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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Inter-American Commission on Human Rights’ Ground-Breaking Decision in the Case of Former Guantánamo Prisoner Djamel Ameziane

Former Guantánamo Prisoner Djamel Ameziane and his response to a a recent and important decision taken by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), criticizing the US for his treatment during 12 years in US custody (Image by the Center for Justice and International Law).

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I’ve had a busy few weeks, and haven’t been able, until now, to address a recent and important decision taken by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in the case of Djamel Ameziane, an ethnic Berber from Algeria who was imprisoned at Guantánamo for nearly 12 years, from February 2002 to December 2013, after an initial two month’s imprisonment at Kandahar air base in Afghanistan. The IACHR is a key part of the Organization of American States (OAS), whose mission is “to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere,” and whose resolutions are supposed to be binding on the US, which is a member state.

As his lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) explained in a press release on May 28, the IACHR’s decision (available here) determined that the United States was “responsible for Mr. Ameziane’s torture, abuse, and decade-long confinement without charge,” and issued a series of recommendations — namely, that “the United States should provide ‘adequate material and moral reparations’ for the human rights violations suffered by Mr. Ameziane for his 12 years of confinement.”

As CCR added, “Some of these measures include the continuance of criminal investigations for the torture of Mr. Ameziane at Kandahar Airbase and Guantánamo Bay detention center; compensation for his years spent in arbitrary detention to address any lasting physical and psychological effects; medical and psychological care for his rehabilitation; and the issuance of a public apology by the United States president or any other high-ranking official to establish Mr. Ameziane’s innocence.”

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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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International Criminal Court Authorizes Investigation into War Crimes in Afghanistan, Including US Torture Program

The logo of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and an image of a secret prison.

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Good news from The Hague, as the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has approved an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan since May 2003 “by US armed forces and members of the CIA, the Taliban and affiliated armed groups, and Afghan government forces,” as the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) explained in a press release.

The investigation, as CCR also explained, will include “crimes against humanity and war crimes … committed as part of the US torture program,” not only in Afghanistan but also in “the territory of other States Parties to the Rome Statute implicated in the US torture program”; in other words, other sites in the CIA’s global network of “black site” torture prisons, which, notoriously, included facilities in Poland, Romania and Lithuania. As CCR explained, “Although the United States is not a party to the ICC Statute, the Court has jurisdiction over crimes committed by US actors on the territory of a State Party to the ICC,” and this aspect of the investigation will look at crimes committed since July 1, 2002.

AS CCR also explained, “The investigation marks the first time senior US officials may face criminal liability for their involvement in the torture program.”

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As Torture Rears Its Ugly Head at Guantánamo, Let’s Not Forget That the Entire Prison Must Be Closed

CIA torture architect James Mitchell and an undated photo of a “war on terror” prisoner being subjected to “extraordinary rendition” by US forces.

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.

2020 has, to date, been noteworthy for how much attention has been focused on Guantánamo, the US naval base in Cuba that is home to the “war on terror” prison established in January 2002, and also to the inappropriately named Camp Justice, where trial proceedings for some of the men held in the prison take place.

First up was the 18th anniversary of the opening of the prison, on January 11, when campaigners from numerous NGOs and campaigning groups — including Close Guantánamo — held a rally outside the White House to call for the prison’s closure. I flew over from the UK to take part in this rally, as I have done every year since 2011, and then stayed on for a week to take part in two speaking events, six radio interviews, and an interview with RT, the only TV interview in the whole of the US broadcast media that dealt with the anniversary.

I returned to the UK on January 20, just as a second round of more prominent Guantánamo-related activity began at Camp Justice. For the first time in many years, dozens of journalists had flown to the naval base for the latest round — the 40th, astonishingly, since hearings began in 2012 — of pre-trial hearings for the proposed trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of involvement in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

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Radio: Unauthorized Disclosure – I Discuss Guantánamo and Julian Assange with Kevin Gosztola and Rania Khalek

Andy Worthington and a quote from the “Unauthorized Disclosure” show he featured on in January 2020, speaking about Guantánamo and Julian Assange.

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My thanks to Kevin Gosztola and Rania Khalek for interviewing me for 40 minutes on Friday for their “Unauthorized Disclosure” podcast, which was made available on Sunday. As the dust settled on my return to the UK from a ten-day trip to the US to call for the closure of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, it was a good opportunity to reflect on what I had done and what I had learned during my trip, as well as providing enough time for me to explain some crucial aspects of the prison’s long and unjust history in depth.

As I explained when I posted a link to the show on Facebook, it is crucially important for people to remember that “the remaining 40 prisoners — and especially the three-quarters of them who are held indefinitely without charge or trial — are ‘entombed’ in the prison by Donald Trump, who has no intention of releasing any of them under any circumstances, and against whom no mechanism exists to oblige him to do anything that he doesn’t want.”

As I explained during the show, “Whoever has control of Guantánamo can do what they want with it,” and as I also explained, under Trump “the prison is sealed shut, entombing the men remaining in this pointless and cruel facility which defies American values, where the prisoners for the most part are held without charge or trial, and where they’re warehoused awaiting death, whenever that may come — 10, 20, 30, 40 years from now.”

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Quarterly Fundraiser: Seeking $2500 (£2000) to Support My Ongoing Work on Guantánamo and Torture and My London Photo-Journalism Project

Andy Worthington calling for the closure of Guantánamo outside the White House on January 11, 2019, the 17th anniversary of the opening of the prison, and photos from Andy’s photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’

Please click on the ‘Donate’ button below to make a donation towards the $2,500 (£2,000) I’m trying to raise to support my work on Guantánamo over the next three months of the Trump administration, and/or for my London photo-journalism project ‘The State of London.’




 

Dear friends and supporters,

It’s that time of year again when I ask you, if you can, to make a donation to support my ongoing work on Guantánamo and the US torture program, and/or, if you wish, to support my ongoing photo-journalism project, ‘The State of London.’

As a completely independent journalist, activist and commentator, I have no institutional backing whatsoever, so I’m reliant on your support to help me to keep writing and campaigning about Guantánamo, and chronicling the ever-changing face of London.

If you can make a donation to support my ongoing efforts to close Guantánamo, and/or ‘The State of London’, please click on the “Donate” button above to make a payment via PayPal. Any amount will be gratefully received — whether it’s $500, $100, $25 or even $10 — or the equivalent in any other currency.

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As “The Report,” About the CIA Torture Program, Is Released Online, Guantánamo Prisoner Ahmed Rabbani Urges People to Watch It

The poster for “The Report,” about the CIA torture program, and Guantánamo prisoner and former CIA “black site” prisoner Ahmed Rabbani.

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.





 

Two weeks ago I published an article about the new movie “The Report” — which looks at the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program — entitled, CIA Torture Report Author Says More Than 119 Prisoners Were Held in “Black Sites” and More Than Three Were Waterboarded, in which I drew on a Vice News interview with former Senate staffer Daniel J. Jones, the lead author of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report into the torture program, on which the film is based.

Jones — and his team — are true American heroes, having, despite considerable opposition, trawled through six million CIA documents to produce a 6,700-page report that, via its 500-page executive summary, which is all that has been publicly released, is unstinting in its denunciation of the brutality and pointlessness of the torture program. I made his comments available — and focused in particular on the troubling statistics in the article’s title — because I thought it was extremely significant that Jones concluded that there were clearly more than the 119 prisoners included in the report, because the CIA “had no idea how many people they detained,” and that more than three prisoners were subjected to waterboarding, because, as he says, “We found a picture of a waterboard at a detention site where there were no records of any waterboarding taking place, but it had clearly been used.”

“The Report” had its theatrical release on November 15, to generally enthusiastic reviews — an 83% approval rating on the movie aggregator site Rotten Tomatoes,  based on 178 reviews, with 83% approval from audiences too. Last week, I spoke about it on a US radio show, and in just three days’ time, on November 29, it will be released on Amazon Prime.

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Radio: I Discuss Guantánamo and Julian Assange on the Peace and Justice Report on Sarasota Community Radio

Guantánamo prisoners, on the day the prison opened, January 11, 2002, and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

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 Wednesday, I was delighted to talk for 30 minutes to Bob Connors and Tom Walker of the Peace and Justice Report on Sarasota Community Radio on WSLR 96.5 FM, which describes itself as “cover[ing] local, state, national and international social justice issues.” featuring “a wide variety of guests whose views are underrepresented in the mainstream media.”

We spoke about Guantánamo, past, present and future, and also about the US torture program and the plight of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, imprisoned in the UK and fighting his proposed extradition to the US to face espionage charges.

The show is embedded below:

Andy Worthington on the Peace and Justice Report on Sarasota Community Radio, November 20, 2019.

My interview started six minutes in and ended at 34:40, and in it I ran through Guantánamo’s history, and my involvement with it, and expressed my sorrow about how most people nowadays have completely forgotten about the prison, even though it continues to hold men indefinitely without charge or trial, which ought to be a source of profound shame to US citizens who respect the rule of law.

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CIA Torture Report Author Says More Than 119 Prisoners Were Held in “Black Sites” and More Than Three Were Waterboarded

Daniel J. Jones, in a screenshot from Vice News’ recent interview with him about the Senate Torture Report, prior to the release of the feature-length docudrama “The Report,” about the creation of the report.

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.





 

This week sees the release of “The Report,” an important new feature-length film about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 6,700-page report about the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program.

The “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program — more generally known as ‘The Torture Report” — involved a team of five people reading and analyzing over six million CIA documents over the course of five years, and Committee members voted, by nine votes to six, to approve it as an official committee report on December 13, 2012, although the full report has never been publicly released.

Instead, a 500-page executive summary was released in December 2014, in which, as I wrote at the time for Al-Jazeera, the Committee “conclude[d] that torture was ‘not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees,’ that the CIA made ‘inaccurate claims’ about the ‘effectiveness’ of the program in an attempt to justify it and that it led to friction with other agencies that endangered national security, as well as providing false statements that led to costly and worthless wild goose chases.”

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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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