Friday, February 27, 2015
The last British resident held at Guantánamo entered his 14th year of detention there without charge or trial on 14 February; Shaker Aamer, a Saudi national, who has a British family in south London, has been cleared for release on several occasions since 2007.
Following a meeting between David Cameron and Barack Obama in Washington last month, the US president said he would prioritise Aamer’s case, however as Aamer marked his 13th anniversary at Guantánamo, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel admitted that his case was not a priority and was not on his desk. This is in spite of the special relationship between the US and the UK and growing concerns following a law tabled and passed by the US Senate to prevent any more prisoners being released before the next US election at the end of 2016.
On 14 February, more than 100 people joined the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign at a protest it held to mark 13 years of Shaker Aamer being held at Guantánamo without charge or trial. The demonstration started at around midday with a colourful display opposite the Houses of Parliament and stopped traffic in Parliament Square and on Westminster Bridge as it progressed to Downing Street. Short speeches were given opposite Downing Street and a letter was delivered to the Prime Minister’s residence at the end of the demonstration. Media of the demonstration:
On 4 February, a 38-year old Yemeni prisoner, Khalid Ahmed Qasim, who has been held at Guantánamo without charge or trial since May 2002, had his ongoing detention reviewed by the prison review board. After more than 13 years, the best excuse the Pentagon can come up for his continued detention is he “may have fought for the Taliban in Afghanistan and is suspected of joining al Qaeda.” At Guantánamo, he has taken part in hunger strikes and has been involved in many “disciplinary infractions including attacking and threatening guards and splashing bodily fluids on them”.
Egyptian prisoner, 57-year old Tarek El-Sawah, who had his review in January, has been cleared for release. El-Sawah, who has contracted a number of illnesses at Guantánamo and is reported to be morbidly obese, once faced charges which were later dropped without reason by the US government.
There has been good and bad news for former Canadian child prisoner Omar Khadr this month: in early February, King’s University in Edmonton offered him a place to study as a mature student provided his application for bail, which will be heard at the end of March, is successful. For the past 6 years, teachers from the university have helped Khadr to study for his high school diploma equivalent by correspondence when he was at Guantánamo and in person since his return to Canada.
On 13 February, a federal judge rejected an application brought by several media organisations to be able to interview Khadr in prison, claiming that the ban by wardens, as the facilities are unsuitable, was not political or a breach of their rights. Omar Khadr has never been given the opportunity to present his side to his own story – either in court or to the public – which has instead allowed the questionable claims made about him by the US and Canadian governments to dominate.
Following the quashing of the military commission conviction of a former Sudanese prisoner in January, following a major decision in the ongoing case of Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul last year, on 18 February, former Australian prisoner David Hicks, who was first prisoner to be convicted in 2007 had his conviction quashed on the sole charge of providing material support for terrorism, which is not recognised as a war crimes and was applied with retroactive effect.
Under a plea bargain, which was his only way out of Guantánamo after the Australian government refused to make representations on his behalf, Hicks entered an Alford plea whereby he pleaded guilty without admitting the charges, thereby maintaining his innocence. According to the US, he waived his right to appeal as part of the plea bargain, however his lawyers later demonstrated that the paperwork had been filed after the deadline and thus he had not waived this right. Hicks returned to Australia in 2007, where he served the rest of his sentence in jail there.
The Australian government which was aware of and complicit in his torture has continued to vilify him and the media in Australia has continued to brand him a “terrorist” and call for his prosecution, even though there is no legal basis for this. No apology has been offered by the Australian or US governments and Hicks has said he will not seek compensation. In an editorial in The Age on 27 February, Hicks stated, “To just focus on why I was in Afghanistan and ignore the crimes committed against us in Guantanamo, seems to be a diversionary tactic to try to prevent people from asking more pressing questions around my case – like why the Australian government sold out one of its own citizens to protect the Bush administration, and why successive Australian governments have refused to independently investigate what happened to me. What really worries me is that because of the careless and blatantly political way my case was handled, it means that others are more likely to be subjected to the same treatment because those involved got away with it.”
The pre-trial hearing in the case of five prisoners accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001 resumed on 9 February, for the first time in six months, only to recess after one hour after one of the defendants identified an interpreter used by his defence team as an interpreter who had worked for the CIA when he was “disappeared” into secret CIA prisons. Other defendants confirmed having seen him at such facilities too.
The hearing did later resume and now that the Senate’s redacted report into CIA torture has been published, defence lawyers can talk about the torture their clients faced. The next hearing is scheduled for April.
Ongoing hearings also resumed in the separate military commission pre-trial hearings of Abd Al-Nashiri on 25 February.
On 12 February, the US Senate passed a bill that could prevent the release of more prisoners before 2016. During the vote in a closed meeting, the bill was passed with measures including the prohibition of transfers to Yemen for the next two years, continuation of the ban on transfers to the United States and would suspend international transfers of prisoners. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill.
In a new resolution by the European Parliament, the civil liberties, foreign affairs and human rights committees will resume their investigation into European collusion in torture and extraordinary rendition following new information from the Senate report into CIA torture. The European Parliament is calling for an end to impunity and for member states to investigate allegations of torture made against them.
On 17 February, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg rejected an appeal by the Polish government made last year against a judgment finding it complicit in running torture facilities for the CIA in Poland where prisoners such as Abu Zubaydah and Abd Al-Nashiri, currently held at Guantánamo, were held and tortured. No reasons were given for why Poland’s appeal was rejected and the state will now have to pay the two defendants a total of €230,000, to include legal costs. According to the Bureau for Investigative Journalism:“However, Abu Zubaydah’s US lawyer confirmed to the Bureau that if the money was made available they would not claim the legal costs, and that Abu Zubaydah would be donating the full €100,000 in damages to victims of torture.
Poland is the first EU member state to be found guilty of complicity in the CIA’s secret detention programme and responsible for multiple violations of the detainees’ rights.
The case concerned the treatment of the two detainees, who were held by the CIA in Poland and subjected to torture, incommunicado detention and secret transfer to other CIA black sites.
Both men were secretly rendered to Poland on December 5 2002. Al-Nashiri was taken to Morocco on June 6 2003. Abu Zubaydah was transferred from Poland to a black site in Guantánamo Bay on September 22 2003.
Helen Duffy, European lawyer for Abu Zubaydah, told the Bureau the decision means that “Poland is required to finally conduct a thorough and effective investigation, make public information concerning its role and hold those responsible to account”.
She added: “This is an opportunity for Poland to reengage constructively, to address the crimes of the past and reassert its position as a supporter of the rule of law.””
The LGC marked eight years of regular demonstrations outside the US Embassy on Thursday 5 February. Four people attended.
Media of demonstration:
Our March “Shut Guantánamo!” demo will be on Thursday 5 March: https://www.facebook.com/events/464988880321972