Monday, January 30, 2012

LGC Newsletter – January 2012


Guantánamo Bay:
Guantánamo Bay had its tenth birthday on Wednesday 11 January. While this was marked by protests, meetings and other actions all over the world, the prisoners themselves chose to mark it with a hunger strike. According to a lawyer of some of the men held there, they also marked it with protests in the communal areas of the illegal prison.
During Prime Minister’s Question Time the day before, David Cameron told the House of Commons, in response to a question put to him, that: “The foreign secretary is working very hard with the United States to try and secure this issue and to bring this chapter to a close” and is seeking the release of Shaker Aamer to the United Kingdom; William Hague discussed the matter with his American counterpart at the end of 2011.

On 17 and 18 January, a military commission hearing was held at Guantánamo Bay in the case of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, for his alleged involvement in the bombing of a US warship off the coast of Yemen in 2000. Al-Nashiri faces the death penalty if convicted and the evidence in his case has in part been obtained through the use of torture, including waterboarding, when he was held at secret CIA facilities as a victim of extraordinary rendition between 2002 and 2004. During the two-day hearing, various motions were put to the judge concerning procedural matters in the case, such as having an open hearing, what evidence is to be used, and issues related to fairness and costs. Observers at this very important case noted that due to the complicated rules of military commissions and the lack of any judicial precedent for the judge to follow, many of these issues remained unresolved after the hearing, which has been set back until April, when these issues will be considered again. Observers from the ACLU concluded that were the trial to be held before a civil court, in such a case where the death penalty may be applied, the proceedings would progress much faster.

On 13 January, a senior Spanish judge reopened an investigation into four cases of torture alleged by prisoners formerly held at Guantánamo Bay. In making his decision, Judge Pablo Rafael Ruz Gutierrez sought additional information, including medical reports, NGO reports, and testimonies from former US military officials. Specific charges have not been brought yet pending further investigation. This case, brought under universal jurisdiction laws, followed a request by the Bush administration to Spain to prosecute a prisoner released to Spain, Lahcen Ikassrien, on terrorism charges. He was tried and convicted; however, the case was later thrown out on appeal as the evidence was unreliable as he had been tortured. He was joined in his complaint by another former Spanish prisoner and two British residents, whose extradition Spain had sought upon their release from Guantánamo Bay in 2007, Jamil El-Banna and Omar Deghayes. As the Obama administration has decided not to prosecute any officials for crimes related to Guantánamo Bay and the wider war on terror under the Bush administration, the Spanish judiciary will instead hold its own investigation.

Following news of official investigations in the UK and Spain, a French investigating magistrate has made an official request to visit Guantánamo Bay as part of an investigation into allegations of torture and abuse by three former French prisoners. Judge Sophie Clement is also seeking all documents concerning procedures and conditions of prisoner treatment relating to the time that they were arrested and held in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The three former prisoners are Mourad Benchellali, Nizar Sassi and Khaled Ben Mustapha. She may also seek to question former and current US military personnel and prosecutions of foreign officials may be brought in France.

On 23 January, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, condemned the US government, on the third anniversary of President Obama’s broken promise to close the illegal jail, for having “entrenched a system of arbitrary detention” and the lack of accountability for human rights violations there. She also condemned the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which “make[s] matters worse”.

A former Algerian prisoner, Abdul Aziz Naji, who was forced to return to Algeria against his will by the Obama administration in 2010 after being cleared for released, has been sent to jail in Algeria following charges brought against him based on the unsubstantiated claims of membership of a terrorist organisation for which he was held at Guantánamo. A guilty verdict was delivered without any evidence being shown and Mr Naji, who is in poor health, was imprisoned. He plans to appeal. Upon return to Algeria in 2010, he “disappeared” immediately for over a week as he was held by the security forces.

Extraordinary rendition:
One of the men, in whose 2004 rendition to Libya the British government was found to be complicit, following documents found by Human Rights Watch in Tripoli in September last year, Abdul Hakim Belhadj, withdrew his participation in the Gibson (Detainee) Inquiry on 6 January. This followed a letter signed by several NGOs including Reprieve, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch asking the Inquiry to rethink its terms and procedures:
On 12 January, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Keir Starmer QC, announced that criminal investigations into the complicity of an intelligence service officer in the torture of Binyam Mohamed and another separate case concerning a prisoner elsewhere would not continue and there will be no prosecutions, due to a lack of evidence, in spite of the seriousness of the allegations.
At the same time, however, they announced that a criminal investigation would be held into the allegations of British intelligence complicity in the rendition to Libya of Abdul Hakim Belhadj and his family and Sami Al-Saadi. Both men who started proceedings to sue the government for its complicity in November are said to be pleased to cooperate with this criminal inquiry. The CPS also announced that it had set up a panel to consider other serious complaints, including one made by Shaker Aamer; officers may seek to question him about it at Guantánamo Bay. Shaker Aamer alleges that a British intelligence officer was present throughout while he was being abused during an interrogation at Bagram. A former Algerian prisoner at Guantánamo Bay, who had lived in the UK, Ahcene Zemeri, has made similar claims and these too will be investigated.
Those to be interviewed by the police as part of these criminal inquiries may include former ministers, such as Jack Straw, and senior civil servants and intelligence officers.
The announcement of the new criminal inquiries and the suspension of the earlier inquiries called into question how much of a delay this would constitute to the proceedings of the Gibson (Detainee) Inquiry; the inquiry cannot start while there are ongoing criminal inquiries into similar matters. As a consequence, on 19 January, the Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke announced in the House of Commons that the Detainee would not be going ahead but that the government is still committed to a judge-led inquiry into the allegations of abuse once these criminal inquiries are concluded. The Detainee Inquiry has been subject to considerable criticism; most of the individuals making the complaints it was to investigate, their lawyers and human rights NGOs had already withdrawn from its proceedings. Nonetheless, an investigation into these matters – one that is effective, transparent, comprehensive and offers remedies to the victims – is vital. As the inquiry has started its preliminary work, it will provide a report of its findings thus far to parliament in due course.

As part of ongoing negotiations between the US and Afghan governments, including concerning the repatriation of Afghan nationals held at Guantánamo Bay, the Afghan president Hamid Karzai has demanded that control of Bagram be handed over to the Afghan authorities. In considering this, the US administration is currently considering releasing the 50 or so non-Afghan nationals (out of a prison population of 2400+) currently held at Bagram, who are mostly Pakistani and Arab. This also comes further to an order by the High Court in London that Pakistani prisoner Yunus Rahmatullah, held without charge or trial since 2004, must be returned to British custody by 14 February. He is likely to be one of the first prisoners to be released.

LGC Activities:
To mark the 10th anniversary of Guantánamo Bay, the London Guantánamo Campaign held a rally on Saturday 7 January at 2-4pm in Trafalgar Square, “Shut Guantánamo – End 10 Years of Shame”, organised with the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign, the Stop The War Coalition and the Campaign Against Nuclear Disarmament: A few hundred people joined the rally and a prisoner parade to represent each of the remaining 171 prisoners was held.

On 11 January, the actual anniversary date, the LGC delivered a petition to the US Embassy, signed by over 400 people, demanding the closure of Guantánamo Bay and the release and return to the UK of prisoners Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha.

On 3 February, at 6-8pm, the LGC will mark the fifth anniversary of its regular “Shut Down Guantánamo!” protest outside the US Embassy with a candlelight vigil. We will be joined by a performance from The Rendition Monologues by Actors for Human Rights and actor Sergio Amigo reading poems by Guantánamo prisoners.

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