Friday, April 29, 2011

LGC Newsletter – April 2011

Guantánamo Bay:
A court case brought in New York by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Justice and Accountability against a psychologist who had served in the army and at Guantánamo Bay was thrown out by the judge in early April. The case was brought to strip John F. Leso, who was not actually named in the case, of his license to work as a psychologist in New York after he was accused of developing the use of interrogation techniques in 2002 and 2003 at Guantánamo such as sleep deprivation, exposing prisoners to extremes of cold and forcing them to take liquids intravenously. The judge sympathised with the claimants and recognised that there was a moral issue but said that the case was not a matter for the courts to decide. In 2008, the American Psychological Association banned members from taking part in interrogations at Guantánamo and other similar prisons because of the likelihood of a breach of professional ethics. However, the New York board felt that it was not its place to revoke the license in this case.

Having announced the resumption of military commissions for prisoners facing charges at Guantánamo Bay, the US administration announced that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of involvement in and masterminding attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in September 2001 will stand trial before military commission at Guantánamo Bay. The defendants may face the death penalty and the chances of them getting a fair trial, given their treatment while in detention, and the negative publicity surrounding their cases, is unlikely. President Obama had previously wanted these five men to be tried before a civilian court in New York; however, there was a lot of opposition to this move. The timing of this announcement is opportune for the American president who will shortly start stepping the campaign for re-election for a second term and comes just months before the tenth anniversary of the 11 September attacks, which allegedly provide the rationale for the existence of the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay.

In setbacks in the US courts, three prisoners lost separate appeal cases concerning their access to the courts to challenge the grounds of their detention. All three, a Kuwaiti and two Yemenis, have been held at Guantánamo for over nine years. The judges did not give reasons for rejecting the appeals.
In a separate case, five Uighur Chinese prisoners, who refused to be moved to Palau or other countries that were willing to accept them, lost a case for the US to consider housing them on the mainland. The US does not consider the men to pose any threat but is keen to send them to other countries which may receive them. China, in which Uighur Muslims are an oppressed ethnic and religious minority, has pressed for the men to be returned there, a move they fear, due to the harsh crackdown on and deaths of Uighurs in custody.

Former Australian prisoner, Mamdouh Habib, who came to a confidential out-of-court settlement and compensation deal with the Australian government last year, is due to start legal proceedings against Egyptian vice-president Omar Suleiman for his involvement in his torture when he was rendered to Egypt in 2001. Mamdouh Habib alleges that on at least one occasion Omar Suleiman, a senior military official and intelligence chief who has been involved in the US extraordinary rendition programme since then mid-1990s, was present while he was being tortured. Mr Habib alleges that in while Egypt he was subject to electric shocks, cigarette burns and other forms of torture. Egypt denies ever having detained him. Mr Habib is of Egyptian origin and also plans to sue the US administration. This is seen as a key case for human rights in Egypt since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Potential revelations in this case about extraordinary rendition, the involvement of other states and the outsourcing of torture could have serious ramifications for other countries.
Following his settlement with the Australian government, it announced that a (non-judicial) inquiry would be launched into Australia’s involvement in his torture. However, the Australian government has recently announced that some of the evidence against it will be heard in private.

Former Tunisian prisoner Adel Ben Mabrouk was deported from Italy to Tunisia on 20 April. One of two men sought by Italy on terrorism charges, he was released recently after he was convicted on lesser charges and the judge deemed that following his eight years of imprisonment at Guantánamo, he had served his sentence and it was commuted. Upon release, following the on-going unrest in Tunisia and elsewhere in the North Africa region, concerns were raised as to his safety on return to the country, however Italy decided to deport him citing public safety and national security concerns. His deportation was made under an agreement between Italian and Tunisian diplomats.
Amnesty USA has released the following press release concerning his deportation:

A Saudi prisoner has been charged and faces a military commission over the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen. Abdul Rahim Al-Nashiri had been charged previously but the charges were dropped in 2009. He came to Guantánamo in 2006, after having been held for over 4 years at secret detention centres around the world where he was tortured, including having been waterboarded. He was previously sentenced in absentia in Yemen for the attack. While prosecutors are likely to seek the death penalty, a conviction is unlikely due to the serious allegations of torture through which evidence was obtained.,0,6793980.story

On 25 April, the Guardian, the New York Times and other newspapers published a series of over 800 files obtained from Wikileaks about Guantánamo Bay, including prisoner files for all the prisoners held there. While not essentially providing very much new information as such, the files confirm what lawyers and human rights NGOs have long been saying about the prisoners and their innocence. The files prove that many prisoners pose no threat at all, were arrested and detained on flimsy bases and often based on hearsay, children and elderly prisoners were held, and that allegations made by a handful of prisoners against others were taken as fact. The process of collecting and analysing intelligence at Guantánamo Bay was extremely poor. The files do not make much reference to torture or interrogation techniques or other jails prisoners may have been held at.
A press release from Reprieve:
Following allegations made concerning British resident Shaker Aamer, who is deemed to pose a “high risk” and is accused of being uncooperative in his assessment, the British government has said that it will once again raise his case with the Americans when President Obama visits London next month. William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, who has already raised the case with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, will do so again:

A new report by the US-based NGO Physicians for Human Rights accuses doctors who worked at Guantánamo Bay of deliberating hiding the signs of torture in their reports and assessments. A doctor and a retired US Army medical officer, who had access to the files through their work, produced nine case studies of prisoners. In all the cases, they claim that it was impossible for doctors not to have been aware of the effects of the sustained use of torture and questionable interrogation techniques on prisoners. The doctors neglected and failed to report abuses of patients. The study recommends that, if proven, doctors involved should be struck off and face legal prosecution for neglecting their professional duty of care to patients.

Extraordinary rendition:
Following requests made under the Freedom of Information Act in 2008 by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, following allegations made by former SAS soldier Ben Griffin of abuses committed by British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Information Rights Tribunal has ordered the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to release documents relating to British involvement in the rendition of prisoners seized in Iraq and Afghanistan to the US military, who were later tortured and abused. The MoD had claimed that releasing the data would be expensive and would harm international relations. The MoD has 30 days to appeal.

LGC Activities:
Around a dozen people attended the April Shut Down Guantánamo! demonstration held in solidarity with alleged Wikileaks whistleblower Bradley Manning. This month’s demonstration is on Friday 6 May at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, Mayfair and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner (Marble Arch, Hyde Park).!/event.php?eid=114513271963590

In response to the latest Wikileaks on Guantánamo Bay, the LGC has put together the following response:
The following letter concerning Shaker Aamer and Wikileaks by the LGC was published in the Guardian on 28 April:

The LGC held a protest action in Parliament Square on 28 April. Here is a short video of the action. Many thanks to PeaceStrike for facilitating this action:

If you have not yet added your name to the open letter to President Obama about Shaker Aamer, please do:

If you have not yet asked your MP to sign EDM 1093 on Guantánamo Bay, we urge you to do so. With the latest revelations through Wikileaks, now is a good time to do so:

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wikileaks: The Guantánamo Files

Wikileaks and Guantánamo Bay have a curious affinity: the treatment of Bradley Manning, the Welsh American US military analyst accused of leaking confidential military data (including the 800+ Guantánamo files), has been compared to that of prisoners held at Guantánamo. In an interview as part of John Pilger’s recent documentary film The War You Don’t See, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange compared Guantánamo Bay to a tax haven, “used for laundering people […] which doesn’t follow the rule of law”. Keeping with the trade in human beings, in breaking the latest Wikileaks, The Guardian referred to prisoners being sent to Guantánamo as being “shipped".

Apart from major breakthroughs, such as discovering the alleged terrorist’s choice of wristwatch, much of what is contained in the files confirms what lawyers representing prisoners and human rights NGOs have been saying all along. They have long said that many prisoners are innocent and have not been involved in any criminal activity. What emerges is the poor use and analysis of intelligence to classify prisoners and then use this as a basis for their detention. For 172 prisoners, including British residents Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha, it continues to provide a basis almost a decade on.

The flimsy nature of the evidence demonstrates why due process and fair trials have never been an option for Guantánamo prisoners. Yet almost a decade later, it also underlines the reasons why a civilised society should not sway from such principles and why they are so essential. Much of the “evidence” is mere hearsay or supposition which for the past decade has been treated as hard fact, used to detain people indefinitely and deny them their basic rights. Had recognised legal and interrogations methods been used ten years ago, the Obama administration would probably not now be facing the dilemma it does with respect to closing Guantánamo. The ill-conceived and brutal methods used have not made anyone safer.

The Obama administration has been quick to condemn the publication of these files even though they largely relate to the Bush era and make little mention of torture and other interrogation techniques or refer to the prisoners’ experiences at other prisons such as Bagram. Indeed, the prisoners’ statements are “included without consideration of veracity, accuracy or reliability”, hence there is no need to work out whether they were obtained through torture or “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

The files reveal just how little truth and justice matter at Guantánamo and no real, defensible pretext has been given for the on-going detention of over 100 men. The latest Wikileaks aside, President Obama has recently played his part in continuing the illegality of the regime at Guantánamo Bay by choosing to resume military commissions and “legalise” the indefinite detention of dozens of prisoners. This is in addition to his broken promise to close the prison by the beginning of 2010.

The treatment of Bradley Manning, the joint US-UK national US army officer alleged to be the source of the leaks, shows the US government’s continuing and deep-rooted contempt for the rule of law. At the Quantico military prison in Virginia, where he was held until recently, Bradley Manning was said to have been kept for up to 23 hours a day in his cell in solitary confinement and only allowed to exercise for one hour with shackles on his legs.

With respect to both the Guantánamo prisoners and Bradley Manning, responsibility does not lie squarely on the shoulders of the American administration. The latest Wikileaks show the British government permitted the rendition of British nationals and residents to Guantánamo early on, despite claims by former intelligence heads and ministers that they had been misled by the US.

In its leading article on the Guantánamo files, The Independent states that “all real movement to close the camp has been abandoned”. Nonetheless, the London Guantánamo Campaign remains committed to working towards the closure of Guantánamo Bay and other prisons similar to it, and justice for the prisoners held there.

Both the US and UK governments claim that they would like to see Guantánamo Bay close, but their actions and words do not match up. With heads of both states due to meet in London next month as part of Obama’s official visit to the UK, now is a good time for both men to seriously discuss the closure of Guantánamo Bay.

Earlier this month, our monthly Shut Down Guantánamo! demonstration outside the US Embassy was held in solidarity with Bradley Manning. The next demonstration, outside the US Embassy at 12pm on Friday 6 May, will be in solidarity with prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, Bagram and other similar illegal detention facilities. We invite everyone to join us and make a stand for truth and justice.