US Military Closes Camp 7, Guantánamo’s “High-Value Detainee” Prison Block, Moves Men to Camp 5

A Google Earth image of the secretive Camp 7 at Guantánamo Bay.

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In news from Guantánamo, the US military announced yesterday that it had shut Camp 7, the secretive prison block where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other so-called “high-value detainees” have been held since their arrival at Guantánamo from CIA “black sites” in September 2006, and had moved the prisoners to Camp 5.

Modeled on a maximum security prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, Camp 5, which cost $17.5 million, opened in 2004, and its solid-walled, isolated cells were used to hold prisoners regarded as non-compliant. As the prison’s population shrank, however, it was closed — in September 2016 — and its remaining prisoners transferred to Camp 6, which opened in 2006, and includes a communal area.

Camp 7, meanwhile, which cost $17 million, was also built in 2004. Two storeys tall, it was modeled on a maximum-security prison in Bunker Hill, Indiana, and, as Carol Rosenberg explained in the New York Times yesterday, had “a modest detainee health clinic and a psychiatric ward with a padded cell, but none of the hospice or end-of-life care capacity once envisioned by Pentagon planners.”

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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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Remembering Ibrahim Idris, the Only Guantánamo Prisoner Freed Because of Illness, Who Has Died Aged 60

An image about the death of former former Guantánamo prisoner Ibrahim Idris, created by DOAM (Documenting Oppression Against Muslims).

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There was some sad news recently from Sudan, as Carol Rosenberg, for the New York Times, reported the death, at the age of 60, of former Guantánamo prisoner Ibrahim Idris.

Idris was repatriated from Guantánamo in December 2013, almost 12 years after he first arrived at the prison, in the first group of 20 prisoners to arrive by plane from Afghanistan in January 2002. To secure his release, his attorney Jennifer Cowan successfully argued in court that he was so mentally ill and so morbidly obese that he could not be regarded as a threat, and that the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), the law justifying imprisonment at Guantánamo, only allowed the government to hold a prisoner “for the purpose of preventing him from returning to the battlefield.”

As Cowan described Idris’s situation in her submission to Chief Judge Royce Lamberth in Washington, D.C., “Petitioner’s long-­term severe mental illness and physical illnesses make it virtually impossible for him to engage in hostilities were he to be released, and both domestic law and international law of war explicitly state that if a detainee is so ill that he cannot return to the battlefield, he should be repatriated. When interpreted in accordance with domestic law and the principles of international law, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (‘AUMF’) does not permit the continued detention of Mr. Idris.”

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Biden Administration Announces “Robust” Review of Guantánamo, and “Intention” to Close the Prison

President Biden, and a screenshot of the Gitmo Clock website run by the Close Guantánamo campaign, founded by Andy Worthington and Tom Wilner in 2012, showing how long the prison has been open today, Feb. 15, 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.

On Friday (Feb. 12), campaigners hoping that the Biden administration will commit to the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay were further reassured when White House press secretary Jen Psaki, “[a]sked whether Biden would shut” the prison “by the time his presidency ends,” as Reuters described it, told reporters, “That certainly is our goal and our intention.”

“There will be a robust interagency policy,” Psaki added, also noting that “[t]here are many players from different agencies who need to be part of this policy discussion about the steps forward.”

The comments were the first to be made publicly by administration officials since defense secretary Gen. Lloyd Austin told the Senate in written testimony during his confirmation hearing, “I believe it is time for the detention facility at Guantánamo to close its doors,” although, as the Associated Press noted, “The announcement of a closure plan was not unexpected. Biden had said as a candidate he supported closing the detention center.”

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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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The New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse on Guantánamo: “Born in Fear and Sustained Through Political Cynicism and Public Indifference”

Guards in a watchtower 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.

Two weeks ago, the 18 year-long struggle by lawyers, NGOs and all decent people to bring justice to the men held at Guantánamo reached a new low point in the court of appeals (the D.C. Circuit Court) in Washington, D.C., as I explained at the time in an article entitled, Trump-Appointed Appeals Court Judge Rules That Guantánamo Prisoners Don’t Have Due Process Rights.

The judge in question, Judge Neomi Rao, appointed by Donald Trump last year, is an enthusiastic supporter of the opposition, by various judges in the court, to the landmark Supreme Court case Boumediene v. Bush, decided in June 2008, which granted constitutionally guaranteed habeas corpus rights to the Guantánamo prisoners.

That ruling led to the only time in Guantánamo’s history when the law has successfully applied at the prison. From 2008 until 2010, 38 prisoners had their habeas corpus petitions granted by District Court judges, and the majority of those men were released.

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If Elected in November, Will Joe Biden Close Guantánamo?

A composite photo of Joe Biden and a guard tower at Guantánamo.

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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.

With just four months to go until the US Presidential Election, there is hope, in some quarters, that Donald Trump will lose to Joe Biden. The fact that this is not a foregone conclusion shows how broken American politics has become. Openly racist, Trump has been the most incoherent president imaginable, and is currently mired in a COVID-19 crisis of his own making, as the virus continues on its deadly path, largely unchecked, through swathes of the US population. And yet he retains a base of support that doesn’t make it certain that he will lose in November.

His opponent, Joe Biden, Barack Obama’s vice president for eight years, faces problems of his own. 77 years old, he is even older than Trump, and in terms of representing the people of the US, it is somewhat dispiriting that the choice is between two white men in their 70s. Nevertheless, on many fronts — not least on Guantánamo — it is inconceivable that Biden can do a worse job than Trump has over the excruciating three and a half years since he took office in January 2017.

On Guantánamo, Trump announced in a tweet, several weeks before his inauguration, that “there must be no more releases from Gitmo,” and he has been almost entirely true to his word. He inherited 41 prisoners from Obama, and only one of those men has been released — a Saudi citizen who was transferred back to Saudi Arabia for ongoing imprisonment in February 2018, to honor a plea deal agreed in his military commission trial in 2014.

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Military Judge Rules That Terrorism Sentence at Guantánamo Can Be Reduced Because of CIA Torture

Guantánamo prisoner Majid Khan, in a photo taken at the prison in 2018, and the military commissions judge, Army Col. Douglas K. Watkins, who has ruled that his sentence, based on a plea deal agreed in 2012, can be reduced because he was tortured in “black sites” by the CIA.

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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.

It’s been nearly two years since I last reported on the military commission trial system at Guantánamo, which is less an oversight than a tacit acknowledgement that the entire system is broken, a facsimile of justice in which the defense teams for those put forward for trials are committed to exposing the torture to which their clients were subjected in secret CIA “black sites,” while the prosecutors are just as committed to keeping that information hidden.

I’m pleased to be discussing the commissions again, however, because, in a recent ruling in the case of “high-value detainee” Majid Khan, a judge ruled that, as Carol Rosenberg described it for the New York Times, “war court judges have the power to reduce the prison sentence of a Qaeda operative at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as a remedy for torture by the CIA.”

When I last visited the commissions, the chief judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, who had also been the judge on the case of the five men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks since the men were arraigned in May 2012, had just caused a stir by ruling that confessions obtained by so-called “clean teams” of FBI agents, after the men were moved to Guantánamo from the CIA “black sites” where their initial confessions were obtained through the use of torture, would not be admitted as evidence. In a second blow, he announced his resignation.

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Judge Orders Chelsea Manning’s Release From Jail for Not Cooperating With WikiLeaks Grand Jury, But Won’t Waive $256,000 Fines

Chelsea Manning, after her release from prison in 2017, and before her re-imprisonment in 2019, for refusing to cooperate with a Grand Jury investigation into Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange.

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Good news from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, where, on Thursday (March 12), District Judge Anthony J. Trenga ordered the immediate release from jail of whistleblower Chelsea Manning (formerly Pfc. Bradley Manning), who has been imprisoned since last March for refusing to cooperate with a Grand Jury investigation into WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange.

While serving as an Army intelligence analyst in 2009, Manning was responsible for the largest leak of military and diplomatic documents in US history, and received a 35-year sentence — described by Charlie Savage in the New York Times as “the longest sentence by far in an American leak case” — in August 2013.

After her conviction, as Savage also explained, “she changed her name to Chelsea and announced that she wanted to undergo gender transition, but was housed in a male military prison and twice tried to commit suicide in 2016.” After these bleak experiences, it came as an extremely pleasant surprise when, just before leaving office in January 2017, President Obama commuted most of her sentence, as I explained in an article at the time, entitled, Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning’s 35-Year Sentence; Whistleblower Who Leaked Hugely Important Guantánamo Files Will Be Freed in May 2017, Not 2045.

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US Judge Orders Independent Psychiatric Assessment of Tortured Guantánamo Prisoner Mohammed Al-Qahtani

Tortured Guantánamo prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani, and US District Judge Rosemary Collyer, who has ordered the US government to allow independent psychiatrists to visit him at Guantánamo, to assess whether his long-standing mental health problems are so severe that he should be sent back to Saudi Arabia.

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In a breakthrough legal ruling, a US judge has ordered the government to allow a psychiatric assessment of a Guantánamo prisoner, involving not only US doctors, who have been allowed into the prison before, to make assessments of certain prisoners’ mental and  physical health, but also, for the first time, foreign doctors, the intention being, as Carol Rosenberg of the New York Times explained, “to determine whether he should be released from the prison” and “sent home for psychiatric care.”

The prisoner in question, Mohammed al-Qahtani, is well-known to seasoned Guantánamo watchers, as he is one of only two prisoners at Guantánamo to have been subjected to torture programs specifically approved for them (the other one being Mohamedou Ould Slahi). Al-Qahtani was regarded as the intended 20th hijacker for the 9/11 attacks, and was subjected to what Carol Rosenberg described, accurately, as “two months of continuous, brutal interrogation”, by US soldiers, at the end of 2002 and the start of 2003. The torture took place in a wooden hut at Guantánamo’s Camp X-Ray, after that facility — the prison’s first camp — had closed, and TIME magazine published the harrowing log of those torture sessions in 2006, which are available here.

What was not publicly known until long after al-Qahtani’s torture was that, as Carol Rosenberg put it, he “had a history of profound mental illness and psychiatric hospitalization in Saudi Arabia before he left in 2000 or 2001,” although this has been consistently ignored by the US authorities.

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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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