The Shameful Human Cost of Inertia at Joe Biden’s Guantánamo

Lutfi bin Ali, a Tunisian held at Guantánamo, who recently died in Mauritania, having been unable to secure the medical treatment he needed, which he had also been unable to secure in Kazakhstan, the country to which he was first released in 2014.

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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.

Today, the prison at Guantánamo Bay has been open for 7,033 days — that’s 19 years and three months — and Joe Biden has been president for 84 days, and yet, apart from some hopeful murmurings from a handful of administration officials regarding a “robust” inter-agency review of the prison, and aspirations for its closure, no concrete proposals have been issued to indicate that any movement is imminent that will break the inertia of Donald Trump’s four lamentable years as commander in chief, when just one prisoner was released, leaving 40 men still held when Biden took office, mostly held indefinitely without charge or trial.

It may be that President Biden is unwilling to discuss Guantánamo in any detail until he has firm plans for dealing with all of the men still held, and if this is the case, then it is, sadly, understandable, because the merest mention of Guantánamo tends to provoke cynical and unbridled opposition from Republicans in Congress — although if this is the case then it only shows the extent to which, as under Barack Obama, political pragmatism — and fear of unprincipled opposition from those who cynically use Guantánamo for cheap political advantage — are considered much more important than telling Americans the truth about the prison:, that every day it remains open, holding men indefinitely without charge or trial, ought to be a source of profound national shame.

Beyond political maneuvering, however, Biden’s inertia also prolongs the grinding injustice experienced on a daily basis by the men still held at Guantánamo — as well as having dangerous, and sometimes life-threatening repercussions for some of the men already released.

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Seven Authors, All Former Guantánamo Prisoners, Urge President Biden to Close the Prison Before its 20th Anniversary

The books of the seven authors and former Guantánamo prisoners who have just written an open letter to President Biden, urging him to close the prison, which was published in the New York Review of Books.

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As the Biden administration settles in, and we await news of its plans for Guantánamo — after defense secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin told the Senate during his confirmation hearing, “I believe it is time for the detention facility at Guantánamo to close its doors” — it’s good to see the need for Guantánamo to be closed being discussed in the New York Review of Books by seven former prisoners who have all written books about their experiences.

The seven authors are Mansoor Adayfi, whose memoir Don’t Forget Us Here: Lost and Found at Guantanamo is being published this August, Moazzam Begg (Enemy Combatant, 2006), Lakhdar Boumediene (Witnesses of the Unseen: Seven Years in Guantanamo, 2017), Sami Al Hajj (Prisoner 345: My Six Years in Guantánamo, 2018), Ahmed Errachidi (The General: The Ordinary Man Who Challenged Guantánamo, 2013), Mohamedou Ould Slahi (Guantánamo Diary, 2015) and Moussa Zemmouri (Onschuldig in Guantánamo, 2010).

I’ve read all of the above — with the exceptions of Moussa Zemmouri’s book, which hasn’t been translated into English, and Mansoor Adayfi’s, which hasn’t been published yet  — and what I know from all of them is how eloquent the authors are, and how keenly they experienced and articulated the injustices of Guantánamo.

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Close Guantánamo: Online Events Marking the 19th Anniversary of the Opening of the Prison on January 11, 2021

Campaigners from Witness Against Torture and other organizations call for the closure of Guantánamo outside the White House on January 11, 2012, the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

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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.

For the last ten years, I have traveled to the US from London (since 2012 as the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign, which I co-founded that year with the US attorney Tom Wilner) to take part in events marking the anniversary, on January 11, of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, with a particular focus on a vigil outside the White House, with representatives of numerous NGOs including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture and Witness Against Torture.

This year, sadly, because of Covid, the vigil is only happening online, and my visit has been called off, although I am currently finalizing details of online replacements for events that I usually undertake in person — a panel discussion with our other co-founder Tom Wilner at New America in Washington, D.C., and another at Revolution Books in New York with Guantánamo lawyer Shelby Sullivan-Bennis — as well as some other online discussions. See my post here about the Revolution Books event, which is on Sunday January 17, and begins at 4pm Eastern time. It will be livestreamed on YouTube and Facebook. I hope to have details about the New America event soon.

For this year’s anniversary, I urge you to join Close Guantánamo’s photo campaign, taking a photo with our poster marking how long Guantánamo has been open on January 11 — 6,941 days — and sending it to us at info@closeguantanamo.org. You can also take a photo with our follow-up poster for January 20, the day of Joe Biden’s inauguration, when the prison will have been open for 6,950 days. We’ll be posting the photos on our website, and sharing them on social media.

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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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Guantánamo Voices: An Amazing Comic Book Version of the Guantánamo Story

The front cover of “Guantánamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison,” and a page from the chapter based on an interview with attorney Shelby Sullivan-Bennis, featuring the campaign to secure the release of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison, drawn by Kasia Babis, a Polish cartoonist and political activist.

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.

I have nothing but praise for “Guantánamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison,” a brand-new book, just published by Abrams, which was written by Portland-based multi-media journalist Sarah Mirk, and illustrated by a number of talented graphic artists.

I should say upfront that I was the fact checker for the book, having been in contact with Sarah for many years. In 2018, I appeared, in comic book form, illustrated by the Australian artist Jess Parker, in Guantánamo Bay is Still Open. Still. STILL!, a story in the comics anthology magazine The Nib, for which Sarah is an editor, based on an interview she had conducted with me in October 2017.

Previously, I had met Sarah in London in January 2009, when she came to the UK with former Guantánamo guard Chris Arendt for an extraordinary tour of the UK, also featuring former prisoner and British citizen Moazzam Begg (released in 2005) and other ex-prisoners, called “Two Sides, One Story,” which was organized by the advocacy group Cageprisoners (now CAGE).

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Video: Moazzam Begg and I Discuss Guantánamo, Torture and Endless War on the 19th Anniversary of 9/11 on Salaamedia

A screenshot of Moazzam begg and Andy Worthington discussing the legacy of 9/11 on its 19th anniversary with Inayat Wadee of Salaamedia in South Africa.

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On Friday, the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I was delighted to be asked to take part in a discussion, “Unpacking 9/11 19 Years Later,” broadcast on Salaamedia in South Africa, along with former Guantánamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, now the outreach director of CAGE (formerly Cageprisoners).

The show was hosted by Inayat Wadee, who used to interview me regularly about Guantánamo for Radio Islam International, also based in South Africa, although we had lost touch in recent years, probably because Guantánamo — and the fate of the 40 men still held — has so largely slipped off the radar under Donald Trump, rather sadly confirming the truth of the motto, “out of sight, out of mind.”

Trump has largely ignored Guantánamo, sealing it shut, and refusing to even contemplate releasing the five men unanimously approved for release by high-level US government review processes that he inherited from President Obama, or the limbo of the 26 other men who are not amongst the nine facing (or having faced) trials, and in response most people have behaved as though they have forgotten that Guantánamo ever existed.

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Standing the Test of Time: “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”

The poster for the documentary film “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”, directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, which recently marked the tenth anniversary of its release.

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On Friday, I was delighted to take part in one of the few regular Guantánamo-related events that are left in my calendar, as the prison becomes something of a footnote in the history books.

This amnesia is, to be blunt, genuinely alarming, because the prison is as malignantly alive as ever, a pointless zombie facility still holding 40 men, mostly without charge or trial, for whom no legal mechanism to secure their release exists, and who will all die there unless there is a change of government, and an awakened sense of outrage in the three bodies that supposedly provide checks and balances to prevent any manifestation of executive overreach in the US — the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court, all of whom have failed the men still held.

The event on Friday was a screening of “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” — the documentary film I co-directed with Polly Nash, which was released ten years ago, in October 2009 — to second-year students at the University of Westminster, who are studying International Relations under Sam Raphael, followed by a lively discussion about Guantánamo past, present and future.

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The Long Persecution of John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban”

John Walker Lindh, strapped to a gurney in Camp Rhino, near Kandahar, after his capture in December 2001, when he had already survived a massacre at the Qala-i-Janghi fort.

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The US establishment is nervous about John Walker Lindh, the “American Taliban.” 

A US citizen, Lindh was taken into custody by US forces in Afghanistan in December 2001, along with around 85 other Taliban fighters, survivors of a massacre — the Qala-i-Janghi massacre — that is largely forgotten. He received a 20-year prison sentence in a federal court on the US mainland in May 2002 for providing material support to terrorism, but had his sentence reduced by three years because of good behavior. 

He was released on May 23, but with restrictions imposed by a federal judge. As the Associated Press described it, “Lindh’s internet devices must have monitoring software; his online communications must be conducted in English; he must undergo mental health counseling; he is forbidden to possess or view extremist material; and he cannot hold a passport or leave the US.”

Donald Trump opposed his early release, as did Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. It was reported back in 2015 that, from prison, he had expressed support for Daesh (aka Islamic State or Isis). For the Atlantic, staff writer Graeme Wood, based on prison correspondence with Lindh, claimed that he was “permanently devoted” to violent jihad, and that “public security demands nothing less than close observation [of Lindh] for a very, very long time.” 

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As Mohamedou Ould Slahi is Denied a Passport, Remember That All Former Guantánamo Prisoners Live Without Fundamental Rights

Mohamedou Ould Slahi, photographed in the desert after his release, with a message of peace. Photo from Mohamedou's Facebook page.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 quest for justice for the 779 men and boys held at Guantánamo, it’s not just the 40 men still held who are victims of the US’s contempt for the law in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. Although they, shamefully, remain held indefinitely without charge or trial, or are charged in a broken trial system, the military commissions, that seems incapable of delivering justice, those who have been released from the prison also face problems that, in many cases, will make the rest of their lives a misery.

This is an important fact that those paying attention were reminded of two weeks ago, when Literary Hub published an article about the tribulations of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, torture survivor and best-selling author, who, after nearly 15 years in US custody, was released in his native Mauritania in October 2016.

Although he was never charged with a crime, along with the majority of former Guantánamo prisoners, Slahi expected that there would be restrictions on his freedom following his release, and, sure enough, as Literary Hub described it, “the day after he returned to Nouakchott, Mauritania’s director of state security told him that he couldn’t leave the country for two years.”

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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 »

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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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