Thursday, April 27, 2017

LGC Newsletter – April 2017

Guantánamo Bay:
On 31 March, a federal appeals court ruled against the disclosure of videos showing the painful methods used to force feed hunger-striking prisoners as the judge claimed they are classified and this could harm national security and “endanger troops and fuel global hostilities against the United States.” A federal district judge had previously ruled to disclose the videos, which show former Syrian prisoner Jihad Diyab been violently removed from his cell, beaten and force fed during the 2013 hunger strike. He was released from Guantánamo in 2014. As a result of the hunger strike and the abuses he faced at Guantánamo he remains unable to walk without the use of crutches. The US military no longer reports on who is on hunger strike or what action is taken against hunger strikers but a few of the remaining 41 prisoners are reported to still be on hunger strike permanently or from time to time.
On 7 April, the military judge in the case against five men accused of involvement in the September 2001 attacks in New York dropped two minor charges against them. The men, who face the death penalty on more serious charges, had the charges of destruction of property and attacking civilian objects dropped on the basis that too much time has passed since the incident for these offences to be tried by law. Prosecutors argued that this rule does not apply to military tribunals. The judge disagrees but prosecution lawyers have filed a petition to have the dropped charges reinstated.
On 11 April, a group of military lawyers working at the Guantánamo Bay military commissions brought a lawsuit against the US Department of Defense claiming that they have been forced to work and live for a number of years in an area with a high level of known carcinogens. They claim that the authorities did not follow up on reports of health hazards.
The complaint cites the Navy’s “unreasonable delay” in assessing known environmental hazards such as mercury and formaldehyde, and its “arbitrary and capricious determination that . . . personnel must live and work in contaminated areas of Camp Justice before a proper investigation and appropriate remediation are completed.”
A number of people working there are known to have cancer and the cancer risk is related to at least 7 deaths of military and civilian staff.

A new Argentine Spanish-language documentary "Life After Guantanamo" ("La vida después de Guantánamo") looks at the life of Syrian refugee Jihad Diyab since he left Guantánamo for Uruguay in 2014. He has lost 13 members of his family in the war in Syria, and most of his family are currently refugees in Turkey. He could not return to Syria when he was cleared for release in 2010 because of the threat of torture (his wife was "disappeared" and imprisoned instead). Other prisoners sent to third countries also talk about the difficulties they have faced away from their families, in strange countries where they cannot speak the language, and cannot work due to language, trauma and the stigma of Guantánamo. They talk about the difficulties they face in their new surroundings and how they cannot escape Guantánamo as well as the false promises made by their lawyers/representatives of what they could expect once released. Diyab says the former prisoners cannot expect to live a normal life.
The documentary (in Spanish) can be watched at the end of this link:

The difficulties of life after Guantánamo continue elsewhere for Younes Chekkouri, released to Morocco in 2014 and facing terrorism charges there. A court hearing has been set back again and it is now unclear when his case will be heard. 
In Canada, while Justin Trudeau’s government has many admirers for its work on multiculturalism and refugees, where Omar Khadr is concerned, very little has happened. Not much has changed for him under Trudeau’s government. A copy of his Canadian criminal record obtained by the Canadian press claims that Khadr was convicted by a Guantánamo youth court, even though no such thing exists, and fails to recognize that the Guantánamo military tribunals are not recognized as legitimate courts anywhere else. His lawyers have expressed surprise at the document.

Pre-trial hearings continued at Guantánamo in the case of Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, whose lawyers now claim is called Nashwan al Tamir and is a victim of mistaken identity and that he is not and was never an Al Qaeda leader and did not command attacks on US military personnel and installations in Afghanistan.
In order to prove otherwise the prosecution is seeking to have another prisoner, Saudi Ahmed Al-Darbi, who was convicted in 2014 and is awaiting sentencing, provide testimony in this case and inform the court that the two had met 20 years ago on one occasion in 1997. Al-Darbi, who pleaded guilty in a plea bargain in 2014 that would allow him to serve his sentence in Saudi Arabia, deferred his sentencing so that he can testify against Abd Al-Nashiri. A sentencing hearing in Al-Darbi’s case set for May was cancelled due to a scheduling conflict. As Al-Nashiri’s case is unlikely to start for at least another year, and no schedule has been put forward for al Iraqi’s case, Al-Darbi is likely to give a video testimony in both cases. Discussion at the hearing looked at when that might take place and also whether Al-Darbi’s confession can be relied upon as he has said that he was tortured into making confessions.
During the pre-trial hearing al Iraqi’s lawyers also asked whether their client would be released if found innocent or given a short sentence.
Extraordinary rendition:
The US Supreme Court has rejected an appeal from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for full disclosure to be made of the 2014 US Senate CIA Torture Report. An executive redacted summary has been made public but the ACLU sued for the full 6000-page report to be made public through a freedom of information request.

LGC Activities:
The LGC’s April Shut Guantánamo! demo was held on 6 April. The May demonstration is on 4 May at 12-1pm outside the US Embassy and 1.15-2.15pm outside Speaker’s Corner, Hyde Park:
A video of Val Brown from the LGC speaking to journalist Parveen Ali at the demo

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.