Slow Death at Guantánamo: Why Torture and Open-Ended Arbitrary Detention Are Such Bad Ideas

An undated photo of a prisoner at Guantánamo being escorted by guards (Photo: Chris Hondros / Getty Images).

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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.

Let’s be clear about two things before we start: torture and indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial are never acceptable under any circumstances. Torture is prohibited under the UN Convention Against Torture, introduced in 1985 and ratified by Ronald Reagan, and Article 2.2 of the Convention states, unequivocally, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” 

In addition, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is unacceptable because there are only two ways in which it is acceptable for countries that claim to respect the rule of law to deprive someone of their liberty: either by trying them for a crime in federal court, or holding them as a prisoner of war until the end of hostiliites, with the protections of the Geneva Conventions. 

After 9/11, however, the US created a network of torture prisons around the world, and invented a third category of prisoner — illegal or unlawful enemy combatants — who had no rights whatsoever. 

Read the rest of this entry »

The Case for Closing Guantánamo: The New Yorker’s Major Profile of Mohamedou Ould Salahi and His Former Guard Steve Wood

Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Slahi) on the right, and his former guard Steve Wood on the left. The photo was taken by Salahi in Mauritania in January 2019, when Wood had come to visit him.

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.

Over the 13 years that I’ve been working to close Guantánamo, some of the most rewarding moments I’ve experienced have been when former prisoners or former guards have got in touch to thank me for my work. 

I was enormously gratified when Moazzam Begg said that he turned to my book The Guantánamo Files to find out who he was at Guantánamo with, because he was held in solitary confinement, and when Omar Deghayes told me that I wrote about Guantánamo as though I had been in the prison with him and the other prisoners. 

I was also moved when former guards got in touch — Brandon Neely, for example, who had been at Guantánamo in its early days, and who got in touch with me when his discomfort with what he had been required to do, which had haunted him, turned into public criticism that persists to this day. On another occasion, I recall, a former guard got in touch. He didn’t want go public, but he wanted to talk about Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who he had been guarding. 

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 »

Video: Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo’s 17th Anniversary and Gina Haspel’s War Crimes as a Torturer on RT

A screenshot of Andy Worthington discussing Guantanamo, black sites and Gina Haspel with Scottie Nell Hughes on RT America on January 15, 2019.

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.




 

On my recent US visit to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on and around the 17th anniversary of its opening, I was interviewed for RT in New York on January 15, and have only just found the video, which is posted below. I appeared on ‘News. Views. Hughes,’ which the channel describes as “a special daily afternoon broadcast hosted by journalist and political commentator Scottie Nell Hughes.”

Hughes was a paid CNN commentator and vocal Donald Trump supporter during the 2016 presidential election, and, as GQ explained in an article in 2016, “served as one of Trump’s most faithful and pervasive campaign surrogates” on the campaign trail. Her questioning showed an effort to challenge my assessment of the situation at Guantánamo, but, as a long-standing campaigner for the closure of the prison, it isn’t difficult for me to point out that only dictators hold people indefinitely without charge or trial, and that the American people deserve better from their leaders, who are supposed to have a fundamental respect for the rule of law.

I also discussed the unsuitability of Gina Haspel to be the director of the CIA — something that was abundantly clear to me throughout the period of her nomination an her eventual confirmation, and which I wrote about at the time in two articles, The Torture Trail of Gina Haspel Makes Her Unsuitable to be Director of the CIA and Torture on Trial in the US Senate, as the UK Government Unreservedly Apologizes for Its Role in Libyan Rendition. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Four Years Since the Executive Summary of the Senate Torture Report Was Published: Where’s the Full Report?

A cleaner at CIA headquarters.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.




 

Today, December 9, marks four years since the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program was published. Although this 500-page document was quite heavily redacted, its release was nevertheless something of a triumph for America’s notion of itself as having a government whose actions are subjected to checks and balances.

The full 6,000-page report, which took five years and $40 million to compile, was approved by nine members of the committee to six on December 13, 2012, and the executive summary was released eight months after the committee voted to release significant parts of the report — key findings and an executive summary.

What was released was devastating for the CIA.

As I explained in an article for Al-Jazeera, entitled, ‘Punishment, not apology after CIA torture report’, which was published the day after the executive summary was published: Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering Those Murdered by the US in the “War on Terror”

Gul Rahman, in a photo taken before his capture and death in US custody.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 quest for justice for the victims of the US’s “war on terror,” Guantánamo — the main focus of my work for the last 13 years, where men are held indefinitely without charge or trial, and where the use of torture was widespread in its early years — is not, by any means, the only venue for crimes that should shock the consciences of all decent people.

At Guantánamo, nine men died between 2006 and 2012, and many of those deaths are regarded as suspicious, but they are not the only deaths in US custody.

Several reports have sought to assess how many prisoners have died in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, with researcher John Sifton establishing in May 2009 that, at that time, “approximately 100 detainees, including CIA-held detainees, have died during US interrogations, and some are known to have been tortured to death.” The majority of these deaths were in Iraq, but, back in July 2009, I published an article, When Torture Kills: Ten Murders In US Prisons In Afghanistan, in which I sought to establish quite how many deaths had occurred in Afghanistan. Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo’s Periodic Review Boards: The Escape Route Shut Down by Donald Trump

Four of the Guantanamo prisoners currently going through the Periodic Review Board process. Clockwise from top left: Omar al-Rammah, Moath al-Alwi, Mohammed al-Qahtani and Abd al-Salam al-Hilah.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.




 

Anyone paying close attention to the prison at Guantánamo Bay will know that its continued existence, nearly 17 years after it first opened, is largely down to the success of some wildly inaccurate claims that were made about it when its malevolent business first began — claims that it held “the worst of the worst” terrorists, who were all captured on the battlefield.

In fact, as my research, and that of other researchers has shown, very few of the 779 men held by the US military at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002 can realistically be described as having had any meaningful involvement with al-Qaeda or the Taliban; perhaps just 3 percent, and certainly less than 5 percent. No one was captured on the battlefield, and the majority were either foot soldiers for the Taliban in an inter-Muslim civil war that predated 9/11, or civilians swept up in ill-advised dragnets. Many, if not most of those who ended up at Guantánamo were sold to the US by their Afghan and Pakistani allies for bounty payments, which averaged $5,000 a head, a huge amount of money in that part of the world.

Just 40 men are still held at Guantánamo, after George W. Bush released 532 men, and Barack Obama released 196. Nine men died, one was transferred to the US, to face a trial in which he was successfully prosecuted, and one more was reluctantly released by Donald Trump, or, rather, was transferred back to Saudi Arabia for ongoing imprisonment, as part of a plea deal negotiated in his military commission trial proceedings in 2014. 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 »

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 »

“The World Has Forgotten Me” Says Ahmed Rabbani, 95-Pound Hunger Striker in Guantánamo

Guantanamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani in a photo made available by his lawyers at Reprieve, and taken before his weight dropped to under 100 pounds as a hunger striker.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.




 

Over 16 and a half years since the ill-conceived prison at Guantánamo Bay opened, and over two and a half years into the presidency of Donald Trump, the terrible injustice of Guantánamo has, sadly, largely slipped off the radar.

The reasons are many — and none reflect well on the US, its institutions and its people. The American people have never cared sufficiently about what is being done in their name at Guantánamo, where the fundamental right not to be imprisoned without due process has been done away with since the prison opened, a product of the country’s all-consuming vengeance after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Few people, it seems, either know or care that very few people accused of terrorism have actually been held at Guantánamo, and that most of those held were foot soldiers in an inter-Muslim civil war in Afghanistan, or civilians swept up in incompetent dragnets, and that the majority — whether soldiers or civilians — were not “captured on the battlefield,” but were sold to the US by their Afghan and Pakistani allies.

When it comes to America’s institutions, everyone has failed to live up to their responsibilities — President Obama, for example, who took eight years to fail to close the prison, despite promising to do so on his second day in office; Congress, where lawmakers generally take little interest in anything other than appeasing big business; and the courts, who have failed to fundamentally challenge the lawlessness of Guantánamo. 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.
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