Abu Zubaydah Files Complaint About Torture and Ongoing Imprisonment at Guantánamo with UN Arbitrary Detention Experts

Abu Zubaydah: illustration by Brigid Barrett from an article in Wired in July 2013. The photo used is from the classified military files from Guantánamo that were released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

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On Friday, Abu Zubaydah (Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn), a notorious victim of torture in the CIA’s “black site” program, who has been held without charge or trial at Guantánamo since September 2006, submitted a complaint to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, regarding the lawless nature of his imprisonment and treatment since he was first seized in a house raid in Pakistan in March 2002.

The case has been submitted by Helen Duffy, Abu Zubaydah’s international legal representative since 2010, who represented him in his successful cases before the European Court of Human Rights regarding his “black site” detention in Poland and Lithuania, and the complaint accuses seven countries of having responsibility for his long imprisonment and mistreatment — not only (and primarily) the US, but also Thailand, Poland, Morocco, Lithuania and Afghanistan, the five countries in which he was held in “black sites” over a period of four and a half years, and the UK, which is accused of having “participated in other ways in the ‘global spider’s web’ of complicity in rendition,” primarily via “estimates that UK personnel were involved in approximately 2,000-3,000 interviews of CIA detainees in the aftermath of 9/11”, as indicated by the findings of the UK Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) in 2019.

In a press release, Duffy explains that this is “the first international case brought by Zubaydah against the United States,” and is also “the first time that international legal action is taken against the UK, Afghanistan, Morocco and Thailand for their complicity in the US rendition and secret detention program.” In addition it is “the first time that a case has been brought against all states participating in an individual’s rendition and torture and ongoing unlawful detention at Guantánamo.”

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Joe Biden’s Guantánamo: New York Times Highlights Decaying Prison Cells and Broken Judicial System; Observer Notes Return of Hope

A composite image of President-elect Joe Biden and the prison at Guantánamo Bay.

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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.

In the guessing game that is the incoming Biden administration’s policy regarding the moral stain on the US that is the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, which will mark the 19th anniversary of its opening just two weeks’ time, three New York Times reporters — Carol Rosenberg, Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt — recently highlighted some of the issues that Joe Biden will have to address when he take office, in an article entitled, “‘In Bad Shape and Getting Worse,’ Guantánamo Poses Headaches for Biden.”

The Times largely sidestepped the glaring injustice of the entire facility — where 40 men are still held, for the most part, in open-ended indefinite detention without charge or trial, in defiance of domestic and international norms regarding imprisonment — focusing instead on the prison’s “decaying infrastructure” and its broken judicial system, the military commissions.

On the bigger picture, the reporters noted only that Biden “has yet to lay out plans for Guantánamo,” but that, “according to people familiar with transition deliberations,” his administration “is not expected to repeat President Barack Obama’s splashy but ultimately unmet promise in 2009 to close the prison within a year.”

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Torture Victims Lead Call for Torture Apologists Avril Haines and Mike Morell Not to be Confirmed as Director of National Intelligence and CIA Director

Avril Haines and Mike Morell, who both have a troubling history as torture apologists. In an open letter, opponents of torture, myself included, urge President-elect Biden not to nominate Mike Morell as CIA Director, and urge the Senate not to confirm Biden’s appointment of Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence.

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I’m delighted to be a signatory to an open letter, initiated by Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK and Marcy Winograd of Progressive Democrats of America and CODEPINKCONGRESS, urging President-elect Joe Biden not to nominate Mike Morell as CIA Director, and asking the Senate not to approve Biden’s nominee Avril Haines as Director of National Intelligence (the head of the 16 branches of the US Intelligence Community) — and I’m particularly gratified that I was able to reach out to a number of former Guantánamo prisoners to encourage them to sign the letter.

Both Morell and Haynes have a troubling history of defending torture. Morell, who was a CIA analyst under George W. Bush, and Deputy and Acting CIA Director under Barack Obama, defended the use of torture when speaking to VICE in 2015. “I don’t like calling it torture for one simple reason: to call it torture says my guys were torturers,” he said, adding, “I’m gonna defend my guys till my last breath.” As Medea Benjamin and Marcy Winograd explained in an article for Common Dreams yesterday, Morell “put his CIA buddies above truth, the law and basic decency.”

Hopefully, as they also noted, “Morell’s traction may be on the wane with the Biden administration … after progressives launched a campaign against [him], and Senator Ron Wyden — a powerful Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee — called him a ‘torture apologist’ and said his appointment to head the CIA was a ‘non starter.’”

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Video: The War on Journalism – The Case of Julian Assange

The poster for ‘The War on Journalism: The Case of Julian Assange’, directed by Juan Passarelli, and released in August 2020, and a screenshot of Andy Worthington, one of the WikiLeaks experts interviewed for the film.

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In a prison cell in HMP Belmarsh, in south east London, which is supposedly reserved for the most violent convicted criminals in the UK, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks and a non-violent individual who has not been convicted of a crime, awaits a ruling regarding his proposed extradition to the United States, to face disgracefully inappropriate espionage charges related to his work as a publisher of classified US documents that were leaked by US soldier Chelsea Manning.

The first stage of hearings regarding Julian’s extradition took place in February, and were supposed to continue in May, but were derailed by the arrival of Covid-19. In February, I had submitted as evidence a statement in support of Julian, based on having worked with him as a media partner on the release of classified military files from Guantánamo in 2011. I expected to be questioned about my evidence in May, but, in the end, it wasn’t until September that the hearings resumed.

To coincide with the resumption of the hearings, a 38-minute film was released, “The War on Journalism: The Case of Julian Assange,” directed by filmmaker Juan Passarelli, for which I was interviewed, in the esteemed company of of John Pilger, UN torture rapporteur Nils Melzer, lawyers Jennifer Robinson and Renata Avila, Julian’s wife Stella Moris, journalists Barton Gellman, Margaret Sullivan, Iain Overton, Max Blumenthal and Matt Kennard, WikiLeaks’ editor in chief Kristin Hrafnsson, and Conservative MP David Davies.

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International Criminal Court Authorizes Investigation into War Crimes in Afghanistan, Including US Torture Program

The logo of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and an image of a secret prison.

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Good news from The Hague, as the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has approved an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan since May 2003 “by US armed forces and members of the CIA, the Taliban and affiliated armed groups, and Afghan government forces,” as the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) explained in a press release.

The investigation, as CCR also explained, will include “crimes against humanity and war crimes … committed as part of the US torture program,” not only in Afghanistan but also in “the territory of other States Parties to the Rome Statute implicated in the US torture program”; in other words, other sites in the CIA’s global network of “black site” torture prisons, which, notoriously, included facilities in Poland, Romania and Lithuania. As CCR explained, “Although the United States is not a party to the ICC Statute, the Court has jurisdiction over crimes committed by US actors on the territory of a State Party to the ICC,” and this aspect of the investigation will look at crimes committed since July 1, 2002.

AS CCR also explained, “The investigation marks the first time senior US officials may face criminal liability for their involvement in the torture program.”

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As Torture Rears Its Ugly Head at Guantánamo, Let’s Not Forget That the Entire Prison Must Be Closed

CIA torture architect James Mitchell and an undated photo of a “war on terror” prisoner being subjected to “extraordinary rendition” by US forces.

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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.

2020 has, to date, been noteworthy for how much attention has been focused on Guantánamo, the US naval base in Cuba that is home to the “war on terror” prison established in January 2002, and also to the inappropriately named Camp Justice, where trial proceedings for some of the men held in the prison take place.

First up was the 18th anniversary of the opening of the prison, on January 11, when campaigners from numerous NGOs and campaigning groups — including Close Guantánamo — held a rally outside the White House to call for the prison’s closure. I flew over from the UK to take part in this rally, as I have done every year since 2011, and then stayed on for a week to take part in two speaking events, six radio interviews, and an interview with RT, the only TV interview in the whole of the US broadcast media that dealt with the anniversary.

I returned to the UK on January 20, just as a second round of more prominent Guantánamo-related activity began at Camp Justice. For the first time in many years, dozens of journalists had flown to the naval base for the latest round — the 40th, astonishingly, since hearings began in 2012 — of pre-trial hearings for the proposed trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of involvement in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

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As “The Report,” About the CIA Torture Program, Is Released Online, Guantánamo Prisoner Ahmed Rabbani Urges People to Watch It

The poster for “The Report,” about the CIA torture program, and Guantánamo prisoner and former CIA “black site” prisoner Ahmed Rabbani.

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Two weeks ago I published an article about the new movie “The Report” — which looks at the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program — entitled, CIA Torture Report Author Says More Than 119 Prisoners Were Held in “Black Sites” and More Than Three Were Waterboarded, in which I drew on a Vice News interview with former Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones, the lead author of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the torture program, on which the film is based.

Jones — and his team — are true American heroes, having, despite considerable opposition, trawled through six million CIA documents to produce a 6,700-page report that, via its 500-page executive summary, which is all that has been publicly released, is unstinting in its denunciation of the brutality and pointlessness of the torture program. I made his comments available — and focused in particular on the troubling statistics in the article’s title — because I thought it was extremely significant that Jones concluded that there were clearly more than the 119 prisoners included in the report, because the CIA “had no idea how many people they detained,” and that more than three prisoners were subjected to waterboarding, because, as he says, “We found a picture of a waterboard at a detention site where there were no records of any waterboarding taking place, but it had clearly been used.”

“The Report” had its theatrical release on November 15, to generally enthusiastic reviews — an 83% approval rating on the movie aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes,  based on 178 reviews, with 83% approval from audiences too. Last week, I spoke about it on a US radio show, and in just three days’ time, on November 29, it will be released on Amazon Prime.

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CIA Torture Report Author Says More Than 119 Prisoners Were Held in “Black Sites” and More Than Three Were Waterboarded

Daniel J. Jones, in a screenshot from Vice News’ recent interview with him about the Senate Torture Report, prior to the release of the feature-length docudrama “The Report,” about the creation of the report.

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This week sees the release of “The Report,” an important new feature-length film about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,700-page report about the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program.

The “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program — more generally known as ‘The Torture Report” — involved a team of five people reading and analyzing over six million CIA documents over the course of five years, and Committee members voted, by nine votes to six, to approve it as an official committee report on December 13, 2012, although the full report has never been publicly released.

Instead, a 500-page executive summary was released in December 2014, in which, as I wrote at the time for Al-Jazeera, the Committee “conclude[d] that torture was ‘not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees,’ that the CIA made ‘inaccurate claims’ about the ‘effectiveness’ of the program in an attempt to justify it and that it led to friction with other agencies that endangered national security, as well as providing false statements that led to costly and worthless wild goose chases.”

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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.

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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.

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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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.

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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 »

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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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