Wednesday, September 30, 2015
On 25 September, the British government announced that it had been informed by the US that the last remaining British resident Shaker Aamer, a Saudi national whose British wife and four children live in south London, has been cleared for release to the UK. Previously he had only been cleared for release to Saudi Arabia, a country he does not want to return to. The British government has pressed for his release to the UK since 2007, after he was cleared for release by the US for the first time. Following clearance by multiple agencies, it is estimated that he should be released to his family in the UK by 25 October. His family have called for his release not to be delayed. Prime Minister David Cameron welcomed this news and has called for Guantánamo to close.
Held at Guantánamo since February 2002, Shaker Aamer has never been charged or tried.
Prior to the summer recess, in July, Barack Obama announced that he would have a plan to submit to Congress in early September for the closure of Guantánamo before the end of his final term as president in early 2017. The plan never transpired and the media remained silent.
On the other hand, in early September, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told the US navy that the plan to close Guantánamo is by transferring prisoners who have not been cleared for release to military prisons on the mainland. He also said that there is no plan to evacuate the base at Guantánamo and return it to Cuba.
In early September, a number of possible locations – existing military prisons and land owned by the military to construct such a facility – were visited. Congress is likely to object to any transfers of prisoners to the US mainland and senators for the states visited have already expressed their objections. The LGC objects to any plans to franchise Guantánamo and anything short of the safe release of all the prisoners held there almost wholly without charge or trial. The LGC also believes this to be a stalling tactic as there is no plan, given that the Obama government is fully aware that Congress will pose a block to such “plans”. Furthermore, transfer to the US mainland is unlikely to confer any new constitutional rights on the prisoners and they may be held in worse conditions.
Showing that there are no actual plans to close Guantánamo or release all the prisoners, a contract has been put out for tender by the government until 2025 to provide prosthetics for 5 prisoners who need them.
On 11 September, Omar Khadr had a bail hearing to have the conditions relaxed and so that he may be able to visit his family in Toronto, especially as his grandmother is ill. A number of conditions were lifted on the same day to allow him to attend night school and early morning prayers. On 18 September, the same judge also ruled to lift most of his bail conditions, as he had been compliant since his release in May this year but kept a few in place. He is allowed to visit his family before the end of this year provided he is accompanied by one of his lawyers.
On 25 September, Omar Khadr joined the audience at a screening of a new documentary about his life, Guantánamo’s Child, at the Calgary International Film Festival in Canada. After the showing, he answered questions from the public along with his lawyer Dennis Edney and the filmmaker journalist Michelle Shepherd.
Following an investigation into the risk of cancer at the war court at Guantánamo Bay, which has already caused some casualties and at least seven illnesses in legal staff, the US navy has concluded that there is no need for a full investigation and that air samples and other tests had shown there is no major risk.
Three prisoners were cleared for release by the prisoner review board this month. Libyan prisoner Omar Khalif was cleared for release on health grounds; he is considered too ill to pose a threat. He is an amputee with no right leg below the knee, is blind in one eye and has glaucoma as well as suffering from a psychiatric condition.
The last Kuwaiti prisoner Fayiz Al-Kandari, who had his bid for release turned down by the board last year, has finally been cleared too.
Saudi prisoner Mohammed Shimrani, one of the first to arrive at Guantánamo was also cleared for release following a review. He had previously boycotted his review hearing in protest at genital searches by guards.
There are 29 prisoners who are ‘forever’ prisoner, who are subject to indefinite detention. 53 prisoners have been cleared for release.
There are currently 114 prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. The first transfer in over 3 months was made on 16 September when Moroccan prisoner Younes Chekkouri was returned to his country of origin. However, he remains detained there; Chekkouri was held incommunicado for two days after which the authorities stated that he was being held on remand at the notorious Salé prison pending an investigation into terrorism-related charges. He was never charged or tried at Guantánamo. Following a meeting with his Moroccan lawyer, it emerged that the US had blindfolded and shackled him on his return journey to Morocco, traumatising him. He has, however, been allowed to meet his family for the first time in 14 years. His lawyers believe that the US has confidential information which if released to Morocco could see Chekkouri released.
On 22 September, Saudi prisoner Abdul Shalabi was returned to Saudi Arabia where he will be enrolled in a rehabilitation programme. An alleged close associate of Osama Bin Laden, he was never tried for any offences. He is reported to have been on hunger strike since 2005.
According to lawyers of rendition victim and current Guantánamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah, the Senate Torture Report, a redacted part of which was published in December 2014, provides evidence that Lithuania hosted a CIA torture prison. The report also makes hundreds of references to Abu Zubaydah’s case. He was one of the parties who won a case against Poland for torture at the European Court of Human Rights earlier this year. A similar case is pending against Lithuania, which reopened an inconclusive investigation it had earlier closed, claiming there was no evidence.
Lawyers for one of the 9/11 defendants Mustafa Al-Hawsawi have also filed a case with prosecutors in Lithuania to find out more about what happened at alleged torture sites in the country.
Police in Canada have brought charges against a Syrian colonel, Georges Salloum, for his role in the torture of Canadian-Syrian citizen Maher Arar who was rendered to Syria in 2002 and was tortured and held illegally in prisons there. An Interpol notice for Salloum’s arrest has gone out. Arar has sought his arrest and prosecution since 2005. In 2007, he received CA$10,000,000 from the Canadian government and has also had an official apology from Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Canada was complicit in his torture. The US has never apologised.
The LGC was joined by the family of American-Palestinian prisoner in Iraq Shawki Ahmed Omar at the September demonstration. The October Shut Guantánamo demo will be on Thursday 1 October: https://www.facebook.com/events/444096722441447/
The London Guantánamo Campaign, along with Free Omar Khadr Now, held a Twitter storm on 8 September when Barack Obama’s plan to close Guantánamo failed to materialise. Encouraged by the success of this action, the LGC has held two other #GitmObama Twitter storms since then. Tweets that can be used during the action with this hashtag are provided in a pastebin (click on it and copy & paste the tweets) and everyone everywhere (who is on Twitter) is welcome to join in. The next Twitter storm will be on Monday 5 October at 9pm BST/ 4pm EST / 1pm PST. Please check our Twitter @shutguantanamo for further details and the pastebin to take part.
Tuesday, September 01, 2015
The main news about Guantánamo was the announcement by the White House that it will present a plan to close Guantánamo to Congress in early September: http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/pentagon-to-release-gitmo-closure-plan-after-august-recess/article/2569950
Although 52 of the remaining 116 prisoners have been cleared for release, including Shaker Aamer, no transfers have been made since June. In August, it emerged the delay is due to the new Defense Secretary Ashton Carter refusing to sign off their release. All previous releases had been signed by his predecessor Chuck Hagel. This is in spite of the fact that earlier in August the new envoy for the closure of Guantánamo Lee Wolosky stated that he had secured deals with around one dozen countries to accept at least half of those men.
For the remaining prisoners who are not facing trial and have not been cleared for release, the “forever prisoners”, it appears that Obama’s plan will not involve ending their 14 years of indefinite detention without charge or trial but simply shifting the physical prison at Guantánamo Bay to the US mainland, keeping the men in existing military prisons where they will remain under military control and will not be subject to potential trial in federal courts. The plan is not to close Guantánamo but to shift it and potentially franchise it. It has been reported that the Pentagon has already made visits to facilities in South Carolina and will visit others in Kansas and four other potential sites. Some media have reported that it is possible that a new Guantánamo will be built from scratch on military-owned land. There do not appear to be plans to release these prisoners. However, a potential block to the forthcoming plan is whether Congress will allow prisoners to be transferred to the US mainland.
The governors of South Carolina and Kansas have stated that they will block efforts to send the prisoners there and have threatened to sue if the plan goes ahead. Mistakenly calling the prisoners “terrorists”, it must be pointed out that there are no terrorists at Guantánamo Bay; the few prisoners who have been convicted have not been convicted of terrorism charges.
It has also been revealed that out of the remaining 116 prisoners, only 3 were captured on the battlefield by the US. This includes those accused of involvement and facing trial for the 9/11 attacks. The others, like the majority of Guantánamo prisoners overall, were sold to the US military by allied Afghan warlords, many of whom in practice bore little difference to the Taliban.
On 5 August, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) published a new report “Towards the Closure of Guantanamo” which condemns the US for its human rights abuses at Guantánamo, the discriminatory nature of the detention of Muslim men and demands its closure without further delay:
Pre-trial hearings for five men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks was cancelled yet again. A hearing scheduled from 24 August to early September was cancelled, meaning that no hearings have been held at all this year.
Afghan prisoner Mohammed Kamin, 37, had his hearing before the periodic review board on 17 August. He arrived at Guantánamo in 2004, was subject to charges that were later dropped and never pursued and has been described as “one of the most compliant detainees at Guantánamo”.
In June, AlJazeera showed film footage on its Arabic channel, reportedly showing a raid by Slovakian police on the home of former Guantánamo prisoner Hisham Sliti, a Tunisian, who was released there last year. Although he is supposed to be resettled, he is at a centre for asylum seekers. The video, shot by another resident on a mobile phone, showed the police violently entering, sounds of shouting and later images of broken household items from inside, as well as Sliti being led away by the police. Slovak media have also alleged he was tortured. The police deny all the claims. Amnesty Slovakia has written to the government demanding an independent and thorough investigation of the incident.
Lawyers for prisoner Tariq Ba Odah, a 36-year old Yemeni, who was cleared for release years ago, have lost their legal case to have him released on medical grounds. He has been on hunger strike since 2007 against his detention and continually force fed. He currently weighs 34kg. Although his lawyers say he is poor health, the US military maintains that he is fine.
Former Bagram prisoner, Russian national Irek Hamidullin, was found guilty by a jury of all charges including providing material support to a terrorist organisation and trying to destroy US military aircraft in Afghanistan in 2009, where he was arrested. He was held without charge at Bagram until 2014 when he was transferred to the US and to the FBI to stand trial in a federal court for an attack in which his alleged Taliban co-defendants were all killed and no US personnel or tanks were harmed. During his trial, he did not speak. His lawyers claimed there was insufficient evidence to back up the evidence. He was found guilty on 7 August and will be sentenced later this year. He faces a life sentence.
The LGC August Shut Guantánamo demonstration was attended by 8 people in the pouring rain. The September demo will be on Thursday 3 September: https://www.facebook.com/events/1482180842105413/
The LGC will be holding its second campaigns meeting this year on Monday 14 September at 6pm in Friends House, Euston Road, NW1 from 6pm onwards. Please join us and get involved in our work to close Guantánamo. We will meet in the café. Please e-mail us for more details. All are welcome.
Friday, July 31, 2015
In a civil claim brought by the widow of Christopher Speer, the man Omar Khadr is alleged to have killed in battle, and Layne Morris, the soldier who was injured in the same battle, a Utah court awarded a final amount of $134.2 million after Khadr’s lawyers refused to respond to the case and he was thus not represented. As a result, the award was made by default (i.e. without trial and consideration of the merits of the case). It is unlikely that either Tabetha Speer or Layne Morris will receive any of that amount as they will have to find someone to collect for them in Canada, and it is unlikely that any court will enforce a foreign judgment based on a case that allowed torture evidence.
In a rare act of kindness towards the prisoners facing trial, in April, military judge Colonel Vance Spath, hearing the case of Abd Al-Nashiri who faces the death penalty if convicted, ordered the US government to perform an MRI scan to gain evidence of brain trauma or other neuropsychological infirmities before his trial proceeds. This followed a report from a torture expert. As a result, in June, the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery put out a request to lease an MRI for several months to perform the scan.
The war crimes tribunal of Abdul Hadi Al-Iraqi, accused of attacks on US interests in Afghanistan, was due to start in mid-July, however the case has now been put back to 14 September. On the first day, the judge ruled there was a conflict as his military lawyer is also defending one of the defendants in the 9/11 case. As a result Al-Iraqi said that he might release his whole defence team. He had previously been assigned a new lawyer. Following a closed hearing, the case was then adjourned until September, continuing the impasse of no hearings having actually been held since March this year.
Two prisoner review board hearings were held in July: on 14 July, Salman Yahya Hassan Muhammad Rabei’i, 36, who has never been charged or tried had his hearing, 10 minutes of which were unclassified and during which his lawyer explained that his client would like to live a normal life upon release. Like most of the other prisoners at Guantánamo, he is suspected but not known to have been a member of al Qaeda. He was captured by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in 2001, who bought foreign nationals from tribal warlords and sold them to the US military for a $5000 bounty.http://uk.reuters.com/article/2015/07/14/uk-usa-guantanamo-rabei-i-idUKKCN0PO2D720150714
On 27 July, the last Kuwaiti prisoner at Guantánamo, Fayiz al-Kandari, came back before the board. In 2014, his fellow countryman Fawzi al-Odah was cleared by a review and repatriated whereas al-Kandari’s continued detention was ordered.
Although the US Department of Defense decided not to pursue charges against a military nurse who eventually refused orders to force-feed hunger striking prisoners at Guantánamo – such a case would reveal more than the US is prepared to make public about its force-feeding policy – it has threaten to revoke the security clearance of the nurse making it difficult for him to receive benefits, possible discharge from the navy and difficulty in finding work later. In the same week, he was given an ethics award by the American Nursing Association for his actions.
On 24 July, two former prisoners were arrested in Belgium on charges of recruiting for the war in Syria and membership of a terrorist organisation. One was Mousa Zemmouri, a Belgian national released without charge or trial in 2005, and the other is Soufiane A., an Algerian national released to that country in 2008, and who was the victim of an extraordinary rendition from Georgia. He is alleged to have travelled to Syria, but such an allegation is likely baseless as the US keeps a close eye on the actions and whereabouts of released prisoners. The two were arrested with three others, only accused of armed robbery, at an address in Antwerp at which they are alleged to have been in the process of carrying out a burglary. Following his entry into Belgium, the Belgian authorities kept a close eye on Soufiane A.
Similar charges have also been brought against former Guantánamo prisoners Moazzam Begg in the UK – although the charges were thrown out on the basis of secret evidence – and in Spain against Lahcen Ikassrien, a former Moroccan prisoner. Indicted at the end of last year, no trial date has been set for him and 13 other co-defendants.
On 27 July, the US government submitted a petition for an en banc (full panel of judges) rehearing of the al-Bahlul military commission appeal case it has lost in full on two occasions, including in a previous en banc hearing. The outcome of the earlier decisions has seen convictions of a number of Guantánamo prisoners quashed. The US government is questioning some of the issues in the decision made last month. It has yet to be accepted.
On 17 July, Navy Lieutenant Commander Bill Kuebler, 44, who was one of Omar Khadr’s military lawyers at Guantánamo, died of cancer. He defended Khadr during pre-trial hearings in 2007-2009. It has since emerged that at least 9 people who have worked on military tribunal cases at Guantánamo have contracted various types of cancer, including brain, lymphoma and colon. Kuebler’s is the third such death in 13 months. Lawyers have long expressed health concerns about the facilities where such tribunals are held.
The US navy said that it was aware of the claims and launched an investigation at the end of July.
On 30 July, a US judge rejected an application by a Guantánamo prisoner held at the facility without charge or trial since 2002 claiming that there were no legal grounds to continue holding him and other prisoners now that the war in Afghanistan – the rationale for holding the men – was officially over. The judge dismissed the claim by Yemeni Muktar Yahya Najee al-Warafi on the basis that ongoing warfare and involvement in Afghanistan by the US shows this not to be the case. A lawyer for al-Warafi said that the judge’s decision is a “rubber stamp for endless detention” and that he would review the opinion and whether to appeal.
Another similar application is pending by Kuwaiti prisoner Fayiz Al-Kandari.
The ruling, in spite of its legal nature, shows the very arbitrary nature of the US’ detention policy as the US was very careful to ensure it handed over its remaining prisoners at Bagram before the end of 2014, including releasing two to Yemen and at least one to US federal detention.
On 30 July, a trial started in Virginia of a former Bagram prisoner, Russian national Irek Hamidullin, who had spent years at the detention and torture camp before being taken to the US last year to stand trial in a US federal court on terrorism charges related to an attack on a US military base in Afghanistan. He faces 15 counts, including providing material support to terrorism and trying to destroy US military aircraft. The US attorney general decided not to call for the death penalty in this case and instead he could face a life sentence. The case is likely to raise many issues related to the status of combatants in Afghanistan and the nature of the US war there.
Following restrictive reforms to the law on the application of universal jurisdiction in Spain, whereby crimes against humanity, such as torture, can be tried anywhere, a Spanish judge José de la Mata decided to close a case against the US brought by four former Guantánamo prisoners in Spain for the torture they suffered there. The judge said that unless the applicants had Spanish nationality at the time the case could not be heard.
In response, the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the US Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), along with lawyers in Spain, have launched a legal challenge against this decision. The four former prisoners include British residents Jamil El-Banna and Omar Deghayes, against whom extradition proceedings were brought and later dropped by Spain upon their return to the UK in 2007.
The LGC July Shut Guantánamo demonstration was attended by 4 people. The August demo will be on Thursday 13 August (one week later than usual): https://www.facebook.com/events/930722180323099/
The LGC will be holding only its second campaigns meeting this year in September – date and venue to be confirmed. At this stage, we start planning our annual event to mark the anniversary of Guantánamo opening in January (this year’s successful event saw as many people outside the US Embassy in London as there were outside the White House) and other actions to raise awareness about the plight of all the prisoners.
If you would like to get more involved in the campaign and share any ideas you may have ahead of this meeting, please get in touch by sending us an e-mail. Thank you!
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
During a private meeting of under an hour during the G7 summit in Germany, Prime Minister David Cameron raised Shaker Aamer’s case with Barack Obama and urged him to resolve Aamer’s case. Downing Street did not reveal the US President’s response, if any.
Following reports that Shaker Aamer and several other prisoners would be released within weeks and possibly by the end of June, this has not materialised. After the release of 6 Yemeni prisoners to Oman on 12 June, it emerged that no further cases had been put forward for clearance, meaning there would be no further releases in June. Nonetheless, the campaign for the release of Shaker Aamer, led by the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, has kept up the pressure over the past month with a demonstration to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta opposite Downing Street on 15 June, a parliamentary meeting on 23rd June and weekly vigils opposite the Houses of Parliament.
On 2 June, Reuters published an account of the torture Guantánamo prisoner and former secret CIA prison detainee Majid Khan faced while held at such facilities: “Majid Khan said interrogators poured ice water on his genitals, twice videotaped him naked and repeatedly touched his "private parts" – none of which was described in the Senate report. Interrogators, some of whom smelled of alcohol, also threatened to beat him with a hammer, baseball bats, sticks and leather belts, Khan said.”
Following the release of the Senate report on CIA torture in December 2014, more details have emerged of the various forms of torture faced by prisoners: this 27-page account by Khan to his lawyers was cleared for public release in May.
Khan was kidnapped in Pakistan in 2003 and held at secret CIA sites until 2006 when he was taken to Guantánamo. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy, material support, murder and spying charges [note the first two are no longer offences that Guantánamo prisoners can be tried or convicted of]; he is currently awaiting sentencing.
French former Guantánamo prisoner Mourad Benchellali, released in 2004 without charge or trial, was prevented from boarding a flight to Montreal in Canada as the flight would have to pass through US air space and he is on a US no-fly list. He was due to address a peace conference.
In one of the most important pieces of news to come out of Guantánamo in a very long time, Yemeni prisoner Ali Hamza al Bahlul won his appeal against conviction in 2008 for a second time. He originally won his case in 2011 when all three of the convictions against him – material support, conspiracy and solicitation – were overturned. The US government sought a retrial which was granted. In July 2014, a panel of judges overturned the conviction on charges of solicitation and material support – leading to the quashing of other convictions, including that of Australian former prisoner David Hicks – but left the conspiracy issue to be appealed further. In the 2-1 decision on 12 June, judges decided that the military commissions did not have the jurisdiction to convict al Bahlul of a conspiracy charge as it is not a crime recognised under the international law of war.
This ruling may be further appealed by the US government but remains a very important decision which further undermines any future military commission trials and convictions and paves the way for the appeal of existing convictions, such as that of Omar Khadr.
On 12 June, 6 Yemeni prisoners were released to Oman, the second transfer of prisoners to the country, as they cannot be returned to their own country. All 6 men had long been cleared for release and never charged. There are currently 116 prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay.
Australian activist Dr Aloysia Brooks has won a 3-year Freedom of Information battle to have a series of documents and communication between the US and Australian governments over the repatriation and treatment of former Australian Guantánamo prisoner disclosed. The Australian Information Commissioner said he had no reason to block the disclosure of this information. The Australian government has 30 days to appeal this decision. Dr Brooks is also suing the CIA and the FBI in the US for the disclosure of further documents she has been unable to obtain in Australia.
Following a series of moves in the US Senate and Congress to block and impede the release of Guantánamo prisoners, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter stated that he is hopeful but not confident that Guantánamo will close before Barack Obama leaves office in early 2017.
On 23 June, a Libyan prisoner, Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker, who has never been charged in over 13 years and is suffering at Guantánamo due to untreated wounds he suffered prior to his kidnap in Pakistan in 2002, had a hearing before the prisoner review board to see whether he could be cleared for release.
On 26 June, Saudi prisoner Abdul Rahman Shalabi, who has been on hunger strike for almost a decade, was cleared by the review board. Although this means he can be released, in practice it means he will remain where he is. He has never been charged.
The US has appointed Lee Wolosky, a former National Security Council director, as the new envoy for the closure of Guantánamo. The post has been vacant since Clifford Sloan stepped down in December citing the slow rate of transfers. Wolosky will start work in July.
On 23 June, a group of civil rights organisations in the US sent a letter to the Department of Justice demanding it appoints a special prosecutor for torture and holds the CIA to account. http://www.amnestyusa.org/news/press-releases/amnesty-international-aclu-and-human-rights-watch-urge-doj-to-appoint-special-prosecutor-for-torture
Another letter to the UN, signed by over 100 organisations, called for accountability for CIA torture in the war on terror.
This was backed by the UN Special Rapporteur for Torture Juan Mendezhttp://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/06/cia-torturers-should-be-held-accountable-119345.html#.VYsfckaZ6dE
On 23 June, the European Court of Human Rights heard a case brought in 2009 by Abu Omar, a Milan-based imam who was kidnapped and rendered to Egypt by the CIA in 2003, and his wife. The criminal prosecution in Italy is the only case in the world where CIA agents have been convicted of extraordinary rendition-related offences; Italian agents were also convicted in the case, although their convictions were later quashed. Abu Omar himself was convicted in a 2013 case on terrorism-related offences in a case that pre-dates his kidnapping in 2003. He now lives in Egypt and did not appeal the conviction. Italy denies that its agents were involved in the rendition and states that it was the actions of the CIA alone, even though Abu Omar was kidnapped in broad daylight in the street.
The LGC June Shut Guantánamo demonstration was attended by 5 people. The July demo will be on Thursday 2 July: https://www.facebook.com/events/1458025957831108/
The LGC marked UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on Friday 26 June with a silent vigil in Trafalgar Square. Around 40 people joined as activists raised the issue of the right to rehabilitation of torture survivors.