How the Law Failed at Guantánamo

The isolated prison cells of Camp 5 at Guantánamo, where the “high value detainees,” brought to the prison from CIA “black sites” in September 2006, were recently transferred, after their previous cell block, Camp 7, was judged to be unfit for purpose.

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Just five days ago, on July 11, the prison at Guantánamo Bay marked another sad and unjustifiable milestone in its long history — nineteen and a half years since it first opened on January 11, 2002.

From the beginning, Guantánamo was a project of executive overreach — of the US government, under George W. Bush, deciding, after the 9/11 attacks, that the normal rules governing the imprisonment of combatants during wartime should be swept aside. The men who arrived at Guantánamo were deprived of the protections of the Geneva Conventions, and were designated as “unlawful enemy combatants,” who, the Bush administration claimed, could be held indefinitely. For those who were to be charged with crimes, the Bush administration revived the military commission trial system, last used for German saboteurs in the Second World War, deciding that acts of terrorism — and even some actions that were a normal part of war, such as engaging in firefights — were war crimes. The result was that soldiers came to be regarded as terrorists, and alleged terrorists came to be regarded as warriors, with the former denied all notions of justice, and the latter provided only with a legal forum that was intended to lead to their execution after cursory trials.

The mess that ensued has still not been adequately addressed. Nearly two and a half years after Guantánamo opened, the Supreme Court took the unusual step of granting habeas corpus rights to wartime prisoners, having recognized that the men held had no way whatsoever to challenge the basis of their imprisonment if, as many of them claimed, they had been seized by mistake. That ruling, Rasul v. Bush, allowed lawyers into the prison, to begin preparing habeas corpus cases, but on the same day, in another ruling, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court essentially approved Guantánamo as the venue for the exercise of a parallel version of the wartime detention policies of the Geneva Conventions, ruling that prisoners could be held until the end of hostilities — an unwise move, given that the Bush administration regarded its “war on terror” as a global war that ignored geographical context, and could last for generations.

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Great News from Guantánamo As Three “Forever Prisoners,” Including 73-Year Old Saifullah Paracha, Are Approved for Release

Guantánamo prisoners Saifullah Paracha, Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani and Uthman Abd al-Rahim Uthman, whose long overdue release from the prison was approved by Periodic Review Boards on Monday, although it is not yet known when they will actually be released.

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In extremely encouraging news from Guantánamo, three men have been approved for release from the prison by Periodic Review Boards, the high-level government review process established under President Obama.

The three men are: 73-year old Pakistani citizen Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner; Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani, another Pakistani citizen who is 54 years old; and Uthman Abd al-Rahim Uthman, a 41-year old Yemeni. All have been held without charge or trial at Guantánamo for between 17 and 19 years.

Between November 2013 and January 2017, when President Obama left office, the Periodic Review Boards — consisting of representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, Justice and Homeland Security, as well as the office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — reviewed the cases of 64 prisoners, to ascertain whether or not they should still be regarded as a threat to the US, and, in 38 cases, recommended the prisoners for release. All but two of these men were released before the end of Obama’s presidency.

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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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Uzair Paracha, Victim of Tortured Terrorism Lies, is Freed from US Jail; Why Is His Father Still at Guantánamo?

Uzair Paracha, left, photographed at the time of his arrest in 2003, and his father Saifullah, still held at Guantánamo, in a photo taken a few 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. 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.

For anyone who has been paying attention not only to the long and horribly unjust Guantánamo saga, but also to the stories of others held in other circumstances as part of the “tangled web” of the “war on terror,” the recent announcement that Uzair Paracha, a Pakistani national, has been released from a US jail and repatriated after 17 years in prison, with a judge throwing his conviction out of court, is extremely good news.

If there is any justice, Uzair Paracha’s release ought to secure the release from Guantánamo of his father, Saifullah, although, when it comes to Guantánamo, of course, it has rarely been the case that anything involving that prison has ever had any meaningful connection to justice.

I first came across Saifullah Paracha’s story in 2006, while researching my book The Guantánamo Files, and I came across his son’s story in 2007, which prompted me to write about a possible miscarriage of justice in my article, Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man.

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17 Years Since the Notorious Yoo-Bybee “Torture Memos,” the US Still Finds Itself Unable to Successfully Prosecute the Men It Tortured

John Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and prisoners on a rendition plane.

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.




 

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.

August 1 was the 17th anniversary of a particularly grotesque and dispiriting event in modern US history, one that has ramifications that are still being felt today, even though it was completely unnoticed — or ignored — by the US media. 

On August 1, 2002, Jay S. Bybee, then the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), the branch of the Justice Department responsible for advising the executive branch on what is, and what is not legal, signed off on two blatantly unlawful memos written by OLC lawyer John Yoo, which attempted to re-define torture, and approved its use on Abu Zubaydah, a prisoner of the “war on terror” that the US declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, who was being held in a secret prison — a “black site” — run by the CIA.

The memos remained secret until June 2004, when, in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal, when photos were leaked of torture in a US-run prison in Iraq, one of the Yoo-Bybee memos was also leaked, provoking widespread disgust, although Yoo and Bybee escaped the criticism unscathed. For his services, Bybee was made a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, while Yoo kept his job as a law professor at the University of Berkeley. 

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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 »

Saifullah and Uzair Paracha: Victims of US Vengeance in the “War on Terror”?

Saifullah and Uzair Paracha. Saifulllah was photographed a few years ago in Guantanamo; the photo of Uzair is from before his capture in 2003.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.




 


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 the “war on terror” established by the US in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, one of the most distressing developments has been the death of the presumption of innocence and of any form of due process.

In response to the attacks, the Bush administration tore up and discarded all the laws and treaties regarding the treatment of prisoners, and as a result everyone they rounded up as a terrorist (or a terrorist sympathizer or facilitator) was regarded as guilty — without the need for any proof.

The terrible legacy of this time is still with us. Although the processing prisons in Afghanistan (Bagram, for example) and the CIA “black sites” have closed, 40 men are still held in the prison at Guantánamo Bay, the defining icon of the US’s post-9/11 lawlessness.

Of the 779 men held by the US military at Guantánamo since it opened over 17 years ago, on January 11, 2002, 729 men have been released, but only 39 of those 729 have been released through any legal process — 33 through the US courts, as a result of them having their habeas corpus petitions granted by judges in the District Court in Washington, D.C., and six others through the military commission trial process at Guantánamo itself (one after a trial, and five through plea deals). 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 »

Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Discusses Prison Artwork with the BBC, While Lawyers for “High-Value Detainee” Demand His Right to Continue Making Art

Untitled (aka Crying eye) by Mohammed al-Ansi, who was released from Guantanamo to Oman in January 2017, just before President Obama left office (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.

Last October, an exhibition opened in the President’s Gallery, in John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, that might have attracted little attention had the Pentagon not decided to make a big song and dance about it.

The exhibition, ‘Ode to the Sea: Art from Guantánamo Bay,’ featured artwork by eight former and current Guantánamo prisoners — four freed, and four still held — which was given by the prisoners to their lawyers and their families, and it was not until November that the Pentagon got upset, apparently because the promotional material for the exhibition provided an email address for anyone “interested in purchasing art from these artists.” The obvious conclusion should have been that “these artists” meant the released prisoners, who should be free to do what they want with their own artwork, but the Pentagon didn’t see it that way.

On November 15, as I explained in my first article about the controversy, a spokesman, Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson, said that “all Guantánamo detainee art is ‘property of the US government’ and ‘questions remain on where the money for the sales was going,’” while, at the prison itself, Navy Cmdr. Anne Leanos said in a statement that “transfers of detainee made artwork have been suspended pending a policy review.” Read the rest of this entry »

A Devastating Condemnation of Guantánamo’s Military Commissions by Palestinian-American Journalist P. Leila Barghouty

An illustration by Hokyoung Kim for The Outline showing defense lawyers for Ammar al-Baluchi arriving at the home of Guantanamo's military commissions.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.

Six years and three months since Tom Wilner and I launched the Close Guantánamo campaign, we are becalmed in horribly unjust waters, with Donald Trump resolute that no one should leave the prison under any circumstances, and, as a result, 41 men held in what must appear to be a never-ending limbo, even though five of them were approved for release by high-level government review processes under President Obama, and another man, Ahmed al-Darbi, continues to be held despite being promised his release — to be re-imprisoned in Saudi Arabia — four years ago in a plea deal in his military commission trial.

Twenty-six other men are held indefinitely — and lawyers for some of them submitted a habeas corpus petition on their behalf on January 11, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison, on the basis that, as the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights explained, “[Donald] Trump’s proclamation against releasing anyone from Guantánamo, regardless of their circumstances, which has borne out for the first full year of the Trump presidency, is arbitrary and unlawful and amounts to ‘perpetual detention for detention’s sake.’”

The other men still held — nine in total — have been through the military commission process, or are facing trials, and this latter category of Guantánamo prisoner came under the spotlight recently in an article written for a new website, The Outline, by P. Leila Barghouty, a journalist and filmmaker based in New York City, whose work has appeared on Al Arabiya, National Geographic, Slate, CNN, Vice News and Netflix. 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 and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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