Monday, February 29, 2016

LGC Newsletter – February 2016

Guantánamo Bay:
On 23 February, Barack Obama unveiled his final plan to ‘close’ Guantánamo before the end of his presidential term next year. The 4-point plan involves expediting the release of cleared prisoners and prisoner status reviews to see if further prisoners can be released, continuing military commissions and transferring prisoners who cannot be tried or released to perpetual arbitrary indefinite detention on the US mainland. Potential locations for these new ‘Guantánamos’ were not revealed. The plan essentially offered nothing and will not see Guantánamo close before next year.
More importantly, it sees the endorsement and continuation of some of the worst aspects of what Guantánamo represents: kangaroo military courts and indefinite detention. Our press release concerning this plan states: “Without ending arbitrary indefinite detention, there is no end to the “misguided experiment” that is Guantánamo Bay. Instead, Barack Obama has offered Congress a politically expedient plan that will help to protect his historic legacy as a president who tried. Coming at a key point in this year’s presidential campaign, and anticipating “a fair amount of opposition in Congress”, the plan offers politicians on both sides a talking point to appear tough on terrorism and national security issues, while eschewing real threats. The plan offers no viable solution to ending what Guantánamo represents, any more than it offers either freedom or justice for remaining prisoners.
Former Moroccan prisoner Younis Chekkouri, who was released from Guantánamo in September 2015, but immediately jailed in Morocco, was released on bail by the Moroccan courts on 11 February. Having never been charged at Guantánamo, he is still awaiting a hearing to learn whether he will be formally charged with “conspiring against national security” amid claims by Morocco he was involved in Moroccan Islamist groups prior to 2001, based on flawed US intelligence. His Moroccan lawyer Khalil Idrissi called his release a positive step and said that he hopes this will lead to the charges being dropped.
A hearing was scheduled for 23 February but did not go ahead when the judge failed to turn up. It has been rescheduled for early March.

Pre-trial hearings continued in the case of 5 men accused of involvement in attacks in New York in September 2001. A pre-trial hearing started on 16 February to consider various issues. One of the defendants, Yemeni Walid bin Attash, sought to fire his legal team for the second time, delaying the hearing. He claimed that he does not trust two of the three lawyers appointed by the court. He had previously tried to fire one of his lawyers, Cheryl Bormann, in October 2015; she has represented him since 2011. Judge Pohl allowed the hearing to be cancelled that day to allow Attash to submit a letter setting out his reasons for wanting to do this.
The next day Pohl disallowed this and did not accept Bormann’s resignation either, even though she argued that a string of events, such as the interception of confidential client information, meant that he could not trust his lawyers. However, the judge asked for an additional independent lawyer to be appointed for Attash instead. Attash said that he would not communicate with his lawyers or attend future hearings until the issue is resolved.
On Thursday, the third day of the 10-day hearing, the prosecution said it would hand over more than 1000 pages of CIA documents to defence lawyers concerning the treatment of the five defendants while in CIA custody; defence lawyers have fought for access to these documents for years.
The chief prosecutor Brigadier General Mark Martins said he would deliver the documents for review by 22 March, and further documents by the end of the summer.
In a statement Martins made the weekend before the pre-trial hearing, he stated that the content of the US Senate Intelligence Committee report into CIA torture, published in December 2014, was accurate and the incidents mentioned, and others, had indeed taken place.

A pre-trial hearing was also held in the case of Abd Al-Nashiri, starting on 17 February. He potentially faces the death penalty for his involvement on attacks on US naval interests in the Gulf of Aden in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Issues revolved around whether Al-Nashiri can be tried before a military tribunal, set up after 2001, for incidents that took place prior to it.

Yemeni prisoner Ayyub Murshid Ali Salih, who was captured in Pakistan in September 2002 and taken to Guantánamo as a suspected enemy combatant a month later had his status reviewed by the prisoner review board. He was found to be a low-level militant but not part of Al Qaeda, as previously suspected.
The review board also cleared another Yemeni, Majid Ahmed, 35, for release. He was a former bodyguard of Osama bin Laden.
The US government announced that six more hearings are scheduled for May, including two ‘forever prisoners’ who were recently approved for possible release pending review. 35 out of 91 prisoners are currently cleared for release, but no further releases have yet been announced.

On 18 February, the Canadian government of Justin Trudeau announced that it had dropped an appeal brought by his predecessor Stephen Harper to challenge the release of Omar Khadr on bail. Khadr’s bail terms remain the same. They were recently relaxed further to accommodate his study and professional development as a medical first responder.
Khadr also had a hearing in his appeal case in the US on 23 February to consider the choice of judge to hear the case.

Spanish former Guantánamo prisoner Hamed Abderrahaman Ahmed was one of four men arrested on 23 February in Spanish-administered territory in Morocco called Ceuta, where he is from. He is accused of leading a network recruiting fighters for ISIS.
He is alleged to have attended a terrorist training camp for two weeks in Afghanistan in 2001. He was sold to the US military by Pakistani militants in 2002. He was never charged at Guantánamo and released to Spain in 2004. In Spain, he was sentenced to 6 years in prison in 2005 for membership of a terrorist organisation; however his conviction was overturned in 2006. He had not bothered the authorities since then until his arrest.

Extraordinary Rendition:
Although the US officially ended its detention operations at Bagram in December 2014 and handed over control to the Afghan authorities, who continue to use the facility to hold Taleban prisoners in particular, it has emerged that at least 3 foreign prisoners continue to be held there, who had been captured by the US. Two Tajik brothers Said Jamaluddin and Abdul Fatah and Uzbek national, Musa Akhmadjanov, who were captured in 2009, remain at the facility largely because they are afraid of being returned to the repressive states they are from and prefer to stay at Bagram. However, the US has not taken any measures in that time – they have not been tried or charged – to find possible safe countries for the men to be sent to and their situation remains unresolved.

On 23 February, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg condemned Italy for its complicity in the CIA rendition to torture of Milan Imam Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, who was kidnapped in 2003 and taken to Egypt where he was tortured. He and his wife brought a joint case against the Italian government for complicity in his torture, illegal detention and the Italian government’s attempts to obstruct prosecution in Italy and protect officers involved by invoking the state secrets doctrine. Italy was ordered to pay Nasr €70,000, €15,000 to his wife, as well as costs.

LGC Activities:
The LGC joined the Save Shaker Aamer Campaign (SSAC) on a delegation to the US Embassy and Downing Street on 13 February to deliver letters and cards demanding that the US government close Guantánamo and the British government works to help the US in this matter. Although informed in advance, the US Embassy did not accept the letter put together by the SSAC, and it had to be posted. The delegation to Downing Street was joined by Imam Suliman Gani from Tooting Mosque.

Aisha Maniar from the LGC spoke to Russia Today on 23 February about Barack Obama’s ‘plan’ to close Guantánamo announced that day:

The March Shut Guantánamo demonstration is on Thursday 3 March. The time has been exceptionally moved to 6-8pm outside the US Embassy in protest at Obama’s plan NOT to close Guantánamo and instead perpetuate indefinite detention: Please join us if you can. 

The LGC (@shutguantanamo) is continuing to hold weekly #GitmObama Twitter storms to raise awareness about Guantánamo prisoners every Monday at 9pm GMT. pastebin is available which is updated weekly with the latest information and tweets to raise awareness about Guantánamo. Please join us online if you can!

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