I Discuss the Significance of WikiLeaks’ Release of ‘The Guantánamo Files’ in a Primary Sources Podcast with Clive Stafford Smith

“WikiLeaks and ‘The Guantánamo Files'”: a screenshot of the ‘Primary Sources’ podcast featuring Andy Worthington and Clive Stafford Smith in conversation with Chip Gibbons of Defending Rights and Dissent.

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I’m delighted to be sharing with you an hour-long podcast about the significance of the formerly classified military files from Guantánamo (the “Detainee Assessment Briefs”), which were released by WikiLeaks as “The Guantánamo Files” in 2011, and on which I worked as a media partner. I took part in the podcast along with Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, and both Clive and I were invited to speak with the podcast’s host Chip Gibbons because of our long involvement with Guantánamo, and because we had both testified on behalf of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange at his extradition hearing in the UK in October 2020.

Chip works for Defending Rights and Dissent, formed in 2016 through the merger of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC), founded in 2001 to resist the draconian post-9/11 Patriot Act, and the Defending Dissent Foundation, originally formed in 1960 as the National Committee to Abolish the House Un-American Activities Committee. They describe their mission as being to “strengthen our participatory democracy by protecting the right to political expression.”

Defending Rights and Dissent recently set up a podcast series, “Primary Sources,” in which, over the last six months, Chip Gibbons has interviewed the “Pentagon Papers” whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, James Goodale, General Counsel of the New York Times when the “Pentagon Papers” were published, human rights attorney Carey Shenkman discussing the Espionage Act, whistleblower and attorney Jesselyn Raddack, whistleblowers Jeffrey Sterling, Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou and Matthew Hoh, and drone program whistleblowers Lisa Ling, Keagan Miller, Cian Westmoreland, and Christopher Aaron, and it was an honor and a privilege to be invited to join this extraordinary line-up of witnesses exposing the crimes of the US government over many decades.

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Former Guantánamo Prisoner Kidnapped in Yemen, Held at an Unknown Location

Abdulqadir al-Madhfari (identified by the US as Abdel Qadir Hussein al-Mudhaffari, and given the prisoner number ISN 40), in a photo taken at Guantánamo and included in his classified military file, released by WikiLeaks in 2011.

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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 disturbing news from Yemen, reported by the Intercept, a former Guantánamo prisoner, who had only just been reunited with his family after 14 years in Guantánamo, and five subsequent years in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where he had been imprisoned despite having been promised his freedom, has been seized by Houthi militia, and is being held an undisclosed location.

The disappearance of Abdulqadir al-Madhfari (identified by the US as Abdel Qadir Hussein al-Mudhaffari, and given the prisoner number ISN 40) is one of the more depressing examples of how the “taint” of having been held at Guantánamo, despite never having been charged with a crime or put on trial, dogs former prisoners. It also provides a vivid example of the US government’s almost complete lack of interest in the welfare of men released after long years of unjustifiable imprisonment in the US’s notorious offshore prison in Cuba.

Al-Madhfari’s long ordeal began almost 20 years ago, when he was seized crossing from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Whilst it was likely that the “young physician’s assistant who dreamed of becoming a doctor,” as the Intercept described him, had been a foot soldier with the Taliban, there was no reason to suppose, as the US alleged, that he had been part of what his captors described as the “Dirty Thirty,” a group of bodyguards for Osama bin Laden, because most of the men in question were young men, who had been in Afghanistan for only a short amount of time, and would not, therefore, have been trusted to guard Al-Qaeda’s leader.

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Majid Khan Describes Years of Torture and Abuse in CIA “Black Sites” and at Guantánamo in His Sentencing Statement (Part Two)

Guantánamo prisoner Majid Khan, photographed at the prison in 2009, after he had finally been allowed to meet with his lawyers, and to start making arrangements for the plea deal that he agreed to in 2012.

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Yesterday, I posted a transcript of the first part of the extraordinary statement that Guantánamo prisoner and CIA “black site” torture victim Majid Khan read out at his sentencing hearing two weeks ago, in which he recounted his early life, how he was preyed on by al-Qaeda supporters following the death of his mother, and the horrendous torture to which he was subjected in the “black sites,” despite having made it clear from the time of his capture that he intended to be as cooperative as possible.

Today, I’m posting the rest of his statement, which covers his time in his final CIA “black site,” another facility in Afghanistan, code-named “Orange,” where, despite having already cooperated with his interrogators, his hunger strikes in protest at his seemingly unending imprisonment without charge or trial, or access to a lawyer, were dealt with by what he describes as being “raped by the CIA medics,” who “inserted tubes or objects into my anus against my will.”

Majid explained how the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee report into the CIA torture program, released in December 2014, accurately described what happened to him as follows: “Majid Khan was then subjected to involuntary rectal feeding and rectal hydration, which included two bottles of Ensure. Later that same day, Majid Khan’s ‘lunch tray’, consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins, was ‘pureed’ and rectally infused.” When the executive summary  was released, this was one of the new and shocking details that I picked up on in an article for Al-Jazeera. Majid proceeded to explain how this vile abuse led to him still experiencing “extreme discomfort from the hemorrhoids as a result of my treatment.”

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Majid Khan Describes Years of Torture and Abuse in CIA “Black Sites” and at Guantánamo in His Sentencing Statement (Part One)

Guantánamo prisoner and former CIA “black site” torture victim Majid Khan, photographed as a student before his capture, and shortly after his arrival at Guantánamo in September 2006, evidently suffering after over three years of torture.

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It’s nearly two weeks since Majid Khan, held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for over three years before his transfer to Guantánamo, where he has been held since September 2006, was allowed to read out a detailed statement at his sentencing hearing, held nearly ten years after he agreed to a plea deal in his military commission, in which, in exchange for assisting in a number of ongoing cases, both at Guantánamo and elsewhere, he was promised his eventual freedom. I wrote about his sentencing and his statement last week, in an article entitled, Is This Justice? After 18 Years of Torture, Isolation and Unprecedented Co-Operation, CIA and Guantánamo Prisoner Majid Khan Should Be Released in Feb. 2022.

Majid’s statement combined an account of his early life, including his life in the U.S. as a teenager and a young man, with a graphic account of his torture and abuse, and with effusive apologies on his part for having been recruited by Al-Qaeda when he was at a particularly low point in his life, distraught at the death of his mother, and it was noticeable that, at his sentencing, seven of the eight military jurors signed a hand-written letter to the commissions’ Convening Authority calling for clemency, decrying the torture to which he was subjected, which they compared to “torture performed by the most abusive regimes in modern history,” and clearly expressing disgust at how he was treated when, throughout his long imprisonment, he has made a point of being as cooperative as possible.

In the interests of keeping Majid’s testimony in the public eye — to expose the depravities of the torture program, and the way so much of its focus seemed to be on torture for its own sake, rather than for any practical outcome, and to contrast this with Majid’s own compliance, for which he doesn’t seem to have been adequately rewarded — I’m posting his entire statement in two articles; this and one to follow.

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‘Guantánamo: 20 Years After’ — Mohamedou Ould Salahi and I Are Keynote Speakers at Brighton University Online Conference on Nov. 12-13

A screenshot from the website of the conference, ‘Guantánamo: 20 Years After’, taking place on Nov. 12-13, 2021.

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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.

I’m delighted to announce a two-day online conference about Guantánamo — ‘Guantánamo: 20 Years After‘ — on Friday November 12 and Saturday November 13, hosted by the University of Brighton, which I’ve been organizing with Sara Birch, a lecturer in law at the university and, like me, a longtime advocate for the prison’s closure.

Covid-19 has made the conference an online affair, but what it has also done is to allow us to bring together people who might not have been able to travel for a physical conference; in this case, in particular, former Guantánamo prisoners who, in common with everyone who has been released from the prison over the unforgivably long years of its existence, face restrictions on their ability to travel freely, either because they aren’t allowed to have passports, or because they face often insurmountable problems getting visas.

I’m honoured to have been asked to open the conference on Friday as a keynote speaker, followed by former Guantánamo prisoner and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Salahi, and on Saturday we’re delighted to have former prisoner Mansoor Adayfi and his collaborator Antonio Aiello — on Adayfi’s recently published memoir ‘Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantánamo’ — as guest speakers.

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Is This Justice? After 18 Years of Torture, Isolation and Unprecedented Co-Operation, CIA and Guantánamo Prisoner Majid Khan Should Be Released in Feb. 2022

Majid Khan, photographed as a student in 1999, and in recent years at Guantánamo.

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On Thursday evening, in a military courtroom at Guantánamo Bay, Majid Khan, a Pakistani national who was held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for three years and four months after his initial capture in Pakistan in March 2003, and has been held at Guantánamo since September 2006, was finally allowed to tell the world the gruesome details about his treatment in the “black site” program, and at Guantánamo, in a statement that he read out at a sentencing hearing.

Some of the details of the torture to which Khan was subjected were made public nearly seven years ago, when the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report about the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program was made public — in particular, the shocking revelation that he was one of several prisoners subjected to “rectal feeding,” whereby, as the report described it, his “‘lunch tray,’ consisting of hummus, pasta with sauce, nuts, and raisins was ‘pureed’ and rectally infused.”

In his sentencing statement, however, which, as his lawyers at the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights explain, made him “the first so-called ‘high-value detainee’ at Guantánamo who has been able to speak publicly about the CIA torture program,” he revealed much more than was ever previously known publicly. As Vince Warren, CCR’s Executive Director, said, “We knew about some of the horrors he was subjected to, like the so-called ‘rectal feeding,’ from the Senate torture report, but the new details in his own words were chilling. From the ice-bath waterboardings to the ‘Torture Doctor’ who put hot sauce on the tip of his IV, the acts committed by our government shock the conscience — yet no one has ever been held accountable.”

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For First Time Since 2010, A Judge Grants a Guantánamo Prisoner’s Habeas Corpus Petition, Ruling that Asadullah Haroon Gul’s Imprisonment is Unlawful

Asadullah Haroon Gul’s parents, Ibrahim and Sehar Bibi, with photos of their son, taken in their home in the Shamshatu refugee camp in Pakistan in January 2021 (Photo: Aftab Khan).

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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 an important ruling in the District Court in Washington, D.C. last week, Judge Amit Mehta, an Obama nominee, granted the habeas corpus petition of Asadullah Haroon Gul, an Afghan prisoner held at Guantánamo without charge or trial since June 2007, and identified by the US authorities simply as Haroon al-Afghani.

The ruling is significant because it is the first time since July 2010 that a judge has granted a Guantánamo prisoner’s habeas corpus petition on the basis that his detention is unlawful. After the Supreme Court granted the Guantánamo prisoners constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights, in Boumediene v. Bush, in June 2008, there followed a two-year period that was the only time in Guantánamo’s history that the courts were able to objectively assess the basis of the prisoners’ detention, and in 38 cases judges ruled that the government had failed to establish that they had any meaningful connection to either Al-Qaeda or the Taliban.

By 2010, however, politically motivated appeals court judges had passed a number of rulings that gutted habeas corpus of all meaning for the Guantánamo prisoners. The last man freed after having his habeas corpus petition granted was Mohammed Hassen (aka Mohammed Hassan Odaini), a Yemeni who was freed in July 2010 after having his habeas petition granted in May 2010. Two other prisoners had their habeas petitions granted in July 2010, but they were amongst the six men whose successful petitions were subsequently overturned by the court of appeals, and, from July 2010 until October 2011, eleven men had their habeas petitions denied, until they, and their lawyers, gave up. Several efforts were made in the following years to interest the Supreme Court in taking back control of Guantánamo detainee issues, and to break through the obstacles raised by the court of appeals, but all, sadly, were in vain.

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Yemeni Torture Victim and Insignificant Afghan Approved for Release from Guantánamo by Periodic Review Boards

Guantánamo prisoners Sanad al-Kazimi and Asadullah Haroon Gul, who have been approved for release by Periodic Review Boards.

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Fresh from the news that Pakistani torture victim Ahmed Rabbani has been approved for release from Guantánamo by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process established by President Obama, comes the further revelation that two more “forever prisoners” have also been approved for release — Sanad al-Kazimi, a Yemeni, and Asadullah Haroon Gul, one of the last two Afghans in the prison.

The approval for the release of both men is long overdue, but it is reassuring that, after nearly 20 years, it has finally become unfashionable for the US government to suggest that men who have never been charged or tried can be held indefinitely in the notorious offshore prison at the US’s naval base in Cuba. This year, letters to President Biden from 24 Senators and 75 members of the House of Representatives have spelled out, in no uncertain terms, how men who have not been charged with crimes must be released.

In the case of Asadullah Haroon Gul, held at Guantánamo since 2007, the US’s reasons for holding him evaporated many years ago. Despite his youth (he was only around 19 years old when the US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan in October 2001), he had allegedly held some kind of leadership position in Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIG), the militia led by the former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. A recipient of significant US funding during the time of the Soviet occupation, Hekmatyar had turned against the US following the invasion in October 2001, but in recent years had joined the Afghan government via a peace deal in 2016 that had led to HIG members being released from prison (and one, sent to the UAE from Guantánamo, being repatriated).

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Torture Victim Ahmed Rabbani, A Case of Mistaken Identity, Approved for Release from Guantánamo

Guantánamo prisoner and torture victim Ahmed Rabbani, who has just been approved for release from the prison via a Periodic Review Board.

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Via Middle East Eye, and reporter Peter Oborne (formerly the chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph, until his resignation in 2015), comes the welcome news that Guantánamo prisoner and torture victim Ahmed Rabbani has been approved for release from the prison via a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process established in 2013 by President Obama.

Oborne was told about Rabbani’s approval for release by his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve. “Even if it is nearly two decades late, it is fabulous that Ahmed has been cleared for release,” Stafford Smith said.

A Pakistani national of Rohingya origin, Rabbani , who is now 52 years old, was seized with his brother Abdul Rahim in Karachi in September 2002, and, after two months in Pakistani custody, spent 18 months in CIA “black sites” in Afghanistan, including the notorious prison identified by the CIA as ‘COBALT,’ but also known as the Salt Pit, or, as the prisoners described it, “the dark prison.” There he was hung naked from an iron shackle, with his feet barely touching the ground, and, like the other men held there, subjected to loud music designed to prevent them from sleeping.

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Never-Ending Injustice: State Secrets and the Torture of Abu Zubaydah

An illustration featuring Abu Zubaydah 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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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 Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of the notorious torture victim and Guantánamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah, for whom the US’s post-9/11 torture program was invented. Zubaydah, whose real name is Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn, was held and tortured in CIA “black sites” for four and a half years, after his capture in a house raid in Pakistan in March 2002, until his eventual transfer to Guantánamo with 13 other so-called “high-value detainees” in September 2006, and he has been held there without charge or trial ever since.

Wednesday’s hearing was the result of an appeal by the government against a ground-breaking ruling two years ago, by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in which the judges openly declared that Abu Zubaydah had been tortured. It was, as Abu Zubaydah’s attorney, Cornell University law professor Joseph Margulies, explained, “the first time an appellate court” had “come right out and said that the enhanced interrogation techniques were torture.”

While this was significant, it wasn’t the main topic of the case, which involved the state secrets privilege, whereby government officials can argue that sensitive information whose disclosure, they claim, might endanger national security, must not be disclosed in a court. Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers were — and still are — seeking permission for the architects of the torture program, the contractors James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, to be questioned about the details of his torture while he was held in a “black site” in Poland, in 2002-03, after his initial torture in a “black site” in Thailand in 2002, for use in the Polish government’s ongoing investigation.

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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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