Saturday, December 01, 2018
Abd Al Hadi Al-Iraqi, facing trial and a life sentence at Guantánamo, for allegedly commanding Al Qaeda forces that allegedly committed war crimes in Afghanistan, had to be removed from the war court in an ambulance just 30 minutes into the open session of his most recent pre-trial hearing on 6 November. In the past 18 months, he has had five operations on his spine as a result of the torture he suffered prior to being brought to Guantánamo. Al-Iraqi was seen by two people present in the court before being transferred to the detainee acute care unit after he suffered back spasms. Hearings were cancelled for Wednesday and Thursday. Past hearings have also been cancelled due to his poor health. At the court, he was unable to speak comfortably to his lawyers and focus. He could also not initially swallow the medicine he was given as he had difficulty breathing. It was the first hearing in which the new judge in the case, Marine Lt. Col. Michael Libretto, was present. Due to his medical problems, progress in Al-Iraqi’s pre-trial hearings has been disrupted since September 2017.
The judge ordered the hearing to be resumed on Friday. This time a hospital bed was brought into the courtroom, which Al-Iraqi used along with a specially adapted chair during the hearing. Reading a recent medical opinion about the defendant, the judge said “the accused may never improve beyond the current condition.” The hearing itself focused on staffing issues, such as the appointment and dismissal of lawyers.
Al-Iraqi’s hearing was succeeded the following week with pre-trial hearings in the case of five men accused of involvement in the attacks in New York in September 2001. This pre-trial hearing was almost halted after mould was found covering computers, court filings, furniture and clothing in a room shared by six defence lawyers. Two members of the defence team needed medical attention. The hearing went ahead with the judge, Marine Col. Keith Parrella, apologising for a broken air conditioner in the unit that caused the problem. He ordered the US government to deal with the problem and ensure it does not happen again.
The hearing discussed whether lawyers for Khalid Sheikh Mohamed could call CIA chief Gina Haspel as a witness. On Thursday, the court looked at evidence of torture interrogation methods the prosecution had been ordered to share with the defence. The information included that “An alleged plot mastermind was taken nude from interrogation to a medical officer, who put fluids up his rectum then returned him nude to interrogation. Some captives were kept like “cowering dogs,” subjected to standing sleep deprivation, abdominal and facial slaps, in what one CIA agent called a “nightmare.”” The defence argued, however, that this disclosure did not go far enough for a fair trial whereas the prosecution argued that they already had enough information concerning what happened to their clients in secret CIA prisons to defend them. One of the prosecutors put it: “It’s really not a secret what happened to the accused in CIA custody. It’s a matter of how it’s shaded or flavored, if you will.” On the other hand, giving an example of the limitation of the evidence available, lawyers for Khalid Sheikh Mohamed stated that “A description of a 15-hour interrogation was condensed to a page-and-a-half summary, Nevin said. He offered an example: The prosecution provided evidence that Mohammed was “rectally rehydrated,” he said, but doesn’t describe how it was done. “Does somebody hold his legs apart? Is he naked? Was lubrication involved? How did they do it?””
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the CIA to find out where the body of Afghan Gul Rahman is; he was tortured to death in a secret prison in Afghanistan in November 2012.
The ACLU has filed two lawsuits under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to get more information about the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme. The first lawsuit aims to seek answers for Gul Rahman’s family concerning what happened to him. The second lawsuit will demand “information on the CIA’s unprecedented propaganda campaign on behalf of Haspel — who was acting CIA director during the confirmation process earlier this year — including her potential conflict of interest in controlling the classification of information related to her personal role in prisoner torture and abuse.”
Earlier in November, through another successful FOIA request, the ACLU obtained a 90-page document that revealed the role of CIA doctors in the torture interrogation process as well as plans to test a “truth serum” and other drugs on detainees. It also details some of the plans and techniques used on prisoners, including Abu Zubaydah and Abd Al-Nashiri.
Pakistani neuroscientist Dr Aafia Siddiqui, currently serving an 86-year sentence in the US after having been convicted of attacking US military personnel in Afghanistan, where she appeared in US custody in 2008 after having “disappeared” in Pakistan into CIA custody with her three children in 2003, has written to new Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan asking him to intervene in her case and to have her returned to Pakistan to serve the rest of her sentence. The previous Pakistani government, in spite of numerous court cases, refused to take action; it was complicit in her “disappearance”. The new Pakistan government has since pledged to take action and has discussed her case formally with Washington. The Pakistani Senate also passed a resolution seeking her release.
The LGC held its monthly Shut Guantánamo! demos outside the US Embassy in Nine Elms on Thursday 1 November. Our last demonstration for 2018 is exceptionally being held on Monday 10 December at 12-2pm to mark both Human Rights Days and the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, entrenching modern human rights. Articles 5 and 9 ban torture and arbitrary detention. Please join us in solidarity with the prisoners at Guantánamo and other victims of human rights violations: https://www.facebook.com/events/736634930034090/
Wednesday, October 31, 2018
On 12 October, the US Court of Military Commissions Review backed the former judge in the USS Cole trial, where Abd Al-Nashiri is being tried for the 2000 bombing of a US naval vessel in the Gulf of Aden, by ruling that his defence lawyers did not have the authority “to quit the case over ethics questions raised by their discovery of a secret microphone in their meeting room” after they quit the case last year. The pre-trial hearings in the case have been suspended since February and can resume, although no date has been set for that and what the three lawyers concerned plan to do is unknown. The ruling also held that the “chief defense counsel, Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker, did not have the authority to let the civilian lawyers quit the case a year ago”; he was fined $1000 by the judge and “confined to his quarters for 21 days in a conviction that was subsequently overturned”.
US Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has appointed Col. Douglas K. Watkins, 56, as the new chief judge at the Guantánamo war court after Army Col. James J. Pohl, the chief judge for over the past 9 years, retired in September. A military judge with experience of terrorism cases going back to the 1980s, Watkins is already handling hearings in the case of Majid Khan, who was convicted in a secret plea deal in 2012, and is due to be sentenced in 2019. He will oversee the case of five defendants accused of involvement in the September 2001 attacks in New York.
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has dismissed appeals by Lithuania and Romania who were found guilty earlier this year of running secret torture facilities for the CIA – claims the two states still deny – and ordered to pay the plaintiffs, current Guantánamo prisoners Abu Zubaydah and Abd Al-Nashiri, respectively, €100,000 in damages.
The North Carolina Commission of Inquiry on Torture, a citizen-led initiative looking at the state’s involvement in the CIA’s rendition programme over the past few years has produced an 82-page report on torture flights and North Carolina’s role in the CIA rendition and torture program http://www.nctorturereport.org/ and particularly the liability of Aero Contractors Ltd., a local private company whose aircraft were used to transport rendition victims in breach of international laws the US is party to. The report calls for the accountability and prosecution of key players.
An American-Saudi prisoner, who was detained in Syria and later transferred to Iraq after being captured by Kurdish forces in Syria and handed over to the US military in 2017, has been released to a third country. The American Civil Liberties Union won an important court case to have his constitutional rights upheld in court after the US government “kept his detention secret, denied his requests for a lawyer, and attempted to forcibly transfer him to a dangerous war zone.” In doing so, the Trump administration made it unnecessary for the court to rule on the legality of the detention of prisoners by the US in Iraq and Syria without charge, trial or due process rights.
The LGC held its monthly Shut Guantánamo! demos outside the US Embassy in Nine Elms on 4 October at 12-2pm. Our next monthly demo for November is on Thursday 1 November at 12-2pm: https://www.facebook.com/events/235710460476481/ and is just days before the US mid-term election.
Sunday, September 30, 2018
As pre-trial hearings resumed in the case of five men accused of involvement in attacks in New York in September 2001 under a new judge Marine Colonel Keith A Parrella, lawyers for the defendants called for the judge to disqualify himself from the case over bias and a possible conflict of interest. Ahead of the hearing, one of the lawyers stated that the judge lacked relevant experience and there was a potential conflict of interest in his previous counterterrorism work for the US Department of Justice. He has also never presided over any death penalty cases. However, Parrella quickly dismissed the claims, stating the defence had provided no evidence to show that he is unqualified for the job and has no connections to any of the prosecution lawyers in spite of his previous government work. There is also a possibility that he will not stay in the job for long as he was “selected for an embassy security position with the Marine Corps beginning in the summer of 2019 and announced his intention to accept the posting”, which would further delay the case.
During the same pre-trial hearing, the judge allowed the team for the defendant Ammar al Baluchi to raise a plea for the case’s dismissal on the basis that in February 2018, the Pentagon official in charge of military commissions, Harvey Rishikof, was fired for “unlawful influence” by entering into plea discussions with the defence teams to potentially avoid the death penalty. Lawyers argued that the judge had all the evidence to rule on whether there was unlawful influence, “a common concept in military justice referring to improper interference in proceedings”. The prosecution claimed that he was fired for his management style. The hearing was cut short due to Hurricane Florence but the judge asked the parties for written submissions within two weeks so that he can make a decision before the next hearing in November.
Following the end of the hearing, the judge ordered prosecutors to look for a top secret location in the Washington DC area to hold closed hearings on 7-9 November, when the pre-trial hearing resumes. This is in order to avoid a scheduling conflict at the Guantánamo court. If the hearing goes ahead elsewhere this will be for the first time in the case’s 6-year history and according to some lawyers, “could strengthen the argument that the accused terrorists are entitled to constitutional rights like confidential attorney-client conversations, to confront one’s accuser, to not be subjected to cruel or unusual punishment, to attend all portions of their trial — some of which the Bush administration sought to deny those tried at the U.S. naval base in Cuba when it set up the war court in the first place.” However, it would prevent the defendants from being able to take part in the hearing.
Despite the new judge’s determination to press ahead, pre-trial hearings in the case of Abd al Hadi Al-Iraqi did not go ahead in the last week of September. Marine Lieutenant Colonel Michael Libretto was due to make his first appearance at this military commission and in this case but the case was postponed each day as the defendant, “who says his real name is Nashwan al Tamir” was suffering from serious back pain and was in some cases unable to stand or even sit. Over the past year he has had surgery on his spine five times, most recently in May. After he had fallen ill the week before, his lawyer had asked for the hearing to be postponed, “arguing that it would be an enormous waste of time and resources while putting Nashwan’s health at serious risk.” Some of his back problems are linked to previous inadequate treatment at Guantánamo.
US national security advisor John Bolton launched an attack on the International Criminal Court and has threatened sanctions if the court prosecutes US servicemen over war crimes in Afghanistan. Although the US is not a member of the court, Americans can be tried during the periods that Afghanistan, a member, was under US authority. A 2016 investigation by the prosecutor found that the US may have committed war crimes through the extraordinary rendition programme. The bulk of the claims in this case are against the Taliban but any revelations in court about extraordinary rendition could also reveal further details about the role of other states in assisting and facilitating CIA torture, not just Afghanistan.
The LGC held its monthly Shut Guantánamo! demos outside the US Embassy in Nine Elms on 6 September at 12-2pm. Our next monthly demo for October is on Thursday 4 October at 12-2pm: https://www.facebook.com/events/2148850955370083/ This protest is just days before the 17th anniversary of the ongoing war in Afghanistan, which led to Guantánamo opening. We will be showing solidarity with the people of Afghanistan too. All are welcome to join us.