Tuesday, November 30, 2021

LGC Newsletter – November 2021

Guantánamo Bay

After Guantánamo Bay prisoner Majid Khan read out a statement containing details of the torture he faced in CIA torture prisoners during his sentencing hearing at the end of October, members of the jury in the case wrote a letter “urging clemency for Guantanamo Bay detainee Majid Khan, calling his account of torture at so-called CIA black sites a “stain on the moral fiber of America”. The seven officers were part of an eight-member military jury that on Friday [29 October] issued a sentence of 26 years in prison to Khan for his support of al-Qaeda in the wake of the September 11 attacks. Khan had previously pleaded guilty in 2012 to serving as a courier for the group and helping to plan attacks.” The letter, published in The New York Times, stated that his treatment went “well beyond enhanced interrogation techniques, instead being closer to torture performed by the most abusive regimes in modern history. This abuse was of no practical value in terms of intelligence, or any other tangible benefit to US interests,” the letter said. “Instead, it is a stain on the moral fiber of America; the treatment of Mr Khan in the hands of the US personnel should be a source of shame for the US government.”” Khan is expected to be released next year due to the plea deal which formed the basis of his conviction, which the jury was not told about. It is not known whether this letter will have any influence on the case.




A 3-week pre-trial hearing was held in the case of five men accused of involvement in the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York City. The case, sitting with a new judge, Colonel Matthew McCall, did not call any witnesses for this hearing and instead focused on procedural matters and the disclosure of evidence to the two parties, especially of classified and secret prosecution evidence relating to the torture of the defendants; hearings were not held on every single day during the 3-week period.




The Pakistani government has announced that 73-year old Saifullah Paracha, the oldest prisoner held at Guantánamo, will soon be repatriated to Pakistan. He was cleared for release earlier this year and is in bad health. The Pakistani government said that it is “coordinating with the US authorities for the repatriation of Paracha and some other Pakistanis from Guantanamo Bay.

“In a written reply to the Senate, the US State Department stated that Washington was in contact with Islamabad and the two countries were completing the necessary formalities for Paracha’s extradition to Pakistan.”



The family of Abdulqadir al Madhfari, one of twelve former Yemenis prisoners released to the UAE in 2016 and repatriated to Yemen in October, reported that he disappeared in mid-November after being detained by Houthi militia members. Suffering from mental health problems since his detention at Guantánamo and then in the UAE, he was effectively released only in October and several weeks later was detained again. His family do not know where he is being held and have been denied access to him.



On 25 November, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg found in a case brought by two French former prisoners, Nizar Sassi and Mourad Benchellali, in Sassi  and  Benchellali  v  France, that the French foreign ministry and intelligence services had not breached Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to a fair trial), when they visited the men at Guantánamo seeking information for their own investigations in France on three separate occasions, and that the statements given while in detention were not used to bring criminal charges against them in France. Upon their release from Guantánamo in 2004, without charge or trial, the two were tried and convicted of terrorism offences, and subsequently filed a complaint on their release. The Court had previously thrown out their claim under Article 3, prohibition of the use of torture. Considering the visits and questioning an administrative matter, the Court dodged having to deal with the lawfulness under European law of member states questioning their citizens while held in unlawful arbitrary detention abroad.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

LGC Newsletter – October 2021

 Guantánamo Bay

As part of an ongoing investigation in Poland into its collusion with the CIA’s extraordinary rendition torture programme, particularly in relation to Guantánamo prisoner Abu Zubaydah, who has already successfully prosecuted the country for its involvement in crimes against humanity, a hearing was held at the United States Supreme Court in a case brought by his lawyers to order two CIA contractors, considered the architects of the extraordinary rendition programme, to testify about the torture he faced at an illegal secret CIA prison in Poland.

During the hearing, three of the nine judges on the panel asked why he could not speak himself: ““Why not make the witness available? What is the government’s objection to the witness testifying on his own treatment and not requiring any addition from the government of any kind?” Justice Neil Gorsuch asked.” At the same time, “The US government is blocking the request, arguing that questioning [James] Mitchell and [John] Jessen would reveal “state secrets”. After legal battles in the lower courts, the case has made it to the Supreme Court.” The judges also questioned why Abu Zubaydah remained at Guantánamo after so many years without charge or trial.

Lawyers for Abu Zubaydah, who has been held at Guantánamo without charge or trial since 2006, after over three years of illegal secret detention and torture by the CIA at locations around the world, have also filed cases at the United Nations and may also do so in the UK to obtain further information and details about the torture he faced.


Following the hearing, the Biden administration said it would allow Abu Zubaydah to testify in a written declaration to Polish investigators about the treatment he received in CIA detention; however, his statement is likely to be redacted to protect US torturers. The US government claims that nonetheless, this “would not prevent him from describing his treatment while in CIA custody.”


Following this news, one of Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers David Klein, wrote to the Supreme Court asking it to wait until the Biden administration explains what it means about allowing Abu Zubaydah to make a written statement and how much of it will be disclosed to the Polish investigators before deciding on the case. In his letter, Klein stated: “the Government will allow Abu Zubaydah to submit a written declaration about his treatment at the hands of the CIA so long as the CIA authorizes it.”


Full letter: https://www.supremecourt.gov/DocketPDF/20/20-827/197445/20211025123903253_AZ%202021.10.25%20Letter%20to%20Mr.%20Harris%204872-4094-1312%20v.1.pdf


The prisoner reviewer board has cleared two more prisoners for release. Yemeni Sanad Yislam al-Kazimi, 51, and Afghan Assadullah Haroon Gul, 40, were both cleared for release on 7 October by the review board. It has been recommended that al-Kazimi is sent to Oman, in view of the ongoing war in Yemen. Neither has been tried or charged while held at Guantánamo.


In Gul’s case, following a habeas corpus application to review his prisoner status and grounds for detention filed in 2016, two weeks later, a US judge granted his application and ruled that there is no legal basis for him to be held at Guantánamo; such a ruling has not been made in over a decade. The details and reasoning of the ruling remain classified.

In spite of this ruling, and two more prisoners being cleared for release, it does not mean that any prisoners will be released soon or that plans are underway to facilitate this.



Following their arraignment in late August, more than 15 years after arriving at Guantánamo, one of two Malaysian prisoners in a case also involving an Indonesian prisoner has filed a motion to have the arraignment, at which they were given details of the charges against them, annulled as “a Malay translator provided by the US government was incompetent and an Indonesian translator helping the prosecution was biased.” Malaysian “Mohammed Nazir Lep said the Indonesian translator had stated last year that “I don’t know why the government is wasting so much money on these terrorists; they should have been killed a long time ago”. A motion posted on the website of the US Military Commission’s office said the “real and apparent bias prevented her from functioning as a true, accurate and impartial voice of the court”.” At the hearing, the three men refused to enter a plea, “citing incompetence of the translators which resulted in inaccurate translations.” The matter also delayed the hearing. Nazir’s lead counsel Brian Bouffard said “the US government had not secured a competent Malay translator “despite the extraordinary amount of time the government has had to prepare for the prosecution of this case”. Lawyers are asking for the arraignment to held again, properly.



The UAE has repatriated the remaining 12 Yemeni former Guantánamo prisoners it accepted from the US between 2015 and 2017. A group of 6 others were repatriated to Yemen in July where they were quickly released and reunited with their families. The 12 men arrived in Yemen on 27 October and their families were asked to come to a military base to meet them after release. Although the UAE government has not commented, the Yemeni government has said that those released in July received some funds from the UAE and Yemeni governments. The UN and human rights organisations have condemned the forced repatriations by the UAE and have claimed that the men were told to return to Yemen or face indefinite detention in the UAE; they had been detained in some form since their “release” from Guantánamo by the US to the country.



During his sentencing hearing, for the first time, Guantánamo prisoner Majid Khan described some of the torture he suffered at the hands of the CIA. This torture was used to extract his confession and convict him in a secret plea bargain. Although he may be freed next year in spite of being given a 26-year sentence, almost a decade after he was convicted, those involved in his torture remain free, in spite of having committed crimes against humanity that were detailed in the 2014 US Senate report into the CIA’s torture programme. He said he was “left terrified and hallucinating”. “Khan spoke of being suspended naked from a ceiling beam for long periods, doused repeatedly with ice water to keep him awake for days. He described having his head held under water to the point of near drowning, only to have water poured into his nose and mouth when the interrogators let him up. He was beaten, given forced enemas, sexually assaulted and starved in overseas prisons whose locations were not disclosed. “I would beg them to stop and swear to them that I didn’t know anything,” said Khan, reading from a 39-page statement. “If I had intelligence to give I would have given it already but I didn’t have anything to give.””



Friday, October 01, 2021

LGC Newsletter – September 2021

 Guantánamo Bay

Activity at Guantánamo this month has been dominated by the resumption of pre-trial hearings in various cases that were suspended due to the Coronavirus pandemic. In most cases, the additional delay has seen a change in defence counsels, as lawyers retire or resign, as well as judges.

The resumption of pre-trial hearings in the case of five men accused of involvement in attacks on New York in September 2001 ended early after a journalist attending the hearing was reported to have contracted Covid-19. The hearing was due to hear arguments by defence lawyers on access to information about the treatment of the prisoners while in secret CIA detention between 2002 and 2006 (before they arrived at Guantánamo).



On 20 September, in the case of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, currently facing trial and a capital sentence for his alleged involvement in attacks in the Gulf of Aden in 2000, an appeals panel dismissed a ruling by an army judge to allow evidence obtained through torture in determining issues in his pre-trial hearing. However, the ruling did not decide whether or not torture evidence could not be used at all in pre-trial proceedings.


This ruling was made the day before the pre-trial hearing in this case resumed after almost two years. The hearing has largely been held in closed session with a focus on the use of hidden microphones to eavesdrop on communication between Al-Nashiri and his counsel. Around 85 witnesses have been called to testify on this issue. The hearing was delayed temporarily when two prosecutors participating remotely from Virginia developed Covid-19 symptoms.


The judge in this case has also “ordered the deposition of an uncharged Yemeni prisoner, Abdulsalam al-Hela, on questions related to the 2000 suicide bombing of the warship off Yemen, and investigation that followed” [source @carolrosenberg].


The federal appeals court in Washington DC heard the appeal case of Abdulsalam al-Hela, a Yemeni prisoner who has been held without charge or trial at Guantánamo for almost twenty years, concerning whether or not he and his fellow prisoners have du
e process rights under the US constitution. “His lawyers say his “seemingly endless detention” is “punitive and unjustifiable” and are urging the court to immediately release their client.” With President Biden having ended the war in Afghanistan one month ago, the impact this will have on considering the status of the prisoners will be interesting to see. Lawyer Wells Dixon from the Center for Constitutional Rights said that the Biden administration is “fighting in court to continue to hold somebody that it has decided it doesn’t want to continue to hold in a prison the president has said he wants to close. It makes no sense except to illustrate a failure of policy on the part of the Biden administration.” Al-Hela has been approved for transfer from Guantánamo but remains there nonetheless.



Extraordinary Rendition

As the International Criminal Court (ICC) prepares to expand its investigation into war crimes committed by the Taleban in Afghanistan, it has decided to stop looking into war crimes committed there by the US and its allies, including torture and killings at its secret detention facilities. The Trump administration imposed sanctions on court officials after it opened an investigation into Afghanistan to include the US but new prosecutor Karim Khan has decided to focus on the Taleban’s actions instead, claiming that these actions demand greater attention and resources. It would appear that the US has gotten the outcome it wanted – impunity for it and its allies for torture, kidnap and murder – simply through the change of prosecutor at the ICC. The Biden administration’s stance on the potential of a US investigation is the same as that of the Trump administration, even though it lifted the sanctions. In granting impunity, it allows powerful western nations off the hook, a criticism often levelled at and proven by the ICC’s actions, and undermines the right to justice of the many Afghan and other victims of the US’ torture, unlawful imprisonment and abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan over many years. Earlier this year, taking action similar to that taken by the Guantánamo military commissions, the ICC ruled to allow possible torture evidence in one of its cases.



LGC Activities

In 2017, we held a clown protest to mark the Guantánamo anniversary. We have a number of clown suits that we no longer need and would be happy to give, free of charge (if you can collect in London or otherwise against payment of the postage fee), to an organisation or campaign that may find them useful. Please get in touch if you are interested.


As of October 2021, the London Guantánamo Campaign will cease to hold its monthly Shut Guantánamo! demonstration outside the US Embassy in London. Inspired by the permanent anti-Iraq War vigil outside Parliament by late campaigner Brian Haw, in February 2007, we started a regular monthly (weekly until 2008) protest outside the US Embassy in solidarity with the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay and to remind the US authorities that their illegal prison camp was not forgotten. At the time, we said that we would discontinue our protests once Guantánamo was shut, little realising it would still be open for business 20 years later. Over the years, we have also stood in solidarity with other prisoners too. The relocation by the US Embassy to Nine Elms in 2017 involves architecture hostile to protest and offers little opportunity for meaningful protest. We were not put off by this and, over the past 14 years, only moved our protest online for around one year due to the 2020 pandemic lockdown. This summer we returned to our regular protest. However, with falling numbers of attendees and the fact that the Guantánamo prisoners (of whom 39 remain) are largely unknown to or forgotten by the general public, we have decided to suspend this form of protest. Nonetheless, we remain in solidarity with the remaining prisoners, those who have been released, many of whom continue to suffer persecution and the effects of illegal US detention and torture after their release, and other prisoners subject to arbitrary detention and torture worldwide, especially in the War on Terror. When appropriate, we will protest outside the US Embassy and continue to protest and call for the closure of Guantánamo and justice for present and past prisoners.

Noel Hamel, a regular protester over the past decade says: “We are very sad to discontinue the regular monthly protest though we are no less concerned.  For very good reason, it is a principle that people aren't seized and abused randomly. Overwhelmingly the 800 prisoners in Guantanamo were released because there was no evidence of wrong-doing, (in normal language we say they weren't guilty of anything). If 39 remain then around 760 innocent people were abused in Guantanamo. It isn't clear why the innocent were released slowly over years, some many years after they had been "cleared for release". Little is understood about the 39 remaining or the processes they are subjected to or why. Many people falsely believe prisoners were encountered in suspicious circumstances "on the battlefield" in Afghanistan - not so. The details and stories of the prisoners could fill volumes. Overwhelmingly prisoner's weren't apprehended in a recognised legal manner but were capriciously seized with prejudice and bigotry the principle motivators like  Medieval Witch Hunts. Guantanamo and everything associated with it has set back the course of judicial processes by centuries, and for 39 men it continues. No reasonable person opposes justice and legal punishment, but Guantanamo is an example of capricious sadism for the sake of it. Possibly some kind of misplaced retribution for the attacks of 9/11 with which the 800 overwhelmingly had no connection. How could we not protest and shouldn't we be concerned about the appalling example it sets and what it bodes for others in future.

We thank everyone who has joined us at these protests since February 2007 and hope you will join us at future protests until Guantánamo closes.

How we started in 2007
How we ended in 2021

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

LGC Newsletter – August 2021

 Guantánamo Bay

After 18 years of US detention, first in secret CIA torture facilities and then at Guantánamo, an Indonesian and two Malaysian prisoners accused of involvement in the 2002 Bali bombings had an arraignment hearing on 30 August, at which they were to be formally informed of the charges against them. They face eight and nine charges respectively which include conspiracy, attempted murder, murder, intentionally causing serious bodily injury, terrorism, destruction of property, and attacking civilians and civilian objects. The hearing which was due to take place in early 2021 was postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Ahead of the hearing, the case acquired a new judge and Indonesian prisoner Hambali’s defence lawyer for the past 4 years, Major James Valentine, retired from the US Marines and the case. In spite of the extra time to organise the hearing, it was plagued by problems with interpreters which led to it being delayed on the first day.



Ahead of the resumption of pre-trial hearings in the case of five men accused of involvement in terrorist attacks in New York City in September 2001 next month, the fourth judge in the case, which has yet to have a trial date set 20 years after the events took place, has been appointed. Lt. Col. Matthew McColl has been appointed to the case even though he only qualified to hear death penalty cases in July and has served as a military judge for two years.  https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/20/us/politics/military-judge-sept-11-trial.html

In early August, defence lawyers for the five defendants filed a motion to have the hearing set back in view of the Covid-19 restrictions and the lack of a judge in the case, among other matters. https://int.nyt.com/data/documenttools/ae-815-k-ksm-mtr-ae-815-j-scheduling-ord/a9e136e668f86605/full.pdf The new judge, however, has approved the two-week hearing set to start 6 September.


Extraordinary Rendition

Pakistani neuroscientist Dr Aafia Siddiqui, who “disappeared” with her 3 young children in Pakistan in 2003 and reappeared in US custody in Afghanistan several years, currently serving an 86-year sentence in the US, is reported to have been injured after being attacked by an inmate at the maximum security prison she is being held at in Texas. A cup filled with scalding liquid was thrown in her face injuring her and leaving her in serious pain; she had to be removed from her cell in a wheelchair. During her detention, Dr Siddiqui has had limited access to her family and her lawyers.



LGC Activities

The September monthly Shut Guantánamo! protest is on Thursday 2nd September at 12-2pm outside the US Embassy in Nine Elms (Nine Elms Lane, SW11 7US, nearest underground: Vauxhall).  https://www.facebook.com/events/366996018133518/ If you require more details about this event, please email us at london.gtmo [at] gmail.com