Just Obstructed at Bagram as at Guantanamo

October 5, 2011 § Leave a comment

by Brian Terrell

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol)

Despite ten years of occupation and untold millions of dollars spent on rebuilding Afghanistan’s broken judicial and criminal justice system, the Afghan courts are “still too weak,” the Washington Post reported on August 12, for the United States to relinquish its control over the Parwan Detention Center on Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. On September 21, the same paper reported that the U.S. military is seeking contractors to significantly increase the capacity of the prison there.

The number of Afghans detained at Bagram has tripled over the past three years to more than 2,600 and the new construction will raise the capacity to 5,500 prisoners. Capt. Kevin Aandahl, a spokesman for the U.S. task force that oversees detention operations in Afghanistan, told the Post that the expansion was necessary to “accommodate an increase in the number of suspected insurgents being detained as a result of intelligence-based counter- terrorism operations, which we conduct with our Afghan partners.”

Many of those held at Bagram have been there since the U.S. occupied the former Soviet air base in 2001, and some two thirds of prisoners there have not been charged with or convicted of any crime. Corruption is rampant in Afghan courts and among police there as it is in many other places but the major fear of the United States is not that the Afghan courts will not function according to their constitution and accepted norms of law, but that they will. In order for Afghanistan to take sovereignty over its own judiciary and prison system, the Afghans must first fix the “cracks of an undeveloped legal system” and adopt essential “reforms,” including adoption of the U.S. practice of detaining suspected insurgents indefinitely without trial.

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‘Little’ Protests, Big Erasures

February 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

In a recent interview with Guantanamo reporter Carol Rosenberg, Col. Thomas, a Joint Detention Group Commander at Guantanamo Bay, has stated that Guantanamo Bay detainees are not, in fact, engaged in protests. His claims emerge in response to a joint press release issued by the Center for Constitutional Rights and CUNY Law School  on Jan 27th. In that report, lawyers in conversation with their clients at GTMO confirmed that detainees had, in light of the protests taking place across the Middle East, been staging sit-ins protesting their ongoing indefinite detention at GTMO. 

But according to Col. Thomas, detainees are neither holding sit-ins, nor particularly moved by the events unfolding across the Middle East. Instead, Col. Thomas — in an attempt to “set the record straight”– tells us that detainees are actually far more engrossed in following soccer tournaments. I suppose it’s no coincidence that in presenting this as the ‘real’ state of affairs, Guantanamo Bay gets fashioned as an entertainment-complex, the kind of place where violations of the law could not possibly be occurring.

Col. Thomas’ statements are not only remarkably pithy, but also remarkably incoherent:  “Of course they’re aware of what’s going on in Egypt, but, no, they are not participating in the unrest that is going on in those countries.” “Signs that go up from time to time in the cell blocks are focused on “discontent” — not the faraway protests.” “We deal with detainee complaints every day. It’s not related to anything that’s going on in any way in Egypt or Tunisia.”

What are we to make of these statements? Nowhere in the reports by lawyers, or in the press release issued by CUNY Law and the Center for Constitutional Rights, is the claim being made that detainees were protesting against Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak or Tunisia’s Ben Ali, and yet each and every one of Thomas’ statements appears to be in response to this non-existent claim. A sneaky maneuver, no doubt, that enables Thomas to evade the accusation of lying, even if the ‘truth’ being told pertains to matters that no-one is contesting.

What CCR and CUNY’s joint press release does suggest, and what Col. Thomas does not address, is the fact that detainees have been following the events unfolding in Middle East, and that their own sit-ins were ‘inspired’ by events abroad.  While it is true that the statements of detainees, and the signs they are reported to have made, express discontent, this discontent should be interpreted not — as Col. Thomas would have us believe– as an unremarkable everyday occurrence, but as a direct response to the U.S. administration’s actions in freezing the transfer of detainees cleared for release, and their ongoing indefinite imprisonment.

To frame the recent protests at GTMO in any other light, is an act of negation or, more strongly, erasure.

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Bradley Manning has been in Solitary Confinement Since July

January 13, 2011 § 1 Comment

Kevin Zeese, a member of the Bradley Manning Support Network Steering Committee and Executive Director of Voters for Peace appeared today on RT’s The Alyona Show to discuss Bradley Manning’s case. Zeese appears at the 20:30 mark. More commentary about other topics discussed on this segment are found after the jump.

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Former Prisoner Omar Deghayes on 9th Anniversary of Guantánamo

January 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

First posted by Andy Worthington

I’m delighted to reproduce below a statement by my friend, the former Guantánamo prisoner Omar Deghayes, which was read out at a rally (at which I spoke) outside the White House on January 11, 2011, the 9th anniversary of the opening of the prison. Omar, whose testimony is at the heart of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which I co-directed with Polly Nash, was held in US custody from May 2002 until December 2007, and spent most of that time at Guantánamo, after being held first in Pakistan and in Bagram, Afghanistan.

His comments provided a powerful conclusion to the rally, and a reminder not only of how justice still eludes the 173 men still held, but also of how the American people are prevented from hearing about the injustices of Guantánamo first hand, as Omar, and every other cleared prisoner, is prevented from visiting the US to meet people and to tell their stories, and the Obama administration, Congress and the D.C. Circuit Court have all made sure that no cleared prisoner will be allowed to live in the US, even if they face torture in their home countries, and no other country can be found that is prepared to offer them a new home.

A statement from Omar Deghayes, January 11, 2011

Two years ago, President Barack Obama pledged to bring an end to the anomaly that is Guantánamo within a year, and to thereby restore America’s moral standing in the world. Yet today, on January 11, 2011, we are marking the beginning of the tenth year since the first prisoners were transferred to Camp X Ray — and Guantánamo remains open, Obama’s promise in ruins.

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Obama to Sanction Indefinite Gitmo Detention

January 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

TheRealNews — Shayana Kadidal: Indefinite detention gives the appearance of a due process but lets the administration get away with not trying people.

On Guantánamo, Obama Hits Rock Bottom

November 18, 2010 § 1 Comment

by Andy Worthington

(Photo: AP/Brennan Linsley)

On national security issues, there are now two Americas. In the first, which existed from January to May 2009, the rule of law flickered briefly back to life after eight years of the Bush administration.

In this first America, President Obama swept into office issuing executive orders promising to close Guantánamo and to uphold the absolute ban on torture, and also suspended the much-criticized system of trials by Military Commission used by the Bush administration to secure just three contentious convictions in seven years.

In addition, in April 2009 he complied with a court order to release four “torture memos” issued in 2002 and 2005 by lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which purported to redefine torture so that it could be used by the CIA (in 2002), or broadly upheld that decision (in 2005). As well as confirming the role of the courts in upholding the law, these documents contained important information for those hoping to hold senior Bush administration officials and lawyers accountable for their actions in the “War on Terror.”

The final flourish of this period was the decision to move a Guantánamo prisoner to New York to face a federal court trial, which took place in May 2009. Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian seized in Pakistan in July 2004, was held in secret CIA custody for over two years, until he was moved to Guantánamo in September 2006, with 13 other men regarded as “high-value detainees.”

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Spend 4 days inside Guantánamo

October 5, 2010 § 1 Comment

YOU DON’T LIKE THE TRUTH – 4 days inside Guantánamo is a documentary based on security camera footage from the Guantánamo Bay prison.

This encounter between a team of Canadian intelligence agents and a child detainee [Omar Khadr] in Guantánamo has never before been seen. Based on seven hours of video footage recently declassified by the Canadian courts this documentary delves into the unfolding high-stakes game of cat and mouse between captor and captive over a four day period. Maintaining the surveillance camera style this film analyzes the political, legal and scientific aspects of a forced dialogue.

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US Court Denies Justice to Dead Men at Guantánamo

October 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

by Andy Worthington

Last Wednesday, in the District Court in Washington D.C., Judge Ellen Huvelle turned down (PDF) a second attempt by the families of Yasser al-Zahrani, a Saudi, and Salah al-Salami, a Yemeni (two of the three men who died in mysterious circumstances in Guantánamo on June 9, 2006, along with Mani al-Utaybi, another Saudi) to hold US officials accountable for the circumstances in which their family members were held and in which they died.

Judge Huvelle’s ruling came in spite of additional evidence submitted by the families (PDF), drawing on the accounts of four US soldiers who were present in Guantánamo at the time of the deaths, and who have presented a number of compelling reasons why the official story of the men’s triple suicide (as endorsed by a Naval Criminal Investigative Service report in 2008) is a cover-up. That story, written by Scott Horton, was published by Harper’s Magazine in January this year, and I covered it here, and also in an update in June, although it has largely been ignored in the mainstream US media.

The case, Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld, was initially filed in January 2009, and primarily involved the families of the dead men seeking to claim damages through the precedent of a case known as Bivens, decided by the Supreme Court in 1971, in which, for the first time, damages claims for constitutional violations committed by federal agents were allowed. The families claimed relief under the Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause (preventing individuals from being deprived of life, liberty, or property without “due process of law”) and the Eighth Amendment (which prohibits the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments”), as well as submitting a claim, under the Alien Tort Claims Act, “alleging torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and violations of the Geneva Conventions.”

Despite the families’ claims, the case was dismissed by the District Court on February 16, 2010, for two particular reasons. One involved a handful of legal precedents — including Rasul v. Myers, a case brought in 2006 by four former Guantánamo detainees from the UK, which was finally turned down by the Supreme Court in December 2009. In the hope of making tortuous legal reasoning comprehensible to the lay reader, these rulings essentially provide precedents for preventing the courts from providing a Bivens remedy and entitle the defendants to “qualified immunity against plaintiffs’ constitutional claims.”

Rather more readily comprehensible, and deeply shocking, is a clause in the Military Commissions Act, passed by Congress in the fall of 2006 and unchanged in the legislation revived under President Obama in 2009, which, as well as creating — or bringing back to life — the much-criticized Military Commission trial system for Guantánamo prisoners that was ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in June 2006, also granted blanket immunity to anyone involved in any activities relating to the detention and treatment of prisoners held in the “War on Terror.”

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Aafia Siddiqui: Symbol or Spectacle?

September 29, 2010 § 4 Comments

by Beenish Ahmed

Convicted of attempted murder, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, 38, was sentenced to 86 years in prison in New York on Thursday. The Pakistan-native was held in custody for two years after allegedly shooting at US troops and an F.B.I agent in Afghanistan with an assault rifle she grabbed from behind a curtain, unlocked, and fired before being shot in the stomach by an interpreter.

Although she infamously topped America’s most wanted list for years, most Americans would be hard pressed to comment at all on the MIT and Brandeis graduate who is due to serve decades in jail for compromising their security.

Perhaps Siddiqui’s trial has received so little attention in the US because the charges brought against her do not relate not to her’s supposed links to Al-Qaeda, or the canisters of chemicals, bomb-making manuals, and lists of American landmarks that she had been carrying at the time her detainment in Afghanistan. This has been seen by Harper’s and many others as an all too easy story, especially given the immense variance in claims made by US officials and Afghani eye-witnesses, as well as Siddiqui’s own story. Despite the questionable circumstances of her arrest, however, no evidence about her capture was allowed to surface at all in the recent trial, only furthering protest in Pakistan.

While the verdict was announced only in the regional section of the New York Times, in her own country, Siddiqui’s case become something of a cause célèbre. Many Pakistanis have long condemned what they believe to be an unjust trial based on fabricated evidence through demonstrations as well as information campaigns.

Given this divergence in understanding, it is worthwhile to ask not only who Aafia Siddiqui is, but what she has come to represent to everyday Pakistanis.

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Witnessing Against Torture: Why We Must Act

June 23, 2010 § 1 Comment

by Kathy Kelly

Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
–U.S. Constitution –  Amendment I

An old cliché says that anyone who has herself for a lawyer has a fool for a client.  Nevertheless, going to trial in Washington, D.C., this past June 14, I and twenty-three other defendants prepared a pro se defense.  Acting as our own lawyers in court, we aimed to defend a population that finds little voice in our society at all, and to bring a sort of prosecution against their persecutors.

Months earlier, on January 21st, we had held a memorial vigil for three innocent Guantanamo prisoners, recently revealed to have been in all probability tortured to death by our government with what would turn out to be utter impunity – and because we had wished the culpable parties to take notice, we’d staged a vigil where they worked, specifically on the Capitol Steps and in the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building. We had been charged with causing a “breach of the peace,” a technical legal term for a situation that might risk inciting people to violence. In abetting Administration use of torture, Congress had been inciting others to horrendous violence, and we’d been protesting perhaps one of the gravest imaginable breaches of the peace.  Now we were making our small attempt to take these crimes to court, in the course of defending ourselves against what we felt to be a misdirected charge.

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