18 Years After 9/11, the Endless Injustice of Guantánamo is Driving Prisoners to Suicidal Despair

The terrorist attacks on New York on September 11, 2001, and the prison at Guantánamo Bay on the day it opened, January 11, 2002.

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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.

18 years ago, on September 11, 2001, the world changed irrevocably, when terrorists, using hijacked passenger planes, attacked the US mainland, killing nearly 3,000 people. In response, the administration of George W. Bush launched a brutal, global “war on terror,” invading Afghanistan to destroy Al-Qaeda and to topple the Taliban government, and embarking on a program of kidnapping (“extraordinary rendition”), torture and the indefinite detention without charge or trial of alleged “terror suspects.”

18 years later, the war in AfghanIstan drags on, the battle for “hearts and minds” having long been lost, a second occupied country — Iraq — illegally invaded on the basis of lies, and of false evidence obtained through torture, remains broken, having subsequently served as an incubator for Al-Qaeda’s savage offshoot, Daesh (or Islamic State), and the program of indefinite detention without charge or trial continues in the prison established four months after the 9/11 attacks, at Guantánamo Bay on the US naval base in Cuba.

Torture, we are told, is no longer US policy and the CIA no longer runs “black sites” — although torture remains permissible in Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, and no one can quite be sure what the US gets up to in its many covert actions around the world.

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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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17 Years Since the Notorious Yoo-Bybee “Torture Memos,” the US Still Finds Itself Unable to Successfully Prosecute the Men It Tortured

John Yoo, Jay S. Bybee and prisoners on a rendition plane.

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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.

August 1 was the 17th anniversary of a particularly grotesque and dispiriting event in modern US history, one that has ramifications that are still being felt today, even though it was completely unnoticed — or ignored — by the US media. 

On August 1, 2002, Jay S. Bybee, then the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), the branch of the Justice Department responsible for advising the executive branch on what is, and what is not legal, signed off on two blatantly unlawful memos written by OLC lawyer John Yoo, which attempted to re-define torture, and approved its use on Abu Zubaydah, a prisoner of the “war on terror” that the US declared after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, who was being held in a secret prison — a “black site” — run by the CIA.

The memos remained secret until June 2004, when, in the aftermath of the Abu Ghraib scandal, when photos were leaked of torture in a US-run prison in Iraq, one of the Yoo-Bybee memos was also leaked, provoking widespread disgust, although Yoo and Bybee escaped the criticism unscathed. For his services, Bybee was made a judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, while Yoo kept his job as a law professor at the University of Berkeley. 

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CIA Torture Unredacted: New Report Fills in Crucial Gaps in 2014 Senate Torture Report

The front cover of “CIA Torture Unredacted”, a 400-page report by Sam Raphael, Crofton Black and Ruth Blakeley, published in London on July 10, 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 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.

Congratulations to Sam Raphael and Ruth Blakeley of The Rendition Project, Crofton Black of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and all those who worked with them, for the publication of “CIA Torture Unredacted,” their 400-page report on the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program, which was launched in London last Wednesday, and is available online, in its entirety, here — and see here for a chapter by chapter breakdown.

The report is the culmination of nine years’ work, which began in 2010 with funding from the UK-based Economic and Social Research Council, and which led, in May 2013, to the launch of The Rendition Project website, which, as Ian Cobain and James Ball explained for the Guardian, “mapped the US government’s global kidnap and secret detention programme, shedding unprecedented light on one of the most controversial secret operations of recent years.”

At the time of its initial launch in 2013, The Rendition Project drew on previous work conducted by researchers for a variety of NGOs and international bodies, which included an influential report for the Council of Europe about secret prisons and rendition in Europe, published by Swiss Senator Dick Marty in 2007, a detailed analysis of the secret detention programme for a UN study in 2010, for which I was the lead author, and in which, as I described it in an Al-Jazeera article in 2014, “I sought to ascertain the identities of the 94 ‘ghost prisoners’ in CIA custody — including 28 subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation’ — who were referred to in a memo from 2005 by [US government] lawyer Steven G. Bradbury that was released by the Obama administration in April 2009. Another major report, by the Constitution Project, was published in 2013.

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On the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, Donald Trump is Holding Children in Detention Centers in Circumstances Comparable to “Torture Facilities”

Migrants outside a makeshift encampment at the US Border Patrol facility in McAllen, Texas, May 15, 2019 (Photo: Loren Elliott/Reuters).

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Tomorrow is the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, which, I was slightly shocked to realize, I’ve been writing about most years since 2007 — see my reports from 2009, 2010 (and here), 2011, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017 and 2018.

When it first took place on June 26, 1998, 21 years ago, it was to mark the 11th anniversary of the date in 1987 when the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the UN Convention Against Torture), which I described last year as “an enormous breakthrough in the global moral struggle against the use of torture,” came into effect. As I also explained, June 26 “also marks the date in 1945 when the UN Charter, the founding document of the United Nations, was signed by 50 of the 51 original member countries (Poland signed it two months later).”

For most of the last 12 years, I have focused on the need for the US to be held accountable for the torture it inflicted, in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2011, on prisoners rounded up and tortured in CIA “black sites” around the world, as well as the torture inflicted on prisoners in Guantánamo, in Bagram and numerous other facilities in Afghanistan, and in Iraq, where the use of torture was rife, even though George W. Bush pretended that, unlike in all the other places mentioned above, prisoners were protected by the Geneva Conventions.

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Slow Death at Guantánamo: Why Torture and Open-Ended Arbitrary Detention Are Such Bad Ideas

An undated photo of a prisoner at Guantánamo being escorted by guards (Photo: Chris Hondros / 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. 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.

Let’s be clear about two things before we start: torture and indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial are never acceptable under any circumstances. Torture is prohibited under the UN Convention Against Torture, introduced in 1985 and ratified by Ronald Reagan, and Article 2.2 of the Convention states, unequivocally, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.” 

In addition, indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial is unacceptable because there are only two ways in which it is acceptable for countries that claim to respect the rule of law to deprive someone of their liberty: either by trying them for a crime in federal court, or holding them as a prisoner of war until the end of hostiliites, with the protections of the Geneva Conventions. 

After 9/11, however, the US created a network of torture prisons around the world, and invented a third category of prisoner — illegal or unlawful enemy combatants — who had no rights whatsoever. 

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The Case for Closing Guantánamo: The New Yorker’s Major Profile of Mohamedou Ould Salahi and His Former Guard Steve Wood

Mohamedou Ould Salahi (Slahi) on the right, and his former guard Steve Wood on the left. The photo was taken by Salahi in Mauritania in January 2019, when Wood had come to visit him.

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.

Over the 13 years that I’ve been working to close Guantánamo, some of the most rewarding moments I’ve experienced have been when former prisoners or former guards have got in touch to thank me for my work. 

I was enormously gratified when Moazzam Begg said that he turned to my book The Guantánamo Files to find out who he was at Guantánamo with, because he was held in solitary confinement, and when Omar Deghayes told me that I wrote about Guantánamo as though I had been in the prison with him and the other prisoners. 

I was also moved when former guards got in touch — Brandon Neely, for example, who had been at Guantánamo in its early days, and who got in touch with me when his discomfort with what he had been required to do, which had haunted him, turned into public criticism that persists to this day. On another occasion, I recall, a former guard got in touch. He didn’t want go public, but he wanted to talk about Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who he had been guarding. 

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Video: I Discuss Guantánamo with Chris Hedges on His Show ‘On Contact’ on RT America

A screenshot of Chris Hedges and Andy Worthington discussing Guantanamo on Chris’s show ‘On Contact’ on RT America.

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.




 

An injustice does not become any less unjust the longer it endures, and yet, when it comes to the prison at Guantánamo Bay, you could be forgiven for not thinking that this is the case. Over 17 years since the prison opened, it is still holding men indefinitely without charge or trial, and yet these days the prison is rarely in the news, either in the US or internationally.

The is shameful, because, although only 40 men are still held (out of the 779 men held in total by the US military since the prison opened in January 2002), the blunt truth is that no one should be held indefinitely without charge or trial, because that is what dictatorships do, not countries that, like the US, profess to care about the rule of law.

I’m pleased to report that, in an effort to continue to shine a light on the ongoing horrors of Guantánamo, Chris Hedges, one of the most significant critics of America’s current lawlessness, interviewed me for his show ‘On Contact,’ on RT America, which was broadcast on Saturday, and is embedded below via YouTube:

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‘Guantánamo Kid’: A Graphic Novel Telling the Harrowing Story of Child Prisoner Mohammed El-Gharani by Jérôme Tubiana and Alexandre Franc

Promotion for 'Guantanamo Kid' featuring a review by 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. If you can help, please click on the button below to donate via PayPal.




 

On Tuesday March 12, the British publisher SelfMadeKid is releasing ‘Guantánamo Kid,’ a graphic novel by Jérôme Tubiana and Alexandre Franc, which tells the harrowing story of former child prisoner Mohammed El-Gharani. It was first published last year, in French, by Dargaud.

I’m pleased to note that the publishers asked me to write a review for the book, which they have used in the promotional image at the top of this article, and in which I stated, “Mohammed El-Gharani knows all about the horrors of Guantánamo, as a child subjected to torture by the US authorities and held in the prison for eight years. And yet far too many people still don’t know about Guantánamo’s long and abusive history, and one main reason is that no footage or photos of any of the torture and abuse has ever surfaced. Overcoming this critical lack of images, Jérôme Tubiana, a journalist who spent time with Mohammed after his release in 2010, hearing his story, has worked with the talented comic artist Alexandre Franc to bring his ordeal to life in a graphic novel that deserves to be read as widely as possible, as, in page after page of harrowing memories, Mohammed tells his story with wit, endurance and unbreakable spirit.”

I covered Mohammed El-Gharani’s story extensively while he was held at Guantánamo, originally in my book The Guantánamo Files, published in September 2007, in which I explained what I had been able to piece together at the time about his story, via US military documents, and his lawyers, at the London-based legal action charity Reprieve. Read the rest of this entry »

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Message to the Trump Administration: Close Guantánamo Now!

Former Guantanamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, in a photo he posted on his Twitter account on December 31, 2018.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.




 

It’s now over two weeks since the 17th anniversary of the opening of the US’s post-9/11 “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, which, disgracefully, is still open, holding 40 men, mostly without charge or trial, in defiance of all international norms, and in some cases in endless pre-trial hearings in the military commissions, a broken system that is incapable of delivering justice.

As has been the case since 2011, I was in the US earlier this month to call for its closure, including at a vigil outside the White House and at a panel discussion in the New America think-tank on the anniversary itself. Earlier that day, a Congressional briefing had been held on Capitol Hill, co-sponsored by Amnesty International USA and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, at which former prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi spoke by video link from Mauritania.

This was significant, because former Guantánamo prisoners are not allowed to visit the US, a prohibition that, not accidentally, helps to preserve the notion that those held at the prison were “the worst of the worst”, a piece of enduring black propaganda that has never been even remotely true, as independent assessments, including my own, have established that only a few percent of the 779 men held by the US military at the prison since it opened have had any significant connection to either 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, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer (The State of London).
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