What happens now to Guantánamo?


1:05 pm - January 5th 2010

by Andy Worthington    


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Back in March, I published a four-part list identifying all 779 prisoners held at Guantánamo since the prison opened on January 11, 2002, as “the culmination of a three-year project to record the stories of all the prisoners held at the US prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.” Now updated (as my ongoing project nears its four-year mark), the four parts of the list are available here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three and Part Four.

The first fruit of my research was my book The Guantánamo Files, in which, based on an exhaustive analysis of 8,000 pages of documents released by the Pentagon (plus other sources), I related the story of Guantánamo, established a chronology explaining where and when the prisoners were seized, told the stories of around 450 of these men (and boys), and provided a context for the circumstances in which the remainder of the prisoners were captured.

I’ve also been tracking the Obama administration’s stumbling progress towards closing the prison, reporting the stories of the 41 prisoners released since March, and covering other aspects of the Guantánamo story.

Overall, as it stood at December 31, 2009, 574 prisoners had been released from Guantánamo (42 under Obama), one — Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani — had been transferred to the US mainland to face a federal court trial, six had died, and 198 remained.

One man, Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who is serving a life sentence after a one-sided trial by Military Commission in 2008.

To this I would only add that, nearly a year after President Obama took office, I hope that the list and its references provide a useful antidote to the current scaremongering regarding the failed Christmas plane bomber, Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and his alleged ties with one — just one — of the 574 prisoners released from Guantánamo, in a Yemen-based al-Qaeda cell.

This purported connection is being used by those who want the evil stain of Guantánamo to endure forever to argue that no more of the Yemenis — who make up nearly half of the remaining prisoners — should be released.

This is even though the ex-prisoner in question is a Saudi, even though no more than a dozen or so of the 574 prisoners released have gone on to have any involvement whatsoever with terrorism, and even though all of these men were released during the presidency of George W. Bush.

One year ago, it looked feasible that Guantánamo would close by January 2010. We now know that President Obama’s self-imposed deadline will be missed, partly through the unprincipled agitating of opportunistic opponents in Congress and the media, and partly through the government’s own lack of courage in the face of this opposition.

But this is no reason for complacency.

As the eighth anniversary of the prison’s opening approaches, it remains imperative that those who oppose the existence of indefinite detention without charge or trial maintain the pressure to close Guantánamo. We need to instead, for the full reinstatement of the Geneva Conventions for prisoners of war, and federal court trials for terrorists —

And to charge or release the prisoners held there as swiftly as possible.

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About the author
This is a guest post. Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison. Blogging at www.andyworthington.co.uk
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Foreign affairs ,Terrorism ,United States

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Reader comments


Totally agree.

Give it back to Cuba?

What do you mean? I promised it would be shut, so obviously it’s shut.

4. So Much For Subtlety

“As the eighth anniversary of the prison’s opening approaches, it remains imperative that those who oppose the existence of indefinite detention without charge or trial maintain the pressure to close Guantánamo. We need to instead, for the full reinstatement of the Geneva Conventions for prisoners of war, and federal court trials for terrorists”

The basic legal problem remains – prisoners of war are not criminals, by and large, and so do not need federal court trials. So by all means, let’s treat these men as prisoners of war. The Geneva convention and international law says we can and should hold them in prisoner of war camps until the end of hostilities – and longer by and large. We did not release all the German PoWs until the 1950s. So there is nothing wrong with Guantanamo if they are PoWs.

If, on the other hand, they are criminals and unlawful combatants, as obviously they are, then they ought to be entitled to some due process. However they are not necessarily due Federal trials. They have not committed an offense in the United States after all. So the sensible solution seems to be to return them to Afghanistan to face trial there. Can we all agree on that as a solution?

As it happens, the Bush Administration has found a loophole in the law. People who are not in the United States do not get the protection of the Constitution. I don’t see much wrong with using it. After all, Obama is. All that will happen is that prisoners will not be held in Cuba. They will be held in Afghanistan or some other country instead. Anyone think that is a great leap forward in human rights?

@ 4 If, on the other hand, they are criminals and unlawful combatants, as obviously they are, ”

Seriously? Is your real name Tony Blair?

Human rights and America aren’t words that go together are they. In fact human rights aren’t really words that go together in the onslaught of commerce.

Spot on earwicga at 5, some folks seem happy to churn out Bush-era logic with no sense of irony.

I don’t think that closing Guantánamo and simply transferring the detainees to the Thomson Correctional Center is solving the problem.

Now that evidence has emerged that Jay S. Bybee’s reward for his memo authorising torture of suspected terrorists was to be made a Judge of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, when will Obama’s regime prosecute this war criminal?

@ 7
Never.

What happens to Guantanamo? Probalby Husein Obama would like to hand it over to Castro – he could stuff some more of his political prisoners in the cells. Unlike the previous occupants, who are enemies of liberty, those poor Cuban democrats would attract little sympathy and less demos than the Islamist terrorists.

10. Old Labour

smfs
It amazes me that right wingers like yourself will accuse the Brown government for been authoritarian because of the smoking ban but back detention without trial. They are kept in GB because they are deemed to be terrorists by the likes of yourself and the US governments. Don’t flimflam about POW status.
If they are terrorists put them on trial and release them if there is no evidence that they are terrorists. Surely the powerful country in the world can get the evidence if they are linked terrorist cells. If it is sensitive evidence, this can be heard in situ.

11. Old Labour

Also the nonsense about German POWs
The most of the German POWs in the 1950’s were convicted Nazis apart from Soviet German POWs. If you want to use Stalin as an example of what to do then you are a strange one.
Christ, Trautmann was playing for Man City in 1948 a little difficult if he was a POW.
Also SMFS
What a pretentious tw*t you sound

12. Old Labour

Ross
You are not a racist are you.
His full name is Barack Hussein Obama.
I have yet to see him support the Castro regime and it seems he still wants to defeat the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Of course if you have evidence that he is Castro backed Islamist please could I have the link.
You right wingers are great entertainment.
Also Ross was it Obama that sold weapons to and trained the Islamists in the first place.
No that was Reagan and Thatcher.
Iran contra was such a hoot.

Very few people object to Obama on ‘racist’ grounds.
Many more dislike his disingenuous refusal to admit his close alliance woith terrorists like Ayers, who may well have written one of his books. We’d also like to know a lot more about his ‘godfather,’ the Communist, Old Frank Davies.
He has never made any bones about his wish to lighten up on sanctions against the Americas’ nastiest dictator, so I merely speculated that handing Guantanamo to the Havana tyrant might be his next step. Who knows?
As for Reagan and Thatcher, they certainly did more to deserve a Nobel Peace Prize than the charlatan in the White House today, or Brown! .

As it happens, the Bush Administration has found a loophole in the law. People who are not in the United States do not get the protection of the Constitution. I don’t see much wrong with using it. After all, Obama is. All that will happen is that prisoners will not be held in Cuba. They will be held in Afghanistan or some other country instead. Anyone think that is a great leap forward in human rights?

They are not outside the law. They have the right to legal counsel, the right to a hearing to determine their status, and the right to file a writ of habeas corpus.

Ross, your partizan ignorance does not wash here, it only makes you look embarrassing.

At least I can spell ‘partisan,’ but your inability to counter my rather mild rebukes says more about your ignorance than mine.
A Castros, both of them, are nasty tyrants.
B Obama is much more sympathetic to a soft policy in dealing with Castro than his predecessor.
C Obama has been clearly linked to the Terrorist Ayers.
…we’ll leave it at that, for now. ABC is about as much as Hoffman can handle in one day’s work, maybe.

Ross, do you not know that pointing out spelling mistakes (and to be clear, partizan is an acceptable if not old fashioned spelling of the word, not incorrect by any means) means you have lost the argument by default?

Your broad, sweeping generalisations regarding ‘the Castros’ are just that, as is your awful bad maths of the ABC tosh you trot out here.

Using you letter format you get a E+, must try harder Partizan Ross.

18. So Much For Subtlety

10. Old Labour – “It amazes me that right wingers like yourself will accuse the Brown government for been authoritarian because of the smoking ban but back detention without trial. They are kept in GB because they are deemed to be terrorists by the likes of yourself and the US governments. Don’t flimflam about POW status.”

Actually if you read what I said, it is clear I don’t think they have PoW status. And so the Geneva Conventions do not apply. Those that are guilty are criminals, not soldiers. I don’t particularly care for detention without trial although in the right circumstances I am willing to consider it. As I suspect you are.

“If they are terrorists put them on trial and release them if there is no evidence that they are terrorists. Surely the powerful country in the world can get the evidence if they are linked terrorist cells. If it is sensitive evidence, this can be heard in situ.”

Except the strict standards of proof demanded for a criminal trial in the West is not a good model for the sort of crimes we are talking about. They may be guilty by any reasonable level of proof but still not meet the beyond all reasonable doubt standard of America’s criminal courts. Not that they face such a risk as they would probably be acquitted on any number of technicalities without a jury ever being empaneled. On top of which there is the small problem that none of these men have committed any crime in the US. They would walk the minute they got to a US Court regardless of their guilt. Returning them for trial in Afghanistan is a much better solution. In situ? You mean in camera? And no it can’t. Not in the US, not in the criminal justice system.

11. Old Labour – “The most of the German POWs in the 1950’s were convicted Nazis apart from Soviet German POWs. If you want to use Stalin as an example of what to do then you are a strange one.”

No they were not. The Soviets held most of their PoWs into the 1950s regardless of their politics. And so did some Western nations to varying degrees including France and the UK. Not because they were Nazis but because they needed the labour. There was no ideological test applied.

@18
“they would probably be acquitted on any number of technicalities without a jury ever being empaneled.”

Little technicalities such as torture then?

SMFS @ 18,

I don’t know about anyone else, but your apologia for state torture makes my balls recede into my body.

You say this, as though it were a given truth:

Actually if you read what I said, it is clear I don’t think they have PoW status. And so the Geneva Conventions do not apply. Those that are guilty are criminals, not soldiers. I don’t particularly care for detention without trial although in the right circumstances I am willing to consider it.

It is not just their rights to a fair trial that are being held in contempt, it is also their rights to a fair incarceration. To what extent do you think Guantanamo exemplifies human rights?

On what basis do you think they are guilty of anything whatsoever? We are talking about people that have been arrested and have never had a fair trial. You don’t know. You have come to an ill-considered opinion. Nothing more, nothing less.

I would, almost, be willing to accept that a nation has a right to imprison people for being enemy combatants or whatever your phrase de jour happens to be. I am not willing to see the concept of removing people from the battlefield corrupted to a pathetic excuse for torture. It is theatre, laid on by G W Bush to service fat yanks desire for drama.

Frankly, you corrupt all of Western democracy, all that folk have fought and died for it, with this apologia:

Except the strict standards of proof demanded for a criminal trial in the West is not a good model for the sort of crimes we are talking about. They may be guilty by any reasonable level of proof but still not meet the beyond all reasonable doubt standard of America’s criminal courts.

Yes it is. It is what we have developed over centuries. It is what we are.

There is no particular reason to treat people you are suspicious of, or really don’t like, or who look at you oddly as somehow lacking in the recourse to a justice system that we have spent fucking ages constructing.

Either try them, in the best courts you can, or give them Geneva rights.

21. So Much For Subtlety

19. earwicga – “Little technicalities such as torture then?”

For the small number who have been tortured, yes. Khalid Sheik Muhammed, if he ever makes it to a Federal Court, presumably, will be walking by the same afternoon unless he wants to be convicted.

20. douglas clark – “I don’t know about anyone else, but your apologia for state torture makes my balls recede into my body.”

What apologia is this then?

You say this, as though it were a given truth:

“It is not just their rights to a fair trial that are being held in contempt, it is also their rights to a fair incarceration. To what extent do you think Guantanamo exemplifies human rights?”

Sorry but they don’t have a right to a fair trial. They are not Americans and they are not being held in America. They are foreigners in a foreign land and so the Constitution does not (or should not before the Supreme Court got creative) apply. If China convicts a Chinese criminal in a Chinese Court they cannot turn around and sue the US because they did not get a fair trial. Needless to say they also do not have any right to a fair incarceration for the same reason.

“On what basis do you think they are guilty of anything whatsoever? We are talking about people that have been arrested and have never had a fair trial. You don’t know. You have come to an ill-considered opinion. Nothing more, nothing less.”

And yet some of them are guilty. Probably a lot of them. Again they are not British or American and they are not being held in America or Britain. They have precisely no right to the presumption of innocence at all. I can assume what I like. They have not been arrested per se. We are still arguing over whether they are unlawful combatants or not. If they are lawful combatants, they are PoWs, not criminals.

“I am not willing to see the concept of removing people from the battlefield corrupted to a pathetic excuse for torture. It is theatre, laid on by G W Bush to service fat yanks desire for drama.”

Sorry but where has anyone made a case for torture? You want to believe there is one being made here don’t you?

“Frankly, you corrupt all of Western democracy, all that folk have fought and died for it, with this apologia:”

Nonsense. Western democracy does not rely on treating foreigners in foreign countries like British people. On the contrary, I would have thought that maintaining a clear distinction is kind of vital to the whole process.

“Yes it is. It is what we have developed over centuries. It is what we are.”

No it is not. These levels of proof work nicely for criminal trials in Western countries. They have not been applied for centuries to people outside those Western countries for trans-criminal acts. The nearest parallel is probably with piracy. We did not give them proper trials. We hanged them. It worked nicely.

“There is no particular reason to treat people you are suspicious of, or really don’t like, or who look at you oddly as somehow lacking in the recourse to a justice system that we have spent fucking ages constructing.”

Well yes but that is not what is being offered. The criminal system works well with individual criminals. But when it comes to something as mundane as organised crime, we have all decided that it is not enough. So we have evidence given in secret to prevent retaliation. We have phone taps and the like. We have MI-6 going into criminal surveillance. Because the system cannot really cope with organised crime otherwise. Terrorism is a greater problem. We have not yet shown we can deal with it in any other way except surrendering. But we will have to find a way. A new problem needs new solutions given the old ones don’t work.

“Either try them, in the best courts you can, or give them Geneva rights.”

Or not. They are not entitled to the Geneva Convention protections if they are not soldiers. It is important to maintain the distinction. It is probably sensible to keep them out of criminal courts, especially given most of their crimes were not actually committed in the West. It is a former of universal jurisdiction that is distinctly worrying. The best solution would be to return them to Afghanistan.

Alternatively we could pass a simple law that said membership of a terrorist group or engaging in terrorist-type or -related activities was equivalent to piracy and so summarily execute anyone we catch who fits the description. The US and British Governments could then draw up a list of groups that would be proscribed and any members of such groups could then be hanged and that would be the end of it. This is precisely what Britain did with slavery. They did not even need proof someone was engaged in the slave trade. If they were merely going equipped for the slavery trade – a large number of cooking utensils on board for instance – they could be hanged. That too worked well. Perhaps you think that was a crime against humanity and the poor slavers ought to have been left alone until a proper level of proof was found and a jury in Britain convinced beyond a reasonable doubt?

They are not Americans and they are not being held in America. They are foreigners in a foreign land and so the Constitution does not (or should not before the Supreme Court got creative) apply. If China convicts a Chinese criminal in a Chinese Court they cannot turn around and sue the US because they did not get a fair trial.

They are foreigners, transported to a place under the control of Americans, that is why they get a right to a writ of habeas corpus (or equivalent), as found by Boumediene v. Bush. It’s hardly creative to suggest that a prisoner must be allowed to challenge the lawfulness of this detention – it’s a fundamental human right. Of course your Chinese criminal can’t file a such a writ with the US if he’s in Chinese jail. What a silly analogy.

Perhaps you think that was a crime against humanity and the poor slavers ought to have been left alone until a proper level of proof was found and a jury in Britain convinced beyond a reasonable doubt?

Gitmo detainees should have a (proper) hearing to determine their status, access to legal counsel, and the right to file a writ of habeas corpus. These rights affirmed by SCOTUS in three cases.

No-one is outside the law. No-one can be outside the law. Everyone gets due process. It’s fundamental to our civilisation.

We have MI-6 going into criminal surveillance. Because the system cannot really cope with organised crime otherwise. Terrorism is a greater problem. We have not yet shown we can deal with it in any other way except surrendering. But we will have to find a way. A new problem needs new solutions given the old ones don’t work.

What a load of rubbish.

@
“Alternatively we could pass a simple law that said membership of a terrorist group or engaging in terrorist-type or -related activities was equivalent to piracy and so summarily execute anyone we catch who fits the description.”

Well, that’d be the end of Bush, Blair et al then.

That should have read @21

It shouldn’t surprise anyone here that there are plenty of apologists for torture out there, who justify it by the de-humanisation of those being tortured; as disgusting as that is, it was a logic that ruled Washington not that long ago.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    :: What happens now to Guantánamo? http://bit.ly/8VWgfp

  2. vikz

    Liberal Conspiracy » What happens now to Guantánamo? http://ow.ly/SWmp . A useful, timely, post from someone who has obviously given the…

  3. earwicga

    RT @libcon What happens now to Guantánamo? Andy Worthington http://bit.ly/8VWgfp

  4. Nicholas Stewart

    #LiberalConspiracy What happens now to Guantánamo? http://tinyurl.com/yeb26j5

  5. vikz

    Liberal Conspiracy » What happens now to Guantánamo? http://ow.ly/SWlr . A useful, timely, post from someone who has obviously given the…

  6. earwicga

    RT @libcon: :: What happens now to Guantánamo? http://bit.ly/8VWgfp

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    […] To this I would only add that, nearly a year after President Obama took office, I hope that the list and its references provide a useful antidote to the current scaremongering regarding the failed Christmas plane bomber, Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, and his alleged ties with one — just one — of the 574 prisoners released from Guantánamo, in a Yemen-based al-Qaeda cell. […]





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