Tuesday, May 01, 2018

LGC Newsletter – April 2018

Guantánamo Bay
Ahead of pre-trial hearings resuming, on 30 April, in the case of five men accused of involvement in terrorist attacks in New York in September 2001, a lawyer for one defendant, Ammar Al-Baluchi, asked “a military judge to order the prison to permit the public release of art he makes in his cell” at Guantánamo. Lawyer Alka Pradhan and her team filed a pleading “accusing the Department of Defense of violating the captive’s rights by making it more difficult for him to draw and paint and by blocking him from giving his artwork to his attorneys”. Producing the artwork is therapeutic for Al-Baluchi who was severely tortured by the US in secret jails over a number of years before he was brought to Guantánamo. The ban on the release of his work was imposed in November 2017 when a watercolour he made was included as part of a New York City art exhibition of prisoners’ artworks.
Another defendant, Ramzi bin Al Shibh, spent at least two weeks this month being held in an isolation cell with no bed or running water, with only a prayer mat and a Qur’an and access for one hour a day to legal material “as punishment for protesting conditions in his Guantánamo confinement”. His lawyer reported that “He's in really, really bad shape” and that being placed in isolation was re-traumatising him. Since being placed in isolation on 12 April, he has been on hunger strike, accepting only water. He is since reported to have been returned to his normal cell, with the punishment having ended, but is still on hunger strike. Al Shibh told his legal team that he was “punished for shouting at his guards, at one point scratching the lens of his cell’s monitoring camera and for putting stones in his toilet to cause another captive's toilet to overflow”.
Also ahead of the hearing, on 27 April, the military judge ruled that the US was at war with Al Qaeda at the time of the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York, although he did not specify in his ruling when that war began. The ruling is crucial for the trial of the five men to proceed before a military commission; without war, they can only be tried by a civilian court only. The question was raised by the lawyers of Saudi defendant Mustafa Al Hawsawi, in an attempt to have the charge against him dismissed. The judge based on ruling on “Congress and two presidents hav[ing] said so

Two Libyan prisoners released to Senegal in April 2016 have been sent back to Libya on 4 April by the Senegalese authorities. Prior to their return, one of the men, Omar Khalifa Mohammed Abu Bakr, had told his lawyer that he fears for his life if returned there. The two men were granted humanitarian asylum by the West African country in 2016 but since early 2018 it has been threatening to deport them. Since their reported return to Libya, a country overrun by militias since the US-led war in 2011, both men have “disappeared”. The other man, Salem Abdul Salem Ghereby, who has a wife and children in Libya, had expressed his wish to return there.
According to the NGO Cage, Ghereby was being held at Mitiga airbase in Tripoli whereas Omar Khalifa was detained in Senegal following a failed attempt to deport him. There have been no official reports of their whereabouts or of who is holding either of the men.
It should be recalled that both men were released by the Obama administration which also started the bombing of Libya which has led to the current deterioration of the security situation in the country.

On 13 April, Saudi prisoner Ahmed al Darbi had his sentencing hearing after he pleaded guilty to war crimes in a plea bargain deal in February 2014. Al Darbi was tortured into confessing involvement in the bombing of ships in the Arabian Sea after 9/11. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison, which began to run as of the time of his trial and not since he was seized in 2002; he could thus be released in 2027. He has been due to be returned to his native Saudi Arabia since February to serve the rest of his sentence there. This was the first sentencing hearing at Guantánamo since 2011.

Lawyers for Abd al Hadi al Iraqi, who says his real name is Nashwan al Tamir, have protested a potential trial timetable for mid-2019, saying they have not had enough time to prepare and that the defence team is subject to change. He was one of the last prisoners to be brought to Guantánamo and is facing non-capital charges but faces the prospect of a life sentence.

Extraordinary Rendition
Macedonia has issued a formal apology to Khaled El Masri, the German citizen of Lebanese origin in whose rendition it assisted in 2003. He was detained in the country while on holiday and was interrogated for more than 3 weeks. He was accused of being a member of Al Qaeda before being handed over the CIA who then took him to Afghanistan and tortured him before releasing him in rural Albania months later.
In 2012, the European Court of Human Rights ordered Macedonia to pay him compensation of €60,000 after the country was found to have breached his human rights. However, the country has never investigated the crimes and no one has been held to account.
On the other hand, both the US and Germany have remained silent. Current German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier refused to apologised when asked to during his election campaign last year; in 2005, he came under fire for suppressing information the German government had at the time on his case and acting too slowly on it. The US itself quickly realised it had the wrong man.
Furthermore, Germany has failed to provide him with adequate rehabilitation and medical support. Since his return to Germany, El Masri has been arrested and jailed several times for violent behaviour, which has been linked to his untreated torture trauma.
In a letter, the Scottish Lord Advocate James Wolffe has suggested that a police investigation into torture flights through Scotland may continue until the US hands over a full unredacted copy of the US Senate committee Torture Report, which has been requested by the Scottish authorities but has not been acquiesced.

On 20 April, a federal judge prevented attempts by the Trump administration to transfer a US citizen accused of fighting with ISIS in Syria to Saudi Arabia. The unidentified man has been held without charge since he surrendered to the US over 7 months ago. He will remain at a US military detention facility in Iraq for now. The man is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which argued “that any transfer would violate the detainee's constitutional and legal rights because the government has not charged him or proved that it legally detained him in the first place”.

LGC Activities:
The LGC held its second monthly Shut Guantánamo! demos outside the US Embassy in Nine Elms in April. This demo was in solidarity with the Iraqi people 15 years after the war there started. Please join us on Thursday 3 May at 12-2pm for our next monthly demonstration. The address is 33 Nine Elms Ln, London SW11 7US, nearest underground: Vauxhall. More details available at: https://www.facebook.com/events/192571218047863/ All are welcome to join us.

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