Sunday, May 01, 2016

LGC Newsletter – April 2016



NEWS:
Guantánamo Bay:
LGC April demo
Over the past month, 11 prisoners have been released from Guantánamo Bay, bringing the prisoner population down to 80. On 3 April, 2 Libyan prisoners were transferred to Senegal on humanitarian grounds. Libya is one of several countries to which prisoners cannot be currently repatriated. The two men, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr, 43, and Salem Abdul Salem Ghereby, 55, were captured in Pakistan in late 2001 and sold to the US military who took them to Guantánamo. Both men are alleged to have been members of anti-Gaddafi militant groups in Libya, a regime overthrown by the US and its allies in 2011. One of the men is crippled and is missing a leg. The government of Senegal said that it accepted the men, who have been held without charge or trial for over 14 years, on humanitarian grounds.
On 16 April, 9 Yemeni nationals were transferred to Saudi Arabia, with the country accepting non-nationals for the first time. Four of the men were born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents and all have family there. The men will attend a rehabilitation programme for Saudi Islamists, which was also attended by Saudi returnees. The nine men include Tariq Ba Odah, who had been cleared for release for over a decade, and due to a sustained hunger strike weighed 74lb on release. The men released are Mansoor Muhammed Ali Qatta, 34, Ahmed Kuman, 36, Abdul Rahman al Qyati, 40, Sabri, all born in Saudi Arabia and Ahmed al Hikimi, 44, Abdul Rahman Nasir, 36, Mohammed al Hamiri, 34, Tariq Ba Odah, 38, and Ali al Raimi, 33, all of whom have family members in Yemen but were born in Yemen. Nearly all of the men were sold to the US military by the Northern Alliance or the Pakistani military. None had ever faced charges and the youngest arrived at Guantánamo as a teenager.
There are currently 26 prisoners who have been cleared for release and officials say they expect to transfer all of them by the end of the summer.

Four prisoners came before periodic review board in April to decide whether or not they could be cleared for release. The first was Afghan Obaidullah, who was captured at his home in 2002. He was a teenager at the time. According to an Amnesty International report http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/amr510512013en.pdf he was picked up on an incorrect report that he was a member of Al Qaeda. He was captured just two days after the birth of his daughter and his lawyer stated that he does not pose a risk to the US and only wishes to return home to his family.
In the same week, Yemeni prisoner, Said Salih Said Nashir, 46, had his case reviewed. Since his arrival at Guantánamo, he has been largely compliant and peaceful and has earned the praise of teachers leading courses he has attended during his imprisonment. His lawyer said that he is prepared to undergo any rehabilitation or reintegration programme and looks forward to getting on with his life and starting a family.
On 26 April, Yemeni Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, 36, came before the board. The US claimed he was one of Osama Bin Laden’s many bodyguards and an Al Qaeda member, which he has always denied. At Guantánamo, he has been largely compliant. His family lives in Saudi Arabia and he would be interested in going into business if released.
Yemeni Bashir Nasir Ali al-Marwalah came before the board on 28 April. He was arrested along with Said Salih Said Nashir in Pakistan in 2002. In March, the board cleared another Yemeni national arrested with them for release. His lawyer said that he expressed regret at having left Yemen for Afghanistan and at the hearing it was revealed that the US has no knowledge of any Al Qaeda or anti-US actions he was involved in planning.
In the same month, the board rejected the case made by Saifullah Paracha, 68, the oldest prisoner at Guantánamo, in March for his freedom, citing his past ties to Al Qaeda and declared him too dangerous to release. He has never been charged with any crime and was arrested and rendered to torture by the FBI in Bangkok, Thailand, after setting up a sting through an alleged business meeting. His case will next be up for review in October.
The board also decided to continue the indefinite detention without charge of Yemeni prisoner Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al Hajj, citing his former ties to Al Qaeda leaders and stating that he “remains committed to engaging in violent acts against the United States”. Al Hajj did not take part in his review and has thus been deemed non-compliant.
At the end of March, the periodic review board also decided not to clear Yemeni Suhayl al Sharabi, 39, for release, in order “to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”
It should be noted that this procedure is administrative and not legal and none of the men who have had their status reviewed or determined have been subject to trial.
LGC April demo

Following reports of a possible cancer cluster, and related illnesses and deaths among military and military commission staff at Camp Justice, where Guantánamo military commissions are held, an initial report revealed by the Miami Herald lists a series of health concerns “including the presence of mercury in a building once used as detention center headquarters that years earlier function as a dental clinic; formaldehyde in indoor air samples; excess bromodichloromethane and chloroform in two showers; arsenic in soil samples on the site where some work court personnel and temporary visitors are housed in a tent city and adjoining trailer park, and PCBs in and around a ramshackle hangar where journalists and troops work and attorneys brief the media.
As a result, staff working on the commissions – up to a possible 200 people –have been informed that they can continue to work there but not spend the night, while further tests are carried out, which are likely to be ongoing until the autumn.
A sentencing hearing for Majid Khan which was due to take place on 11-12 May has been cancelled, although other May hearings are still scheduled to go ahead.
The Center for Constitutional Rights claims that more military personnel have come to it complaining about illnesses and symptoms. A factsheet on the issue is available here: https://ccrjustice.org/home/blog/2016/04/28/what-do-we-know-about-guantanamo-cancer-cluster

Two weeks of hearings in the case of five prisoners allegedly linked to the 9/11 attacks in 2001 were cancelled without reason by the judge. Nonetheless military Judge Pohl issued a 17-page ruling on a motion brought by defence lawyers in 2012 to exclude the death penalty for their clients. They contended that comments by political leaders prejudiced the case against their clients and led to the call for this penalty; the judge ruled that while such comments have the potential to impact on the trial, Pentagon officials acted without outside influence in authorising the death penalty in these cases. With constant delays to pre-trial hearings it is unlikely that any trial will take place in this decade.
In a more recent ruling on older motions made in the case, Judge Pohl said he would lift restrictions on female guards dealing with the five defendants in this case, however he would keep the ban in place for the next six months due to “what he calls "inappropriate" public criticism of his order by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, during an October appearance before Congress.” The judge said, “These comments were entirely inappropriate. They crossed the line. Senior military leaders should know better than to make these kinds of comments in a public forum during an ongoing trial.” A lawyer for one of the men said that the issue was not about women but the defendants’ religious and cultural sensitivities and could prevent them from meeting their lawyers or attending court hearings. The 5 defendants are held at the top secret Camp 7 and have restricted access to other people and have to be escorted around by special teams.
The Pentagon has proposed new rules for military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, which include holding hearings via Skype as a set of measures to ease the process. Holding hearings by teleconferencing would prevent the need for judges and legal teams to travel to Guantánamo for each hearing. Such a method may deny the parties a right to a fair hearing and to question the other side. Other suggestions include allowing civilian lawyers to represent defendants instead of military lawyers and the main judge in the case being allowed to appoint another judge to consider certain motions. These measures are likely to cause further complications and delays to hearings that are already ongoing. In response, lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement: http://ccrjustice.org/home/press-center/press-releases/ccr-guant-namo-attorneys-denounce-proposed-new-rules-military

Rendition:
The Portuguese Supreme Court has ruled that ex-CIA agent Sabrina de Sousa, one of 26 people convicted in absentia in Italy for the 2003 rendition to torture of Milan cleric Abu Omar, must be extradited to Italy to serve her sentence. She was arrested in Portugal in October 2015 on a European arrest warrant and was aware she could be extradited to Italy if she travelled to Europe. De Sousa was sentenced to 6 years in prison. She is to be sent to Italy to be provided formal notice of her sentence and can serve it in Portugal. However, de Sousa claims she had nothing to do with the rendition and was only working as an interpreter for the CIA at the time. Now retired, she had planned to fly onwards to India to visit her elderly mother.
Although her extradition seems likely, the victim Abu Omar, now resident in Egypt, has written to the Italian president Sergio Mattarella asking him to excuse de Sousa, pointing out her age and the fact that she wishes to see her elderly mother: he stated in his letter that he was in jail in Egypt (where he was rendered and tortured) when his own mother died and was not allowed to contact his family and that is why he does not want Ms de Sousa jailed. Such a response is the perfect antithesis to the US’ revengeful and bloodthirsty “war on terror” and its purported civilised rationale.

In an unprecedented move, a federal judge said that he would allow a lawsuit against the two psychologists who designed and implemented the CIA extraordinary rendition programme to progress. The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three men, Gul Rahman, Suleiman Abdullah Salim, and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, who were tortured under the programme against psychologists, James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen. The torture was detailed in the 2014 Senate CIA Torture Report. The two men claimed they could not be prosecuted as the case is a “political question” for only the executive and legislative to decide and as they were working as government contractors. Earlier, the US government decided not to apply the state secrets doctrine, but only that some information would be off limits. Lawyers in the case now have 30 days to come up with a plan for the disclosure of relevant information for the case to proceed.

LGC Activities:
The April Shut Guantánamo demonstration was on Thursday 7 April. The May demonstration is on 5 May at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park, opposite Marble Arch https://www.facebook.com/events/1605760126411909/

Several activists from the LGC attended a meeting in parliament on 19 April to raise awareness of the case of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the author of Guantánamo Diary, who is still held at Guantánamo. The meeting was well attended and addressed by his lawyer Nancy Hollander and his brother Yahdih Ould Slahi. A report by the LGC of the meeting can be read here: http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/report-parliamentary-briefing-on-case.html
Two new petitions were launched at around the same time ahead of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s first appearance before the Periodic Review Board on 2 June. Please consider signing both:

protest outside US Embassy on 22 April
Several activists from the LGC joined the Guantánamo Justice Campaign (formerly Save Shaker Aamer Campaign) at a protest outside the US Embassy and Downing Street on 22 April calling for the closure of Guantánamo, to coincide with Barack Obama’s visit to the UK. Letters calling for the closure of Guantánamo were sent to the US Embassy and the prime minister ahead of the protest. 

The LGC (@shutguantanamo) is continuing to hold weekly #GitmObama Twitter storms to raise awareness about Guantánamo prisoners every Monday at 9pm GMT. The pastebin is available http://pastebin.com/zpx5F7ab which is updated weekly with the latest information and tweets to raise awareness about Guantánamo. Please join us online if you can!

protest opposite Downing Street on 22 April (during Obama visit)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Report: Parliamentary Briefing on Case of Mohamedou Ould Slahi: 19 April 2016

A well-attended and informative meeting was held at the Houses of Parliament on 19 April to provide information and an update on the case of best-selling author and Guantánamo prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who has been held without charge or trial since November 2001, when he was kidnapped from his native Mauritania by the CIA. From there, he was taken to Jordan and tortured before being taken to Bagram, Afghanistan, where he faced further abuse before he was taken to Guantánamo in November 2002. For several years, his whereabouts were unknown to his family; he had simply “disappeared”.
(L-R) Jamie Byng, Jo Glanville, Nancy Hollander, Yahdih Ould Slahi
The meeting was hosted by Tom Brake MP (Lib Dem, Carshalton and Wallington), who stated that “as long as Guantánamo is open it remains a blot on US justice.” As part of the meeting, a letter was announced, for MPs and peers to sign (please see below), to be sent to the US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter demanding that he “Immediately certify to Congress that Mr. Slahi will be released” and “Ensure that Mr. Slahi is quickly transferred out of Guantánamo Bay so he can restart his life as a free man.”


The meeting was started and concluded with readings from Guantánamo Diary, as well as before the Q&A session. The readings were provided skilfully by actors Sanjeev Bhaskar and Toby Jones; they were to be joined by actor Jude Law who was unable to make it to the meeting.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s lawyer, Nancy Hollander spoke about his case. She took up the case in 2005 after having being contacted by a lawyer in France who via a lawyer in Mauritania had learned that his family thought he might be held at Guantánamo Bay and wanted to find out if it was true. Ms Hollander applied through the courts to find out from the US government. Once it was ascertained that he was being held at Guantánamo, she went to meet him with fellow lawyer Sylvia Royce. When they met him for the first time, they were bemused to find him smiling and with his arms out to welcome them but he did not come towards them; he stood where he was. They later realised that was because he was shackled. So they went towards him and embraced him. 

He had asked the guards to give him paper and wrote 90 pages about his life, kidnap and torture. At that point, his lawyers did not know if his story was true, but that turned out to be the case. His writings show that throughout he has maintained his dignity and humanity. Incredibly, Mr Ould Slahi wrote in English, a language he largely picked up after his imprisonment and through talking to guards, many of whom developed a friendly and warm relationship with him.

In 2010, Mohamedou Ould Slahi was granted a hearing in the US federal court. Judge Robertson, at the time, ordered his immediate release as there was no evidence to support his continued detention. As in many other cases, the Obama administration appealed the case. The court of appeal asked for the case to be reheard but it never happened. In 2011, Barack Obama issued an executive order setting up the Prisoner Review Board to consider all cases such as Mr Ould Slahi’s of prisoners who have not been cleared for release but potentially could be. The Board was to conclude its work within one year but did not even start until 2013, and has to date not considered each of the several dozen cases before it. It is only now, on 2 June, that Mohamedou Ould Slahi will go before the board for the first time.

Ms Hollander said that it is important that everyone should read his book and learn his story and ultimately help in the effort to free Mohamedou Ould Slahi and close Guantánamo. 
Yahdih Ould Slahi and Nancy Hollander
Speaking through a German interpreter, Yahdih Ould Slahi, Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s younger brother, said that if he was to talk about his brother’s case and the impact it has had on his family, he would probably be there all night and the next day, but that his family had forgiven those who had harmed his brother and they just wish that he can go home. He thanked the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and everyone involved in the campaign for justice for his brother.

He said that on the day Mohamedou Ould Slahi was arrested, he was at home with his mother. They were both reassured that he would only be held in Mauritania. Instead he was taken to Jordan. Not knowing where her son was, his mother would take clothes and food to the police to give to Mohamedou Ould Slahi thinking that they were giving it to him. Yahdih Ould Slahi said that he was not surprised by the corrupt actions of Mauritanian officials but was surprised that the US would behave the way it did. He said that he wanted the American people to know that “The pain caused on and after 9/11 isn’t only the US’s pain, it’s our pain too.”

Yahdih Ould Slahi said, “We hope and we live in hope that Guantánamo will be closed one day as President Obama said. I don’t know why it isn’t.”

Jo Glanville from English Pen described Guantánamo Diary as an extraordinary book “full of humanity”. Mohamedou Ould Slahi wrote the book in English even though he had learned this language there simply by communicating with guards. She called it “the prison memoir of our times” and of particular importance as he was “’disappeared’ by a country that sees itself as a beacon of human rights”. Picking up on the issue of censorship – it took many years for the book to see the light of day – she mentioned that it contains 2600 redactions, including of whole pages and sections. Ms Glanville stated that censorship is integral to the post-9/11 US and the secrecy surrounding the US’s practices at Guantánamo and elsewhere needs to be broken down.

Jamie Byng, from Canongate, publisher of Guantánamo Diary said that in reading the manuscript he was “humbled, enraged but also moved by how Mohamedou Ould Slahi expressed himself so articulately.” The book has been translated and published in 24 languages and more are planned. He called it an important human document and a reminder of what still happens at Guantánamo. Mr Byng said there is a need to show solidarity in Britain to get Mohamedou Ould Slahi released.

There are currently plans to turn the book into a film produced by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Unfortunately, only a handful of MPs were present at the otherwise well-attended event. The US ambassador to the UK declined an invitation to attend the meeting. The Mauritanian chargé d’affaires attended and said on behalf of his government that the Mauritanian authorities are willing to receive Mohamedou Ould Slahi and have him return home to his family. He pointed out that two other former Guantánamo prisoners have been released to the country and have been resettled. He said that his country is opposed to arbitrary detention and detention without trial.

The LGC thanks the organisers of this successful meeting

What can you do to help Mohamedou Ould Slahi?
1 – On the same day, the ACLU launched a new petition to US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter: add your name to it and share it on social media https://action.aclu.org/secure/freeslahi
2 – There is also a new petition on Change.org https://www.change.org/p/secretary-of-defense-ash-carter-release-my-brother-from-guantanamo    Please sign and share  
3 – The following letter will be signed by British politicians and celebrities to be sent to US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter. Please send it to your MP (find them at www.theyworkforyou.com) and ask them to add their name to it – please let us know their response:
Dear Secretary Carter,
Mohamedou Slahi has been unlawfully imprisoned by the U.S. government for 14 years. Thirteen of those years have been at Guantánamo Bay prison, where he was subjected to gruesome torture.
Mr. Slahi has never been charged with a crime.  He has never taken part in any hostilities against the United States. A former chief military prosecutor in the Guantánamo military commissions, Colonel Morris Davis, has said he couldnt find any crime with which to charge Mr. Slahi.
At long last, Mr. Slahi has been granted the Periodic Review Board hearing he should have had five years ago. At this hearing he can prove hes not a threat to the United States and that there is no reason to continue to hold him.
Despite all his suffering, Mr. Slahi has repeatedly stated - including in his best-selling book - that he bears no ill will towards anyone.
Assuming a positive outcome in Mr. Slahis Periodic Review Board hearing, we the undersigned, call upon you to:
1. Immediately certify to Congress that Mr. Slahi will be released.
2. Ensure that Mr. Slahi is quickly transferred out of Guantánamo Bay so he can restart his life as a free man.

You can learn more and read extracts from Guantánamo Diary at: http://guantanamodiary.com/

Monday, April 04, 2016

LGC Newsletter – March 2016


NEWS:
Guantánamo Bay:
Former Guantánamo military commander, retired US General Geoffrey Miller, failed to appear at a court hearing in Paris on 1 March, after he was summoned in February to answer questions about the torture and arbitrary detention of three French nationals at Guantánamo Bay, where they were held from 2002 to 2005. The summons and hearing followed investigations that showed there are potential charges to answer related to the abuse and torture of these men. Lawyers from the US NGO Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights are now seeking a warrant for his arrest to compel him to appear. They issued a joint statement after his no-show, which says: “Miller’s absence speaks volumes about the Obama administration’s continued unwillingness to confront America’s torture legacy. The administration not only refuses to investigate U.S. officials like Miller for torture, it apparently remains unwilling to cooperate with international torture investigations like the one in France. Geoffrey Miller has much to answer for regarding the treatment of detainees during his tenure.”
 
The Obama administration is pressing ahead with its 4-point plan unveiled in February with respect to Guantánamo.
At the end of March, Pentagon officials stated that it plans to transfer around one dozen Guantánamo prisoners who have been cleared for release in April to two countries that have agreed to take them. This includes Yemeni hunger striker Tariq Ba Odah who, as a result of his long-term hunger strike, weighs less than 40kg. 37 prisoners are currently cleared for release.
Germany has said that it may consider taking some prisoners if asked by the US. It has already taken in two prisoners – a stateless Palestinian and a Syrian – in 2010 in addition to one German national.
In addition, a number of prisoners whose status has not been resolved have had dates set for them to appear before the administrative periodic review board, which decides whether prisoners can be cleared for released or must remain at Guantánamo. This procedure was introduced in 2011 and was supposed to have been completed for all prisoners whose status had not been resolved by the end of that year. Among those who will be brought before the review board is Mauritanian prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi who will have a review in June. As well as the author of the best-selling Guantánamo Diary, in 2015 he lost a court case to force the US military to give him a review of his status. According to lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “More than anything, Mohamedou wants to show the board that he poses no threat to the United States and should be allowed to return home to his family where he belongs.” The ACLU also states that “Slahi was one of two so-called “Special Projects” whose treatment then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld personally approved. The abuse included beatings, extreme isolation, sleep deprivation, sexual molestation, frigid rooms, shackling in stress positions, death threats against him, and threats against his mother.

Three prisoners had hearings before the prisoner review board in March to consider their status and whether or not they can be cleared for release.
On 1 March, Yemeni Suhayl Abdul Anam al Sharab had his review. His lawyer submitted a statement of his behalf stating he wishes to be reunited with his family and get on with his own life:
On 8 March, 68-year old Saifullah Paracha, the oldest detainee at Guantánamo had his status reviewed. A businessman, Paracha was kidnapped in Bangkok in 2003 while on a business trip and is alleged to have links to Al Qaeda. His lawyers are fairly confident that he will be released given his age and his worsening health, which rule him out as a threat to the US. http://www.dawn.com/news/1244538/gitmo-detainee-saifullah-paracha-gets-first-parole-hearing
Yemeni Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al Hajj also had his review hearing in March. The US has alleged that he has links to Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations.
Over the past 14 years, none of these men have faced charges in spite of the allegations made against them, which have not been substantiated.
In addition, the review board rendered three decisions with respect to earlier hearings. It decided to continue the detention of Yemenis Yassim Qasim Mohammed Ismail Qasim http://www.prs.mil/Portals/60/Documents/ISN522/160303_U_ISN522_FINAL_DETERMINATION_PUBLIC.pdf  and Mohammed Al-Ansi
http://www.prs.mil/Portals/60/Documents/ISN029/160323_U_ISN029_FINAL_DETERMINATION_PUBLIC.pdf. The two men’s cases will be eligible for further review in 6 months’ time. The board cleared Yemeni Ayub Murshid Ali Salih

The Indonesian government has stated that it does not want Riduan Isamuddin, a.k.a. Hambali, an Indonesian national held at Guantánamo, back if the prison closes. Hambali was rendered in Thailand in 2003 and “disappeared” into secret CIA prisons before being taken to Guantánamo in 2006 as a high-value prisoner. Alleged to have links to the 9/11 hijackers and the mastermind behind the 2002 bombing in Bali, and described by former Australian prime minister John Howard as “almost certainly the ultimate mastermind” of the latter attack in 2003, he has never faced any charges at Guantánamo. He was named in the 2014 Senate report into CIA torture.
Although the Indonesian government alleges that his release to the country would give a boost to domestic terrorist organisations, it may also wish to avoid questions about its role in the rendition and torture of its own citizens.
One month after Barack Obama unveiled his 4-point plan on the future of Guantánamo Bay the issue was discussed for the first time with the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington by Paul M. Lewis, the US Department of Defense’s special envoy for Guantánamo closure, and Lee Wolosky, the State Department’s special envoy for Guantánamo closure. They stated that closing Guantánamo was a matter of national security. Lewis said that Obama’s 4-point plan will ““continue to transfer [detainees], accelerate the [Periodic Review Board] process, look for individual dispositions and, most importantly, work with Congress to find a location to transfer everybody from Guantanamo safely and securely.”

A two-week pre-trial hearing in the case of five men accused of involvement in 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001 due to start on 4 April was abruptly cancelled by the military judge just days before after receiving a secret filing in the case from the Defense department which may impact the hearing. There have been no hearings for the past two months due to cancellations. This case is due to be heard next in early June, although two other military tribunal cases are scheduled for hearing in May.

LGC Activities:
The March Shut Guantánamo demonstration was on Thursday 3 March and was exceptionally held in the evening to protest Barack Obama’s 4-point plan on the future of Guantánamo which does not include an end to indefinite arbitrary detention. The April demonstration is on 7 April at the usual time of 12-1pm outside the US Embassy and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park, opposite Marble Arch https://www.facebook.com/events/1099833546704485/
 
The LGC (@shutguantanamo) is continuing to hold weekly #GitmObama Twitter storms to raise awareness about Guantánamo prisoners every Monday at 9pm GMT. The pastebin is available http://pastebin.com/zpx5F7ab which is updated weekly with the latest information and tweets to raise awareness about Guantánamo. Please join us online if you can!



Monday, February 29, 2016

LGC Newsletter – February 2016



NEWS:
Guantánamo Bay:
On 23 February, Barack Obama unveiled his final plan to ‘close’ Guantánamo before the end of his presidential term next year. The 4-point plan involves expediting the release of cleared prisoners and prisoner status reviews to see if further prisoners can be released, continuing military commissions and transferring prisoners who cannot be tried or released to perpetual arbitrary indefinite detention on the US mainland. Potential locations for these new ‘Guantánamos’ were not revealed. The plan essentially offered nothing and will not see Guantánamo close before next year.
More importantly, it sees the endorsement and continuation of some of the worst aspects of what Guantánamo represents: kangaroo military courts and indefinite detention. Our press release concerning this plan states: “Without ending arbitrary indefinite detention, there is no end to the “misguided experiment” that is Guantánamo Bay. Instead, Barack Obama has offered Congress a politically expedient plan that will help to protect his historic legacy as a president who tried. Coming at a key point in this year’s presidential campaign, and anticipating “a fair amount of opposition in Congress”, the plan offers politicians on both sides a talking point to appear tough on terrorism and national security issues, while eschewing real threats. The plan offers no viable solution to ending what Guantánamo represents, any more than it offers either freedom or justice for remaining prisoners.
 
Former Moroccan prisoner Younis Chekkouri, who was released from Guantánamo in September 2015, but immediately jailed in Morocco, was released on bail by the Moroccan courts on 11 February. Having never been charged at Guantánamo, he is still awaiting a hearing to learn whether he will be formally charged with “conspiring against national security” amid claims by Morocco he was involved in Moroccan Islamist groups prior to 2001, based on flawed US intelligence. His Moroccan lawyer Khalil Idrissi called his release a positive step and said that he hopes this will lead to the charges being dropped.
A hearing was scheduled for 23 February but did not go ahead when the judge failed to turn up. It has been rescheduled for early March.

Pre-trial hearings continued in the case of 5 men accused of involvement in attacks in New York in September 2001. A pre-trial hearing started on 16 February to consider various issues. One of the defendants, Yemeni Walid bin Attash, sought to fire his legal team for the second time, delaying the hearing. He claimed that he does not trust two of the three lawyers appointed by the court. He had previously tried to fire one of his lawyers, Cheryl Bormann, in October 2015; she has represented him since 2011. Judge Pohl allowed the hearing to be cancelled that day to allow Attash to submit a letter setting out his reasons for wanting to do this.
The next day Pohl disallowed this and did not accept Bormann’s resignation either, even though she argued that a string of events, such as the interception of confidential client information, meant that he could not trust his lawyers. However, the judge asked for an additional independent lawyer to be appointed for Attash instead. Attash said that he would not communicate with his lawyers or attend future hearings until the issue is resolved.
On Thursday, the third day of the 10-day hearing, the prosecution said it would hand over more than 1000 pages of CIA documents to defence lawyers concerning the treatment of the five defendants while in CIA custody; defence lawyers have fought for access to these documents for years.
The chief prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins said he would deliver the documents for review by 22 March, and further documents by the end of the summer.
In a statement Martins made the weekend before the pre-trial hearing, he stated that the content of the US Senate Intelligence Committee report into CIA torture, published in December 2014, was accurate and the incidents mentioned, and others, had indeed taken place.

A pre-trial hearing was also held in the case of Abd Al-Nashiri, starting on 17 February. He potentially faces the death penalty for his involvement on attacks on US naval interests in the Gulf of Aden in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Issues revolved around whether Al-Nashiri can be tried before a military tribunal, set up after 2001, for incidents that took place prior to it.

Yemeni prisoner Ayyub Murshid Ali Salih, who was captured in Pakistan in September 2002 and taken to Guantánamo as a suspected enemy combatant a month later had his status reviewed by the prisoner review board. He was found to be a low-level militant but not part of Al Qaeda, as previously suspected.
The review board also cleared another Yemeni, Majid Ahmed, 35, for release. He was a former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden.
The US government announced that six more hearings are scheduled for May, including two ‘forever prisoners’ who were recently approved for possible release pending review. 35 out of 91 prisoners are currently cleared for release, but no further releases have yet been announced.

On 18 February, the Canadian government of Justin Trudeau announced that it had dropped an appeal brought by his predecessor Stephen Harper to challenge the release of Omar Khadr on bail. Khadr’s bail terms remain the same. They were recently relaxed further to accommodate his study and professional development as a medical first responder.
Khadr also had a hearing in his appeal case in the US on 23 February to consider the choice of judge to hear the case.

Spanish former Guantánamo prisoner Hamed Abderrahaman Ahmed was one of four men arrested on 23 February in Spanish-administered territory in Morocco called Ceuta, where he is from. He is accused of leading a network recruiting fighters for ISIS.
He is alleged to have attended a terrorist training camp for two weeks in Afghanistan in 2001. He was sold to the US military by Pakistani militants in 2002. He was never charged at Guantánamo and released to Spain in 2004. In Spain, he was sentenced to 6 years in prison in 2005 for membership of a terrorist organisation; however his conviction was overturned in 2006. He had not bothered the authorities since then until his arrest.

Extraordinary Rendition:
Although the US officially ended its detention operations at Bagram in December 2014 and handed over control to the Afghan authorities, who continue to use the facility to hold Taleban prisoners in particular, it has emerged that at least 3 foreign prisoners continue to be held there, who had been captured by the US. Two Tajik brothers Said Jamaluddin and Abdul Fatah and Uzbek national, Musa Akhmadjanov, who were captured in 2009, remain at the facility largely because they are afraid of being returned to the repressive states they are from and prefer to stay at Bagram. However, the US has not taken any measures in that time – they have not been tried or charged – to find possible safe countries for the men to be sent to and their situation remains unresolved.

On 23 February, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg condemned Italy for its complicity in the CIA rendition to torture of Milan Imam Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, who was kidnapped in 2003 and taken to Egypt where he was tortured. He and his wife brought a joint case against the Italian government for complicity in his torture, illegal detention and the Italian government’s attempts to obstruct prosecution in Italy and protect officers involved by invoking the state secrets doctrine. Italy was ordered to pay Nasr €70,000, €15,000 to his wife, as well as costs.

LGC Activities:
The LGC joined the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign (SSAC) on a delegation to the US Embassy and Downing Street on 13 February to deliver letters and cards demanding that the US government close Guantánamo and the British government works to help the US in this matter. Although informed in advance, the US Embassy did not accept the letter put together by the SSAC, and it had to be posted. The delegation to Downing Street was joined by Imam Suliman Gani from Tooting Mosque.

Aisha Maniar from the LGC spoke to Russia Today on 23 February about Barack Obama’s ‘plan’ to close Guantánamo announced that day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NPizc2i_EHo&feature=youtu.be

The March Shut Guantánamo demonstration is on Thursday 3 March. The time has been exceptionally moved to 6-8pm outside the US Embassy in protest at Obama’s plan NOT to close Guantánamo and instead perpetuate indefinite detention: https://www.facebook.com/events/1547862372209012/ Please join us if you can. 

The LGC (@shutguantanamo) is continuing to hold weekly #GitmObama Twitter storms to raise awareness about Guantánamo prisoners every Monday at 9pm GMT. pastebin is available http://pastebin.com/zpx5F7ab which is updated weekly with the latest information and tweets to raise awareness about Guantánamo. Please join us online if you can!