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No More Guantanamos

October 2010 Newsletter

In this issue:

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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Grassroots News 



Witness Against Torture Chicago has affiliated with No More Guantánamos to tell the stories of detainees in their area. The group’s members have chosen two prisoners—Razak Ali, an Algerian, and Shawali Khan, an Afghan. Both men want to return to their homes.

The group plans to organize an educational event in Chicago later this year, where they will tell the stories of two current Guantánamo detainees.
What you can do: Learn more about this group or join them here. Not from Chicago? Find or join a local group here.

North Carolina

This week, North Carolina Stop Torture Now launched a two-part grassroots campaign of letter-writing to current and former U.S. detainees in their booth at a Chapel Hill street fair. Photos and more information are here.
In the first part, they are inviting ordinary North Carolinians to sign a letter to victims and survivors, pledging to work for accountability. They will continue gathering signatures on this letter at the Peace Booth in the North Carolina State Fair later this month.
In the second part, they are asking people to hand-write short letters of support to individual prisoners detained at Guantanamo, to let them know they are not forgotten.
What you can do: Find suggestions for writing your own letter to a detainee here.
If you live in North Carolina, contact NCSTN [email contact AT] to join their campaign.

Witness Against Torture (WAT)

On Friday, October 1, 15 anti-torture activists picketed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to demand a meeting that a DOJ official had offered to arrange for group earlier this year. Read the news release.
On June 15, representatives of WAT, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Defending Dissent Foundation, and Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition (TASSC) International met with Portia Roberson, head of the Office of Public Liaison at the Department of Justice, to articulate steps toward closing the Guantánamo Bay prison with justice. At the meeting, the coalition delivered a letter (PDF) to which NMG is a signatory, reiterating its demands.
After a meeting that New Jersey-based WAT member Richard Sroczynski called “fruitful,” Ms. Roberson expressed her desire to continue the dialogue, including a follow-up meeting.” That meeting never took place, however, and the group’s letters and telephone calls to the DOJ to arrange the meeting seem to have been ignored.
January 11, 2011, marks the beginning of the Guantánamo prison’s 10th year. For the third year, WAT members will mark the day by beginning a fast and rallies in Washington, DC, which will continue for 12 days, through January 22, which coincides with the second anniversary of President Barack Obama’s executive order to close the prison within one year.
What you can do: To endorse and participate in WAT’s January fast and rallies, visit the Witness Against Torture website and contact them.

Torture and the Law

Americans generally expect the courts to carry out “justice,” but the politicians who write the laws (or not) determine our laws’ fairness. The outcomes of some recent lawsuits illustrate this phenomenon.
The Military Commissions Act of 2006, passed on the eve of the last midterm election, reared its head in Al-Zahrani v. Rumsfeld, a suit brought by the families of two of three men whose simultaneous deaths in Guantánamo Bay prison in June 2006 had been labeled suicides by the Pentagon. The stories told by several guards present at the time of the prisoners’ deaths support the likelihood that the men were murdered and that the Pentagon’s “suicide” story has been a cover-up.
In dismissing the families’ suit on behalf of Yasser al-Zahrani and Salah al-Salami, federal District Court Judge Ellen Huvelle did not dispute the evidence of homicides but cited the Military Commissions Act, which granted blanket immunity—retroactively—to those involved in the detention and treatment of the prisoners. Congress had apparently tied her hands, preventing her from hearing the case.
Justice is also limited by the laws that Congress fails to pass, such as clear guidance on the limits of the “state secrets” doctrine. “State secrets” should not be claimed to cover up crimes or embarrassment, for example. But on September 8, by a vote of 6 to 5, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals supported the Obama administration’s demand that state secrets were grounds for dismissing the lawsuit filed on behalf of five men whom the Bush administration had subjected to “extraordinary rendition, including Binyam Mohamed and Bisher al-Rawi. The outcome might have been different had Congress found the courage to pass a fair, unequivocal law outlawing abuse of state secrets.
One remedy is an American public that demands just laws. After all, we—especially our soldiers in the field—suffer from the more dangerous world and the justified anger and retribution that result from our country’s injustice. We need to call and, when possible, visit our elected representatives to demand an end to laws that prevent victims of our government’s laws and policies from seeking and obtaining justice.
But the same politicians who prevent just laws have also caused many Americans believe that torture works and that court trials are wrong for “terrorists” (and they forget that they are “alleged” until and unless proven guilty). That does not mean that minds cannot be changed.
A recent debate proved how quickly the facts can change opinions. On September 14, Intelligence2 hosted a debate on the statement “Treat Terrorists Like Enemy Combatants, Not Criminals.” Watch or listen to the debate, or download the transcript here.
Supporting the statement were Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen, author of the best seller Courting Disaster: How the C.I.A. Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama is Inviting the Next Attack, and Michael Hayden, whose past positions include director of the CIA, director of the National Security Agency, and deputy director of national intelligence. Arguing against the statement were David Frakt, an NMG advisory board member who represented Guantánamo prisoner Mohammed Jawad, and Stephen Jones, attorney for Timothy McVeigh.
The debate sponsors polled the audience before and after the debate. Before the debate, 33% of the audience agreed with the statement, 32% disagreed, and most (35%) were undecided. After the hour and a half debate, 55% of the audience disagreed (a 22-point increase) while 39% agreed. The team of Frakt and Jones had won the debate handily, disputing Thiessen’s arguments that President Bush’s policies including Military Commissions and indefinite detention at Guantánamo Bay have protected the U.S. from terrorist attacks since 9/11.
But while federal courts are the appropriate venue for trying suspected criminals, an October 6 ruling by Judge Lewis A. Kaplan in the case of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani demonstrated that it will not be easy for the Obama Department of Justice to do the right thing. On that day, Kaplan barred a key witness for the prosecution because Ghailani had been coerced into naming him. In order to successfully try terrorism suspects such as Ghailani and Khalid Sheik Mohammed in federal court, the prosecution must have admissible evidence, i.e., evidence derived without torture or other methods of coercion, to prove crimes. It would be tragic if the Bush administration’s policies allowing torture and other coercion forced the Obama administration to try all suspects via Military Commission, which allows confessions and other evidence obtained through coercion to be used against the defendant.

Documentary Review: The Response

The Response shows in just 30 minutes why Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) sanctioned by Congress were unable to distinguish between true “enemy combatants” (whatever they are) and innocent bystanders.
The documentary’s script, based on actual CSRT transcripts, brings to life the impossibility of a likely innocent Saudi detainee—permitted to attend only the unclassified portion of his tribunal—trying to defend himself against allegations that he conspired with unnamed Al Qaeda operatives: allegations made by unnamed informants whose testimony may have been coerced. Here is a brief exchange from the film:
Military officer: Many of your associates were involved in money laundering and the purchase of guns and weapons for Al Qaeda. Is that correct?
Detainee: For four years, I have told you that I don’t have any knowledge of this. Who is this person who is saying that I am involved in this? Tell me his name, and then maybe I can tell you if I know him. But I don’t know if he is a terrorist. Maybe I know him as a friend. Maybe I know him as a member of my team or somebody who worked for me. But I don’t know if this person is a Bosnian or a Jordanian or a Saudi or even one of your American Indians.
The Response shows not only the detainee defendant’s side but that of the three-member panel of military officers who have little or no information with which to weigh the reliability of “evidence” provided to them, but who are at the same time charged with reaching a very low bar in order to support continuing to hold the suspect—indefinitely—as an “enemy combatant.”
Find more information on the documentary, including how to order a DVD, here.

No More Guantánamos

P.O. Box 618
Whately, MA 01093
Telephone: 413-665-1150