Friday, March 31, 2017

LGC Newsletter – March 2017

Guantánamo Bay:
The US military reported that it killed a former Guantánamo prisoner in an air strike in Yemen on 2 March. Yasir Al-Silmi was collaterally targeted, and was not a target of the strike. Al-Silmi was held at Guantánamo from 2002 to 2009 and was never charged. The death of a former Guantánamo prisoner will undoubtedly help the US to justify its ongoing attacks on Yemen along with other states.
 Two sets of pre-trial hearings were heard at the Guantánamo war court this month. On 2 March, a hearing started for Abd Al-Nashiri, facing the death penalty for allegedly killing US soldiers in the bombing of a naval vessel in the Gulf of Aden in 2000.  
Issues included the secrecy surrounding evidence which is not revealed to Al-Nashiri’s defence. In addition the judge said that the defence could call former CIA officials as witnesses as part of the death penalty trial. These are officials who were involved in the torture he faced while a prisoner in secret CIA prisons around the world, including in Europe, where he was waterboarded. They include James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the psychologists who are currently facing prosecution for their role in designing the CIA’s torture techniques. Torture techniques they used on Al-Nashiri include: “the CIA force-fed him Ensure “rectally” for going on a hunger strike in May 2004. He also was alternately kenneled like a dog in a cage and hung nude by his arms to the point where a medical officer worried his arms would be dislocated.
Other techniques used on him during interrogations included a CIA officer revving a cordless drill by Nashiri’s head while he was blindfolded, cocking a pistol near his head and threatening to sexually abuse his mother.
Mitchell has recently written a book in which he defends the use of torture and is currently touring to promote it. Recent interviews have included the BBC.
During the pre-trial hearing, a trial date in 2018 was set for Al-Nashiri, although the judge expects it will take months to choose a military jury for the death penalty case. There are other issues that may prevent a 2018 trial and given the severe torture Al-Nashiri has already faced, he has no prospect of any semblance of a fair trial. The US is seeking a conviction but not justice either for the victims of the bombing or the victim they have created to take the blame.
Lawyers for Al-Nashiri have also filed a case with the US Supreme Court to challenge Al-Nashiri’s military detention in a federal court prior to his death penalty case being heard due to the fact that he was held by the CIA for years and subjected to “physical, psychological and sexual torture.” His lawyers are also asking the judges to decide when the “War on Terror” started as Al-Nashiri’s offences pre-date September 2001. He is the first former CIA prisoner to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Pre-trial hearings were also held in the case of the five men accused of involvement in the September 2001 attacks in New York.
At least one prisoner stands a chance of being released from Guantánamo by the Trump administration. Saudi Ahmed Al-Darbi, 42, pleaded guilty in 2014 to terror charges. He has a sentencing hearing scheduled for August. He agreed to provide testimony in the death penalty case of Abd Al-Nashiri in return for being allowed to serve his sentence in Saudi Arabia.
The case is seen as a test of the Trump administration’s willingness to fulfil agreements concerning Guantánamo made by the previous administration. Al-Darbi is expected to testify against Al-Nashiri during a pre-trial hearing in July; he agreed to postpone his sentencing to allow him to testify.

Syrian refugee and former Guantánamo prison Jihad Dhiab sent to Uruguay in 2014, who went on hunger strike last year to be allowed to reunite with his family, had a visit from his daughter for two weeks in the first half of March. It is the first time he has seen his daughter, who got married last year, in 17 years. A refugee in Turkey, the UNHCR facilitated her journey to Uruguay and back. Friends of Dhiab reported that he was very happy with the visit.
When he went to leave his daughter at the airport for her journey back, he tried to board a flight to Moscow but was prevented from travelling as he did not have a visa. Similarly, he tried to travel to South Africa last year but was turned back at Johannesburg as he did not have an entry document.

On 21 March, 69-year old Pakistani prisoner Saifullah Paracha, Guantánamo’s oldest prisoner, had his second periodic review of his case. In spite of his poor health and tenuous links to the events attributed to him, the US decided to continue his detention last year. Paracha, a businessman, said he would just like to return to his family and plans to retire from his business activity in any case.
A further review was held for Haroon Al-Afghani on 28 March.

Three of four of the Uighur refugees released from Guantánamo to Bermuda are currently having their applications for naturalization reviewed by the Home Office in the UK. As they are stateless, and do not wish to return to China from where they fled persecution, they are unable to travel or access certain services due to their status. They have been joined by their families who are also affected by this.

Extraordinary rendition:
In a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against two CIA-contracted psychologists
James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the Trump administration has invoked executive powers to prevent several senior CIA officials from testifying. They include Gina Haspel, now deputy director of the CIA, who previously ran a CIA torture prison in Thailand. This is the first time the Trump administration had used this power which is rarely used by governments.
A hearing was supposed to be held in the case in June but has been put back to September now, signalling that there may be further delays ahead in this case.

LGC Activities:
The LGC’s March Shut Guantánamo! demo was held on 2 March. The April demonstration is at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park:
The LGC joined the March Against Racism in London on 19 March to raise awareness about the situation about Guantánamo. Activists spoke to journalists and reminded demonstrators of the ongoing situation at Guantánamo.

The LGC joined a demonstration on 29 March outside the Pakistan High Commission to mark 14 years since Dr Aafia Siddiqui and her 3 children were kidnapped and “disappeared” in Pakistan with the collusion of the US and Pakistani authorities. In 2010 she was convicted of attempting to kill US military personnel and sentenced to 86 years in prison, a life sentence she is currently serving in Texas. Access to lawyers and her family is severely restricted. Her family is demanding the Pakistani authorities take action to have her repatriated to Pakistan to serve her sentence there. Her 6-month old son has never been found.

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

LGC Newsletter – February 2017


Guantánamo Bay:
The first periodic review board hearing under President Trump was held on 9 February with a hearing for Yemeni prisoner Omar Mohammed Ali Al-Rammah. The procedure was conducted in the same manner as it was under President Obama. Al-Rammah has been held at Guantánamo since 2003 and is alleged to have fought in Bosnia and Chechnya; he was kidnapped in Georgia in 2001 and handed over to the US military. His lawyer claims he had low-level involvement in militancy and was not involved in combat against the US.
A second review was held on 28 February for Yemeni Sharqawi Al Hajj who was held in secret prisons and tortured for two years before being taken to Guantánamo.
At the same time, three prisoners who had their review board hearings under Obama had their pleas for release rejected: Yemenis Moath Hamza Ahmed Al-Alwi, Said Salih Said Nashir and Uthman Abd al-Rahim Muhammad Uthman.
It is unknown whether five prisoners who have been cleared for release by the board will be released at any time soon or if the two prisoners heard this month will be released if their reviews are successful.
More than one month after becoming President, in spite of various comments made about Guantánamo, the facility is still running as it was under Barack Obama and there is no prospective date for the issue of Trump’s order on the future of Guantánamo and its prisoners.

The Trump administration has handed over a copy of the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report into CIA torture to a federal court following an order in cases brought by current Guantánamo prisoners. The Obama administration had previously refused to comply with the order.
A lawyer of one of the litigants, Abd Al-Nashiri, stated that it is “a big deal because we know that at least one copy will be preserved for future litigation.”

Germany’s new president Frank-Walter Steinmeier has entered his new post with controversy over his failure in 2002, as the politician responsible, to press for the release of Murat Kurnaz from Guantánamo even though the German and US authorities both knew he was an innocent man and Germany knew he had been tortured. Instead, the government initiated measures to prevent Kurnaz from returning to the country. Kurnaz did not return to Germany until 2006 and Steinmeier has never apologised for his role.


Extraordinary rendition:
Portugal jailed former CIA agent Sabrina de Sousa on 20 February pending extradition to Italy to serve a 4-year sentence for the 2003 kidnap and rendition to torture in Egypt of Milan imam Abu Omar. She is one of 26 CIA agents convicted in Italy in relation to the case, the only successful criminal case brought against renditions anywhere in the world.
On 28 February, Italy granted her clemency and reduced her sentence to 3 years. This means she can now consider alternative penalties to imprisonment. It is not clear if she has been released in Portugal.
De Sousa, 61, has fought extradition for two years and the victim Abu Omar himself has asked for her not to be extradited or to serve her sentence. He has never received an apology for official acknowledgement of his ordeal.

In a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) against two CIA-contracted psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, considered to be the architects of the rendition torture programme, the Trump administration has said that it will act like its predecessor by invoking the state secrets privilege to prevent two CIA witnesses from testifying in the case. One of the witnesses, Gina Haspel, was briefly involved in running a secret prison in Thailand where Abd Al-Nashiri and Abu Zubaydah were waterboarded. The government has until 8 March to file a declaration invoking the privilege. A hearing is scheduled in the case for June.

LGC Activities:
The LGC’s February Shut Guantánamo! demo marked 10 years of this regular protest outside the US Embassy. With 41 prisoners remaining at Guantánamo, the LGC remains committed to fighting for justice. The March demo is on 2 March at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park:
The LGC joined the Stop The War Coalition’s 4 February Stop Trump’s Muslim Ban demo and march to highlight the fact that there has been a travel ban on Muslims at Guantánamo for over 15 years preventing the prisoners from leaving and if there is any place that needs a Muslim ban, it is Guantánamo Bay.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

London Guantánamo Campaign statement on recent British media reports concerning former prisoners

On 21 February, media sources reported that British former Guantánamo prisoner Jamal Al-Harith (born Ronald Fiddler), 50, died in the Iraqi city of Mosul in a suicide bombing in which he had detonated a car bomb. He was alleged to be a member of the militant Islamic State group. British state media reported that it “understands” this to be the case based on a photograph of Mr Al-Harith which has been confirmed by his family. The claim has generated a polemic in the media concerning the out-of-court settlement the government reached with former Guantánamo prisoners in 2010, the alleged radicalisation of former prisoners, and surveillance. 

All such reports and the media furore remain purely speculative. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has yet to confirm that a British citizen died in Mosul on 19 February or identify them. While former Prime Minister Tony Blair has waded into the storm, there has been no comment by either Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson or the police. The comment offered by the Foreign Office to the media is general advice for all UK citizens: “The UK has advised for some time against all travel to Syria, and against all travel to large parts of Iraq.

"As all UK consular services are suspended in Syria and greatly limited in Iraq, it is extremely difficult to confirm the whereabouts and status of British nationals in these areas."” 

Mr Al-Harith’s death, and even presence in Iraq, is unconfirmed and the LGC shall consider all such news stories to be speculation until official confirmation is provided. 

It is important nonetheless to provide clarification on some of the fiction reported as news:

  •  British nationals and residents formerly held at Guantánamo have returned to ordinary civilian lives and remain under heavy surveillance by the authorities, as released prisoners are elsewhere. None have been tried at Guantánamo or since their release to the UK in relation to their imprisonment at Guantánamo Bay.
  •  Eighty six percent of all Guantánamo prisoners were sold to the US military by the Pakistani and Afghan military, intelligence and warlords. Only one of the remaining 41 prisoners – an Afghan cleared for release – was captured by the US military. Mr Al-Harith ended up in the hands of the US military after being sold by the Northern Alliance. He arrived at Guantánamo in February 2002 and was initially cleared for release by September that year. Further allegations about alleged militant links did not surface until more than one year later in late 2003. He was released months later in 2004.

  • With heavy surveillance of former prisoners it is very unlikely that any wrongdoing would not have been noticed by the police or intelligence services. Since claims that Mr Al-Harith has joined the Islamic State group emerged two years ago, the police have not issued any statements in this regard, nor has the media used the police as a source of information, even though this is the job of the police.

  • Former prisoners reached an out-of-court settlement with the British government in 2010 to prevent a court case that would likely disclose evidence of British state involvement in crimes against humanity committed against British nationals and residents. Compensation would involve an admission of guilt by the government and its breach of its international obligations on human rights. At the time, then “Foreign Secretary William Hague denied the deal was an admission that security agencies colluded in any mistreatment. In response to questions, he said the settlement reflected the desire to "move on" and be able to conduct an inquiry.” The money paid to prevent the prisoners from pursuing claims that would be embarrassing to the government was effectively hush money, once more denying the former prisoners their day in court.
  • Although Tony Blair’s government negotiated the return of all British nationals held at Guantánamo Bay by 2005, it was complicit in them ending up at Guantánamo in the first place and aware of the torture they faced even before they arrived there. It should further be noted that Tony Blair’s government were the architects of a Guantánamo-style regime of indefinite arbitrary detention without charge or trial of foreign nationals at HMP Belmarsh months before Guantánamo Bay opened under the 2001 Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act. This was ruled unlawful by the House of Lords in 2004.
These claims were followed by a news story in The Sunday Times on 26 February (free access to article reprinted here) that claims a second British former Guantánamo prisoner has travelled to Syria to fight with the Islamic State. This report follows a story to this effect by the ultra-right-wing Henry Jackson Society. Only bearing the moniker Abu Mugheera al-Britani, reports of this individual do not match any of the British prisoners held at Guantánamo and after more than two years of reports, his existence has not been confirmed by the police or Foreign Office and no information other than the nickname above has been given.

Furthermore, this individual – who may exist but does not appear to have been held at Guantánamo – has been linked, along with Jamal Al-Harith, to a former Russian prisoner, Airat Vakhitov. Although subject to UN, European and US sanctions since 2016 due to alleged links to militant groups, there is no evidence that Mr Vakhitov has any stage been a fighter anywhere. He is currently facing trial in Turkey: arrested around the same time as the 2016 Istanbul Airport bombing, the media falsely reported he was linked to the attack. He is facing charges of alleged membership of a terrorist organisation and visa irregularities. A Russian dissident who used his journalistic writing to raise awareness of the abuse of minorities and Muslims in the Russian Federation, the Russian government is actively seeking his return to the country.

As a human rights campaign, the LGC maintains that the only legitimate forum to decide on the innocence or guilt of any individual is a court of law. The current media narrative is central to the myth of the “recidivism” of former prisoners. Recidivism involves having offended in the first place. Neither Mr Al-Harith nor Mr Vakhitov, actual Guantánamo prisoners, were charged or tried. In addition, while ignoring the humanitarian civilian catastrophe unfolding in Mosul as Iraqi forces and the Islamic State do battle, such stories help to push for greater involvement by the US and British militaries in Iraq. A similar pattern over the past 15 years, the truth has never mattered where Guantánamo is concerned.