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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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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Stop the Extradition: If Julian Assange Is Guilty of Espionage, So Too Are the New York Times, the Guardian and Numerous Other Media Outlets

An undated photo of a billboard outside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, criticizing efforts by the US to punish Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange for having leaked and published classified US government documents.

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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.

Nearly seven years ago, when WikiLeaks’ founder, Julian Assange, sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London (on June 19, 2012), he did so because of his “fears of political persecution,” and “an eventual extradition to the United States,” as Arturo Wallace, a South American correspondent for the BBC, explained when Ecuador granted him asylum two months later. Ricardo Patino, Ecuador’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, spoke of “retaliation that could endanger his safety, integrity and even his life,” adding, “The evidence shows that if Mr. Assange is extradited to the United States, he wouldn’t have a fair trial. It is not at all improbable he could be subjected to cruel and degrading treatment and sentenced to life imprisonment or even capital punishment.”

Assange’s fears were in response to hysteria in the US political establishment regarding the publication, in 2010 — with the New York Times, the Guardian and other newspapers — of war logs from the Afghan and Iraq wars, and a vast number of US diplomatic cables from around the world, and, in 2011, of classified military files relating to Guantánamo, on which I worked as media partner, along with the Washington Post, McClatchy, the Daily Telegraph and others. All these documents were leaked to WikiLeaks by former US Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning. 

Nearly seven years later, Assange’s fears have been justified, as, on May 23, the US Justice Department charged him on 18 counts under the Espionage Act of 1917, charges that, as the Guardian described it in an editorial, could lead to “a cumulative sentence of 180 years.” 

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In Guantánamo Habeas Corpus Case, Lawyers Insist That Trump’s Stated Intention of Not Releasing Any Prisoners Renders Their Imprisonment “Perpetual” — and Illegal

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly and a photo of the prison at Guantanamo Bay on the day of its opening, Jan. 11, 2002.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.





 

On January 11, the 16th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay, lawyers for eleven of the 41 prisoners still held submitted a habeas corpus petition to the District Court in Washington, D.C., arguing, as a press release by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights put it, that “[Donald] Trump’s proclamation against releasing anyone from Guantánamo, regardless of their circumstances, which has borne out for the first full year of the Trump presidency, is arbitrary and unlawful and amounts to ‘perpetual detention for detention’s sake.’”

CCR’s press release also stated that the lawyers’ filing “argues that continued detention is unconstitutional because any legitimate rationale for initially detaining these men has long since expired; detention now, 16 years into Guantánamo’s operation, is based only on Trump’s raw antipathy towards Guantánamo prisoners – all foreign-born Muslim men – and Muslims more broadly.” The lawyers added that “Donald Trump’s proclamation that he will not release any detainees during his administration reverses the approach and policies of both President Bush and President Obama, who collectively released nearly 750 men.”

In an article marking the submission of the habeas petition, I explained that the eleven men whose lawyers submitted the petition are “Tawfiq al-Bihani (ISN 893) aka Tofiq or Toffiq al-Bihani, a Yemeni who was approved for release by Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force in 2010, Abdul Latif Nasser (ISN 244) aka Abdu Latif Nasser, a Moroccan approved for release in 2016 by a Periodic Review Board, a parole-type process, and nine others whose ongoing imprisonment was upheld by their PRBs: Yemenis Zohair al-Sharabi aka Suhail Sharabi (ISN 569), Said Nashir (ISN 841), Sanad al-Kazimi (ISN 1453) and Sharqawi al-Hajj (ISN 1457), Pakistanis Abdul Rabbani (ISN 1460) and Ahmed Rabbani (ISN 1461), the Algerian Saeed Bakhouche (ISN 685), aka Said Bakush, mistakenly known as Abdul Razak or Abdul Razak Ali, Abdul Malik aka Abdul Malik Bajabu (ISN 10025), a Kenyan, and one of the last men to be brought to the prison — inexplicably — in 2007, and Abu Zubaydah (ISN 10016), one of Guantánamo’s better-known prisoners, a stateless Palestinian, for whom the post-9/11 torture program was initially conceived, under the mistaken belief that he was a high-ranking member of al-Qaeda.” Read the rest of this entry »

What Should Trump Do With the US Citizen Seized in Syria and Held in Iraq as an “Enemy Combatant”?

"Detainee Holding Cell": a US military sign, origin unknown.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.





 

It’s nearly a month since my curiosity was first piqued by an article in the Daily Beast by Betsy Woodruff and Spencer Ackerman, reporting that a US citizen fighting for ISIS had been captured in Syria and was now in US custody. Ackerman followed up on September 20, when “leading national security lawyers” told him that the case of the man, who was being held by the US military as an “enemy combatant,” after surrendering to US-allied Kurdish forces fighting ISIS in Syria around September 12, “could spark a far-reaching legal challenge that could have a catastrophic effect on the entire war against ISIS.”

At the time, neither the Defense Department nor the Justice Department would discuss what would happen to the unnamed individual, although, as Ackerman noted, “Should the Justice Department ultimately take custody of the American and charge him with a terrorism-related crime, further legal controversy is unlikely, at least beyond the specifics of his case.” However, if Donald Trump wanted to send him to Guantánamo (as he has claimed he wants to be able to do), that would be a different matter.

A Pentagon spokesman, Maj. Ben Sakrisson, told Ackerman that, according to George W. Bush’s executive order about “war on terror” detentions, issued on November 13, 2001, and authorizing the establishment of military commissions, “United States citizens are excluded from being tried by Military Commissions, but nothing in that document prohibits detaining US citizens who have been identified as unlawful enemy combatants.” Read the rest of this entry »

Another Legal Hero in the Struggle Against Trump’s Bigotry: Hawaii’s Judge Derrick Watson Issues Nationwide Restraining Order on Immigration Ban

Demonstrators hold signs at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta on January 29, 2017 after Donald Trump issued his first Muslim ban (Photo: Branden Camp/AP).Please support my work! 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.

 

Congratulations to District Judge Derrick K. Watson, in Hawaii, who, on Wednesday, issued what the Washington Post described as “a sweeping freeze of President Trump’s new executive order hours before it would have temporarily barred the issuance of new visas to citizens of six Muslim-majority countries and suspended the admission of new refugees.” I wrote about the original ban here, and the rulings shutting it down here and here, and wrote a follow-up about the reissued ban here, on March 7.

With some accuracy, the Post described Judge Watson’s 43-page opinion as “blistering,” adding that it “pointed to Trump’s own comments and those of his close advisers as evidence that his order was meant to discriminate against Muslims,” and noting that Judge Watson “declared there was a ‘strong likelihood of success’ that those suing would prove the directive violated the Constitution.”

In particularly damning language, Judge Watson declared that “a reasonable, objective observer — enlightened by the specific historical context, contemporaneous public statements, and specific sequence of events leading to its issuance — would conclude that the Executive Order was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion.” Read the rest of this entry »

Case of Al-Qaeda Suspect Captured in Yemen Seen As Test of Trump’s Plan to Send New Prisoners to Guantánamo

"Not one step back: Close Guantanamo" - campaigners outside the White House during the Obama presidency, with a message that may be even more significant under Donald Trump.

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For the New York Times on Monday, in ‘Case of Captive in Yemen Could Test Trump’s Guantánamo Pledge,’ Adam Goldman, Matt Apuzzo and Eric Schmitt wrote about the case of Abu Khaybar, an al-Qaeda suspect, around 40 years of age, who was seized in Yemen last fall, and “is being held there by another country, according to four current and former senior administration officials.” The authors added that “[t]he circumstances of his detention are not clear, but he is wanted on terrorism charges in New York.”

However, Abu Khaybar may also be wanted by Donald Trump, to send to Guantánamo, to follow up on his pledge to send new prisoners to the prison. As the authors note, his “suspected affiliation with Al Qaeda gives the United States clear authority to hold him” at Guantánamo, where the detention of prisoners is approved by the Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed in the days after the 9/11 attacks, which authorizes the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.”

As the Times noted, the new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, “has repeatedly said that terrorists should not be prosecuted in civilian courts,” a worrying stance given that the military commissions at Guantánamo have been a colossal failure, while federal courts have proven more than capable of successfully prosecuting terrorists, something they have done throughout the last 15 years, even when the Bush administration was most aggressively touting Guantánamo as a new paradigm of detention. Read the rest of this entry »

Disgraceful: Trump Sacks Acting US Attorney General Sally Yates, Who Refused to Support His Vile Immigration Ban

Donald Trump and Sally Yates, the Acting Attorney General who he has sacked after she refused to cooperate with his disgraceful immigration ban.Please support my work! I’m currently trying to raise $2500 (£2000) to support my work over the first two months of the Trump administration.

 

Heroes abound in opposition to Donald Trump’s America — the lawyers filing habeas corpus petitions in airports, the citizens filling the streets with their voices and their indignation in huge numbers of cities across the land, and a handful of individuals whose objections have directly challenged the worst of his policies in his first turbulent ten days in office.

One is Judge Ann Donnelly, the federal court judge in Brooklyn who, on Saturday morning, issued a stay on the forced deportation of those on flights or in US airports who had been targeted by Trump’s outrageous immigration ban, barring entry to the US for anyone from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for three months, and banning all Syrian refugees permanently (in defiance of the US’s refugee treaty obligations), and also, with utter contempt for their rights, banning re-entry to any permanent US resident from any of these countries who happened to have been abroad when the ban came into effect, as well as anyone with dual nationality (where one nationality includes any of the proscribed countries), including US citizens.

The ban has drawn widespread criticism and has sparked huge protests, and it is clear that it is absolutely unacceptable, as its claimed basis — to protect the US from terrorists — has no basis in reality, as just two US citizens a year from these seven countries are killed by immigrants who could be described as terrorists, compared to 21 a year killed by toddlers with guns, and 11,737 a year shot and killed by other Americans. Read the rest of this entry »

Obama’s Failure to Close Guantánamo: Revisiting a Major Article in the New Yorker

"Inaugurate Justice, Close Guantanamo": a message from Witness Against Torture activists outside the White House on January 13, 2013, the 11th anniversary of the opening of the prison, just a week before President Obama's second term inauguration (Photo: Andy Worthington).With just over 100 days remaining for President Obama to fulfill his promise to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay that he inherited from George W. Bush, where men subjected to torture and other forms of abuse are still held without charge or trial, undermining the US’s belief that it is a nation that respects the rule of law, I continue to work to close the prison, through my writing here, and through the Close Guantánamo campaign that I established with the US attorney Tom Wilner in January 2012, on the 10th anniversary of the prison’s opening.

A specific initiative of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign is the Countdown to Close Guantánamo, in which, every 50 days, those who wish to see Guantánamo closed have been submitting photos of themselves with posters reminding President Obama how many days he has left. Please print off the latest poster, marking 100 days remaining for President Obama to fulfill his promise on October 11, take a photo of yourself with it, and send it to us to add your voice to those calling for the prison’s closure.

This January, as President Obama prepares to leave office after eight years as president, it will be 15 years since Guantánamo opened, unless he somehow manages to close it — by executive order, perhaps — in the brief period between the presidential election in November and the inauguration of the next president in January 2017. That seems unlikely, however, because Congress has, for years, imposed bans on spending any money to bring any prisoners to the US mainland for any reason, and overriding lawmakers will unleash a fury. Read the rest of this entry »

200 Days Left in the Countdown to Close Guantánamo: Please Send Photos Reminding President Obama on Independence Day

Close Guantanamo co-founder Andy Worthington's son Tyler holding up a poster reminding President Obama that, on July 3, 2016, he has just 200 days left to close Guantanamo, as he first promised when he took office in January 2009.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.

This Sunday, July 3, President Obama will have just 200 days left of his presidency; 200 days, in other words, to fulfill the promise he made, on his second day in office, to close the prison at Guantánamo Bay. On January 22, 2009, he actually promised to close Guantánamo within a year, but although it is now nearly seven and a half years since that promise, it remains important for President Obama’s legacy that he does all he can to fulfill his promise before he leaves office.

Send us your photos!

To mark the occasion, we are asking those who want to see Guantánamo closed to print off a poster reminding President Obama that he has just 200 days left to close Guantánamo, take a photo of yourself with it, and send it to us, to put up on the website here, and also on social media (see our Facebook and Twitter pages), and we will be making sure that we tie in publicity to the values of the US, as celebrated on Independence Day the day after.

We began the Countdown to Close Guantánamo in January, when I appeared on Democracy Now! with music legend Roger Waters, and we have been counting down every 50 days, supporting President Obama, who has stepped up his efforts to close the prison this year, promising to release the men approved for release (29 of the 79 men still held) by the end of summer, and to complete reviews for all the other men, except the ten facing trials, before the end of the year. 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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