February-March 2011 Newsletter
In this issue:
- Des Moines, Iowa, is newest NMG chapter
- January demonstrations in Washington, DC
- Berkeley resolution to welcome Guantánamo detainees falls one vote short
- John Hutson, Michael Sullivan to join Pioneer Valley No More Guantanamos in March 30 programs on U.S. detention policies
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What Are the Republicans Afraid Of?
House-Passed Continuing Resolution Would Place More Roadblocks on Guantánamo Closure Efforts
Buried within the House-passed continuing resolution to fund the government through September are several measures that would prevent Guantánamo detainees who have been charged with crimes from being tried in federal court and that would make it even harder for the majority of detainees who have been cleared to leave the prison.
H.R. 1 passed on February 19th by a vote of 235 to 189. All House Democrats and three Republicans (Reps. Jeff Flake of Arizona, John Campbell of California, and Walter Jones of North Carolina) opposed it. Senate leadership does not plan a vote on the bill, and President Obama has threatened a veto. But expect government forces who don't want Guantanamo Bay prison to close will continue putting forward this wish list of more injustices.
Section 1112 would prevent transfers of any remaining detainees to the U.S. or its territories or possessions for any purpose, including trials. The Defense Authorization Bill had barred the use of the Defense Department budget for those purposes; this section would bar such spending by any department covered by H.R. 1 "or any other Act." The section names Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and adds "or any other detainee," to suggest that all remaining detainees are in the same league; they're not.
Section 1113 would place severe restrictions on transferring detainees from Guantánamo, with the exception of detainees who have been ordered released by a court or tribunal. It would require "the Secretary of Defense, with the concurrence of the Secretary of State" to provide written certification that the country to which a detainee is transferred will ensure that the individual will not be a threat to the U.S. in the future or engage in terrorist activity. Furthermore, the country must agree "to share any information with the United States that is related to the individual or any associates of the individual, and could affect the security of the United States, its citizens, or its allies."
As if those requirements were not sufficiently daunting to discourage foreign governments from accepting either their own citizens or the roughly 30 cleared detainees who cannot be repatriated and therefore need to be resettled elsewhere, the bill would prevent the transfer of a detainee in Guantánamo from going anywhere if there is at least one confirmed case of a former detainee who was returned to that person's home country "and subsequently engaged in any terrorist activity." The bill does not define "terrorist activity," but it would ensure that the only people who must pay for a bad decision by a government agent to release someone who later engaged in terrorism are the former detainees' countrymen who are still in Guantánamo. This subsection exempts men who have been ordered released by a court or tribunal. It also allows "the Secretary of Defense [to] waive the prohibition ... if the Secretary determines that such a transfer is in the national security interests of the United States" and he provides the certification described in the above paragraph. But don't count on Defense Secretary Robert Gates to do that: At a hearing by the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gates acknowledged that the U.S. has not been very effective at determining which detainees would return to the battlefield after their release.
Section 1114 would bar funds for constructing or modifying a facility within the U.S. or its possessions for housing Guantánamo Bay inmates. However, it takes away any appearance of cost savings by making an exception for the facilities at Guantánamo Bay.
Finally, Section 4009 cuts funding for the salaries and expenses of several "czars" and their offices, including Daniel Fried, "Special Envoy to oversee the closure of the Detention Center at Guantánamo Bay."
While some of these measures might appear at first glance to reduce the U.S. budget, they would actually be more costly to Americans' pocketbooks and to our country's already severely diminished reputation for justice. Their main objectives are to continue fearmongering and hampering any efforts the Obama administration might make toward extending justice and fairness to the men who remain at Guantánamo.
Republican politicians have worked hard for nearly a decade to portray the Guantánamo detainees as monsters, and to convince the American people that closing the prison or trying some of the men in civilian court would be reckless. The last thing they want now is for the American people to learn—by meeting some of the men, by hearing about how well they are fitting in to other societies, or by learning the truth about what the men suffered while in U.S. custody—to realize that they have been deceived. The House-passed continuing resolution was meant to ensure that never happens. At the moment it appears unlikely to become law, yet that is no cause for celebration. There are already enough roadblocks to justice in place for the men in Guantánamo and Bagram prisons, and enough misinformation and fearmongering to keep them in place for a long time to come.
Des Moines, Iowa, is newest NMG chapter
No More Guantánamos welcomes the Des Moines Anti-Torture Group as our newest local affiliate. NMG currently has 10 local affiliates nationwide.
The Des Moines group has held regular street-corner vigils, including 30 in 2010, and held film screenings. As part of their work, they have done research and told the stories of two detainees who were victims of torture while in U.S. custody:
- Ahmed Errachidi, who had lived in the U.K., where he worked as a chef, and who was sold for a bounty while in Afghanistan attempting to raise funds for his young son’s heart surgery. He was repatriated to Morocco in 2007.
- Dilawar, a 22-year-old Afghan taxi driver who was beaten to death at Bagram Air Base in 2002 by U.S. military forces. His story was told in Alex Gibney’s award-winning documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side.
January demonstrations in Washington, DC
From January 11th through January 22nd, Witness Against Torture and allies from across the U.S. fasted, marched, held vigils in silent witness, lobbied, and spoke out as part of a well organized campaign called No Torture, No Bagram, No GTMO, No More. Read their blogs, watch videos, and see photos here. The demonstrations marked the period between the ninth anniversary of the first detainees' arrival at the prison and the second anniversary of President Obama's 2009 executive order to close the prison within one year.
Berkeley resolution to welcome Guantánamo detainees falls one vote short
On February 15, a resolution put forward by the City of Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission fell one vote short of passage by the City Council. The vote tally was 4 in favor, 1 opposed, and 4 abstaining. The resolution, modeled after those adopted by the Town Meetings of Amherst and Leverett, Massachusetts, would have called on Congress to remove its bans preventing resettlement of former detainees within the United States, and would have welcomed a few detainees once the ban was lifted.
The city manager’s office had researched the resolution prior to the vote and had determined that, because “federal law explicity prohibits the transfer of Guantánamo detainees to the United States,” the City Council should take no action on the resolution. To the contrary, until Americans demonstrate to Congress, through local resolutions and other means, that there is public support for ending the ban, it is likely to remain in place, and Guantánamo will likely remain open.
At least one of the four city councilors who abstained from voting did so because of derogatory comments about Berkeley in the conservative media and comments prior to the vote, such as characterizations of the draft resolution as another “Berzerkely” thing.
Coverage of the city council meeting was misleading. Although nine Berkeley residents spoke in favor of the resolution before the vote, the Associated Press and several other media outlets chose to quote only the sole speaker who opposed the resolution. That speaker, Danny Gonzales, is communications director of an organization based in Sacramento, 77 miles from Berkeley, called “Move America Forward.”
John Hutson, Michael Sullivan to join Pioneer Valley No More Guantánamos in March 30 programs on U.S. detention policies
On March 30, NMG’s Pioneer Valley chapter (PVNMG) is sponsoring “U.S. Detention Policies a Decade After 9/11: Two Perspectives on National Security,” a conversation between Rear Admiral (retired) John Hutson, former Judge Advocate General of the Navy, and Dean Emeritus of the University of New Hampshire School of Law, and Michael Sullivan, head of the Boston law office of Ashcroft Sullivan and formerly the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts and director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
The two men will discuss their views in a noon program at Western New England College School of Law, Springfield, Mass., and a 7 p.m. program in the Neilson Library Browsing Room of Smith College, Northampton, Mass. Both programs are open to the public and wheelchair accessible.
PVNMG chose the conversation format to bring together opposing sides, not only on the panel, but within the audiences, on issues that have become increasingly divisive among politicians and the general public. Other event sponsors include the WNEC Federalist Society, the National Lawyers Guild WNEC Chapter, Smith College Government Department, the Smith College Republican Club, and Smith Democrats.
Another Death in Guantánamo, and a Detainee Who Wants to Die
On February 3, the Pentagon announced that Awal Gul, a 48-year-old Afghan prisoner at Guantánamo, died in the shower after suffering an apparent heart attack following exercise on an elliptical machine. Without an investigation, however, it is impossible to be sure of the cause of death. Gul was the seventh detainee to die at the prison.
Gul had spent nine years in U.S. captivity. He was never charged, and although Federal District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer had heard oral arguments regarding Gul’s habeas corpus petition in March 2010, she never reached a decision.
Had Gul lived, the Obama administration never planned to release or to try him. After his death, the administration revealed that Gul was among the 48 men whom the Guantánamo Review Task Force chose to hold in perpetual detention. As justification, the Pentagon reported new allegations as if they were factual. Among these new allegations are that Gul admitted to having recruited for the Taliban and that he “allegedly operated an al-Qaeda guesthouse.” Gul cannot respond to the new allegations; his lawyers correctly characterize the new claims as “slander.”
These allegations are just the latest in a never-ending stream of government allegations against Gul. His patient responses to questions in the transcript of his 2005 Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) portray a man who throughout his life did what he thought was best for Afghanistan, a country that has rarely known the peace he sought. Gul leaves 18 children and several grandchildren.
Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif is a Yemeni who has been cleared for transfer since 2007, was granted his habeas petition last July, and is among the men whom the Guantánamo Review Task Force has unanimously determined should be released from Guantánamo. He remains there indefinitely, however, because President Obama placed a moratorium on releasing Yemenis after the alleged attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to blow up a plane on December 25, 2009. Abdulmutallab had an unproven link to Yemen.
On February 20, Andy Worthington wrote about Adnan Latif and published one of his letters to David Remes, one of his lawyers: Another Desperate Letter from Guantánamo by Adnan Latif: “With All My Pains, I Say Goodbye to You.”
Judge Gives Bagram Detainees Another Chance to Win Federal Court Access
In 2009, the International Justice Network and co-counsel won a federal court ruling granting habeas corpus rights to three non-Afghan detainees who had been captured outside Afghanistan and transferred to the prison at Bagram air base in Afghanistan. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling by Judge John D. Bates, stating that the court lacked jurisdiction. The three men—Fadi Al-Maqaleh, Amin-Al Bakri and Redha Al-Najar—have now been held incommunicado, without access to their lawyers, for more than eight years. (Witness Against Torture, NMG’s New York City affiliate, uses Al-Bakri’s story in its organizing. Read it here.)
On February 15, Judge Bates granted the men the right to amend their petitions and present additional arguments, including new evidence that the men were moved to the prison for the purpose of avoiding judicial scrutiny, that foreign nationals at the prison are now eligible for civil trials in Afghan courts, and that at least one of the three was tortured while in U.S. custody.
Read IJN’s press release and Judge Bates’s order here.
The Uighurs and the Supreme Court in “Kiyemba III”
The legal team for five Uighurs who remain in Guantánamo has filed a final submission with the Supreme Court on the men’s behalf. The submission known as “Kiyemba III” essentially asks the court to decide whether the writ of habeas corpus, and its Boumediene ruling granting habeas rights to Guantánamo detainees, have any meaning.
The five Uighurs won their writ of habeas corpus in 2008. Since then, they have turned down an invitation from the government of Palau to resettle temporarily in that country because they did not believe they would be safe there if China were to carry out its threats against them. Within the U.S., the men had invitations from a Uighur community in Fairfax County, Virginia, and an interfaith coalition in Tallahassee, Florida. Federal district court judge Ricardo Urbina, who heard the men’s habeas corpus petition, ordered the government to release the men to Fairfax or Tallahassee. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, giving sole discretion on matters concerning immigration to the executive and legislative branches. To date, according to the brief, not a single detainee has been transferred from the prison as a direct result of a habeas judge’s order to do so.
The writ of habeas corpus is meant to challenge the legality of the administration’s decision to capture and hold or continue to hold a detainee. Authors of the Kiyemba III brief claim that Congress’s legislation forbidding transfers of detainees to the U.S. are unconstitutional because they violate the Constitution’s suspension clause: “The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.” They also question whether by refusing to accept transfer to a country where they have no connection, the men forfeit their right to habeas corpus.
It is uncertain whether the Supreme Court will hear the case. For more, read Lyle Denniston’s article, Uighurs defend judicial power, in SCOTUSblog here.
In Egypt, Suleiman’s History of Torture
When Egyptian pro-democracy activists ousted President Hosni Mubarak, their goal was not to trade Mubarak for Omar Suleiman, Egypt’s security chief. The Obama administration, however, did want Suleiman put in charge of a “transitional government.”
No sooner had Mubarak made Suleiman his vice president than Suleiman’s position as the U.S. government’s key point man for the “extraordinary rendition” program began to circulate. Suleiman, who was trained at Fort Bragg, presided over the torture and interrogation of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, who was coerced into making a false connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. The torture was ordered by the Bush administration to justify its war against Iraq. Mamdouh Habib of Australia also was tortured by Suleiman.
For more, read Suleiman: The CIA’s man in Cairo by Al Jazeera.
To Avoid Protests and Potential Arrest in Switzerland, Bush Stays Home
Earlier this month, George Bush and his Geneva hosts, the U.S.-based United Israel Appeal, cancelled a dinner program at which the former president was slated to speak.
The host told the media it cancelled because of concerns that protests by human rights campaigners might turn violent. (Protestors had asked participants to bring a shoe to the protest outside the hotel where Bush was scheduled to speak.) However, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) is certain that Bush’s fear of an arrest warrant prompted the cancellation.
CCR had prepared a 2,500-page case against Bush, which human rights groups had planned to submit to Swiss prosecutors if Bush had visited Switzerland. As a signatory to the UN Convention Against Torture, Switzerland is obliged to investigate, prosecute, and punish torturers. Bush’s admission, both orally and in writing in his memoir, Decision Points, proves that he authorized water torture, euphemistically called “waterboarding” by his administration, which denies that it is torture.
After Bush’s visit was canceled, human rights groups released the case against him at a media event. According to Amnesty International, “Anywhere in the world that he travels, President Bush could face investigation and potential prosecution for his responsibility for torture and other crimes in international law, particularly in any of the 147 countries that are party to the UN Convention Against Torture.”
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