April-May 2011 Newsletter
In this issue:
- No More Guantánamos hosts grassroots call on WikiLeaks release
- New NMG chapter: Greater Cincinnati Peace, Unity, and Justice Coalition
- North Carolina Stop Torture Now supports Commission of Inquiry on Torture
- NCSTN follows up on letters returned from Guantánamo
- Witness Against Torture plans June anti-torture week activities, responds to WikiLeaks release
- Seattle church campaigns to free Guantánamo prisoner
- Pioneer Valley chapter sponsors two Guantánamo conversations
- Des Moines Anti-Torture Collective videotapes its weekly vigils
- Phoenix activists don orange jumpsuits for George W. Bush's visit
Get involved! Contact us at info (at) nogitmos.org about starting a local coalition or asking your coalition to join our nationwide network. You may also join here.
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WikiLeaks Guantánamo release offers an opportunity for truth-telling
The 779 classified Detainee Assessment Briefs (DABs) that WikiLeaks began releasing on April 24 offer an unprecedented opportunity for us to finally confront the flimsy evidence our government has compiled about hundreds of men to support their past or present indefinite detention at Guantánamo.
First, contrary to the stories the Bush administration told to frighten the public about “the worst of the worst,” the DABs include files on men and boys who were sent to Guantánamo by mistake, proving the claims of Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell at the time, and others that there were no competent battlefield tribunals to prevent innocent bystanders from being sent to the prison.
While the documents portray the prison as an interrogation facility, some interrogations focused on gathering information unrelated to terrorism. For example, a taxi driver was detained and interrogated for his knowledge of streets in his area, and Sami al-Hajj, who remained in the prison for more than 6 years, was questioned about his employer, Aljazeera.
The interrogators’ reliance on prison informants supports the notion that Guantánamo was a lie factory. We have known for years about the interrogators’ harsh tactics such as its sleep deprivation technique known as the “frequent flyer program,” stress positions, and extreme temperatures, which extracted false confessions and fabricated stories. From the documents, we also have learned the extent to which interrogators relied on eight prison informants, who informed on more than 200 detainees. Some informants were tortured or otherwise coerced. The testimony of Yasim Basardah, who informed on 124 other detainees, remained in the detainees’ records through 2008, several years after interrogators doubted his trustworthiness.
A technique that some journalists have used to evaluate the documents’ believability has been to compare prisoners’ DABs with federal judges’ rulings on their habeas corpus petitions. The case of Fouad al-Rabia is a good example. Al-Rabia’s DAB
calls him an Al Qaeda operative and funder; Judge Colleen Kollar Kotelly ordered al-Rabia’s release
after reviewing his habeas corpus petition and finding his testimony had been extracted via the “frequent flyer program” of sleep deprivation and other forms of coercion, and furthermore, that his interrogators did not believe the confessions were true. Read Tom Gjelten’s NPR story
comparing the two documents. Mr. al-Rabia, who had been a Kuwaiti airline pilot, remained in Guantánamo Bay prison for eight years, initially due to others’ false testimony, and later due to his own coerced false confessions.
While the DABs are quite free with their accusations against detainees, they carefully withhold information that would cast doubt on their credibility. Nowhere in the DABs will you find key information about the interrogators’ tactics to extract information, such as threats or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Nor do they mention the identities of the bounty hunters who turned the majority of the men over to the U.S. military, the stories they concocted about the men in order to collect their rewards, and how much money they were paid.
Well-meaning writers as well as Bush administration supporters have reported on the large number of “high risk” and “medium risk” detainees at Guantánamo. In fact, as blogger Andy Worthington
and Center for Constitutional Rights
(CCR) attorney Shayana Kadidal pointed out in a recent conference call on the WikiLeaks Guantánamo document release (see next article), most detainees’ DABs give them a medium- or high-risk rating. Suggestions that releasing detainees designated as “high-risk” endangers Americans are misleading. Among the “high risk” detainees who have either been cleared or already released are a Uighur detainee named Ahmad Muhammad Yaqub; U.K. citizens and residents Moazzam Begg, Omar Deghayes, Ruhel Ahmed, Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal, Richard Belmar, and Binyam Mohamed, all of whom are back in the U.K.; German citizen Murat Kurnaz; and Algerian Lakhdar Boumediene, who is now living in France.
Keep in mind that the DABs do not represent the current administration’s assessment of the remaining detainees’ potential threats. They are the Bush administration’s final word before the Obama administration assembled a multi-agency task force to review all available evidence and prepare its own assessments. Now that the DABs are out, CCR is calling on the Obama administration to release the 2009 task force determinations. Read the statement of CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren here
Although the lawyers for the detainees would seem to be best qualified to point out the flaws in the DABs, and how the false information was extracted from their clients, they cannot do so. They are forbidden from discussing publicly the DABs or any classified government documents to which they are privvy, including some of their own notes from meetings with their detainee clients, as a condition of their security clearances. We owe it to them and to their clients to do all we can to speak loudly and to write forcefully in order to expose government falsehoods about Guantánamo and its inmates.
For more on the WikiLeaks release and how to use them, see the next article in this newsletter.
No More Guantánamos hosts grassroots call on Guantánamo document release by WikiLeaks
On May 3, NMG hosted the first of a series of conference calls to enable grassroots to hear from experts, to share their groups’ activities with one another, and to collaborate on strategies.
On our first call, Shane Kadidal of the Center for Constitutional Rights
and blogger Andy Worthington
, one of WikiLeaks’ ten partners for the release, spoke to nearly 30 call participants about the release and about strategies for overcoming claims that the finding of Osama bin Laden justifies torture techniques and continued detention and interrogation at Guantánamo Bay. Find a transcript of remarks by Kadidal and Worthington here
Call participants have formed a new listserve to support a more in-depth conversation about the WikiLeaks-released DABs and strategies making use of them. If you would like to join the listserve, please contact info (at) nogitmos (dot) com.
NMG is planning additional calls for the NMG community on legal and perceived roadblocks to closing the prison, the government’s “rendition” figures, Bagram prison, rendition, and accountability.
Greater Cincinnati Peace, Unity, and Justice Coalition is newest NMG chapter
The Cincinnati, Ohio, group is NMG’s 11th local chapter nationwide. Its members work for the defense of both human and civil rights and the elimination of both prejudice and racism.
North Carolina Stop Torture Now (NCSTN) supports Commission of Inquiry on Torture
NCSTN continues to support the work of the Organizing Committee for a Commission of Inquiry on Torture
by recruiting endorsements
of the Commission. The aim is to recruit individual and organizational endorsements that include recognizable opinion-leaders, mainstream communities of faith, and veterans' groups. A web-based endorsement form is available here
In support of the Commission, four students from the University of North Carolina School of Law Immigration and Human Rights Clinic prepared a briefing book that includes results of their investigation including material drawn from meetings with officials in Johnston County, where Aero Contractors—the CIA front company responsible for dozens of extraordinary rendition flights—is headquartered.
Also, in Johnston County, activists continue to deliver monthly accountability updates to the Board of Commissioners. One of the two leaders in this effort, Chuck Fager, Director of the Quaker House in Fayetteville, NC, reported in April that this persistence was beginning to pay off, as individual Commissioners actively engage the regular visitors and have offered private encouragement.
NCSTN follows up on letters returned from Guantánamo
In our October 2010 newsletter
, we reported on NCSTN’s work to involve their neighbors in their work by gathering and sending letters of support to detainees at Guantánamo. According to the Department of Defense’s Joint Task Force Guantánamo website, compliant detainees are allowed to receive letters from family and friends. However, at least two dozen letters gathered at community events have been returned as undeliverable.
The Department of Defense has not responded to inquiries as to why the letters were returned, so NCSTN members are seeking assistance from their U.S. Senators and the Congressional Representative of a constituent whose letters were returned.
Witness Against Torture plans June anti-torture week activities and responds to WikiLeaks release
Witness Against Torture
(WAT) will gather in Washington, DC, from June 22 to 26 to participate in the Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) Torture Survivor’s Week. They invite you to join them on June 23rd for a march and action focused on the 172 men that remain in Guantánamo, particularly the 90 men currently cleared for release but still being held.
While they are in Washington, WAT organizers hope to meet with Department of Justice (DoJ) staff. Read their sixth letter
following up on a meeting last year with Portia Roberson, the DoJ’s Director of the Office of Public Liaison. Family visits for Guantanamo detainees is among several demands that WAT, NMG, and five other organizations demanded in a June letter to Ms. Roberson
, which they sent prior to their meeting.
Seattle church campaigns to free Guantánamo prisoner
Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif is a Yemeni prisoner who was ordered released by a federal judge but who is still held indefinitely at the prison because of his nationality. After several members of the University Temple United Methodist Church learned of his situation at a Martin Luther King Jr. Day workshop, they decided to take action on his behalf. University Temple’s Church & Society team drafted a letter
to Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and to Representative Jim McDermott, signed by 41 church members, urging them to take action to release Mr. Latif. Church members plan to follow up by meeting with their legislators. Read the full story here
Pioneer Valley chapter sponsors two Guantánamo conversations
On March 30, our Pioneer Valley chapter held two public conversations on “U.S. Detention Policies a Decade After 9/11.” Speakers Pardiss Kebriaei of the Center for Constitutional Rights
and Michael Sullivan of Ashcroft Sullivan
shared their opposing perspectives on whether we still need Guantánamo or someplace like it to effectively prevent terrorism. About 200 people attended the programs at Western New England College School of Law in Springfield, MA, and Smith College in Northampton, MA. Watch a video
of the Smith College program.
Des Moines Anti-Torture Collective videotapes its weekly vigils
The Des Moines group videotapes its weekly vigils and exchanges with observers. Watch a sampling of the brief videos
on the Des Moines group’s page of our website.
Phoenix activists don orange jumpsuits for George W. Bush’s visit
In March, when President George W. Bush spoke at a private function in Phoenix, members of the End the War Coalition greeted him in orange jumpsuits and used a bullhorn to broadcast their speeches critical of the torture and war policies begun in his administration. Photos and videos of the speeches are here
News In Brief:
Indefinite detention and military commissions become official policy
On March 7, President Obama signed an executive order making the 10-year ad-hoc practice of holding detainees indefinitely at Guantánamo Bay prison into a government policy that can be applied not only to 47 current Guantánamo detainees but to anyone whom the current administration or a future administration believes cannot be tried in a court or tribunal, but whom it considers too dangerous to release. Read the order here
. Some Guantánamo watchers fear that some men may be detained indefinitely solely on the basis of their behavior at Guantánamo, such as their displays of anger at guards or at the U.S. government over their indefinite detention.
The order allows Guantánamo detainees slated to be held indefinitely to appeal to a review board every three years. As was the case in Combatant Status Review Tribunals and Administrative Review Boards, the government provides for each detainee to have a personal representative. While the administration also permits the detainee to have legal representation, it limits the evidence it shares with the detainee and determines which witnesses, if any, the detainee may call on his behalf.
On April 25, the day that President Obama announced he would seek re-election, his administration announced that it had given up on its plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four alleged co-conspirators in federal court. Attorney General Eric Holder, who made the announcement that the men would be tried by military commission, had been confident that the men would be convicted if they were tried in federal court. He blamed Congress for the change and withdrew the 2009 grand jury indictment against the five men.
Many cleared Bagram detainees continue to be held
More than 1,500 prisoners are currently held at the military prison in Bagram, which is now called the Detention Facility in Parwan. Review boards at the prison have cleared many of the 41 non-Afghan detainees who were brought to the prison from other countries. However, more than a dozen such men remain behind bars. They include the three non-Afghan prisoners named in the Maqaleh v. Gates case: Fadi al-Maqaleh and Amin al-Bakri, both of Yemen, and Redha al-Najar, a Tunisian.
In 2009, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, who heard Maqaleh v. Gates
, agreed with the plaintiffs that the Supreme Court’s Boumediene
ruling granting habeas corpus to Guantánamo detainees applied to the three men because their situations are essentially the same as those of Guantánamo detainees, in that they had been captured in other countries and brought to a U.S. military prison. However, the Obama administration appealed, and the DC circuit court of appeals overturned the ruling. Find the Maqaleh pleadings on the International Justice Network’s website
The men’s pro-bono attorneys have never been allowed to meet the men or to learn why they were picked up or what evidence, if any, against the men exists. Now that the men have been cleared, their lawyers have been unable to find out why the men remain in the prison; they suspect political issues between the U.S. and the governments of their home countries are involved.
Supreme Court refuses to hear Guantánamo appeals
In this term, the Supreme Court has denied certiorari for seven appeals involving detainees and has not yet decided whether to hear the eighth and final petition, Khadr v. Obama.
One of the seven, Kiyemba v. Obama, concerned the plight of the five remaining Uighur detainees at Guantánamo Bay, who have been free to leave the prison but who are afraid to resettle in Palau. The petition asked whether a judge who grants Guantánamo detainees’ writ of habeas corpus has the authority to order the detainees’ release into the United States, where they have been offered homes and jobs, as DC District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina did in 2008. Urbina’s ruling was overturned on appeal by the Obama administration. The Supreme Court denied certiorari because the men had been offered resettlement elsewhere.
Following the high court’s refusal, Sabin Willett, Counsel of Record for the Uighurs’ case, questioned whether the court’s Boumediene
ruling granting the writ of habeas corpus to Guantánamo detainees has any meaning. Read his article, “Requiem for a Remedy,”
on the Lawfare site.
Screening of The Response among this year’s Law Day activities
On May 5, public educational institutions, law schools, the general public, and legal professionals observed Law Day 2011
. Organized annually by the American Bar Association, this year’s theme was “The Legacy of John Adams: From Boston to Guantánamo.” Nevada’s Law Day Live event began with a broadcast of the 30-minute documentary, The Response,
a dramatization of a Combatant Status Review Tribunal based on actual transcripts, followed by deliberations of a three-judge panel.
After the showing, a video conference linked panels in three courtrooms for a discussion. Both the documentary and the discussion were broadcast to the public via the Nevada supreme court’s website.
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