Monday, October 16, 2017

R.I.P.--- M.Cherif Bassiouni

I am proud to have known Mr. Bassiouni- having spoken along side him at several speaking engagements in regards to Guantanamo and other illegal activities in my country. The cause of justice has lost a dear friend.

As was noted in a recent World Can't Wait email, M. Cherif Bassiouni passed away on Sept 25. I have copied below what they wrote. 

His memorial will be held on Sunday, Oct. 29. The details are here, please share with friends who will want to know:

We were saddened to hear of the death of M. Cherif Bassiouni on Sept. 25. He was everything the obituaries in newspapers across the country said he was: war crimes jurist, the “godfather of international human rights law,” human rights champion. What U.S. media failed to mention was that Cherif was a tireless and eloquent opponent of the whole legal premise of the “war on terrorism” and its use as a justification of U.S. aggression and crimes of cruel and degrading treatment, torture and indefinite detention without trial. He raised his powerful voice to demand an end to those crimes on the part of the U.S. government, whether under Bush or Obama. Cherif was an advisor to World Can’t Wait whose counsel and support we valued deeply.
The Close Guantanamo Ad that Bassiouni helped organize
He titled his 2010 book The Institutionalization of Torture by the Bush Administration. Is Anyone Responsible? and he dedicated it to "the victims of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment…at the hands of U.S. public agents…” The answer of the Obama administration would prove to be “no," it would not hold any of those U.S. public agents responsible for their well-documented war crimes and crimes against humanity. Cherif, however, held the Obama administration just as accountable as its predecessor. 
When dozens of prisoners at Guantanamo went on hunger strike in 2013, desperate as it became clear that Obama was not moving to close that torture camp, they forced the horror of their plight back into the spotlight.  Cherif was instrumental to the success of our efforts to publish in The New York Times a full-page statement demanding “Stop the Torture! Close Guantanamo NOW!” on May 23, 2013. His letter to colleagues urging them to sign it and donate to its publication remains a powerful indictment of the legal premise and horrific practices of the war of terror. In 2015, he lent his voice to the efforts of students at DePaul, the university where he had taught for 45 years, when they demanded the firing of a dean involved in covering up the role of psychologists in facilitating torture at Guantanamo. 
His sharp analysis, passion for justice and sense of humor will be missed.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Defense Team in the USS Cole case has resigned.... UPDATED (at bottom)

One of the cases pending at Guantanamo (which never should have been at Guantanamo to begin with but that is another story for another day) is the case against the men accused of bombing the USS Cole in 2000.
Today the entire defense team has resigned. They can't tell us all of the reasons (because the reasons are ....classified) but I am copying the full press release (except for the redactions!):

Brig. Gen. John Baker, Chief Defense Counsel for the Guantanamo Military Commission, Disbands
the Defense Team in the USS COLE Case.
Today, Brig. Gen. John Baker, the Chief Defense Counsel for the Military Commissions Defense
Organization, disbanded the trial team in the case of United States v. Nashiri. The circumstances surrounding this are highly classified. But Brig. Gen. Baker determined that doing so was necessary because it was no longer ethical for us to proceed.
As those following the military commissions know, there have been repeated intrusions into defense teams, which have compromised attorney-client confidentiality. This has included, in the past, microphones hidden in smoke detectors. In June, Brig. Gen. Baker learned of facts, which remain classified, that meant we could not have confidence that our communications with our client were in fact truly private. We filed a series of motions seeking to learn more. The prosecution initially advised the commission that the General’s concerns did not affect the location where we meet with our client. As we were allowed to say to the US Supreme Court, however: “Petitioner’s counsel then [REDACTED] contradicting the prosecution’s assurances.” This was followed by a series of classified rulings which placed us in the untenable position of having to advise our client that we could not visit him, but could not tell him why we could not visit him.
Because we were unsure of our ethical obligations, we sought advice from a nationally recognized expert in legal ethics. Based upon a completely unclassified description of the facts, she concluded that the Rules of Professional Responsibility obligated us to cease our participation in this case. We communicated our concerns and this opinion to Brig. Gen Baker, who had access to all the relevant information, including classified information and the classified orders. After a thorough review of the facts and relevant law, he too concluded that it was no longer lawful for us to proceed. As every lawyer knows, attorney-client confidentiality is the bedrock of our legal system. It is the most fundamental component of the right to counsel and it is recognized the world over as necessary for a fair trial.
In short, without getting into the details of matters that remain classified, we could no longer proceed as attorney’s in this case because the military commissions failed to meet this most basic requirement of a fair trial. Indeed, as Brig. Gen. Baker concluded, no self-respecting lawyer could continue to act under these circumstances. He accordingly found good cause to relieve the civilian attorneys on Mr. Nashiri’s defense team. That includes myself, Richard Kammen, as well as Mary Spears and Rosa Eliades.
We have mixed emotions about this. We are angry about being placed in an ethically untenable position, disappointed in not being able to see the case through, and devastated to leave Mr. Nashiri, whom we genuinely like and who deserves a real chance for justice. The entire team gave this a lot of thought but in the end concluded that this decision was the only one available. Brig. Gen. Baker also concluded that this was the correct decision and issued the ultimate orders disbanding the defense team. The ultimate decision was his.
The military commission system is a failed experiment. It does not provide fair or transparent justice, indeed it provides secret, hidden, and hopelessly unfair procedures designed to fool the public into believing that what it is seeing is an actual trial. It is not. It is an un-American façade of a court system that cannot provide fairness. And it designed to conceal the truth about the COLE bombing and the torture the United States inflicted on Nashiri. No justice will ever come out of Guantanamo.

Joe Margulies provides his take on this fiasco here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Welcome to Camp America-UPDATED AT BOTTOM....

That is athe name of a new book and an exhibit by Debi Cornwall. See below for two events one in DC and the other in NYC.

October 19: Welcome to Camp America Book Talk & Signing (RSVP here)

Where: Busboys and Poets (14 & V), 2021 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009
When: Doors open at 6:00 p.m., and the event will begin at 6:30 p.m.

CCR advocacy program manager Aliya Hussain will moderate an a conversation about Guantánamo and its contradictions with Debi Cornwall, Major Raashid Williams, a lawyer with the Military Commissions Defense Organization, and Dr. Maha Hilal, the inaugural Michael Ratner Middle East Fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and an organizer with Witness Against Torture. 

October 28: Welcome to Camp America, Inside Guantánamo Bay: Exhibition, Discussion & Reception (RSVP here)

Where: Steven Kasher Gallery, 515 W. 26th St., New York, NY 10001
When: Program will begin at 2:30 p.m. with a reception to follow

CCR senior staff attorney J. Wells Dixon will join conceptual documentary artist Debi Cornwall, and author, curator, editor, and critic Fred Ritchin for an interdisciplinary panel discussion on Guantánamo Bay, art, and social justice. Additional panelists to be added.

On display at the Steven Kasher Gallery will be Debi Cornwall’s first New York solo exhibition, Welcome to Camp America, Inside Guantánamo Bay, which presents 29 large-scale color photographs as previously classified documents. Three bodies of work are on view in the exhibition. Gitmo at Home, Gitmo at Play portrays the residential and leisure spaces of both the prisoners and the guards, juxtaposing implied comfort and forced restraint. Gitmo on Sale depicts the commodification of American military power through the prison’s gift-shop souvenirs. Beyond Gitmo investigates the lives after detention of 14 men once held as accused terrorists, now cleared and living in nine countries, from Albania to Qatar. The exhibition, which runs from October 26 through December 22, launches the publication of Cornwall’s first monograph, Welcome to Camp America, Inside Guantánamo Bay (Radius Books, 2017).

MotherJones has more on the photos and the book here.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Sweet Land of Liberty.....

The Guardian has a horrifying story in todays paper about my country's torture program. More documents were released in response to the lawsuit against the psychologists who were instrumental in framing the torture techniques. We now know that as part of the experimentation my country apparently wanted to know how long it takes for a person to die from hypothermia. I guess we know now. That is how Gul Rahman died. Guards were regularly checking on Rahman and apparently noting that he was still alive....until he wasn't. You can read the chronology of "significant events" in Rahman's life and death here.

From the Guardian:
"Jessen, one of the two contract psychologists who designed the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques”, spent 10 days in the secret prison near Kabul, Afghanistan, in November 2002. Five days after he left, Rahman, naked from the waist down and shackled to the cold concrete floor, was discovered dead in his cell from hypothermia.

Jessen, Mitchell and the pathetic Zirbel (and others who worked with them) are, in my opinion, war criminals. But then we have known that for quite some time but we, as a country, have decided to accept what they have done without charge or even a public inquiry.

Sunday, October 8, 2017


I guess the question is when do you let a hunger striker starve him or her self to death? At Guantanamo there has long been hunger strikes. The men have gone on hunger strikes for many different reasons- to protest their years long "detention" without charge, nevertheless a trial, nevertheless a finding of guilt; to protest the treatment they continue to endure; to protest the failure of the military to let them have more communications with their families- which most have not seen in more than 16 years; to protest the abysmal healthcare; to protest a great injustice.

The Bush and Obama regimes responded to the various hungerstrike protests with a brutal regiment of force feeding- torturing the men who dared to protest. It seems that the Trump regime has apparently decided to let them die....or at least let their bodies deteriorate to the point of no return. we have learned that the hunger strikers are no longer being force fed and they are no longer having their health monitored I am sure that some of the men will be happy to finally be able to leave the hell hole- even if it is in a box.

However, some of the men have been protesting to get attention and to change aspects of their confinement--- not to die.

I don't have the answer. Well actually the answer is that most of these men should have been set free years ago and I blame the cowardly Obama for not righting that particular ship and the cowardly judges who couldn't be bothered to appy the fucking law. Shame on all of you.

Now we are all in the hands of the inept and cruel Trump and there is no reasoning to be had. The men at Guantanamo can expect no change for at least--- three and a half years---- and of course even then there are no promises. I don't know how many of these men want to die as opposed to trying to bring attention to their fate but I do not expect it matters anymore.

For more on Bobby Sands you can read here. The British let Bobby Sands die of hunger while in prison and the fight of the Irish people in Northern Ireland intensified after his death. I think we can expect something similar as the remaining men at Guantanamo start to die.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Guantanamo Art on Exhibit in NYC

At the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. See website here.
And the Guardian's review can be found here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017


In Our Prison on the Sea

I tried to copy the beautiful painting by Mohammed Ansi, a former Guantánamo detainee that accompanied this essay by former Guantanamo detainee Mansoor Adayfi in Sunday's New York Times. I am copying a few excerpts from the essay- Click here to read the entire essay and to view the painting- and then I will tell you a story about my own client and the sea. 

"After the plane landed, a bus took us to a ferry, and beneath it we felt the sea. We were tired, hungry, in pain, and in fear about it all. We were gagged, blindfolded and shackled. We were dragged from the ferry to our cages. When we arrived at our cages, we whispered to one another, “There is a sea around.” We could feel it despite all of the pain, confusion and fear. All we were waiting for at the beginning was the sea......
....Some of the camps in Guantánamo were closer to the sea than others. After a few months, we were moved from Camp X-Ray to Camp Delta, which was closer to the sea, but we weren’t allowed to see it. The many fences around us were covered with green tarp to block us from seeing the sea. Once, I tried to tear off the tarp, but guards saw me and I was sent to isolation. We tried many times to tear off that tarp. When we did, we saw that there were more walls of fences and tarps, so it was useless....
...It was hard not seeing the sea, despite its being only a few hundred feet away from us. At the recreation area, if we lay on our stomach, we could get glimpses of the sea through small openings below the tarp. When the guards found out, they blocked the openings. In some cells, in some blocks, we could stand on the windows at the back of our cells to see the sea, but that was risky, because the guards punished us every time they saw us standing and looking out. Whenever any of us wanted to look at the sea, we needed to ask one of the other detainees to watch for the guards and warn us if they came around the block. It wasn’t long before the administration made higher covers, blocking us from seeing the sea."

Mr. Al-Ghizzawi had been at Guantanamo more than eight years when this particular meeting took place. We had met probably twenty or more times but this particular day was the first time that we had our meeting at camp Iguana. Like most of the places where we had attorney/client meetings with our clients Camp Iguana had been used as a location where the men had been tortured and it was a place that brought back bad memories for our clients. On this, my first visit to camp Iguana I was astounded by the furniture in the meeting room- big overstuffed chairs, a big overstuffed couch and a coffee table- not the usual decor for the meeting spaces.
I never used a translator with Mr. Al-Ghizzawi because he spoke engish- but one of the translators was on the bus with me and as we waited to go into the camp he asked me if I had been to Camp Iguana before. I told him "no." He then told me that if my client asks to use the washroom tell him that if he looks around the corner on the stairs to the left he can see the ocean. The translator told me that the men liked it when they could see the ocean as views of the ocean were forbidden. Sigh.
During the meeting Mr. Al-Ghizzawi asked to use the washroom and before I went to get the guard I told him what the translator had told me about seeing the ocean. He made no comment. When he came back I asked him if he was able to see the ocean and he looked at me and said "I don't care about seeing the ocean I want to see my little girl."
It still makes me incredibly sad to think about that day. Mr. Al-Ghizzawi's daughter was only a few months old when he was kidnapped and sold to my country for the bounty that we were offering for Arabs.  He had not seen or spoken to his wife or daughter all of those years. As I sat there I felt foolish and small for suggesting that he might enjoy seeing the ocean but more than that I was angry that this was what we had done- we had locked up innocent men and the best thing that could happen to them was to catch a glimpse of the sea. Mr. Al-Ghizzawi just wanted to see his daughter and I just wanted my country back. Or what I thought was my country.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

A dissappointing Book....

It has taken me a long time to get around to writing about this book. Let me start out by saying that I have great respect for both authors. The importance of John Kiriakou's whistleblowing on the torture program cannot be over stated- and the Obama administration's treatment of this hero is a shameful example of that administrations ineptitude. Joseph Hickman's exposure of the murders/cover-up at Guantanamo (described in his book Murder at Camp Delta) is a detailed investigation into the deaths of three men at Guantanamo- an expose that was promptly ignored by the corporate media, the politicians in this country of mine and of course the public- the book is a must read for anyone interested in our gulag known as Guantanamo.
Both men are heroes in their own right.

So why did they write this book? "The Convenient Terrorist" is about Zain Abidin Mohammed Husain, a man known in our press as Abu Zubaydah. [I am purposely not linking to the book- if you want to read it you will have to find it yourself!] I cannot answer that question- I can only say that these authors lacked information that would have been important in telling the complete story of Abu Zubaydah--it is information the authors probably did not know or could not say-- because it is "classified." However, that is the very reason why this book should not have been written--it is not a complete and accurate portrayal of the story surrounding Abu Zubahdah. The details that are left out not only paint a much more damning light on the whole capture of Abu Zubahdah but also miss out on painting a much more accurate and sympathetic look at the man himself. Those details and Abu Zubahdah's story must wait until this country of mine declassifies everything- and I mean everything.

Some of you may recall that I have written about Abu Zubaydah many times on this blog. Most recently last year when the judge in his federal case cowardly and shamefully refused to allow the man to have a habeas hearing.If anyone is the poster child for my country's travesty, known at Guantanamo, it would be Abu Zubaydah. The reason I have written about Abu Zubaydah so often on this blog, and the reason I am so critical of this book, is because Abu Zubaydah is a man I know a lot about. My own client-Saeed Bakhouche (also known as Razak Ali) was arrested in the same house where Abu Zubaydah was staying when they and every other Arab in the house was arrested (the non Arabs were promptly released). My client is on the "forever list" (never to be charged with a crime and never to be set free) because he is Arab and was in the same guesthouse as Abu Zubaydah (keep this in mind when you stay at an airbnb- you too could be held responsible for being associated with someone you do not know). [However, even my client was allowed a habeas hearing- even though it was a sham, complete with some of the most rank malfeasance by defense counsel, in this case DOJ, that I have ever seen or read about- and trust me I have seen quite a lot.] Because of my client I have spent a great deal of time researching Abu Zubaydah- to show the courts that not only should my own client be released- but the man that my government and military have used as an excuse to hold my client (and many others) is also not what he has been portrayed to be. But all of that information is classified. I cannot correct the mistakes in this book because I am subject to a court order protecting that information from the public.

The details that have emerged over time have not mattered to the courts and I must say that the title of the book is a very accurate title- Abu Zubaydah was and is- the convenient terrorist. My country needed, and apparently continues to need, scary people to justify our wars against Muslims.  Unfortuantely this book perpetuates many of those myths.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Monday, September 11, 2017

September 11 2017- and it continues.

I wonder if my remaining client at Gitmo would not have been happy to just have hurricane Irma blow the place away and put an end to the endlessness. But alas, word has it that all have survived at the gulag.

As I do every September 11th, I turn this over to my friend The Talking Dog- a person who was actually closer to the New York devastation than most of us- to put all of this in perspective.

Read was he has to say here.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

From Our Friends Down Under at Justinian...

*   *   *
The CIA's rendition plane. Yours for $27.5m
For those wanting to own a piece of history, the infamous aircraft N313P, one of the planes used for CIA torture renditions, was recently put on sale for $27.5 million. N313P ferried torture victims to US vassal states such as Poland and human rights violators like Uzbekistan, Egypt and Libya.
Neither the US government nor American courts have provided any civil remedy for the victims of such CIA operations, and both the Bush and Obama administrations invoked the state secrets doctrine - along with other shameful ruses - to block any recovery of damages by those affected.
Except for a settlement some Abu Ghraib abuse victims obtained from the US government contractor L-3 Services (and others may possibly achieve in a pending suit against the contractor CACI International), victims of US abduction and torture have only received compensation from a few of the accomplices such as Macedonia and Poland, through claims in the European Court of Human Rights.
A new avenue has now opened up, however, through which the CIA could be indirectly obliged to pay compensation, even though the former head of the CIA's Thai torture camp, Gina Haspel, is now the top official at the agency. 
CIA torture gurus: Jessen & Mitchell
When we last visited Ms Haspel (see March Fitch), she'd been evading a deposition in Salim v Mitchell, the lawsuit brought by two CIA-tortured men and the family of a third who was tortured to death (the depositions of other CIA identities were successfully taken).  
Venue for the civil damages suit lay in the progressive enclave of Washington state, due to the Spokane residency of the defendants, the CIA's contract "psychologists" James Mitchelland Bruce Jessen, who designed and implemented the (shudder) "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" used by the CIA.
While these plaintiffs were tortured at Bagram, in Afghanistan, Mitchell and Jessen began their highly unethical experiments on Gina Haspel's turf in Thailand, with the very first man tortured by the CIA, Abu Zubaydah, as their guinea pig.  
The psychologists relied on worthless "legal" authorisations they received, some from the odious Stephen Bradbury, now Trump's General Counsel at the Transportation Department (see June Fitch). 
Thanks in part to the stubborn persistence of a long-serving federal judge, the crusty 88-year-old Justin Quackenbush, the case of Salim v Mitchell was set for trial in September, after the judge refused the defendants' motions for summary judgment.
Unmoved by the defendants' startling reliance on the Nazi-era acquittal of a gas technician for Zyklon-B, the judge ruled that the Alien Tort Statute was applicable to the charges, including torture, involuntary human experimentation and war crimes.  
The psychologists quickly settled, more here and here.  

Quackenbush: opened up settlements against the CIA
The settlement against Mitchell and Jessen suggests that other men (the Feinstein Report lists over 100),  tortured by the CIA under the psychologists' protocols, could receive compensation at the expense of the agency.  
How? The psychologists wisely obtained an indemnity from the CIA, now activated by settlement of the initial case against them.
As promised, the Trump administration has now returned all copies of the Senate's full 6,700-page Feinstein Report to the Senate in the hope that the "torture report" will be undiscoverable in civil or criminal litigation. 
*   *   *
In June, the five defendants in the Guantánamo "9/ll" military commission appealed a decision of the Court of Military Commission Review that had reinstated dismissed chargesfor which limitations had run. Lawfare had more on this order and the al Qosi order, below.
The 9/11 men appealed on grounds that included a claim that one of the CMCR judges should have recused himself, and the DC court of appeals, agreeing, reversed. More here from Steve Vladeck
In the other order, the renegade CMCR remanded the al Qosi appeal to the commission with an odd sua sponte direction to determine whether the now freed "convict" might have since re-offended (i.e. become an "enemy combatant"), as indeed it appears he has, and implied his post-release conduct might affect his appeal. There was no statutory basis for the direction, and surely, post-conviction behaviour is irrelevant. 
At the pretrial hearings at another of Guantanamo's farcical military commissions - that of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, the government's own witness, Ahmed al Darbi, has been testifying about the depraved treatment he received at the hands of his US interrogators. 
The prosecution must have reasoned this would lessen the effect such damning testimony would have if obtained in cross-examination. Al-Nashiri, it will be recalled, is on trial for sundry fake "war crimes" - offences not committed in a time, or a place, of war - trivial matters to the Pentagon. 
Judge Pohl: allowed prosecution to destroy protected evidence
The 9/11 defence lawyers are asking that the presiding judge, Col James L Pohl withdraw from the case, based on the secret, ex parte permission he gave to the prosecution to destroy evidence that was under a protective court order. 
In the meantime, the 9/11 prosecutors are diabolically claiming that Judge Pohl can't read the defence brief, for "security" reasons.  
The lead defendant, Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, responded:
"I'm used to the idea that they can kill me based on things I can't see. But now it seems they want to kill me based on things the judge can't see."  
Franz Kafka was, after all, a lawyer. 

Read the rest here.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

CIA psychologist abusers reach settlment...

The ACLU sued the two main psychologists who were involved in torturing men at Guantanamo. The suit has been pending with many important victories along the way- (I have been meaning to do an update on the lawsuit but was too busy)- today that lawsuit was settled.

"The lawsuit was filed in 2015 on behalf of Suleiman Abdullah Salim, Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud and the estate of Gul Rahman. It sought unspecified monetary damages from the psychologists, whose company was based in Spokane.
Rahman, an Afghan, was taken from his home in Pakistan in 2002 to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan. He died of hypothermia several weeks later after being shackled to a floor in near freezing conditions.
According to the lawsuit, Salim and Ben Soud both were subjected to waterboarding, daily beatings and sleep deprivation while inside CIA secret prisons. Salim, a Tanzanian, and Ben Soud, a Libyan, were later released after officials determined they posed no threat."



Thursday, August 3, 2017

From Our Friends Down Under...

Khadr: 10 years at Guantanamo on a bizarre murder charge
The Canadian government has paid former Guantanamero Omar Khadr compensation of $10.5 million for its violation of his rights, and apologised
Some media were mystified by the mean-spirited reaction of Canadian citizens to the Khadr payout and apology. It was hardly unprecedented: a Toronto paper cited Australia's (apology-free)  settlement with Mamdouh Habib.
The best exposition of Khadr's case can be found in a 2013 video presentation by his Pentagon-appointed appellate counsel, Sam Morison. In 2017, Fitch found only one Canadian report that acknowledged the elephant in the room, the bizarre murder charge against a combatant legally responding to an attack: 
"Under the laws of war, a combatant who kills another combatant cannot be charged with murder. That's called combatant immunity. Non-combatants who kill a combatant can be charged with murder, and they are entitled to the procedural protections owed to a criminal accused. Mr Khadr was treated neither as a combatant nor as an accused criminal. Instead, the United States invented a new war crime called "murder by an unlawful alien enemy combatant". 
The new offence made it lawful for US soldiers to kill Mr Khadr, but made it a war crime if he killed a US soldier. This ersatz war crime was invented by the United States after his capture and then applied to his actions retroactively. No system governed by the rule of law does this." 
The widow of the US soldier who, even if Omar Khadr threw the grenade, was legally killed, has lost her suit to freeze the compensation payout pending a proceeding to enforce a default Utah judgment for $US 134 million. 

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Monday, July 24, 2017

A break from our usual programing to give you this news bulletin.......