Tuesday, June 26, 2018
UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture
the London Guantánamo Campaign invites you to a
VIGIL IN SOLIDARITY WITH VICTIMS OF CIA TORTURE
With speakers and open mic
Tuesday 26 June 2018, at 6.30-8pm
On 18 May, Donald Trump’s pick for new CIA chief Gina Haspel was confirmed in the position in spite of her role in running a secret CIA torture prison as part of the extraordinary rendition (kidnap and torture) programme. No officials have ever been prosecuted for their role in post-9/11 torture; instead, they are being promoted. Haspel faces being prosecuted for war crimes if she travels to Europe.
Under the guise of the “war on terror”, the CIA has been involved in torture in many countries across the world, running secret torture facilities in Europe, Asia and Africa, and not-so-secret facilities at Bagram in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib in Iraq. This was only possible with the complicity of many states worldwide, including the UK.
The CIA’s history of the use of torture, human experimentation and other forms of violence is as old as the spy agency itself, with a history of running and participating in a global torture programme against leftists, nationalists and other Cold War "enemies" throughout Latin America and other parts of the world.
Torture does not work and is illegal. It is a tool to break individuals and intimidate communities. While survivors have to live with the consequences of their ordeal and the scars others cannot see for the rest of the lives, the CIA is remorseless and indifferent to the suffering it has caused.
Take a stand: the LGC has marked this important occasion each year since 2010 and invites you to join us to stand in solidarity with victims worldwide on this day.
For more details, e-mail email@example.com or call 07809 757 176
Thursday, May 31, 2018
Pre-trial hearings at the Guantánamo Bay military commissions do not take place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan; thus, brief hearings took part prior to Ramadan in early May and will resume again in late June.
During the pre-trial hearing in early May, lawyers for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, one of five men accused of involvement in attacks on New York in September 2001, demanded more and better tests funded by the government to ascertain the extent of the brain damage he suffered while held in secret CIA prisons. Proof of brain damage could spare him from facing the death penalty. In a March memo, his lawyers wrote “that MRI scans conducted at Guantánamo on Jan. 31 were flawed, and missing 75 percent of the data their experts sought. But the limited data shows "evidence of head injuries consistent with the physical trauma suffered by Mr. Mohammed and documented in the SSCI Executive Summary," the so-called torture report produced by the Senate intelligence committee in 2014 that condemned the spy agency's Black Site program.”
Lawyers for Sheikh Mohammed also sought to have death penalty case, if not the whole case, dismissed on the ground that controversial remarks by Donald Trump in his tweets had “unlawful influence”. Having tweeted, concerning more recent attacks on New York, that he wanted the defendant to receive the death penalty, lawyers contended this could prejudice the jury when the 9/11 case goes to trial.
In the case of Abd Al Nashiri, facing the death penalty in a separate case, which has been stalled since late 2017, when his civilian legal team quit after discovering their confidential communications were being spied upon, a federal court ordered “instructed the Justice Department to submit top-secret information about suspected eavesdropping on attorney-client meetings at Guantánamo”. The case concerns whether two of the lawyers are allowed to quit the case. The case has been on hold since February after the judge froze proceedings to seek guidance from a superior court over his powers and those of the court.
However, the court then dropped the inquiry into spying on confidential lawyer-client meetings using listening devices that the lawyers had found in their meeting rooms. The two lawyers, who were also seeking to appeal and find out from the court whether the military commission judge can force them to represent the client even though they quit on ethical grounds, were told they can represent themselves before the US Court of Military Commissions Review. They had previously not been allowed to.
Following an executive order by Donald Trump at the end of January to Defense Secretary James Mattis to define the US’ policy on the transfer of new prisoners to Guantánamo Bay, the 90-day deadline given expired in early May. The Pentagon announced that Mattis had sent the White House his recommendations but so far no details have been disclosed. The announcement was made shortly after Mattis told journalists “right now I'm not working that issue”.
There are currently 40 prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay. On 2 May, Saudi prisoner Ahmed Al Darbi, 43, was returned to Saudi Arabia to serve the rest of his sentence imposed by a military commission at Guantánamo. He is the first and only prisoner to be transferred by Donald Trump. Al Darbi was arrested in Azerbaijan in June 2002 and rendered to US custody in Afghanistan in late 2002. He was tortured physically, mentally and sexually into confessing his involvement in terrorist activities. In 2014, he pleaded guilty as part of a plea bargain whereby he would provide testimony against other prisoners facing trial. He was sentenced to 13 years, which he will serve in Saudi Arabia, at least offering him the opportunity to see his wife and children. He is likely to be freed in 2027. He was originally due to be returned in February.
On 10 May, the UK government issued an apology, which was read out in the House of Commons, to Libyan rendition survivors Abdul Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar, who were kidnapped in southeast Asia in 2004 and “rendered” to torture in Libya with the help of MI6. In an unusual statement, Prime Minister Theresa May said the couple had suffered “appalling treatment”. They will also receive a £500,000 pay out although they have not claimed compensation. At the same time, the UK still claims not to have any liability for what happened to the couple and further details of the UK’s actual involvement have not been released.
Gina Haspel has been appointed the new director of the CIA. Haspel had run a CIA torture facility in Thailand in 2002 under the extraordinary rendition programme. When questioned by senators about her role there and her views on torture, she was evasive. Nonetheless she received enough support to take the top position in the US spy agency.
On 31 May, the European Court of Human Rights found Lithuania and Romania complicit in running secret CIA torture facilities. A complaint brought by Guantánamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah against Lithuania found that between 2005 and 2006 the state had hosted a secret CIA torture prison, knew he was being tortured there and then allowed him to be transferred to further torture elsewhere. Abd Al Nashiri, currently facing the death penalty at Guantánamo successfully sued Romania for holding him for 18 months at a CIA detention facility called Detention Site Black it ran between 2003 and 2005. The court found both states guilty of multiple rights’ abuses and ordered the states to pay the respective victims €100,000 each.
The LGC held its third monthly Shut Guantánamo! demos outside the US Embassy in Nine Elms in May. Here is a video of our action:
Please join us on 7 June at 12-2pm for our next monthly demonstration. The address is 33 Nine Elms Ln, London SW11 7US, nearest underground: Vauxhall. More details available at: https://www.facebook.com/events/954230551413655/ All are welcome to join us.
Tuesday, May 01, 2018
Congress and two presidents hav[ing] said so
Ahead of pre-trial hearings resuming, on 30 April, in the case of five men accused of involvement in terrorist attacks in New York in September 2001, a lawyer for one defendant, Ammar Al-Baluchi, asked “a military judge to order the prison to permit the public release of art he makes in his cell” at Guantánamo. Lawyer Alka Pradhan and her team filed a pleading “accusing the Department of Defense of violating the captive’s rights by making it more difficult for him to draw and paint and by blocking him from giving his artwork to his attorneys”. Producing the artwork is therapeutic for Al-Baluchi who was severely tortured by the US in secret jails over a number of years before he was brought to Guantánamo. The ban on the release of his work was imposed in November 2017 when a watercolour he made was included as part of a New York City art exhibition of prisoners’ artworks.
Another defendant, Ramzi bin Al Shibh, spent at least two weeks this month being held in an isolation cell with no bed or running water, with only a prayer mat and a Qur’an and access for one hour a day to legal material “as punishment for protesting conditions in his Guantánamo confinement”. His lawyer reported that “He's in really, really bad shape” and that being placed in isolation was re-traumatising him. Since being placed in isolation on 12 April, he has been on hunger strike, accepting only water. He is since reported to have been returned to his normal cell, with the punishment having ended, but is still on hunger strike. Al Shibh told his legal team that he was “punished for shouting at his guards, at one point scratching the lens of his cell’s monitoring camera and for putting stones in his toilet to cause another captive's toilet to overflow”.
Two Libyan prisoners released to Senegal in April 2016 have been sent back to Libya on 4 April by the Senegalese authorities. Prior to their return, one of the men, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr, had told his lawyer that he fears for his life if returned there. The two men were granted humanitarian asylum by the West African country in 2016 but since early 2018 it has been threatening to deport them. Since their reported return to Libya, a country overrun by militias since the US-led war in 2011, both men have “disappeared”. The other man, Salem Abdul Salem Ghereby, who has a wife and children in Libya, had expressed his wish to return there.
According to the NGO Cage, Ghereby was being held at Mitiga airbase in Tripoli whereas Omar Khalifa was detained in Senegal following a failed attempt to deport him. There have been no official reports of their whereabouts or of who is holding either of the men.
It should be recalled that both men were released by the Obama administration which also started the bombing of Libya which has led to the current deterioration of the security situation in the country.
On 13 April, Saudi prisoner Ahmed al Darbi had his sentencing hearing after he pleaded guilty to war crimes in a plea bargain deal in February 2014. Al Darbi was tortured into confessing involvement in the bombing of ships in the Arabian Sea after 9/11. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison, which began to run as of the time of his trial and not since he was seized in 2002; he could thus be released in 2027. He has been due to be returned to his native Saudi Arabia since February to serve the rest of his sentence there. This was the first sentencing hearing at Guantánamo since 2011.
Lawyers for Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, who says his real name is Nashwan al Tamir, have protested a potential trial timetable for mid-2019, saying they have not had enough time to prepare and that the defence team is subject to change. He was one of the last prisoners to be brought to Guantánamo and is facing non-capital charges but faces the prospect of a life sentence.
Macedonia has issued a formal apology to Khaled El Masri, the German citizen of Lebanese origin in whose rendition it assisted in 2003. He was detained in the country while on holiday and was interrogated for more than 3 weeks. He was accused of being a member of Al Qaeda before being handed over the CIA who then took him to Afghanistan and tortured him before releasing him in rural Albania months later.
In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Macedonia to pay him compensation of €60,000 after the country was found to have breached his human rights. However, the country has never investigated the crimes and no one has been held to account.
On the other hand, both the US and Germany have remained silent. Current German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier refused to apologised when asked to during his election campaign last year; in 2005, he came under fire for suppressing information the German government had at the time on his case and acting too slowly on it. The US itself quickly realised it had the wrong man.
Furthermore, Germany has failed to provide him with adequate rehabilitation and medical support. Since his return to Germany, El Masri has been arrested and jailed several times for violent behaviour, which has been linked to his untreated torture trauma.
In a letter, the Scottish Lord Advocate James Wolffe has suggested that a police investigation into torture flights through Scotland may continue until the US hands over a full unredacted copy of the US Senate committee Torture Report, which has been requested by the Scottish authorities but has not been acquiesced.
On 20 April, a federal judge prevented attempts by the Trump administration to transfer a US citizen accused of fighting with ISIS in Syria to Saudi Arabia. The unidentified man has been held without charge since he surrendered to the US over 7 months ago. He will remain at a US military detention facility in Iraq for now. The man is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which argued “that any transfer would violate the detainee's constitutional and legal rights because the government has not charged him or proved that it legally detained him in the first place”.
The LGC held its second monthly Shut Guantánamo! demos outside the US Embassy in Nine Elms in April. This demo was in solidarity with the Iraqi people 15 years after the war there started. Please join us on Thursday 3 May at 12-2pm for our next monthly demonstration. The address is 33 Nine Elms Ln, London SW11 7US, nearest underground: Vauxhall. More details available at: https://www.facebook.com/events/192571218047863/ All are welcome to join us.
Thursday, March 29, 2018
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has declared that the US’ detention of Pakistani national Ammar Al-Baluchi, one of five defendants accused of involvement in the September 2001 attacks in New York, is “arbitrary, breaches international human rights law and has no legal basis”. In a written statement by five independent experts, his detention was called “discriminatory” and the legal process he and his four co-defendants are subject to before the military commission system was slammed for not granting the defendants the same facilities to prepare their case as the prosecution, denying them a fair trial on the basis of nationality and religion. The experts stated that his detention “contravened at least 13 articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights”. The Working Group further stated that “systematic imprisonment in violation of the rules of international law may constitute crimes against humanity”.
The reason that led three civilians lawyers to leave the USS Cole bombing case at Guantánamo in October last year, throwing the military commission system into further disarray, was disclosed in a 15-page prosecution file to the court obtained by the Miami Herald newspaper in early March, which stated that the lawyers discovered “a microphone in their special client meeting room and were denied the opportunity to either talk about or investigate it”. The court filing to the US Court of Military Commissions Review was signed by the chief prosecutor, with the prosecution claiming that the microphone had been placed there previously but was not in use. The case is aimed at getting a review panel to order the resumption of the case and was brought by the defendant Abd Al-Nashiri’s sole remaining defence lawyer at the end of last month. The case was adjourned in February when the judge asked for a higher court “to clarify his authority as a judge in the Guantánamo war court.” The resignation of the lawyers left Yemeni Abd Al-Nashiri without a capital defender in a case where he faces the death penalty for his alleged involvement in the death of 17 US soldiers in a suicide bomb attack in 2000 off the Gulf of Aden. However, lawyers and NGOs have questioned that if the issue was simply an error, then why has it been kept as a national security secret for months, and has prompted them to ask what else is being kept secret. The resigning lawyers were not allowed to reveal why they had resigned, and they claim that there is more to the issue than has been revealed.
Two of the defence lawyers have stated that several important details were missing from the account given in the court filing. They said that there was no sign that the microphone was no longer connected and contended that the government has never previously provided that explanation in the five months since they resigned. One of the lawyer, death penalty-specialist Richard Kammen stated, “This was the first we heard the claim, and that’s part of the reason we don’t believe it’s true”. He also stated that the defence team was already suspicious that its communication with its client was being monitored following a previous incident, which is also classified. At one stage, the judge dismissed the lawyers’ concerns about monitoring and snooping into their communications as “fake news”.
In the case involving five men accused of involvement in the 2001 attacks in New York, the judge in the case said that he would “order Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to explain in writing why he suddenly fired the top official overseeing the war court”. The reasons for the 5 February dismissal of Harvey Rishikof, the Convening Authority for Military Commissions, and his legal advisor Gary Brown were not disclosed. The judge stated that “We simply need to know why they were terminated”. There is concern that Rishikof was fired for attempting to negotiate a deal for the five defendants.
The Pentagon is planning to demolish Camp X-Ray, the long emptied notorious camp from which images of prisoners kneeling and behind fences in orange jumpsuits emerged in the early days of Guantánamo. Controversy has arisen over this move with some claiming it should remain open as a testimony to this sinister chapter of US history. The Justice Department, however, claimed in a letter to Guantánamo lawyers that “the FBI has created an interactive, simulated three-dimensional, digital virtual tour of Camp X-Ray that shows all areas of the camp where detainees were held, interrogated, or otherwise present."
The prison opened on 11 January 2002 with the arrival of the first 20 prisoners and was declared closed in late April 2002, however since then several prisoners have since reported being abused there after that date. One prisoner, Saudi Mohammed Al-Qahtani, who could not be prosecuted because of the torture he was subjected to said “he was tortured at Camp X-Ray with sleep deprivation, growling dogs, sexual abuse, forced nudity, harsh shackling and beatings”.
Saudi prisoner Ahmed Al-Darbi who pleaded guilty to war crimes in a secret plea deal following years of torture, and more recently provided recorded evidence in two cases against other prisoners, was due to be returned to Saudi Arabia by 20 February under the terms of the plea deal, however he remains at Guantánamo to date. In a letter, he hit out at the Saudi government for delaying his release, claiming that it has never done anything to help him and did not even provide him with a lawyer. He stated, “And now my own government is an obstacle to my repatriation. What kind of country abandons its citizens in the custody of another government for 16 years? My country won’t take a step that was agreed on four years ago so that I can finally go home. It’s been my daily dream for four years to see my wife and children”. According to his lawyer, Al-Darbi submitted his transfer request shortly after he was sentenced in August 2017 and the terms for his repatriation had been negotiated after he pleaded guilty in 2014.
Following a visit to Washington by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the Pentagon announced that the repatriation process was on track, yet he remains at Guantánamo.
In 2014, Al-Darbi, following years of physical, sexual and psychological torture at Guantánamo and elsewhere pleaded guilty to a small role in a 2002 attack against a French-flagged oil tanker of the coast of Yemen. He agreed to cooperate with the US authorities on the basis he would be repatriated after 4 years. In 2017, he was sentenced to 13 years in jail, the remainder of which he is due to serve in Saudi Arabia.
Lawyers for Yemeni prisoner Moath Al-Alwi were at a federal appeals court on 20 March to deal with the issue of the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, more than 15 years after the war in Afghanistan began. Al-Alwi previously posed the question to the courts under the Obama administration where the judge responded that the question of when the war ends, or has ended, is at the discretion of the president; in 2014, Obama had declared the end of hostilities in Afghanistan, although the warfare continued. With Trump’s stated plans to keep Guantánamo open and possibly expand it, the case has new importance.
The arguments in the case hinged on whether the conflict in Afghanistan now is still the same one Al-Alwi was captured in over 16 years ago and whether the US government can still hold him legally.
The arguments in the case can be read and listened to here: https://lawfareblog.com/summary-courtroom-al-alwi-v-trump-oral-argument
The Ghanaian Parliament has ratified the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the Ghanaian and US government on defence cooperation which will allow the US military to open a military base in the country and operate on a tax-free basis. The Ghanaian government claims the deal is beneficial for the country and has denied that it is in any way linked to the agreement made with the US to accept two former Guantánamo prisoners, although it is not unknown for the US to offer trade deals and funds to poorer countries that agree to host Guantánamo prisoners who have no safe country to return to. In January, the Ghanaian government granted the two Yemeni prisoners it accepted in 2016 refugee status.
In a case that will have serious repercussions for the prosecution of European states for the use of torture, and possibly their involvement in extraordinary rendition, in a review of the key 1978 case UK v Ireland, in which the European Court of Human Rights deemed detention practices, such as hooding, stress positions, sleep deprivation, etc. carried out by the British military against Irish republicans in Northern Ireland were inhuman and degrading treatment but not torture, the Court once again upheld this decision. It decided that new evidence presented by the Irish government was not tantamount to torture. These torture techniques have since been used by the US and British armies in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. They were later banned in the UK. The decision was a blow for survivors, many of whom continue to suffer as a result of the treatment they received when detained without trial by the British army in the 1960s and 1970s.
Confirmation of the nomination of Gina Haspel as head of the CIA has raised a lot of controversy, given her past involvement in running secret CIA prisons, in particular the first black site in Thailand, and thus she oversaw the use of torture at such sites. As much about the extraordinary rendition programme remains obscure, the extent of her involvement is unknown. An arrest warrant was put out for her by a German NGO due to her involvement in war crimes and crimes against humanity and she is thus unable to travel to the EU. Human rights NGOs have asked for her to be prosecuted instead and politicians in the US have asked for full disclosure of her role.
The LGC held its first monthly Shut Guantánamo! demos outside the new Nine Elms US Embassy in March. It was well attended in spite of the features of the new embassy that are intended to deter protest. Our second protest there will be in solidarity with the Iraqi people 15 years after the war started there with the US invasion, backed by its allies, including the UK. Please join us on Thursday 5 April at 12-2pm The address is 33 Nine Elms Ln, London SW11 7US, nearest underground: Vauxhall. More details available at: https://www.facebook.com/events/157022028258385/ All are welcome to join us.