Friday, October 28, 2016

LGC Newsletter – October 2016

Guantánamo Bay:
There are currently 60 prisoners held at Guantánamo. The last Mauritanian prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi, 46, was released to his country on 17 October where he has been reunited with his family and is a free man. Upon his return, he issued a list of people he would like to thank for their support to free him. A first video in English has been released by the American Civil Liberties Union
Ould Slahi is the best-selling author of Guantánamo Diary which recounts the torture and abuse he faced in US hands up to 2005. He was kidnapped from his home in Mauritania and rendered to Jordan and then to Afghanistan before arriving at Guantánamo in August 2002. Raped and beaten, he was one of a handful of CIA prisoners subject to a “special project” whose torture was approved personally by Donald Rumsfeld. Nonetheless, Ould Slahi said that he will not be taking action against the US at a press conference held on 22 October.

Having completed the initial round of prisoner reviews, the administrative military board has decided to continue classifying a number of prisoners as “forever” prisoners this month, to be held indefinitely without charge or trial, although their status can be reviewed again in six months’ time. These decisions are hardly surprising as they include Indonesian “Encep Nurjaman Hambali” and stateless Palestinian Abu Zubaydah. Although the US continues to deem them a threat to its security, no charges have been placed against any of them, yet they are among those who were subject to some of the most severe forms of torture meted out by the CIA. It is more than likely that the US does not wish to release them due to the information they could reveal about its torture programme. The real threat they pose to the US is the one the US created for itself by acting outside of the law. A number of these prisoners were victims of extraordinary rendition and were not kidnapped or arrested in Pakistan or Afghanistan. There are currently 28 “forever prisoners” at Guantánamo.

Late on 14 October, Mustafa Al Hawsawi, one of the 5 defendants awaiting military trial for alleged involvement in the September 2001 attacks in New York underwent rectal surgery to repair damage done by repeatedly being raped while he was in CIA custody. The wounds inflicted on Al Hawsawi through sexual torture resulted in a rectal prolapse which caused him to bleed for over a decade and made it difficult for him to relieve himself or sit with ease, as noted by observers during pre-trial hearings. According to his lawyer Walter Ruiz, “When he has a bowel movement, he has to reinsert parts of his anus back into his anal cavity,” which “causes him to bleed, causes him excruciating pain.” As a result Al Hawsawi has often chosen to fast instead. According to his lawyers, he has also suffered other forms of serious and long-lasting pain and illness due to his time in secret CIA torture facilities.

A pre-trial hearing was held on 12-14 October in the case of five men accused of involvement in the September 2001 attacks in New York. Prior to the hearing, the trial judge ruled that the government can retroactively seal (i.e. after it has been given and made public) public war court testimony as “state secrets sometimes slip through Camp Justice’s special national security screening system.” The judge rejected a challenge brought by media organisations against a Pentagon transcript from 2015 that blacked-out open court testimony.
During the pre-trial proceedings, lawyers for the defendants asked to be given their clients’ full medical records from the time they spent in secret CIA custody, “arguing they need the details to avert their military execution” and to prepare for trial. However, according to the prosecution, the defence has been provided with all the CIA medical records they could find. Part of the pre-trial hearing was to consider whether or not the disclosure of evidence made by the parties is adequate. The next pre-trial hearing in this case is set for early December.

A pre-trial hearing was held in mid-October in the military commission case of Abd Al-Nashiri, accused of masterminding the bombing of a US naval ship in the Gulf of Aden, off the Yemen coast, in 2000. During the hearing, Al-Nashiri requested to be allowed to stay at the war court compound during hearings as being transported from the war court to secret Camp 7 each day makes him feel ill and anti-nausea medicine he is given to deal with the transport makes him unable to engage effectively with the proceedings. At this hearing too, issues were raised about the evidence provided and the chief prosecutor reported that all the evidence that can be given to the defence has been given to it.
As part of their claim against Guantánamo chiefs involved in their torture and abuse, former French prisoners Nizar Sassi and Mourad Benchellali (held at Guantánamo 2002-2005) have asked for William J Haynes II, who served as general counsel to the US Defence Department at the time, to be brought before the French courts. In their application, they said that Haynes was "one of the main architects of the interrogation and detention policies of the Bush administration.” In March, former Guantánamo commander retired General Geoffrey D. Miller failed to attend a hearing he was summoned to in France in the same case.

On 20 October, a federal appeals court upheld the conviction of Ali Hamza Al-Bahlul, who was convicted by a military commission in 2008, even though he had previously won his whole appeal, and once been acquitted on two of three charges. The US government had asked for a retrial and although the judges sided with the government’s argument they could not agree why. The case is likely to now be appealed to the Supreme Court. A possible verdict there that sees Al-Bahlul’s convictions upheld could have a negative impact on Omar Khadr’s appeal against his conviction for conspiracy. The judgment as such will have little impact elsewhere. In the meantime, Al-Bahlul has been held in isolation from other prisoners over the past 8 years as his case is volleyed around the US courts.

On 25 October, a court case filed by a former Afghan prisoner who was released and returned home in December 2014 was thrown out by a federal court; he was seeking a judicial ruling – the case was brought when he was still held at Guantánamo – clearing him of any claims of links to terrorism. Shawali Khan continued to pursue his habeas case after his release as he claims that the allegations of connections to a terrorist organisation have caused further problems for him. While held at Guantánamo, evidence against him was used in the case that was kept secret from his lawyers at the time; his detention was upheld on the basis of that evidence. The government itself later dismissed the credibility of this secret evidence.
The judge dismissed the case claiming it was moot as he had been released and that harm to his reputation was not a serious enough ground for the case. Since his release, his land has been seized by the Afghan government and he has been denied medical treatment, issues the court said it could not deal with.

Jihad Dhiab, a Syrian refugee who was released from Guantánamo to Uruguay has ended his hunger strike after more than 2 months after it emerged that an undisclosed third country has agreed to resettle him and his family together. When released in 2014 he was promised that he would be reunited with his family who live as refugees in Turkey or are displaced inside Syria. He tried to leave Uruguay when this did not happen and when he was forced to return to Uruguay he went on hunger strike.
Thank you to everyone who took part in our urgent action and signed our petition.

Extraordinary rendition:
On 21 October, an appeal court reinstated a long-running lawsuit against private military contractor CACI for its role in torture at Abu Ghraib prison. A lower court had dismissed the case, claiming that the issue was political and had to be decided by the government. CACI had argued that its liability was not a legal or prosecutable matter. This is the fourth time the case has come before the appeal court.

LGC Activities:
The October Shut Guantánamo demonstration was on Thursday 6 October. The November demonstration is replaced by our special evening demo on Tuesday 8 November outside the US Embassy at 6-8pm to coincide with the US presidential election:   

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 which is updated weekly with the latest information and tweets to raise awareness about Guantánamo. Please join us online if you can!