Thursday, September 28, 2017

LGC Newsletter – September 2017

Guantánamo Bay
On 7 September, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), at its 164th session in Mexico City, heard the merits in a case brought by former Algerian Guantánamo prisoner Djamel Ameziane against the United States (Ameziane v United States) for the abuse and arbitrary detention he suffered during his 12 years at Guantánamo Bay, where he was never charged or tried. He was then returned to Algeria by the Obama administration against his will where he faced incommunicado detention and trial. At the time, he had been seeking asylum elsewhere should he be released from Guantánamo, and had reasonable grounds to fear persecution on his return to a country he had fled in the 1990s on the basis of his Berber ethnic minority status. The case was brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and the Center for Justice and International Law (CEJIL); this was a landmark hearing as it is the first time a court with international jurisdiction in the Americas has heard such a merits case. A ruling in favour of Ameziane by the court would put considerable pressure on the US government and would add to the international law pressure to close Guantánamo.
Lawyers at the hearing urged the IACHR to declare that the US government violated his human rights and order reparations, including access to adequate medical care, financial assistance for basic needs, return of his personal property, and a public apology for what was done to him. Although Djamel Ameziane was unable to attend the hearing, he submitted a statement to the hearing setting out his case and his feelings towards his ordeal at Guantánamo Bay and the difficulties he has faced in re-establishing his life since his release:

 In early September, the CCR also made an emergency request to the courts for an independent medical evaluation of one of its remaining clients at Guantánamo, 43-year old Yemeni Sharqawi Al-Hajj, who is currently on hunger strike in protest at his ongoing detention. Al-Hajj suffers from a number of illnesses that doctors “believe are symptoms of severe liver disease or another potentially life-threatening underlying illness, or associated with his torture in secret prisons for two years before Guantánamo” and which his lawyers believe are being worsened by his hunger strike.

Nashwan al Tamir, known to the US military as Abdul Hadi Al Iraqi, had surgery on his spine twice this month. Needing surgery since January this year, neurosurgeons arrived at Guantánamo ahead of Hurricane Irma to operate on his back. Awaiting trial on non-capital charges, he uses a wheelchair and has had back problems for more than a decade, which his lawyers attribute to his treatment in US military detention. However, the US military claims he has been refusing treatment. Surgeons had to be rushed in urgently after he complained that he lost feeling in his lower body. His lawyer claims he has long been at risk of paralysis and that the military is withholding information about his condition from them.
On 21 September, they filed a petition to the courts to ask a federal judge to intervene in his medical care, claiming that he only received the two operations after they consulted external doctors on his condition. The doctors concluded that “he was at risk of paralysis from a condition damaging his spine and nervous system.”
They are asking the judge to appoint and fund an independent medical expert to supervise his care and to “order the prison to release his full medical records to outside experts as well as to his medical team.” The request is extraordinary and much secrecy surrounds medical practices at Guantánamo. In their petition, his lawyers wrote, “The deliberate indifference and disregard of the United States toward petitioner’s health and safety have put him at immediate risk of permanent paralysis or worse, and constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment.”
His lawyers have been forbidden from visiting him while he recovers and his October pre-trial hearing has been cancelled. His next hearing is scheduled for mid-December.

At a key national security conference this month, Brigadier General John G. Baker, the Chief Defense Counsel of the Military Commissions Defense Organization gave a speech at George Washington University Law School in which he spoke critically of the military commission system at Guantánamo stating that defence lawyers defend “the rule of law from a military commission apparatus that is flawed in both design and execution” and described the commissions as “a failed experiment”.

Omar Khadr was back in court in Edmonton, Canada, on 15 September to ask to have his remaining bail conditions loosened further, to include unfettered access to his sister Zaynab Khadr, who lives abroad. The judge, however, said that his sister is still an Al Qaeda supporter and maintained the restrictions that Khadr and his sister communicate only in English and in the presence of a court-appointed supervisor. The judge also refused to relax his travel restrictions, meaning he still has to ask permission to travel outside the province of Alberta within Canada. He has, however, had restrictions on his internet usage lifted.

Extraordinary rendition
On 22 September, a federal court ruled that three Iraqi citizens tortured and held prisoner at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by US contractor CACI could prosecute the company and hold it responsible for their treatment. The case was originally brought in 2008 and the ruling will allow the men to hold the company directly responsible.
According to the CCR, which is bringing the case on behalf of the men, “U.S. military investigators long ago concluded that CACI interrogators conspired with U.S. soldiers, who were later court martialed, to “soften up” detainees for interrogations; according to statements by co-conspirators. A U.S. Army general referred to the treatment as “sadistic, blatant, and wanton” criminal abuses. Al Ejaili, Al-Suba’e, and Al Shimari [the complainants] were subjected to electric shocks, sexual assaults, sensory deprivation, mock executions, stress positions, broken bones, deprived of oxygen, food and water, stripped and kept naked, forced to witness the rape of a female prisoner, as well as experienced other dehumanizing acts of torture and threats to themselves and their families.”
LGC Activities:
The September Shut Guantánamo! monthly demonstration was on 7 September. Our next monthly demonstration is on Thursday 5 October. It is a special demonstration to mark 16 years of the war in Afghanistan, which gave rise to detention at Guantánamo and hosted a number of secret prisons run by the CIA. We will stand in solidarity with the people of Afghanistan and particularly the large number of refugees being repatriated from across Europe and elsewhere to Afghanistan even though the conflict is escalating as President Trump sends more troops there. This demonstration will be outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, W1A, ONLY from 12-2pm:

Thursday, August 31, 2017

LGC newsletter - August 2017

Guantánamo Bay
Following the possible expulsion of two Yemeni prisoners resettled in Ghana in early 2016, after the supreme court deemed that the decision to settle them had been made unconstitutionally, the Ghanaian parliament made an agreement that allows the two men to remain in the country at least until 2018, to complete the two years initially agreed. Although the two men were never charged at Guantánamo and were cleared for release in 2009, upon their arrival in the country, Christian groups protested and took their complaint to the courts. If they were not allowed to remain in Ghana, the two men, one of whom got married in June, would have nowhere to go, being unable to return to Yemen as they are refugees due to the war there, and not being allowed to enter the US.

At the beginning of August, convicted Saudi prisoner Ahmed Al-Darbi gave his deposition in private at the military commission, testifying and giving evidence that could be used in the death-penalty trial of Abd Al-Nashiri, who also currently faces military trial. The deposition was heard by the same judge hearing Al-Nashiri’s case.
In a 2014 plea deal, Al Darbi pleaded guilty to getting supplies and helping Al Qaeda militants in exchange for being able to serve the remainder of his 15-year sentence in his native Saudi Arabia. As part of the deal, he agreed to testify against two other prisoners facing trial, whom he claims to have only ever met once in the 1990s. The purpose of Al Darbi giving his testimony now is so that it can be preserved before it is used in the other trials so that he can be released to Saudi Arabia. He is potentially the only prisoner to be released by the Trump administration, which has thus far agreed to honour the deal made by the Obama administration. This is the first known deposition given at Guantánamo over the past 16 years.
Al-Darbi gave a further deposition, this time publicly, in mid-August in the non-death penalty case of Abd Al Hadi Al Iraqi. In this deposition, which aimed to dispel the chance of his testimony being rejected later due to the torture he suffered, he gave details of the various forms of physical, sexual and psychological torture he suffered; describing sexual abuse involving torture interrogator Damian Corsetti, Al Darbi stated, ““He hit me, threw me against the wall, threw garbage on me and pulled me to the floor,” captive Ahmed al Darbi testified. “He was kneeling on my chest, pushing my chest with his knees. After that he exposed ‘little Corsetti’ and put it in my face. You happy?” Al Darbi was tortured at both Bagram and Guantánamo. He provided his testimony which also used video evidence and was asked to confirm the identity of Al Iraqi who claims to have a name other than that given to him by the court.
A further hearing is due in September on Al Darbi’s return to Saudi Arabia.

Pre-trial hearings resumed at the Guantánamo military tribunal this month in the case of five men accused of involvement in the September 2001 attacks in New York. The hearings were previously suspended indefinitely after the judge said he refused to travel to Guantánamo with other people, including the media, lawyers and family members, attending the hearings. During the hearings, the judge rejected a motion filed in July by the prosecution to start the trial in the case by 2019. The defence also asked the judge to fire the prosecution over the destruction of a CIA prison and the failure to provide full records concerning it, claiming that the site was decommissioned without the knowledge of the defendants’ lawyers, in breach of the rules.

Lawyers for Canadian former prisoner Omar Khadr, who got married recently, were back in court this month. In the first case, proceedings have been moved forward to September in a bid to further relax his bail conditions, which include being able to have unfettered access to his sister Zainab Khadr, who lives outside Canada. Khadr is about to start studying for a 4-year degree in nursing at Red Deer College in Alberta and wants to have the remaining conditions relaxed.
In addition, the wife of the US soldier Omar Khadr is alleged to have killed in Afghanistan in 2002 is seeking to have a claim for damages of $132.1 million enforced against him in Canada. Lawyers for Khadr refused to engage and thus contest the original case brought in Utah which was then won by Tabetha Speer and another soldier Khadr is alleged to have injured by default. Lawyers for Khadr in Canada have asked for the case to be dismissed as the claim is based on false information, including torture evidence used in Khadr’s military tribunal.

Syrian refugee and former Guantánamo prisoner Jihad Dhiab attempted again to leave Uruguay and join his refugee family in Turkey. He travelled to Morocco on a false passport from where he was deported back to Uruguay. Later in August, the Uruguayan media claimed he was trying to enter Brazil via the border, however a government spokesman clarified that he had moved to another town from the capital where it was cheaper to live and to find work. Almost three years after his release, Dhiab is not free with close intrusive scrutiny of his life by the authorities and the media.

Extraordinary rendition
With the judge in the case of two psychologists who worked as contractors for the CIA designing and implementing the extraordinary rendition torture programme ruling in late September the case could go ahead, thereby rejecting their arguments against it, a trial date was set for early September. However, on 17 August, the two defendants reached an out-of-court settlement, the terms of which remain confidential, with the three victims and agreed to pay them $8 million. Under the terms of a joint statement, the two psychologists disclaimed liability for what happened to the victims, including the death of Afghan Gul Rahman through torture: “Drs. Mitchell and Jessen assert that the abuses of Mr. Salim and Mr. Ben Soud occurred without their knowledge or consent and that they were not responsible for those actions.” While the case itself, brought off the back of the 2014 Senate report into CIA torture, is historic in that it was allowed to proceed and is the first time permission was given to sue the CIA for torture claims, the outcome of this case is unclear. No liability was claimed, even if the payment suggests otherwise, and it is not clear how it will affect the ability of other victims to bring future claims. The fact that the defendants are remorseless is evidenced by the fact that one of them, James Mitchell, is engaged in a book tour promoting his book on “enhanced interrogation” (torture) techniques and thus continuing to make money out of the inhumane suffering of others. The question of impunity has yet to be settled.
The court case, however, was delaying testimony on torture techniques by the two defendants and two other CIA operatives involved in torturing prisoners in the case of Abd Al-Nashiri, thereby holding up the pre-trial hearings. No new date has been set for them to testify.

LGC Activities:
The August Shut Guantánamo! monthly demonstration was on 3 August. Our next monthly demonstration is on Thursday 7 September at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, W1A, and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park, opposite Marble Arch: