‘I have become a body without a soul’: 14 years detained in Guantánamo

Pardiss Kebriaei writes: I feel like there is a heavy weight on my chest – it’s as if I’m breathing through a needle hole. And then I ask myself, “If I write or say something, is anybody going to listen to me? Is it really going to make any difference?”

Zaher Hamdoun is a 36-year-old Yemeni man who has been detained in Guantánamo without charge since he was 22, one of 116 prisoners still detained there six years after Obama promised to close the facility. After I visited him earlier this summer, he followed up with a letter filled with questions.

Will there be a day when I will live like others live? Like a person who has freedom, dignity, a home, a family, a job, a wife and children?

Hamdoun is not among the 52 men approved for transfer from Guantánamo, nor is he in a dwindling group of detainees the government plans to charge. He is in a nebulous middle category of people the Obama administration has determined it is not going to charge but doesn’t know if it is ever going to release. [Continue reading…]


Only three of 116 Guantánamo detainees were captured by U.S. forces

The Guardian reports: Only three of the 116 men still detained at Guantánamo Bay were apprehended by US forces, a Guardian review of military documents has uncovered.

The foundations of the guilt of the remaining 113, whom US politicians often refer to as the “worst of the worst” terrorists, involves a degree of faith in the Pakistani and Afghan spies, warlords and security services who initially captured 98 of the remaining Guantánamo population.

According to an analysis of long-neglected US military capture information, 68 of the residual Guantánamo detainees were captured by Pakistani security forces or apparent informants. Another 30 were sent to the notorious wartime facility by forces from Afghanistan – mostly warlords and affiliates of early US efforts to topple the Taliban after 9/11. [Continue reading…]


The Pentagon ignores Obama’s order to release Shaker Aamer from Guantánamo

Clive Stafford Smith writes: Recent history demonstrates that if President Barack Obama, arguably the most powerful person on planet Earth, wants to prioritize almost anything – from pardoning 46 convicted drug felons to bombing a foreign country without the consent of Congress – little can stand in his way. Why, then, is Shaker Aamer not home in London with his wife and four children?

Aamer is the last British resident to be detained without trial in Guantánamo Bay and he has never been charged with a single offense. In 2007, he was cleared for release by the Bush Administration; in 2009, six US intelligence agencies unanimously agreed that Shaker should be released. In January 2015, British Prime Minster David Cameron personally raised Shaker’s plight with President Obama, who promised that he would “prioritize” the case.

On Thursday, we came a little closer to understanding the reason that Aamer’s youngest child, Faris – who was born on Valentine’s Day 2002, the day that Aamer was rendered to the detention center at Guantánamo Bay – has never even met his father. The Guardian revealed that “the Pentagon [is] blocking Guantánamo deals to return Shaker Aamer and other cleared detainees.” President Obama, it seems, has personally ordered Aamer’s release, and his subordinates have ignored and thwarted his order. [Continue reading…]


The Pentagon is keeping half of Gitmo locked up — against the White House’s wishes

The Daily Beast reports: The White House wants to quickly cut the number of detainees at Guantánamo Bay. One man is standing in the way: President Obama’s Defense Secretary, Ash Carter.

Carter and the White House are increasingly at odds about how to whittle down the number of detainees held in Guantánamo Bay, hampering the administration’s push to close the detention center by the end of its term.

The White House believes that Carter is unwilling to be accountable for the transfer of Guantánamo detainees and their conduct post-release, even to the point of defying the president’s policy on the detention facility, a White House source told The Daily Beast. [Continue reading…]


Obama’s plan for Guantánamo is seen faltering

The New York Times reports: President Obama is enjoying a winning streak lately, with the Supreme Court reaffirming his signature health care law and Iran agreeing to curbs on its nuclear program. But one longstanding goal continues to bedevil him: closing the wartime prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

The administration’s fitful effort to shut down the prison is collapsing again. Ashton B. Carter, in his first six months as defense secretary, has yet to make a decision on any newly proposed deals to transfer individual detainees. His delay, which echoes a pattern last year by his predecessor, Chuck Hagel, is generating mounting concern in the White House and State Department, officials say.

Last week, Mr. Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, convened a cabinet-level “principals committee” meeting on how to close the prison before the president leaves office in 18 months. At that meeting, Mr. Carter was presented with an unsigned National Security Council memo stating that he would have 30 days to make decisions on newly proposed transfers, according to several officials familiar with the internal deliberations. [Continue reading…]


CIA photos of ‘black sites’ could complicate Gitmo trials

The Washington Post reports: Military prosecutors this year learned about a massive cache of CIA photographs of its former overseas “black sites” while reviewing material collected for the Senate investigation of the agency’s interrogation program, U.S. officials said.

The existence of the approximately 14,000 photographs will probably cause yet another delay in the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as attorneys for the defendants demand that all the images be turned over and the government wades through the material to decide what it thinks is relevant to the proceedings.

Defense attorneys said they have not yet been informed about the photographs and said it is unacceptable that they should come to light now, more than three years after the arraignment of Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four other defendants accused of planning the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. [Continue reading…]


A rebuke to military tribunals

An editorial in the New York Times says: In 2008, Ali al-Bahlul, a propagandist for Al Qaeda who has been held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, since early 2002, was convicted by the military tribunal there and sentenced to life in prison. But officials had no evidence that Mr. Bahlul was involved in any war crimes, so they charged him instead with domestic crimes, including conspiracy and material support of terrorism.

Last Friday, a panel of the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., reversed Mr. Bahlul’s conspiracy conviction because, it said, the Constitution only permits military tribunals to handle prosecutions of war crimes, like intentionally targeting civilians. (The court previously threw out the other charges on narrower grounds.)

The 2-1 decision, by Circuit Judge Judith Rogers, was a major rebuke to the government’s persistent and misguided reliance on the tribunals, which operate in a legal no man’s land, unconstrained by standard constitutional guarantees and rules of evidence that define the functioning of the nation’s civilian courts. [Continue reading…]


U.S. government starts to unmuzzle the CIA’s torture victims

Huffington Post reports: For years, Guantanamo Bay prisoners’ memories of their time in CIA custody have been considered classified state secrets. Abu Zubaydah’s lawyers can’t talk publicly about how he lost his left eye. Lawyers for Mustafa al Hawsawi, who can now only sit on a pillow, can’t tell the press or the public about anal feedings that left him with a rectal prolapse. And until recently, Majid Khan’s lawyers couldn’t bring up the time he was hung from a pole for two days, naked and hooded, while interrogators threw ice water on him.

The government argued that by talking about what had happened to them, the CIA’s former prisoners, who are now detained at the Guantanamo Bay prison facility, would risk revealing classified information about the agency’s torture program.

But as James Connell, a lawyer who represents detainee Ammar al Baluchi, wrote more than three years ago in a motion to declassify the prisoners’ accounts, “A person’s own experiences — whether the smell of a rose or the click of a gun near one’s head — are what make them a person, and the government can never own or control them.”

The notion that a torture survivor’s memories can be classified, Connell wrote, “contravenes the most basic principles of human rights.” He added that detainees “were exposed to classified interrogation techniques only in the sense that Hiroshima was exposed to the classified Manhattan Project.”

Now, the government is starting to change course. A Senate Intelligence Committee report, which began to pull back the curtain on the CIA’s use of torture in secret prisons known as “black sites,” compelled the government to change its rules about keeping former CIA prisoners’ memories secret. Khan became the first to successfully test the new rules by going public with his account of his imprisonment, which included details not previously disclosed in the Senate report. Citing the success of Khan’s team, defense attorneys for other Guantanamo detainees are now cautiously optimistic that they can bring their clients’ memories of their time in CIA black sites to light. [Continue reading…]


Guantánamo Diary

Christian Lorentzen reviews Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi: In the autumn of 2001 Mohamedou Ould Slahi was working in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, setting up computer networks. He was born in the hinterlands, son of a nomadic camel trader, and had picked up the trade in Germany; he went to the University of Duisberg on a scholarship in 1988, at the age of 17. He’d long been a fan of the German national football team. He was also devout and had memorised the Koran as a teenager. In 1991 he went to Afghanistan to train with the mujahedin and pledged an oath to al-Qaida. He made another trip the next year, but saw little action fighting Muhammad Najibullah’s communist government before it fell. When the fighting disintegrated into factional struggles, he went back to Germany. He tried once to join the war in Bosnia, but couldn’t get through Slovenia. He worked in Duisberg until 1999, when his visa expired and pressure was coming down from the immigration office. He applied for permanent residency in Canada and went to Montreal, where he led prayers at a mosque attended by an Algerian called Ahmed Ressam. On 14 December 1999, Ressam was arrested at the US border with explosives and timing devices in his rented car. This was the Millennium Plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport, and though Ressam was a stranger to him it was the start of Slahi’s troubles.

In Montreal he believed he was being watched, possibly through a small hole drilled through his bedroom wall from his neighbour’s flat. (He called the police about it and they told him to fill the hole with caulk.) He was questioned by Canadian intelligence, but let go. Still, he was spooked, and in January 2000 he set off to return to Mauritania, via Dakar; on landing he was picked up by Senegalese special forces. He was rendered to Nouakchott, held for weeks, threatened with torture, and interrogated by Mauritanian intelligence and the FBI. Here was the start of the American authorities’ four-year fixation on two words, ‘tea’ and ‘sugar’, picked up on a tapped phone conversation and presumed to be code. They released him to return to his family. On his way out, the director of Mauritanian intelligence told him: ‘Those guys have no evidence whatsoever.’ [Continue reading…]


Guantánamo Diary: torture and detention without charge

Listen to more extracts from Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s Guantánamo Diary here.


From Gitmo to an American supermax, the horrors of solitary confinement

Ted Conover writes: I first visited the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay in April 2003. The “war on terror” prisoners, most of them captured in Afghanistan, had begun to arrive 15 months earlier. They were first locked up in Camp X-Ray, an outdoor prison that looked like a kennel complex for very large dogs. (The police dogs at Camp X-Ray, in fact, had their own cages—the ones without a funnel in the corner for urine.) By the time I arrived, Camp X-Ray had been replaced by Camp Delta; the wire cages had given way to what looked like a heavy-duty, high-security trailer park. The prison cells at Camp Delta were made of shipping containers, sliced in half the long way so that a corridor could be added down the middle, then re-assembled into a kind of grim double-wide. Windows were cut out and fitted with heavy mesh; bugs could penetrate, but not the ubiquitous banana rats, and at least the prisoners didn’t get soaked when it rained.

The prison population peaked that year at 684. But even as the count began to decline, a feeling of permanence took hold. By 2006, Camps 5 and 6 had been built. These were the real thing, copies of high-security facilities in Indiana and Michigan, with electronically controlled gates, central video monitoring of each cell, one-way glass everywhere, and cramped exercise pens. Camps 5 and 6 are where almost all of the remaining prisoners are now kept.

Throughout modern history, governments have used islands for imprisonment or exile. South Africa had Robben Island. Russia had Sakhalin Island. France had Devil’s Island. Guantánamo’s location does not set it apart—nor does the use of physical torture, or the prevalence of hunger strikes, or the nefarious reputation. What is new about Guantánamo has become clear only recently. Rear Admiral Richard W. Butler, who headed up the prison camp until last July, unwittingly alluded to it during my most recent visit earlier in the year. “Twelve years ago,” he said, gesturing to his desk chair, “none of us thought that anybody would still be sitting here today.”

The Bush Doctrine redefined war as something that might go on forever. It created a permanent state of exception, in which extraordinary means were permitted to pursue terrorists (wherever they may be) and to detain suspects (for any length of time). What this has meant for prisoners at Guantánamo is, on one level, well known: without prospect of trial or tribunal, their sentences are effectively open-ended. On another level, what this has meant has never been fully acknowledged. Many of the Guantánamo prisoners are being held in solitary confinement, a difficult condition under the best of circumstances, and psychologically excruciating when no concluding point is specified. Two centuries ago, America was a pioneer in the use of punitive isolation. Now it is pioneering a refinement: the use of solitary without end. [Continue reading…]


My last day in Yemen — escaping from kidnappers

Gregory D. Johnsen writes: [E]arlier this spring I decided to go back one more time. I pitched it to my editors as a three-story trip. But in my mind, it was a final farewell. I was getting married in a few months, and I wanted to move on and write about other things. I’d quit smoking years earlier and my twenties had slipped into my thirties. I was ready for a change. On March 6, I boarded the plane for my last trip to Yemen.

Sixteen days later I was done. I had my three stories, or at least the notes and interviews to write them. But I didn’t want to leave, not yet. Something was still missing. Instead of flying home early, I compromised: One more story.

I already knew the one I’d do. The ghost story every writer has, the one they obsess over and worry about; always researching, never writing. Mine was a tragedy that started with a Guantanamo interrogation.

Detainee: I am from Urday City in Yemen, not a city in al-Qaeda… My city is very far from the city of al-Qaeda… That is not my name and I am not from that city…

Tribunal President: al-Qaeda is not a city. It is the name of an organization.

Detainee: Whether it is a city or an organization, I am not from al-Qaeda. I am from Urday City.

Tribunal President: Are you from Yemen?

Detainee: Yes, I am from Urday.

Tribunal President: Did you travel from Yemen to Afghanistan?

Detainee: I went from Yemen to Afghanistan.

Tribunal President: Did you do that in the year 2000?

Detainee: I don’t know the time.

Tribunal President: Was it the year 1421?

Detainee: I am from a village, I cannot tell time.

The detainee, Adnan Abd al-Latif, was a mentally unstable man who had suffered severe brain damage as a result of a car crash in 1994. Twice he had been cleared for release, but each time something went wrong and he remained locked in his cell, counting the days until there was nothing left to count. On Sept. 10, 2012, he committed suicide. He had been in Guantanamo Bay for more than a decade.

Latif’s case seemed to get at all the horrors of that lost decade: a handicapped man who confused al-Qaeda with a Yemeni village of the same name, locked up as the worst of the worst. For 10 years, while Latif befriended the iguanas and banana rats that wandered into his cell, the U.S. and Yemen fought for custody. Neither side would give in. The U.S. had him but wouldn’t let him go; Yemen wanted him but couldn’t get him.

Then Latif killed himself with a fistful of pills and positions changed. Now neither country wanted him. The U.S. needed him gone, but Yemen wouldn’t take him. In death, just as in life, he was in legal limbo — neither here nor there. Instead of Guantanamo, Latif was sent to Germany, where his body was frozen and stored at Ramstein Air Base while the two countries argued over who had to take the corpse.

Latif’s story was sad, but mostly it was just human. He wasn’t nameless or faceless, an abstract stand-in for our fears. He was a man with a history and a family, and I wanted to write about them, to tell his story. In my mind it was less about Guantanamo Bay than it was about the withering of hope and how a single man had been ground down to nothing by a pair of bureaucracies. But no one else seemed to see it this way. Obama had already ordered the prison closed. He just hadn’t succeeded. Guantanamo was still open, and indefinite detention was still the law of the land. But the country had moved on; a collective forgetting that let us pretend everything had changed when nothing had. [Continue reading…]


America can’t handle the truth – about Guantánamo, torture or a man now free from both

Cori Crider writes: He was wan, but he smiled. At a hospital here in Montevideo on Monday, my Guantánamo client Abu Wa’el Dhiab and I sat together for the first time without a shackle bolting him to the floor. My client grimaced in pain a lot – he has been on a hunger strike for the better part of the last two years, and it has gnawed at his spirit and his health. But he smiled: On Sunday, Abu Wa’el was finally released from the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, where he had been held for 12 years without ever being charged for a crime, despite the US government having cleared him in 2009.

As pale and thin as this man was, laying there in the hospital bed, a spark has returned to his eyes.

His ordeal may be over now, but there is much about Abu Wa’el’s health and mistreatment I still can’t tell you. The US military balked when I asked for the lab work it conducted just after our doctors saw him – the Pentagon would not so much as give me an official weight in those final days at Gitmo. Instead, the Defense Department moved up the date of his flight to Uruguay at the last minute, in an attempt to evade a damaging photo-op: an emaciated hunger-striker being carried off a US military plane. And in an ongoing court dispute, the Obama administration is still fighting a federal judge’s order to release video tapes showing the abusive force-feedings that Abu Wa’el suffered – over 10 unvarnished hours of his daily reality. [Continue reading…]


U.S. transfers six Guantánamo detainees to Uruguay

The New York Times reports: The United States transferred six detainees from the Guantánamo Bay prison to Uruguay this weekend, the Defense Department announced early Sunday. It was the largest single group of inmates to depart the wartime prison in Cuba since 2009, and the first detainees to be resettled in South America.

The transfer included a Syrian man who has been on a prolonged hunger strike to protest his indefinite detention without trial, and who has brought a high-profile lawsuit to challenge the military’s procedures for force-feeding him. His release may make most of that case moot, although a dispute over whether videotapes of the procedure must be disclosed to the public is expected to continue.

The transfer was also notable because the deal has been publicly known since it was finalized last spring. Significantly, however, delays by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in signing off on the arrangement placed it in jeopardy. Mr. Hagel’s slow pace this year in approving proposed transfers of low-level detainees contributed to larger tensions with the White House before his resignation under pressure last month. [Continue reading…]


At Guantanamo, force-feeding shrouded in secrecy

AFP reports: Guantanamo Bay Naval Base (Cuba) (AFP) – Behind the barbed wire of Guantanamo Bay prison, hunger-striking inmates are routinely force-fed, a practice defended by officials as necessary medical treatment but labeled by critics as torture.

But, for all the debate surrounding the practice, information about it is scarce, and force-feeding remains shrouded in secrecy.

“We don’t talk about this,” said Rear Admiral Kyle Cozad, commander of Joint Task Force-Guantanamo, arguing the silence is designed to prevent inmates scoring misleading propaganda points.

“Detainees manipulate the media, on a routine basis, and I say that with confidence and conviction,” Cozad added, speaking to a small group of journalists at the naval base in Cuba last month. [Continue reading…]


Decaying Guantánamo defies closing plans

The New York Times reports: The prison facilities amid this harsh landscape of sun, scrub and dust have expanded, even as the detainee population has shrunk. In 2003, about 680 prisoners filled Camp Delta, a sprawling complex with three units of open-air cellblocks and another area of communal bunks.

Today, the remaining 149 detainees live in newer buildings, and Camp Delta sits empty. To the north, the original complex, Camp X-Ray — with kennel-like cages that were used for about four months in 2002 while Delta was built — is a ghost prison, overrun by vegetation and banana rats, tropical rodents the size of opossums.

Hidden in the hills about a half-mile back from the seacoast sits Camp 7, an intelligence operations center where a group of high-level terrorism suspects, like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, are imprisoned.

Last year, the Southern Command, or Southcom, requested about $200 million to rebuild that structure; to upgrade housing for the 2,000 troops participating in the prison task force; and to replace or repair other buildings, arguing that the compound was not designed for long-term use and patching up various buildings was no longer adequate.

The Pentagon rejected the request, but Congress may approve about $23 million for two wish-list items: replacing the kitchen building and moving the medical clinic closer to Camps 5 and 6, concrete-walled structures where most of the detainees now live surrounded by layers of high fences covered with concertina wire.

Moreover, military officials here say they are updating a 10-year budgeting “road map” to eventually build many of the other items. They would gradually tap general military construction funds, not seek line-item approval from lawmakers in spending bills.

“We are forced to at least forecast so that we’re prepared if this detention facility is open two years from now, 12 years from now, 22 years from now, so that we’re prepared to be able to continue to do the mission,” said Rear Adm. Kyle Cozad, who took over the prison task force in July. [Continue reading…]


Guantanamo prisoners get to play video games in a recliner — while being force-fed

Jason Leopold reports: Military officials at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility are attempting to make force-feeding a little more fun for detainees. Some longterm hunger strikers can now kick back in a plush recliner — well, not literally, since their ankles are restrained by shackles — and play video games or watch TV while being tube fed a liquid nutritional supplement.

The policy was implemented last October at about the same time prison officials were rewriting a new standard operating procedure that rebranded the hunger strikes as “long-term non-religious fasts.”

VICE News obtained from Guantanamo attorneys newly unsealed declarations in a lawsuit filed by a detainee who is challenging the legality of the force-feeding process. In one sworn declaration, Army Colonel John Bogdan discussed the new reclining chair policy. He said it only applies to detainees who are “compliant.” [Continue reading…]


Guantánamo prosecutor fights handing secrets over to defense

The New York Times reports: The chief prosecutor at the Guantánamo Bay war-crimes court has asked a judge to set aside an order that requires the government to give defense lawyers sweeping amounts of classified details related to the Central Intelligence Agency’s treatment of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi detainee accused of orchestrating the 2000 bombing of the destroyer Cole.

In a pretrial motion declassified last week, the prosecutor, Brig. Gen. Mark S. Martins, cited Obama administration efforts to declassify information related to a Senate Intelligence Committee report about the detention and interrogation program. That process, he said, should be allowed to play out.

Richard Kammen, an Indianapolis defense lawyer representing Mr. Nashiri, said in a phone interview that he was drafting a motion to oppose any attempts to reverse the judge’s order. He noted that he had a security clearance, and said the information he was seeking was for his own investigations and was not necessarily going to be made public. [Continue reading…]