Radio: I Discuss the Never-Ending Limbo of Guantánamo with Chris Cook on Gorilla Radio

Andy Worthington calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay outside the White House on January 11, 2020, and the logo for Chris Cook’s Gorilla Radio show in Victoria, Canada.

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Yesterday, I was delighted to talk to Chris Cook, for his Gorilla Radio show, broadcast every Thursday morning on CFUV 101.9FM in Victoria, on Vancouver Island in Canada. Chris and I have spoken many times over the years, and his show admirably fulfills its remit to cover topics relating to “social justice, the environment [and] community,” and to “provid[e] a forum for people and issues not covered in the corporate media.”

Chris and I spoke in the second half of the one-hour show, which is available here as an MP3.

At the start of the show, Chris spoke about the US’s recent drone attack in Afghanistan, in which civilians, mistakenly identified as ISIS-K terrorists, were killed. He noted that Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has “expressed regret for those killed in what he characterized a ‘mistake with horrific consequences,’” but asked, pointedly, “why America was continuing its attacks against the country it has reportedly withdrawn from.”

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How the Disaster of Guantánamo Foretold US Defeat in Afghanistan

Razor wire and the US flag at Guantánamo.

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In the last few weeks, since the last US troops left Afghanistan and the Taliban swept into Kabul, bringing the US’s nearly 20-year occupation of the country to an ignominious end — in defeat — I’ve been thinking about the extent to which that defeat is linked to the existence of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, and the significance of the Afghans held there — around 220 in total — as well as the numerous other Afghans held in the US’s prison at Bagram Airbase.

When we think of Guantánamo, we have been encouraged to think of the “high-value detainees” moved there from CIA “black sites” in September 2006, or the hundreds of Arabs — mostly Saudis and Yemenis — who had been in Afghanistan at the time of the 9/11 attacks, and who were subsequently regarded as terrorists, even though most of them had only gone to Afghanistan to help the Taliban secure victory in their long-standing inter-Muslim civil war with the Northern Alliance.

And yet the Afghans were the largest group by nationality who were held at Guantánamo, and from the beginning their treatment in US prisons in Afghanistan, and the subsequent rendition of many of them to the lawless prison on the US naval base in Cuba was revelatory in terms of understanding the shameful extent to which the US failed to win the “hearts and minds” of the people it was supposedly liberating.

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What Happened to the Prisoners the US Abandoned at Bagram, Once Known as Guantánamo’s Dark Mirror?

Bagram and a huge US flag" a photo by Edmund Clark from his project 'The Mountains of Majeed.'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.




 

My thanks to Jenifer Fenton, for remembering the foreign nationals that the US left behind when it handed over Bagram prison in Afghanistan to the Afghan authorities in December 2014.

I used to write regularly about Bagram, a place of notorious torture and abuse, where an undisclosed number of prisoners died at the hands of US forces, because it had been the main processing prison for Guantánamo, and, under Barack Obama, had become a legal battlefield, as lawyers tried to secure habeas corpus rights for the men held there, so that they would at least have had comparable rights to the prisoners held at Guantánamo, who secured constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights via the Supreme Court in June 2008, even though appeals court judges subsequently gutted habeas of all meaning for them. My extensive archive of articles about Bagram is here, and in 2010 I published the first annotated list of all the prisoners held there.

Bagram was re-named the Parwan Detention Facility in 2009, and the old Soviet building that had housed America’s notorious prison — as horrendous as Abu Ghraib in Iraq, but without the photographic evidence to prove it — was subsequently destroyed by the US. The prison was handed over to the Afghan authorities in March 2013, with the final relinquishing of control taking place at the end of December 2014. Prior to this, in September 2014, I covered the US’s efforts to repatriate prisoners it had held there, in an article entitled, Two Long-Term Yemeni Prisoners Repatriated from Bagram; Are Guantánamo Yemenis Next?, in which I noted how a US military official had told the Washington Post that, at the time, the number of prisoners in US custody in Bagram — none of whom were Afghans — was down to 27. By the time of the final handover, there were just six foreign nationals held, and two of these men — Tunisians previously held in “black sites” — were freed in 2015. For an update from December 2014, see this Newsweek article, and other links here. Also see this Afghan Analysts Network article by Kate Clark from May 2017. Read the rest of this entry »

No Justice at Guantánamo: The Release of Ahmed Al-Darbi, and Moazzam Begg’s Reflections

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed al-Darbi, with a photo of his children, in a photo taken at Guantanamo 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.





 

At the start of this month, Donald Trump transferred his first prisoner out of Guantánamo, the Saudi citizen Ahmed al-Darbi, who was repatriated as part of a plea deal arranged in his military commission proceedings in February 2014. However, he did not return home a free man, as, in his homeland, he will serve the remainder of a 13-year sentence agreed in his plea deal.

As I explained in an article at the time, “Under the terms of that plea deal, al-Darbi acknowledged his role in an-Qaeda attack on a French oil tanker off the coast of Yemen’s coast in 2002, and was required to testify against other prisoners at Guantánamo as part of their military commission trials, which he did last summer, and was supposed to be released on February 20 this year. However, February 20 came and went, and al-Darbi wasn’t released, a situation that threatened to undermine the credibility of the military commission plea deals.”

Al-Darbi’s transfer saved the only functioning part of the otherwise broken military commission trial system, which is incapable of delivering justice in an actual trial, given that the men in question, although accused of serious crimes, were lavishly subjected to torture over a number of years, and the use of torture, to be blunt, fundamentally undermines any possibility of a fair and just trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Ten Years After His Release From Guantánamo, Sami al-Hajj Publishes His Compelling Memoir, ‘Prisoner 345,’ Free Via Al-Jazeera

'Prisoner 345': the front cover of Al-Jazeera journalist Sami al-Hajj's account of his six and a half years in US custody in the "war on terror," in Afghanistan and 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.





 

Just over ten years ago, on May 1, 2008, one of the better-known prisoners at Guantánamo, the Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj (aka al-Haj), was freed from the prison and repatriated to his home country of Sudan. I meant to mark the occasion with an article, but, at the time, I was caught up in issues involving my campaigning for social housing in the UK, and the local government elections that took place on May 3.

Now, however, belatedly, I’m getting round to it, as I want to promote ‘Prisoner 345: My Six Years in Guantánamo,’ Sami’s powerful and emotional account of his capture and imprisonment, which is available for free as a PDF via Al-Jazeera.

Sami’s story was of particular interest during his imprisonment because he was working for Al-Jazeera as a journalist and cameraman at the time of his capture, and his captors quite shamelessly tried to get him to work for them instead — as well as very publicly threatening the Qatar-based channel by imprisoning, without charge or trial, one of their journalists. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Camp X-Ray at Guantánamo Mustn’t Be Destroyed

One of the photos taken on the day Guantanamo opened, January 11, 2002, by Shane T. McCoy of the US Navy.

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On March 6, indefatigable Guantánamo chronicler Carol Rosenberg, of the Miami Herald, reported that the Pentagon “plans to tear down Camp X-Ray, a weed-filled warren of chain-link-fence cells where the Bush administration held its first 311 war-on-terror prisoners at Guantánamo — and famously released a photo of kneeling captives in orange jumpsuits that stirred allegations of torture.”

Rosenberg added that, for many years, the prison’s various commanders had said that the site “was under a federal court protective order and could not be razed.” However, on March 5, Justice Department attorney Andrew Warden wrote to lawyers who represent Guantánamo prisoners, informing them that “the FBI has created an interactive, simulated three-dimensional, digital virtual tour of Camp X-Ray that shows all areas of the camp where detainees were held, interrogated, or otherwise present.”

Rosenberg added that “Trump administration attorneys consider it a suitable substitute,” and also explained that, although the prison supposedly closed in April 2002, when the first more permanent cells of Camp Delta were erected, it was used later in 2002 for the torture of Mohammed al-Qahtani, a Saudi prisoner regarded as the intended 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks. Just before George W. Bush left office, Susan Crawford, the convening authority of the military commission trial system set up under Bush at Guantánamo, explained to the Washington Post that she had refused to have al-Qahtani prosecuted because of the torture to which he was subjected, which included sleep deprivation, being threatened by dogs, sexual abuse, forced nudity, being shackled in painful positions, and being physically beaten. Read the rest of this entry »

Radio: My Discussion with Scott Horton About the Shameful Rehabilitation of George W. Bush, As I Recall His 2002 Memo Authorizing Torture

Radio host Scott Horton and Andy Worthington, photographed calling for the closure of Guantanamo outside the White House on January 11, 2018, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison.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 I was delighted to be invited to discuss Guantánamo, George W. Bush, torture and the “war on terror” by Scott Horton, the libertarian, Texan-based radio host, and the author of Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan, in which, as Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg notes in a review, he “masterfully explains the tragedy of America’s longest war and makes the case for immediate withdrawal.”

Scott and I have been talking several times a year — and sometime more frequently — since September 2007, when we first spoke about the case of US “enemy combatant” Jose Padilla, tortured on the US mainland. Our interviews have generally been for 20-25 minutes, but for our latest interview the brakes were off, and we spoke for a whole hour.

The show is available here, or here as an MP3, and I wholeheartedly recommend it as a tour through the darkness of the “war on terror” declared by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks, as manifested in CIA “black sites,” in the CIA’s “extraordinary renditions” to torture prisons in other countries, in Guantánamo, and in the wars — and the accompanying lawless prisons — in Afghanistan and Iraq. We also looked at the sad failures of the Obama years — not only his failure to close Guantánamo, but how extrajudicial assassination by drones replaced the messy detention, rendition and torture program of the Bush years, but is no more legally or morally acceptable. Read the rest of this entry »

Ahmed Al-Darbi, Admitted Terrorist at Guantánamo, Receives 13-Year Sentence Following 2014 Plea Deal

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.





 

Last Friday, the US authorities secured a rare success at Guantánamo, when a panel of US military officers gave a 13-year sentence to Ahmed al-Darbi, a Saudi prisoner, for what the New York Times described as “his admitted role in a 2002 attack by Al Qaeda on a French oil tanker off the Yemeni coast.”

Al-Darbi had pleaded guilty in his military commission trial in February 2014, but his sentencing had not taken place until now because it was dependent upon him providing testimony for the trials of other prisoners, testimony that he undertook this 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.

Under the terms of the plea deal, as Charlie Savage described it in the New York Times, “the commission could have imposed a sentence of 13 to 15 years.” However, the prosecutors joined with al-Darbi’s defense team to ask for “the minimum available term in light of his extensive assistance to the government.” As Savage put it, al-Darbi “has renounced Islamist ideology and lived apart from the general detainee population for years.” Read the rest of this entry »

Insignificant Afghan Finally Approved for Release from Guantánamo

Afghan prisoner Obaidullah, in a photo taken at Guantanamo and included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Good news from Guantánamo, as another prisoner, Obaidullah, an Afghan, is approved for release by a Periodic Review Board. Decisions have now been taken in the cases of 29 prisoners, with 22 recommended for release, and just seven recommended for ongoing imprisonment. This is a success rate for the prisoners of 76%, which is hugely significant, because, back in 2010, they were either recommended for prosecution or were described as “too dangerous to release” by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, which President Obama established, shortly after taking office in 2009, to review the cases of all the prisoners held when he became president. 23 men were in the former category, and 41 in the latter.

The decision also means that, of the 80 men still held, 28 have been approved for release — 15 by the task force in 2010, and 13 by the PRBs (nine of those approved for release by PRBs have already been freed). 35 others are awaiting PRBs, or are awaiting decisions, and just ten men are facing trials — or have already had trials.

Obaidullah, who was just 19 years old when he was seized at his home in Afghanistan in July 2002, is one of the prisoners who had initially been recommended for prosecution — and is the second former prosecution candidate to be recommended for release by a PRB (three others have been recommended for ongoing imprisonment). He had been put forward for a trial by military commission in September 2008, charged with providing material support for terrorism and conspiracy, based on claims that he “stored and concealed anti-tank mines, other explosive devices, and related equipment”; that he “concealed on his person a notebook describing how to wire and detonate explosive devices”; and that he “knew or intended” that his “material support and resources were to be used in preparation for and in carrying out a terrorist attack.” Read the rest of this entry »

Yemeni Tribal Chief, Businessman, Intelligence Officer and Torture Victim Seeks Release from Guantánamo Via Periodic Review Board

Yemeni prisoner Abd al-Salam al-Hela, in a photo from Guantanamo included in the classified military files released by WikiLeaks in 2011.Last week, a 48-year old Yemeni citizen held at Guantánamo, Abd al-Salam al-Hela (aka Abd al-Salam al-Hilah or Abdul al-Salam al-Hilal), became the 37th prisoner to have his case considered by a Periodic Review Board. This high-level, US review process, which involves 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, began in November 2013.

In the two and half years since, the PRBs have been reviewing the cases of two groups of men: 41 men originally described by a previous review process, the Guantánamo Review Task Force (which President Obama set up when he first took office in 2009), as “too dangerous to release,” and 23 others initially put forward for trials until the basis for prosecutions largely collapsed, in 2012 and 2013, after appeals court judges ruled that the war crimes being prosecuted had been invented by Congress.

For the 41 men described as “too dangerous to release,” the task force also acknowledged that insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial, which set alarm bells ringing for anyone paying close attention, because, if insufficient evidence exists to put someone on trial, then it is not evidence at all. At Guantánamo — and elsewhere in the “war on terror” — the reasons for this emerged under minimal scrutiny from anyone paying attention. Instead of being evidence, information was extracted from prisoners through the use of torture or other forms of abuse, or through being bribed with the promise of better living conditions, which, as a result, is demonstrably unreliable. 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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