Friday, May 31, 2019
Pre-trial hearings continued in early May in the case of five men accused of involvement in terrorist attacks in New York City in September 2001. During the hearings, the defence team called for unfettered access to the full 2014 US Senate report on CIA torture to use as evidence of the torture of their clients. The prosecution claimed the defence teams have already had sufficient disclosure of information about the CIA programme; currently a 500-page executive summary is available in summarised and redacted form of the 6000-page report. Some of the defence lawyers initially did not attend, due to concerns over the safety of lawyers and their ability to do their work unhindered.
The week’s hearings were further complicated when the judge announced on Thursday (2 May) that he would be stepping down from the case to take up a new job “commanding the Marine Corps Embassy Security Group in June.” He joined the Guantánamo case as judge in August 2018.
Later in May, it was announced that CIA contractors, psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who designed the CIA’s torture programme, are being summoned to testify at the next pre-trial hearing of this case. Defence lawyers have asked for them to attend as witnesses to answer questions about the programme and the ordeal their clients went through before arriving at Guantánamo along with dozens of other former and present CIA officers. James Connell, a lawyer for Ammar al Baluchi, one of the five Guantanamo prisoners facing trial by military commission for their alleged roles in the attack, stated: “This will be the first time Dr. Mitchell and Dr. Jessen will have to testify in a criminal proceeding about the torture program they implemented.”
With the next hearing scheduled for late June, it is not clear who will preside over the hearing with the previous judge stepping down in June and the new judge, retired US Navy judge Christian L. Reismeier only having been confirmed publicly in the post on 28 May.
For the past five years, some lawmakers in the US have tried to have a clause included in the National Defense Authorization Act, passed each year to authorise defence spending, allowing Guantánamo Bay prisoners to be released to the US mainland for emergency medical treatment. With the bill for the coming year to be passed as an act later in the summer, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee have approved a small clause in the draft law that could allow prisoners to be transferred for medical treatment in exceptional cases. Currently, some medical treatments are expensive or impossible to provide at Guantánamo. The clause would still need to be approved by the rest of the Senate and the version drafted by Congress. As the prisoner population grows older, healthcare is becoming an increasingly important issue, especially for the military personnel whose job it is to care for them.
Two prisoner reviews were held on 21 May to decide whether prisoners can be cleared for release. For Libyan prisoner Mustafa Faraj Muhammad Masud al-Jadid al-Uzaybi it was his fourth such review in the past few years and the third for Malaysian prisoner Mohd Farik bin Amin. Neither man attended the hearing as prisoners continue to boycott the process which offers them no prospect of release.
Police in Scotland have been urged to continue their investigation into claims that the CIA used Scottish air space to refuel planes during the illegal transfer of prisoners as part of its extraordinary rendition programme. As part of a six-year investigation which has recently ended and the report produced has been handed over to prosecutors, investigators sought to obtain a copy of the full 2014 US Senate report on CIA torture but this was never granted.
The May Shut Guantánamo! demo took place on 2 May. There is NO Shut Guantánamo! demo in June as the LGC will join the Guantánamo Justice Campaign to form a ‘Close Guantánamo’ bloc on the Together Against Trump demonstration on 4 June, meeting on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Field at 11am.
Tuesday, April 30, 2019
Majid Khan, who entered a plea bargain in February 2012 before the Guantánamo military commission, in which he agreed to testify against other prisoners, is due to be sentenced later this year, more than 7 years after he pleaded guilty to terrorism offences. In a pre-sentencing hearing in early April, his lawyers argued that his sentence should be reduced to less than the 19 years he agreed to in 2012; they argued that he should serve a shorter sentence in view of his ordeal in CIA custody. Khan, a former US resident who attended school there, was held in secret CIA prisons before being taken to Guantánamo. Part of his torture was outlined in the 2014 US Senate Committee report on extraordinary rendition: “He was sexually assaulted while hanging naked from the ceiling. Interrogators threatened to hammer his head, and threatened to harm his young sister. Majid lived in total darkness for much of 2003, and in solitary confinement from 2004 to 2006.”
The pre-sentencing hearing focused on whether or not the torture he suffered is a mitigating factor in his sentence. Prosecutors argued that he waived his right to the documents and witnesses his defence is now seeking to argue that.
The next pre-sentencing hearing in his case is set for early June.
The periodic review system set up by previous president Barack Obama is continuing to operate for prisoners held indefinitely without charge or trial to determine whether or not they can be released. When Donald Trump became president in early 2017, five prisoners had been cleared for release. They remain at Guantánamo, and only one prisoner, as part of his sentence, has been released under Trump. As a result, prisoners are increasingly boycotting the review system as there is little hope that they will be released. For many prisoners they are currently having their second or third hearing. At the end of March, Yemeni prisoner Suhayl Abdul Anam Al Sharabi did not attend, nor did his lawyer. He was instead represented by a government-appointed personal representative in a hearing that lasted 4 minutes. In recent months, other prisoners have also refused to cooperate with the process.
Pentagon prosecutors are seeking for the third time to charge three Guantánamo prisoners – Indonesian Hambali and two Malaysian prisoners, Mohd Farik Bin Amin and Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep – with murder, terrorism and conspiracy in the 2002 Bali bombings and the 2003 bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta. Between their kidnapping in 2003 through extraordinary rendition and their arrival at Guantánamo in 2006, the three men were held in secret CIA prisons at various locations around the world and severely tortured. As a result, the three are considered high-value prisoners and have limited access to the outside world. Prosecutors have chosen not to apply the death penalty and the three men could face life sentences if the charges are approved. Indonesia has already prosecuted the Bali bombings and executed three men convicted of carrying it out. The Indonesian prisoner Hambali was not linked to the attacks during this trial. Indonesia has no interest in trying Hambali and is not seeking his return to the country. The Obama administration had tried to have him extradited to Australia or Malaysia to stand trial there but there is a lack of evidence against him, which has seen the charges against him thrown previously. The family of one of the Malaysian men is hoping he is returned to Malaysia, even if he has to serve a life sentence there, rather than remain at Guantánamo.
On 16 April, a US court of appeal threw out all the pre-trial orders made over three and a half years in the case of Abd Al-Nashiri, facing the death penalty for his alleged role in the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, by the judge in the case, Air Force Colonel Vance Spath, as well as every ruling on appeals of his orders, as the judges held that Spath’s impartiality as a judge was questionable, given that he was simultaneously applying for the position of an immigration judge with the Justice Department. Al-Nashiri’s lawyers argued that the undeclared intention to seek work elsewhere – the judge left the case to retire – meant that his impartiality was questionable and the appeal court judges agreed. In their reasoning, the judges pointed out that while Judge Spath did not inform the parties that he was seeking employment elsewhere, the US government too refused to question him on it. The outcome of this decision sets proceedings in Al-Nashiri’s case back to where they were in November 2015, and thus will extend the period by which his case will go to trial, if at all. The ruling is a major blow to the military tribunal process and further undermines its credibility.
The Guantánamo camp commander, Navy Rear Admiral John Ring was abruptly relieved of his duties on 27 April, 7 weeks before he was due to be redeployed. No specific reason has been given but a “statement from US Southern Command said the change in leadership was “due to a loss of confidence in his ability to command”, and would “not interrupt the safe, humane, legal care and custody provided to the detainee population” at Guantánamo.” He had previously expressed his frustration at the lack of resources available to him for prisoner care. He had apparently been subject to an investigation unrelated to comments made to the media. His deputy, Army Brigadier General John Hussey has been made acting commander.
The US revoked the entry visa for International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. The decision is thought to be in response to the Court’s investigation of the US and CIA’s potential war crimes in Afghanistan. The US has also threatened that other ICC staff working on this investigation and an investigation into Israel’s actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories could be denied visas and entry to the US. The US is not a party to the ICC having not signed or ratified the Rome Statute.
A week later, judges at the ICC rejected Ms Bensouda’s request to open an investigation into war crimes in Afghanistan which would cover both offences by Afghan parties and the US and its allies. Judges cited the fact that it was unlikely that either the US or Afghan authorities and parties would cooperate.
In a rare public appearance at Auburn University, CIA director Gina Haspel, whose career has recently been the subject of a whitewashing campaign by the US media, was reminded of her role in torturing prisoners kidnapped by the CIA under the extraordinary rendition programme. She was talking about her career when a man in audience shouted “Tell these young children, tell them who you tortured. You know their names — they’re still in Guantánamo Bay”.
“You’re a decrepit human being,” he continued before being removed by security. “The only people you should be talking to is a prison guard in a jail cell.”
LGC Activities:The April Shut Guantánamo! demo took place on 4 April. The May demonstration will be at 12-2pm on Thursday 2 May outside the US Embassy, 33 Nine Elms Lane, SW11 7US. Further details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/2694567797281798/
Sunday, March 31, 2019
The government stipend for rent and subsistence of former Guantánamo prisoners, all refugees, sent to Uruguay in 2014, has been renewed for a fifth year. The prisoners have cost the Uruguayan state $709,000 over the past four years. A state spokesperson said it would not be renewed again. Of the six sent to the country in 2014, 4 remain: Syrian refugee Jihad Diyab used a false passport to travel to Turkey to reunite with his family, and from where they have possibly been returned to Syria along with other Syrian refugees. Palestinian Mohammed Tahamatan has moved to Argentina and is unlikely to return to Uruguay. Of the four remaining former prisoners, Ahmed Ahjam, a Syrian refugee, has started a business selling Syrian sweets and the others have had small jobs and attended training courses but with no prospect of longer-term or full-time employment.
On 25 March, Alberta judge Mary Moreau ruled that Omar Khadr, former Canadian prisoner, had served his US prison sentence imposed by the Guantánamo military tribunal and ruled him free of any bail or further conditions. Khadr was released to Canada in 2012 and released on bail in 2015 pending his appeal of his conviction in the US. However, that has yet to start and is likely to take many years. Had he remained in prison, his sentence would have expired in October 2018. Thus his lawyers petitioned the court to consider Khadr to be in custody for one further day and then rule him to have served his sentence, which the judge did, and then allowed him to walk free. Although his restrictions have been reduced over the past few years, restrictions remained on his ability to obtain a passport, travel abroad and within Canada and communication with his sister. The ruling should allow him to get on with his life normally while pursuing his US appeal.
Lawyer of Indonesian prisoner Hambali, real name Encep Nurjaman, Major James Valentine has stated that in spite of the US laying formal charges against him last year, first initiated under the Obama administration, the US government is unlikely to take the case to court “because it "can never reveal to the world" how brutally he was tortured”. Instead, he is asking the Indonesian government to use its powers to charge Hambali for offences he is alleged to have committed there and to have him returned to the country to stand trial. His family are also calling for his return to Indonesia, even if it means further imprisonment. Other defendants in the 2003 Bali bombing, which he is accused of involvement in, have already been tried, convicted and executed in Indonesia. The Obama administration had previously sought to have him extradited to Malaysia as he would also face the death penalty there. After he was kidnapped and extraordinarily rendered, he was held in secret CIA prisons where he was brutally tortured – his lawyer says he shows the physical effects of this – before being sent to Guantánamo where he is held in a top-secret block with little access to anyone else. Although the offences for which the US would like to try Hambali took place in Indonesia, the Indonesian government has shown no interest in prosecuting him.
Former Mauritanian prisoner Mohamedou Ould Slahi has been denied a passport by the Mauritanian government to travel abroad and receive medical treatment. Upon release three years ago, he was told that he could apply for a passport after two years but this has been denied. His petition to the Mauritanian government has been supported by hundreds of writers and authors worldwide. Many former prisoners face restrictions on their ability to obtain a passport and travel.
The latest pre-trial hearing in the case of Abdul Hadi Al-Iraqi lasted two hours after his counsel requested a meeting with him, a rare event due to his poor health and his needing days to recover after being moved to the courthouse. At the start of the hearing Al-Iraqi told the judge that he would not be able to follow the proceedings as his medication was making him drowsy, but the judge decided to continue. However, his lead defense counsel, Susan Hensler, suffered severe dehydration and had to be treated at the base hospital. Hearings in his case will not resume now until July.
In the case of five men accused of involvement in attacks on New York in September 2001, pre-trial hearings continued in late March. These focused on the details of recorded phone calls allegedly involving Khalid Shaikh Mohammad and three of his co-defendants in the months before the attacks which the US government claims involved coded communication on plans for the attacks. The issue was raised by James Connell, lead counsel for Ammar Al-Baluchi, as part of his challenge of “a protective order – what he called a “gag order” – preventing the defense teams from making any inquiries, including in closed court sessions, that might touch upon the sources and methods of how the recordings were obtained.” Connell also argued that the “court’s acceptance of the government summary without cross examination of government personnel with knowledge of the “how” and the “when” of the recordings would violate his client’s constitutional right to confront witnesses.” Other lawyers refused to take part in these pre-trial hearings over issues over interference by the FBI through the interrogation of a paralegal about the defence teams and a possible conflict of interest. Much of the hearings were held in closed session.
The inquiry into the use of Scottish airports for CIA torture flights has finally ended after more than five years. A police inquiry was ordered in 2013. As part of the investigation Scottish police asked to see the full 6000-page 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report into extraordinary rendition. This request was never granted. Scottish airports were used for stopovers and refuelling on up to a dozen occasions at least. The outcome of the inquiry could see prosecutions of CIA officials.
The March Shut Guantánamo! demo took place on 7 March. The April demonstration will be at 12-2pm on Thursday 4 April outside the US Embassy, 33 Nine Elms Lane, SW11 7US. Further details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1001212076743659/
Thursday, February 28, 2019
Former Canadian prisoner Omar Khadr, 32, brought a case before the Alberta youth court on 26 February 2019, seeking to have his bail conditions, which impose restrictions on his everyday life, lifted. Khadr was convicted at Guantánamo in 2010 in a secret plea deal on the charge of allegedly murdering a US serviceman when he was 15 in Afghanistan. Returned to Canada in 2012 to serve the rest of his sentence there, he was released from a maximum security prison by a youth court in 2015 on the basis of a number of bail restrictions, many of which have been relaxed over the past few years but which still require him to seek permission to travel in Canada and deprive him of a passport, among other things. Effectively, had he remained in jail, Khadr’s sentence would have expired over 5 months ago. Although Canada apologised to Khadr and reached an out-of-court settlement with him over its failure to protect his human rights, he remains subject, in Canada, to a ruling made by the highly controversial Guantánamo military tribunal, with evidence obtained from torture used to try him. Khadr asked the court to order his release and declare his sentence to have expired by having the judge place him under conditional supervision for one day and then declare his sentence served. The judge hearing the case said she will rule on the case in March. According to his lawyer, Nate Whitling: “The bail order does interrupt the ticking of the clock but practically speaking, the guy has served his sentence now.” and, in the meantime, his appeal in the US, pending which he was released on bail, has not advanced “even an inch”.
A second case has been brought against Lithuania at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg by a Guantánamo prisoner, Saudi Mustafa Al-Hawsawi, who is currently facing trial with four other men suspected of involvement in the September 2001 attacks in New York. The Lithuanian government has decided to challenge the case, and consistently denies the existence of any CIA torture prisons in its territory. Concerning Al-Hawsawi, it claims: “We have no tangible or reasonable evidence whatsoever that the person could have been in Lithuania”, and that “the suspected building in Antaviliai, in the outskirts of Vilnius, had been "an intelligence support center" and that the suspected planes had transported communication equipment rather than people to Lithuania”, even though Lithuania previously lost a case at the court whereby it was fined for having colluded in CIA torture through running a torture facility. It is currently appealing that judgment made last year.
Lawyers and NGOs acting for Al-Hawsawi previously urged the Lithuanian government to include him in its investigation into secret CIA torture prisons in the country, ongoing since 2015. However, refusal by the district court in Lithuania in 2016 to grant him the victim status that would allow his inclusion in the investigation led lawyers to take the case to the Strasbourg Court.
According to the NGO Redress: “Mr. al-Hawsawi was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and was held in secret detention in the CIA’s rendition, detention, and interrogation programme until September 2006.
During this time he was severely tortured and now suffers from a number of serious medical conditions, including rectal prolapse, anal fissures, and Hepatitis C, a condition he did not have previously.
The United States Senate Torture Report – the most comprehensive examination of the CIA’s Torture programme – indicates that while Mr. al-Hawsawi was held in Lithuania he required emergency medical care, which was delayed because he was denied access to a local hospital.
Throughout his three and a half years’ secret detention– including the time he was detained in Lithuania – Mr. al-Hawsawi was not allowed access to a lawyer or to independent monitors (such as the International Committee of the Red Cross).
He was tortured and detained outside the protection of the law in conditions that amounted to enforced disappearance.”
Lawyers for fellow defendant in the September 2001 case, Ammar Al-Baluchi, have claimed that the makers of the film Zero Dark Thirty were given detailed information about his torture in a secret CIA prison, information that has been denied to his lawyers. According to his lawyers, “they were stunned to see the portrayal of his torture, including beatings, suspension from manacles and waterboarding, in the Oscar-winning 2012 film. The lawyers discovered that in the CIA’s year-long cooperation with the film-makers, the agency shared details of Baluchi’s torture at a secret prison, or black site, which they had been told were too secret to be divulged.”
This disclosure was made as part of a new film by The Guardian on the Guantánamo military tribunals: https://www.theguardian.com/law/video/2019/feb/22/the-trial-inside-guantanamo-with-911-suspect-ammar-al-baluchi-video
On 27 February, lawyers for Al-Baluchi brought a case before the federal courts to have the death penalty aspect of the case against him at Guantanamo removed, on the basis of the torture he has suffered and that almost seven years after the charges were brought against him (and four others), no trial date has been set. If successful, the case could see his trial before the military commission at a later stage invalidated.
LGC Activities:The February Shut Guantánamo! demo took place on 7 February. The March demonstration will be at 12-2pm on Thursday 7 March outside the US Embassy, 33 Nine Elms Lane, SW11 7US. Further details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/287164098647551/