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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Clinton Advisor Anthony Lake and Close Guantánamo Co-Founder Tom Wilner Call on President Biden to Close the Prison

Anthony Lake, national security adviser to President Clinton from 1993 to 1997 (photo via Unicef), and Close Guantánamo co-founder Tom Wilner, photographed calling for the closure of Guantánamo in Washington, D.C. on January 11, 2012 (photo via Shrieking Tree).

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. 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 a recent op-ed for The Hill, Anthony Lake, national security adviser to President Clinton from 1993 to 1997, and Close Guantánamo co-founder Tom Wilner, who was counsel of record to Guantánamo detainees in the two Supreme Court cases establishing their right to habeas corpus and in the case establishing their right to legal counsel, made a powerful case for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, which we’re pleased to be cross-posting below.

Thursday marked the end of the first 100 days of Joe Biden’s presidency, and while we’re aware that the new administration has had a huge workload to deal with after four ruinous years of the Trump presidency, and with the unprecedented challenge of dealing with Covid-19, it remains imperative that the scandal of the prison at Guantánamo is dealt with sooner rather than later, because its continued existence is an affront to all of the US’s cherished notions of itself as a country that respects the rule of law.

Using, as a springboard, the recent release of the movie “The Mauritanian,” which tells the story of former Guantánamo prisoner, torture victim and best-selling author Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Lake and Wilner run through the reasons why Guantánamo’s continued existence is so shameful and counter-productive — a hugely expensive offshore prison where the US “detains men indefinitely, without charge or trial or the basic protections of due process of law,” whose continued existence also damages US national security by inflaming tensions within the Muslim world.

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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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Trump-Appointed Appeals Court Judge Rules That Guantánamo Prisoners Don’t Have Due Process Rights

Judge Neomi Rao (left), a Donald Trump appointee to the D.C. Circuit Court, who recently wrote a contentious opinion for the court in the case of Yemeni businessman and Guantánamo prisoner Abdulsalam al-Hela (right), ruling that the Guantánamo prisoners do not have due process rights; in other words, that they can neither see nor rebut any evidence held by the government that purportedly justifies their detention.

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 profoundly dispiriting story of the Guantánamo prisoners’ efforts to challenge their imprisonment without charge or trial through legal means, their victories — in Rasul v. Bush in 2004, and Boumediene v. Bush in 2008, when they were granted habeas corpus rights — evaporated through a number of appeals court rulings from 2009 to 2011, which ended up with the prisoners’ habeas rights being gutted of all meaning.

Between 2008 and 2010, 38 prisoners had their habeas corpus petitions approved, meaning that, even though the government had been given a very low evidentiary hurdle, they couldn’t even demonstrate to a range of District Court judges that the men in question were involved, in any meaningful sense at all, with either Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Since 2010, however, not a single prisoner has had his habeas corpus petition granted, and efforts to persuade the Supreme Court to take back control of the prisoners’ fate have also come to nothing.

Finally, however, last June, the prisoners secured a significant victory in the D.C. Circuit Court (the court of appeals in Washington, D.C.), in a case argued by Close Guantánamo’s co-founder Tom Wilner, as I explained in an article entitled, A Rare Court Victory Offers Hope for Guantánamo’s “Forever Prisoners”, when a panel of three judges ruled, in the case of Khalid Qassim, an insignificant prisoner, and yet one who has been held now for over 18 years without charge or trial, that he should be able to see and rebut the evidence purportedly justifying his detention.

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Video: “Guantánamo in 2020: What is the Future of the Prison Camp after Eighteen Years?” at New America, Jan. 13, 2020

A screenshot of New America’s page for the “Guantánamo in 2020” event that took place on January 13, 2020.

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.





 

Today I’m delighted to be posting, via YouTube, the hour-long video of a panel discussion and Q&A session about the prison at Guantánamo Bay — and the need to close it — which I took part in at the New America think-tank in Washington, D.C. on January 13, two days after the 18th anniversary of the opening of the prison.

Also taking part was the attorney Tom Wilner, with whom I co-founded the Close Guantánamo campaign in 2012. Tom was Counsel of Record for the Guantánamo prisoners as they successfully sought habeas corpus rights before the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2008 — although those rights have since been gutted by ideologically malignant appeals court rulings — and we are grateful to New America for hosting a panel discussion about Guantánamo with us every year on or around the anniversary. The moderator for this year’s anniversary event was Melissa Salyk-Virk, Senior Policy Analyst in New America’s International Security Program.

As I hope readers have realized via my various articles about the anniversary, and my ten-day US visit to call for the prison’s closure — this year there was a real urgency, indignation and passion to the calls for the prison’s closure and of the need for urgent change in the political leadership in the US expressed by myself and other campaigners.

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My US Visit to Call for the Closure of Guantánamo on the 18th Anniversary of Its Opening, Jan. 10-20, 2020

The flier for the rally calling for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on the 18th anniversary of its opening, taking place outside the White House on January 11, 2020. The flier was designed for the campaigning group Witness Against Torture.

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, including my imminent visit to the US. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.





 

On Friday I fly into New York’s JFK Airport from London for what will be my tenth successive January visit to the US to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay on the anniversary of its opening.

The main focus of my visits, from that first year onwards, has been a rally outside the White House of groups calling for the prison’s closure, including Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, Witness Against Torture, and the World Can’t Wait. and, most years, I have also taken part in a panel discussion about the future of Guantánamo at New America, a D.C.-based think-tank. For more, check out the archive for my visits in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Even that first year (2011), the rally was an example of tenacity over hope, and it remains so today, something that has to be done, because the existence of Guantánamo is an abomination, but, sadly, with no expectation that it will fundamentally change anything.

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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.

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.





 

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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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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My Ninth Successive US Visit – for Events Marking the 17th Anniversary of the Opening of Guantánamo

Close Guantanamo co-founder Andy Worthington marks 6,200 days of Guantanamo's existence on January 1, 2019.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 (as “Close Guantánamo Events Marking the 17th Anniversary of the Opening of Guantánamo”) 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.

As 2019 began, the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay marked a shameful milestone. January 1 was the 6,200th day of operations at the prison, and we marked the occasion with the latest stage of our ongoing photo campaign, in which supporters take photos with posters showing how long Guantánamo has been open and urging Donald Trump to close it, based on our Gitmo Clock project, which counts in real time how long the prison has been open.

In seven days’ time, the prison will reach another appalling milestone: the 17th anniversary of its opening. This is on January 11, and to mark the occasion Close Guantánamo’s co-founders, the Washington, D.C.-based attorney Tom Wilner and the London-based journalist Andy Worthington (making his 9th annual visit for protest and events on and around the anniversary) will be taking part in a panel discussion at the New America think-tank, and will also be part of an annual vigil outside the White House organized by and attended by representatives of a dozen rights groups. Andy is also discussing Guantánamo in New York, two days after the anniversary, and both Andy and Tom are available for media interviews, and for further events, throughout the duration of Andy’s visit, from January 7-17.

Details of the events are below: Read the rest of this entry »

16 Years of Guantánamo: My Eighth Successive January Visit to the US to Call for the Closure of the Prison on the Anniversary of Its Opening

A poster prepared by Witness Against Torture showing events in Washington, D.C. on an around Jan. 11, 2018, the 16th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo.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, and my imminent visit to the US, discussed below.





 

On Monday, I fly into New York from London for what will be my eighth successive January visit to the US to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay. Despite the generally inhospitable climate and the unpleasantness of the cause, it has always been exciting to visit, as I have met and got to know the people who should be running the US — the campaigners, principled lawyers and ordinary citizens who have made a stand against the existence of the prison, recognizing it as a profound injustice, established in the heat of vengeance after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which is a source of shame to all decent Americans every day that it remains open.

A majority of Americans, unfortunately, don’t understand how important it is to rely on established and internationally accepted procedures when depriving people of their liberty. Those imprisoned should either be criminal suspects, charged as swiftly as possible and put on trial in a federal court, or prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, and held unmolested until the end of hostilities. At Guantánamo, however, the men held were deprived of all rights, and held as “unlawful enemy combatants” — “for the express purpose of denying them the rights that combatants normally receive,” as Human Rights First has explained in a briefing.

This would be bad enough, but the very basis for holding the men has always been a disgrace — although one, sadly, that has never received the mainstream coverage it cries out for. Contrary to claims that the men and boys held at Guantánamo were “the worst of the worst,” who were all captured on the battlefield, most were captured not by the US, but by their Afghan and Pakistani allies, who didn’t find them on the battlefield, and who often sold them to the US, which was paying bounties averaging $5000 a head for anyone who could be portrayed as a member of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. 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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