Tuesday, May 31, 2016

LGC Newsletter – May 2016


Guantánamo Bay:
Nine prisoners have had their status reviewed by the Guantánamo Periodic Review Board (PRB) this month.

The first was Afghan prisoner Karim Bostan, 46, on 3 May. Bostan has been held at Guantánamo since 2003 and has never been charged or tried. His lawyer claims he would just like to return to his family and business in Afghanistan whereas the US military claims he might have led an Al Qaeda cell in an attack in Khost in 2003. No evidence of this has ever been produced. The US military has nonetheless found him to be highly compliant and cooperative while held at Guantánamo but he has provided no useful intelligence.
The next hearing was on 5 May for Yemeni Sanad Ali Yislam Al Kazimi, 46, who was arrested in 2003 by the UAE authorities. The US claims he was a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden and had joined an Al Qaeda cell in the UAE that smuggled explosives. He has never been charged or tried.
On 10 May Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu, 42, the only Kenyan national held at Guantánamo had his review hearing. He has been held there since 2007. Accused of involvement in Al Qaeda operations in East Africa, including bombings in Kenya in 2002, he was arrested by the Kenyan authorities and handed over to the US. At Guantánamo, he has been highly compliant and has served as a cook for other prisoners. He has never been charged. His lawyers said that he would like to return home to his fishing and diving business.
Yemeni prisoner Abd Al-Salam Al-Hilah, 48, had his review hearing on 12 May. A businessman, due to his influence and links to key tribal, political and intelligence figures in various Middle Eastern countries, including the former Yemeni president, Al-Hilah’s continuing detention is considered to relate more to his value as an intelligence asset than as a threat. On a business trip in Egypt in 2002, he was kidnapped and rendered to Afghanistan and arrived at Guantánamo in 2004.
On the same day, Al-Hilah saw a motion he had filed to see the evidence the US government holds against him shown to him dismissed, as well as the factual basis for its allegations against him.
Yemeni Muhammed Rajab Sadiq Abu Ghanim had his review on 17 May. Another alleged Bin Laden bodyguard, he was detained and sold to the US trying to escape to Pakistan in late 2001. He claims he was working for a charity in Afghanistan, whereas the US claims he was part of a terrorist organization. He has been held at Guantánamo since 2002 and the allegations have never been proved or resulted in charges. He has been a compliant prisoner and according to his lawyers the time he has spent in Guantánamo has exposed him to American values and culture and given him a greater appreciation of Americans.
39-year old Saudi Jabran al Qahtani had his review hearing on 19 May. He was arrested by the Pakistani authorities and sold to the US in 2002. An electrical engineer, the US claims he used his skills to support terrorist organisations when he went to Afghanistan in 2001. His lawyers claim he was young and naïve at the time. He had no prior military or combat training. He has never been charged at Guantánamo.
On 24 May, 35-year old Algerian Said bin Brahim bin Umran Bakush has his hearing. He was arrested along with Abu Zubaydah in 2002. He has not shown a great interest in being released and has asked not to be returned to Algeria, fearing arrest if he is returned there.
On 26 May, 43-year old Algerian Sufiyan Ibu Muhammad Barhumi had his review hearing. According to the US military, he was radicalized in London in the 1990s and then illegally fled to Afghanistan for weapons training so he could go and fight in Chechnya. He claims that he only wanted to fight in Chechnya and has no problem with the US. He wishes to return home to his mother in Algeria.
Yemeni Shawqi Awad Balzuhair, 34, is the eighth prisoner to have his review this month on 31 May. The US claims he is a low-level militant who has offered little information even though he has been highly compliant at Guantánamo.
Three more such review hearings are scheduled for the first half of June.
Over the past month, only one prisoner has found out the result of his status review: on 19 May, Afghan prisoner Obaidullah was cleared for release. He was kidnapped from his home in Afghanistan in 2002. He has never been charged or tried and it is not clear whether Afghanistan will make efforts to repatriate its remaining prisoners at Guantánamo.
The Obama administration has reported that up to two dozen prisoners – almost the total (28) currently cleared for release are due to be transferred in the next two months, although none has been cleared for actual release yet.

On 5 May, the first anniversary of former prisoner Omar Khadr being released on bail – his first taste of some form of freedom as an adult and since 2002 – he celebrated by having some of his bail conditions removed or relaxed. In light of Khadr’s recent engagement to be married, he had his nightly curfew removed and can change his permanent address with one week’s notice to his bail supervisor. He also no longer needs court permission to travel within Canada; he can do so with the approval of his bail supervisor. The judge also “ruled that Khadr can have unfettered contact with his mother when he travels to the Toronto area later this month to spend time with his family. However, there are still restrictions in place regarding contact with one of his sisters, who is currently being detained in Turkey over issues with her visa.
In a statement Khadr made to the court, he wrote: “I have no anger towards anyone and I have been getting on with my life. I am proud and happy to be a Canadian citizen living in Canada.” In the statement, he said he had finished his exams to become an emergency medical responder and is working towards certification; he is also close to obtaining the equivalent of a high school diploma.
In the meantime, no progress has been made in Khadr’s appeal case against his 2010 military commission conviction. Nonetheless, on 24 May, Khadr lost a case in the US to have one judge removed from his appeal case due to the fact that he is serving as a civilian judge in a military commission review court but works as a civilian lawyer at the same time. Khadr’s lawyer stated this was unconstitutional. The judge hearing this case refused to consider the dismissal but said that it raised important questions that the US government and Congress must consider about the appointment of civilian judges in military cases.
A military nurse who was suspended from his position after refusing to force feed hunger-striking prisoners at Guantánamo has been allowed to return to work. The case took two years to resolve and he is currently working at a navy facility in New England. There are currently a handful of prisoners still on hunger strike.

Ahead of pre-trial hearings in the case of 5 men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks in New York in 2001, which resumed on 30 May after a 3-month break, lawyers for key defendant Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, on 11 May, demanded that the military judge and the entire prosecution team be removed from the case as important classified evidence has been destroyed. They also asked for the proceedings to be put on permanent hold due to breaches of the constitutional rights of the defendants with respect to the death penalty case against them.
At the current 5-day hearing, which started on 30 May, 42 motions have been filed by the defence and will focus on the treatment of the prisoners in secret CIA-run prisons around the world. There is a possibility that two other prisoners, unrelated to the case, may be called to testify about conditions in these prisons, including Abu Zubaydah, who has not been seen since 2002. During the first day of the hearing, one of the defendants asked for his entire defence team to be removed.
One of the defendants, Mustafa al-Hawsawi, was allegedly tortured in Lithuania, which the Lithuanian government denies. Its investigation into the country’s running of torture facilities for the CIA has not been thorough. His lawyer in Lithuania has thus filed a petition for him to be given victim status so that his lawyers can have access to the case file. She has also requested the investigation to be expanded. Another prisoner, Abu Zubaydah, has a case pending against Lithuania at the European Court of Human Rights. He and another prisoner previously won a case against Poland at the European Court of the torture they faced at a secret CIA prison there in 2003.
Prior to the pre-trial hearing, on 12 May, lawyers for another defendant, Ammar al-Baluchi, requested that Juan Mendez, the UN’s special rapporteur on torture, be given access to Camp 7, where he and other prisoners who were subjected to years of abuse in CIA secret prisons, are held away from other prisoners and with limited access to the outside world. Mendez has consistently demanded access to the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay but has refused to take the ‘trip’ journalists get excited about whereby they are permitted to view the prisoners like zoo exhibits and without access to the prisoners and to be able to interview them.

Another pre-trial hearing was briefly held on 16-17 May in the case of Abd al-Hadi Al-Iraqi. The case has now been set back until 11 July. During the hearing he told the court he wants to be known by his real name: Nashwan al-Tamir, with his lawyers claiming that the other names that have been used have been given to him erroneously. The change of name caused some confusion in the court; his lawyers seemed to suggest that the wrong name had been deliberately ascribed to accuse Al-Tamir of offences possibly carried out by someone else with those names.
During the hearing, al-Tamir also maintained his claim that he wants a civilian lawyer, which he has been denied, as he is not facing the death penalty.

The Islamabad High Court has accepted a petition to consider ordering the Pakistani government to seek access to prisoner Ghulam Ahmed under the Vienna Convention, but has set the hearing back by one month. The petition also asks for actions against former president Parvez Musharraf who sold Ahmed to the US.

Extraordinary Rendition:
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lost a lawsuit calling for the full release of the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report into CIA torture. In December 2014, a redacted executive summary of the report was released – 500 pages of the 6000 page document.

The judgment by the European Court of Human Rights ordering the Italian government to pay compensation to rendition victim Abu Omar, who was snatched from the streets of Milan in 2003 and rendered to torture in Egypt, is now final as the authorities did not appeal the decision. In February 2016, the Court found Italy guilty of having violated Omar’s human rights when it cooperated with the rendition to torture and failed to provide him with adequate legal relief afterwards.

LGC Activities:
The May Shut Guantánamo demonstration was on Thursday 5 May. The June demonstration is on 2 May at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park, opposite Marble Arch and is a special demonstration in solidarity with Mauritanian prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi where we will be reading from his best-seller written inside Guantánamo, Guantánamo Diary as this date coincides with his periodic review board hearing:  

The LGC was interviewed as part of a news feature on Russia Today about prisoners cleared for release through the periodic review board system. https://www.rt.com/usa/344141-guantanamo-prisoner-cleared-release/

The LGC will have details available very soon of its plans to mark International Day in Support of Victims of Torture on the afternoon of Sunday 26 June. Please watch this space!

The LGC (@shutguantanamo) is continuing to hold weekly #GitmObama Twitter storms to raise awareness about Guantánamo prisoners every Monday at 9pm BST. The pastebin is available http://pastebin.com/zpx5F7ab which is updated weekly with the latest information and tweets to raise awareness about Guantánamo. Please join us online if you can!

Sunday, May 01, 2016

LGC Newsletter – April 2016

Guantánamo Bay:
LGC April demo
Over the past month, 11 prisoners have been released from Guantánamo Bay, bringing the prisoner population down to 80. On 3 April, 2 Libyan prisoners were transferred to Senegal on humanitarian grounds. Libya is one of several countries to which prisoners cannot be currently repatriated. The two men, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr, 43, and Salem Abdul Salem Ghereby, 55, were captured in Pakistan in late 2001 and sold to the US military who took them to Guantánamo. Both men are alleged to have been members of anti-Gaddafi militant groups in Libya, a regime overthrown by the US and its allies in 2011. One of the men is crippled and is missing a leg. The government of Senegal said that it accepted the men, who have been held without charge or trial for over 14 years, on humanitarian grounds.
On 16 April, 9 Yemeni nationals were transferred to Saudi Arabia, with the country accepting non-nationals for the first time. Four of the men were born in Saudi Arabia to Yemeni parents and all have family there. The men will attend a rehabilitation programme for Saudi Islamists, which was also attended by Saudi returnees. The nine men include Tariq Ba Odah, who had been cleared for release for over a decade, and due to a sustained hunger strike weighed 74lb on release. The men released are Mansoor Muhammed Ali Qatta, 34, Ahmed Kuman, 36, Abdul Rahman al Qyati, 40, Sabri, all born in Saudi Arabia and Ahmed al Hikimi, 44, Abdul Rahman Nasir, 36, Mohammed al Hamiri, 34, Tariq Ba Odah, 38, and Ali al Raimi, 33, all of whom have family members in Yemen but were born in Yemen. Nearly all of the men were sold to the US military by the Northern Alliance or the Pakistani military. None had ever faced charges and the youngest arrived at Guantánamo as a teenager.
There are currently 26 prisoners who have been cleared for release and officials say they expect to transfer all of them by the end of the summer.

Four prisoners came before periodic review board in April to decide whether or not they could be cleared for release. The first was Afghan Obaidullah, who was captured at his home in 2002. He was a teenager at the time. According to an Amnesty International report http://www.amnestyusa.org/sites/default/files/amr510512013en.pdf he was picked up on an incorrect report that he was a member of Al Qaeda. He was captured just two days after the birth of his daughter and his lawyer stated that he does not pose a risk to the US and only wishes to return home to his family.
In the same week, Yemeni prisoner, Said Salih Said Nashir, 46, had his case reviewed. Since his arrival at Guantánamo, he has been largely compliant and peaceful and has earned the praise of teachers leading courses he has attended during his imprisonment. His lawyer said that he is prepared to undergo any rehabilitation or reintegration programme and looks forward to getting on with his life and starting a family.
On 26 April, Yemeni Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman, 36, came before the board. The US claimed he was one of Osama Bin Laden’s many bodyguards and an Al Qaeda member, which he has always denied. At Guantánamo, he has been largely compliant. His family lives in Saudi Arabia and he would be interested in going into business if released.
Yemeni Bashir Nasir Ali al-Marwalah came before the board on 28 April. He was arrested along with Said Salih Said Nashir in Pakistan in 2002. In March, the board cleared another Yemeni national arrested with them for release. His lawyer said that he expressed regret at having left Yemen for Afghanistan and at the hearing it was revealed that the US has no knowledge of any Al Qaeda or anti-US actions he was involved in planning.
In the same month, the board rejected the case made by Saifullah Paracha, 68, the oldest prisoner at Guantánamo, in March for his freedom, citing his past ties to Al Qaeda and declared him too dangerous to release. He has never been charged with any crime and was arrested and rendered to torture by the FBI in Bangkok, Thailand, after setting up a sting through an alleged business meeting. His case will next be up for review in October.
The board also decided to continue the indefinite detention without charge of Yemeni prisoner Sharqawi Abdu Ali Al Hajj, citing his former ties to Al Qaeda leaders and stating that he “remains committed to engaging in violent acts against the United States”. Al Hajj did not take part in his review and has thus been deemed non-compliant.
At the end of March, the periodic review board also decided not to clear Yemeni Suhayl al Sharabi, 39, for release, in order “to protect against a continuing significant threat to the security of the United States.”
It should be noted that this procedure is administrative and not legal and none of the men who have had their status reviewed or determined have been subject to trial.
LGC April demo

Following reports of a possible cancer cluster, and related illnesses and deaths among military and military commission staff at Camp Justice, where Guantánamo military commissions are held, an initial report revealed by the Miami Herald lists a series of health concerns “including the presence of mercury in a building once used as detention center headquarters that years earlier function as a dental clinic; formaldehyde in indoor air samples; excess bromodichloromethane and chloroform in two showers; arsenic in soil samples on the site where some work court personnel and temporary visitors are housed in a tent city and adjoining trailer park, and PCBs in and around a ramshackle hangar where journalists and troops work and attorneys brief the media.
As a result, staff working on the commissions – up to a possible 200 people –have been informed that they can continue to work there but not spend the night, while further tests are carried out, which are likely to be ongoing until the autumn.
A sentencing hearing for Majid Khan which was due to take place on 11-12 May has been cancelled, although other May hearings are still scheduled to go ahead.
The Center for Constitutional Rights claims that more military personnel have come to it complaining about illnesses and symptoms. A factsheet on the issue is available here: https://ccrjustice.org/home/blog/2016/04/28/what-do-we-know-about-guantanamo-cancer-cluster

Two weeks of hearings in the case of five prisoners allegedly linked to the 9/11 attacks in 2001 were cancelled without reason by the judge. Nonetheless military Judge Pohl issued a 17-page ruling on a motion brought by defence lawyers in 2012 to exclude the death penalty for their clients. They contended that comments by political leaders prejudiced the case against their clients and led to the call for this penalty; the judge ruled that while such comments have the potential to impact on the trial, Pentagon officials acted without outside influence in authorising the death penalty in these cases. With constant delays to pre-trial hearings it is unlikely that any trial will take place in this decade.
In a more recent ruling on older motions made in the case, Judge Pohl said he would lift restrictions on female guards dealing with the five defendants in this case, however he would keep the ban in place for the next six months due to “what he calls "inappropriate" public criticism of his order by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, during an October appearance before Congress.” The judge said, “These comments were entirely inappropriate. They crossed the line. Senior military leaders should know better than to make these kinds of comments in a public forum during an ongoing trial.” A lawyer for one of the men said that the issue was not about women but the defendants’ religious and cultural sensitivities and could prevent them from meeting their lawyers or attending court hearings. The 5 defendants are held at the top secret Camp 7 and have restricted access to other people and have to be escorted around by special teams.
The Pentagon has proposed new rules for military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, which include holding hearings via Skype as a set of measures to ease the process. Holding hearings by teleconferencing would prevent the need for judges and legal teams to travel to Guantánamo for each hearing. Such a method may deny the parties a right to a fair hearing and to question the other side. Other suggestions include allowing civilian lawyers to represent defendants instead of military lawyers and the main judge in the case being allowed to appoint another judge to consider certain motions. These measures are likely to cause further complications and delays to hearings that are already ongoing. In response, lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights issued the following statement: http://ccrjustice.org/home/press-center/press-releases/ccr-guant-namo-attorneys-denounce-proposed-new-rules-military

The Portuguese Supreme Court has ruled that ex-CIA agent Sabrina de Sousa, one of 26 people convicted in absentia in Italy for the 2003 rendition to torture of Milan cleric Abu Omar, must be extradited to Italy to serve her sentence. She was arrested in Portugal in October 2015 on a European arrest warrant and was aware she could be extradited to Italy if she travelled to Europe. De Sousa was sentenced to 6 years in prison. She is to be sent to Italy to be provided formal notice of her sentence and can serve it in Portugal. However, de Sousa claims she had nothing to do with the rendition and was only working as an interpreter for the CIA at the time. Now retired, she had planned to fly onwards to India to visit her elderly mother.
Although her extradition seems likely, the victim Abu Omar, now resident in Egypt, has written to the Italian president Sergio Mattarella asking him to excuse de Sousa, pointing out her age and the fact that she wishes to see her elderly mother: he stated in his letter that he was in jail in Egypt (where he was rendered and tortured) when his own mother died and was not allowed to contact his family and that is why he does not want Ms de Sousa jailed. Such a response is the perfect antithesis to the US’ revengeful and bloodthirsty “war on terror” and its purported civilised rationale.

In an unprecedented move, a federal judge said that he would allow a lawsuit against the two psychologists who designed and implemented the CIA extraordinary rendition programme to progress. The case was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of three men, Gul Rahman, Suleiman Abdullah Salim, and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud, who were tortured under the programme against psychologists, James Mitchell and John “Bruce” Jessen. The torture was detailed in the 2014 Senate CIA Torture Report. The two men claimed they could not be prosecuted as the case is a “political question” for only the executive and legislative to decide and as they were working as government contractors. Earlier, the US government decided not to apply the state secrets doctrine, but only that some information would be off limits. Lawyers in the case now have 30 days to come up with a plan for the disclosure of relevant information for the case to proceed.

LGC Activities:
The April Shut Guantánamo demonstration was on Thursday 7 April. The May demonstration is on 5 May at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park, opposite Marble Arch https://www.facebook.com/events/1605760126411909/

Several activists from the LGC attended a meeting in parliament on 19 April to raise awareness of the case of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, the author of Guantánamo Diary, who is still held at Guantánamo. The meeting was well attended and addressed by his lawyer Nancy Hollander and his brother Yahdih Ould Slahi. A report by the LGC of the meeting can be read here: http://londonguantanamocampaign.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/report-parliamentary-briefing-on-case.html
Two new petitions were launched at around the same time ahead of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s first appearance before the Periodic Review Board on 2 June. Please consider signing both:

protest outside US Embassy on 22 April
Several activists from the LGC joined the Guantánamo Justice Campaign (formerly Save Shaker Aamer Campaign) at a protest outside the US Embassy and Downing Street on 22 April calling for the closure of Guantánamo, to coincide with Barack Obama’s visit to the UK. Letters calling for the closure of Guantánamo were sent to the US Embassy and the prime minister ahead of the protest. 

The LGC (@shutguantanamo) is continuing to hold weekly #GitmObama Twitter storms to raise awareness about Guantánamo prisoners every Monday at 9pm GMT. The pastebin is available http://pastebin.com/zpx5F7ab which is updated weekly with the latest information and tweets to raise awareness about Guantánamo. Please join us online if you can!

protest opposite Downing Street on 22 April (during Obama visit)