Archive for category torture

Obama Adopting Targeted Killing AND Interrogation on U.S. Naval Ships?

What’s coming out of the Obama administration on its intentions re targeted killing v indefinite detention of suspects is getting more complicated.  Obama, in a stirring defense of empire disguised as something else, told the world two weeks ago at the United Nations

The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region.

Obama’s May 23 speech, the one he was forced to delay because of the Guantanamo prison hunger strike, Obama set out broader parameters for those who could be targeted — as he argued, legally — for killing.  Obama defended broad executive authority to kill targets, perhaps even more widely than he has previously. His speech amounted to an argument for, and announcement of a permanent infrastructure for assassination. As the McClatchy newspaper put it,

“In every previous speech, interview and congressional testimony, Obama and his top aides have said that drone strikes are restricted to killing confirmed ‘senior operational leaders of al Qaida and associated forces’ plotting imminent violent attacks against the United States.

“But Obama dropped that wording Thursday, making no reference at all to senior operational leaders. While saying that the United States is at war with al Qaida and its associated forces, he used a variety of descriptions of potential targets, from ‘those who want to kill us’ and ‘terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat’ to ‘all potential terrorist targets.’”

Saturday U.S. forces grabbed one of the FBI’s most-wanted suspects in Libya, abu Anas al-Libi.  The Libyan government, which the U.S. installed through its 2011 “humanitarian intervention” may or may not have been involved, but is now raising protests that the rights of tge prisoner are not being respected, because he’s being interrogated on a U.S. ship away from the reach of Libyan, or international, law.

The Associated Press asks, Did Obama swap ‘black’ detention sites for ships? saying, “Questioning suspected terrorists aboard U.S. warships in international waters is President Obama’s answer to the Bush administration detention policies that candidate Obama promised to end.”  Further

“It appears to be an attempt to use assertion of law of war powers to avoid constraint and safeguards in the criminal justice system,” said Hina Shamsi, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union and the director of the civil rights organization’s national security project. “I am very troubled if this is the pattern that the administration is setting for itself.”

John Bellinger in Lawfare notes

Because Article 22 of the Third Geneva Convention states that prisoners of war “may be interned only in premises located on land,” Obama Administration lawyers must have concluded that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to Warsame and al-Libi, or that they are not POWs, or that they are not being interned.

Whatever the mix of targeted killing, indefinite detention, or rendition-like interrogations in international waters, the course set by the Obama administration of using “all elements of our power” remains one running counter to international law and due judicial process.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the New York Public Defender’s Office is demanded that, after 3 days, al-Libi, who has already been indicted on charges, get counsel and be brought immediately before a judge, as the law provides.  But,

The first round of interrogations, expected to last several weeks according to US newspapers, will be to extract intelligence. Only after that will he be offered a lawyer and questioned in connection with the case for which he has already been charged.

The process here, of targeted killing, indefinite detention, now mixed with a variant of rendition where the subject is hidden from the legal system while the FBI has a go — is no better, but perhaps more sophisticated, than what the Bush regime practiced.

Note: on October 14, BBC reports that al-Libi is in New York City, to be formally charged in federal court.

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More Talk About Closing GTMO, While Prisoners Treated Abysmally

What’s going on in Guantanamo is still outrageous.  Obama renewed promises to close Guantanamo, although so far, only 3 prisoners have been released since 2010. Last week, a prisoner who the U.S. military has known was mentally ill for over a decade, was released.

Another figure from the Democratic establishment, lawyer Paul Lewis, has been named to work in the Defense Department with responsibility to close Guantanamo.  We shall see where that goes, as we learn more about the lengths the administration/military has gone to subvert the rights of the prisoners and their lawyers, as Andy Worthington writes in: At Guantanamo, a Microcosm of the Surveillance State.

At Guantanamo last week, a pre-trial hearing in the military commission trials of five men allegedly involved in the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, descended into chaos when Air Force Col. Karen Mayberry, the chief defence counsel for the Office of Military Commissions, explained how the Defence Department’s computer network was so untrustworthy that 540,000 supposedly confidential emails, between defence lawyers, had been made available to the prosecution, and seven gigabytes of the lawyers’ files had disappeared.

Shaker-petition

Shaker Amer, held for six years now after he’s been cleared for release, is seeking an independent medical evaluation, having lost over hundred pounds on hunger strike, and still being brutally abused by guards.  Andy Worthington publishes his attorney’s statements.

In support of Mr. Aamer’s claim, his lawyers note that, in the eleven years of his imprisonment, “he has been subjected to numerous abuses by his captors,” including “physical and psychological coercion associated with interrogations, prolonged solitary confinement, deplorable sanitary conditions, refusal to treat Mr. Aamer’s various medical conditions properly, and punishment and retaliation in response to Mr. Aamer’s current peaceful hunger strike.”

Ramzi Kassem, who represents Shaker, filed this horrifying account of what happens to Shaker, on CloseGuantanamo.org

9. While in solitary confinement, Mr. Aamer is only allowed out of his cell for two hours a day, which he spends alone in a recreation cage. Each day in solitary, Mr. Aamer stages a peaceful protest, refusing to leave the recreation cage and, each day, he is forcibly removed from the cage by an IRF team. Mr. Aamer is typically beaten and sometimes choked in the process.

10. As Mr. Aamer recounted to me on June 28, 2013, the process typically begins with six IRF members rushing at Mr. Aamer and slamming him face down to the floor. Four of the guards grab his arms and legs, a fifth grabs his head, and a sixth oversees the entire operation, often as others watch and even record what is happening with a handheld video-camera. After handcuffing Mr. Aamer from behind with cutting restraints, they subject him to a humiliating body search.

11. Once the IRF team has forced Mr. Aamer back into his cell, they again slam him face down to the floor, pressing his arms and crossed feet together behind his back with their cumulative weight against his arms, feet, and back. The lead IRF member then holds Mr. Aamer’s crossed feet and arms pressed down together against Mr. Aamer’s back in a single point, against which the other five IRF members again bear down with their cumulative weight.

The London Guantanamo Campaign, a very active support group for Shaker, the only remaining British resident at the prison, and other prisoners, carries on regular protest in London.  See the campaign to Free Shaker Amer to find ways you can act.

In encouraging U.S. response, another group of academics are challenging the legitimacy of U.S. forced-feeding: Health Professionals Who Participate in Force-feeding Prisoners on Hunger Strike at Guantanamo Bay Should Lose Professional Licenses, New Study Reveals.

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US Prison at Bagram: Guantanamo, But with Less Rights

Amantullah, photo by Alixandra Fazzina

Amantullah, a prisoner at Bagram. Photo by Alixandra Fazzina, from The New Yorker.

Estimates are that the United States has detained many thousands of men since 2011 at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.  Of course, that’s mostly a guess, because they can only be identified when families report them missing.  Tina M. Foster and her colleagues with the International Justice Network (ijnetwork.org) have been fighting for years now, for a very basic right for these prisoners: habeas corpus.

So far, they’ve been unsuccessful at getting any relief, because the Obama administration holds to the Bush regime’s claim that because the prison is in a (U.S. created) war zone, the prisoners cannot be charged or allowed legal defense, presumably until the war is declared ended.

Monday September 16, Tina and colleagues were back in federal court representing three men who are non-Afghans, grabbed by U.S. forces elsewhere and brought to the prison at Bagram.  One was 14 years old, and is still in custody at 19.

Scotusblog captured some of the argument yesterday:

With the U.S. seeking to end its active military involvement in the Afghan war by the end of next year, Swingle repeated the government’s recent claim that it “wants to get out of the detention business” at Bagram.   Some of the lawyers for the detainees, however, argued that there is no assurance that the U.S. military would free any of those it is holding there even after the main U.S. military force had departed.  The U.S. has built a new prison facility on the air base, and that may not be closed down, according to New York attorney Tina M. Foster, who represents three non-Afghan detainees.

Eric L. Lewis, a Washington, D.C., lawyer for a Pakistani national, named Amanatallah, joined Foster in pleading for habeas rights for the Bagram non-Afghan prisoners.   His client, Lewis said, was actually captured by British forces in Iraq, and the U.S. military had no reason to ship him to Afghanistan other than to try to keep him out of reach of U.S. courts.

The third lawyer on the detainee side, John J. Connolly of Baltimore, brought into Tuesday’s discussion a plea for special favorable consideration of the plight of minors who get caught up in the war on terrorism.   His client, Hamidullah, a Pakistani, was only fourteen years old when he was captured.  Government lawyer Swingle, in countering Connolly’s argument, contended that the important fact is that Hamidullah is now nineteen years old, and that is what counts in judging the legality of his detention.

Eric Lewis wrote in The New Yorker, in a piece titled Kafka in Bagram that his client is

a Pakistani citizen, a rice merchant, from a village outside Faisalabad. In 2004, he went on a business trip to Iran (which imports rice from Pakistan) and crossed into Iraq to visit Shia shrines. We know that he disappeared and was not heard from for ten months, when his family learned that he had been detained by British forces in Iraq, handed over to American troops, and then flown to Afghanistan and jailed at Bagram. We know that he was registered originally under the wrong name, suggesting that this may be a case of mistaken identity. We know that, for nine years, he has been prohibited from speaking to a lawyer and permitted only a few telephone calls from his family. He has five children who have not seen him for nine years.

Why was Amanatullah brought to Afghanistan? Rendition of a prisoner from his place of capture to a third country is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, as is rendering someone to a war zone. Surely, there were plenty of places to detain him in Iraq. And there was a well-worn route for prisoners to be sent to Guantánamo Bay. Again, the government will not say.

U.S. attorney Swingle argued that releasing Hamidullah would “encourage others to lie about their age

Connolly refuted the US claim that his client was a soldier at all.  U.S.: Releasing child soldiers would encourage others to lie about age:

John Connolly, an attorney for the detainees, told the panel that because of a lack of information from officials at Bagram, “we have no evidence that [Khan] was a child soldier.”

The only thing Connolly said he knew for sure was that Khan “was a child.”

International law says using a child under the age of 15 as a soldier is a war crime, the attorney said, so the United States can assert jurisdiction in Khan’s case.

The United States should release all detainees under 18 (including those arrested when they were children) in Guantanamo and Bagram; release those men who have never been charged, and allow the others legal representation.

Most essentially, the U.S. should get out of Afghanistan now, not vaguely in 2014, and not in 2024, when the current status of forces agreement matures.

Hamidullah was only two years old when the U.S. began this war and occupation.

Witness Against Torture (witnesstorture.org) protesting at the White House.

Witness Against Torture (witnesstorture.org) protesting at the White House. Photo from The New Yorker

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We Cannot Give up on Closing Guantanamo

At the rate the Obama administration is “closing” Guantanamo, most prisoners will die of old age before ever being released. Although two were released to Algeria last week — finally — 84 cleared prisoners and 60 others uncharged or facing military tribunals remain. 30 are on hunger strike, 27 of those being force-fed. Ongoing protests in Chicago, San Francisco, London, NYC and Washington, DC have involved dozens of activists, including some who have gone on solidarity fasts. See closegitmo.net.

Undoubtedly, it’s only the prisoner’s hunger strike, which began in February and is ongoing, which has gotten any movement of out of the illegal prison. Andy Worthington provides the personal background of two released prisoners in Who Are the Two Guantánamo Prisoners Released in Algeria. He previously covered

Nabil Hadjarab, by Molly Crabapple 2013 at Guantanamo

Nabil Hadjarab, by Molly Crabapple 2013 at Guantanamo

Nabil’s story on “Close Guantánamo,” in a profile published n May 2012 entitled, “Nabil Habjarab, the “Sweet Kid” in Guantánamo, Was Cleared in 2007 But Is Still Held,” and in July I publicized his account of the hunger strike, the first in which he had taken part. Now 32 years old, he was just 21 years old when he was first seized…

Nabil lived in France until he was nine years old, but then his father then took him back to Algeria, although he spent every summer in France with his uncle Ahmad. Disaster struck in 1994, when Nabil’s father died of cancer, and he was taken in by an abusive aunt.

Nabil’s lifeline was his uncle Ahmed, who sent him money, treating him as though he was one of his own children, and when he turned 21 Nabil returned to France and his uncle’s family, hoping to secure French residency.

However, fearful that he would be deported while waiting for his paperwork to be processed, Nabil made a fateful decision to travel to the UK, and from there to Afghanistan, where he stayed with an Algerian man in Kabul, and then fled to Jalalabad after the US-led invasion began. He then tried to reach the Pakistani border, but was wounded in a US bombing raid and ended up in a hospital in Jalalabad. From there he was sold to US forces, as were many of the men and boys who ended up, pointlessly, in Guantánamo. As one of the guards in Guantánamo explained, Nabil was no soldier and no terrorist; instead, he was “a brilliant artist, a keen footballer, and a sweet kid.”

The other prisoner sent to Algeria, 37 year old Mutia Sayyab was cleared for release twice — first under George W. Bush, in February 2008, and then under Barack Obama in January 2010. His attorney, Buz Eisenberg, said he is

“a poster boy for all that is wrong about Guantánamo Bay,” and an “unwitting and undeserving victim of a misguided response to terrorism.” He described him as “innocent of any conduct remotely related to terror, and in fact abhors and deplores such conduct,” adding, “He has nevertheless been beaten, forced to live in isolation, and stripped of his inalienable right to freedom.”

Another form of resistance to the prison is beginning to take shape from within the medical community. Michael Kirsch writes in Force-feeding prisoners at Guantanamo tortures medical profession that

There have been physicians present during enhanced interrogation events (read: torture) ostensibly to guide interrogators against causing permanent serious injury or worse. Perhaps, these physicians have rationalized their role to be protectors of detainees, but this is nonsensical. This role is so far removed from the medical profession’s healing mission that it deserves no debate. Indeed, this practice tortures the medical profession that is under oath to heal and comfort the sick, not to provide flimsy cover to ‘interrogators’.

Dr. Kirsch, ends

If our Commander-in-Chief wants to force food down someone’s throat, he is free to give the order. But, no doctor or nurse should carry it out.

The systematic torture developed under the Bush regime has only been possible with the collusion of attorneys writing legal justifications, officers devising and enforcing orders, and medical personnel giving ethical cover to the process.

Thank you, Dr. Kirsch!

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Obama to Give Delayed Speech on Guantanamo, Prisoners Still Starving for Justice

President Obama will give a major speech Thursday at the National Defense University in Washington, reportedly about drones and Guantanamo.  The Washington Post reports that

“Obama was prepared to deliver the speech earlier this month, but it was put off amid mounting concerns over a prisoner hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay and more recently the Justice Department leaks investigation — both of which the revised speech may address.”

The Post also reports that an anonymous White House official says the President

“…will discuss the policy and legal framework under which we take action against terrorist threats, including the use of drones. And he will review our detention policy and efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.”

World Can’t Wait has been pondering hard on what more we can do to create a political situation where Obama has to back down, release at least some of the men at Guantanamo, and be forced into closing the prison.  The use of indefinite detention and targeted killing is an affront to generally recognized precepts of international law.  Usually, the administration answers, as Eric Holder did last year, makes a claim that “we can do whatever we want,” essentially, when “national security” is at stake.

Obama promised to close Guantanamo more than four years ago.  We have been led to expect, over the last four years, that it’s really not that important to him to do so.

But along comes the prisoners’ hunger strike — a dynamic factor neither Obama’s people, nor the millions of us outraged at Guantanamo’s continued existence expected.  Their action could bring a possible change in the administration’s plans to maintain indefinite detention, at least for some of the men in Guantanamo.

A major missing ingredient in this moment, though, has been the collective voices of artists, intellectuals, politicians, religious and cultural figures who are respected and beloved for being voices of conscience, speaking as one to demand that the torture of Guantanamo be ended. It’s time and past time, as more than 100 days of the prisoners’ hunger strike have passed, that we provide a way for them to speak out together, and for that message to be seen.

Dennis Loo of Cal Poly Pomona drafted a message which will run this week as a full page ad in The New York Times  this week which could serve as such a vehicle. Demanding “Close Guantanamo,” it has been  signed by  1100, including John Cusack, Alice Walker, Wallace Shawn, Junot Diaz, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Eve Ensler, Kara Walker, Dave Eggers, Glenn Greenwald, Paul Haggis, Bianca Jagger, Ariel Dorfman, Erica Jong, Michael Moore, Ron Kovic, Tom Morello, Mark Ruffalo, Coco Fusco,  Peter Selz, James Schamus, Carl Dix, Oliver Stone, Cindy Sheehan, and Cornel West, joined by attorneys for the Guantanamo prisoners, law professors, clergy and academics.

The message powerfully challenges us to look at Guantanamo as “part of larger, alarming developments” including the NDAA, targeted killing by executive order, and the prosecution of whistle-blowers, “most flagrantly in the torture, slander and draconian legal charges against Bradley Manning.”

It says, “It is up to people to stand up for principle and morality when their institutions and public officials refuse to do so. The fates of those who are maimed or killed by our government’s policies are inextricably intertwined with our own: we must listen and respond to their cry for justice. We demand the release of the cleared Guantanamo prisoners now, and an end to indefinite detention without charge for the others, before they lose their lives.”

SIGN

DONATE

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Why Obama Can & Should Close Guantanamo NOW

While promoting the message to Close Guantanamo that we are raising funds to publish in The New York Times, we  have been hearing, especially in the Twitterverse, that people think, because Obama promised to close Guantanamo, and says that Congress is not allowing him to do that, the main problem is with Congress.

It is quite true that the U.S. Congress, both when the Republicans led it under Bush, and since the Democrats took over leadership in 2006, has a shameful record in advancing all sorts of repression.  Memorably, they’ve made speeches and passed resolutions — and tried to pass laws — saying Guantanamo, specificially, can’t be closed, nor can the prisoners ever by tried here or released in the U.S.

So appealing to the right-wing Congress is going to continue to be a very hopeless road, absent the kind of mass political movement from the people needed, on all issues of justice, from authorizing un-ending wars, targeted killing, violation of borders for other countries, while further militarizing this country’s borders and infrastructure.

Obama, however, as people rightly point out, has promised to close Guantanamo.  For his own reasons, whatever they may be, he repeats what most of the world thinks, that the continued existence of the illegal prison in Guantanamo, set up to avoid U.S. law by the Bush regime, doesn’t serve the U.S. public image as the land of freedom and democracy.

Obama repeated, in remarks at a press conference last month, that it is Congress who refuses to let him release prisoners who have been cleared for release.  86 prisoners were cleared, some back to 2006, by the Bush administration, and then again by a task force of Obama’s own creation in 2009, after what he’s called a very “thorough review.”

There are 3 main reasons the ball is in Obama’s court on Guantanamo:

1.  Obama put in place the ban on transferring the 56 Yemeni prisoners, out of the 86 who have been cleared for release.  Says Andy Worthington in Eloquent But Unconvincing: President Obama’s Response to the Guantánamo Hunger Strike

it was the President “who issued a ban on the release of Yemenis from Guantánamo after a failed bomb plot on a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009, undertaken by a Nigerian man who was recruited in Yemen.”

Not Congress, though they’ve done many other reactionary things.  It was also Obama who in January 2013 closed the office in the Executive Branch run by Donald Fried, which was tasked with resettling the prisoners.

2. It’s the Obama administration which has made life for prisoners worse at Guantanamo after some improvements at the end of the Bush administration.  Glenn Greenwald wrote in July 2012,

“Last week, the Obama administration imposed new arbitrary rules for Guantanamo detainees who have lost their first habeas corpus challenge. Those new rules eliminate the right of lawyers to visit their clients at the detention facility; the old rules establishing that right were in place since 2004, and were bolstered by the Supreme Court’s 2008 Boumediene ruling that detainees were entitled to a “meaningful” opportunity to contest the legality of their detention. The DOJ recently informed a lawyer for a Yemeni detainee, Yasein Khasem Mohammad Esmail, that he would be barred from visiting his client unless he agreed to a new regime of restrictive rules, including acknowledging that such visits are within the sole discretion of the camp’s military commander.”

Obama’s credentials as a protector of the prisoners are non-existent, making his claims to fear for their deaths hollow. Yet, he should be held to follow through on his promise.  You can read more on that in the text of our message.

3.  Obama can use the clause written into the National Defense Authorization Act allowing the executive to release prisoners.
Senator Levin wrote to Obama on May 9, reminding him, “I successfully fought for a national security waiver that provides a clear route for the transfer of detainees to third countries in appropriate cases, i.e., to make sure the certification requirements do not constitute an effective prohibition.”

President Obama seems quite ready to use executive authority when it comes to targeted kill lists.  He doesn’t wait for Congress, or even acknowledge Congressional authority in matters of war and national boundaries for drone war or special operations.  So why is he allowed to hide behind “Congress won’t let me” now?

I would urge people who take Barack Obama at his word that he wants to close Guantanamo, to investigate more deeply what Obama’s policies have amounted to by reading Greenwald’s piece from 2012: The Obama GTMO Myth.

“Every time the issue of ongoing injustices at Guantanamo is raised, one hears the same apologia from the President’s defenders: the President wanted and tried to end all of this, but Congress — including even liberals such as Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders — overwhelming voted to deny him the funds to close Guantanamo. While those claims, standing alone, are true, they omit crucial facts and thus paint a wildly misleading picture about what Obama actually did and did not seek to do.”

Andy Worthington writes in the wake of Obama’s latest statements,

“The best that can be said of President Obama’s performance on Tuesday  is that the words he uttered can be used to hammer home to him the ongoing injustice of the prison, if he tries, as he has before, to lose interest in it. Mostly, though, what is needed is action — action to persuade Congress to drop its restriction on the release of prisoners, and action and honesty by President Obama himself: on his Yemeni ban, on the need to appoint someone to deal with the closure of Guantanamo on a full-time basis, and, if necessary, on releasing prisoners through the waiver in the NDAA.

He also, as an urgent matter, needs to initiate review boards for 46 other prisoners who he consigned to indefinite detention without charge or trial in an executive order in March 2011, on the basis that they are regarded as too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence exists to put them on trial. That is, and was an unacceptable decision to take, but the only proviso that tempered it ever so slightly was the President’s promise to initiate periodic reviews of the men’s cases, which, over two years later, have not taken place.

Political speeches and posturing are one thing.  Reality is another.  Greenwald reminded us after Adnan Latif died in Guantanamo earlier this year, “more detainees have died at the camp (nine) than have been convicted of wrongdoing by its military commissions (six).”

Obama needs to release the cleared prisoners, whatever work that takes; charge or release those being held indefinitely without charges, and close the prison.  You can donate to help publish the ad.  And sign it, along with the above writers, and myself.

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A Note of Hope v. the Torture Regime

My friend Stephen Phelps, Senior Minister at The Riverside Church, signed The New York Times ad on closing Guantanamo we plan to publish next week, and sent a note saying he would “begin to send the hope around to some others.”  This hit me strongly.  For the last four+ years, since Obama promised to close it, nothing hopeful has come out of Guantanamo.

It’s only the courageous, and desperate, actions of the prisoners which provide hope now, and which are enlivening the rest of the world with the idea that now Obama must, as Lynn Feinerman put it in Tikkun Daily, “Close Guantánamo. Repatriate and rehabilitate those destroyed by it.”

25 former Guantanamo prisoners just wrote Obama demanding he close the prison. They  say that force-feeding (for which even more “medical” personnel have been brought in recently) “demonstrates the absence of any morals and principles the US administration may claim to have regarding these men,” and cite:

  • The abuse of the prisoners’ religious rights, such as the desecration of the Qur’an
  • The use of chemical sprays and rubber bullets to “quell unrest”
  • Regular and humiliating strip searches
  • Extremely long periods in total isolation
  • Interference in privileged client/attorney relationships
  • Lack of meaningful communication with relatives
  • Arbitrary imprisonment without charge or trial

Ahmed Rachidi, a former prisoner released to Morocco, said recently:

The Obama Administration claims they are on a hunger strike because they want better treatment or better food. But that is not true. They are on a hunger strike because they want justice. They want freedom. They want to go home to their families. And this time they will not quit.

I hope we don’t fail to see how horrific a hunger strike is.  Rachidi goes on:

This will be the last hunger strike. To stop eating is the only way prisoners can exert any control when they are powerless. But this time Shaker and the other prisoners don’t have the same strength, the same energy they used to have. Mentally and physically they are very weak. I am worried that something can go wrong, that someone will lose his life… Guantanamo is a concern to every human being who believes in democracy, who believes in human rights, who believes in the rule of law. We don’t have a lot of time. We need to come together to force President Obama to restore the rule of law and put an end to this disgrace.

In the thirty-six hours since we debuted the ad text, and began asking people to sign on, circulate it, and donate for its publication, I’ve been very heartened by the comments and donations, from $5 to $1,000. The lawyers who represent prisoners are a group with every reason to have given up in defeat, since they are barely allowed to get to Guantanamo, and now their clients are visibly weakened, some unable to converse.  They are signing on, and helping raise funds.

Activists, artists, academics, lawyers, elected officials: this is an urgent call to you.  Unite your voices together to support justice for the prisoners in the “newspaper of record” on the 100th day of the hunger strike. 

Publishing this ad will resonate in a way other actions don’t, and could help create a situation where the Obama administration is forced to respond.  Let’s get into the streets around the world on May 17-19 as part of taking hold of the moment where how a society is measured comes down to closing Guantanamo, and gives hope that the war crimes this country has perpetrated can be addressed.

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Being GTMO Prisoners for a Moment

Saturday was the first time it felt like spring in NYC, and crowds of people filled Union Square Park watching jugglers and musicians, and just hanging out.  It was so heartbreakingly pleasant, one felt bad bearing the news to tourists that out of many things wrong in this class-divided world, we were about to challenge them to take notice of one very important thing.

Union Square Park, New York City March 30, 2013, marking 51 days of hunger strike by Guantanamo prisoners.

Union Square Park, New York City March 30, 2013, marking 51 days of hunger strike by Guantanamo prisoners.  Photo: Witness Against Torture

Ten of us put on orange jumpsuits to mark the 51st day of the potentially deadly hunger strike by men imprisoned by the U.S. at Guantanamo.  Witness Against Torture activists have been fasting for a week in solidarity; this was a public way and place to end the fast, and have visual impact.  Often I am doing public relations at events like this.  Today I wanted to experience the time under the hood, and be able to listen for peoples’ comments.

90% of those seeing us walked on by.  Hundreds took flyers.  Many took photos, though oddly, most didn’t really stop to find out much.  Several said “thank you” to those of us in jumpsuits.  Comments ran from “they should burn that place down with everyone in it,” to “they should free all those guys, and then burn it down!”  A few people ranted that “they” were all terrorists.  One said, “the prisoners are lucky; they could of all just been shot.”  Some people were just confused, saying Obama had closed down the prison.  Memorably, one hipster told another, “I think they’re monks, protesting Easter.”

One of the people flyering commented that all the Black people who stopped for a flyer “got it,” recognized what the problem is, and expressed compassion.  A people who has suffered oppression is maybe most able to empathize, notwithstanding that the current President and Attorney General are responsible for no prisoners leaving Guantanamo in the last 18 months alive.

At this point, so far into the fast, we hear men are suffering terribly, possibly being deprived of water they see as safe to drink, some force-fed and some hospitalized.  Clive Stafford-Smith, attorney for Shaker Amer, tweeted “90mins on phone with Shaker Aamer today; 130 detainees on hunger strike; situation in #Gitmo as dire as General ‘Miller Time’” referencing Geoffrey Miller, who ran Guantanamo in 2004, and then went to Abu Ghraib, running torture at both.

How do we close Guantanamo and save the lives of the prisoners?  Without the men taking this action, the White House would not have been finally forced to acknowledge the hunger strike, and major media would not be now covering Guantanamo.  Their action is decisive, and desperate, as their attorneys report.  There is no way out of Guantanamo now, absent a mass demand that it be finally closed and the prisoners charged and tried, or released, as most of them have been already cleared for.

But our action is decisive also.  Find out what you can do where you are.

Connect with others through Facebook.

Support World Can’t Wait’s work to make Guantanamo visible in the U.S.  Materials (flyers, signs); websites, travel cost $$.  Our work is 100% supported by direct donations from individuals.  Donate now.

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Torture called legal for 10 years, but “we don’t torture”

Torture memos

Ten years ago today, lawyers for the Bush Regime sent memos up the chain of command which quickly reached the military and the CIA. The August 1, 2002 “torture memos” authored by attorneys in the Office of Legal Council at the White House gave the green light to torture, calling it “harsh interrogation” and completely legal.

Prisoners in Guantanamo were immediately water-boarded, “walled,” put in isolation, deprived of sleep. A few were men the US thought were part of al Qaeda; most of them were just guys sold to the US by someone in Afghanistan for bounty. Almost none of them, it’s now admitted, were involved in criminal activity, or even military struggle, against the US. But, they were still “the worst of the worst.”

I was reminded of this anniversary by Curt Wechsler, who edits FireJohnYoo.net, a project of World Can’t Wait:

The clock is ticking. August 1st marks the 10th anniversary of the adoption of professor John Yoo’s “Torture Memos,” which sanctioned mental and physical torment and coercion practiced by the state. It’s been 9 years since those same documents were found legally defective and withdrawn. The Bush Gang left the stage, Barack Obama took the helm, and 168 prisoners remain at Guantanamo.  These men must not be forgotten, or their stories conveniently swept under the rug for the remainder of this election season.

Amy Davidson, a senior editor at The New Yorker, interviewed Jose Rodriquez, who for 30 years was head of the Counterterrorism Center during his 30 years at the CIA and who recently published a book defending everything done to prisoners, Hard Measures: How Aggressive C.I.A. Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives.  Rodriguez neatly recounted where the Torture Memos fit:

Over the summer of 2002, when we knew we had to do something different to get information out of Abu Zubaydah, who had been captured a few months earlier, we worked with our lawyers to make sure that we came up with techniques that were within the law. These techniques were vetted with the Department of Justice and the White House—with the policy people and the leadership people at the White House. Then, on August 1, 2002, we received a binding legal opinion in writing from the Justice Department that said waterboarding and nine other techniques we wanted to implement were not torture. We then went to the White House and asked the N.S.C. to give us policy approval to proceed, and for the President to direct us to proceed. And they did. A month later, when the Congress came back to town, we briefed the leadership of the House and Senate committees on intelligence, both Democrats and Republicans. They had no objection.

Which is the point, exactly.  Everyone was in on it; “everyone” now in government has no objections to what happened. John Yoo teaches constitutional law at one of the most highly regarded law schools, Boalt Hall at UC Berkeley, protected, and actually defended by an administration that uses its liberal credentials as a shield against justice. Jay Bybee got a gig as a federal judge, nominated by G.W. Bush and approved by the same Congress which was OK with torture methods as long as they were named harsh interrogation.”

And none of the torture team partners has suffered indictment, or even deeply serious investigation by the Obama administration.

I have to add a thanks to Women Against Military Madness in Minneapolis, who are outside the Federal Building in Minneapolis today in an action called Tackling Torture at the Top.

And from Curt Wechsler:

My donation to World Can’t Wait today will help send an orange-jumpsuited contingent to the Democratic National Convention to represent the victims of brutal prison policy, and all of us who say NO to torture.

Drones and Guantanamo, owned and operated in a bi-partisan fashion.  But it’s the Democrat War party who got people at accept them as “normal” and even legitimate.

Read the original memos, courtesy torturingdemocracy.org:

Memo from Jay Bybee to Alberto Gonzales
DATE: August 1, 2002
SUBJECT: “Standards for Conduct for Interrogation under 18 U.S.C. 2340 – 2340A”
AUTHOR: Jay Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel 
In what has become notorious as the “torture memo,” Jay Bybee signs off on an opinion authored by John Yoo. The memorandum systematically dismisses numerous U.S. federal laws, treaties and international law prohibiting the use of torture, essentially defining the term out of existence.

Letter from John Yoo to Alberto Gonzales
DATE: August 1, 2002
SUBJECT: N/A
AUTHOR: John Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel 
John Yoo writes to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales warning of potential threats of international prosecution regarding the administration’s interrogation policies. Yoo notes that “Interrogations of al Qaeda members … cannot constitute a war crime” because of the Presidential determination that Geneva’s protections do not apply.

Memo from Jay Bybee to the CIA
DATE: August 1, 2002
SUBJECT: Memorandum for [REDACTED] Interrogation of [REDACTED]
AUTHOR: Jay Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel 
Written by the Office of Legal Counsel’s Jay Bybee and sent to the Central Intelligence Agency, this heavily redacted document was released to the ACLU in 2008. It details “advising the CIA regarding interrogation methods it may use against al Qaeda members,” and in one un-redacted portion, argues that “to violate the statute, an individual must have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering. Based on the information you have provided us, we believe those carrying out these procedures would not have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering.”

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Report from Guantanamo, Live, Thursday 12/15

GuantanamoThursday evening, World Can’t Wait’s regular national conference call will feature a discussion with Candace Gorman, attorney for Guantanamo prisoners and Adviser to War Criminals Watch.

Candace represents prisoners still held in Guantanamo, 2.5 years after the Obama administration said it would have been closed.  She has just returned from a visit there, and will give us not only the latest news, but her perspective on her years-long efforts to get her clients released.

Anyone concerned about the “rule of law” and the National Defense Authorization Act should join in this60 minute conversation.

Thursday Dec. 15
10 pm EST / 7 pm PST

Read  Candace at GTMOblog.

Write for details to join  the call.

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