Friday, July 29, 2016

LGC Newsletter – July 2016



NEWS:
Guantánamo Bay:
There are currently 76 prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay. On 10 July, Yemeni prisoner Fayiz Ahmad Yahia Suleiman was resettled in Italy. He was cleared for release in 2010 but remained at Guantánamo as there was nowhere for him to go after Barack Obama placed a moratorium on returns to Yemen in 2010.
Around the same time, two prisoners – Yemeni Mansur Ahmad Saad al-Dayfi and Tajik Muhammadi Davliatov – were transferred for resettlement to Serbia. Al-Dayfi had also been cleared for release in 2010. Davliatov, who is stateless, was cleared for release in 2009. These are the first transfers to Serbia and come against a background of trade and diplomatic concessions in return for accepting the former Guantánamo prisoners.

Three prisoners had their cases reviewed by the prisoner review board in July to decide – through an arbitrary process – whether they can be cleared for release.
On 7 July, Pakistani Abdul Rahim Ghulam Rabbani came before the board. He expressed regret at having worked alongside Al Qaeda as a cook and having helped Khalid Sheikh Mohammed accommodate and transport fighters. He did not deny any allegations made against him but said that he was unaware of the politics surrounding the situation at the time. His defence stated that his economic situation meant that working for Al Qaeda was a useful means of supporting his family at the time and that he had no ideological motivation.
On 14 July, Libyan Ismael Ali Faraj Ali Bakush, 48, who is alleged to have links to former terrorism organisations in Libya and to have used his explosives expertise to help Al Qaeda in Pakistan, had his hearing. He admitted having a minor role in the Libyan organisation but denied having any expertise with explosives. He expressed anger at the current government in Libya – which is currently engaged in warfare with various other groups in the country – but stated he did not intend to become involved in fighting again. No charges were ever brought against him.
http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/blog/libyan-gitmo-detainee-gets-prb-review-list-shrinks
On 21 July, Yemeni Omar Mohammed Ali Al-Rammah came before the board. He was detained in Georgia where he was fighting with the Chechens in 2001 before being rendered to the US military and torture facilities in Afghanistan before taken to Guantánamo. He was never charged. His counsel said he would like to work and get on with his life. He is not particularly interested in politics or religion and as a young man enjoyed football and dancing.

In addition, 7 prisoners learned the outcome of their hearings held in previous months: there are currently 32 prisoners cleared for release.
Abdul Latif Nasir, 51, the last Moroccan held at Guantánamo was cleared. Alleged to be a Taliban commander and weapons trainer he was never charged. He is to be returned to Morocco. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/guantanamo/article89215797.html
Yemeni Shawqi Awad Balzuhair, 34, who was described as a pleasant prisoner was cleared for release after his second hearing this year. A previous hearing in January deemed he was still too dangerous to release.
Best-selling author of the Guantánamo Diary and the last Mauritanian prisoner in Guantánamo was cleared for release on 20 July.
Afghan prisoner Abdul Zahir was cleared at around the same time. During his review hearing, it emerged that he was arrested by the US military in Afghanistan in a case of mistaken identity.
Yemeni Muhammed Raj ab Sadiq Abu Ghanim was also cleared for release http://www.prs.mil/Portals/60/Documents/ISN044/20160706_U_ISN_44_FINAL_DETERMINATION.pdf  as was Russian Ravil Mingazov http://www.prs.mil/Portals/60/Documents/ISN702/160721_U_ISN702_FINAL_DETERMINATION_PUBLIC_v1.pdf who has requested not to be returned to Russia, where he fears he will face further persecution and imprisonment as other returnees to Russia have faced. He has asked instead to be sent to the UK where his wife and children have been accepted as refugees.
At the same time, however, the board decides to continue the detention of several other prisoners, including Afghan Haroon Al-Afghani http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/guantanamo/article91470287.html Algerian Said bin Brahim bin Umran Bakush http://www.prs.mil/Portals/60/Documents/ISN685/20160706_U_ISN_685_FINAL_DETERMINATION.pdf  and Saudi Mohammed Al-Qahtani who is known to be schizophrenic and suffer from severe mental illness. The US military has admitted torturing him and charges against him were dropped due to the extreme torture he was subject to. Among the reasons given were that he refused to admit his alleged role in Al Qaeda. The US believes he was a potential 20th hijacker on 9/11 and not just a man with a long history of severe mental illness. http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/guantanamo/article92228362.html
For most of the prisoners who have been cleared for release there is no guarantee they will be leaving Guantánamo any time soon.

Pre-trial hearings continued in two of the military commission cases. A hearing was held in the case of Al-Hadi Al-Iraqi, accused of leading attacks against the US and its allies in Afghanistan in 2002-2004. During the hearing, the case was set to be reconvened on 19 September. His lawyers asked for the proceedings to be frozen due to a lack of civilian defence lawyers in his case (as he is not facing the death penalty). Four volunteer civilian lawyers had joined his team, including Erwin Chemerinsky, constitutional law expert and dean of the law school at the University of California at Irvine; however, none of them have yet received security clearance to attend the court or meet their client. His defence team asked the proceedings to be halted until they are able to do so. His defence wants to look at the issue of whether the US Constitution applies to the Guantánamo war court.
The Pentagon revealed that the only civilian prosecutor had abandoned the case.

Pre-trial hearings also continued progress at a snail’s pace in the case of five men accused of involvement in attacks on New York City in September 2001. The oral arguments centre on evidence that had been destroyed – approved by the judge – related to the secret detention and torture of the defendants by the CIA. During the hearing, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s lawyer David Nevin argued that the judge Col. James Pohl and the prosecution team should be disqualified for destroying evidence. The judge questioned whether he can disqualify himself.

Two former Guantánamo prisoners were sentenced by the Brussels Criminal Court on 18 July for involvement in an armed robbery, the proceeds of which were allegedly to be used to fund terrorist activity in Syria. The two men, Moussa Zemmouri, 38, a Belgian national, and Soufiane Abbar Huwari, 46, an Algerian national, were arrested in July 2015 with five others. Zemmouri, who was not actually involved in the burglary or charged with involvement in terrorist activity, was convicted on charges of conspiracy to commit the burglary. He was given a 40-month suspended sentence. The other man was accused of funding terrorism in Syria and being responsible for a criminal gang. He was sentenced to 12 years. Huwari was not identified until the case came to trial and he was described as being a threat by the prosecution, which raises questions as to why he was allowed to enter and live in Belgium in 2014 if the authorities deemed him to pose a threat to the safety of Belgians.

Extraordinary Rendition:
Authorities in the US have rejected a request by the police in Scotland to have access to the full unredacted CIA Torture Report, a small, censored part of which was published in December 2014. The request was made over 18 months as part of an ongoing criminal investigation in Scotland into a number of rendition flights into and out of Scottish airports. At least 6 flights are currently being examined.

LGC Activities:
The July Shut Guantánamo demonstration was on Thursday 7 July. The August demonstration is on 4 August 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/276214336087082/

The LGC (@shutguantanamo) is continuing to hold weekly #GitmObama Twitter storms to raise awareness about Guantánamo prisoners every Monday at 9pm BST. 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!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

LGC Newsletter – June 2016



NEWS:
Guantánamo Bay:
There are currently 79 prisoners at Guantánamo Bay after one Yemeni prisoner was transferred to Montenegro on 22 June. Abdel Malik Ahmed Abdel Wahab al-Rahabi, 36, arrived at Guantánamo on 11 January 2002. Accused of having once served as a bodyguard for Osama Bin Laden, as a very large number of other Guantánamo prisoners have been, he was never charged or tried for any offences.

Pre-trial hearings into the alleged involvement of 5 Guantánamo Bay prisoners in the attacks in New York on 11 September 2001 continued this month. As part of consideration of the conditions in which the defendants are being held in and the torture they claim to have suffered at Guantánamo, two other prisoners, who are not facing charges, were called to give evidence in the case. Somali prisoner Hassan Guleed told the court of the torture he has been subject to in the secret camp (Camp 7) he and the defendants are held in. He echoed their claims of sleep deprivation and that there are deliberate noises and vibrations in the camp as well as strange chemical smells used to pressurize the prisoners. He called it “mental torture”.
Abu Zubaydah, who has not been seen other than by his CIA and military torturers and captors since 2002, was also supposed to give evidence. He allegedly came to the door but was turned back and the hearing set for another date as the lawyers asked for an adjournment when Abu Zubaydah’s lawyer objected to the incriminating questions put to Guleed. The prosecution lawyer asked questions about Guleed’s involvement with terrorist organisations in East Africa even though he had no legal representation, was not on trial or facing one and the questions were not relevant to his testimony in court. The two men were asked to testify by the defence lawyers of one of the 5 defendants to show that the conditions under which they are held make it difficult for them to contribute effectively to the proceedings.
At the same hearing the next day, a former prison commander claimed that Guleed’s claims were not true and that the prisoners had not been tormented by guards or subject to torture. Instead, he said that Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh, who had made the accusations of noise and sleep deprivation and asked other prisoners to testify, had made over 90% of complaints in Camp 7 when he was in charge there. When asked why these complaints were not investigated, he said they were not considered credible.
Lawyers for Al-Shibh also requested that the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez be granted permission to come and inspect the camp conditions for himself. He was invited to join a media tour of Guantánamo in 2012 but refused as he would not have full access to prisoners and facilities. The lawyer made an application for him to visit and be given fuller access in May. Lawyers for the men have said that Mendez may accept just to be given access to Camp 7 where the defendants and other high value prisoners like Abu Zubaydah and Ahmed Guleed are held.

Nine prisoners had their status reviewed to consider whether they can be cleared for release by the periodic review board, bringing the number of prisoners who have had their cases reviewed to 50 in total.
Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the last Mauritanian prisoner and best-selling author of Guantanamo Diary had his hearing on 2 June. His counsel stated that if released he would want to return to his family in Mauritania, start a business, and promote his book if he is allowed to travel. Ould Slahi has been described as a compliant prisoner and even a former prisoner guard wrote a letter in support of his release. Representatives from the Mauritanian Embassy attended with the media at the unclassified parts of the hearing.
On 7 June, Moroccan prisoner Abdul Latif Nasir had his review hearing. The US military simultaneously alleges that he was a seasoned fighter for various extremist groups and a member of a non-violent mystical Islamic group in Morocco focusing on spiritualism. Nasir was not captured but purchased for a bounty by the US military which was vague about how he was captured and the dates and locations of the many places he is alleged to have fought in. Nasir wants to return to Morocco and would get work through his family there.
Abdul Zahir, a 44-year old Afghan who the US says it “probably misidentified” was the third prisoner to have his review hearing on 9 June. He arrived at Guantánamo in October 2002 after having being captured in a raid: “The supposed chemical or biological agents that U.S. forces seized during the raid turned out to be salt, sugar and petroleum jelly.”
http://www.courthousenews.com/2016/06/09/probable-case-of-mistaken-id-recounted-for-gitmo-board.htm
Another Afghan prisoner, Haroon Al-Afghani, held at Guantánamo since June 2007 had his hearing on 14 June. The US military claims that he worked with various militant groups and the Taliban in Afghanistan and even launched attacks on the US and its allies but has never charged him.
Saudi prisoner Mohammed Al-Qahtani, whom the US has admitted torturing, “including severe sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, violence and other sadistic interrogation methods carried out for weeks,” had his hearing on 16 June. Having tried to enter the US in August 2001, the United States alleged he was the 20th bomber for the September 2001 attacks. His lawyers, however, painted a picture of a man with severe mental health issues, going back to his childhood, which have been greatly worsened. Charges brought against him early on were dropped when it was realised that all the evidence came from the torture he had been subject to. His lawyers argued for him to be sent home to Saudi Arabia where he can receive adequate care for his psychiatric issues. In a statement, they said, “Filings made before the Periodic Review Board disclose, for the first time, that from an early age al Qahtani suffered from schizophrenia, major depression, and possible traumatic brain injury. He was mentally ill not only prior to his imprisonment and torture at Guantánamo, but also long before the government claims he was invited into the secretive, closely-guarded 9/11 conspiracy. Records independently located by the Center for Constitutional Rights show that al Qahtani was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in Mecca in May 2000 because he suffered an acute psychotic break and attempted to throw himself into moving traffic. Saudi police once found him naked in a garbage dumpster, and he heard voices and suffered other classic symptoms of psychosis throughout his adolescence. A psychiatric expert’s report, based on the hospitalization records, other investigative work, and many hours of examination of al Qahtani, was filed with the Review Board as well.
Russian prisoner Ravil Mingazov had his hearing on 21 June. While the US presented him as having military training from Russia and having been involved with Islamist groups in Tajikistan, his lawyers explained he had a non-combat role (and was not trained) in the army and was trying to seek asylum in Tajikistan. He does not wish to return to Russia where his family has been persecuted and hopes to come instead to the UK where his wife and children have successfully sought asylum.
Ghassan Abdullah Al-Sharbi, a Saudi prisoner who is a qualified engineer from the US and Saudi Arabia, had his hearing on 23 June. He has been non-compliant and chose not to attend and did not meet with his representative.
Yemeni Musab Omar Ali Al-Mudwani, 36, had his review hearing on 28 June. Described as a low-level militant and compliant prisoner, he would ideally like to return to Yemen which is currently barred by the US administration.
Yemeni prisoner Hail Aziz Ahmed Al-Maythali had his hearing on 30 June.
In addition, four prisoners who have already had reviews learned the outcome in June: only one, Afghan Karim Bostan, 46, was cleared for release. Three other prisoners – 2 Yemenis and a Kenyan – were deemed to remain too dangerous to release by the arbitrary administrative board whose decisions are not based on law.

Former Guantánamo prisoners Belgian Moussa Zemmouri and Algerian Soufian Abar Huwari went on trial for a week in Brussels from 13 June on alleged terrorism charges related to a burglary in Antwerp, the proceeds of which the Belgian authorities claim would have gone to fund terrorism in Syria. Neither man was charged at Guantánamo or had been until their arrest in Belgium last year.
In Spain, following his arrest in 2014, for allegedly running a terrorist cell linked to the war in Syria, former prisoner Lahcen Ikassrien went on trial on 20 June along with others who are co-accused. Due to his Guantánamo imprisonment and as the alleged ringleader, the Spanish prosecutor asked for a longer sentence for him. He was never charged at Guantánamo and did not come to the attention of the authorities after his 2005 release until his arrest. However, shortly before his 2014 arrest, Spanish prosecutors said they would be willing to start a case into the torture he and other former prisoners claim they suffered in US detention.

Extraordinary Rendition:
The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced that following its 4-year investigation it will not be pressing criminal charges against officials, including former foreign secretary Jack Straw, for British collusion in the rendition to torture of Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife, who was pregnant at the time, from Southeast Asia to Libya in 2004. There will be no prosecutions in the case.
Following this decision, the matter was discussed in parliament – concerning what the intelligence services knew and disclosed – on 29 June and a call by a number of human rights organisations to hold a judge-led inquiry into the UK’s involvement in extraordinary rendition and CIA torture was dismissed by Prime Minister David Cameron.
On 8 June, the European Parliament passed a new non-binding resolution calling on Member States to investigate their role in extraordinary rendition and more the Parliament to conduct more fact-finding missions.

Sabrina de Sousa, a former CIA agent convicted in absentia by an Italian court along with colleagues for her role in the 2003 rendition of Milan-based cleric Abu Omar lost her fight against extradition from Portugal to Italy after the Portuguese Supreme Court rejected her claims. It is likely that she will have to go to Italy to hear her sentence but that she will be able to serve it in Portugal. She claims she was only an interpreter and had nothing to do with the torture Abu Omar has faced. Although she did not ask him, he has asked the Italian authorities to pardon her. She asked Hilary Clinton for help but that was not given. It is the only case anywhere in the world where CIA agents have been found guilty of torture under the extraordinary rendition programme. Facilitating torture is also a crime against humanity and a war crime.

In response to a freedom of information filing made by the American Civil Liberties Union, the CIA has released 50 new documents that shed considerable light on the extraordinary rendition programme. The full documents can be viewed through a link at:

Guantánamo prisoner Mustafa Al-Hawsawi who claimed he was held at a secret CIA-run prison in Lithuania has had “victim status” denied which would grant him greater protection and more access to information as part of an ongoing investigation. The Lithuanian authorities claim there is no proof that any such torture facility was run in the country but will not allow a full and impartial investigation to go ahead at the same time.

On 29 June, two cases were heard at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg against Lithuania (brought by Abu Zubaydah) and Romania (brought by Abd Al-Nashiri) for the torture they suffered at secret CIA-run facilities in these states. Lawyers for Al-Nashiri told the court that the CIA had paid Romania millions of dollars to run such facilities. The Lithuanian government remains in denial about its role.

LGC Activities:
The June Shut Guantánamo demonstration was on Thursday 2 June. As it coincided with the periodic review board hearing of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, a special “Free Slahi” demo was held outside the US Embassy with readings from Guantánamo Diary. A similar but much larger protest was held outside the US Embassy in Mauritania on the same day. The July demonstration is on 7 July 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/320814844916185/

The LGC marked UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June with a special “Borders of Torture” solidarity vigil in Trafalgar Square focusing on the refugee crisis. Many refugees are survivors of torture. This year's theme was “support life after torture” and so activists from the LGC put together a clothesline with “bloody” t-shirts and a banner stating “Don’t hang torture survivors out to dry”. Read our report here:

The LGC (@shutguantanamo) is continuing to hold weekly #GitmObama Twitter storms to raise awareness about Guantánamo prisoners every Monday at 9pm BST. 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, June 27, 2016

Borders of Torture: Solidarity Vigil on UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture



Report
As we have done every year since 2010, the London Guantánamo Campaign marked UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, 26 June, with a public vigil in solidarity with all victims and survivors of torture worldwide. With the international theme this year of “Support Life after Torture”, the LGC turned its attention to one of the biggest crises currently facing the world: the refugee crisis. There are currently over 65 million people worldwide displaced by wars and conflicts and over half of them are children. Many of the people seeking refuge abroad are survivors of torture. As well as a difficult journey to safety, which can include further persecution and inhumane treatment, many men, women and children are denied refuge or are treated like criminals and held in appalling conditions in immigration detention centres and denied access to rehabilitation and adequate care.






The LGC highlighted the poor response from the UK and other European states in a silent vigil attended by around 20 people. Our solidarity action was very visual and powerful. The vigil, entitled the “Borders of Torture” involved activists holding up a washing line with bloodied (no one was harmed in the process) t-shirts and an accompanying banner stating “Don’t Hang Torture Victims out to Dry”. On a sunny and crowded afternoon in central London’s Trafalgar Square, the action was a huge hit with the public. Many people stopped to contemplate the message, take photographs of it, take leaflets and talk to activists handing them out. Overall, the public response was very positive and supportive of the action. The LGC was joined by the Guantánamo Justice Campaign and individuals activists on issues such as covert harassment. The LGC thanks everyone who joined. 
This year’s theme and action are not a departure from our regular work on Guantánamo Bay prisoners as more than half of the remaining 79 prisoners are in the exact same position as the refugees fleeing their homelands. Many cannot return to their countries of origin due to wars there and do not have a safe third country to which they can be sent. Yemenis make up the largest nationality group at Guantánamo. Almost 30 are cleared for release but remain at Guantánamo as they have nowhere to go. Some have been cleared for release for over a decade. As well as offering refuge, states must also ensure that torture survivors have a right to redress and rehabilitation.
Although we take the opportunity to give a voice to the voiceless on 26 June each year, the LGC stands in solidarity with torture victims and survivors every day of the year. Our London vigil was one of dozens held worldwide by different organisations and coordinated by the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims.