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.”

Read the rest of this entry »

US Readers: Please Tell Congress to Ease Restrictions on Transferring Prisoners Out of Guantánamo in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)

A photo of the operating room at the prisoner hospital at Guantánamo, taken by a member of the US military on December 3, 2002.

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Ever since Barack Obama left the White House, in January 2017, having failed to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, despite promising to do so on his second day in office eight years before, it has been difficult to see any light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to that wretched offshore prison. 

The 40 men still held are, for the most part, held indefinitely without charge or trial, while the few who are charged are caught in seemingly endless pre-trial hearings in the military commissions, a broken facsimile of a functioning judicial system. And in the White House, of course, is Donald Trump, who has no interest in justice when it comes to the Guantánamo prisoners; Donald Trump, who wants no one released under any circumstances, and would happily add to the prison’s population if he could.

However, a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel finally re-emerged in November, in the mid-term elections, when Democrats took back control of the House of Representatives. Given the track record of the Obama years, it would be unwise to read too much into this slight shift in the balance of power amongst the US’s elected representatives, but, as Shilpa Jindia noted in a recent article for the Intercept, “On the anniversary of the prison’s opening in January, a coalition of NGOs visited with key House Democrats, who expressed support for various tactics to close Guantánamo.”

Read the rest of this entry »

41 Attorneys from the Cincinnati Area Call on Donald Trump to Close Guantánamo

Campaigners from Witness Against Torture and other organizations call for the closure of Guantanamo outside the White House on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the prison's opening.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 of the Trump administration.




Last week, 41 attorneys from the Cincinnati area, in Ohio, wrote a column for the Cincinnati Enquirer calling for Donald Trump to close Guantánamo. Founded in 1841, the paper is the last surviving daily newspaper in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, and is traditionally regarded as a a conservative, Republican-leaning newspaper.

Nevertheless, on August 26 it gave space to the 41 lawyers, including some who have represented Guantánamo prisoners over the 16 long years of the prison’s history, for them to argue that the 41 men still held at Guantánamo should either be freed or charged and tried in federal court.

It’s a position that I agree with, as regular readers will know, and it’s reassuring to see so many lawyers come together to make such a definitive statement in the face of Donald Trump’s refusal to acknowledge that the prison is, as the lawyers describe it, “a great shame that hangs over the American legal system.” Read the rest of this entry »

16 Years Since John Yoo and Jay Bybee’s “Torture Memos” Were Issued, Abu Zubaydah Remains in Guantánamo, Silenced and Alone

Abu Zubaydah: illustration by Brigid Barrett from an article in Wired in July 2013. The photo used is from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2013.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 of the Trump administration.




 

I was on vacation recently when a terrible anniversary passed unnoticed by the mainstream media — the 16th anniversary of two official US government memos authorizing the use of torture, and specifically approving it for use on Abu Zubaydah, which were issued on August 1, 2002.

A Saudi-born Palestinian, Zubaydah — whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn — was seized in a house raid in Faisalabad, Pakistan on March 28, 2002, and held and tortured in CIA “black sites” until, in September 2006, he was sent to Guantánamo, where he remains to this day, held largely incommunicado, and without being charged or put on trial. 

In a useful article for the generally dreadful Lawfare blog, whose existence normalizes the notion of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial, one of his lawyers, Charles R. Church, recently wrote an article entitled, “What Politics and the Media Still Get Wrong About Abu Zubaydah,” in which he wrote, “Perhaps not since the French political scandal known as the Dreyfus Affair, at the turn of the 20th century, has there been such a concerted campaign to promulgate false information about a prisoner. In our client’s case, the motive was to gain permission to torture Abu Zubaydah and to provide a basis for holding him incommunicado and in isolation.” Read the rest of this entry »

European Court of Human Rights Condemns Romania and Lithuania for CIA “Black Sites” Where Abu Zubaydah and Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri Were Tortured

Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, two prisoners held in secret CIA "black sites" in Lithuania and Romania, whose governments were condemned for their involvement in the "black sites" and torture in two devastating rulings delivered by the European Court of Human Rights in May 2018.

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In two devastating rulings on May 31, the European Court of Human Rights found that the actions of the Romanian and Lithuanian governments, when they hosted CIA “black sites” as part of the Bush administration’s post-9/11 torture program, and held, respectively, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah, who have both been held at Guantánamo since September 2006, breached key articles of the European Convention on Human Rights; specifically, Article 3, prohibiting the use of torture, Article 5 on the right to liberty and security, Article 8 on respect for private life, and Article 13 on the right to an effective legal remedy.

The full rulings can be found here: Abu Zubaydah v. Lithuania and Al-Nashiri v. Romania.

In the case of al-Nashiri, who faces a capital trial in Guantánamo’s military commission trial system, as the alleged mastermind of the bombing of USS Cole in 2000, in which 17 US sailors died, the Court also found that the Romanian government had denied him the right to a fair trial under Article 6 of the ECHR, and had “exposed him to a ‘flagrant denial of justice’ on his transfer to the US,” as Deutsche Welle described it, adding that the judges insisted that the Romanian government should “seek assurances from the US that al-Nashiri would not be sentenced to the death penalty, which in Europe is outlawed.” Abu Zubaydah, it should be noted, has never been charged with anything, even though the torture program was initially created for him after his capture in a house raid in Pakistan in March 2002. At the time, the US authorities regarded him as a senior figure in Al-Qaeda, although they subsequently abandoned that position. Read the rest of this entry »

16 Years Ago, the US Captured Abu Zubaydah, First Official Victim of the Post-9/11 Torture Program, Still Held at Guantánamo Without Charge or Trial

Abu Zubaydah: illustration by Brigid Barrett from an article in Wired in July 2013. The photo used is from the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2013.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 of the Trump administration.





 

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.

16 years ago, on March 28, 2002, an event took place that has had dreadful repercussions ever since, when Pakistani and American agents raided a house in Faisalabad, Pakistan and captured Abu Zubaydah (Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), creating a torture program especially for him, which was then applied to dozens of other prisoners seized in the US’s brutal and pointless “war on terror.”

A Palestinian born in Saudi Arabia in 1971, Zubaydah had traveled to Afghanistan to join the mujahideen in the Afghan civil war (1989-1992) that followed the retreat of the Soviet Union after its ten-year occupation. In 1992, he was severely injured by an exploding mortar shell, suffering shrapnel wounds and severe memory loss. For over a year, he was also left unable to speak.

Although he eventually recovered sufficiently to become a logistician for Khalden, an independent training camp run by Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, which closed around 2000 when al-Libi refused to allow it to come under the control of Al-Qaeda, FBI agents who interviewed him after his capture had no doubt that the mortar damage had caused permanent damage. They also knew that he was a kind of travel agent for Khalden, and not number 3 in Al-Qaeda, as the CIA and the Bush administration mistakenly thought. (Al-Libi, meanwhile, tortured into telling lies that the US used to justify its illegal invasion of Iraq, was eventually returned to Libya, where Col. Gaddafi imprisoned him and later killed him). Read the rest of this entry »

The Torture Trail of Gina Haspel Makes Her Unsuitable to be Director of the CIA

Gina Haspel, the current Deputy Director of the CIA, and Donald Trump, who last week appointed her as the CIA's next Director, a nomination that should face hurdles in Congress because of her role overseeing a "black site" in Thailand, and her role in destroying videotapes of torture at the site.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 of the Trump administration.





 

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.

Last Tuesday, Donald Trump announced that Mike Pompeo, the current Director of the CIA, would become the new Secretary of State, replacing Rex Tillerson, while Gina Haspel, the current Deputy Director of the CIA, would be promoted to Director, “the first woman so chosen.”

There was nothing positive about this development. As usual, Trump, defying protocol and any notion of politeness, announced Tillerson’s sacking, and the new appointments, by tweet. Tillerson, formerly the CEO of ExxonMobil, had been an indifferent Secretary of State, but Pompeo is a poor choice to be the nation’s top diplomat — hawkish on Iran, and a supporter of the continuing existence of Guantánamo. Interestingly, the New Yorker noted that Tillerson was fired shortly after agreeing with the British government that Russia “appears” to have been responsible for the recent nerve-gas attack on a former Russian spy in Salisbury, in the UK. Pompeo, however, is not averse to criticizing Russia, in contrast to Trump himself, who, ignoring his advisers, on Tuesday congratulated Vladimir Putin on his recent election victory.

However, the bulk of the criticism after Trump’s announcement has, deservedly, been reserved for the promotion of Gina Haspel, who oversaw the last few months’ existence of the CIA’s first post-9/11 “black site” in Thailand, and later conspired to destroy videotapes of the torture that took place there. Unlike Mike Pompeo, who has taken a stance agains torture, there is no sign from Haspel that she recognizes the illegality of torture, and in Donald Trump, of course, she has a president who is an enthusiastic advocate for the use of torture. Read the rest of this entry »

The Complete Collapse of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri’s Military Commission Trial at Guantánamo

Col. Vance Spath and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, both at the heart of a meltdown in the military commission trial system at Guantanamo.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 of the Trump administration.





 

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.

It’s three weeks since a judge in Guantánamo’s military commission trial system, Air Force Col. Vance Spath, indefinitely halted proceedings in one of the trials’ only active cases — that of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi accused of masterminding the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, when 17 US sailors were killed.

Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, who first reported the story, announced that Col. Spath “shut down the proceedings because of his inability to get defense lawyers back to the death-penalty case.” In October, three civilian lawyers quit the case for reasons that were not specified, but that observers presumed related to them discovering that they were being spied on by prosecutors — or, at least, by the military authorities at Guantánamo, on whose behalf the prosecutors are working.

I reported this story in November, when, adding insult to injury, Judge Spath briefly imprisoned Brig. Gen. John Baker, the Chief Defense Counsel of the military commissions, for refusing a request by him to reinstate the defense team — Rick Kammen, Rosa Eliades and Mary Spears — even though Brig. Gen. Baker was entirely justified in doing so. The loss of Kammen was a particular blow, as he is a death penalty expert, who has been on the case since al-Nashiri was first charged nearly ten years ago, and, by his own reckoning, has “devoted at least 10,000 hours working on the case, traveled to at least seven foreign countries in trial preparation and to Guantánamo 50 times to meet with Nashiri or appear in court,” as Carol Rosenberg explained in October. Read the rest of this entry »

Ahmed Al-Darbi: Still Held, the Guantánamo Prisoner Who Was Supposed to Have Been Sent Home Two Weeks Ago

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed al-Darbi, with a photo of his children, in a photo taken several years ago by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.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 of the Trump administration.





 

On Friday, Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi prisoner at Guantánamo, publicly criticized his government for failing to secure his release from the prison on February 20. The  release date had been agreed last October as part of a plea deal he had initially agreed to in February 2014.

In what the New York Times described as “an unusual statement” conveyed through his lawyer, he said, “It’s shameful. Unlike other countries, the Saudi government never even provided me with an attorney all these years.” He added, “And now my own government is an obstacle to my repatriation. What kind of country abandons its citizens in the custody of another government for 16 years? My country won’t take a step that was agreed on four years ago so that I can finally go home. It’s been my daily dream for four years to see my wife and children.”

Under the terms of his plea deal, al-Darbi admitted that he played a part in a 2002 attack by Al-Qaeda on a French oil tanker, the Limburg, off the Yemeni coast, in exchange for a promise that he would be repatriated, after cooperating further with the US, to serve out the rest of his sentence in Saudi Arabia. As I explained in October, when he was given a 13-year sentence, his sentencing didn’t take place before “because it was dependent upon him providing testimony for the trials of other prisoners, testimony that he undertook [last] summer, providing videotaped testimony against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who is on trial for his alleged involvement in the bombing off the USS Cole in 2000, and a deposition in the case of Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, another prisoner facing a trial by military commission.” Read the rest of this entry »

The Latest Scandal of the Military Commissions at Guantánamo: A Death Penalty Case Without a Death Penalty Lawyer

The US flag, seen through barbed wire, at Guantanamo.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 of the Trump administration.





 

The military commissions at Guantánamo, since they were ill-advisedly dragged out of the history books by the Bush administration, have persistently failed to demonstrate anything more than a tangential relationship to justice, as I have been reporting for over ten years. Last September, I summarized the trial system’s many failures in an article entitled, Not Fit for Purpose: The Ongoing Failure of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions.

Under Donald Trump, there has been no improvement. Pre-trial hearings drag on, seemingly interminably, as defense lawyers seek to expose evidence of the torture of their clients in CIA “black sites,” while prosecutors, for the government, do everything they can to hide that evidence. Earlier this month, however, as I explained in a recent article, a new low point was reached when, astonishingly, the chief defense counsel, Brig. Gen. John Baker, was briefly imprisoned for defending the right of three civilian defense attorneys to resign after they found out that the government had been spying on them.

The loss of the attorneys led to a disgraceful situation in which the government insisted on limping on with the capital case — against Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a victim of CIA torture, and the alleged mastermind of the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 — even though it is illegal to pursue a capital case without a qualified death penalty lawyer on board. That role was filled by Rick Kammen, who had been on al-Nashiri’s case for nine years. 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 (The State of London).
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