Archive for April, 2011

Hunger Strike Against Indefinite Detention

April 30, 2011

Here is a link to the Jason Leopold’s article about the hunger strike at the torture camp at Guantanamo.  In particular I call your attention to this part:

“Bradsher [Tanya Bradsher, a Department of Defense spokeswoman] said, ‘Detainees will hunger strike for various reasons, but most consider it a way to ‘stay in the fight,’ a line of reasoning that serves to perpetuate the myth peddled by the Bush administration that all of the individuals imprisoned at Guantanamo are the ‘worst of the worst.’

“The DoD’s own files on the detainees released by WikiLeaks last Sunday showed that a vast majority of them were innocent and were sold to the US as bounty.’

“Far from being an effort to ‘stay in the fight,” the hunger strike detainees waged was simply a way for them to protest the conditions of their confinement and the executive order signed by Obama creating a formal system of indefinite detention.”

The article included this photograph of Fayiz al-Kandari, a Kuwaiti aid worker, who lost 20 pounds taking part in a month-long hunger strike to protest his indefinite detention and conditions of his confinement.

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Read the complete Leopold article here.

Jack vs Bank of America

April 29, 2011

See Jack and the Gang take on Bank of America here.

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What if there had been 100,000 of them?  a million? There are many more of us than them.

Prisoners and Wikileaks

April 26, 2011

Andy Worthington, who had been up all night and had spent days reading the Wikileaks cables is interviewed by Amy Goodman.  Here is a link to Andy’s blog post about it where you can also see the Goodman interview.

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Enough good cannot be said about Amy Goodman.  You can revisit, here and here and here, posts about her during the 2008 RNC in the twin cities where she and members of the Democracy Now! staff were arrested, pepper sprayed, and abused along with hundreds, maybe thousands of others.

Another Teacher of the Quran: Abdullah Al-Yafi

April 25, 2011

An interesting conversation with a reader of this blog over the weekend leads me to take a minute to think about an issue that arises in this work of writing about the remaining prisoners in the US torture camp at Guantanamo.  Being a person from a Western country, I am ignorant about Asia, including the Middle East.  I know no Asian language, I am completely ignorant of many things that the majority of the people on this planet know.  I must be careful not to fall into the arrogant ignorance that is the trademark of people from the US, and which is chronicled in this blog.  Many of us who are trying to understand the stories of these men and boys who have been tortured with our tax money and who are advocates for them in our own ways are astounded to discover that an Arab in Afghanistan would be in trouble.  Aren’t they all Arabs?

Wikipedia tells us that:

“Arab people also known as ‘Arabs’ are an ethnic group or panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world which is located in West Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds.with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing an important part of Arab identity in tracing descent of a national from an Arab state.”

Afghans and Pakistanis are not Arabs.  Nor are Iranians or Turks.  Many of these people are Muslims, as many Arabs are, but Muslims are people who practice the Islamic religion.  Just as Christians may be Italian or South African, Muslims may be Arabs or members of other ethnic and national groups.

This matters in these stories because a number of persons from Arab countries were in Afghanistan, which was, unlike their own countries, a Muslim country ruled under Muslim law at the time of the US invasion.  Some Muslims from other countries wanted to see what that was like.  Also a number of the prisoners in the Guantanamo torture camp were in Afghanistan to teach the Quran in that country which needed lots of people who could do that.

Abdullah al-Yafi is from Yemen.  He is a Muslim and heard on several occasions over the years the call of religious leaders in the mosques he attended to go to Afghanistan to teach the Quran.  One of these leaders, Sheikh Muqbil al-Wadi, moved him the most.

It is important to note that even for us in the West, a google search would reveal that Sheikh Muqbil al-Wadi also spoke out against Osama bin Laden, whom he accused of using money for weapons, not following his religion, fostering partisanship and divisions, and other things.   Abdullah al-Yafi was not encouraged to attach himself to bin Laden and there is no evidence he did.

What he said he did do, after much soul searching and considerable struggle, was to sell his farm in Yemen and go to Afghanistan to teach the Quran.  He had been there for over two years when the US invaded.  Like many civilians, he fled the bombing, going with a group of other Arabs and a guide to the Pakistan border.  The trip sounds to have been harrowing.

I try to imaging being a foreigner in a strange place, not knowing the local language well, not knowing the country, which has no public transportation, and is under attack by US bombing raids.  I can image that Abdullah al-Yafi was just trying to get to safety as I would if I could.

When he reached the border, he was apprehended by Pakistani border guard/bounty hunters who sold him into US custody.  He was sent to Guantanamo where he has been tortured and is still in prison all these years later.

The US has not charged  him, but keeps him in the torture camp.  It has published statements given under torture by other prisoners that al-Yafi was “seen” at a compound at Kandahar and is somehow connected to bin Laden.  There is no credible evidence that any real court of law would admit that Abdullah al-Yafi is anyone other than who he says he is.

According to Andy Worthington, the source as always for most of this information, Abdullah al-Yafi participated in the prolonged prisoners’ hunger strike of 2005 that was curtailed by the sadistic US guards with the restraint chairs to which the prisoners are chained as unclean tubes are forced down their noses to feed them.  Al-Yafi is said to have arrived at Guantanamo weighing 165 pounds and weighed 109 as a result of the hunger strike.

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Though Abdullah al-Yafi was cleared under the Bush regime, the Obama one keeps him in the torture camp; he is another Yemeni casualty of the “underwear bomber.”  Obama, who promised to close the torture camp, chose instead to yield to hysteria of people in Congress about that person having been in Yemen.

This amounts to guilt by nationality and is part of a very disturbing aspect of this entire episode of shameful US behavior.

I committed to writing the stories of the remaining prisoners in Guantanamo for several reasons.   One is that I wanted to get to know these men as the real people they are, as best I can in the circumstances.  These are human beings like me.  Our common humanity is a bond.

Another reason is that I do not want to stand idly by as the US completely departs from the rule of law and becomes a nation of arbitrary power.  Can Barack Obama not realize the legal implications of saying of Bradley Manning that “he broke the law,” when he has not been tried and convicted? Can a lawyer and a professor of constitutional law possibly not have seen that such a statement defies the principles of the US Constitution and the hundreds of years of British common law on which it is based?  Can he possibly have said that we are “a nation of laws” when he himself recently invaded another country illegally, and oversees the illegal imprisonment and the torture of human beings?  The incident was very telling about what the US has become.

Glenn Greenwald, a constitutional lawyer and author had this to say about Obama after that remark:

“But it’s long been clear that this is Obama’s understanding of ‘a nation of laws’: the most powerful political and financial elites who commit the most egregious crimes are to be shielded from the consequences of their lawbreaking — see his vote in favor of retroactive telecom immunity, his protection of Bush war criminals, and the way in which Wall Street executives were permitted to plunder with impunity — while the most powerless figures (such as a 23-year-old Army Private and a slew of other low-level whistleblowers) who expose the corruption and criminality of those elites are to be mercilessly punished. And, of course, our nation’s lowest persona non grata group — accused Muslim Terrorists — are simply to be encaged for life without any charges. Merciless, due-process-free punishment is for the powerless; full-scale immunity is for the powerful. ‘Nation of laws’ indeed.” You can read the full text here.

So this is another of my reasons for studying what can be found out about the prisoners at Guantanamo, including Abdullah al-Yafi, and writing about them.  The US has become a lawless nation.  If Muslim men and Bradley can be treated this way, if Obama claims the power to murder anyone anywhere whom he thinks is an enemy, what is keeping you and me safe from these extra-legal judgments?  Who is to say that we will not be declared enemies, or as the men in Guantanamo were, sold for bounty for some reason or other?  I must stand for just laws and a just administration of them, for our sakes as well as that of the prisoners.

I must work to see Abdullah al-Yafi freed and the US torture centers abroad and here closed down and their creators held accountable–in real courts with all the protections of just laws.

Mahmoud Al Mujahid

April 22, 2011

If one has ever stretched the truth, especially when there is danger, maybe not even the danger of more torture and death but just danger of losing face, one can sympathize with Mahmoud al-Mujahid.

It appears that he told US authorities when he was first sold into US custody in Pakistan that he had been inspired by a sheik with whom he studied, I presume in his native Yemen, to go to Afghanistan to teach the Quran.  He changed his story at one of the review boards, a part of the kangaroo court system for these prisoners at Guantanamo, in November 2007.  You can read a document about that here.

In that hearing he said he had come to Afghanistan in July of 2000, though not at as he had said inspired by a sheik to teach the Quran.  He said that this misleading statement of his had been on his conscience for years.  He denied categorically, however, knowing anything whatever about the attacks on the US or indeed about any terrorist activities.

The US has alleged that he was bin Laden’s body guard, which he denies as ridiculous.  The US, for its part, presents no evidence whatever to support this allegation. or any of the allegations of Mujahid’s having “been seen” with bin Laden in various places.  You can read Andy Worthington’s account here.

These prisoners are presumed guilty and it is not considered necessary to present credible evidence against them.  This presumption of guilt leads to lies, even “white lies” such as Mahmoud made.  Adding torture to the mix means that, as the law of the US and accepted international law dictate, anything said under torture is worthless in a court of law.  Such injustice is done with US taxpayers’ money and in the name of the country.  Let us work to stop such gross injustice and to free Mahmoud al-Mujahid.

Ahmed Al Hikimi: Teacher of Children

April 22, 2011

Ahmed al-Hakimi sold his taxi business in Yemen in 1999 to go to Afghanistan in order to teach the Quran to children in that Muslim country.  It had been suggested to him that he could become a better Muslim as a result.

Short of believing, as sadly some US Christian fundamentalists seem to, that merely being Muslim is a crime, it is hard to see any evil intent in going to teach the text of a major world religion to children in a country that professed that religion.  And certainly no one can see any violent intent in teaching children, certainly none directed at the US.

Ahmed al-Hakimi went to the area of Khost, where a local student and he spent eight months teaching in various villages in the area.  He returned to Yemen, coming back to Afghanistan in February 2011 and resumed teaching.

Al-Hamimi decided to leave in November when he heard that General Dostum, about whom you can read here, of the Northern Alliance [that group of war lords that contested with the Taliban, another group of war lords for many decades] had taken the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif and then Kabul.  He feared for his safety because Arabs were being targeted in the conflict.

His friend threw his passport out the window, explaining that if he were not identifiable as Arab, he would be safer.  Unfortunately, when they crossed into Pakistan with many others fleeing the bombing and conflict in Afghanistan, Ahmed al-Hakimi was seized by the Pakistani authorities.  These latter were collecting bounty money from the US, and turned him over to be tortured and taken to Guantanamo where he still remains.

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Persons being taken into custody at the Pakistan border

It is useful to remember that the US government reported for a long time that all of the inmates at Guantanamo were captured on the field of battle.  We know that virtually none of them were, even the government does not keep up that fiction any longer.  It does however report such statements as that al-Hakimi was taken “with 30 suspected al-Qaeda members.”  Anyone and everyone was a “suspect,” even though there never was evidence to suggest that most were and certainly none in the case of Ahmed al-Hakimi.

The US alleges, without any evidence to suggest that such allegations are credible, that al-Hakimi was a member of al-Qaeda and an escort for Osama bin Laden and his family among other things.  The most likely theory for these allegations, according to Andy Worthington, is that they came from a prisoner at Guantanamo who implicated some sixty of the other prisoners under torture.  Such evidence is, of course, inadmissible in US and international law, but the prisoners at Guantanamo are held outside the law.  It really appears now as though the case against Ahmed al-Hakimi is that he is in Guantanamo, therefore he should be, and will remain there.  Such imprisonment has not been prevalent in the west since the middle ages, a regression of a thousand years of western law.

Read Worthington’s account here.

You can also read an account by someone in Ireland with an interesting perspective on the conflicts in Afghanistan beginning in the 1970s here.

This is another shameful case.  Torture of even the most hardened criminal is morally repugnant and illegal under US and international law.  Using information elicited under torture is, too.  Ahmed al-Hikimi must be set free to teach the Quran to children if he chooses.  We must see that he is freed.

Insights from a Released Prisoner

April 21, 2011

Here is a link to an interview with a French citizen who was tortured in Guantanamo.  It is the stories of the released prisoners that give us an idea of what their experience was like.  Khaled Ben Mustafa is a French national who was in Afghanistan at the time of the US invasion and fled to Pakistan to avoid US bombing, but was seized there and sold.  Below are a few of his remarks about his experiences.

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“I decided to go to Afghanistan in order to live under shari’a. At that time, I judged that the Talibans represented this Islamic state. My approach was to see with my own eyes what an Islamic state was, bearing in mind that I am convinced that Muslims should live under the Muslim command, the Law of God.”

Like a number of the men in the torture camp,  Khaled Ben Mustafa was in Afghanistan to experience life in an Islamic state.

“The Pakistanis sold us. When I say ‘sold’, it literally means ‘sold’. There was a financial transaction. Many among us saw cash money flowing from the Americans to the Pakistanis. Each time they would hand over a person, the counter part was money.”

Of course, they could sell them because the US was willing to pay.  The US dropped fliers all over the area offering money for prisoners.

About the trip to Cuba, Khaled Ben Mustafa says:

“We were in planes, chained, blindfolded with masks on our mouths and anti-noise headphones. Our flight must have lasted 20 hours from Afghanistan to Cuba. We stopped somewhere but we do not know where it was. During the whole trip, we were beaten up. We were kicked, beaten with a stick…”

All the prisoners report the horrors of the flights.

About the torture camp at Guantanamo, he says:

“In Cuba, the welcoming was… Torture carried on, probably until today for those who are still over there.”

It is indeed possible that some if not all of the remaining prisoners, even those who have been declared by US tribunals and judges to constitute no threat to the US, continue to be tortured.  Until the camp is closed and the prisoners have been freed, I cannot be sure that they are not being tortured.

Mohammed al-Ansi: An Eloquent Plea for Justice

April 20, 2011

‘“All of the prisoners here are trying to leave this place. All the prisoners are telling lies about other prisoners just to get out of here. All these allegations are lies and I want the truth.’ He also asked to see the papers from his CSRT [military tribunal in Guantanamo], saying, ‘There is no proof whatsoever that I was a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden, and no proof that I have ever received any training. It is my right to request the people who said these things and made these allegations against me.”‘ This statement from Mohammed al-Ansi is found on Andy Worthington’s website, which you can read here.   Al-Ansi said he wanted to help the education of Afghans in the Quran after hearing a local imam speak in his native Yemen.

Also, al-Ansi’s claims that he had been teaching in Pakistan, where he was captured, and that all of bin Laden’s body guards had been captured before he was, were suppressed at one of his hearings.  These injustices caused him to demand common legal procedures, which the US  refused.

The kangaroo court in Guantánamo where Mohammed al-Ansi made his eloquent plea for justice denied him the right to see the documents which are “classified.”  That certainly must be translated here as “obtained under torture and therefore not admissible in any real court of law anywhere in the world.”

One principle of most legal systems in the world today is that a person accused of crimes must be able to study and confront any evidence that is brought to bear against her or him.  The accused person must also know the source of all evidence.  There are many breaches of these principles in fact, but these are principles of international and national law virtually everywhere.  At one time, the Anglo-Saxon countries, including the US, prided themselves on such legal principles which were not so universally accepted; but especially since the United Nations and since WWII, these principles are widely accepted in the world.

Tragically, it is the US which has flagrantly violated these principles since the Bush regime.  A striking example is in the case of Mohammed al-Ansi.

All of the prisoners there have been tortured.  The US government does not officially dispute that, but neither does it repudiate the torture and act to both stop it and make amends and reparations for these terrible acts that illegal not just by international law but by US law as well.

Recent revelations of the use of torture to elicit information from prisoners about other prisoners, to get them to cooperate with the US’s illegal aims, are only substantiation for what most of us knew must be the case anyway.  It is always good to have the documents, the proof, but we already knew from the prisoners’ stories themselves.

When will we all demand the release and indemnification of Mohammed al-Ansi and the other prisoners and the trial, in real law courts and without torture of the accused parties, of the US officials responsible for these events? Real justice can be easily served in these matters using the international and US standards of justice that the US regularly denies others.

Muaz al-Alawi

April 19, 2011

Let us imagine that Germany, for instance, where many US military personnel are stationed, were to decide to imprison and torture in a secret prison somewhere all of the US personnel it could capture or pay bounty hunters in Germany or other countries to capture, whether or not they had ever used arms against Germany or any of its allies.  What if after years of such treatment, a German court of some sort were convened to review this situation and declared that no evidence existed of any aggression of these US military personnel against that country, but that the fact of their having been members of the US military is sufficient to continue their imprisonment forever?

What would you who are reading this think of that?  What if one of them were related to you?  Would the fact that such a thing is against international laws and the laws of Germany itself not make such treatment of US military untenable?  Would the fact that such treatment is morally repugnant not be outrageous?

Why then is it okay for the US to imprison and torture people in Guantanamo and other US black sites in exactly that situation?

Here is one case in particular.  Muaz al-Alawi (referred to as “Moath al-Alwi” in US documents for reasons I don’t know) from Yemen had gone to Afghanistan some considerable time before the US invasion and engaged in the long standing internal conflicts between the Taliban, the government of Afghanistan before the US invaded we must remember, and the so called Northern Alliance, another group of Afghan warlords.  He remained with his unit after the invasion of Afghanistan by the US in late 2001 and fled to Khost and then to Pakistan after they were bombed by the US several times.

The US had armed and supported those warlords during the last years of the Soviet Union in an attempt to keep that country out of what it wanted as its colony basically whatever story it told to make this look legitimate.  It is the nature of warlords to make war and they did it for ages.  Muaz al-Alawi had not enlisted to fight the US nor did he ever.

In his ruling in December 30, 2008, Judge Richard Leon wrote that:

“Although there is no evidence of petitioner actually using arms against U.S. or coalition forces, the Government does not need to prove such facts in order for petitioner to be classified as an enemy combatant under the definition adopted by the Court.”  Read more here and remarks about this by Andy Worthington here.

Muaz al-Alawi had the audacity not to have renounced his unit the moment the US invaded, though it was very likely he had no way of knowing that the US had invaded until US bombs fell on them, as they did, we might add, on numerous innocent civilians as well.  Even if he had, it might have made no difference.  He was not captured in the field of battle with the US, he was not fighting the US.  He fled to Pakistan and was sold to the US by bounty hunters.

Under US and international law, soldiers who are captured on the field of battle, which he was not, must be treated humanely and then returned to their country at the end of hostilities.  Muaz al-Alawi should never have been imprisoned by the US, much less tortured and rendered to Guantanamo, and he should most certainly have been released after the fall of the Taliban government.

Instead, it is now the tenth year that Muaz al-Alawi is held without recourse to that monstrous decision by Judge Leon.

Again, what would you think of such treatment of US military personnel by another country?  The US is coming close to declaring these people guilty of breathing while Muslim.  It is both scandalous and frightening.

“strains credulity”: The Story of Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman

April 14, 2011

“On March 29, 2011, [Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman‘s February 24, 2010 habeas corpus ruling declaring his imprisonment illegal] was overturned in a United States federal appeals court. [The Obama regime had appealed immediately upon the original decision.]  The three judge panel stated that Uthman’s explanation of his activities ‘strains credulity’.”  Read the rest here of the statement here. Also, read Andy Worthington’s response to this shameful decision here.

I felt outrage when I read this.  What strains credulity is that the US continues to perpetrate these illegal outrages.

I now quote Andy Worthington’s report of the habeas corpus decision verbatim:

“Uthman, who ‘said that he had traveled between Kabul and Khost teaching the Koran from March to December 2001.’ won his habeas corpus petition in February 2010, when Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. ruled that the main allegation against him — that he had ‘acted as a bodyguard for Osama bin Laden’ — came from unreliable statements made by two other prisoners, Sharqwi Abdu Ali al-Hajj (ISN 1457) and Sanad Yislam Ali al-Kazimi (ISN 1453). Judge Kennedy stated, ‘The Court will not rely on the statements of Hajj or Kazimi because there is unrebutted evidence in the record that, at the time of the interrogations at which they made the statements, both men had recently been tortured.'”

Not only are these prisoners tortured but they are asked under torture to give accounts of the other prisoners.  Such treatment of prisoners is, of course, illegal.  Any “evidence” acquired in that way is, of course, inadmissible.

Recent reports of the nature and intentions of the torture methods used by the US have revealed that it is intended to cause the prisoners to give such accounts.  I cannot find words to express my outrage at all of this.

Jason Leopold and Jeffrey Kaye reported on TruthOut

“But the handwritten notes obtained exclusively by Truthout drafted two decades ago by Dr. John Bruce Jessen, the psychologist who was under contract to the CIA and credited as being one of the architects of the government’s top-secret torture program, tell a dramatically different story about the reasons detainees were brutalized and it was not just about obtaining intelligence. Rather, as Jessen’s notes explain, torture was used to “exploit” detainees, that is, to break them down physically and mentally, in order to get them to “collaborate” with government authorities.”

It is appalling that these three judges are unwilling to challenge such “collaboration.”

To what depravity has the US descended!  I demand the immediate release and indemnification of Uthman Abdul Rahim Mohammed Uthman and the immediate investigation of the US government for crimes against humanity.