Thursday, February 29, 2024

LGC Newsletter – February 2024

 Guantánamo Bay

A month-long pre-trial hearing is currently underway in February /early March in the case of four men accused of involvement in the September 2001 attacks in New York City. With some of the witnesses heard in closed session, and the defendants not attending all sessions, the judge continued to consider pre-trial issues such as what evidence to include and exclude and evidence obtained through the use of torture. Witnesses on the stand included one of the architects of the CIA extraordinary rendition torture programme, psychologist Dr James Mitchell, who gave testimony about the torture techniques he and other CIA operatives used on the defendants to extract confessions, including waterboarding. He last gave testimony in January 2020 in the case. FBI special agents involved in interrogations with the four men were also called as witnesses to give testimony, as their defence is seeking to have some evidence from these interrogations suppressed due to the CIA and FBI working together on them and using information taken from torture-based confessions. The hearing will end in early March and resume with more witnesses in mid-April, after Ramadan.


Two Afghan prisoners, Mullah Abdul Zahir Saber and Haji Abdul Karim, members of the Taliban in 2002, were released from Guantánamo to Oman in 2017, where they were held under house arrest and forbidden to travel. In mid-February, they returned to Afghanistan to a hero’s welcome following efforts to repatriate them by the Afghan government. One Afghan national remains at Guantánamo.


Wednesday, January 31, 2024

LGC Newsletter – January 2024

Guantánamo Bay

Dennis Edney KC, Scottish-Canadian lawyer of former Guantánamo child prisoner Omar Khadr has died aged 77. He was Khadr’s lawyer for over a decade and played a huge role in getting his client released from Guantánamo Bay when the Canadian government dragged its feet over his repatriation after a military commission plea bargain was reached, and then in helping to secure his release from prison in Canada and improving prison conditions when Khadr was held in solitary confinement and was subject to abuse from other prisoners. After his release from Canadian jail in 2015 on bail, Edney and his wife Patricia welcomed Omar Khadr into their home where he stayed for several years as he rehabilitated back into society. Lawyer Nate Whitling, who worked with Edney on Khadr’s case said, “Dennis was a great lawyer and friend. In all my years in the legal profession, I've never met a lawyer more dedicated to his clients”. A criminal lawyer, he also worked on numerous pro bono cases. In 2014, the LGC hosted a speaking tour by Dennis Edney in the UK to raise awareness about Omar Khadr’s case.


In a 2-week hearing in January, two Malaysian prisoners held at Guantánamo since 2006, after being transferred there following several years of illegal detention and torture in secret CIA facilities around the world, entered a plea bargain and pleaded guilty to conspiracy in the 2002 Bali bombings that killed over 200 people. The two men, Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, 47, and Mohammed Farik Bin Amin, 48, who will now not have to reveal “evidence” through torture-tainted confessions obtained from them, will instead give evidence against the alleged mastermind of the bombings, fellow torture victim, the Indonesian prisoner known as Hambali. They pleaded guilty to five of the nine charges brought against them; the other charges were dropped as part of the deal. Lawyers for Hambali are seeking to have torture-tainted evidence dropped in his separate case.

As part of the hearing, the men addressed the court which was attended by family members of the victims, who read out some of their own messages, and some of their own family members. The advised sentence of 23 years was accepted by the military jury and was later reduced to 5 years in view of the time already spent at Guantánamo (illegal CIA detention not included) of 17 years and the secret deal. The men are expected to be released to Malaysia after that but are not expected to be freed from detention, something that has not happened to any victim of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition torture programme.


Extraordinary Rendition

Lithuania has been found guilty a second time by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg of complicity in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme, this time in relation to Saudi prisoner Mustafa Al-Hawsawi, whose case has recently been severed from that of the other defendants in the 9/11 case due to the physical and mental impact his torture and detention have had on him. The court held that in his secret detention and torture in the CIA-run facility in Lithuania in 2005-2006 “that there had been violations of the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment or investigation because of Lithuania’s failure to effectively investigate Hawsawi’s allegations “and because of its complicity in the CIA secret detainee programme”.” The court also “held that there were violations to articles relating to the rights to a fair trial and life, as well as abolition of the death penalty, […] because Lithuania assisted Hawsawi’s “transfer from its territory in spite of a real risk that he could face a flagrant denial of justice and the death penalty.”” Lithuania was ordered to pay Al-Hawsawi €100,000 in compensation.

Monday, January 01, 2024

LGC Newsletter – December 2023

Guantánamo Bay

The UK Supreme Court has ruled that Guantánamo “forever prisoner” Abu Zubaydah can sue the British government “over allegations that British intelligence services asked the CIA to put questions to him while he was being tortured in “black sites”. The supreme court said MI5 and MI6 were subject to the law of England and Wales and not – as the government had attempted to argue – the six different countries where Abu Zubaydah was held.” Prior to his detention at Guantánamo in 2006, the Palestinian prisoner who was kidnapped by the US in Pakistan in 2002, was “rendered” to torture at secret CIA torture facilities in Thailand, Lithuania, Poland, Morocco, Guantánamo Bay (at a secret facility there) and Afghanistan. He has never been tried or charged. He has successfully sued Poland and Lithuania for their collusion with the CIA in his torture at the European Court of Human Rights. Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers claim that “the UK intelligence services committed the civil wrongs of misfeasance in public office, conspiracy to injure, trespass to the person, false imprisonment and negligence […. Abu Zubaydah] alleges that the UK intelligence services sent numerous questions to the CIA to be used in interrogations, without seeking any assurances that he would not be tortured or mistreated or taking steps to discourage or prevent such treatment. He claims that at the black sites he was waterboarded on 83 occasions and also subjected to extreme sleep deprivation, confinement inside boxes, beatings, death threats, starvation, denial of medical care and no access to sanitation.”


The Periodic Review Board has denied the last Afghan prisoner, Muhammad Rahim, the chance to be cleared for release, claiming that he still poses a threat to the security of the USA; he has never been charged or tried at Guantánamo in over 17 years of detention there. He is one of three of the remaining 30 prisoners who remain in indefinite detention.


The National Defense Authorization Act 2023 has allocated an initial $60 million for the construction of a new and modern healthcare facility but has maintained restrictions on the transfer of Guantánamo prisoners to prison facilities in the US and bars funding for their transfer to the US or other countries. In signing the law into force, President Joe Biden criticised these provisions stating: “Section 1033 of the Act continues to bar the use of funds appropriated to the Department of Defense to transfer Guantánamo Bay detainees to the custody or effective control of certain foreign countries.  Section 1031 likewise would continue to prohibit the use of such funds to transfer Guantánamo Bay detainees into the United States.  It is the longstanding position of the executive branch that these provisions unduly impair the ability of the executive branch to determine when and where to prosecute Guantánamo Bay detainees and where to send them upon release.  In some circumstances, these provisions could make it difficult to comply with the final judgment of a court that has directed the release of a detainee on writ of habeas corpus, including by constraining the flexibility of the executive branch with respect to its engagement in delicate negotiations with foreign countries over the potential transfer of detainees. I urge the Congress to eliminate these restrictions as soon as possible.”


Thursday, November 30, 2023

LGC Newsletter – November 2023

 Guantánamo Bay

Two weeks of pre-trial hearings were held in the case of the four (previously 5) prisoners accused of involvement in attacks on New York in September 2001, although they were marred by weather conditions and attendees having Covid-19. Looking at the issue of how CIA torture contaminated later FBI interrogations, an Iraqi-American linguist for the FBI testified how he had translated and identified the suspects through coded transcripts he had worked on that were taken secretly during the defendants’ early days (they arrived at Guantánamo after years of illegal detention in secret CIA torture prisons in 2006) at Guantánamo and their discussions with other prisoners. The information related to this secret spying on prisoners was declassified and prosecutors are seeking to use it as evidence if the case goes to trial. “The move comes as prosecutors have considered new ways to counter claims by defense lawyers that torture by the C.I.A. contaminated subsequent F.B.I. interrogations of Mr. [Khalid Sheikh] Mohammed and his accused accomplices to produce confessions the government considers its most important trial evidence. It also shed light on an eavesdropping operation whose existence has until now never been formally acknowledged.” A lawyer for one of the defendants, Ammar al Baluchi, has said he will challenge the admissibility of these recordings, which were obtained not only secretly through conversations between prisoners held in isolation during their recreation time but more than 5 years after they were detained: “From 2006 to 2009, he said, the prisoners were held in solitary confinement and each one was allowed to speak only with one other prisoner, during an hour reprieve from their maximum-security cells. At the time, prisoners in the custody of a special unit known as Task Force Praetorian or Task Force Platinum were given recreation time in specifically designated pairs. They were confined to separate enclosures, meaning the prisoners could shout back and forth but not see one another.”.

No further hearings in any case are due to be held until 2024.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

LGC Newsletter – October 2023

Guantánamo Bay

In a ruling on 27 October, the British investigatory powers tribunal (IPT) “said it will open a second investigation into allegations that the intelligence services” were involved in the mistreatment of a current Guantánamo prisoner, Yemeni Abd Al-Nashiri, and would examine a complaint filed on his behalf.

“Lawyers for Nashiri have argued that there is an “irresistible inference” that the UK’s intelligence agencies, including MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, participated in intelligence sharing relating to al-Nashiri and “were complicit in his torture and ill-treatment”.

“The IPT’s decision to investigate the claims comes after it agreed in May to examine a similar complaint by another man held at Guantánamo, Mustafa al-Hawsawi.

“In its latest ruling, the IPT – a specialist judicial body that hears complaints against the intelligence services – said the underlying issues in both cases “are of the gravest possible kind”.”


Lawyers for two Malaysian prisoners, Mohammed Farik Bin Amin, 48, and Mohammed Nazir Bin Lep, 46, have negotiated plea deals with prosecutors, to be entered early next year, along with their sentencing. They agreed to “plead guilty to war crimes charges for being accessories” to the 2002 Bali bombings. Charged along with Indonesian prisoners “Hambali”, Encep Nurjaman, the former CIA secret torture prison detainees have had their case severed from his. They are accused of having served as money couriers and providing support to Hambali, who now faces trial alone. The maximum punishment is a life sentence.

“The military disclosed the existence of the deal this week with the release of a court filing by prosecutors and lawyers for Mr. Bin Amin, which scheduled a hearing starting Jan. 15 for the entry of a plea, assembling a military panel and sentencing. The terms were under seal, including any limits on his prison sentence, where he would serve it and whether his testimony was sought against Mr. Nurjaman. Less is known about when Mr. Bin Lep will be sentenced. On Thursday, his lawyer, Brian Bouffard, said only that “Mr. Bin Lep will fully cooperate with the U.S. government.” Christine Funk, the lawyer for Mr. Bin Amin, declined to discuss the deal. But people with knowledge of the agreements said the men were seeking to be sent to a rehabilitation program for Muslim extremists in Malaysia.”

Saturday, September 30, 2023

LGC Newsletter – September 2023

 Guantánamo Bay

Pre-trial hearings continued in the case of prisoners accused of involvement in the September 2001 attacks in New York City. The number of defendants has fallen from five to four after a judge found that Saudi prisoner Ramzi bin al-Shibh is unfit for trial, “after a military medical panel found that sustained abuse had rendered him lastingly psychotic”. He remains in detention but only his co-defendants remain on trial.

Ahead of the hearings resuming, in ongoing plea bargaining between the prosecutors and lawyers for the defendants, the Biden administration rejected a set of proposed conditions for the plea deal made by the men, which would include medical care for physical and mental trauma afflicted during their time in CIA custody and no solitary confinement. In March 2022, prosecutors offered a deal to avoid the death penalty in the case if the defendants pleaded guilty to their alleged roles in the attacks. However, Biden’s decision to reject these conditions could make such a deal harder to reach. The US administration has generally not engaged with the plea bargain proposed, leaving the matter to prosecutors and the defence to decide on. Some families of the deceased would like to see a trial for the five accused men rather than a plea bargain.


On 15 September, a group of UN experts issued a statement warning against the expulsion of former Russian prisoner Ravil Mingazov from the UAE, where he was resettled but not released in 2017, to Russia, where he would be at risk if repatriated against his will. The experts called for his immediate release: “We call on the Governments involved to observe their international obligations, honour the diplomatic assurances provided for resettlement, and take into account the substantiated risks to Mr. Mingazov’s physical and moral integrity, if repatriated against his will.”

“Mr. Mingazov is a victim of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment during and prior to his detention at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba and was arbitrarily detained by the United States for nearly 15 years. Given these past violations and his extended and indefinite arbitrary detention at an undisclosed location in the UAE, he remains profoundly vulnerable to further serious violations of his human rights.”

“The United States is obliged to continue to ensure Mr. Mingazov’s rights are being respected, including through his release in line with the terms of the diplomatic assurances, and reparation and remedy for serious violations of international law, including extraordinary rendition, torture, and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and arbitrary detention experienced while in the custody of the US Government. As a victim of torture, Mr. Mingazov has rights that do not end with his transfer to another country.” 


The case of two Malaysians and an Indonesian prisoner accused of involvement in the 2002 Bali bombing has been severed, with one Malaysian prisoner, Mohammed Farik Bin Amin, no longer being tried with the other two defendants in the case, which suggests that a plea deal may be pending and/or that Bin Amin may testify against his co-defendants. “Late in the Obama administration, the government nearly struck a plea deal with Mr. Bin Amin in which he would have been repatriated to Malaysia to serve out most of his sentence. But the deal collapsed amid concerns that he would not remain imprisoned for the full term, in part because Malaysia might not recognize the tribunals system as legitimate. A conviction of Mr. Bin Amin through a guilty plea would fit a strategy at the military commissions system of trying to use that approach to resolve charges against detainees formerly held at secret C.I.A. prisons known as black sites. Such cases are complicated by the fact that the agency tortured the prisoners before transferring them to military custody, and by the heavy presence of classified information.”

In addition, the Malaysian Home Minister reported having met the US special representative for Guantanamo affairs, Tina Kaidanow, during a trip to the US to discuss the release and repatriation of the two Malaysian prisoners, in whose case a 2025 trial start date has been proposed. He confirmed that the Malaysian government is seeking to have the two men returned to the country.


Thursday, August 31, 2023

LGC Newsletter – August 2023

 Guantánamo Bay

The periodic review board (PRB), the mechanism set up to decide whether prisoners should continue to be detained indefinitely without charge or trial, decided to uphold the detention of Palestinian prisoner Abu Zubaydah, whose torture, including waterboarding, at the hands of the CIA has been litigated successfully in several countries. The US also decided as early as 2006 that he did not pose any threat to it, however having suffered some of the worst torture in the post-9/11 war on terror, the US is reluctant to release him, even though he has never been charged and faces no charges.

The last Afghan prisoner held at Guantánamo, Muhammad Rahim, held since 2007, had his review on 15 August. It is the first time that he had a lawyer present with him at such a hearing.


The family of former Russian prisoner Ravil Mingazov, who was transferred to the UAE by the Obama administration in 2017, where he has since remained imprisoned and with little communication with the outside world, delivered a letter to the UK Home Office calling for the UK to grant him asylum. His son and his mother are refugees in the UK.


In a ruling on 18 August, evidence obtained through the use of torture was excluded from the capital case of Yemeni prisoner Abd Al-Nashiri. A “military judge in Guantanamo Bay overseeing the pretrial capital prosecution of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the Saudi national accused of organizing the October 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, excluded Mr. al-Nishiri’s confessions as the product of torture. “Exclusion of such evidence is not without societal costs,” said the judge, Col. Lanny J. Acosta Jr., in a 50-page decision. “However, permitting the admission of evidence obtained by or derived from torture by the same government that seeks to prosecute and execute the accused may have even greater societal costs.” This decision raises serious questions about the admissibility of confessions made under similar circumstances by the five detainees accused of the 9/11 terror attacks and may affect the plea negotiations currently underway for these men.” With a new judge appointed to the case, Marine Lt. Col. Terrance Reese, the prosecution has decided to appeal the decision to the US Court of Military Commission Review. Excluding confessions forced through the use of torture, the US may not have enough real evidence for its case.


A military medical board has come to the conclusion that one of the five defendants accused of involvement in the September 2001 attacks in New York City, Ramzi Binalshibh, is not fit to face trial; he has a “mental illness that makes him incompetent to either face trial or plead guilty in the death penalty case”, according to a report filed with the judge hearing the case. “The question of Binalshibh’s sanity and capacity to help his lawyers defend him has shadowed the 9/11 conspiracy case since his first court appearance in 2008. Then, a military lawyer disclosed that her client was restrained with ankle shackles and that the prison had him medicated with psychotropic drugs. He has disrupted pretrial hearings over the years with outbursts, and in court and in filings complained that the CIA torments him with noises, vibrations and other techniques to deprive of him sleep.” The report was commissioned by the judge in April and it is now up to him to decide whether Binalshibh will be dismissed from the case. “According to their lawyers, at least four of the defendants have sleep disorders, brain injuries, gastrointestinal damage or other health problems they attribute to the agency’s brutal interrogation methods during their three to four years in CIA custody before their transfer to Guantánamo Bay in 2006”.

Monday, July 31, 2023

LGC Newsletter – July 2023

Guantánamo Bay


Yemeni prisoner Al Hamza Al-Bahlul, 53, the only prisoner serving a life sentence at Guantánamo Bay, had an appeal turned down by a federal appeals court to have his life sentence “for conspiring to commit war crimes as a propaganda chief for Al Qaeda and an aide to Osama bin Laden” reconsidered by a new military jury. His case has already been appealed several times with earlier appeals striking “down two of the three crimes for which Ali Hamza al-Bahlul was convicted in 2008. His lawyer, Michel Paradis, had argued that a new sentencing jury should be assembled at the base to hear evidence and arguments on whether his remaining conspiracy conviction deserved a lesser sentence. Mr. Paradis also sought reconsideration of the sentence because, a year after Mr. Bahlul’s trial, Guantánamo’s military commission system was overhauled to explicitly prohibit the use of evidence “obtained by the use of torture or by cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said that the sentence should stand and that the prisoner’s lawyers brought up the question of torture too late in the appellate process”.

“Mr. Bahlul’s legal team is likely to seek full appellate court review before deciding whether to appeal to the Supreme Court. This is Mr. Bahlul’s sixth case before the civilian appeals court, including one in 2014 that overturned two other convictions on charges of providing material support for terrorism and solicitation of others to commit war crimes.” He is the only prisoner still at Guantánamo whose case was heard during George W. Bush’s administration.

“A United Nations human rights investigator who visited the prison this year mentioned Mr. Bahlul in a report that condemned conditions of the detention operation. As the only convict at the prison, he is kept “in isolation, raising serious concerns of solitary confinement in contravention of international law,” according to the report by Fionnuala Ni Aolain, who is serving as the U.N. special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights. Ms. Ni Aolain said a prison policy letting him socialize with other detainees four hours a day has been implemented inconsistently and arbitrarily.”


Pre-trial hearings set to be heard in July and August in three cases (Al-Nashiri (USS Cole bombing), the Bali bombing case and Nashwan Al-Tamer (Abdul Hadi Al-Iraqi)) have been cancelled. In the Bali bombing case, a new judge, Lieutenant Colonel Wesley Braun from the US Air Force, will hear the case when pre-trial hearings are resumed, scheduled now for October. In Nashwan Al-Tamer’s case, he was one of five prisoners who reported to have contracted Covid-19 in July. The US military said that the illness was not serious in any of the cases.