Thursday, October 31, 2013
An appeal case, involving British residents Shaker Aamer and Ahmed Belbacha, was heard on 18 October against the use of force feeding of hunger strikers at Guantánamo Bay. They, and a third prisoner, argued that the procedure is "inhumane, degrading and a violation of medical ethics”, as well as being illegal. The Department of Defense has also reported that the two men are no longer on hunger strike. Fourteen other prisoners are reported to still be on hunger strike.
Ali Hamza Al Bahlul, a Yemeni prisoner convicted with a life sentence by a Guantánamo military tribunal in November 2008 for conspiracy, soliciting murder and providing material support for terrorism, had a retrial of his case, after his conviction was overturned on appeal in January 2013. The one day hearing of legal arguments on 30 September saw some of the previous arguments concerning whether conspiracy and material support for terrorism are war crimes expanded. It is likely that even if the US government wins the case in the retrial, the case will go to the Supreme Court where Al Bahlul may succeed in having his conviction overturned once and for all. The outcome of his case will have serious consequences for the ongoing 9/11 trial at Guantánamo and appeals by other prisoners who have been convicted.
The US government has dropped its objection to a habeas corpus plea and a judge has ordered that Sudanese prisoner Ibrahim Idris be released. Idris, who is schizophrenic, was diagnosed with mental illness shortly after his arrival at Guantánamo Bay. This has not prevented the US from holding him without charge or trial for nearly 12 years. The US government finally conceded that “he is far too sick” to continue being held at Guantánamo. He also suffers from various other illnesses and has spent most of his time there in the psychiatric ward.
On 7 October, following recent positive measures by the Kuwait government, including a meeting between the Emir of Kuwait and Barack Obama on the two remaining Kuwaitis in Guantánamo Bay, Fawzi Al-Odah and Fayiz Al-Kandari, the two men have decided to withdraw a lawsuit in Kuwait to sue the government there for failing to take action on their behalf. The Kuwaiti government has recently made the release of these two men, held without charge or trial, a priority.
Paul M Lewis, a senior White House lawyer, was appointed a special envoy for Guantanamo Bay closure at the Pentagon on 8 October, a position he assumes from 1 November. He will work alongside Clifford Sloan, his counterpart at the State Department on this issue and the transfer of prisoners held in Afghanistan. In spite of new promises made by Barack Obama earlier this year, progress has been slow on releasing prisoners and reviewing their cases. www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/oct/8/hagel-appoints-envoy-closing-guantanamo-bay/
On 9 October, the Department of Defense announced that it was relaunching its periodic review of the cases of prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay http://www.lawfareblog.com/2013/10/relaunch-of-the-gtmo-periodic-review-boards/
Following a hearing last month, an Edmonton judge has ruled against the transfer of Omar Khadr to a provincial jail. He is currently being held at a maximum security prison, and will not have the opportunity for parole, even though he would otherwise have been eligible in March. Lawyers for Khadr had argued that he was illegally being held as an adult for offences committed as a minor. In a clearly political ruling, the judge said that his decision was not about “a number of matters” that included a conviction before a military tribunal whose judgments even the US federal courts do not agree with and a conviction obtained through the use of torture.
In the ongoing 9/11 case at Guantánamo Bay, in which pre-trial hearings resumed on 21 October, issues about the use of torture in procuring evidence were raised. One of the defendants claims he suffers ongoing pain and illness as a result of the torture he was subjected to. Other issues related to torture were also raised. Lawyers for the men are also seeking the declassification of CIA documents and records concerning their clients, without which they claim they cannot mount an effective defence. Earlier in the month, the judge said that he would not allow technological issues to set back the trial. The next pre-trial hearing in the case of Abd Al-Nashiri has been set back to December, although it should have been held in early November.
The appeal against the conviction of former Guantánamo prisoner, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the only prisoner to be tried before a civil court in New York, for his involvement in the bombing of two US Embassies in east Africa in 1998, was dismissed. He was convicted in 2010, and was held in secret prisons where he was tortured before arriving at Guantánamo in 2006. He claimed that the delay in bringing him to trial and the conditions of his detention prior to trial denied him the right to a speedy trial. His lawyer has said he will appeal to the Supreme Court.
The Yemeni Foreign Minister Abu Bakr Al-Qirbi has reported that Yemen is planning to build a rehabilitation centre for any prisoners returned from Guantánamo Bay and laid the blame for delays in the return of prisoners on the US and what it expected for prisoners to be returned home.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has demanded to know what measures the US has taken to address the demands of prisoners on hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay, and has found the response to be a “systematic violation of human rights”. The Commission has not been able to meet prisoners but is hoping to investigate further why the US government has failed to take action to close Guantánamo. It condemned the force feeding of prisoners as cruel and inhumane treatment.
Having been asked last month to reopen its investigations into torture prisons run for the CIA, particularly in respect to the torture faced by Mustafa Al-Hawsawi, one of the current defendants in the 9/11 case before the Guantánamo military tribunal, the Lithuanian authorities have again refused to investigate allegations of torture, in spite of new evidence having come to light, claiming that “that they [human rights NGOs] had failed to “prove” that al-Hawsawi was transported to Lithuania between 2004 and 2006, and illegally detained and tortured there”, even though it is the public prosecutor’s job to do that. The rejection letter from the public prosecutor was dated just one day after a meeting with European human rights NGOs on the matter.
Demonstrating that the US practice of extraordinary rendition is still very much alive and operational, on 5 October, an alleged Al Qaeda operative known as Abu Anas Al Libi was kidnapped in broad daylight in Tripoli by US army forces with the assistance of the FBI and the CIA. Operating outside of the law when kidnapping a foreign national in a foreign state, although the Libyan government denies any knowledge of and has not disputed this breach of its sovereignty, he was then held on board a US warship, the USS San Antonio, in the Mediterranean Sea. Having “disappeared” briefly during this time, he may well have been tortured, although no details have emerged of his treatment. He was then brought to court in New York on 15 October and indicted on charges related to terrorism, to which he pleaded not guilty. Questions remain unanswered about the illegal manner in which the US chose to proceed. Britain may well have a role to play in the matter after it emerged that Al-Libi was given asylum in the UK, even though he has been on the US’ “10 most wanted” list since 2001. The kidnapping in Libya was parallel to a failed similar operation in Somalia.
The European Parliament has again, in a new resolution, called on member states to end impunity for involvement in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme. MEPs stated that they were “highly disappointed” by the lack of response by states to a resolution last year demanding that states take action. The EU Parliament wants its own powers to investigate to be reinforced and “The resolution makes specific calls on Lithuania, Romania, Poland, the UK, Italy, Finland, France, Sweden, Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Latvia and Slovakia. For example, it asks the UK authorities to establish a "human-rights-compliant inquiry" into the rendition, torture and ill-treatment of detainees abroad.”
Following Poland’s failure to make progress in the investigation of torture and torture facilities in the country, two cases have been referred to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg by current Guantánamo prisoners Abu Zubaydah and Abd Al-Nashiri, both currently facing trial at Guantánamo. The court, demonstrating to its members how speedily justice should be administered, will hear the cases on 2-3 December. Poland, however, has asked for the trial to be heard in secret to protect its interests.
At the end of this month, Poland granted “injured person” status to a third prisoner who was held at a secret CIA-run prison there, Walid Bin Attash, who is currently held at Guantánamo Bay. This is a positive step as “Under Polish law an “injured person” may review files as well as make a complaint concerning refusal to disclose documents. He has also the right to challenge delays in the proceedings.”
On 21 October, a case was heard at the High Court in London concerning the British government’s involvement in the rendition in 2004 from Malaysia to Libya of Libyan politician Abdel Hakim Belhadj and his wife Fatima Bouchar, who was pregnant at the time. The British government argued that the case should be thrown out as it could damage US-UK relations and may seek to have parts of the case heard in secret under the Justice and Security Act 2013, which would exclude both Belhadj and the public from knowing those parts of the case. Allegations made by Belhadj and his family were confirmed after documents demonstrating MI6’s direct involvement were found in Tripoli following the fall of the Gaddafi regime.
The October monthly “Shut Down Guantánamo!” demonstration was held on 3 October. Three people joined the protest which coincided with National Poetry Day and poems were read out by Val Brown, Dan Viesnik and Noel Hamel by the Shaker Aamer, his children, and Talha Ahsan.
The November demonstration will be at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, opposite Marble Arch, Hyde Park, on Thursday 7 November: https://www.facebook.com/events/195115897339394/
The London Guantánamo Campaign contributed to a conference on the future of Afghanistan after the withdrawal of foreign powers in 2014. In the afternoon, Aisha Maniar, Val Brown and Noel Hamel from the LGC held two workshops on torture prisons and extraordinary rendition relating to Afghanistan and beyond which were well attended and at which a good discussion was held on the issues involved.
The International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims (IRCT) has published its annual report of actions across the globe to mark International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on 26 June. Please turn to page 29 of the report to see our contribution in London: