Friday, July 31, 2015

LGC Newsletter – July 2015

Guantánamo Bay:
In a civil claim brought by the widow of Christopher Speer, the man Omar Khadr is alleged to have killed in battle, and Layne Morris, the soldier who was injured in the same battle, a Utah court awarded a final amount of $134.2 million after Khadr’s lawyers refused to respond to the case and he was thus not represented. As a result, the award was made by default (i.e. without trial and consideration of the merits of the case). It is unlikely that either Tabetha Speer or Layne Morris will receive any of that amount as they will have to find someone to collect for them in Canada, and it is unlikely that any court will enforce a foreign judgment based on a case that allowed torture evidence.

In a rare act of kindness towards the prisoners facing trial, in April, military judge Colonel Vance Spath, hearing the case of Abd Al-Nashiri who faces the death penalty if convicted, ordered the US government to perform an MRI scan to gain evidence of brain trauma or other neuropsychological infirmities before his trial proceeds. This followed a report from a torture expert. As a result, in June, the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery put out a request to lease an MRI for several months to perform the scan.

The war crimes tribunal of Abdul Hadi Al-Iraqi, accused of attacks on US interests in Afghanistan, was due to start in mid-July, however the case has now been put back to 14 September. On the first day, the judge ruled there was a conflict as his military lawyer is also defending one of the defendants in the 9/11 case. As a result Al-Iraqi said that he might release his whole defence team. He had previously been assigned a new lawyer. Following a closed hearing, the case was then adjourned until September, continuing the impasse of no hearings having actually been held since March this year.

Two prisoner review board hearings were held in July: on 14 July, Salman Yahya Hassan Muhammad Rabei’i, 36, who has never been charged or tried had his hearing, 10 minutes of which were unclassified and during which his lawyer explained that his client would like to live a normal life upon release. Like most of the other prisoners at Guantánamo, he is suspected but not known to have been a member of al Qaeda. He was captured by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in 2001, who bought foreign nationals from tribal warlords and sold them to the US military for a $5000 bounty.
On 27 July, the last Kuwaiti prisoner at Guantánamo, Fayiz al-Kandari, came back before the board. In 2014, his fellow countryman Fawzi al-Odah was cleared by a review and repatriated whereas al-Kandari’s continued detention was ordered.  

Although the US Department of Defense decided not to pursue charges against a military nurse who eventually refused orders to force-feed hunger striking prisoners at Guantánamo – such a case would reveal more than the US is prepared to make public about its force-feeding policy – it has threaten to revoke the security clearance of the nurse making it difficult for him to receive benefits, possible discharge from the navy and difficulty in finding work later. In the same week, he was given an ethics award by the American Nursing Association for his actions.

On 24 July, two former prisoners were arrested in Belgium on charges of recruiting for the war in Syria and membership of a terrorist organisation. One was Mousa Zemmouri, a Belgian national released without charge or trial in 2005, and the other is Soufiane A., an Algerian national released to that country in 2008, and who was the victim of an extraordinary rendition from Georgia. He is alleged to have travelled to Syria, but such an allegation is likely baseless as the US keeps a close eye on the actions and whereabouts of released prisoners. The two were arrested with three others, only accused of armed robbery, at an address in Antwerp at which they are alleged to have been in the process of carrying out a burglary. Following his entry into Belgium, the Belgian authorities kept a close eye on Soufiane A.
Similar charges have also been brought against former Guantánamo prisoners Moazzam Begg in the UK – although the charges were thrown out on the basis of secret evidence – and in Spain against Lahcen Ikassrien, a former Moroccan prisoner. Indicted at the end of last year, no trial date has been set for him and 13 other co-defendants.

On 27 July, the US government submitted a petition for an en banc (full panel of judges) rehearing of the al-Bahlul military commission appeal case it has lost in full on two occasions, including in a previous en banc hearing. The outcome of the earlier decisions has seen convictions of a number of Guantánamo prisoners quashed. The US government is questioning some of the issues in the decision made last month. It has yet to be accepted.

On 17 July, Navy Lieutenant Commander Bill Kuebler, 44, who was one of Omar Khadr’s military lawyers at Guantánamo, died of cancer. He defended Khadr during pre-trial hearings in 2007-2009. It has since emerged that at least 9 people who have worked on military tribunal cases at Guantánamo have contracted various types of cancer, including brain, lymphoma and colon. Kuebler’s is the third such death in 13 months. Lawyers have long expressed health concerns about the facilities where such tribunals are held.
The US navy said that it was aware of the claims and launched an investigation at the end of July.

On 30 July, a US judge rejected an application by a Guantánamo prisoner held at the facility without charge or trial since 2002 claiming that there were no legal grounds to continue holding him and other prisoners now that the war in Afghanistan – the rationale for holding the men – was officially over. The judge dismissed the claim by Yemeni Muktar Yahya Najee al-Warafi on the basis that ongoing warfare and involvement in Afghanistan by the US shows this not to be the case. A lawyer for al-Warafi said that the judge’s decision is a “rubber stamp for endless detention” and that he would review the opinion and whether to appeal.
Another similar application is pending by Kuwaiti prisoner Fayiz Al-Kandari.
The ruling, in spite of its legal nature, shows the very arbitrary nature of the US’ detention policy as the US was very careful to ensure it handed over its remaining prisoners at Bagram before the end of 2014, including releasing two to Yemen and at least one to US federal detention.

Extraordinary Rendition:
On 30 July, a trial started in Virginia of a former Bagram prisoner, Russian national Irek Hamidullin, who had spent years at the detention and torture camp before being taken to the US last year to stand trial in a US federal court on terrorism charges related to an attack on a US military base in Afghanistan. He faces 15 counts, including providing material support to terrorism and trying to destroy US military aircraft. The US attorney general decided not to call for the death penalty in this case and instead he could face a life sentence. The case is likely to raise many issues related to the status of combatants in Afghanistan and the nature of the US war there.

Following restrictive reforms to the law on the application of universal jurisdiction in Spain, whereby crimes against humanity, such as torture, can be tried anywhere, a Spanish judge José de la Mata decided to close a case against the US brought by four former Guantánamo prisoners in Spain for the torture they suffered there. The judge said that unless the applicants had Spanish nationality at the time the case could not be heard.
In response, the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and the US Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), along with lawyers in Spain, have launched a legal challenge against this decision. The four former prisoners include British residents Jamil El-Banna and Omar Deghayes, against whom extradition proceedings were brought and later dropped by Spain upon their return to the UK in 2007.

LGC Activities:
The LGC July Shut Guantánamo demonstration was attended by 4 people. The August demo will be on Thursday 13 August (one week later than usual):

The LGC will be holding only its second campaigns meeting this year in September – date and venue to be confirmed. At this stage, we start planning our annual event to mark the anniversary of Guantánamo opening in January (this year’s successful event saw as many people outside the US Embassy in London as there were outside the White House) and other actions to raise awareness about the plight of all the prisoners.

If you would like to get more involved in the campaign and share any ideas you may have ahead of this meeting, please get in touch by sending us an e-mail. Thank you!

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