Friday, October 31, 2014
In early October, an important court case was held in a US federal court in Washington on the legality of the force-feeding regime for hunger-striking prisoners at Guantánamo Bay. Just days before the hearing before the court in which lawyers for hunger-striking Syrian prisoner Abu Wa’el Dhiab and lawyers for the US government presented their arguments, Judge Gladys Kessler rejected a plea by the US government to have the hearing held in secret on the grounds of national security. She stated in a written ruling that “With such a longstanding and ongoing public interest at stake, it would be particularly egregious to bar the public from observing the credibility of live witnesses, the substance of their testimony, whether proper procedures are being followed, and whether the court is treating all participants fairly”
The judge also ordered that 20 videotapes showing the force-feeding procedure being administered to prisoners be released by the US military. The military only admitted the existence of the tapes earlier in these proceedings but has refused to allow the court to see them.
The hearing started on 6 October, during which his lawyers argued that the force-feeding is a form of torture and not a medical procedure, as claimed by the US administration. They also challenged the violent way in which prisoners are taken and prepared for force-feeding. Although several sessions of the 3-day hearing were held in closed court, important information about hunger strikes at Guantánamo Bay has emerged, such as the fact that six prisoners were on permanent hunger strike between 2007 and the start of the current hunger strike in February 2013, or even longer.
The judge gave the US military until 17 October to release videotapes, however just days before that, it was rumoured that the government might appeal this decision and instead a 30-day extension was given to release the tapes.
Later in October, news organisations added to the pressure for the tapes to be released as did Democrat congressmen Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison in a letter to Barack Obama calling the secrecy surrounding the videotapes “contrary to American laws or values” and stating that “The facts pertaining to these practices at Guantánamo should be available to members of Congress”.
Dhiab was cleared for released in 2009, has never been charged or tried, and is currently awaiting release to Uruguay, as one of six prisoners the country’s government has agreed to accept.
In the military commission case of Saudi Abd Al-Nashiri, a request made in August for an MRI brain scan to see if he has organic brain damage was turned down by Judge Spath on the basis that he felt the medical care at Guantánamo is adequate and a proper administrative request had not been made by his lawyers. He did not mention that the requisite medical equipment was not available at the base.
With new briefs filed by both sides in the case, the next oral hearing in the case will be held on 13 November.
Estonia has agreed to resettle one of the 79 prisoners who have been cleared for release but cannot return home. It did not say which prisoner it would accept and in the past has said it would not take Guantánamo prisoners
On 22 October, the appeal case of Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul, currently serving a life sentence at Guantánamo Bay, was heard by a panel of 3 judges at the DC Circuit Court after it was sent back there following a decision overturning two of his convictions, for material support of terrorism and solicitation in July, for consideration on the outstanding issue of conspiracy. In the original appeal hearing, all three convictions were overturned but the US government was granted a rehearing en banc (by all 7 judges at the court). This panel sent back four issues related to conspiracy to the original panel of judges to consider. During the oral hearing, lawyers for Al-Bahlul argued that the military commission procedure was unconstitutional and discriminatory. If the arguments put forward by his lawyers are accepted, and the conspiracy charge overturned, it would also overturn other convictions and end pending trials, unless appealed at the Supreme Court. A decision is expected in the next few months.
The periodic review board has cleared one Saudi prisoner for release and ordered the continuing detention of another Saudi prisoner. Muhammad Abd Al-Rahman Awn Al-Shamrani, who refused to take part in his review in May, is still considered a risk and was associated with Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. A second man, Muhammad Murdi Issa al-Zahrani, was cleared for transfer. Although several prisoners have been cleared for transfer since the process restarted over the past year or so none of those cleared have been transferred anywhere.
In a court case originally brought against the Canadian government in 2004 when he was still held at Guantánamo Bay, for the Canadian government’s complicity in his abuse, a federal judge in Canada has ruled that Omar Khadr can widen the scope of his original case, suing the Canadian government for $20 million and claim that the Canadian government conspired with the US.
The government has asked for the claims in the case, which was reopened by his lawyers last year, to be dismissed but the judges asked for the new claims to be rewritten rather than rejected. He stated “Whether Canada conspired with foreign officials to violate the fundamental rights of a citizen is not a trivial matter” and that whether or not the conspiracy charge could stand was a matter for the trial judge to decide. He awarded costs in the case to Khadr’s lawyers as the Canadian government had “"considerably increased the costs and delay" of the action by opposing the lawsuit amendments, almost all of which he allowed.”
Although banned from speaking to the media, on 28 October, a week after an attack on a Canadian soldier and proposals to push through strict new security laws by the Canadian government in response, Omar Khadr had his first opportunity to address Canadians in his own words in an op-ed published in the Ottawa Citizen entitled “Khadr: Misguided security laws take a human toll”. In an intelligent and thoughtful article, Khadr states “I will not give up. I have a fundamental right to redress for what I have experienced. But this isn’t just about me. I want accountability to ensure others will be spared the torment I have been through; and the suffering I continue to endure.”
The trial of Abu Anas Al-Libi, who was kidnapped in Libya a year ago and rendered to the US, was due to start in early November. In early October, Al-Libi asked the judge to suppress statements he made between the time he was kidnapped and when he later appeared in the US on that basis that he feels that those statements were coerced. He was not given legal representation, did not know where he was being held and thought he was going to be taken to Guantánamo Bay. As a result, he had signed a form waiving his legal rights, which he has since retracted. He had been told at the time that he would be held and interrogated on the US military ship he was aboard for over four months. Although he does not claim to have been physically tortured, he was under great psychological pressure.
He pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy in the bombing of two US embassies in Africa in 1998, which killed over 200 people. The hearing has now been put back until January 2015 to give defence lawyers additional time to prepare, including evidence from the UK. Al-Libi’s co-defendant Khaled al-Fawwaz was extradited from the UK in October 2012. A third defendant in the case, Adel Abdul Bary, also extradited from the UK in 2012, pleaded guilty in September and faces a sentence of 25 years.
Poland has lodged an appeal against a ruling in July made by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, which found the country complicit in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme, by hosting a torture facility. Prisoners held there included current Guantánamo prisoners Abu Zubaydah and Abd Al-Nashiri. The appeal is reported to be based on procedural grounds.
A Russian prisoner held at Bagram since 2009, known only as “Irek Hamidullan”, has been taken to the US where he is to face a terrorism trial on unspecified charges. He is alleged to have been involved in attacks on Americans prior to his capture. This is the first time a prisoner held in Afghanistan is being taken to the US. He is among a group of 13 foreign nationals known to be held by the US at the Parwan facility at Bagram without charge or trial. In 2015, the US must hand over control of prison facilities to the Afghan authorities.
On 30 October, the Court of Appeal ruled that Abdul Hakim Belhaj and his wife, who were rendered to Libya in 2004 from SE Asia with the assistance of the intelligence services, can sue the UK government. He brought a case against former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who had previously denied any knowledge of his case, and MI6 for complicity in their rendition, which came to light in documents found in a government building in Tripoli following the Arab Spring there in 2011. The High Court had ruled the case could not be heard as it could damage foreign relationships with the US. However, the appeal court judges said a court should hear them. Jack Straw and the government have been given leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The October “Shut Guantánamo!” demonstration was attended by 7 people. The LGC is grateful to London Catholic Worker for joining us at this demonstration. The November demonstration will be at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Marble Arch on Thursday 6th November: https://www.facebook.com/events/558851547591991/
Thanks to Voices for Creative Non-Violence UK for allowing Val Brown to hold a stall to raise awareness about the plight of Guantánamo prisoners at the conference “Afghanistan – The Forgotten War: Britain’s Legacy” on Saturday 11th October. Speakers at the conference focused on Britain’s military legacy and ongoing involvement, including the environmental impact of war and weapons, the ongoing lethal use of drones and the impact financially and on British armed forces. A report of the interesting and successful conference can be read here: http://onesmallwindow.wordpress.com/2014/10/12/britains-legacy-the-forgotten-war-in-afghanistan/
On 16 October, Aisha Maniar joined John Rees on the Islam Channel’s “The Report” news programme to talk about the ongoing hunger strike at Guantánamo Bay and the struggle to release videotapes showing prisoners being force-fed.
Many thanks to students from Queen Mary University of London’s Amnesty Society for inviting us on 21 October to take part in a talk on torture alongside a speaker from Amnesty International UK’s current ongoing campaign on the theme. Aisha Maniar spoke to around 50 students about the history of Guantánamo, now almost in its 13th year of operation, as well as the truth and lies surrounding the prisoners, the legality of Guantánamo detention and the use of torture. Short workshops were also held to discuss some of the issues raised.
On 6th November, the LGC will hold a planning meeting for our January anniversary demonstration at 6:30pm in the café in Friend’s House, Euston Road (opposite Euston station). We are currently in the process of planning its action to mark the 13th anniversary of Guantanamo opening in January 2015 and as usual WE need YOUR help to make it happen. We are holding a meeting on 6 November. Please get in touch or join us if you’d like to be involved.