Posts Tagged Guantanamo

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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War Criminals to Meet in Chicago, But Somehow Protest Will be the Danger?

Update May 8: “On Tuesday, city officials notified National Nurses United that they were ordering nurses to accept new, less visible, locations for the protest, under threat of cancelling a long approved permit for the public event – even though the G-8 leaders will now be 700 miles away from Chicago on that date in the backwoods of Camp David, Md.”  At a press conference Wednesday, “NNU will outline a legal challenge to the city’s demand and discuss other plans responding to the city’s move” (from a press release from National Nurses United regarding the suppression of their planned May 18 protest in Chicago against the NATO Summit).

The NATO International Security Force, which we all know is actually led by the U.S. military, killed a woman and her 5 children in an airstrike in southwestern Afghanistan Sunday, and then yesterday expressed “regret” for what they call their “mistake.”

Military tribunals, the crowning achievement of a US system of indefinite detention and torture aided by and including NATO member countries, and which defense attorneys assert are rigged by the U.S. to assure the execution of 5 men in Guantánamo, have begun, in the process of continuing the unending U.S. war on terror.

U.S. drone strikes, halted briefly because of protest from the government of Pakistan (presumably a sovereign country) began again last week, killing 4 people in a school.  Of course these victims were called insurgents; everyone killed by U.S. drones is a militant, by definition.  NATO is now a major purchaser of U.S. drones, and has a vast role in aiding the covert U.S. strikes.

The most heavily armed empire in world history occupies and has destroyed whole countries, has a system of indefinite detention and torture in place, and is expanding secret military operations across the region.

But according to this empire, the biggest danger to peace is some hundreds or thousands of people protesting the Chicago meeting of the NATO military alliance next week?  According to the purveyors of war crimes, the people decrying the destruction of Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan are the ones to fear and lock up, while the war-makers and torturers are given even more power to war critics into criminals?

Public opinion is being prepared for this criminalization. The Chicago press has featured reports on plans to evacuate Chicago because of “unrest;” on the deployment of National Guard troops to quell protests; on plans to reopen a closed prison in Joliet to house arrested protesters; on heavily armed federal teams sweeping through the central city; on closing down the public transport system in the city; and more.

Despite the measures which Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, Obama’s former White House enforcer, wanted in place against protest, a well-publicized battle was successful in getting a permit for the march on Sunday May 20 at Grant Park.  With the removal of a long-held permit to march on Friday May 18 by National Nurses United, the City is trying to force protest further away from city center, supposedly because rocker Tom Morello will be performing at their rally.

No matter how they parse the words of the First Amendment, what the federal authorities (who are the ones running the show in Chicago) are doing is criminalizing protest in advance.  As they did at the Republican Convention in St. Paul in 2008; at the G-20 in Pittsburgh in 2009; in response to the Occupy movement, they are putting measures in place that will sweep up people who are assembling and speaking based on the content of our protest message.  The message to the general public is that protest should be feared, not a system that perpetrates war crimes and mass denial of civil liberties.

We state clearly and publicly, in advance: It’s right to protest the crimes being carried out in our name, in public space, near the NATO meeting.  We protesters are not the endangering the people; the danger to humanity is a system which uses police-state measures to back up war crimes. The following measures are in place, or have been proposed:

Occupy Bridge Arrests

Last fall, hundreds of Occupy protesters were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge

* Sending arrested protesters to an old prison in Joliet. 

The idea was then ditched, as the place is falling apart (To Joliet jail for NATO offenders?  Sun-Times, Apr 28, 2012).

* The National Guard is deployed to Chicago for NATO Summit:

“Another contingent of guard troops will conduct a large-scale domestic response drill outside Cook County during the summit weekend, ready to provide support in the event of any problems in Chicago, said Maj. Troy Scott, deputy director of domestic operations for the Illinois National Guard.”

Video of military helicopters flying over the Loop.

* Milwaukee Red Cross to Prep for Chicago Evacuation During NATO Summit:

“CBS News has obtained a copy of a Red Cross e-mail sent to volunteers in the Milwaukee area. It said the NATO summit “may create unrest or another national security incident. The American Red Cross in southeastern Wisconsin has been asked to place a number of shelters on standby in the event of evacuation of Chicago.”

According to a chapter spokesperson, the evacuation plan is not theirs alone. “Our direction has come from the City of Chicago and the Secret Service,” she said (accompanied by picture of demonstrators amidst flames, who knows where…).

* Vague Speculation about “Unrest” Concerns about NATO Summit Violence Leave Chicago Guessing CBS News reported on April 29:

“There also are reports that a heavily armed security team will start making a very public appearance around federal buildings in the Loop this week. Officials with the Chicago NATO host committee were completely in the dark. They had no reports of any such plans. A source told CBS 2 that security forces in full battle gear would not be seen this week.”

* Chicago airspace to be closed down:

“The FAA says private planes may be shot down if they fly within ten nautical miles of downtown Chicago during the summit. The only planes allowed will be commercial passenger and cargo carriers, and police and military aircraft.”

* Surgical strikes against anyone in protests who “crosses the line” beyond First Amendment activity… as defined by the Secret Service?

“Police will embrace “First Amendment activity,” she told the building managers, and will surgically deal with those who cross the line into vandalism. She was asked how many demonstrators could arrive in Chicago who aren’t now part of a permitted group.

“If I had that crystal ball, I’d be solid,” she said.

Many building managers said that overall they were relatively satisfied with the level of information they are getting and are willing to trust the police and federal authorities to keep things under control.

“I understand they haven’t got everything figured out yet,” said Wes Stoginski, assistant engineer at a building on 13th Street near the Illinois Central rail line. But Stoginski also said he knows where the variables are.

“You can’t legislate against lunatics,” he said.”

(This is the only somewhat oblique reference I could find to the CPD extraction technique of arresting the people they see as leaders, which they did at the mass March 20, 2003 arrests. The civil suit by NLG based on those arrests was just settled for $6.2 million to demonstrators. In the pre-trial discovery, that technique was documented.)

* Federal Patrols Set for Loop:

“In a memo titled Operation Red Zone, the protective service said the increased security will be extended throughout the South Loop area often referred to as the federal complex. It includes the Kluczynski Federal Building, the U.S. Dirksen Courthouse and the Metropolitan Correctional Center. Several buildings just east on State Street are also in the so-called red zone.

“The memo notes there have been no specific or credible threats at federal facilities ‘related to terrorism by international terrorist organizations’ but that the area around the complex will be ‘directly and indirectly’ affected by protests in the days before and after the summit.”

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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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Occupying, Everywhere, to STOP U.S. Occupations

An irony acutely felt this week:

Tens of thousands of people in the U.S., taking the lead from millions in the Middle East, are “occupying” public spaces, seeking change in the the world as it is, standing up to authority, power, and blowing the ceiling off expectations that the vast disparity in global income “has to” be as it is.  We’ve got to spread these occupations!

Hundreds of thousands of U.S. military, support staff and private contractors are “occupying” two countries in the Middle East, in a mission to enforce, with a vengeance, U.S. domination over the region, employing night raids, torture, and terror towards the civilian population.  We’ve got to end those occupations!

We marked the 10th anniversary of the Bush regime’s bombing and invasion of Afghanistan last week, with protests across the U.S. which were in many cases intermingled with the Occupy Wall Street protests, and in all cases influenced by the outpouring of public anger at the system.

Significantly, a protest in Kabul by Afghans demanded the occupiers leave.

Protesters march in Kabul

Watch Reuters video of the protest in Kabul against U.S. occupation

Yesterday, the United Nations released a report on the detention system in Afghanistan, bought, run and paid for by those who occupy the Pentagon. The New York Times reports that it

paints a devastating picture of abuse, citing evidence of “systematic torture” during interrogations by Afghan intelligence and police officials even as American and other Western backers provide training and pay for nearly the entire budget of the Afghan ministries running the detention centers.

Detainees — and we’ve known this since November 2001, when the U.S. first set up operations at an old Afghan prison in Bagram — are hung by their hands and beaten with cables, their genitals twisted until they lose consciousness.  Because of the Obama administration’s successful argument that the prisoners are not entitled to habeas corpus rights, they have no way out.

This is in no way a departure from all the rest of the Bush war crimes begun 10 years ago.  The NY Times, which editorially opposes torture, while supporting the wars in which the U.S. uses it, said today

such widespread use of torture in a detention system supported by American mentors and money raises serious questions about potential complicity of American officials and whether they benefited from information obtained from suspects who had been tortured….There have been a number of instances that raise similar questions in other places, including Uzbekistan, Pakistan and El Salvador, according to a RAND Corporation report in 2006.

This systematic abuse must be working for the United States government.  According to Glenn Greenwald, the Obama administration

unveiled plans for “the construction of Detention Facility in Parwan (DFIP), Bagram, Afghanistan” which includes “detainee housing capability for approximately 2000 detainees.”  It will also feature “guard towers, administrative facility and Vehicle/Personnel Access Control Gates, security surveillance and restricted access systems.”  The announcement provided: ”the estimated cost of the project is between $25,000,000 to $100,000,000.”

This occupation won’t be ended by Obama, or any presidents to follow him, unless people in this country demand it.

Raise your voice!  January 11, 2012, we’ll be back in Washington on the 10th anniversary of the U.S. prison in Guantanamo, marking it with a protest/human chain of 2,200 people.  We’ll stand for the 171 prisoners in Guantanamo, with no way out, and the 2,000 some at Bagram, with no legal standing. Join in!

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TIME Surprises with 9/11 Victims Not Usually Seen

In a series of video interviews entitled [Beyond 9/11] Portraits of Resistance, TIME magazine includes the expected 9/11 survivors, first responders, family members of those who were killed.  They include those you’d have to classify as war criminals in the wake of 9/11, George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, “Dick” Cheney and General Petraeus; other government and U.S. military personnel.

I found, out of the 40 people interviewed, 3 who are surprising, including two I consider friends and heroes.  They are:

Cindy Sheehan

Cindy Sheehan, 2011

Cindy Sheehan

Cindy Sheehan recounts her reaction to George Bush’s announcement that 12 Marines who died in Iraq in August 2005 had died “for a noble cause.”  She didn’t believe her son Casey, a reluctant soldier who was killed in Iraq in 2004, had been sacrificed for anything good.  Cindy’s actions in camping out in front of Bush’s ranch were such that millions cheered her on.

You can find her at Cindy Sheehan’s Soapbox.

James Yee

James Yee

James Yee, 2011

James was an Army Captain who became a chaplain for Muslim soldiers in early 2001.  When Rumsfeld opened Guantanamo to house men from dozens of countries as part of the “global war on terror,” James was assigned to be prison chaplain. The prisoners’ conditions, he says, were “not fit for animals.”

Soon, because he spoke up, he was disappeared into a brig in South Carolina, threatened with execution for speaking up against the conditions.  He fought his imprisonment, and eventually won an honorable discharge from the military.  James Yee is now the Executive Director of the New Jersey Chapter of CAIR, the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Ali Abbas

Ali Abbas

Ali Abbas, 2011

Ali was asleep on an Iraqi farm when bombs were dropped on his home by the American military in 2004.

“I lost my arms and my body is burned, and also my family is dead.  We were all asleep, 12 o’clock at night, and we heard the big noise.  The fire was all over us, I heard my family screaming.  I couldn’t see anything, but I could feel everything…I lost my father, mother and my brother, and 13 members of my family.”

Ali Abbas was resettled with a friend in England.

All of them are victims of the Bush regime’s “global war on terror” who have stood heroically against the abuses of illegitimate, immoral, unjust U.S. occupations.  I am glad they are recognized.

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State of the Union: War on Terror Goes On and On, and On…

On Tuesday January 25, at the same moment Congress gathered for the State of the Union address from Barack Obama, almost a hundred people gathered to discuss “Torture, Guantanamo and Accountability” at DePaul University Law School in Chicago.  It’s been difficult over the last 2+ years to fill a room for such a discussion, so we were heartened by the participation of 40 law students and attorneys.  Dr. M. Cherif Bassiouni, a distinguished research professor emeritus at the law school, and founder of the International Human Rights Law Institute; and Candace Gorman, who represents two men imprisoned at Guantanamo, spoke with me on the panel.

Dr. Bassiouni described the “chasm” between the promises made by Obama while campaigning and the actions of Obama as president, regarding the rule of law as represented by the United States.  Candace told the story of one of her clients, still in Guantanamo.  He is apparently one of the 48 who will be detained indefinitely, bringing some of the students to tears of frustration.  We’ll have more on the program soon.  Listen to Dr. Bassiouni and Ms. Gorman in an excellent hour-long discussion on Chicago public radio WBEZ.

Guantanamo prisoners

Many of the men still imprisoned at Guantanamo may never be released

Our colleague Andy Worthington, about to tour Poland with former Guantanamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, took the time to describe the Obama’s administration’s plans for those imprisoned at Guantanamo in Obama’s Collapse: The Return of the Military Commissions:

This year the President’s bitter surprise for the prisoners (which has encouraged a widespread peaceful protest at the prison, as reported here) was two-fold. The first was his failure to veto a military spending bill passed by Congress, which contained cynical and unconstitutional provisions preventing the transfer of any prisoner to the US mainland, in which lawmakers also demanded the power to prevent the release of prisoners to countries regarded as dangerous…

The second bitter surprise for the prisoners was the announcement last week, first mentioned by the New York Times, that, although federal court trials have effectively been suspended, specifically derailing the administration’s stated intention to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks in federal court, the administration is preparing to push ahead instead with trials by Military Commission for at least some of the 33 men recommended for trials by Obama’s Task Force.

No, none of those plans were part of the State of the Union address.  Those of you listening for “real change” in Obama’s direction on the wars Tuesday night were disappointed.  Rocky Anderson, former mayor of Salt Lake City, and an opponent of torture, spoke on Democracy Now January 26 about the speech:

He didn’t mention human rights at a time when he has assassination lists for the first time in our nation’s history, that include U.S. citizens. No due process—we don’t just have indefinite detention anymore; we just go out, put their name on a list, and kill them. The invocation of state secrets, it’s absolutely obliterated any notion of checks and balances. Our courts have been removed from that equation, by and large, when it comes to torture, when it comes to warrantless wiretapping by our government. No discussion about that, of course. And we’re seeing, really, an institutionalization by this president of some of the worst abuses and what we, a lot of us, thought were just aberrations during the Bush years.

I’d like to note what Obama did say:

…because we’ve begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored.  Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high. (Applause.) American combat patrols have ended, violence is down, and a new government has been formed. This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq. America’s commitment has been kept. The Iraq war is coming to an end. (Applause.)

…We’ve also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan security forces. Our purpose is clear: By preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.

Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home. (Applause.)

Last I heard, the Defense Department is balking at even a 2014 pull out date of Afghanistan.  The unjust, immoral, illegitimate occupations continue, and with them, the “war on terror” against civilians across the region.  It’s up to us to bring out that reality to people.

I saw John Boehner pinch up his face when Obama obliquely mentioned the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  As much as the reactionaries howled against letting gays be out in the military, I have to say that any gay person who actually decides now to enlist has lost their mind.  Just because one can now serve openly does not mean the whole enterprise of occupying countries and killing civilians should involve you!  I say, “don’t ask, don’t tell….no — DON’T GO!”  It’s a bad thing, as several professors have written me, that because DODT is being repealed, colleges are now planning to open the doors once again to military recruiters.

I’ll see you in Washington D.C. on March 17-19 as we step up the visible protest on the anniversary of the Iraq war.

Crimes Are Crimes - No Matter Who Does Them

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Closing Guantanamo Requires Us

Over an intense week protesting the beginning of the 10th year of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo, I continued to learn more.  The situation for the 173 men there is changing, though not towards a just resolution.

After nine years, it got through to me that use of the word “detainees” indicates something impermanent, as if one is “detained” doing an errand.  The men have been imprisoned; they are prisoners.  So we shall call them prisoners and released prisoners.

Many thanks to Andy Worthington for coming to the U.S. last week, speaking and talking with all us involved in trying to end the U.S. regime of indefinite detention, based on torture begun by the Bush regime.  His attention to the cases of 774 men, and grasp of the prison’s history is remarkable.  You can see and support his work here.

Protests last week centered on the demand that Guantanamo be closed, with justice.   A statement still circulating to that effect is here.  Groups in other cities, and 100 fasters around the country, continue to speak out.  World Can’t Wait in Chicago is sponsoring an event January 25 at DePaul University with Dr. M. Cherif Bassiouni, attorney Candace Gorman, and myself.

Thanks to Witness Against Torture, leading an ongoing fast for justice through January 22, two years from the day Barack Obama promised to close Guantanamo.  Thanks to the attorneys who have defended the prisoners, too numerous to name here, and who shared their sense of outrage with us.  And to the Center for Constitutional Rights and Amnesty International for a dramatic and intense protest Tuesday January 11 in front of the White House, and later at the Department of Justice.

The voices of the former prisoners — who of course could not be with us at the protest, as they are still considered “enemy combatants” though they were never charged — came through.  Omar Deghayes, who speaks so movingly in the film Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo, sent a message read in front of the White House by Kathy Kelly:

…This past December 19th just marked three years to the day that I tasted freedom again and was released from Guantánamo to the warm embrace of my family and the community who fought so hard for my freedom. But not a day has passed since in which my thoughts and prayers have not remained with the 173 men who continue to languish in Guantánamo, detained without trial, most of them not facing any charge, and entering their tenth year of being separated from their loved ones. 90 of these men have actually been cleared for release long ago…

January 11, 2011 Andy Worthington speaking to protesters & media in front of the White House

Andy Worthington explained to the hundreds of people standing in the street before the White House, what’s happened to the 173 men left.  In a piece that summarize the pace of closure, Guantánamo Forever? makes the case that the Obama administration, as indicated back in May 2009, is making indefinite detention a permanent feature:

…it is reasonable to propose that Guantánamo is now a permanent institution for a variety of reasons. The first concerns a number of cynical moves by lawmakers in recent months, inserting provisions into a military spending bill that are explicitly designed to keep Guantánamo open — a ban on using funds to transfer Guantánamo prisoners to the U.S. mainland to face trials, a ban on using funds to buy or build a prison on the U.S. mainland to hold Guantánamo prisoners, and a ban on the release of any prisoner cleared for release by the President’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force (composed of representatives of government departments and the intelligence agencies) to countries considered dangerous by lawmakers — including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen…

Andy looks further into this situation in Nine Years Later: The Political Prisoners of Guantanamo, showing some of the complex factors behind the paralysis.  An even larger group of prisoners are held in Bagram, at the U.S. air base, in what the U.S. argues is a “war zone” so that the prisoners may not have habeas corpus, echoing the Bush regime of 5 years ago.  Military tribunals, or “commissions” have been widely derided as unjust.  Obama says some of the prisoners are “too dangerous to release” or to try.  Is it that what would come out in court would be too revealing of the illegitimacy of the war on terror?  And concludes

Until these problems are solved and the Guantanamo prisoners are either tried or released, President Obama’s contribution to this bitter legacy of the Bush administration is to be presiding over the unthinkable: a prison where, however the prisoners have been designated, they are almost all held in indefinite detention and are, indeed, political prisoners.

Over the next year, we will experience the ten year anniversaries of 9/11, the PATRIOT Act, the attack on Afghanistan, and the opening of Guantanamo.  We have something to say now, and over the next year, about whether the outrages associated with the Bush years continue along, or are sharply opposed by more and more people.

World Can’t Wait began its Call to Drive Out the Bush Regime in 2005 with:

YOUR GOVERNMENT, on the basis of outrageous lies, is waging a murderous and utterly illegitimate war in Iraq, with other countries in their sights.

YOUR GOVERNMENT is openly torturing people, and justifying it.

YOUR GOVERNMENT puts people in jail on the merest suspicion, refusing them lawyers, and either holding them indefinitely or deporting them in the dead of night.

And we ended it with, “The future is unwritten.  Which one we get is up to us.”

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What the U.S. Prison at Guantanamo Accomplished

The voices almost never heard in the discussion of torture, indefinite detention and Bush’s Guantánamo are the men who were themselves detained. Over 600 have been released, in a tacit admission by the U.S. that they committed no crimes.  174 are still detained, even though Obama’s own commission found last year that more than 90 should be released immediately.  We should hear these voices.

Andy Worthington published this letter last week, from a Yemini detainee:

A letter from Guantánamo, by Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif

To Attorney David Remes who dedicated his efforts to work on my dead case. The case that has been buried by its makers under the wreckage of freedom, justice, and the malicious and cursed politics.

Testimony and Consolation

I offer my dead corpse to the coming Yemeni delegation.

They agreed on the torture and agonies that I went through all those years.

They knew that I am innocent and at the same time ill and that I left my country to seek treatment.

This is also a message to the Yemeni people who bear the responsibility of my death in front of God and the responsibility of all of the other Yemenis inside this prison. This prison is a piece of hell that kills everything, the spirit, the body and kicks away all the symptoms of health from them.

A Testimony of Death

A testimony against injustice and against the propagandists of freedom, justice and equality.

Adnan Farhan Abdulatif while in the throes of death.

From Close Guantanamo with Justice Now, by dozens of organizations to mark the beginning of the 10th year of Guantanamo on Tuesday, January 11, 2011:

The story of Guantánamo remains the shameful case of the U.S. government rounding up nearly 800 men and boys, indiscriminately labeling them “the worst of the worst,” and throwing them into an island prison designed to exist beyond the reaches of the law, where they would have no right to challenge their detention or abuse. The vast majority of the prisoners at Guantánamo should never have been detained in the first place. Many were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and were fleeing the chaos of war when U.S. forces entered Afghanistan. Only one in twenty was captured by the U.S. military. Most were captured by local civilians and authorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan and sold to the United States in exchange for substantial bounty. According to Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a senior State Department official who served in the Bush administration between 2002-2005, the Bush administration knew early on that the majority of the men at Guantánamo were innocent but did not release them due to political concerns that doing so could harm support for the government’s push for war in Iraq and the broader “Global War on Terror.”

5 men still detained by the U.S. in Guantanamo January 2011

5 of the men still detained by the U.S. in Guantánamo, January 2011

Andy Worthington and other journalists have spent years documenting the abuse detainees suffered.  See the report by ProPublica, Prisoners’ Recollections Differ from Guidelines, contrasting the “torture memo” report released by the Obama administration in 2009, with its dry and utterly bland descriptions of torture procedures ordered by the Bush regime, with the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2007 which, given the ICRC’s reluctance to criticize governments, was scathing in its criticism of the Bush program.

The problem is not simply that Barack Obama has not followed through on his pledge to close Guantanamo by January 22, 2010.   In many ways, as we said in the Crimes are Crimes – No Matter Who Does Them statement,

this is worse than Bush. First, because Obama has claimed the right to assassinate American citizens whom he suspects of “terrorism,” merely on the grounds of his own suspicion or that of the CIA, something Bush never claimed publicly. Second, Obama says that the government can detain you indefinitely, even if you have been exonerated in a trial, and he has publicly floated the idea of “preventive detention.

Ten weeks after the publication of that statement in The New York Times, Obama, it was reported by Dafna Linzer at ProPublica that

The White House is preparing an Executive Order on indefinite detention that will provide periodic reviews of evidence against dozens of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, according to several administration officials… the order establishes indefinite detention as a long-term Obama administration policy and makes clear that the White House alone will manage a review process for those it chooses to hold without charge or trial.

This executive order, may be released on or near January 11, putting a close to any faint illusions — or delusions – on the part of those who says that Obama is “really trying” to close the illegal prison.

In another recent piece With Indefinite Detention and Transfer Bans, Obama and the Senate Plumb New Depths on Guantánamo Worthington says:

President Obama is now fulfilling one of Dick Cheney’s great hopes, presiding over a prison in which the overwhelming majority of the remaining 174 prisoners will, in all likelihood, continue to be held indefinitely.

Over at The Talking Dog, dog says:

Every day, in every way, the people of the Obama Administration just want you to know that if there is any material difference between it and the Bush Administration… they must not be doing their jobs right.

Just so we are clear: the continuation of the global “war on terror” continues, now fully endorsed by the administration and the Congress.  As always, it’s up to us to make our demands visible.  Join me in Washington DC on Tuesday, January 11, 2011.

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Going on 9 Guantanamo Years

Lost in the flurry of bills passed as Congress ended was the inclusion in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act of language that forbids any Pentagon funds being used to transport any detainee from Guantánamo to the U.S. for any reason.   There’s no evidence that the Obama administration really opposed this language; they’ve accepted that detainees such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed won’t be tried in federal courts.  They’ve delineated a group of detainess for indefinite detention for the reason that they’ve been tortured, and such information, from the government’s standpoint, can’t be made public.

Guantanamo protestSo still, 174 men sit in Guantánamo, including the large group of Yemenis who are caught between denunciations by the U.S. authorities of the anti-government forces in Yemen, and U.S. support for same.  The hope many felt two years ago, in anticipation of an end to the Bush torture regime is dead.  Yet courageous lawyers, writers, and activists still struggle for humanity to know the truth about the illegal prison Bush built in Guantánamo, and the need for the wider complex of Bush-era torture, indefinite detention, rendition, and secret prisons to really end.

Andy Worthington, who will be in the States next week to participate in protests of Guantanamo, wrote today, in Christmas at Guantánamo:

I thought I’d take this opportunity to remind readers who may be searching the Internet because they need a break from eating and drinking, or because they want to get away from their families for a while, or because the TV is so relentlessly pointless, or because they don’t celebrate Christmas, about some of the 174 men still held in Guantánamo, for whom concern is particularly appropriate right now, as, between them, the Obama administration and Congress seem to have ensured that the majority of them will be spending many more Christmases at Guantánamo…”

It’s not only that Guantánamo should have been closed, and isn’t, but that the virulent Islamophobia, the illegitimate “war on terror;” the secret renditions begun under Bill Clinton; the covering for torture by the allies in Iraq and Afghanistan continue.  I thank Glenn Greenwald for pulling our attention yet again to Wikileaks, for what they revealed this year on the crimes of our government, past and current, as regards torture, rendition, and detention, in What Wikileaks Revealed to the World in 2010 – a pattern of utter suppression of peoples’ rights, outside the law.

In two weeks, we’ll be in Washington with Witness Against Torture, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and activists who won’t let this issue go, no matter who the president, or what the promises are.

Please join us in Washington, or where you are, in making visible resistance and protest.  Guantánamo, and the whole torture regime that brought it, must be ended!

Rally and “prisoner procession” to the Department of Justice, followed by non-violent direct action.
Date and Time: Tues, Jan. 11, beginning at 11 am
Location: The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON — The prison at Guantanamo will enter its 10th year of operation on Tuesday, January 11. Witness Against Torture is working to make sure this second decade never begins.

Starting at 11am that morning at the White House, Witness Against Torture launches a Daily Vigil and Fast for Justice that will continue for 11 days and include demonstrations throughout Washington. The days of action will begin on January 11th with a rally of a coalition of human rights and grassroots groups, including the Center for Constitutional Rights and Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition, followed by a “prisoner procession” to the Department of Justice, where members of Witness Against Torture will engage in nonviolent direct action…

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