Monday, November 01, 2010

LGC Newsletter - October 2010

LGC Newsletter – October 2010


Guantánamo Bay:
The first civil trial of a Guantánamo prisoner was due to start on 6 October in New York. At a hearing on that day, Judge Lewis Kaplan, in the case of Tanzanian Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, accused of involvement in two US Embassy bombings in east Africa in 1998, ruled to prevent a key prosecution witness from giving evidence at the trial, as it was held that he had mentioned Mr. Ghailani when interrogated under duress. The bulk of the admissible evidence against him was to have come from this witness. Mr. Ghailani, 36, who denies all charges against him, was kidnapped and “disappeared” in Pakistan in 2004 and was taken to a CIA secret prison where he was tortured before being taken to Guantánamo Bay in 2006. The court already held that any evidence obtained while he was detained at secret prisons or at Guantánamo Bay is inadmissible. As several other witnesses for the prosecution in the case have died in the 12-year interim period, the US government’s case against him is increasingly weak. The trial was delayed for a week and started again on 12 October. After the jury was sworn in, the trial started with the prosecution accusing Mr. Ghailani of being an Al Qaeda operative intent on killing and his defence team claiming otherwise. The trial, which is expected to last weeks before the jury deliberates on its verdict, may be shorter than was originally anticipated. This is a key case to test how the Obama administration may deal with other prisoners facing charges at Guantánamo Bay through the civilian courts, instead of at a military tribunal. If convicted, Mr. Ghailani faces life imprisonment. Others previously tried and convicted in this case are currently serving life sentences in the US.

Following the postponement of 24-year old Canadian Omar Khadr’s military tribunal in August after his defence lawyer was taken ill, the case was due to resume on 18 October. However, moves have been made recently to reach a plea bargain, whereby Omar Khadr would plead guilty to all charges, including killing a US military officer when he was 15, and then be allowed to serve a shortened sentence in Canada. For this reason, the hearing on 18 October was adjourned again with a sentencing hearing set for 25 October, at which Omar Khadr pleaded guilty to the charges. On 31 October, he was sentenced by a military jury to 40 years’ imprisonment for war crimes. This was apparently a harsher sentence than the prosecution had hoped for. The details of the plea bargain were kept secret from the jury who passed the sentence. Under the plea bargain, Omar Khadr waived his right to challenge the charges or the sentence. Also under the plea bargain, he will only serve one more year in US custody, as the deal ensured that he would not serve more than eight years in total, and he may serve the other seven in Canada. Although not present or represented when the deal was negotiated between the US military and Mr. Khadr’s lawyers, the Canadian government has said, in leaked official documents, that it will consider this matter favourably, i.e. allow Omar Khadr to be repatriated and serve the rest of his sentence there. Omar Khadr’s Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, said after the verdict, that “fundamental principles of law and due process were long since abandoned in Omar’s case” and “We have over 1,200 American soldiers killed in Afghanistan, and we’ve made a 15-year-old boy pay for that” (Source: Vancouver Sun). He also reported that his client had said that he had not expected to get justice at Guantánamo Bay. As in a separate "guilty" plea entered by another prisoner a few months ago, the details of the deal will remain secret and the full evidence against Omar will not be made known. Omar Khadr had rejected a similar plea deal earlier this year. Although it claims to have played no part in negotiating the deal, through, it the Canadian and American governments have both avoided embarrassment over their illegal and abusive treatment of this young man. The US realised that given the circumstances (tortured child soldier) and the weakness of the evidence against him, in a case brought more than eight years after the facts were alleged to have taken place, Omar Khadr would and could not get a fair hearing and US prosecutors would end up looking ridiculous in the process, even though the judge had allowed torture evidence to be admitted in his case. Omar Khadr is still the loser in this process, having lost more than a third of his life so far and his youth in Guantánamo Bay, he is now also a convicted terrorist on the basis of a face-saving plea bargain for the US and Canada. He will not be released until he is at least 32.
A new documentary was released in Canada at the start of the resumption of his trial:
Amnesty International issued the following news after the guilty plea was made public:
Alex Neve, the secretary general of Amnesty Canada has been attending the hearing and updating reports on his blog:
Eight years on, in spite of a change of government and cosmetic improvements to the detention facilities, there is still no interest in justice, due process or the basic rights and dignity of prisoners. Outside of the parallel “justice system” Guantánamo has created, which runs contrary to recognised international law, individuals such as Omar Khadr would never have even been brought to trial, let alone be accused of war crimes. As stated by the LGC when this case started in August this year, its ramifications for other child soldiers, of whom there are up to 500,000 in this world, will be disastrous. The prosecution stating that Mr. Khadr was not a “victim” but a “terrorist”, without providing substantive evidence to back this up, and circumventing the most basic procedures and standards of any criminal trial, henceforth sets a very dangerous precedent.

Estonia decided this month that it would not agree to accept prisoners from Guantánamo Bay. Like the British government, it supports the EU policy of accepting inmates, as various countries, like Ireland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovakia, France, Germany and others have done, but refuses to accept prisoners itself.

In mid-October, former Australian prisoner David Hicks published his book, currently only available in Australia, Guantánamo: My Journey, covering his five-year prison ordeal at Guantánamo from 2002 to 2007. He was released following conviction and served part of his sentence in Australia where he was banned from speaking to the media for one year. The book took two years to write and excerpts from it were published in Adelaide Now:
As well as courting controversy for writing the book, the book is also currently being investigated to see whether it comes under the procedures of crime laws which would make it illegal for Mr. Hicks to profit from his conviction. However, as the process at Guantánamo Bay is illegal, it may not apply. The Australian police and courts are currently considering this issue.

The latest terrorist bomb threat story from Yemen is a further set back for the release of over 80 Yemeni prisoners still held at the prison camp. As well as constituting the single largest nationality of prisoners, most of them are also free to leave if they can find somewhere to go to. Following similar threats in late 2009/early 2010, the US suspended the return of Yemeni prisoners to their country. Only one has been released after the US government was ordered to by a federal court. Recently, the US prevented another prisoner whose release to Luxembourg it was negotiating after the man expressed his wish to return to his country even if he was sent to Luxembourg first. Yemen, which has now been added to the list of most dangerous countries in the world and a sponsor of international terrorism, is one of the poorest countries in the world, with a high infant mortality rate, one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world and where many have to live without the most basic of essentials. The prisoners just want to return to their homes and their families and are now being held hostage at Guantánamo due to world events they clearly have nothing to do with.

Extraordinary rendition:
In early October, Reprieve announced that, along with other human rights NGOs in Pakistan, it was bringing legal action against the Pakistani government in the Lahore High Court on behalf of seven Pakistani nationals held prisoner indefinitely and without charge at Bagram, over its involvement in their kidnap, “rendition” and detention. Some of the prisoners have been held for years, one has been held there since he was 14 and others have been abused; all are held without knowing the reason why. They have limited contact with their families through the Red Cross and no access to lawyers.

In an unusual move, on 28 October, the head of MI6, Sir John Sawers, gave a first public talk about the work of his agency. In it, he stated that the UK was not involved in the use of torture but that it faced a “dilemma” over its use. He claimed that his agency always respects human rights. However, he criticised operational secrets of both the UK security services and foreign partners being made public in court cases, such as in the Binyam Mohamed case. While in the ongoing case brought by former Guantánamo prisoners from the UK, government lawyers urged the judiciary not to interfere in the executive’s role by seeking the disclosure of security secrets, Sawers felt it necessary to tell judges how to do their job by asking them to ban the disclosure of any secret evidence from the UK security services or the CIA. The involvement of the security services and senior officials in various ministries, including ministers, in torture in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, has already been clearly evidenced through the Binyam Mohamed case, the current Guantánamo case and the ongoing Chilcot Inquiry. Sir John Sawers also welcomed the forthcoming Gibson Inquiry into Britain’s involvement in “mistreatment” overseas but asked that any information concerning MI6 be kept confidential.

LGC Activities:
The October monthly Shut Down Guantánamo! on Friday 1 October was attended by 6 people. The next demonstration will be on Friday 5 November at 6-7pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, W1A 1AE.

Many thanks to everyone who wrote to the prisoners released to Slovakia in August/September this year. Below is a message from Reprieve on their behalf. You can continue to write to the three prisoners by writing to Polly Rossdale, c/o Reprieve, PO Box 52742, London, EC4P 4WS:
Adel, Polad and Rafiq, the three men, former Guantanamo prisoners resettled in Slovakia, would like to send their salams and thanks to everyone who kindly sent them cards and letters of support.
It means a lot to them to know that people wish them well, especially after the difficult time they had when they first arrived in Slovakia.
The situation is getting better for them and they are beginning to enjoy their new lives after Guantanamo.
If anyone else would like to write to the men please send letters c/o Polly Rossdale at Reprieve.
Thank you, Chloe and Polly (‘Life After Guantanamo’ team at Reprieve)
For more on this action and the former prisoners in Slovakia:

1 comment:

  1. The first section should read that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani's trial is a "civilian trial" and not a "civil one"; the charges he faces are criminal, however he is being tried before a criminal court and not a military tribunal