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.
Friday, August 31, 2018
On 8 August, following strong debate by professionals, the American Psychological Association (APA) voted to reject a proposal to change its policy to allow members to treat prisoners held at sites “that do not comply with international human rights laws”, such as Guantánamo Bay. In 2015, the APA banned members from working at such sites in light of revelations that previous guidelines had allowed members to assist in “enhanced interrogations”. Breaches of the policy could lead to a psychologist having their license to practice revoked for breach of the ethics code.
Following considerable debate and intervention by human rights NGOs, the APA voted 105 to 57 to maintain its ban on military psychologists working at facilities like Guantánamo Bay.
Newly declassified CIA cables from 2002 show current CIA chief Gina Haspel discussing the torture of Guantánamo prisoner Abd Al-Nashiri when he was held at a secret CIA prison Haspel was running in Thailand. While Haspel has since been appointed CIA director following her career as a torturer, Al-Nashiri is facing the death penalty at Guantánamo based on the “evidence” extracted from him through torture during the 4 years he “disappeared” into CIA detention after his 2002 kidnap in UAE and until he reappeared at Guantánamo in 2006. He has prosecuted both Poland and Lithuania at the European Court of Human Rights for their complicity in his torture.
Some of the documents are believed to have been written by Haspel, and mention torture methods such as waterboarding: “Interrogation escalated rapidly from subject being aggressively debriefed by interrogators while standing at the walling wall, to multiple applications of the walling technique, and ultimately, multiple applications of the watering technique.”
Elsewhere, they describe how he was “stripped naked, repeatedly slammed against walls, waterboarded and confined in boxes for hours at a covert detention site that CIA Director Gina Haspel briefly oversaw after 9/11.”
In one case: “CIA psychologists initiated one interrogation session at 4:15 a.m. by placing Nashiri against the “walling board” and telling him “they wanted to know who, what, when, where and how ongoing operations would take place and would stop at nothing to get it.”
When Nashiri repeated information he had already provided instead of new information about threats, the psychologists threw him to the floor and a “security team” ripped off his clothes and shaved his head while he “moaned and wailed.” They then locked him in a box.”
The military tribunal of Abd Al-Nashiri has been indefinitely suspended by the judge since February this year. With current judge Vince Spath retiring later this year, the case, when it resumes, will be taken over by Air Force Colonel Shelly W. Schools. “Spath drew national attention in November for summarily convicting the chief defense lawyer, Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker, of contempt of court — and then ordering him to serve 21 days confinement in his trailer behind Guantánamo’s war court. Spath then quietly put in for retirement soon after a federal judge overturned Baker’s conviction.”
It is unknown when Judge Schools will head the tribunal for the first time as a number of issues put by Spath are currently being considered by the US Court of Military Commission Review.
Judge Army Col. James Pohl has ruled to prevent the prosecution from using statements given to FBI interrogators in the case of five men accused of involvement in attacks in 2001 in New York. The defence has long argued that this evidence is tainted by the torture these men previously suffered in secret CIA prisons around the world and which provided the basis for these interrogations. The statements were made in 2006 after they were transferred from CIA custody. The evidence they contain provide some of the strongest evidence in the conspiracy case against the men, according to the prosecution.
The ruling, which could see the trial in this case being expedited, is a major setback for the prosecution and the US administration. The prosecution has asked the judge to reconsider this ruling.
In addition, on 27 August, Judge Pohl announced his retirement as of 30 September and has assigned a Marine colonel, Keith A. Parrella, to replace him.
The next pre-trial hearing in the case is scheduled for 10-14 September.
Four Uighur refugees granted asylum in Bermuda in 2009 after having been transferred there from Guantánamo Bay have been naturalised and granted citizenship. Although this does not grant them “Bermudan status”, they will be able to apply for passports and thus leave the island. One of the men has a sick son, who is also currently stateless, and they were unable to travel for his treatment abroad. The men will be recognised as “British Overseas Territory Citizens” following a decision by the British government. The men could not leave the island without passports and risk being sent to internment camps set up by the Chinese government for the Uighur minority if sent there.
Ahmed Ahjam, one of six men, all refugees, resettled in Uruguay in 2014, has opened up his own stall selling Syrian sweets and pastries in Montevideo’s historic Mercado Agricola. With some help from a local development agency, he set up a stall selling sweets from his native Syria, using recipes from his sisters. He had previously made and sold these sweets at events and stalls at various functions. He is the only one of the six – 4 Syrians, one Tunisian and one Palestinian – who is in work in the country. The men receive a small stipend from the government and have their rent paid but are otherwise struggling to adapt to life after Guantánamo and in Uruguay.
The Lithuanian government initially stated that it would not appeal the European Court of Human Rights ruling made in May finding it complicit in hosting and facilitating the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme through the provision of detention sites where suspects were tortured in its territory. The case was brought by Guantánamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah, who has also successfully sued Poland at the court. Lithuania was ordered to pay him €130,000 in damages. The Justice Ministry claimed there were no legal grounds for appeal.
However, days before the 31st August deadline to lodge an appeal the government changed its mind and the prime minister has announced that it will appeal. The Lithuanian authorities maintain that there has been no wrongdoing on their part.
The LGC held its monthly Shut Guantánamo! demos outside the US Embassy in Nine Elms on 2 August at 12-2pm. Our next monthly demo for September is on Thursday 6 September at 12-2pm: https://www.facebook.com/events/474337159719373/ All are welcome to join us.
Ahead of the US midterm elections on 6 November, the LGC is asking people to help us boost numbers at our regular monthly demos to remind the US authorities that Guantánamo is still an issue, one that needs a political solution: https://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.com/2018/08/time-to-put-guantanamo-back-on-agenda.html
Monday, August 27, 2018
Almost 17 years on, 40 prisoners remain at Guantánamo Bay, largely without charge. The few trials and convictions that proceed rely on evidence obtained through the use of torture.
Although interest fell after Barack Obama failed to deliver on his promise to close Guantánamo in 2010, the London Guantánamo Campaign has continued to hold regular demonstrations outside the US Embassy in London – in Mayfair and now in Nine Elms – in solidarity with the remaining prisoners for the past 12 years.
The new US Embassy in Nine Elms is designed to provide a hostile environment for protest. Its architecture deliberately renders protesters invisible, remote and irrelevant.
In November, the US will vote in the midterm elections, the first opportunity the US public will have to challenge Donald Trump’s policies at the ballot box. Ahead of this election, we are asking YOU to make an effort to join us, for a part or all of our demonstration, to send a strong message that Guantánamo is not a forgotten issue and closing Guantánamo must be put back on the political agenda.
Although Trump has not delivered on his executive order to send new prisoners to Guantánamo, recent appointments of officials linked to the torture and enduring ordeal of Guantánamo prisoners, such as CIA chief Gina Haspel and current Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh show a worrying trend towards entrenching the policies of his predecessors.
Please help us to make these protests larger and louder than usual.
Our demonstrations take place on the first Thursday of every month at 12-2pm outside the US Embassy. For the next few months, the dates (and details) are as follow:
Thursday 6 September https://www.facebook.com/events/474337159719373/
Thursday 4 October https://www.facebook.com/events/2148850955370083/
Thursday 1 November https://www.facebook.com/events/235710460476481/
(a few days before the 6 November election).