Andy Worthington


Guantánamo: The Nobodies Formerly Known As Enemy Combatants

“Obama Administration Endorses Lawless Policies of Bush Years”
 
By Andy Worthington
 
Changing the names of things was a ploy that was used by the Bush administration in an attempt to justify some of its least palatable activities. In response to the 9/11 attacks, for instance, the nation was not involved in a limited pursuit of a group of criminals responsible for the attacks, but instead embarked on an open-ended “War on Terror.” In keeping with this “new paradigm,” prisoners seized in this “war” were referred to as “detainees,” and held neither as criminal suspects nor as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, but as “enemy combatants,” without any rights whatsoever. Later, when the administration sought new ways in which to interrogate some of these men, the techniques it endorsed were not referred to as torture — even though many of them clearly were — but were instead described as “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
 

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The Torment of Guantanamo's Hunger Striker

By Andy Worthington
 
Ahmed Zuhair, a 35-year old Saudi prisoner at Guantánamo — and a father of ten — has been on a hunger strike since June 2005, at the start of a fraught summer at the prison in which up to 200 prisoners (over a third of Guantánamo’s total population at the time) embarked on a mass hunger strike in protest at their ongoing — and seemingly endless — imprisonment without charge or trial, and also as a protest against the day-to-day conditions in the prison, where casual brutality was still widespread, and a severe regime of punishment was still in place.
 
This regime had been instigated by Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the prison’s commander from November 2002, whose approach to dehumanizing the prisoners, and making every shred of comfort in their lives dependent on their perceived cooperation with the interrogators, impressed Donald Rumsfeld to such an extent that, in the fall of 2003, he sent him to Iraq to “Gitmo-ize” the prison system there, leading directly to the implementation of the sadistic regime that was exposed when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke in April 2004.

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Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers

By Andy Worthington

It’s a sign of how much the Bush administration skewed America’s moral compass that we are currently facing the possibility that the only way to bring the torturers to account is through a “Nonpartisan Commission Of Inquiry” — essentially, a toothless truth and reconciliation commission — of the type proposed by Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
 
We know that both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder believe that the Bush administration approved the use of torture. In an interview with ABC News on January 11, President-Elect Obama responded to a recent CBS interview with Dick Cheney, in which the then-Vice President had sounded his usual alarms abut the need for “extraordinary” policies to deal with terror suspects, by stating, “Vice President Cheney I think continues to defend what he calls extraordinary measures or procedures and from my view waterboarding is torture. I have said that under my administration we will not torture.”
 
Two days later, at his confirmation hearing, Eric Holder reinforced Obama’s opinion. Noting, as the New York Times described it, that waterboarding had been used to torment prisoners during the Inquisition, by the Japanese in World War II and in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and adding, “We prosecuted our own soldiers for using it in Vietnam,” he stated unequivocally, “Waterboarding is torture,” and reiterated his opinion just three weeks ago, in a speech to the Jewish Council of Public Affairs in Washington. “Waterboarding is torture,” he said again, adding, “My Justice Department will not justify it, will not rationalize it and will not condone it.”

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Binyam Mohamed’s Plea Bargain: Trading Torture For Freedom

By Andy Worthington
So a closely guarded secret — that a tortured man was offered a plea bargain in exchange for his silence, in a kangaroo court dreamt up by powerful men with utter contempt for the law — is finally out of the bag.
 
The tortured man is, of course, Binyam Mohamed, the British resident whose 18-month ordeal in Morocco, at the hands of the CIA’s proxy torturers, and subsequent stay in the CIA’s “Dark Prison” near Kabul, made him one of the better-known torture victims of the Bush administration over the last year, as his case was heard in court rooms on both sides of the Atlantic.
 
The powerful men are former US Vice President Dick Cheney, and his chief of staff, David Addington — the prime architects of Guantánamo’s irresponsibly novel Military Commission trial system — and the proposed plea bargain (PDF), formulated last September and October, was, for a while, regarded by Binyam himself, and by his lawyers, as the only means whereby he could escape from being imprisoned indefinitely in Guantánamo as an “enemy combatant.” Binyam would have pleaded guilty “to being the Pope himself” if it would have ended his ordeal, Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the legal action charity Reprieve, said on Monday.

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A Letter To Barack Obama From A Guantánamo Uighur

By Andy Worthington
 
There were once 22 Uighur prisoners in Guantánamo. Muslims from China’s oppressed Xinjiang province, they had all been swept up as human debris during “Operation Enduring Freedom,” the US-led invasion of Afghanistan that began in October 2001. The majority of these men were seized after fleeing to Pakistan from a run-down settlement in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains, which had been hit in a US bombing raid. Initially welcomed by Pakistani villagers, they were then betrayed and sold to US forces, who were offering $5000 a head for “al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects.”
 
None of the men had been in Afghanistan to support al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and none had raised arms against US forces. They all maintained that they had only one enemy — the Chinese government — and explained that they had ended up at the settlement either in the hope of finding a way of rising up against their oppressors, which was unlikely, as the settlement was dirt-poor and had only one gun, or because they had hoped to travel to other countries in search of work — primarily Turkey, which has historic connections to the people of East Turkestan (as the Uighurs call their homeland) — but had been thwarted in their aims.

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Torture Taints All Our Lives

By Andy Worthington

Secret trials, control orders and torture: the foundations of British justice enshrined in the Magna Carta are being undermined

Last Friday it was announced that, under instructions from the attorney general to the director of public prosecutions, the police are to investigate claims by released Guantánamo prisoner Binyam Mohamed that MI5 agents had knowledge of his US-directed torture, and that they also provided information to his interrogators while he was being held incommunicado.

Given that it is seven months since judges in the high court ruled that British involvement with the US authorities "went far beyond that of a bystander or witness to the alleged wrongdoing," this is welcome news, but what the case of Mohamed demonstrates above all is the extent to which the Bush administration's horrendously novel approach to detention and intelligence-gathering in the "war on terror" not only made a mockery of the US's adherence to the UN Convention Against Torture, but also infected the policies of numerous other countries.

Moreover, in the Bush administration's deliberate flight from the absolute prohibition on torture – accompanied by its decision to hold terror suspects neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva conventions, nor as criminal suspects to be put forward for trials in a recognised court of law – it has become clear that the US had no closer ally than Britain.

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The Surreal World of Guantánamo; the Torment of Hedy Hammamy

 By Andy Worthington

 In 2007, after four rounds of administrative reviews at Guantánamo, Hedi Hammamy, a Tunisian prisoner, born in 1969, was cleared for release, having satisfied the Pentagon that he no longer represented a threat to the United States or its allies, and no longer possessed any ongoing intelligence value. He was not released, however, because, although the US government had secured a “diplomatic assurance” from the government of the Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, which purported to guarantee that returned prisoners would be treated humanely, two prisoners returned in June 2007 were apparently mistreated in Tunisian custody, and were then imprisoned after what were regarded by human rights observers as show trials.
 
This prompted a District Court judge to prevent the return of a third Tunisian in November 2007, with the result that this man, Lotfi bin Ali, and several other cleared Tunisians — including Hedi Hammamy — have languished in Guantánamo ever since, as the State Department has tried in vain to find a third country prepared to accept them.
 
In the surreal world of Guantánamo, the annual reviews — which rely largely on classified evidence that is not disclosed to the prisoners and cannot, therefore, be challenged by them — were introduced by the Bush administration as a rebuke to the Supreme Court, which granted the prisoners habeas corpus rights (the right to ask a judge why they were being held) in June 2004. It was not until last June (almost exactly four years later) that the Supreme Court once more addressed the prisoners’ habeas rights, ruling as unconstitutional the provisions in two pieces of legislation — the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 — which had purported to strip the prisoners of their habeas rights in the intervening years.

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The Story of Ayman Batarfi, a Doctor in Guantánamo

 By Andy Worthington

 No one in the US military ever doubted that Ayman Batarfi, a slim and articulate Yemeni, who was seized in Afghanistan’s Tora Bora mountains after a US bombing raid in December 2001, was a doctor — and, moreover, an orthopedic surgeon with the dedication and the frontline skills required to help out those less fortunate than himself in the humanitarian disaster area that was Afghanistan in 2001.
 
However, for seven years the 38-year old was regarded as a threat to the United States, because he had worked for a charity that the US authorities regarded as being aligned with al-Qaeda, and also because, through a series of accidents, he had met Osama bin Laden and had found himself in Tora Bora, when remnants of al-Qaeda and the Taliban were fighting the US and their Afghan allies, and the US military allowed bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and numerous other senior figures in al-Qaeda and the Taliban to escape across the unguarded Pakistani border.
 
In 2001, twenty years of war, and three years of drought, had turned Afghanistan into the poorest and most desperate place on earth, a situation that was only exacerbated after the US-led invasion that October. As Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the London-based legal charity Reprieve, explained in an article last year, “The winter harvest was a near-total failure and five million Afghans faced potential starvation. The countryside was littered with landmines and unexploded ordnance. The hospitals were old and overwhelmed, and the medical infrastructure had collapsed.

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CIA Torture Began In Afghanistan 8 Months Before DoJ Approval

 

By Andy Worthington
 
Last December, in a typically bullish defense of the Bush administration’s conduct in the “War on Terror,” Vice President Dick Cheney stated, “On the question of so-called ‘torture,’ we don’t do torture, we never have. It’s not something that this administration subscribes to. [W]e proceeded very cautiously; we checked, we had the Justice Department issue the requisite opinions in order to know where the bright lines were that you could not cross.

The professionals involved in that program were very, very cautious, very careful, wouldn’t do anything without making certain it was authorized and that it was legal. And any suggestion to the contrary is just wrong.”

The “requisite opinions” referred to by Cheney consisted primarily of two memos issued in August 2002 by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), whose lawyers interpret the law as it relates to the powers of the executive branch, which were issued in connection with the administration’s “high-value detainee” program.

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Even In Cheney’s Bleak World, The Al-Qaeda-Iraq Torture Story Is A New Low

By Andy Worthington

Since the publication last week of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s report into detainee abuse in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo (PDF), much has been made of a footnote containing a comment made by Maj. Paul Burney, a psychiatrist with the Army’s 85th Medical Detachment’s Combat Stress Control Team, who, with two colleagues, was “hijacked” into providing an advisory role to the Joint Task Force at Guantánamo. 

 
In his testimony to the Senate Committee, Maj. Burney wrote that “a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link … there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”
 
In an article to follow, I’ll look at how Maj. Burney — almost accidentally — assumed a pivotal role in the implementation of torture techniques in the “War on Terror,” but for now I’m going to focus on the significance of his comments, which are, of course, profoundly important because they demonstrate that, in contrast to the administration’s oft-repeated claims that the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” foiled further terrorist attacks on the United States, much of the program was actually focused on trying to establish links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein that would justify the planned invasion of Iraq.

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Guantánamo: A Prison Built On Lies

 By Andy Worthington

 As the Obama administration prepares to relaunch Dick Cheney and David Addington’s reviled Military Commissions (with claims that they will be used for less than 20 of the 240 prisoners still held), senior officials have been largely silent about the eventual fate of the rest of the prison’s population, with the exception of a few recent remarks indicating that they are also thinking of pressing for a form of “preventive detention” for 50 to 100 of the prisoners.
 
The irony — that all the prisoners have been enduring a form of “preventive detention” for over seven years — is apparently lost on the government, which has also maintained a resolute silence in response to a handful of habeas corpus cases (in which the prisoners are seeking to have their cases dismissed by the courts, as mandated by the Supreme Court last June) that have resulted in judges pouring scorn on the government’s supposed evidence.

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World Can't Wait mobilizes people living in the United States to stand up and stop war on the world, repression and torture carried out by the US government. We take action, regardless of which political party holds power, to expose the crimes of our government, from war crimes to systematic mass incarceration, and to put humanity and the planet first.