Sunday, July 30, 2017
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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9I5R3qkYnaI
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.
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.
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: https://www.facebook.com/events/288464181622576/