Tuesday, July 31, 2018

LGC Newsletter – July 2018

Guantánamo Bay
Air Force Colonel Vance Spath, the judge in the Abd Al-Nashiri case, who suspended hearings in the case indefinitely earlier this year and convicted a US national for contempt of court (Marine Brigadier General John Baker from Al-Nashiri’s defence) for the first time ever at Guantánamo is retiring as of November 2018. He has served on the USS Cole case at Guantánamo, in which Abd Al-Nashiri is facing the death penalty for his role in an attack on a naval vessel in the Gulf of Aden in 2000, since 2014.

On 11 July, lawyers for 8 prisoners held indefinitely, as “forever prisoners”, without ever being charged at Guantánamo brought a case before the federal courts asking for a ruling to have them freed as the “forever war" they were held under no longer exists. Some prisoners have been held for almost 17 years by the US without knowing the grounds for their detention, which is as long as sentences served by convicted criminals in serious cases. The judge agreed that the men were trapped in a sort of “no-man’s land” and when he asked the US Justice Department lawyer about the limits of Law of War detention at Guantánamo, the lawyer replied, “we could hold them for 100 years if the conflict lasts 100 years”, indicating that the US government plans to continue holding the men indefinitely and possibly until they die, even though there has never been a lawful basis for their detention. Lawyers for the men argued that the war on terror “is not a traditional war that could end in al-Qaida's "unconditional surrender."” The nature of the war in Afghanistan has changed and the Trump administration has no plans to release anyone, including the five prisoners who have been cleared for release. Lawyers argued that there must be some limits in place governing the detention of these men and that if the men ever had any actual connections to Al Qaeda, that would be a very different organisation to the one existing currently.

Majid Khan, at a hearing ahead of his 2019 sentencing (he was “convicted” in 2012 on the basis of torture evidence), told the war court judge about problems between his lawyers and prosecutors. He called the military commission process a “cluster covfefe”, using Donald Trump’s neologism to describe the “stagnant”, slow-moving process. As part of his plea deal, he agreed to act as a government witness, however as no case has been brought to trial that requires his testimony, his sentencing has been postponed twice. He also complained about the high turnover of court staff and legal representatives.

As pre-trial hearings continued in the case of five men accused of involvement in the September 2001 attacks on New York, it has emerged that the Attorney General Jeff Sessions called Defence Secretary Jim Mattis in October to complain about exploratory talks aimed at a plea deal in the case which would have removed the death penalty from the case, according to defence lawyers who want both men to be ordered to testify before the commission. In February, Mattis then fired the overseer of military commissions, Harvey Rishikoff, who had been secretly exploring the possibility of guilty pleas. Defence lawyers are now seeking that meddling by the Trump administration in the plea negotiations should either result in the case being dismissed entirely or at least the case becoming non-capital.
During the hearing, defence lawyers also argued that remarks made by political leaders all the way back to the Bush administration have undermined the possibility of “finding an impartial jury of U.S. military officers in the death-penalty case.” This includes remarks made by new CIA director Gina Haspel during her Senate confirmation hearings. They asked for charges to either be dismissed or the death penalty being withdrawn “because of alleged unlawful influence”.
Pre-trial hearings in this case will now resume in September.

Saudi prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani had a periodic review board hearing on 24 July, his "first full review since the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia compelled the Department of Defense (DoD) to conduct an independent medical examination of him." He has been diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, deep depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). His lawyers stated that he cannot receive adequate medical treatment at Guantánamo, falling in breach of the standards applied there, and asked for him to be transferred to Saudi Arabia so he can be treated effectively there. They stressed that he does not pose a threat to the USA. Already suffering from mental health problems, he was tortured in US detention which has exacerbated his situation.

The new commander in charge of Guantánamo prison operations, Rear Admiral John Ring, said that he has not received any orders to prepare for new prisoners. He also said that there is no policy on how to handle future prisoners. For example, it is currently up to the existing prisoners whether they wish to participate in interviews. The New York Times has reported that around 1000 ISIS captives from around 50 countries are being held in Syria but there are no plans to move them to Guantánamo. He also stated that “interrogations by a prison intelligence unit are primarily meant to gather intelligence on what is going on in the cell blocks, rather than find out something new from captives who got here between 2002 and 2008.” He also stated that the plans to build a new $69 million prison with specialist medical facilities for ageing prisoners would not proceed in the immediate future as insufficient justification was provided for it and that the current facilities are capable of meeting the existing demand.

Extraordinary rendition
Proving that it has learned nothing from the mistakes made in cooperating with the US over the detention of British nationals and residents at Guantánamo, the British government has recently come under fire after a “secret and unilateral” change to its position on the death penalty concerning two alleged ISIS members captured in Syria who were stripped of their British nationality. The UK has said that it would not oppose the death penalty being applied to them. The change was signalled in a letter sent by Home Secretary Sajid Javid to the US with the knowledge of Prime Minister Theresa May. It has also been criticised by Conservative Party members and is apparently not the first time that the UK has not sought assurances in a death penalty case.

Following legal action by the mother of one of the men to prevent the UK sharing intelligence with the US on the case unless assurances are provided that they will not face the death penalty, and pending the outcome of her judicial review of this policy change, the government has currently suspended cooperation (mutual legal assistance) in the case.
LGC Activities:
The LGC held its monthly Shut Guantánamo! demos outside the US Embassy in Nine Elms on 5 July at 12-2pm for our next monthly demonstration. Our next monthly demo for August is on Thursday 2 August at 12-2pm: https://www.facebook.com/events/631527333900535/  All are welcome to join us.

The London Guantánamo Campaign joined the Guantánamo Justice Campaign and hundreds of thousands of other protesters at the Together Against Trump demonstration in London on 13 July. While sending a message to the UK and US governments to act to close Guantánamo, it was also an important opportunity to remind the public and the media that Guantánamo Bay is indeed still open. Our protest was covered in the Daily Mirror and Independent newspapers.

Friday, June 29, 2018

LGC Newsletter – June 2018

Guantánamo Bay

In November 2017, Marine Brig. Gen. John Baker became the only person to be convicted and confined under Donald Trump at Guantánamo. As the chief defence counsel in the military commission of Abd Al Nashiri, he was convicted of contempt for disobeying an order by the judge when he refused to reinstate three civilian defence lawyers he allowed to leave the case due to an ethical breach, which was later revealed to be that they discovered a microphone hidden in the meeting room where they meet their client months before they resigned. Al Nashiri’s case itself was indefinitely suspended in early 2018 and the lawyers have not been reinstated and have not returned to Guantánamo. A federal judge ruled that the military commission judge in the case, Air Force Col. Vance Spath, lacked the authority to convict and sentence the general and acted unlawfully in his unilateral actions.

While no pre-trial hearings ahead of military commissions were held at Guantánamo in June, periodic review board hearings of “forever prisoners”, which can clear them for release, resumed. On 19 June, Yemeni Abd al-Salam al-Hilah had his second full review before the board. Held at Guantánamo for nearly 14 years and never charged, he pleaded that he no longer presented a “continuing significant threat” to the United States. Information about the hearings has recently become less transparent; while statements by prisoners’ personal representatives and lawyers used to be posted on the website prior to hearings, this is no longer the case. His personal representative said he simply wishes to see his wife and daughter again and live a quiet family life in Yemen.
On 26 June, the periodic review hearing of Afghan prisoner Haroon Al-Afghani was held. He has been held at Guantánamo for over 10 years and has never been charged. He and his lawyer spoke of his plans for the future and his wish to reunite with his family. https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/blog/gtmo-detainees-lawyer-review-process-unlikely-lead-transfer
However, as mentioned by Al-Afghani’s lawyer during the hearing, even if he and other prisoners are cleared by the process, there is no guarantee they will be released. Five prisoners who were cleared for release under the Obama administration remain at Guantánamo as the Trump administration has not sought to comply with the transfer of these prisoners or to seek to return them to their own countries or safe third countries. The outcome of such hearings thus appears largely irrelevant. In addition, under the Trump administration, there is less transparency in the process.

Congress has refused to pay $69 million to construct a new prison to house the defendants in the 9/11-related and other prisoners who were held in various CIA torture jails before being brought to Guantánamo, all of whom have restricted access to the outside world. The plan is to turn the top secret Camp 7 prison into a facility that can accommodate the needs of prisoners who are unlikely to ever be released into old age. The White House was not pleased that this funding request was omitted from this year’s draft defence spending law. Not much is known about Camp 7 and it is shrouded in secrecy, including how much it cost to build. However, funds have been pledged to improve facilities for US military personnel stationed at Guantánamo.

Extraordinary Rendition
Following  a visit on 23 May by Pakistani Consul General Aisha Farooqui to Dr Aafia Siddiqui at the Federal Medical Center in Carswell, Texas, where she is serving her 86-year sentence after being found guilty in 2010 of attempted murder and assault and bearing a firearm when she was emerged after having “disappeared” for several years in Afghanistan, new details have been revealed about her detention and state of health. The visit was prompted by rumours in the Pakistani media that Dr Siddiqui had died. “During her two-hour meeting, Farooqui stated, she saw Dr Aafia’s nervousness and phobias, and fear of everything and everyone at the facility. It was clear that she was afraid of the jail staff, their violations of her privacy, repeatedly confiscation of her things, the rampant threat of physical and sexual abuse and institutionalised rape and bisexuality that she claimed existed at the FMC Carswell.” Dr Siddiqui told her she had no confidence in the New York-based lawyers instructed by her sister Dr Fowzia Siddiqui and wished to return to her previous lawyer Tina Foster. “Aafia also alleged that jail authorities confiscated her belongings. Her phone calls to family members were recorded and monitored. When asked why she did not call her mother in Karachi, Aafia said she didn’t feel comfortable talking to her in the presence of the jail staff.”
On 25 June, following a hearing in early June, the Pakistan Supreme Court rejected a petition by Dr Siddiqui’s family to have her repatriated to serve her sentence in Pakistan. The petition also aimed to introduce a policy on protecting the fundamental rights of Pakistani prisoners abroad. The court said it could not bind a foreign authority – having been asked to order its own government to sign international treaties on the rights and transfer of prisoners – and suggested she take her case to a US court.

On 28 June, the parliamentary intelligence and security committee published the findings of its long-awaited report on the UK’s complicity in rendition and torture after 9/11. The investigation, which was hindered by not being given full information and not being able to conduct important interviews, confirmed a pattern of prisoner abuse by the US with the full knowledge and “tolerance” of the UK authorities, essentially confirming the UK’s wilful complicity in crimes against humanity. Not only was the UK aware, but on at least 13 incidents, UK intelligence officers witnesses torture first hand. On 128 occasions, the UK was told about told but did not act. However, the report’s finding are not a concern as it concluded that “there was not any evidence to indicate "UK agency officers or defence intelligence personnel directly carried out physical mistreatment of detainees".”
References to torture as “mistreatment” and media claims that the full truth has now been revealed demonstrate that the authorities are unapologetic for their wilful abuse of human rights and dignity and that much has been left unsaid. Furthermore, the fact that no policy on rendition has even been devised suggests that the practice may be ongoing.

LGC Activities:
The LGC held its monthly Shut Guantánamo! demos outside the US Embassy in Nine Elms on 7 June at 12-2pm for our next monthly demonstration. Our next monthly demo for July is on Thursday 5 July at 12-2pm: https://www.facebook.com/events/184976262169585/ All are welcome to join us.

On 15 June, the London Guantánamo Campaign joined other NGOs in adding its name to a statement issued as a press release urging Donald Trump to close the Guantánamo Bay prison camp on the 6000th day of its existence. An initiative by journalist Andy Worthington and the Close Guantánamo campaign, the statement says: “Every day that Guantánamo remains open is a black mark against America’s notion of itself as a nation founded on the rule of law, which respects the rule of law. We call on Donald Trump to close it without further delay, and to charge or release those still held.” Full statement and signatories here: https://www.closeguantanamo.org/Articles/293-Today-Marks-6-000-Days-of-Guantanamo-Rights-Groups-Including-Close-Guantanamo-Urge-Donald-Trump-to-Close-It

The London Guantánamo Campaign marked UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture with a vigil outside the US Embassy in solidarity with victims of CIA in particular. Around 20 people attended. Thank you to everyone who joined us.