Chaos at Guantánamo as the 9/11 Trial Begins

On Saturday, the eyes of the world were on Guantánamo, as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of planning and facilitating the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 — Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi and Walid bin Attash — appeared in a courtroom for the first time since December 2008. All were dressed in white, apparently at the insistence of the authorities at Guantánamo, and most observers made a point of noting that Mohammed’s long gray beard was streaked red with henna.

For the Obama administration and the Pentagon, the five men’s appearance — for their arraignment prior to their planned trial by military commission — was supposed to show that the commissions are a competent and legitimate alternative to the federal court trial that the Obama administration announced for the men in November 2009, but then abandoned after caving in to pressure from Republicans. The five defendants face 2,976 counts of murder — one for each of the victims of the 9/11 attacks — as well as charges of terrorism, hijacking, conspiracy and destruction of property, and the prosecution is seeking the death penalty.

Unfortunately for the administration, the omens were not good. The military commissions have been condemned as an inadequate trial system ever since the Bush administration first resurrected them in November 2001, intending, in the heat of post-9/11 vengeance, to use them to swiftly try and execute those it regarded as terrorists. However, after long delays and chaotic hearings, this first reincarnation of the commissions was struck down as illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006. The commissions were then revived by Congress a few months later, and were then tweaked and revived by President Obama in the summer of 2009, despite criticism from legal experts. Read the rest of this entry »

Don’t Forget the Guantánamo Prisoners Cleared for Release But Still Held

Last week, Guantánamo briefly resurfaced in the news when one of the remaining 171 prisoners, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, was arraigned for his planned trial by Military Commission, for his alleged role in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.

Al-Nashiri’s trial will not begin for a least a year, and his fleeting appearance was not sufficient to keep attention focused on Guantánamo, especially as the 24-hour news cycle — and people’s addiction to it — now barely allows stories to survive for a day before they are swept aside for the latest breaking news.

As a result, the opportunity to ask bigger questions, such as, “Who is still at Guantánamo?” and “Why are they still held?” was largely missed. These are topics I have been discussing all year, but they are rarely mentioned in the mainstream media, so it was refreshing, last week, to see Peter Finn in the Washington Post address these questions.

In “Guantánamo detainees cleared for release but left in limbo,” Finn, with assistance from Julie Tate, began by revisiting the final report of the Guantánamo Review Task Force, the 60 or so officials and lawyers from government departments and the intelligence agencies who reviewed the cases of all the prisoners throughout 2009, and who, as Finn noted, cleared 126 prisoners for transfer out of Guantánamo (PDF) — and also recommended 36 for trials, and 48 for indefinite detention without charge or trial. Read the rest of this entry »

Tyler Cabot’s Important Profile of Guantánamo Prisoner Noor Uthman Muhammed for Esquire

Every now and then, mainstream media magazines pick up on a story from Guantánamo and run with it, reaching a wide audience and providing detailed coverage of the Bush administration’s shameful prison, which Barack Obama has found himself unable to close, and which, for the 171 men still held, appears now to be a prison without end.

Guantánamo has become largely forgotten by those who should be alarmed at what its continued existence reveals about America’s humanity and sense of justice, but who, in all too many cases, are misled by their media and by the senior Bush administration officials who are still allowed to continue defending their dreadful policies and criminal activities in public, even though they should be held accountable for their part in implementing torture.

For Esquire this month, Tyler Cabot, an editor at the magazine, has profiled Noor Uthman Muhammed, otherwise known as Prisoner 707, a Sudanese prisoner who was subjected to a trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo in February this year, as I explained in my article, “Hiding Horrific Tales of Torture: Why The US Government Reached A Plea Deal with Guantánamo Prisoner Noor Uthman Muhammed.” The military jury in Muhammed’s case gave him a 14-year sentence, although he is only supposed to serve 34 months as the result of a plea deal, but such is the injustice at Guantánamo that it is by no means certain that he will actually be released. 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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