Friday, December 30, 2016

LGC Newsletter – December 2016

Guantánamo Bay:
There are currently 59 prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay. On 4 December, Yemeni Shawqi Awad Balzuhair, 35, was transferred to Cape Verde in Africa. A former “forever prisoner”, he was cleared for release in July by the periodic review board. His assessment found that he had been mistakenly deemed to be an Al-Qaeda fighter. He was never charged during his 14 years at Guantánamo. Balzuhair is the second former prisoner to be accepted by the island state. In 2010, it accepted another prisoner who remains there, although he has never been allowed to meet any of his family members in the six years since his release.
With the second round of periodic reviews underway for those who were not previously cleared, a further three prisoners have been cleared for release in December and are the last few to be cleared under Obama. 23 prisoners are currently cleared for release once suitable host countries have been found to take them or if they can be returned home.
In early December, 37-year old Yemeni Salman Rabeji was cleared for release following his second appearance before the board in early November. He was recommended for release to a Gulf state.
37-year old Yemeni prisoner Yassim Qasim Mohammed Ismail Qasim and his compatriot Mohammed Al-Ansi were also cleared for release. In Al-Ansi’s case, the decision was made within days of his second review hearing being held. He was accused but never charged with being a personal bodyguard to Osama Bin Laden. He has consistently denied any involvement with Al Qaeda.
Two other Yemeni prisoners had their cases reviewed for a second time in December. The final one was held on 15 December and is also the final one under Obama’s presidency. It is unclear whether this administrative practice will continue under Trump. 36-year-old Uthman Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman was the final prisoner to have his case reviewed.

Pre-trial hearings continued in two military commission cases at Guantánamo. On 5 December, hearings in the case of 5 men allegedly involved in the September 2001 attacks on New York resumed. Saudi prisoner Mustafa Al Hawsawi, who was subject to sustained sexual abuse while a CIA prisoner, returned to the court for the first time since an operation in October to repair a torn rectum, which has made it painful to sit or relieve himself, among other difficulties. It later emerged, as his lawyers also learned for the first time, that he had been treated for haemorrhoids and not a torn rectum. This was stated by a doctor providing testimony during the hearing. His lawyers wanted to ask the doctor about the treatment he had received while a CIA prisoner but the judge insisted that questions were asked only about the operation he had had in October and how that might affect his ability to attend court. Hawsawi was in considerable pain during the hearing and did not testify.
During the hearing, there was also controversy about discussing the torture the five prisoners had been subject to in secret CIA detention and whether such discussion would confirm the treatment they were subject to. Prosecution lawyers asked for such discussion to take place in closed sessions; the request was granted.

Pre-trial hearings also continued in the case of Abd Al-Nashiri accused of involvement in the 2000 bombing of a US naval vessel, the SS Cole, in the Gulf of Aden. Seeking to use the torture he faced as a means of having the case thrown out, his lawyers asked for CIA agents involved at the time he was waterboarded to testify about the treatment he received. One of these individuals is James E. Mitchell, a psychologist who is currently being sued by the ACLU for involvement in designing the CIA’s torture programme, who has also recently published a new book called “Enhanced Interrogations” in which he talks about the torture he was involved in, including the waterboarding of Al-Nashiri.
Other issues discussed included whether Al-Nashiri should be allowed to spend the nights at the compound of the war court during hearings as the torture he had been subject to had caused medical illnesses for him and the journey to and from his cell each day was tiring and making him ill. Other motions continued to press for the whole Senate Torture Report from 2014 to be disclosed to the defence. Barack Obama has stated that his copy of the report will be archived. Senator Dianne Feinstein has again called for the whole report to be disclosed to the public. During the pre-trial hearing, 2024 was suggested as a start date for the actual trial into the case.
With the judge in this case not approving the preservation of the Senate Torture Report for potential future use in the trial, US District Court Judge Royce Lamberth made a decision for this to be done and “all evidence, documents and information, without limitation, now or ever in the [U.S. government’s] possession, control or custody, relating to the torture, mistreatment, and/or abuse of detainees held in the custody of the Executive Branch” since Sept. 11, 2001” to be maintained and preserved, as well as to deliver a copy of the report to the military commission court. The report contains a whole chapter on the torture Al Nashiri faced in CIA detention.
It has emerged that in April, the Obama administration asked Israel to accept the transfer of a Kenyan prisoner and to prosecute him as he cannot be tried at Guantánamo. Mohammed Abdul Malik Bajabu, 43, has been held at Guantánamo since 2007. From statements he gave to the US military while a prisoner prior to arrival at Guantánamo, as revealed by Wikileaks, it is alleged that he was tenuously involved in a terrorist attack on Israeli tourists in Mombasa, Kenya, in 2002. Israeli officials are reportedly prepared to accept the transfer and to prosecute him, however the process has not moved forward as the FBI has so far refused to provide Israel with more information than that leaked by Wikileaks; in particular Israel has asked for the confession of his involvement in the attack in Mombasa. Lee Wolosky, Barack Obama’s special envoy for Guantánamo, who oversees arrangements for transfers, visited Israel in April to discuss the visit.

On 16 December, former Guantánamo prisoner Jihad Diyab, a Syrian refugee who was released to Uruguay in 2014, left Uruguay for South Africa. He flew to Johannesburg but was refused entry as he apparently did not have an entry visa. Diyab was promised on his release that he and his family, whom he has not seen for over 15 years and are currently refugees in Turkey and Syria, would be reunited. This has not happened in over two years in spite of repeat promises. Earlier this year, Diyab left Uruguay and travelled to Venezuela but was deported. He went on hunger strike after his return losing consciousness more than once. He has since been told he can leave Uruguay and a third country where he can join his family will be found. He thus ended his hunger strike in October but no new plan has been agreed.
At around the same time, the Uruguayan government agreed with the other 5 prisoners released to the country in 2014, who are also refugees, to extend the support package they are in receipt of – accommodation and a stipend – until February 2018, although the stipend has been reduced. While the Uruguayan government claims that three of the men are in employment, these are not well paid jobs or full time. Although he plans to leave the country, the Uruguayan government has said that Jihad Diyab is entitled to this package as well.
Barack Obama’s administration has revealed that he plans to transfer at least 17 of the 23 prisoners currently cleared for release before he leave the White House. Plans are currently underway to transfer the men to countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman and Italy, which means that they will be transferred to highly restrictive conditions or detention, at the behest of the USA, abroad.
At the same time, Barack Obama has once again approved the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2017 preventing the transfer of Guantánamo prisoners to the US mainland. However the law includes provisions for the temporary transfer of prisoners to the US mainland for medical treatment and to start the construction of possible prisons to hold prisoners on the mainland in the future.

LGC Activities:
The last Shut Guantánamo! Demo of 2016 and under Barack Obama’s presidency was held on Thursday 1 December at 12-1pm. There is no monthly demonstration in January as it is replaced by the Guantánamo anniversary protest on 11 January 2017: