Close Guantánamo: Our Achievements in 2023, Marking Guantánamo’s 22nd Anniversary on Jan. 11, and What We Can Do in 2024

Photos from the coordinated global vigils for the closure of Guantánamo on Wednesday June 7, 2023. Clockwise, from top L, London, Washington, D.C., Brussels and Detroit.

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I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Thanks to everyone who took part in events marking the 22nd anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on January 11 — via the 20 vigils for the prison’s closure that took place across the US and around the world, via our ongoing photo campaign, for which over 120 people sent in photos of themselves with a poster marking 8,036 days of the prison’s existence on January 11, and calling for its closure, and via a number of online events.

One of these events was an online panel discussion, hosted by the New America think-tank in Washington, D.C., at which I was joined by the eloquent former prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, and Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, who, until recently, was the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism.

Last year, Fionnuala became the first UN Rapporteur to visit the prison, subsequently producing what I described at the time as “a devastatingly critical report about systemic, historic and ongoing human rights abuses at the prison,” in which she concluded that, despite some improvements to the regime under Presidents Obama and Biden, the totality of ongoing conditions at the prison amounts to “ongoing cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment,” which, in certain cases, “may also meet the legal threshold for torture.”

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Despite 9/11 Accused Being Mentally “Unfit To Stand Trial,” Biden Refuses Plea Deal That Would Provide Mental Health Care, As Required By International Law

Ramzi bin al-Shibh, in a recent photo taken at Guantánamo by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and his trial judge, Air Force Col. Matthew McCall, who has recently accepted an assessment by a DoD Sanity Board that he is unfit to stand trial because he suffers from PTSD and psychosis.

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I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

In startling news from Guantánamo four days ago, Air Force Col. Matthew McCall, the judge in the military commission case against the five men accused of involvement in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, ruled that one of the men, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, is, as the Associated Press described it, “unfit for trial” after a medical panel found that “torture left him psychotic” — or “lastingly psychotic,” as the article’s opening line stated.

Bin al-Shibh, 51, a Yemeni, was 30 years old when he was seized in a house raid in Karachi, Pakistan on September 11, 2002, the first anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. He was subsequently held for four years in CIA “black sites” around the world — including Morocco, Poland, Romania and a “black site” that existed in Guantánamo in 2003-04 — before his final transfer to Guantánamo in September 2006, with 13 other “high-value detainees,” including the other four men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

After an abortive attempt, in 2008, to prosecute the five men in the military commissions under President Bush, and a subsequent commitment, in November 2009, to prosecute them in a federal court in New York, which was abandoned after a Republican backlash, the five were charged in a revived military commission system in May 2011.

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Radio: I Discuss Guantánamo’s Discredited Torture Trials with Scott Horton

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in a courtroom sketch by Janet Hamlin during his arraignment at Guantánamo nearly 12 years ago, on November 9, 2011. (Image copyright Janet Hamlin Illustration). Interestingly, his clean-shaven appearance was not a one-off. As the Spanish journalist Macarena Vidal Liy noted for El Pais after attending recent hearings, one of his lawyers, Anthony Natale, told her that, as she described it, he “loves pop music — he is a fan of Dua Lipa — which has helped him learn to communicate in English,” and, “[u]nlike other prisoners, he is not religious, generously hugs his defenders and has no problem with female prison staff.”

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Last week, hot on the heels of my interview about Guantánamo with Kevin Gosztola and Rania Khalek for their “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, I was delighted to speak again to Scott Horton, the indefatigable interviewer, author and libertarian, who I’ve been talking to on and off for the last 16 years. Scott works so hard that this was, astonishingly, his 5,935th interview!

The focus of our half-hour interview was my recent article, Trial Judge Destroys Guantánamo’s Military Commissions, Rules That “Clean Team” Interrogations Cannot Undo the Effects of Torture, about the recent devastating ruling by Col. Lanny Acosta, the trial judge in the military commission pre-trial hearings (now in their 12th year) for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of being the mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, who was held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for nearly four years before his transfer to Guantánamo in September 2006.

Al-Nashiri had made self-incriminating statements under torture, but the government knew that these could not be used in court, and so, four months after his arrival, a so-called “clean team” of interrogators interviewed him non-coercively, apparently securing voluntary self-incriminating statements. It is these statements, however, that Col. Acosta has just ruled inadmissible, because, as he established, the regime of torture and confession in the “black sites” was so enduring that al-Nashiri had essentially been “conditioned” to believe that, if he didn’t tell his interrogators what they wanted to hear, he would inevitably be subjected to horrendous torture.

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Video: I Discuss the Collapse of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions on “Unauthorized Disclosure” with Kevin Gosztola and Rania Khalek

A screenshot from “Nearly 8,000 Days of Injustice at Guantánamo Bay,” the latest “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, in which Kevin Gosztola and Rania Khalek interviewed Andy Worthington.

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Many thanks to Kevin Gosztola of Shadowproof and The Dissenter for having me on his most recent “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast with Rania Khalek to discuss the latest news regarding the prison at Guantánamo Bay.

The 40-minute podcast is entitled, “Nearly 8,000 Days of Injustice at Guantánamo Bay,” which is a helpful reminder of quite how long this wretched place has been open, and a reference to the photo campaign I’ve been running for many years now via the Close Guantánamo website (and its Gitmo Clock subsidiary, which counts in real time how long Guantánamo has been open), encouraging supporters to take photos with posters marking every 100 days of the prison’s existence.

The latest poster was for 7,900 days, on August 28, and you can see all the photos here, while the terrible milestone of 8,000 days takes place on December 6, and I hope you can take a photo with the 8,000 days poster and send it to Close Guantánamo.

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Trial Judge Destroys Guantánamo’s Military Commissions, Rules That “Clean Team” Interrogations Cannot Undo the Effects of Torture

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, photographed before his capture, and his trial judge in the military commissions at Guantánamo, Col. Lanny J. Acosta Jr.

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I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

In an extraordinary 50-page ruling in Guantánamo’s military commissions, Col. Lanny J. Acosta Jr., the judge in the case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi national of Yemeni descent, who is accused of masterminding the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000, in which 17 US sailors died, has refused to allow prosecutors to use self-incriminating statements that al-Nashiri made to a so-called “clean team” of three agents from the FBI, the NCIS and the Air Force Office of Special Investigations on January 31 and February 1 and 2, 2007, five months after he was brought to Guantánamo, having spent nearly four years in CIA “black sites,” where he was subjected to horrendous torture.

At the heart of Col. Acosta’s measured and devastating opinion is an appalled recognition that the extent of al-Nashiri’s torture, and its location with a system designed to break him and to make him entirely dependent on the whims of his interrogators to prevent further torture, made it impossible for him to have delivered any kind of uncoerced self-incriminating statement to the “clean team” who interviewed him in 2007.

To establish this compelling conclusion, Col. Acosta painstakingly pieces together a narrative of al-Nashiri’s torture that tells this brutal story in more agonizing and forensic detail than any previous account has done, drawing largely on the accounts of al-Nashiri’s torture in the revelatory 500-page unclassified summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report about the CIA torture program — technically, the Rendition, Detention, and Interrogation (RDI) program — which was released in December 2014, on the testimony of numerous experts called by the defense team in hearings between July 2022 and June 2023, and on the testimony of James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, two staff psychologists from the US Air Force SERE school, who were recruited to direct the torture program on the ground.

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After First Ever Guantánamo Visit, UN Rapporteur Finds Dehumanized, Traumatized Men Subjected to Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment That May Rise to the Level of Torture

Campaigners for the closure of Guantánamo outside a US government building in Washington, D.C. on January 11, 2017 (Photo: Andy Worthington).

Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

On Monday June 26, 7,837 days since the prison at Guantánamo Bay opened, and on the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council (“independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective”) issued a devastatingly critical report about systemic, historic and ongoing human rights abuses at the prison, based on the first ever visit by a Special Rapporteur — Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism, who visited the prison in February.

At the time of her visit, just 34 men were held at the prison (a number now reduced to 30), out of the 779 men and boys who have been held by the US military throughout the prison’s long history, and, as the Special Rapporteur admitted, she agreed with every “detainee or former detainee,” who, “[i]n every meeting she held” with them, told her, “with great regret,” that she had arrived “too late.”

However, it is crucial to understand that the lateness of the visit was not through a lack of effort on the part of the UN; rather, it was a result of a persistent lack of cooperation by the US authorities — part of a pattern of obstruction, secrecy and surveillance that prevented any UN visit because the authorities failed to comply with the Terms of Reference for Country Visits by Special Procedure Mandate Holders, which require “[c]onfidential and unsupervised contact with witnesses and other private persons, including persons deprived of their liberty.”

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Searching for Justice at Guantánamo: The New Arab Podcast About Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, Featuring One of His Lawyers, Mansoor Adayfi and Me

The image for The New Arab Voice podcast about Guantánamo, released on June 23, 2023.

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Many thanks to Nadine Talaat of The New Arab for interviewing me for a new podcast, “Searching for Justice at Guantánamo: Tainted evidence and the fight for accountability,” which you can listen to here.

The particular focus of the half-hour podcast is Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a “high-value detainee,” who was held and tortured for nearly four years in CIA “black sites,” before ending up at Guantánamo in September 2006, where he has been held ever since.

Charged with terrorism-related offences in 2008, which were subsequently dropped, al-Nashiri was charged again in 2012, and has been caught up in pre-trial hearings ever since.

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UN Condemns Arbitrary Detention of Guantánamo Prisoner and Torture Victim Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, and Calls for His Release

A composite image of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri and the CIA “black site”in Poland, where he was held from December 2002 to June 2003, and where some the worst torture to which was subjected took place.

Please support my work as a reader-funded journalist! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my writing and campaigning on Guantánamo and related issues over the next three months. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, with the US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

In a truly devastating opinion, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has condemned the government of the United States for the arbitrary detention, over the last 20 and a half years, of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, a 58-year old Saudi national who was imprisoned and tortured in CIA “black sites” for nearly four years, and who has been held, since September 2006, in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, where he was brought with 13 other men described as “high-value detainees.” He is one of nine men facing charges in the prison’s largely dysfunctional military commission trial system, but, as the Working Group explained, although “pretrial hearings” in his case “began on 17 January 2012,” they “remain ongoing and no trial date has been set,” and, in a conclusion that must have unsettled the Biden administration, they called for his release.

Also implicated in his arbitrary detention are seven other countries — Afghanistan, Lithuania, Morocco, Poland, Romania and Thailand, where he was held in CIA “black sites,” and the United Arab Emirates, where he was first seized, without an arrest warrant, in October 2002, and interrogated for a month by Emirati intelligence operatives before being handed over to the CIA. The bulk of the Working Group’s condemnation of Al-Nashiri’s treatment is, however, focused on the US.

In recent months, the UN, which has always condemned the existence of Guantánamo and the human rights violations committed there, as well as in the CIA’s global network of “black sites,” has stepped up its criticism, issuing, via a number of UN experts, a resounding condemnation of life-threatening medical neglect in the case of Abd Al-Hadi Al-Iraqi, another “high-value detainee” (which I discussed here), and, also via the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, an opinion in the case of Abu Zubaydah — the “high-value detainee” for whom the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program was developed, in the mistaken belief that the was a high-ranking member of Al-Qaeda — which was so hard-hitting that I described it as “the single most devastating condemnation by an international body that has ever been issued with regard to the US’s detention policies in the ‘war on terror,’ both in CIA ‘black sites’ and at Guantánamo.”

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US Military Closes Camp 7, Guantánamo’s “High-Value Detainee” Prison Block, Moves Men to Camp 5

A Google Earth image of the secretive Camp 7 at Guantánamo Bay.

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In news from Guantánamo, the US military announced yesterday that it had shut Camp 7, the secretive prison block where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other so-called “high-value detainees” have been held since their arrival at Guantánamo from CIA “black sites” in September 2006, and had moved the prisoners to Camp 5.

Modeled on a maximum security prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, Camp 5, which cost $17.5 million, opened in 2004, and its solid-walled, isolated cells were used to hold prisoners regarded as non-compliant. As the prison’s population shrank, however, it was closed — in September 2016 — and its remaining prisoners transferred to Camp 6, which opened in 2006, and includes a communal area.

Camp 7, meanwhile, which cost $17 million, was also built in 2004. Two storeys tall, it was modeled on a maximum-security prison in Bunker Hill, Indiana, and, as Carol Rosenberg explained in the New York Times yesterday, had “a modest detainee health clinic and a psychiatric ward with a padded cell, but none of the hospice or end-of-life care capacity once envisioned by Pentagon planners.”

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Deprivation and Despair: New Report Details Crisis of Medical Care at Guantánamo

The cover of ‘Deprivation and Despair: The Crisis of Medical Care at Guantánamo,’ a new report by the the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR).

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Many thanks to the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT) and Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) for their new report, Deprivation and Despair: The Crisis of Medical Care at Guantánamo.

As CVT state in their introduction to the report on their website, “the experiences of detainees and independent civilian medical experts with medical care at the Guantánamo Bay detention center not only broadly refute the claim that detainees receive care equivalent to that of U.S. service members, but also evidence specific violations of the Nelson Mandela Rules, the universally recognized UN standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners, which the United States has championed.”

In the introduction to the report itself, CVT and PHR provide a summary of Guantánamo now, “in its eighteenth year”, explaining, “Forty Muslim men still languish there, 31 of whom have never been charged with a crime. Five detainees have long been cleared for transfer by consensus of the Executive Branch’s national security apparatus, which determined that the men pose no meaningful threat, if any at all, to the United States. Many of the remaining detainees are torture survivors or victims of similarly significant trauma. All of them are either suffering from or at high risk of the additional profound physical and psychological harm associated with prolonged indefinite detention, a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. As the men age under these conditions, they are increasingly presenting with complex medical needs.”

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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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