Sunday, July 30, 2017

LGC Newsletter – July 2017

Guantánamo Bay
On 5 July, the Canadian government of Justin Trudeau announced that it had reached a settlement with former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Khadr, 30. It agreed to pay him CAN$10.5 million (£6 million) and give him an apology, ending a lawsuit filed by his lawyers while he was still in Guantánamo. They sued the Canadian government for its complicity in his torture by the US and the breach of his constitutional rights when he was still a teenager. This was backed by a Canadian Supreme Court ruling in 2010 that Canadian government officials had participated in interrogations knowing that Khadr has been tortured, as shown in the documentary film You Don’t like the Truth: Four Days inside Guantánamo 
The payment was expedited ahead of a court case brought in Canada by the widow of the US army sergeant he is alleged to have killed and another soldier who claims Khadr blinded him. Khadr pleaded guilty to the murder in a secret plea bargain in 2010 that would see him leave Guantánamo in 2012; it was his only way out of the prison. The court case aimed to block the payment to Khadr for them to receive the funds, following their award of $134 million (£103 million) in 2015 in a US lawsuit they filed against Khadr. Lawyers for the couple filed the case in the Canadian courts in anticipation that Khadr would settle his previous case with the Canadian government. However, when their case went to court on 13 July, a judge in Toronto dismissed the claim to have Khadr’s assets frozen. The judge called the request “extraordinary”.
The settlement, which is an admission of wrongdoing by the Canadian government, has provoked a storm of controversy among supporters of the right-wing government responsible for the abuse of Omar Khadr’s human rights.
On 7 July, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions visited Guantánamo Bay with his deputy to show support for the continuing existence of the detention camp. He had previously called the facility “a very fine place”. Although it was his first visit to Guantánamo as attorney general, he had visited in 2005 under George Bush’s administration.
The visit had raised expectations that President Trump might send new prisoners to Guantánamo as he has said he would, however on 21 July, rather than send a foreign prisoner to Guantánamo, an Algerian-Irish terrorism suspect was extradited from Spain to face trial in a US federal court, suggesting that Trump may not fill up Guantánamo with new prisoners after all.

Pre-trial hearings at Guantánamo in the case of five men accused of involvement in the September 2001 attacks in New York have been put on indefinite hold over a dispute between the judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, and military officials about how he travels to Guantánamo Bay. He says that he must be kept separate from other participants in the proceedings, including lawyers, family members and journalists who travel over by plane. He has used a speedboat to travel over to Guantánamo. However, a change of policy in June means no longer has access to the boat. He then ordered the hearings be put on holding until the issue is resolved. The next set of pre-trial hearings are set for late August and it is unclear that they will go ahead.
The judge in the death penalty case of Abd Al-Nashiri, Air Force Colonel Vance Spath, has issued a similar order halting proceedings.
A resolution to the problem is currently being studied.

 An appeal against the conviction of former Sudanese prisoner Ibrahim Al Qosi was halted shortly after it started after a dispute over his legal representation before the military tribunal. Al Qosi was convicted through a plea bargain in 2010 of being a driver for Osama Bin Laden. He was transferred to Sudan in 2012 after release. He has since “disappeared” and media claims have been made that he has joined Al Qaeda based on alleged videos although there is no substantive evidence of this or his whereabouts. The appeal tribunal, the Court of Military Commission Review, sent the case to a lower court to find out whether Al Qosi wants to appeal and to determine whether he has taken up arms against the US. During the hearing, the prosecution argued that only the original lawyer in his case, one of the lawyers who filed the appeal Suzanne Lachelier, was able to represent him and that he may not be aware than an appeal was under way; it argued a unilateral appeal cannot be brought in his defence. Defence lawyers stated that they can bring the case even though they have no contact with Al Qosi. The appeal case against a Guantánamo military tribunal conviction is being heard by the same judge hearing cases before the military tribunal. According to one of the defence lawyers, “The reality of this dilemma is that we’re in new territory. This has never been done.”

On 20 July, former French prisoners Mourad Benchellali and Nizar Sassi filed a request to have former US president George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld summoned to France to be questioned in their case against the arbitrary detention and torture they faced in US hands. Both men were released without charge and returned to France in 2005, where they filed a complaint immediately against the treatment they received. On 19 April, the Paris public prosecutor’s office requested the dismissal of the case as no US official has been prosecuted or brought for questioning. It is up to the judge to decide whether to drop the case. Lawyers for the two men have asked the judge to issue an arrest warrant for Major Geoffrey Miller, who commanded Guantánamo from November 2002 to April 2004.

Former prisoner Syrian refugee Jihad Dhiab was deported from Morocco on 22 July back to Uruguay after he made another attempt to leave the country and reunite with his family who are refugees in Turkey. Officials in Uruguay apparently did not know that he had left the country as he travelled on a fake Tunisian passport which was detected when he arrived for a stopover in Morocco. Promised by his lawyers and officials that he would be reunited with his family when he left Guantánamo in 2014, Dhiab has not seen his wife in over 16 years. His family are also refugees from the current conflict in Syria. This was his fourth attempt to leave Uruguay, following previous attempted visits to Brazil, South Africa and Russia. He was questioned by Interpol on his return to the country and later released.

Extraordinary Rendition:
On 28 July, a judge in Washington ruled that a case against two CIA contractors who designed the extraordinary rendition’s torture programme can go ahead in September, in spite of various arguments brought up by them, including some of the defences Nazis used during the Nuremberg trials. The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on behalf of three victims. If successful, the case is likely to lead to other victims bringing claims as well.

LGC Activities:
The July Shut Guantánamo! monthly demonstration was on 6 July. Our next monthly demonstration is on Thursday 3 August at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, W1A, and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park, opposite Marble Arch:

Friday, June 30, 2017

LGC Newsletter – June 2017

Guantánamo Bay
Lawyers for Guantánamo forever prison Abu Zubaydah have brought a lawsuit against James Elmer Mitchell and Bruce Jessen for the torture he faced while held at secret CIA prison in Poland from December 2002 to September 2003. The two men, currently also facing a lawsuit on behalf of other torture victims by the ACLU, were private contractors and psychologists who ran a company that made over $81 million devising and carrying out torture programmes for the CIA. “The lawsuit says James Elmer Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen, because of their role in the interrogation program and their presence at the site, have information relevant to the investigation being carried out by the Organized Crimes Division of the Regional Public Prosecutor’s Office in Krakow, Poland. They are investigating whether Polish officials facilitated the existence or operation of the CIA black site”. The information they are being asked to hand over has been requested by the Polish authorities to help with their investigations.

In January 2016, the US sent two Yemeni prisoners, who were held without charge or trial, to resettle in Ghana. Mahmoud Omar Bin Atef and Khalid al Dhuby have since then struggled to settle in the country, where they are not allowed to work and have been subject to media scrutiny of their lives there. Both men were cleared for release in 2009 but could not leave Guantánamo for a further 7 years because of the ban on transfers to Yemen imposed by Barack Obama in 2010. At the time, the government of Ghana said the men could stay for two years. Theirs were the first transfers of prisoners to West Africa. Shortly after their arrival, several Christian organisations protested their presence in the country, including the Ghana Catholic Bishops Conference and the Christian Council of Ghana. Two Ghanaian citizens then brought a court case against the government to challenge the legality of their presence in the country. On Thursday 22 June, the Ghanaian Supreme Court ruled that the men had been admitted unlawfully to the country and gave the government three months to legalise their status. The government has since stated that it is seeking to do this so the men can remain there. Given the ongoing war in Yemen, it is impossible to return them to their country of origin and the US is unlikely to accept them. Yemen is one of the countries subject to Trump’s immigration ban. One of the men, Mahmoud Omar Bin Atef, is reported to have recently gotten married. His lawyer George Clarke told Ghanaian media that his client is being used as a “political football” in view of the fact of recent regime changes in both Ghana and the US and the two men are being held responsible for a deal made, irrespective of them, between the previous governments of these two countries. The Ghanaian response appears to show that no one in Ghana knows how the government or the judiciary operates or their respective powers.

On 20 June, the Guantánamo war court prosecutor filed charges against Indonesian prisoner Riduan “Hambali” Isomuddin for his alleged direct involvement in the bombing of a Bali nightclub in 2002 and a 2003 bombing in Jakarta, Indonesia. The charges have yet to be approved by the Pentagon and thus the case may not go ahead, although the prosecutors have stated that they will not seek the death penalty. If the case goes ahead, it will be the first set of charges and prosecution under Donald Trump.
Hambali was kidnapped in 2003 in Bangkok by the CIA and Thai authorities. He was tortured there and then transferred to secret CIA torture prisons in Morocco and Romania before arriving at Guantánamo in 2006. He is held as a high-value prisoner away from other prisoners and most prison staff. Given the severe torture he has faced it is unlikely the US will ever release him in order to hide its own crimes against humanity. The Obama regime tried to persuade Australia to accept him and charge and try him for the Bali bombing, as most of the victims were Australian nationals, and then transfer him to Malaysia to face the death penalty. Indonesia has made it clear that it does not want him to return there. His charge sheet “alleges he directed three simultaneous bombings on Oct. 12, 2002 — in a pub, near a dance club and the U.S. Consulate — that killed 202 people in the lush, Indonesian island tourist destination of Bali that is popular with Western tourists. Australia suffered the largest number of casualties, 88 dead, followed by Indonesia with 38. The charge sheets name all the victims, including seven Americans who were killed and are the likely basis for prosecuting the case at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba”. His charges “include terrorism, murder in violation of the law of war, attempted murder, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, attacking civilians and civilian objects and destruction of property, in violation of the law of war”. Given how long it has taken to bring the charges, the fact that torture was used to obtain the evidence and the disproportionality of the charges – from alleged mastermind to direct responsibility for each death – how this case will proceed appears unclear.

An investigation has been launched into claims that illegal recordings were made of private client-attorney meetings involving the 9/11 defendants at Guantánamo from September 2015 to April 2017. Defence lawyers were then warned by a general that privileged communications were at risk leading to a complaint by the defence lawyers about possible interference in their work. This is the latest in a number of issues hampering the ability of the defence lawyers to work with the clients, sometimes undermining their clients’ trust in them as well.

In April, the 9/11 case military judge dismissed two of the charges against the five defendants - attacking civilian objects and destruction of property – claiming that the five year limitation period to bring such charges had ended and they were no longer valid. Prosecution lawyers appealed this and the charges have now been reinstated, on the basis that “During hostilities, a statute of limitations applying a time limit to prosecute law of war violations is not practicable.”
The judge in the case has also halted next month’s pre-trial hearing in response to a new policy that could see him having to travel to Guantánamo along with others attending the military commissions, such as family members, journalists and defence lawyers, which he claims could affect the proceedings.

In 2015, a video emerged which claims to show former Sudanese prisoner Ibrahim Al-Qosi speaking as a leader of Al Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) from Yemen and calling for war against the Americans. The video showed a still image of him and an alleged recording of his voice. Reports of it in the Yemeni media at the time attributed the Daily Mail as the source of the news, and the video, which was never formally translated, and eventually withdrawn and disappeared, has provided the basis for US government and right wing claims of prisoner recidivism and to legitimise US attacks on Yemen. Al-Qosi’s lawyer said that he had not heard from him in several years.
Another lawyer is trying to bring an appeal against his conviction. The court asked her earlier this year to establish a link to him, which it has now accepted but it has dismissed the US government’s argument that the appeal should not be allowed as Al-Qosi is an enemy belligerent, stating that “the Government relies primarily, if not completely, on hearsay” and that establishing his status is essential for the case to progress, as well as for the court to consider whether, if he is an enemy belligerent, that his appeal can be dismissed as his alleged hostility started long after the offences he was convicted of.

Extraordinary Rendition:
In a lawsuit brought against James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, psychologists and CIA contractors who devised and oversaw the CIA’s torture programme, the ACLU has filed a motion on behalf of three victims to rule that they played “critical role in designing, implementing, and profiting from the CIA torture program. Our clients are Suleiman Abdullah Salim, a fisherman from Tanzania; Mohamed Ben Soud, a Libyan citizen who opposed the Gaddafi regime; and Gul Rahman, an Afghan citizen who died as a result of his torture.” Through evidence gathering and testimonies by key individuals responsible for the programme under oath, new information has emerged to support this motion. According to the ACLU, “If the court finds that the defendants are indeed liable for aiding and abetting CIA torture, we’ll be fighting on behalf of our clients for damages and other liability claims in a trial later this year.”

The German NGO European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) has called on German federal prosecutors to issue an arrest warrant against the deputy director of the CIA, Gina Haspel, appointed to the role by Donald Trump earlier this year, for her role in CIA torture. She used to run a secret CIA torture prison in Thailand. Prisoners including Abu Zubaydah were tortured there while she oversaw it. Under a European arrest warrant and extradition conditions, Haspel, who is likely to travel to Europe in her new public role, can then be extradited to Germany for prosecution from any other EU state.

LGC Activities:
The June Shut Guantánamo! monthly demonstration was on 1 June. Our next monthly demonstration is on Thursday 6 July at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, W1A, and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park, opposite Marble Arch:

The LGC marked UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture with a vigil in Trafalgar Square. Attended by around a dozen people, mainly Guantánamo activists, the action was a positive reminder on the thirtieth anniversary of the UN Convention Against Torture becoming international law and members of the public welcomed the event and engaged positively with it and its simple message that torture must end.