The first military commission under President Obama started on 9 November. Abdul Rahim Al-Nashiri, a 46-year old Saudi national, accused of involvement in the 2000 attack on a US warship, the USS Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 sailors and injured 40 others, was arraigned before a tribunal at Guantánamo Bay, where the charges against him were read out. President Obama had, at the beginning of his term as president, suspended the use of military commissions as both the proceedings and the evidence cases are based on are dubious. Indeed, in Al-Nashiri’s case, which could see him subject to the death penalty ten years after he was kidnapped and detained, evidence was obtained through the use of waterboarding. Al-Nashiri is one of three Guantánamo prisoners the CIA admitted to having used this torture method on in 2009. He also spent four years at secret CIA prisons around the world before being taken to Guantánamo; he previously said he had only confessed to the charges due to the torture. Some media, families of the victims and human rights NGO observers were allowed to attend the hearing. The charges read out included murder and terrorism-related offences concerning this attack and two others in 2000 and 2002. Al-Nashiri told the court that he wished to continue being represented by both his military and civilian lawyers and decided not to plead guilty or innocent to the charges until a later date. The judge set a trial date for November 2012, which is likely to fall after the US presidential elections. Mr Al-Nashiri’s trial, the first under Obama’s revamped system, is likely to raise many questions about the treatment of prisoners, the status of the prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay and other related issues. If convicted, in a trial which is likely to take years, Al-Nashiri faces the death penalty, and if acquitted, under the current rules of the American administration, he could be held perpetually without conviction.
The debate over provisions in the US law concerning military funding for the coming year, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which include measures which would legalise “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding, perpetuate the detention of prisoners at Guantánamo and give preference to military tribunals over civilian trials for Guantánamo prisoners and individuals suspected of terrorism offences caught by the US both at home and abroad, has now moved to the Senate (equivalent to the House of Lords). A proposal has been put forward by Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte to favour military tribunals and not subject suspects to criminal procedures before civilian courts, moving the definition of terrorism officially from being a criminal act to being an act of war. The standards of proof and procedure before criminal courts are far higher and fairer. As demonstrated by the Al-Nashiri case above as well, the standards and procedures in current military tribunals are still being tested out. Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and 30 other human rights and civil liberties NGOs in the United States sent a letter to the Senate asking senators to oppose the amendments proposed by Congress and to prevent these measures being passed: http://www.aclu.org/blog/national-security/seriously-senate-considering-repeal-anti-torture-measures President Obama has the right to veto the bill, to prevent these measures being passed, and has already threatened to do so.
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204753404577064281921470006.html#articleTabs%3Darticle Contrary to his early promises as president, President Obama in his first term as president has backtracked completely on his campaign pledge to close Guantánamo. Instead, over the past few years, his government has acted to legalise and perpetuate the illegal detention of prisoners at Guantánamo Bay, in addition to not acting to repeal extraordinary rendition, a 1995 policy introduced by the Bill Clinton government, and has allowed facilities like Bagram to swell to over four times the size they were prior to his presidency and for the US to retain control over prisons it runs in Afghanistan after the handover of control to the Afghan authorities. Ten years on, instead of moving forward on Guantánamo, the American government is moving backwards into a time before law and legality. A recent Miami Herald article claimed Guantánamo Bay was the most expensive prison in the world to run, where the average cost of keeping one prisoner without charge or trial for one year far exceeds the cost of a full undergraduate degree in the United States, where university education is also notoriously expensive. http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/11/08/2493042/guantanamo-bay-the-most-expensive.html
British resident in Guantánamo Bay, Shaker Aamer, has now spent over 10 years in illegal American detention without charge or trial. According to the legal charity Reprieve, Mr Aamer’s physical and mental health is rapidly deteriorating with his prolonged detention. Renewed demands have been made for his release to the British government.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Mendez, has expressed concerns about the transparency and openness of the upcoming Detainee (Gibson) Inquiry. While commending the government for holding an inquiry, he is concerned that the restrictions placed on it will not allow the truth of what the intelligence services have been involved in to come to light.
Amnesty International UK has recently launched a new campaign calling on the government to rethink the structure of the Inquiry. Take action by writing to the Prime Minister at:
Eight people joined the November Shut Down Guantánamo! demonstration on Friday 4 November. The December demonstration will be held on Friday 2 December at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy, Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park (opposite Marble Arch).Please join us for the last demonstration this year and please note that there is NO monthly demonstration in January. Please watch out for details of our January action shortly instead.
This month’s action: http://www.facebook.com/#!/events/215928415146600/
After the November demonstration, some activists took the word down to the Occupy London Stock Exchange camp next to St Paul’s Cathedral. The following is a statement given by the activists about why Guantánamo must close: http://thevoicesfromoccupylondon.tumblr.com/post/12564430048/london-guantanamo-bay-campaign-4-november-2011