Please Watch ‘The Trial’, A Powerful Video About Guantánamo’s Broken Military Commission Trial System

A screenshot, from 'The Trial,' of Ammar al-Baluchi's defense team - from the left, Alka Pradhan, James Connell and Lt. Col. Sterling Thomas.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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

In the long and horrendously unjust story of Guantánamo, the two key elements of America’s flight from the law since 9/11 have been the use of torture, and the imprisonment of men, indefinitely, without charge or trial. A third element is the decision to try some of these men, in a trial system ill-advisedly dragged out of the history books by former Vice President Dick Cheney and his legal adviser David Addington.

That system — the military commissions — has struggled to deliver anything resembling justice, in large part because it was designed to accept evidence produced through torture, and then to execute prisoners after cursory trials. The Supreme Court ruled this system illegal in 2006, but Congress then tweaked it and revived it, and, after Barack Obama became president, it was tweaked and revised again instead of being scrapped, as it should have been.

Throughout this whole sorry period, the US federal courts have, in contrast, proven adept at successfully prosecuting those accused of terrorism, but at Guantánamo the commissions have struggled to successfully convict anyone. Since 2008, just eight cases have gone to trial, but six were settled via plea deals, and, of the other two, one ended up with the prisoner in question (Salim Hamdan, a hapless driver for Osama bin Laden)  being released after just five months, while the other was an outrageously one-sided affair, as the prisoner in question (Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a propagandist for Al-Qaeda) refused even to mount a defense. The commissions also have a history of collapsing on appeal — and with good reason, as the alleged war crimes most of the prisoners were convicted of were actually invented by Congress. For an overview of the commissions, see my article, The Full List of Prisoners Charged in the Military Commissions at Guantánamo. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Judge Bans So-Called “Clean Team” Evidence in 9/11 Trial, Then Resigns

Col. James Pohl, the 9/11 trial judge, who has just announced his resignation, and the five Guantanamo prisoners (and former CIA "black site" prisoners) accused of involved in the 9/11 attacks.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 Friday, August 17, a ruling of potentially huge significance took place at Guantánamo in pre-trial hearings for the proposed trial by military commission of the five men accused of involvement in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, who include Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. All five men have been held at Guantánamo since September 2006, and, before that, were held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for up to three and a half years. 

Yesterday, just ten days later, the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, 67, who has been the judge on the case since the men were arraigned in May 2012, announced that he will retire on September 30 and named Marine Col. Keith A. Parrella, 44, to replace him. Giving notice of his intention, he stated, “I will leave active duty after 38 years. To be clear, this was my decision and not impacted by any outside influence from any source.”

Astonishingly, it is ten and half years since the US government first filed charges against the five men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks in the military commission trial system, which had been ill-advisedly dragged from the history books by Dick Cheney and his lawyer David Addington in November 2001, but had been ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. The commissions were subsequently revived with Congressional backing, but struggled to establish any legitimacy throughout the rest of Bush’s presidency. Read the rest of this entry »

Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court Nomination, Has a Dangerous Track Record of Defending Guantánamo and Unfettered Executive Power

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump and a close-up of Guantanamo prisoners photographed on the day the prison opened, January 11, 2002. The photo on the left is an edit of a photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.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.

Disgraceful though Donald Trump’s presidency is, it will at least be over at some point in the imaginable future, with the potential that his most outrageous policy changes, enacted in legislation by a Republican majority in Congress, can be reversed should Congress end up with a Democratic majority instead.

When it comes to interpreting the law, however, his impact will last for decades, through his nominations to the nation’s District Courts, appeals courts (the Circuit Courts), and, most crucially, the Supreme Court.

Shamefully, although Barack Obama successfully nominated two of the Supreme Court’s nine justices during his eight years in office (Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan), Congress — where Republicans had a majority, as they did throughout most of Obama’s presidency — refused to consider his third nomination, Merrick Garland, nominated in March 2016. Garland’s appointment would have given Democratic appointees a majority on the Supreme Court for the first time since 1970, but Garland’s nomination expired in January 2017, when Obama left office, and when Donald Trump took over he wasted no time in nominating Neil Gorsuch instead, a dangerous right-winger whose nomination was subsequently approved by the Republican-controlled Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Abandoning Guantánamo: The Supreme Court’s Shame as a Military Commission Appeal Is Turned Down

Protestors against rh existence of Guantanamo outside the US Supreme Court on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison (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 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.

On Tuesday (October 10), when the Supreme Court turned down an appeal submitted by Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a Guantánamo prisoner convicted of terrorism charges in October 2008 in a military commission trial, the justices demonstrated that, for over nine years now, they have proved incapable of fulfilling their role of upholding the law when it comes to issues relating to terrorism.

This is a profound disappointment, because, four months before al-Bahlul’s conviction, on June 12, 2008, those who respect the law — and basic human decency — were thrilled when the Supreme Court delivered a major ruling in favor of the prisoners at Guantánamo. In Boumediene v. Bush, the justices ruled that the prisoners had constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights; in other words, that they could ask an impartial judge to rule on whether or not their imprisonment was justified.

The ruling was the third major ruling by the Supreme Court regarding Guantánamo. In June 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the court had ruled that the military commission trial system at Guantánamo did not have “the power to proceed because its structures and procedures violate both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the four Geneva Conventions signed in 1949.” The court also ruled that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, prohibiting torture and “humiliating and degrading treatment,” had been violated. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Guantánamo Cases Make It to the Supreme Court; Experts Urge Justices to Pay Attention

Ali Hamza al-Bahlul and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Guantanamo prisoners who have submitted petitions to the Supreme Court.Please support my work! 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.

Even before the Bush administration set up its “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, legal experts were profoundly alarmed by proposals for how those seized as alleged terrorists would be tried. On November 13, 2001, President Bush signed a military order prepared by Vice President Dick Cheney and his senior lawyer, David Addington, which authorized the use of military commissions to try prisoners seized in the “war on terror,” preventing any prisoner from having access to the US courts, and authorized indefinite detention without due process.

Under the leadership of Michael Ratner at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, lawyers prepared to challenge the proposals in the military order in the courts. The stripping of the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights and the prevention of their access to the courts eventually made it to the Supreme Court in June 2004, when, in Rasul v. Bush, the Court, for the first time ever in wartime, ruled against the government, granting the prisoners habeas corpus rights.

Lawyers were allowed into Guantánamo, piercing the veil of secrecy that had allowed a regime of torture and abuse to thrive unmonitored, although President Bush immediately persuaded Congress to pass new legislation that again stripped the prisoners of their habeas rights. Further legal struggles then led to habeas rights being reintroduced in another Supreme Court case, Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo Lawyer Michel Paradis: Military Commissions are Based on Legal Apartheid

An illustration of guards on duty at military commission pre-trial hearings at Guantanamo in 2013, by the artist Molly Crabapple from the first of four articles she wrote and drew for Vice News.Please support my work! 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.

Here at Close Guantánamo, we have been campaigning since our founding over five years ago to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, because, as we explain in our mission statement, “Guantánamo harms our nation every day it stays open, and it continues to serve as a potent symbol for terrorist recruitment. Guantánamo also undermines our bedrock commitment to the rule of law, making that fundamental principle less secure for all Americans.”

In practical terms, most of our opposition to Guantánamo’s existence has focused on the injustice of indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial. During President Obama’s last five years in office, we persistently encouraged him to release the men unanimously approved for release by high-level, inter-agency government review processes, including the Periodic Review Boards. These began in November 2013, but their deliberations ended up dominating much of the discussion about Guantánamo in his last year in office.

However, we also recognize that, while failing to charge prisoners with crimes and to put them on trial, or to treat them as soldiers and to hold them according to the Geneva Conventions, is an inexcusable derogation from internationally accepted norms regarding imprisonment, the situation for those facing trials at Guantánamo is, fundamentally, no better. Just ten of the 41 men still held are facing, or have faced trials in the military commission system launched under George W. Bush in 2001, revived by Congress in 2006 after the Supreme Court ruled it illegal, and — ill-advisedly — revived again under President Obama in 2009, but the system remains unfit for purpose, and a betrayal of US values. Read the rest of this entry »

In Contentious Split Decision, Appeals Court Upholds Guantánamo Prisoner Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul’s Conspiracy Conviction

Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.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 week, in the latest development in a long-running court case related to Guantánamo, the court of appeals in Washington, D.C. (the D.C. Circuit) upheld Ali Hamza al-Bahlul’s November 2008 conviction for conspiracy in his trial by military commission, but in a divided decision that means the case will almost certainly now make its way to the Supreme Court.

Al-Bahlul, a Yemeni, was seized in Afghanistan in December 2001, and taken to Guantánamo, where, in June 2004, he was charged in the first version of the military commissions that were ill-advisedly dragged out of the history books by the Bush administration in November 2001, primarily on the basis that he had made a promotional video for al-Qaeda.

Two years later, the commissions were scrapped after the Supreme Court ruled that they were illegal, but they were subsequently revived by Congress, and in February 2008 he was charged again, and convicted in November 2008, after a trial in which he refused to mount a defense, on “17 counts of conspiracy, eight counts of solicitation to commit murder and 10 counts of providing material support for terrorism,” as I described it at the time. Read the rest of this entry »

“America’s Shame,” Rolling Stone’s Detailed – and Damning – Article About Guantánamo

Prisoners regarded as "compliant" sharing communal facilities inside Guantanamo's Camp Six (Photo: JTF GTMO Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Elisha Dawkins).As all eyes are focused on Iowa, on the first caucus of this year’s Presidential election race, I thought I’d cross-post an interesting article about Guantánamo that was recently published in Rolling Stone, written by Janet Reitman. This is a long and detailed article, taking as its springboard a visit to one of the pre-trial hearings in Guantánamo’s military commissions, the alternative trial system set up for the “war on terror,” at the particular instigation of Dick Cheney and his legal adviser David Addington, which seems able only to demonstrate, in its glacially slow proceedings, that it is unable to deliver justice.

I confess that, in recent years, I have rather taken my eye off the military commissions, although I commend those who still visit Guantánamo to write about them, chief amongst whom is Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald. I put together a detailed list of who has been charged — plus the eight convictions and the four verdicts that have subsequently been overturned — two years ago, and in that article I stated:

I’ve been covering the commissions since 2006, and I have never found that they have established any kind of legitimacy, compared to federal courts, where crimes should be tried. This conclusion has only been strengthened in recent years, as conservative appeals court judges in Washington D.C. have overturned two of the eight convictions on the basis that they were for war crimes that were invented by Congress rather than being internationally recognized.

Read the rest of this entry »

Despite His Conviction Being Quashed Three Times, Guantánamo Prisoner Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul Remains in Solitary Confinement

Guantanamo prisoner Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, in a photo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011.For some prisoners held in the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, it seems there really is no way out. One example would seem to be Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, a 45-year old Yemeni prisoner and a propagandist for al-Qaeda, who made a promotional video glorifying the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, in which 17 US soldiers died, and who received a life sentence for providing material support for terrorism, conspiring with al-Qaeda and soliciting murder after a one-sided military commission trial in the dying days of the Bush administration.

Al-Bahlul has been held in solitary confinement ever since — on what is known as “Convicts’ Corridor,” according to Carol Rosenberg of the Miami Herald, even though, since January 2013, he has had every part of his conviction overturned in the US courts — most recently in a ruling by the appeals court in Washington D.C. (the D.C. Circuit Court) on June 12.

In January 2013, a three-judge panel in the D.C. Circuit Court overturned the material support and solicitation convictions, on the basis that the charges of which he was convicted were not recognized as war crimes at the time he was accused of committing them; or, to put it another way, that they had been invented as war crimes by Congress. That ruling drew on a ground-breaking ruling by the D.C. Circuit Court three months earlier, overturning the material support conviction against another man, Salim Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden who was freed in December 2008. The decision in al-Bahlul’s case was confirmed by a full panel of judges in July 2014, and the judges last month overturned the conspiracy conviction — on the basis that conspiracy is not a crime under the international law of war. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Military Defense Attorney Todd Pierce Interviewed by the Talking Dog

Former US military defense attorney Todd Pierce speaking at the presentation of the Sam Adams Associates Award for Integrity in Intelligence to Chelsea Manning in Oxford in February 2014 (Photo: Andy Worthington).I’m delighted to be cross-posting below an interview conducted by my good friend The Talking Dog (functioning below the radar under a pseudonym in New York City) with another good friend, Army Maj. Todd Pierce (retired), who, as a Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer, was part of the defense team for two Guantánamo prisoners charged in the military commissions — Ali Hamza al-Bahlul (still held) and Ibrahim al-Qosi (released in 2012).

Todd became fascinated by the philosophical origins of the Bush-Cheney military commissions in the Nazi era, and efforts to justify the commissions through a warped interpretation of US Civil War precedents. Since retiring, he has continued to pursue these interests, and has also become part of Sam Adams Associates, who describe themselves as “a movement of former CIA colleagues of former intelligence analyst Sam Adams, together with others who hold up his example as a model for those in intelligence who would aspire to the courage to speak truth to power,” and who, every year since 2002, have presented the Sam Adams Associates Award for Integrity in Intelligence to whistleblowers — most recently to Chelsea Manning, at an event in Oxford that I attended in February.

I do hope you have time to read the interview — which also includes Todd’s latest thoughts on the case of Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who has been successfully appealing against his 2008 conviction and life sentence — with profound repercussions for the entire military commissions project, which, it should be noted, should never have been revived by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney in the first place.

If you enjoy it, please share it, and please also follow the links I’m posting at the end of this article to the Talking Dog’s extensive archive of interviews about Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

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