ended at the Battle of the Beanfield, and then writing about it for the Observer – to working with WikiLeaks to construct a mainstream media architecture for the war logs and the diplomatic cables – which was later inherited, bizarrely, by the Telegraph, after the WikiLeaks-Guardian relationship soured, for the release of the Guantanamo files. Plus, of course, Nick also worked assiduously on exposing the hacking and spying that drove Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World.
    He also won the first Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism back in 1999!

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Mary Edwards wrote:

    Churnalism? For this is what these people have become. Arrogant, insensitive and rude! At the very least.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Ha! Thanks again, Mary.

  25. Tom says...

    You know this already. But I’ll say it anyway. Like it or not, you’re a target that has to be dealt with (in the sense of making you look bad). If I ask 10 average people walking down the street about Guantanamo, odds are 99% will have no idea about the ongoing hunger strike. Maybe 1 might have seen your name online. But odds are none of them will know who you are.

    Now, as for the govt., I’m sure that both here and in the UK the Powers that Be are aware of what you’ve been doing. Here, all of my communications are being monitored. Is the Home Office doing the same thing to you? I don’t know. But the point is to just keep going. I don’t know what this spokespersons’ GS(govt. salary) level is. Then again, who cares?

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Tom. I’m reminded, for some reason, of one of the greatest stories I know about US activism.
    In 1968, a man with a candle stood outside the White House every night, protesting about the war in Vietnam. After a month, a reporter was sent to speak to him. “Don’t you know you’re not going to change the President’s mind?” the reporter asked. “I’m not doing it for that reason,” the protestor replied. “I’m doing it to make sure he can’t change my mind.”

  27. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, I am not familiar with Lieutenant Commander Flanders, but I would like make some comments about this distinction he makes between “activists” and “real journalists”.

    Marshall McLuhan wrote something (paraphrasing from memory) “No book can be accepted that contains more than ten percent new ideas”. In general I am extremely disappointed in the reporting on Guantanamo, due to the failure of almost all reporters, journalists and commentators to really challenge the official story.

    One only needs to cast their mind back to the prelude to the Iraq invasion. Practically every one of the most senior and respected members of the US Press Corps failed to properly examine the claims the Bush administration had proof Iraq had a deadly arsenal of Nukes, Poison Gas, and deadly Microbes.

    I didn’t believe a word of these claims. Neither, thank goodness, did Jean Chretien, who was then Canada’s PM, who kept Canada out of the “Coalition of the Willing”.

    Why did almost all highly respected “real journalists” of the American Press Corps fail to examine the Bush administration claims with sufficient thoroughness?

    I think it is because although “real journalists” think of themselves as tough, jaded, cynics, who see through everybody, and are fooled by nobody, they were as vulnerable to being duped as most Americans.

    They just weren’t capable of conceiving their President, even a President as hapless, bumbling and incoherent as George W. Bush would lead a disinformation campaign as profoundly dishonest as the one the Bush administration actually led.

    There is a term that is generally used figuratively, but which was actually literally true for almost all of those senior members of the US Press Corps during the prelude to the Iraq invasion.

    Those senior members of the US Press Corps found it inconceivable the President could lead a pack of lies as profound as the few challengers claimed. They suffered from a terrible and costly failure of imagination.

    Post facto very few of those senior members of the US Press Corps have given a meaningful apology for their failure. They defended their coverage by citing their responsibility to be “balanced”, and to report the story, not to make the story.

    When you cast your mind back, who did on go record to challenge the narrative that Iraq possesed that dangerous arsenal of weapons? Wasn’t it guys like Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Bill Maher? Guys like Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore and Bill Maher also have people claim they aren’t “real journalists”.

    So far as I am concerned, Chomsky, Moore and Maher are good company to find one’s self in.

    Andy, I’d like to suggest we considering taking Lieutenant Commander Flanders assertion that he and his colleagues are open to clarifying the true answers to serious Guantanamo mysteries at face value.

    By “we” I mean you and your closest collaborators and your regular readers.

    By taking his de facto offer seriously, may I ask whether we could assemble a list of the questions to some of the most compelling mysteries that surround Guantanamo?

    Could we then send that list of questions to him? If we pick the right questions, and he proves his seriousness and trustworthiness by giving those questions serious and trustworthy answers, perhaps each answer would be worthy of a followup article here?

    Contrarily, if he blows off serious questions about profound Guantanamo mysteries with a frivolous or disrespectful answer, I wonder, would that too be worthy of a followup article here?

    I’ve mentioned one of the bees in my bonnet, in comments to several other articles. If Lieutenant Commander Flanders is really prepared to set the record straight, I’d like to see him look into and followup on the very important lead in Ibrahim al Zeidan’s 2004 CSR Tribunal testimony. Al Zeidan testified that Guantanamo interrogators showed images of Abu Zubaydah being tortured to Guantanamo captives when they were under interrogation.

    I’d like to know why Omar Khadr, Mohammed Jawad, and the other minors weren’t held in the more humane conditions of the three youngest captives at Camp Iguana.

    Andy, rather than going into detail about other questions I would like us to see Lieutenant Commander Flanders answer, I will put those in separate comments.

    I will close this comment by congratulating you for finding yourself in the company of Noam Chomsky and other people who look into the “inconceivable” truths.


    Of all the Guantanmo habeas attorneys, there is one whose comments and activities seems to be like a red flag to a bull to Guantanamo officials — Clive Stafford-Smith. There are clues he has enraged many officials. I suspect Lieutenant Commander Flanders’ comment to you is a sign that your work has also seemed like a red flag to a bull to Guantanamo officials. We may never have this confirmed, but I bet his superior chews him out for the comment he left you. If you write him, to take his offer at face value, and you receive a reply from a different officer, or he asks you to contact a different officer, I will interpret that as a tacit sign that he was admonished.

    Like Clive Stafford-Smith, I don’t think you asked bad or unprofessional questions. Rather I think the two of you have asked excellent questions that were so difficult to answer that they triggered inappropriate rage.

    Congratulations for being in the company of Clive Stafford-Smith.

  28. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, if I can followup to my criticism of most reporting on Guantanamo by “real journalists”, may I explicitly say I recognize that Carol Rosenberg, Michelle Shephard, and some of the journalists at the NYTimes, Wapo, LATimes, and the Associated Press have proven themselves exceptions to that generally poor quality of reporting on Guantanamo?

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. I absolutely agree about the commendations for Carol, Michelle and others – and for me also, particularly at the New York Times, Washington Post, and the AP – and in the UK, of course, at the Guardian/Observer. In many ways, committed reporters have evidently also had to push the importance of the story on occasions, against editorial indifference. I continue to regard it as a failure of the liberal media that they refuse to have campaigning issues, even though that permanently hands an advantage to right-wingers who aren’t bothered about “objectivity” and essentially campaign on their own poisonous issues all the time. I had forgotten about the liberal media’s message to itself – “to report the story, not to make the story.”
    You also reminded me that the media’s institutional failures pre-Iraq remain an extremely low point for the liberal media, which seems to have been airbrushed out of history.
    I’m delighted, of course, to be in the company of Noam Chomsky, Michael Moore, Bill Maher and, of course, Clive Stafford Smith, who was a direct inspiration for how to deal with Guantanamo. It’s because of Clive that I never, while writing about the prisoners, refer to them as detainees. I did so in my book title, but that was before I met Clive. And I do take delight in having provoked a response that gave me a lot of openings to challenge the military’s truthfulness regarding Guantanamo through the careful use of just one word – smug.
    I like your idea about writing to ask specific questions. If you want to make a start on compiling a list of questions, please do. I’ll be happy to help.

  30. martingugino says...

    Do you know, or think, that the “Strawberry Fields” site is the same site as “Camp No”.

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    I believe it’s possible, Martin, although I haven’t specifically looked into it.

  32. Kai says...

    I’m sorry it was a false report as I’d imagined the rising up of hope with the news of some released. What I read in the response from Ron Flanders is some assertion of control.. “It’s not over til WE say it’s over.”
    I’ve appreciated the straight forward manner of your reporting. Your agenda is clear – to bring to light what’s been kept in the dark, to give back the names of the men wrongly held and, by doing so, to make us care – the tragedy of Guantanamo is personal as much as it is national and global. You hold skepticism and hope evenly in your discourse and, in a world awash in name calling and shouting, I appreciate your unwillingness to give way to negativity. You’ve held the long view and have, no doubt, kept the black hole of Guantanamo from disappearing into the Bermuda Triangle.
    …..and the work goes on – for us all – doesn’t it?

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Kai. I am extremely happy to have received your message of support and encouragement.

  34. arcticredriver says...

    I also don’t refer to them as detainees, which I think implies a normalcy to the nature of their captivity, as if it were routine, followed legal precedence, when the truth is the exact opposite. Since half or more of them were captured by bounty hunters — who had no legal authority to capture them — or by CIA snatch teams operating in neutral third countries, without any formal permission to operate there, it could be argues many of the captives could be described as kidnap victims. But that would be too difficult to explain.

    So I prefer to call them captives.

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. I seem to recall Clive using the word captives as well. Kidnap victims is also accurate for many, based on the circumstances of their capture, and now, as obstacles have been raised preventing their release (which Obama has yet to show he can, or will overcome), I think it’s appropriate to call them political prisoners.

  36. Tom says...

    I’ve worked in TV, radio, newspapers and now I continue online. I’ve seen other media people in everything from small markets to Top10 stations here, national Japanese media and some controllers in UK TV. In that wide range, there’s the pre-corporate takeover phase and after. Before, actual reporters had to double source stories. There were actual foreign bureaus run by competent, experienced people.

    Now, it’s either sack somebody or outsource. How many people reporting from abroad are freelancers or locals? For Stateside networks, the majority of foreign reporters are either Brits, Canadians or occasional Aussies. When I tried to get media work back in the early ’90s in London, most people didn’t think I was American (for various reasons). You would think this would be a plus and help to get a break. But not at that time.

    The mentality now is news is a “product”. Andy, I don’t know if you’ve ever had any dealing with US network bureaus in London. If not, you should try and contact Tom Fenton (formerly London bureau chief for CBS). Now retired (and maybe a dual citizen as well), he still seems quite willing to talk to people about the current state of the business.

    As far as a “product” goes, my attitude is this. If you really want me to watch/listen to/read your content, try actually doing your job. Considering the network salary you’re making, that’s not unreasonable.

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    Very well put, Tom. Thanks.

  38. Andy Worthington says...

    Aleksey Penskiy wrote:

    I think no one has any doubt on which side the truth is in this story. Andy, thank you for your work, thanks to you the whole world can see that the citizens of the UK are not like Baroness Thatcher. Looking forward to your exciting photos of the history of London!

  39. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Aleksey, for the supportive words. I continue to take lots of photos of London – it’s what keeps me sane as the madness of Guantanamo continues – but I just haven’t had the time to make any of them available – essentially since the hunger strike first became big news. I need to look into some way of formalizing my photo project, either by applying for funding, or perhaps by crowdsourcing.

  40. Andy Worthington says...

    Afifah Kuddah wrote:

    How’s this for cynical…
    “Terror detainees at Gitmo offered course in interviewing and resume writing”

  41. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that’s pretty horrible, Afifah.

  42. Andy Worthington says...

    Karin Friedemann wrote:

    I know it’s hard. I’m so glad the Canadian boy was released. Did you write a story about that? He was such a cutie I hope he is happy now.

  43. Andy Worthington says...

    Oh, Omar’s not free yet, Karin. The Canadian government is holding onto him in prison as long as they can get away with it. He’s just been moved from one prison to another. I’ll be writing about it soon. There’s a good report here:

  44. arcticredriver says...

    I too suspect that when “camp strawberry fields” was emptied it was the facility the guards called “camp no”. I suspect it was recycled again to serve as “camp platinum”.

    Further, Omar Khadr’s brother Abdurahman Khadr was one of the CIA moles in the prison. After a period of time there he told his handlers he was fed up, because none of the suspects he was placed next to, to see if they would incriminate themselves, he felt none of them were a threat.

    After he became disenchanted he was taken to a separate compound, isolated from the other captives. He spent some months there. The CIA was supposed to be training him for a secret mission to Bosnia, to penetrate the “Bosnian Mujahideen tm”.

    If the CIA was training him in a separate facility I think it is quite likely he too was staying in “camp strawberry fields”/”camp no”/”camp platinum”.

    It has been close to ten years. I wonder what he remembers about the facility?

    Andy, did you read that there is a plan to replace the existing camp platinum/camp seven with a new facilty — at a cost of $45 million dollars. It holds what 19 captives now? So the facility will cost more than $2.5 million per captive? Even if this camp had its own infirmary, and a barracks for its separate guard force, that would still be extremely expensive.

  45. arcticredriver says...

    The design for the new $45 million camp platinum/camp seven — probably has rooms designed for interrogation, with built in observation rooms with one-way mirrors. Even so $45 million seems steep.

  46. arcticredriver says...

    Andy I am going to disagree with you and Afifah. I think the captives deserve compensation, a pension, and every meaningful help adapting to civilian life. I think starting to help them prepare for life on the outside — prior to their release, would be both in the interests of the captives, and in the interests of public safety.

    The captives were being offered art lessons, computer lessons, language lessons. The art teacher submitted their (positive) assessment of Omar Khadr’s character and attitude for his sentencing hearing.

    Would it be cruel to give the captives they intend to charge with lessons to help them prepare to re-adapt to life on the outside? Would it be cruel to give those lessons to those who won’t be charged, but who haven’t been charged, and face continued detention? I suspect those captives are bored and very thirsty for intellectual stimulation, even if they don’t think their release is imminent. And, if a positive report from their teachers is going to help convince the review board, when they finally convene, that those who haven’t been cleared for release are worth clearing, then attending those classes would not be cruel. If positive reports from their teachers results in less harsh sentences for those who are convicted, then I don’t think offering the classes to them is cruel either.

    Theoretically, those who face charges could be acquitted. So, resume writing could still be of value to them. Acquittal is not that likely in the unfair Guantanamo system. But having their unfair conviction overturned by a civilian appeal court is likely. If I was one of the captives who faced charges, or who hadn’t yet been cleared for release, I think I would find it more cruel if the resume writing courses offered to the captives who had been cleared weren’t offered to me.

    At least that is how it seems to me.

    There are some images of the classrooms at camp six. They seem to be designed for a low student teacher ration. The most different thing about those classrooms is that the student’s feet are shackled to the floor at their desks.

    And, during the period prior to their release, I’d like to see the captive offered some of the work the DoD brings in guest workers from the Philippines to do. I think it would do wonders for their morale if they could send some funds home. I think it would help make them more employable once they were released — which should be a concern even for hawks, who fear “recidivism”, as former captive prepared to hold down a job is less likely to be embittered, and be recruited to be a recidivist than someone who can’t find work, and can’t re-adapt to civilian life.

    Even if all they were qualified for was landscaping, and picking up trash washed up on Guantanamo’s many beaches, I suspect that would be a pleasant change from being locked up.

  47. arcticredriver says...

  48. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. There are only 15 “high-value detainees” – 13 of the 14 who arrived in September 2006 (KSM etc.), and two who arrived after, in 2007 and 2008 – Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi and Muhammad Rahim, from whom, of course, we haven’t been allowed to hear a word.
    Interesting thought about Abdurahman. It would be nice if he spoke out again about the injustice of Guantanamo.

  49. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. You make very valid points – and thanks for the link to Omar’s drawing. I was appalled by the article because of the gulf between the situation it portrayed, of a government that cares, against the reality – of men who will never be freed to use that training without a huge, and as yet unseen, effort on the part of President Obama. Don’t forget, without Obama fulfilling the promises we’ve heard, in the teeth of renewed opposition from Congress, no one currently held – even the men cleared for release – will ever leave Guantanamo alive.

  50. Andy Worthington says...

    Even just writing that enraged me, arcticredriver. How dare Congress have taken a position whereby they can block the President’s ability to release prisoners from Guantanamo – including the 86 cleared for release by his own inter-agency task force – without expending a potentially significant amount of political capital?

    I’m reminded of the importance of what Andrea Prasow, Human Rights Watch’s senior counterterrorism counsel, told Michelle Shephard of the Toronto Star following the news that one Mauritanian man had been returned home from US custody in Afghanistan to face a trial:

    it is interesting to note the difference as to how things operate and the level of scrutiny (and politics) in Afghanistan, as opposed to Guantanamo. Andrea Prasow, Human Rights Watch’s senior counterterrorism counsel, argues that this case highlights the double standard. Why, she asked in an email to the Star, does Congress restrict Guantanamo transfers, when commanders in Afghanistan are “exercising their traditional authority to decide to release someone?”

    States Prasow: “The fact that Congress has attempted to limit that authority with respect to detainees, some of whom have been held for over a decade and who have no battlefield to return to, demonstrates how political and removed from reality Guantanamo has become.”

  51. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, Congress’s legislation that forbid the Executive Branch from transferring any captives to the USA, it also forbids the President from transferring captives to another country without clearing it with Congress first, is that correct?

    Am I correct, the legislation has a loophole, that allows the President to make transfers without clearance — if he argues National Security tm”requires it? I think some critics accuse Obama of cowardice, for not using this loophole. I agree, repatriating the truly innocent men, and those who don’t pose a risk, is clearly in the interests of public safety.

    Am I correct, some in Congress want to remove this loophole?

    I think there was a recent discussion over another loophole in that legislation — the one that allowed the transfer of captives who had been convicted, when their sentence was over, should be removed, or was about to expire.

    If I remember that discussion, some in Congress want to remove this authority as well. I think I remember one of the guys who was convicted, after a plea bargain, finishes his term in December, but there is some wrinkle that the loophole that allows the captives who served out their sentences will have expired before that.

    If I recall that article, it said that Prosecutors in the Office of Military Commissions were worried that the delays like that, would erode their ability to bully suspects into plea bargains. I’d prefer they didn’t try to prosecute anyone who wasn’t a real terrorist.

    Like you and Ms Prasow I am disappointed that President Obama hasn’t used the national security loophole to repatriate or transfer the bulk of the Guantanamo captives, without regard to the political cost to him or his party. Loyalty to his country should trump loyalty to his party, and I don’t think there is any real question that emptying Guantanamo is in the interests of public safety.

  52. arcticredriver says...

    Ms Prasow told the Star that officers in Bagram are continuing
    in “…exercising their traditional authority to decide to release someone…”

    I think it might have been Eliza Grizwold who provided some details about the reviews at Bagram. As I recall, the review process there that I read about did not conform to the procedures set out in Army Regulation 190-8, so I would quibble with calling it the “traditional authority”.

    As I recall , for some captives, the recommendation that a captive was an “enemy combatant” was made by just a single officer, with no Personal Representative, no board of field-grade officers. Maybe that was just an initial determination. They did have “enemy combatant review boards”.

    I assumed that these ECRBs were not the same as an AR-190-8 tribunal. I assumed they used the absurdly broad definition of combatant as used at Guantanamo.

    I was under the impression that these were even less formal than the CSR Tribunals. I don’t know if the captives were informed of these boards, were allowed to speak before them, but I don’t think so, as no captive has ever mentioned doing so. My recollection of the AR-190-8 tribunals is that they did not call the captives whose cases they were considering before them. Obama’s Joint Review Task Force didn’t call captives before them either — a huge mistake in my opinion.

    I think the world still needs to know more details about how this determination was made at Bagram.

    How many non-Afghans had the DoD acknowledged holding at Bagram? 100? 50? 30? I suspect the DoD has transferred many of the non-Afghans recently, but we just didn’t hear about those other transfers.

  53. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. Yes, correct on all points. Tom Wilner wrote about the waiver, and it’s what Obama needs to use, given that Congress has no desire to play ball and is currently discussing renewing the same dreadful provisions in the NDAA.
    Here’s Tom on the waiver:
    Here’s the news on the House’s discussions about the NDAA:
    I do recall that lawmakers were also trying to block the release of prisoners who have served their sentences (via convictions or plea deals), but I’m not sure if that went ahead. It’s a disgraceful suggestion, of course, not just because of prosecutors’ complaints, but because it’s simply unaccceptable under any circumstances. The test will be in the case of Noor Uthman Muhammed, who, if I recall, received a sentence of three years and nine months in February 2011, meaning that he should – must – be returned to Sudan in November.
    For Noor, see:

  54. Andy Worthington says...

    I covered the inadequate process at Bagram extensively, arcticredriver, as Obama fought off successful habeas petitions by foreigners rendered to Afghanistan from other countries by replacing Bush’s insultingly poor review process (in which the prisoners had to make a statements before hearing the charges against them) with, essentially, the CSRT/ARB process at Guantanamo that, of course, the Supreme Court had found to be inadequate in Boumediene v. Bush.
    You’re right to keep reminding people that nothing since 9/11 has corresponded to the “traditional authority.”
    As for numbers, there were dozens of non-Afghans held at Parwan/Bagram, and some have undoubtedly been flown home to uncertain fates below the radar and with no outside scrutiny. It would be good to know if anyone is monitoring, or has been trying to monitor it.

  55. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, did you see the Associated Press’s reports about the CIA operating a 2nd camp on the Guantanamo Naval Base? They say this other camp, also named for a Beatles’ song Penny Lane was for the housing of captives who might be suitable to serve as double agents — moles — within the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other suspect groups.

    They say the CIA operated this camp from 2002 to as late as 2006.

    They say dozens of captives were evaluated for mole suitability at this camp, but a smaller number were actually selected for mole training.

    Reports say the moles were paid “millions”, and the CIA paid it willingly, knowing they would have no way of knowing whether these double agents would stay bought.

    The AP described the camp of consisting of eight comfortable cabins — more like a motel than the military camp. Potential recruits were supplied with a real bed, and other luxuries — including pornography.

    The AP made the point that it was unknown how many of the individuals the DoD listed as having “returned to the battlefield” were actually double agents, who had been paid to seek out a battlefield. From an intelligence point of view, it would help preserve the cover of these individuals if the DoD listed them as recidivists, even if insiders knew they were double agents.

    Who were these recruits? I hope it doesn’t decrease his safety to write that Abdurahman Khadr was one of these recruits. He was taken out of the main camp, and spent months being trained for a mission in Bosnia.

  56. arcticredriver says...

    Should the CIA have felt aggrieved that they couldn’t count on their double-agents remaining loyal to the USA. I am sure this is an instance where Dick Cheney’s assertion that the USA should use “dark side” techniques would be seen to apply, and these double agents would be seen as completely expendable. I am sure that if they merely suspected the double agent was in the same compound as someone more senior than he was, his handlers wouldn’t think twice about homing a missile in on his cell phone, to kill the more senior person, even though this would kill the double agent.

  57. arcticredriver says...

    Back when I noticed that the first three Guantanamo captive the DIA identified as returning to the battlefield weren’t listed on the official list of captives’ name I (privately) speculated that the CIA might have operated a facility to try to recruit captives as double agents. In this scenario Abdullah Mehsud, Abdul Ghani Ghafor and Mullah Shahzada weren’t on the full official list of captives, because it only listed the captives who had been held by the military — not CIA captives.

    The Bush administration willingly embraced other techniques from bad novels and B movies — like their extensive use of mercenaries, why wouldn’t they try to borrow elements of that old TV show Mission Impossible?

    I tried to keep this speculation to myself, as there was no real evidence and I didn’t want to erode my credibility.

    But names missing from the full official list, because they were held in Guantanamo in CIA custody, not military custody, turned out to be correct. Abu Zubaydah’s name was missing from the full official list, even though he had been held in Guantanamo in 2003-4 — in CIA custody.

    And now that I am reading the CIA really did have a camp designed to recruit and train double agents I wonder whether I should have worried about seeming to have been a kook.

    What if instead of torturing Ibn al Sheikh al Libi and Abu Zubaydah the US had treated them humanely, and had negotiated a deal with them. In his CSRT testimony Abu Zubaydah described how he tried to get valid Canadian passports, so he had his family could leave behind the dangerous life of a jihadi. Maybe, in return for an eventual placement in a witness relocation program he would have agreed to be an ally?

  58. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi arcticredriver,
    Yes, I saw that story this morning, just before I went out to campaign for the NHS, and I wondered why it was appearing now, and, specifically, what it meant for the men still held – as well as thinking, “Really? Penny Lane?” Mostly, however, all the talk of the site being overgrown made me think of how long this dark farce has been going on, and I was thinking about Camp X-Ray having been overgrown for many years, and how the whole of the prison should now be abandoned and overgrown.
    As for the safety of former prisoners, I think Abdurahman Khadr’s story is well known. I would think that it would be dangerous if others were exposed, although it doesn’t look as if that’s going to happen.
    The story’s here, if people missed it. I’ll try and write something soon:

  59. Andy Worthington says...

    I think the world of double agents is fraught with problems of allegiance, arcticredriver. To me it makes no sense that someone is supposed to serve two masters, even if one of those missions is supposed to be a front. People get emotionally involved, as we have seen in the UK from police infiltrating activist groups, and then having relationships – and even children – with the people they were keeping tabs on, and in some cases acting as agents provocateurs towards.
    I also think there’s a demonstrable history of agents being callously discarded – Bisher al-Rawi, for example, being used to spy on Abu Qatada, presumably at a personal risk to himself, and then being handed over to the CIA while he was on a business trip in The Gambia.
    Given this, your analysis of how expendable the agents were sounds probable.

  60. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for all your contributions, arcticredriver. I still think the US was fooled by those Afghans, who were Taliban leaders but pretended to be civilians caught by mistake, because it involved them arrogantly refusing to consult their supposed allies in Afghanistan who would have been able to tell them who was who. I think I first wrote about this back in 2007:
    As for al-Libi and Abu Zubaydah, I can’t say in the case of al-Libi, but Abu Zubaydah always struck me as someone who could have been a goldmine of information if he’d been exploited non-coercively, as he knew so many people. And this, of course, is what the FBI throught, in the brief period when they were building up a rapport with him before the CIA took him off to be tortured.

  61. arcticredriver says...

    Thanks Andy. I am intensely curious about this report. Maybe I need to stop thinking about it for a week or so, and then re-read it.

    With regard to the first three captives authorities described as “returning to the battlefield” — I have had a theory that Mullah Shahzada was a special case. I think there are strong reasons to doubt the DoD’s public claim that Mullah Shahzada “tricked” his way out of Guantanamo. I suspect he was the lucky beneficiary of incompetent intelligence staff failing to realize they had held two distinct captives, who were both accused of being a Taliban leader named Shahzada. I suspect the individual who was actually a Taliban leader was released, by accident, when replies to letters the other individual sent out through the Red Cross, they established his innocence, so his release was ordered — and they released the other guy.

    I may have said this before — I took Abdul Matin, ISN 1002’s testimony at face value. He testified he was the young scion of a well off family with land, and tenants, near Konduz. During the Communist puppet era their land was seized. In the very early 1990s his family produced the documents they had hidden which proved their ownership of their estates, and they went into exile in Pakistan to avoid the violence of the warlord period that followed the ouster of the communists. He testified that he completed his education in Pakistan, and became a high school science teacher there. He testified he had signed in at his job every day, at that school in Pakistan, during the 7 years that preceded his capture.

    To any sensible analyst the existence of those sign-in sheets should have been the perfect alibi to the allegation he had been the Taliban’s intelligence chief in Konduz. Heartbreakingly, the officers sitting on his CSR Tribunal had the nerve to claim being a full-time school teacher in Pakistan didn’t preclude him being a Taliban intelligence chief — as he could have served the Taliban during his summer vacation!

    Abdul Matin testified that, originally, his interrogators insisted he was a Taliban leader named shahzada. Shahzada is a Farsi word meaning “the son of a king”. I suspect that, colloquially, lots of the sons of rich men have this nickname forced on them.

  62. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your diligent study of the case of Abdul Matin, arcticredriver. I know I wrote briefly about him on his release, but I didn’t remember that ludicrous exchange, in which his tribunal thought he could have been a Taliban intelligence chief as a summer job. Here’s what I wrote when he was released nearly six years ago:
    As for Mullah Shahzada, you may be right. There was certainly room for confusion, as there was a prisoner called Haji Shahzada (ISN 952), a patently innocent man released in May 2005, who I wrote about here:
    Mullah Shahzada, on the other hand, was supposed to have been Mohammed Yusif Yaqub (ISN 367), released in May 2003, whom I wrote about here:
    As for the “Penny Lane” article, I will be having another look at it today, and hope to write about it.

  63. arcticredriver says...

    Andy the Washington Post wrote about a 50-something Russian defector they captured in 2009, who they would now like to bring to the USA to face charges before a military commission. They say his nom de guerre is Irek Hamidullah.

    Those articles say Bagram/Parwan holds about fifty foreigners.

    They say the Russians aren’t interested in having him back.

    I wonder if, like the Uyghurs, or the Guantanamo captives the USA considered Russian, he is really a member of a minority group that seeks separatism, or more autonomy, for the region where they form a majority?

    The Wapo called him a Russian deserter, but I wonder if it wouldn’t be fairer to call him a defector — particularly if he changed sides and fought beside the Afghan resistance.

    It sounds like he must have set down firm roots with the local community, during the 20+ years between his defection during the Soviet occupation and the American ouster of the Taliban — as otherwise he would have been a prime target for bounty hunters.

    If my memory is not playing tricks on me, weren’t a few of the non-Afghans in Guantanamo veterans of the anti-Soviet war, who decided to settle in Afghanistan. If I remember correctly those foreigners were not happy over the brutal civil war that followed the Soviet ouster, and they all testified they did their best to stay neutral, and not side with one warlord or another. Mind you, some or all of them might have been lying. But if your motivation to travel to Afghanistan was to help protect muslims from attacks by non-muslims, why would you get involved in a muslim on muslim civil war?

    I think this is why Osama bin Laden went to the expense of moving his base of operations from Afghanistan to Sudan — so he wouldn’t be drawn in, and made to squander his private army, on a muslim on muslim fight with no advantage to him.

    If our Russian had kept his head down, and raised a family, in Afghanistan in the 1980-2000 period I think it is quite possible that US intelligence got it wrong all over again, and that he had never been involved with the Taliban, or HiG, or any other militia resisting the USA and Karzai. Afghanistan is a dangerous place, and there are many ways an innocent non-combatant could end up with wounds that looked like battle-wounds — like being near a land-mine that blew up, possibly after being buried for decades.

    If he had these thirty years of residency in Afghanistan perhaps the humane thing to do would be to consider him a defacto Afghan citizen, and to have handed him over justice and law enforcement officials of Afghanistan?

    Andy, correct me if I am wrong — when the UK finally made peace with the IRA, didn’t practically everyone finally realize that peace depended on letting go of seeking vengeance, and giving everyone still standing a defacto amnesty?

  64. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for bringing this story to my attention, arcticredriver. I noted it very briefly in passing in December, but failed to pay proper attention to it:
    I find it disturbing that there are those within the US government who would want to hold a military commission for someone not already held at Guantanamo, to be honest, as the entire system remains unfit for purpose. I agree that this man would be better regarded as an Afghan and tried there if there is any reliable evidence against him.
    As for Northern Ireland, my recollection is that the peace process took a very long time, and depended primarly on sitting down to have discussions rather than fighting, but I’m sure it also involved what you mention – “letting go of seeking vengeance.” It’s a lesson some of those with power in the US have evidently not learned.

  65. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, the news Snowden revealed should get us all asking questions about how the government monitors us, and whether it gets web search giants like google to skew their results.

    Can I ask you, and your readers, to do a web search on “Irek Hamidullah”? For me the google search for “Irek Hamidullah” only yields 3 results. In particular, it does not yield the washington post articles, which we know it should find.

    We know that google will sometimes skew its results, out of personal considerations. John Kerry, for instance, has two beautiful daughters. One of them is a film-director. Some years ago the Kerry daughter who is a film director went and bought what would have looked like a modest elegant black dress for her attendance at a classy event connected to a film festival. It didn’t have a scooped neckline, it wasn’t daringly short, didn’t have slits or keyholes. What made it memorable was that it was made from one of those fabrics which seem opaque 99.9 percent of the time, but which appear almost completely translucent when a photographer is using a high powered flash. Kerry’s daughters are surprisingly beautiful, given what he looks like, and, unknown to her, lots of the photos of the film-maker daughter from this event showed that she wasn’t wearing either any underclothes under the dress, and let viewers see her lady parts as clearly as if she was buck naked.

    Kerry appealed to Google, and as a personal courtesy, Google made those photos disappear from google’s version of history. (When I checked, a few years ago, Yahoo’s search engines still found them.)

    I wonder whether Google has agreed, or been coerced, to skew its results related to Guantanamo and counter-terrorism.

    So, could you confirm whether you also get the limited reply that leaves out sites we know google should find?

    For about a year now I have been finding google’s results much less useful than in the past.


  66. arcticredriver says...

    With regard to the ruthless discarding of agents, one of our cable channels recently broadcast an interesting short series entitled something like “From Fleming to Bond”.

    It portrays Ian Fleming as a pre-war wastrel, whose ruthless attitude made him useful and important during wartime. The series has Fleming spin off a lot of good ideas, that are later credited to other people, or at least not credited to him.

    In particular, the idea of taking a corpse, that could pass for the corpse of a British agent, fitting it out with a suitable kit, and some apparently genuine but misleading phony secret documents, and then arranging for it to wash up, apparently accidentally, on a beach near a German intelligence base? The series attributes this idea to him.

    A film, “The man who never was” was based on this premise.

    Fleming complains about how difficult it is to find a suitable corpse, as he rules out one otherwise suitable corpse because the teeth were too messed up to pass as the teeth of an officer. The series has him say something like, “It is too bad we can’t just kill someone who looks suitable.” I may have mentioned this before, UK literary guy Leo Marks was a cryptanalyst for the ruthless SOE during World War 2, and he wrote about the heartbreaking case of an eager young volunteer from Europe, who went through all the regular SOE training, who he, Marks, knew, was on a mission where he was given the same kit of apparently genuine but misleading documents, as in the movie. SOE’s plan was for him to die, and for the Germans to be convinced of the document’s authenticity. I can’t remember whether he was to be given a defective parachute, or whether his resistance contacts were supposed to kill him.

    This was a whole other level of ruthlessness beyond sacrificing a double agent of doubtful neutrality. When one volunteers for a mission and is told it is so dangerous you should make a will, as you may not return, one doesn’t think that the plan requires you to be killed.

  67. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, arcticredriver. Yes, I get the same result when I search for “Irek Hamidullah,” and I do sometimes note that things that should turn up in searches don’t.
    To be honest, I remain bemused by Google’s algorithms. I’d expect my site to be on Page 1 of Google under “Guantanamo,” but it isn’t. I’d like to to be treated as a news outlet, but I’m not. Until recently, however, Google at least listed blogs, but now it doesn’t so I guess it’s slightly less easy to find me than previously.

  68. Andy Worthington says...

    That’s pretty horrible, arcticredriver. It reminds me of the ways in which double agents are treated as disposable, but doing it to one’s own agents particularly seems to demonstrate how no one is indispensable, except those at the very top making decisions about who ultimately can be discarded.

  69. arcticredriver says...

    Here is another google anomaly —
    a google news search for Rahizi Guantanamo only gets one hit, while a news search for just Guantanamo gets multiple hits that mention Rahizi’s PRB.

    I feel betrayed google. I guess I should ask them to give me back the search dossier they maintain on every searcher :-)?

  70. Andy Worthington says...

    Ha, yes, arcticredriver. It’s certainly unusual how some searches fail to turn up what we would expect to turn up. Have you tried asking Google why that is? (though I imagine they’re not that easy to get hold of)

Leave a Reply



Back to the top

Back to home page

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).
Email Andy Worthington

CD: Love and War

The Four Fathers on Bandcamp

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo


Posts & Comments

World Wide Web Consortium



Powered by WordPress

Designed by Josh King-Farlow

Please support Andy Worthington, independent journalist:


In Touch

Follow me on Facebook

Become a fan on Facebook

Subscribe to me on YouTubeSubscribe to me on YouTube

The State of London

The State of London. 16 photos of London

Andy's Flickr photos



Tag Cloud

Afghans in Guantanamo Al-Qaeda Andy Worthington British prisoners Center for Constitutional Rights CIA torture prisons Close Guantanamo Donald Trump Four Fathers Guantanamo Housing crisis Hunger strikes London Military Commission NHS NHS privatisation Periodic Review Boards Photos President Obama Reprieve Shaker Aamer The Four Fathers Torture UK austerity UK protest US courts Video We Stand With Shaker WikiLeaks Yemenis in Guantanamo