Fighting Guantánamo in the Courts Under President Biden

Three of the Guantánamo prisoners who are currently seeking their release from the prison through the US courts. From L to R: Khalid Qassim and Abdulsalam al-Hela, both Yemenis, and Asadullah Haroon Gul, an Afghan.

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I wrote the following article (as “The Ongoing Legal Struggles to Secure Justice for the Guantánamo Prisoners Under President Biden”) 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 nineteen unforgivably long years since the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay was first established, lawyers have worked tirelessly to challenge and overturn the Bush administration’s outrageous contention that everyone who ended up at Guantánamo was an “enemy combatant” with no rights whatsoever, who could be held indefinitely without charge or trial.

There have been victories along the way, but the sad truth is that Guantánamo’s fundamental lawlessness remains intact to this day. Since 2010, only one prisoner has been freed because of the actions of lawyers and the US courts (a Sudanese man whose mental health issues persuaded the Justice Department, in this one instance only, not to challenge his habeas corpus petition), and, as the four years of Donald Trump’s presidency showed, if the president doesn’t want anyone released from Guantánamo, no legal avenue exists to compel him to do otherwise.

The lawyers’ great legal victories for the Guantánamo prisoners came in the Supreme Court in what now seems to be the distant, long-lost past. In June 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, the Supreme Court ruled that the prisoners had habeas corpus rights; in other words, the right to have the evidence against them objectively assessed by a judge. That ruling allowed lawyers into the prison to begin to represent the men held, breaking the veil of secrecy that had allowed abusive conditions to thrive, but Congress then intervened to block the habeas legislation, and it was not until June 2008 that the Supreme Court, revisiting Guantánamo, ruled in Boumediene v. Bush that Congress had acted unconstitutionally, and affirmed that the prisoners had constitutionally guaranteed habeas rights.

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Afghan Government Calls for Release of Guantánamo “Forever Prisoner” Asadullah Haroon Gul

Asadullah Haroon Gul, one of the last two Afghans at Guantánamo, as featured in a photo taken at the prison by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, and made available to his family.

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As we await further information from the Biden administration about its planned review of Guantánamo, it’s reassuring to see that the Afghan government has submitted an amicus brief in a US court as part of efforts to secure the release and repatriation of Asadullah Haroon Gul, one of the last two Afghans in Guantánamo, after 14 years of imprisonment at Guantánamo without charge or trial, in which, for the first nine years, he didn’t even have representation by a lawyer.

I have followed Gul’s story since he arrived at Guantánamo from Afghanistan in June 2007, as one of the last prisoners to be sent to the prison. He had allegedly been involved with Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin (HIA, also identified as HIG), a group led by the Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who had briefly been aligned with al-Qaeda after the US-led invasion in October 2001, but the US authorities had never regarded him as significant, because he is the only Guantánamo prisoner not to have been assigned a Guantánamo Internment Serial Number (ISN). Instead, his prisoner serial number (3148) is from Bagram. This is significant because a Guantánamo number is required to be eligible for an administrative review at Guantánamo (a Combatant Status Review Tribunal), which is required if a prisoner is to be charged.

Even more significant is the fact that, even if Gul was involved with HIA, Hekmatyar no longer has any connection to al-Qaeda, and HIA “ceased all hostilities with the United States” in 2016, following a peace agreement in 2016 between HIA and the Afghan government, as the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains in the brief, adding that “[d]etainees who are not a member of Al Qaida or the Taliban must be released if their organization is no longer engaged in hostilities with the United States.” In August, Hekmatyar’s return to Afghan political life was confirmed when he was appointed to the Afghan government’s High Council for National Reconciliation.

As the Ministry also points out, “Members of the United States Government have recognized this end to hostilities by negotiating with members of HIA. Thus, Haroon, a member of HIA, should be released.”

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Closing Guantánamo, the Democrats and the NDAA

Campaigners calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay walk past Congress on January 11, 2012, the 10th 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. 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 long and dispiriting story of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, where, in defiance of its purported values, the US is holding men indefinitely without charge or trial, the role of Congress is not always well understood.

Under George W. Bush, lawmakers were largely compliant with the shameful innovations introduced after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, passing the Authorization for Use of Military Force, the week after the attacks, which allowed the president to pursue anyone that he felt was associated with Al-Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces, and to imprison them at the Guantánamo prison, which was deliberately established on the US naval base in Cuba to be beyond the reach of the US courts.

From the beginning, the men — and boys — held there were held without rights, and although long legal struggles led to them eventually securing habeas corpus rights, Congress fought back. However, when their habeas rights were eventually gutted of all meaning, the responsibility lay with ideologically malignant appeals court judges rather than Congress.

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Lawyers’ Fears for Guantánamo “Forever Prisoner” Sharqawi Al-Hajj “After Rapidly Declining Health and Suicidal Statements”

Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), representing her client Sharqawi al-Hajj outside the White House on January 11, 2018, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay (Photo: Shelby Sullivan-Bennis).

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Disturbing news from the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), who report that one of their Guantánamo clients, Sharqawi al-Hajj, “stated on a recent call with his attorney that he wanted to take his own life.” CCR described this, in a press release, as “a first” in CCR’s long representation of al-Hajj, adding that their attorneys have responded to it “with the utmost seriousness.”

As they further explain, “His suicidal statements follow a steady and observable deterioration of his physical and mental health that his legal team has been raising the alarm about for two years. They are monitoring his condition as best they can, and will provide any further information as soon as they are able.”

In an eloquent statement, CCR’s lawyers said, “When things are in a state of perpetual crisis, as they seem all around today, it is easy to lose sight of just how extreme a situation is, and grow numb to it. We have lost sight of just how extreme the situation in the Guantánamo prison is. We have grown numb to it.”

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A Rare Court Victory Offers Hope for Guantánamo’s “Forever Prisoners”

Guantánamo prisoner Khalid Qassim, in a photograph included in his classified military file, released by WikiLeaks in 2011, and ‘Titanic in Black and White,’ an artwork he made at Guantánamo in 2017, consisting of paint over gravel mixed with glue, which was included in the show ‘Art from Guantánamo Bay’ at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York in 2017-18.

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.

Anyone who has been following the alleged legal basis for the ongoing imprisonment without charge or trial of prisoners at Guantánamo should be encouraged by a ruling on June 21, 2019 by a three-judge panel — consisting of Judges Patricia A. Millett, Cornelia T. L. Pillard, and Harry T. Edwards — in the D.C. Circuit Court (the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia) in Qassim v. Trump, a case involving Khalid Qassim, a 41-year old Yemeni citizen who has been held at Guantánamo without charge or trial for over 17 years.

Close Guantánamo’s co-founder Tom Wilner argued the case before the court, and, as he explains, the court “reversed an eight-year rule that has prevented Guantánamo detainees from seeing and rebutting the evidence purportedly justifying their detentions,” as part of a ruling in which the judges granted Qassim’s request to reverse the District Court’s denial of his petition for habeas corpus.

To give some necessary perspective to the significance of the ruling, it is important to understand that, for most of Guantánamo’s history, the law has failed to offer them adequate protections against executive overreach. In a glaring demonstration of arrogant folly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Bush administration decided that anyone who ended up in US custody would be treated neither as a criminal (to be charged and put on trial), nor as a prisoner of war protected by the Geneva Conventions, who could be held unmolested until the end of hostilities. Instead, the prisoners were designated as “unlawful enemy combatants”; essentially, human beings without any rights whatsoever.

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How the US Fell for Chinese Lies Regarding the Uighurs at Guantánamo, and Why the Uighurs Need Our Support

A cross-post, with my own detailed introduction, of an article by Richard Bernstein for the Atlantic about how the Bush administration overrode its own considered assessments to support the Chinese government's false description of the Uighurs, an oppressed minority from north west China, as terrorists, in relation to 22 Uighurs who had ended up at
An undated photo of supporters of China’s oppressed Uighur people protesting outside the White House about the imprisonment of Uighurs at Guantánamo. The last of the prison’s Uighurs were freed in 2013, but nowadays the Uighurs are suffering from particularly harsh repression from the Chinese government, with at least a million Uighurs arbitrarily imprisoned in internment camps (Photo: futureatlas.com/flickr).

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.




 

Thanks to the Atlantic, and Richard Bernstein, former foreign correspondent for Time and the New York Times, for revisiting the story of Guantánamo’s Uighurs, the ethnic group in the prison who were most transparently unconnected to the anti-American activities of Al-Qaeda.

The timing of Bernstein’s article, ‘When China Convinced the U.S. That Uighurs Were Waging Jihad,’ is evidently intended — and with good reason — to highlight the terrible situation faced by the UIghurs, a Turkic group from Xinjiang province in north western China, who are currently facing the harshest clampdown by the Chinese government in a long history of oppression, with at least a million Uighurs “arbitrarily detained in internment camps in Xinjiang, where they are forced to undergo political indoctrination,” as the Guardian explained in November 2018, after the United Nations’ Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (the first to study China since 2013) had condemned China for its deteriorating human rights record. As Vox explained, Western governments “had the harshest words for China,” with the US chargé d’affaires Mark Cassayre demanding that China “abolish all forms of arbitrary detention” for Uighurs and other Muslim minorities, and calling on the government to  “release the ‘possibly millions’ of individuals detained there.”

Bernstein’s article focuses on how the Bush administration — shamefully — reversed its opinion about the Chinese government’s oppression of the Uighurs in 2002, to justify its imprisonment of 22 Uighur prisoners at Guantánamo, some of whom spent a total of 12 years in US custody, despite it having been obvious to anyone actually paying attention to their cases that, as many of the Uighurs themselves explained, they had only one enemy — the Chinese government — and had no animosity whatsoever towards the US.

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Really? Trump Lawyer Argues in Court that Guantánamo Prisoners Can Be Held for 100 Years Without Charge or Trial

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court on January 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo (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.




 

Last Wednesday, as I flagged up in a well-received article the day before, lawyers for eleven of the 40 prisoners still held at Guantánamo finally got the opportunity to follow up on a collective habeas corpus filing that they submitted to the District Court in Washington D.C. on January 11, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison. The filing, submitted by lawyers from organizations including the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Reprieve on behalf of 11 of the remaining 40 prisoners, argued, as CCR described it after the hearing, that “their perpetual detention, based on Trump’s proclamation that he will not release anyone from Guantánamo regardless of their circumstances, is arbitrary and unlawful.”

CCR added that the motions of eight of the 11 men were referred to Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan, who heard the argument today”, and stated that the lawyers had “asked the judge to order their release.”

CCR Legal Director Baher Azmy, who argued the case in court, said after the hearing, “Our dangerous experiment in indefinite detention, after 16 years, has run its course. Due process of law does not permit the arbitrary detention of individuals, particularly at the hands of a president like Donald Trump, who has pledged to prevent any releases from Guantánamo. That position is based not on a meaningful assessment of any actual threat, but on Trump’s animosity towards Muslims, including these foreign-born prisoners at Guantanamo — the height of arbitrariness. Short of judicial intervention, Trump will succeed.” Read the rest of this entry »

Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court Nomination, Has a Dangerous Track Record of Defending Guantánamo and Unfettered Executive Power

Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump and a close-up of Guantanamo prisoners photographed on the day the prison opened, January 11, 2002. The photo on the left is an edit of a photo by Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images.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.

Disgraceful though Donald Trump’s presidency is, it will at least be over at some point in the imaginable future, with the potential that his most outrageous policy changes, enacted in legislation by a Republican majority in Congress, can be reversed should Congress end up with a Democratic majority instead.

When it comes to interpreting the law, however, his impact will last for decades, through his nominations to the nation’s District Courts, appeals courts (the Circuit Courts), and, most crucially, the Supreme Court.

Shamefully, although Barack Obama successfully nominated two of the Supreme Court’s nine justices during his eight years in office (Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan), Congress — where Republicans had a majority, as they did throughout most of Obama’s presidency — refused to consider his third nomination, Merrick Garland, nominated in March 2016. Garland’s appointment would have given Democratic appointees a majority on the Supreme Court for the first time since 1970, but Garland’s nomination expired in January 2017, when Obama left office, and when Donald Trump took over he wasted no time in nominating Neil Gorsuch instead, a dangerous right-winger whose nomination was subsequently approved by the Republican-controlled Congress. Read the rest of this entry »

Tomorrow, Lawyers Will Argue in Court That Donald Trump’s Guantánamo Policy Is “Arbitrary, Unlawful, and Motivated by Executive Hubris and Anti-Muslim Animus”

Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan of the District Court in Washington, D.C. and a photo of prisoners at Guantanamo on the day of the prison's opening, January 11, 2002. 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.




 

It’s a big day for Guantánamo tomorrow, as lawyers for eleven prisoners still held at the prison will be arguing before Senior Judge Thomas F. Hogan in the District Court in Washington, D.C. that, as the New York-based Center for Constitutonal Rights describe it, “[Donald] Trump’s proclamation that he will not release anyone from Guantánamo regardless of their circumstances is arbitrary, unlawful, and motivated by executive hubris and anti-Muslim animus.”

The lawyers submitted a habeas corpus petition for the men on January 11 this year, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison, as I explained in an article at the time, entitled, As Guantánamo Enters Its 17th Year of Operations, Lawyers Hit Trump with Lawsuit Stating That His Blanket Refusal to Release Anyone Amounts to Arbitrary Detention.

As I also explained in that article, “The eleven men are: Tawfiq al-Bihani (ISN 893) aka Tofiq or Toffiq al-Bihani, a Yemeni who was approved for release by Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010, Abdul Latif Nasser (ISN 244) aka Abdu Latif Nasser, a Moroccan approved for release in 2016 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process, and nine others whose ongoing imprisonment was upheld by their PRBs: Yemenis Zohair al-Sharabi aka Suhail Sharabi (ISN 569), Said Nashir (ISN 841), Sanad al-Kazimi (ISN 1453) and Sharqawi al-Hajj (ISN 1457), Pakistanis Abdul Rabbani (ISN 1460) and Ahmed Rabbani (ISN 1461), the Algerian Saeed Bakhouche (ISN 685), aka Said Bakush, mistakenly known as Abdul Razak or Abdul Razak Ali, Abdul Malik aka Abdul Malik Bajabu (ISN 10025), a Kenyan, and one of the last men to be brought to the prison — inexplicably — in 2007, and Abu Zubaydah (ISN 10016), one of Guantánamo’s better-known prisoners, a stateless Palestinian, for whom the post-9/11 torture program was initially conceived, under the mistaken belief that he was a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda.” Read the rest of this entry »

It’s Ten Years Since the Supreme Court Granted Habeas Corpus Rights to the Guantánamo Prisoners, a Legal Triumph Until a Lower Court Took Them Away

Protestors with Witness Against Torture outside the Supreme Court calling for the closure of Guantanamo on Jan. 11, 2017, the 15th anniversary of the prison's opening (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.




 

Exactly ten years ago, I was briefly working for the human rights organization Reprieve, when a wonderful ruling came out of the US Supreme Court. In Boumediene v. Bush, the Court held that efforts by Congress to quash the habeas corpus rights that they had granted the prisoners in 2004, in Rasul v. Bush, had been unconstitutional, and asserted that the prisoners had constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights.

We were overjoyed with the result, and for good reason. Although the Rasul ruling had allowed lawyers into Guantánamo, a derisory response by the Bush administration — the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, administrative military reviews designed to rubber-stamp the prisoners’ blanket designation, on capture, as “enemy combatants” — and Congress’s obstructions, via the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, and the Military Commissions Act of 2006, had prevented habeas cases from proceeding to the courts, as I explained at the time in my article, The Supreme Court’s Guantánamo ruling: what does it mean?

In the ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy, delivering the Court’s majority opinion, ruled that the “procedures for review of the detainees’ status” in the DTA “are not an adequate and effective substitute for habeas corpus,” and that therefore the habeas-stripping component of the MCA “operates as an unconstitutional suspension of the writ.” 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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