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No More Guantanamos

November 2010 Newsletter

In this issue:

Why we exist

Grassroots news:

  • New Berkeley, CA, chapter seeks city council resolution
  • Join Witness Against Torture in marking 9th anniversary of Guantánamo prison

Help a former Guantánamo detainee rebuild his life

Other news in brief:

  • Omar Khadr plea lets Obama administration off the hook
  • Bagram prison: judge supports Obama administration on secrecy
  • Bush still proud of waterboarding, falsely claims it saved lives
  • No penalty for CIA’s destruction of interrogation videotapes
     
Get involved! Contact us about starting a local coalition or asking your coalition to join our nationwide network. You may also join here.
 
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Why We Exist

When Guantánamo Bay prison will actually close is anyone’s guess, but the closing alone will not matter unless our country changes along with it and our government, going forward, affirms its commitment to human rights and the rule of law. As we near the ninth anniversary of Guantánamo Bay prison, we are constantly bombarded with signs that such a day is still far off. This newsletter issue reports on a few recent examples:

  • Our government has left a former child soldier no choice but to confess to a crime that he previously admitted to only when coerced.
  • It continues to hide prisoners at Bagram, without sharing basic facts with the public, just as it did in the early days of Guantánamo Bay prison.
  • President Bush boasted that he ordered prisoners to be tortured (although he refuses to call waterboarding “torture”), apparently feeling confident that he will never face legal action for having done so.
  • A CIA official has avoided prosecution for destroying videotaped evidence of harsh interrogations that a court had ordered preserved.
     

The basic effects of stories like these are that government officials feel justified for ignoring the rule of law, much of the public believes that the government’s actions are necessary to protect their safety, and many of those who disagree with that assumption gradually lose hope of seeing any change.

What can we do when we are confronted with frequent scare-mongering and surrounded by people who succumb to it? Few who are convinced that torture and indefinite detention are necessary have been receptive to the argument that the rule of law is important for our country, and that it can even make our country safer. NMG believes there is an important reason why scare-mongerers try to hide the identities of prisoners, label them the "worst of the worst," or imply that they are all just like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: If people could see the prisoners as human beings like themselves, with lives, passions, careers, and families, they would demand that the men receive the same rights that they expect for themselves: to be charged with crimes and presumed innocent until proven guilty.

That is why we formed, and why the town meetings of Amherst and Leverett, Massachusetts, voted overwhelmingly to welcome former Guantánamo detainees to live in their communities, once they learned some of the men's stories.  We now have eight chapters nationally who are telling the stories of prisoners at Guantánamo and Bagram. Residents of Berkeley, California, are now organizing to pass a city council resolution modeled after those passed in Massachusetts. If the resolution passes, we hope it will inspire other community coalitions to use the prisoners’ stories in their communities, and to gradually move our society and our government away from the era of Guantánamo, secret renditions, and torture.


Grassroots News

 

New Berkeley, CA, chapter seeks city council resolution to welcome cleared detainees

Launched during Berkeley Says No to Torture Week, October 10-16, 2010, this coalition includes members of several local, regional and national organizations who oppose the use of torture and who demand that Guantánamo Bay prison be closed with justice.

The coalition is currently meeting with other local groups to seek their support for the resolution and for welcoming a few detainees, if the resolution passes and Congress lifts its ban on allowing any former detainees to live in the United States. Last week, it brought its draft resolution to welcome cleared detainees to the Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission and distributed other supporting literature, including the stories of two detainees, Ahmed Belbacha and Ravil Mingazov, whom it hopes to welcome. In early December, the Commission will vote on whether to recommend that the Berkeley City Council approve the resolution.

The draft resolution is similar to the resolution that the Town Meetings of Amherst and Leverett, Massachusetts, passed in the last year.

Join Witness Against Torture in marking ninth anniversary of Guantánamo prison

 

January 11, 2011, marks the beginning of the 10th year of confinement, abuse and injustice for the men at Guantanamo. What is the human response to nine years of broken laws, broken promises and broken lives?

Witness Against Torture (WAT) seeks to put a human face on Guantanamo, to hold up the stories of the men there, and to remind people in the United States of the need for justice and mercy.

On January 11, 2011, WAT will carry out nonviolent direct action in Washington, DC, and will fast through January 22, doing daily vigils and demonstrations throughout Washington, haunting the sites of power with the specter of Guantánamo, the specter of cruel injustice.

WAT invites you to join them from January 11 through 22, in Washington or from your own community. Please contact Matthew Daloisio or Frida Berrigan for more information. Visit WAT’s website for updates.


Help a former Guantánamo detainee rebuild his life

Habeas counsel for former Guantánamo detainee Abdul Aziz Naji have set up a fund to pay for a new prosthetic leg and mental health care to overcome his depression.  Last July, Mr. Naji became the first Guantánamo detainee to be returned to Algeria against his will.  To learn more about Mr. Naji and how you can help him, read this letter from his U.S. legal team


Other News in Brief

 

Omar Khadr plea lets Obama administration off the hook

The Military Commissions Act’s lenient rules favoring the prosecution may have left Omar Khadr no option but to plead guilty to war crimes, after years of maintaining his innocence. The main charge, to which he pled guilty at Bagram prison at age 15, after an interrogator threatened him with gang rape, was that he had thrown a grenade that killed a U.S. soldier. We will never know if Khadr actually threw the grenade. Tossing the grenade was a war crime, according to the U.S. government, because Khadr was not wearing a military uniform at the time. This is a surprising claim by a government that is currently killing suspected terrorists and militants in Yemen and Pakistan, and claiming the right to execute U.S. citizens, using unmanned drones controlled remotely by operators in the U.S. whose uniforms—if they wear uniforms at all—cannot be seen by the victims or witnesses.

By putting Khadr on trial, the Obama administration ignored international treaties to which the U.S. is a signatory, which require the government to treat child soldiers like Khadr, who was 15 years old at the time of the alleged crime, as victims, not as war criminals.

Khadr will spend his last year at Guantánamo Bay in solitary confinement before being transferred for seven more years of imprisonment, which he may spend in his native Canada. The solitary confinement condition is curious, since there is no evidence that segregating Khadr is necessary to protect prison staff or other inmates. Khadr has spent years in Guantánamo Bay’s Camp 4, where prisoners live communally. Navy Capt. Patrick McCarthy, who was formerly the top military legal adviser at Guantánamo, has called Khadr a model prisoner who was respectful to military staff and who occasionally mediated between Guantánamo officials and prisoners.

In light of Khadr’s good behavior for nine years and his guilty plea, which saved the U.S. government potential international condemnation for trying a child soldier via military commission, the decision to place Khadr in solitary confinement, at great risk to his mental health, serves no apparent purpose but to show cruelty and vindictiveness.

Bagram: Federal District Court supports government secrecy

On October 25, Federal District Judge Barbara Jones of the Southern District of New York refused to order the Department of Defense to comply with the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit demanding basic facts about prisoners whom the military is detaining at Bagram. Unless an appeals court overturns the ruling, the government will continue to hide information about the prisoners, including the date and place of their capture, their citizenship, and why they are being held.

The freedom to hide such information about the Bagram prisoners makes the prison an ideal replacement for Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where the Bush administration initially assumed it could hide the same basic facts about its prisoners.

Bush still proud of waterboarding, falsely claims it saved lives

In his new memoir, Decision Points, President Bush proudly proclaims that he approved the use of waterboarding on Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The admission, in writing, amounts to a confession that the former president ordered interrogators to employ an internationally recognized torture technique, the use of which the U.S. government had previously prosecuted as a crime.

The former president attempted to justify using waterboarding by claiming, falsely according to British Prime Minister David Cameron, that it saved lives in the U.K. Cameron went on to say that the U.K. government considers waterboarding to be torture, and that it opposes its use on both ethical and practical grounds.  But even if the torture had caused the victims to reveal usable information, that would not have justified the torture nor proven that the information could not have been obtained without using torture.

No penalty yet for destruction of CIA interrogation videotapes

In 2008, then Attorney General Michael Mukasey appointed John Dunham as a special prosecutor tasked with investigating the destruction by the CIA of 92 videotapes showing harsh interrogations and, potentially, torture. At the conclusion of his investigation this week, the Department of Justice announced that it would not prosecute any CIA officials for the destruction of the evidence.

The decision to destroy the videotapes, in violation of a 2005 court order to “preserve and maintain” evidence of interrogations, was made to protect the identities of CIA agents who were involved and to ensure that no one could view, and become sickened or outraged by, the application of so-called “enhanced” interrogation techniques. The tapes’ destruction also denies the men whose interrogations were videotaped a means of proving in a court of law that their confessions were obtained through torture or other means of coercion.

The story does not end there, however. The National Archives and Records Administration, the government’s official keeper of records, had been investigating whether the CIA’s tape destruction violated the Federal Records Act. It put its investigation of the CIA on hold pending the outcome of the criminal investigation. Now that the investigation is over, it has resumed its investigation.
 


Please support NMG's work to demand human rights for detainees. Contribute by credit card or mail your check to:

No More Guantánamos
P.O. Box 618
Whately, MA  01093

No More Guantánamos is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. All donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.

Telephone: 413-665-1150