In a series of interviews by the Talking Dog, lawyers for Bagram and Guantanamo detainees have been discussing why they do what they do; namely, represent clients who the government has and continues to maintain are ‘terrorists.’ In the most recent of these interviews, Ellen Lubell, co-counsel for Abdul Aziz Naji, tells us what’s at stake for her in detainee representation and why such work must continue to be done.
On Jan 21st, a group of student activists at Georgetown University provided guest speaker, General Patraeus, with an unexpected welcome, successfully interrupting his address by reading out the names and ages of those killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the process, they’ve reminded us of the power and necessity of dissent, which, in this case, was effectively achieved by less than a dozen remarkable students.
In a press conference from Baghdad earlier today, Vice President Joe Biden has announced that the U.S. will appeal a district court’s decision to dismiss manslaughter charges against five Blackwater guards involved in a 2007 Baghdad shooting that killed 17 people including children.
When the court’s opinion in the case involving Blackwater was issued on December 31, 2009, Judge Ricardo Urbina premised his dismissal upon the following ‘facts’: 1) that the prosecution’s case was built upon sworn statements that had been given under a promise of immunity, and 2) that this action violated the guards’ constitutional rights. Based on this argument, he concluded that the prosecution’s explanations were “contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility.”
What Judge Urbina’s decision confirms for us, is that contracting companies like Blackwater (now Xe) have historically been granted a ‘get out of jail free’ card due to government assurances of immunity. The devastating result of this: companies like Blackwater have been ‘allowed’ to kill, indeed to the extent that they may even confess to killing, without fear of recourse. Consequently, we see the implications of the abuse of power that Jeremy Scahill’s longstanding critique – of the administration’s failure to exercise greater government oversight over private contractors like Blackwater – is based upon.
According to a joint investigation for Harper’s Magazine and NBC, the infamous Guantanamo suicides – or so we were told at the time- of three detainees in June 2006, were in actuality probably murders. The new investigation reveals that the deaths of 37 year old Yemeni, Salah Ahmed al-Salami and two Saudis, Talal al-Zahrani, 22, and Mani Shaman al-Utaybi, 30, most probably resulted from suffocation under conditions of harsh interrogation and torture. At the time of the event in question, the camp’s commander interpreted the deaths of these men as “an act of asymmetrical warfare”, rather than desperation.
Based on the six-month investigation, here are some of the findings that compelled Harper’s and NBC to claim that – contra to the widely accepted narrative of suicide – the evidence now points towards murder:
Leave it to two of the most deplorable figures in the American media to use the recent earthquake in Haiti as a platform to express their ongoing discontent with the Obama administration’s domestic policies, and as an opportunity to spew not–so-carefully hidden hate rhetoric under the guise of religious ‘humanity’.
A mere day after the Haitian earthquake, Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson have polluted the media, perhaps unsurprisingly, with more of their infamous mind numbing drivel.
Here are Limbaugh’s comments, as broadcasted on the Rush Limbaugh Show earlier today:
The BBC recently arranged a meeting between Brandon Neely, a former Guantanamo Bay guard, and two former Guantanamo detainees, Shafiq Rasul and Ruhal Ahmed. Both Rasul and Ahmed were released from Guantanamo in 2004 after being detained there for two years. Back then, Ahmed, Rasul and Neely were all 22 years old.
Neely served as an officer at Guantanamo for 6 months before leaving to serve in Iraq. Having quit the army in 2005, Neely admits that it was only after he left the military that he began questioning the government’s claim that prisoners at Guantanamo constituted the “worst of the worst”.
The decision to meet came about as a result of Facebook, which Neely used in order to get in contact with Rasul and Ahmed early last year. Upon receiving a message of apology from Neely, Ahmed explains: “At first I couldn’t believe it. Getting a message from an ex-guard saying that what happened to us in Guantanamo was wrong was surprising more than anything.”
The Obama administration and Judiciary have been providing a pretty grim preview of 2010 in relation to Guantanamo Bay and Bagram policies. Here’s a three-part update on some of the devastating ‘developments’ that have taken place in recent days:
1) In the final days of 2009, a federal appeals court in New York ruled that U.S. government agencies may refuse to confirm or deny the existence of records when faced with a Freedom of Information Act request that might disclose sensitive intelligence activities, sources, or methods.
The ruling came on the heels of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request submitted in 2006 by 23 lawyers representing detainees at Guantánamo Bay. In the aforementioned case, lawyers were seeking access to records from the National Security Agency (NSA) and Justice Department that were obtained or related to “ongoing or completed warrantless electronic surveillance or physical searches regarding, referencing, or concerning”any of the 23 lawyers.
During the ruling, one of the three presiding appeals court judges, Jose Cabranes, uses logic that strikes the ear as painfully predictable in stating that “as long as the disclosure of such data puts national security at risk, intelligence agencies can withhold secret information.” Cabranes further writes, ” The fact that the public is aware of the program’s existence does not mean that the public is entitled to have information regarding the operation of the program, its targets, the information it has yielded, or other highly sensitive national security information that the government has continued to classify.”
On January 5th, the Obama administration announced new security measures where passengers entering the United States from 14 nations – including Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon – will be subjected to pat downs, extra luggage checks, and full body scans.
Earlier this week in a segment focused on the new security checks, Riz Khan of Al Jazeera asks: “Do the new U.S. airport policies discriminate against Muslims, or are they simply ‘security measures’, as the Obama administration suggests?”
Joining Khan in the interview are Christopher Calabrese, a lawyer working for the American Civil Liberties Union, and Zohra Atmar, an Afghan-American consultant working for the U.S. Department of Defense on issues concerning Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Will these procedures make America any safer? Can these measures be described as profiling? What kinds of rights do these policies sacrifice in terms of civil liberties and privacy? The interview with Riz Khan, which aired on Al Jazeera on Jan 7th, ‘attempts’ (albeit dissatisfactorily) to get at some of these issues:
In a notification filed on December 30th in a U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Justice Department has announced that in addition to shifting prisoners from Bagram to a newly built facility nearby, the Pentagon also intends to demolish the original facility at Bagram. According to the notification, the Department of Defense will shift prisoners to the new facility by January 19th. Shortly thereafter, plans to demolish the Bagram facility will be put into effect.
According to an article in the Huffington Post on December 31st, Ramzi Kassem – a lawyer serving as counsel for several Guantanamo and Bagram detainees – has stated that the plan to demolish Bagram “amounts to destroying evidence in the cases of detainees who say they were tortured there.”
Kassem, also a law professor at City University of New York, maintains that Bagram ought to be preserved as evidence and as a crime scene. In Kassem’s view, the administration’s decision to demolish the facility can be read as an “underhanded attempt” on the part of a government concerned with “covering its own tracks.”
A collection of ‘fragments’ on memory, history and mourning in commemoration of Gaza
And the dead –
What time are they due back?
– Joe Bolton, In Search of the Other World