With even the New York Times editorial page chiming in on Thursday (just after the Abramson firing on Wednesday, so this is clearly a big deal to them), Judge Gladys Kessler ruled on Friday that the military must stop its forced feedings of a Syrian prisoner at Guantanamo and preserve videos of him being forcibly extracted from his cell and being fed. We’ve seen this movie before. Recall that Kessler was one of at least two judges ordering the CIA to preserve video evidence of waterboarding before Robert Eatinger and Jose Rodriguez decided to go ahead with destruction of the videotapes. Considering how out of control John Bogdan, head of the Joint Task Force Guantanamo Detention Group, already has been, it would not surprise me at all for these videos to meet the same fate. Heck, given Eatinger’s current behavior in trying to use intimidation to stop further revelations on the torture front, it wouldn’t even surprise me for him to decide, through some sort of OCA role, that it is the CIA’s job to take possession of and to destroy the tapes in question.
Here is Carol Rosenberg reporting on Kessler’s ruling:
A federal judge waded deep into the Pentagon’s handling of the Guantánamo hunger strike on Friday, ordering the military to temporarily suspend forced-feedings of a Syrian prisoner at the detention center until a hearing Wednesday.
U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington, D.C., also ordered the military to preserve any video recordings guards might have made hauling Syrian Mohammed Abu Wa’el Dhiab, 42, from his cell and giving him nasogastric feedings in a restraint chair. He has also been identified as Jihad Dhiab in court papers and news reports.
The order appears to be the deepest intrusion into prison camp operations by the federal court during the long-running hunger strike, which at one point last year encompassed more than 100 of Guantánamo’s 154 detainees.
The military has since December refused to disclose how many detainees are force-fed as hunger strikers each day, and it was not possible to know if Navy doctors at the base considered Dhiab at risk by perhaps missing four or five days of tube feedings.
Rosenberg goes on to inform us that it only recently was learned that the videos exist. She also realizes that whether Bodgan and his crew will honor the order is an open question:
Military spokesmen from Guantánamo and the U.S. Southern Command did not respond Friday night to questions from the Miami Herald on whether the 2,200-strong military and civilian staff at the detention center had received and would honor the order.
Recall that when the waterboarding tapes were destroyed, that destruction was in direct violation of court orders, including one from Kessler: Continue reading
When it comes to building policy around Afghanistan, the Obama administration is an endless fount of ideas with colossally ugly optics mixed with untenable legal positions. The latest brilliant offering from them is a beauty:
The Obama administration is actively considering the use of a military commission in the United States to try a Russian who was captured fighting with the Taliban several years ago and has been held by the U.S. military at a detention facility near Bagram air base in Afghanistan, former and current U.S. officials said.
Wait. He was “fighting with the Taliban”? Doesn’t that make him a standard combatant and traditional prisoner of war? Here is more of what the Post has on his history:
The Russian is a veteran of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s who deserted and ended up fighting U.S. forces after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. U.S. officials said the man, thought to be in his mid- to late 50s, is suspected of involvement in several 2009 attacks in which U.S. troops were wounded or killed. He was wounded during an assault on an Afghan border post that year and later captured.
Little else is known about him except for his nom de guerre, Irek Hamidullan.
No. Still nothing in this description that distinguishes Hamidullan from any other non-Afghan teaming up with the Taliban to take on US forces there. And yet, the military seems to think that their “case” against Hamidullan is among the strongest against the 53 non-Afghan prisoners the US admits to housing at Parwan:
Military prosecutors have examined the evidence against Hamidullan and consider the case among the strongest that could be brought against any of the foreigners held at the Parwan Detention Facility near Bagram.
“He’s pretty well-connected in the terrorist world,” said one official with firsthand knowledge of the case. Hamidullan is thought to have links to one or more insurgent groups and ties to Chechnya, a part of the Russian Federation where rebels have fought two unsuccessful wars for independence.
Officials said Hamidullan remains committed to violent jihad and has sworn that he will return to the battlefield if he is released from prison. U.S. officials said that they have discussed the case with Moscow but that the Russians displayed little or no interest in his return. The senior official said transfers “are not always just up to us. Other countries have a say. Detainees have a say” in cases in which there are concerns about inhumane treatment.
How in the world does one become a fitting subject for a special military commission as an illegal combatant even while pledging to “return to the battlefield”? Continue reading
When this Charlie Savage story came out yesterday in the New York Times, my spidey senses went all tingly. Something just didn’t feel right:
An American military spokesman said Sunday that 15 detainees at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, who had been listed as having gone on hunger strike had quit participating in the protest, accelerating an apparent downward trend since the start of Ramadan last week.
The spokesman, Lt. Col. Samuel House, said in an e-mail that as of Sunday, 81 of the 166 prisoners were still listed as taking part in the hunger strike. That figure was down from 96 on Saturday, 102 on Friday, 104 on Thursday and 106 on Wednesday, the number at which participation in the protest had peaked and plateaued.
Even Savage seemed to realize that given the way head guard John Bogdan has manipulated the prisoners and especially the hunger strikers, there could perhaps be more to this story:
But David Remes, a defense lawyer who represents several Guantánamo detainees in habeas corpus proceedings, expressed skepticism in an e-mail and said he wanted to talk to his clients before drawing any conclusions about what the military was reporting.
“Perhaps the authorities finally made hunger striking such a horrendous experience that some men, at least, are dropping out,” Mr. Remes said. “Perhaps some men feel the hunger strike has achieved its goals by forcing Guantánamo back onto the national agenda and jump-starting the transfer process. There are still other ways to read the numbers. Until we speak with our clients, we can only speculate.”
It turns out that the skepticism is well-founded. From the Guardian:
But lawyer Clive Stafford Smith said his client Shaker Aamer had told him on Friday that guards were using Ramadan to massage the numbers.
“The military are cheating on the numbers as usual. Some detainees are taking a token amount of food as part of the traditional breaking of the fast at the end of each day in Ramadan, so that is now conveniently allowing them to be counted as not striking,” Stafford Smith said.
Aamer – who has been held at Guantánamo for more than 11 years yet never charged – also claimed during a phone call with Stafford Smith that fellow inmates were being punished by being held in isolation during Ramadan if they refused to eat.
Isn’t that interesting? We have flip sides of the same story. Savage informs us that the guards moved prisoners who are no longer participating in the hunger strike back into communal living areas where they can pray together, while Aamer’s take on the same situation suggests that isolation is used a tool to punish those who still refuse to eat.
Considering the history of John Bogdan and the emerging questions over his fitness to retain command of the guard detail at Guantanamo, it is not surprising that Ramadan practices would be used to game the numbers on the hunger strike while continuing to inflict punishment on those who continue the strike.
Remember, the US military has a strong reputation to uphold when it comes to an understanding of the effects of Ramadan fasting and its use as a propaganda tool.
It has been clear for some time that the current hunger strike crisis at Guantanamo can be laid squarely at the feet of John Bogdan, who heads the Joint Task Force Guantanamo Detention Group. In other words, he is the head of the guard force. As I noted in this post, Shaker Aamer’s attorney, in a statement to Andy Worthington, clearly blamed Bogdan for the actions that precipitated the hunger strike.
Yesterday, Judge Royce Lamberth dealt a severe setback to Bogdan, striking down one of his most needlessly abusive practices. From Charlie Savage at the New York Times:
A federal judge on Thursday ordered the military to stop touching the groins of detainees at the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, when they are moved from their cells to speak with lawyers. The procedure had led some prisoners to stop meeting with or calling their lawyers.
In a 35-page opinion, Judge Royce C. Lamberth, the chief judge of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, called the searches — which included guards wedging their hands between the genitals and thighs of the detainees as many as four times when moving them to a meeting and back to their cells — “religiously and culturally abhorrent” to Muslims. He portrayed the procedure as unnecessary and intended to “actively discourage” meetings with lawyers.
He said the warden, Col. John Bogdan, must return to a longtime procedure in which guards shake the underwear of detainees by the band to dislodge any contraband, but do not to touch their buttocks or genitals.
Savage goes on:
He also directed the military to allow detainees who are weak from hunger strikes to meet with their lawyers in the same buildings in which they are housed, and to stop using new transport vans that have low roofs that detainees had said required them to be painfully crouched while shackled.
Julie Tate at the Washington Post has more:
Lawyers for detainees had argued that the motivation for the search procedure was not to enhance security but to isolate detainees from their attorneys in an effort to crush a growing hunger strike at the base. The hunger strike began in February as a reaction to guards searching detainees’ Korans. More than two-thirds of the 166 detainees at Guantanamo are participating in the protest, with more than 40 being force-fed.
Lamberth said the military’s action had to be judged in light of previous actions that limited the ability of attorneys to meet with their clients.
“As petitioners’ counsel correctly noted during this Court’s hearing, ‘[t]he government is a recidivist when it comes to denying counsel access,’ ” Lamberth wrote.
Recall that when public pressure finally got high enough over the abusive treatment of Bradley Manning at the Quantico Brig (where he was forced to stand naked) the government replaced the Brig Commander and then transferred Manning from Quantico to Leavenworth, where his treatment dramatically improved.
In the case of Guantanamo, many of the hunger-striking prisoners Bogdan is abusing (see this post from Marcy for more abusive practices) are already cleared for release, so the government should move quickly to release them to get them away from further abuse. However, considering Bogdan’s shaky background (I have mused that he may well have trained death squads in Iraq) and the public attention generated by the ICRC showing up at Guanantamo ahead of its scheduled date due to widespread knowledge of the latest round of abusive practices, it is clear that one of the most affirmative actions the US could take toward diffusing the situation would be to relieve Bogdan of command immediately.
Do Barack Obama and Chuck Hagel have the courage to the right thing and send Bogdan packing? I’m not holding my breath.
Update July 14: I am very embarrassed to have missed this important development Jason Leopold reported on May 23:
Military attorneys representing former CIA captives detained in a top secret camp at Guantanamo have called on Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to examine whether the head of the prison’s guard force is fit for command.
Col. John Bogdan, the commander of Guantanamo’s Joint Detention Group, has been singled out by the defense lawyers for revamping dormant policies, such as inspections of Qurans and genital patdowns, that gave rise to a hunger strike, now entering its fourth month.
“Although we represent so-called ‘high value detainees, many of our concerns relate to the treatment of all prisoners, to include men whose internment appears to be indefinite” states a 13-page letter and signed by nineteen attorneys, including several who represent self-professed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, the alleged architect behind the USS Cole bombing, sent to Hagel on Monday. “There has been a serious degradation in the quality of life for detainees in Guantanamo Bay over the past year. This change appears to have coincided with the arrival of the new Joint Detention Group Commander, Col. John V. Bogdan.”
The letter was also reported on by MSNBC, where their article also cited a Seton Hall study and made the suggestion that Bogdan has perjured himself.
Writing yesterday in the Daily Beast, Lt. Col. Daniel Davis provides a moving tribute to the late Michael Hastings. In the piece, we learn that Hastings didn’t merely help Davis by publishing Davis’ long-form unclassified report detailing how “progress” in Afghanistan as reported by the military has no basis in reality, but Hastings actually provided some of the inspiration for Davis to enter into his process of exposing military lies:
I first met Michael in early May 2011, while I was in Washington on leave from the combat zone in Afghanistan. I agreed to meet him at the behest of a mutual friend, though I was hesitant. Prior to that meeting the only thing I knew about Hastings was that he had authored the Rolling Stone piece that led to the firing of Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Most people I knew in the military believed Hastings to be a raging liberal who hated the military. Yet because our mutual friend held him in such high esteem, I agreed to meet. I am so thankful I did so.
Within 10 minutes of meeting him my opinion had changed dramatically. I found him to be a very rational, honest, and respectful guy. He also showed real interest in and concern for the regular combat troop and was definitely not some “military hater.” Over the course of lunch that day I shared with him my frustration at what I believed to be a significant chasm between what some of our senior military leaders were saying in public and what I knew to be true behind the scenes. Michael told me that didn’t surprise him, because he’d seen it in his own experience over the years and had many soldiers tell him the same thing.
Note what fuels the relationship between Davis and Hastings. Both care deeply about regular combat soldiers and see that high-ranking officers are lying about what is taking place in Afghanistan. It is clear from Davis’ piece that this meeting with Hastings, and the understanding of Hastings’ motivations that the meeting provided, served as inspiration for Davis: Continue reading
Finally sensing that US policy on Yemeni prisoners at Guantanamo is a disaster of epic proportions, and after playing a key role in putting the moratorium on release of Yemeni prisoners into place, Dianne Feinstein on Thursday took the first step toward trying to resolve the crisis before hunger striking prisoners begin to die in large numbers. Feinstein penned a letter to National Security Director Tom Donilon on Thursday, asking for renewed efforts to release those Guantanamo prisoners who have been cleared for release. It is clear that a central step in that process is to review the moratorium on release of cleared Yemeni prisoners.
There is a craven semantics game that is played in the arena of prisoners who have been cleared for release. Government and military officials only ever refer to “detainees” who are cleared for “transfer”, even when those prisoners have been completely cleared of any wrong-doing. Because of that semantics problem, the Guantanamo Review Task Force final report (pdf), issued in January of 2010, provides a muddled description of two groups of Yemeni prisoners who are cleared at various levels for release:
Falling into the category of those who really should be released outright, but classed in the report as “Detainees Approved for Transfer”, we see 29 from Yemen:
29 are from Yemen. In light of the moratorium on transfers of Guantanamo detainees to Yemen announced by the President on January 5, 2010, these detainees cannot be transferred to Yemen at this time. In the meantime, these detainees are eligible to be transferred to third countries capable of imposing appropriate security measures.
A second category of Yemeni detainees cleared for release are those that the government believes still warrant some sort of detention in Yemen. They appear in the category “Detainees Approved for Conditional Detention”:
30 detainees from Yemen were unanimously approved for “conditional” detention based on current security conditions in Yemen.
The status of these prisoners is described further:
After carefully considering the intelligence concerning the security situation in Yemen, and reviewing each detainee on a case-by-case basis, the review participants selected a group of 30 Yemeni detainees who pose a lower threat than the 48 detainees designated for continued detention under the AUMF, but who should not be among the first groups of transfers to Yemen even if the current moratorium on such transfers is lifted.
These 30 detainees were approved for “conditional” detention, meaning that they may be transferred if one of the following conditions is satisfied: (1) the security situation improves in Yemen; (2) an appropriate rehabilitation program becomes available; or (3) an appropriate third-country resettlement option becomes available. Should any of these conditions be satisfied, however, the 29 Yemeni detainees approved for transfer would receive priority for any transfer options over the 30 Yemeni detainees approved for conditional detention.
About that “moratorium” on release of Yemeni prisoners. The review task force report informs us that of 36 Yemeni detainees initially cleared for full release, one was released by court order in September 2009 and another six were released in December 2009. But then the Undie Bomber episode took place on Christmas Day of 2009, and the release of Yemeni prisoners somehow became politically impossible. From the review report: Continue reading
With the simple title “Gitmo Is Killing Me”, today’s New York Times carries a chilling first-hand account from a hunger-striking prisoner at Guantanamo. Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel is one of 25 Yemeni prisoners held at Guantanamo who have been cleared for release but are still held because the US feels Yemen is too unstable for the prisoners to return there.
A theme that I keep returning to regarding the hunger strike at Guantanamo is that the military is conducting an information operation to limit damage to its reputation through reducing attention to the harsh treatment guards mete out to the prisoners. That is why, as I pointed out yesterday, Saturday’s operation to shut down the communal areas at the prison and return the prisoners to individual cells was carried out after the ICRC left and at a time when no members of the press were present. With that in mind, the military is very likely to view the publication of this piece as a huge loss of control of the narrative. While they had portrayed the Saturday action as taking place against resistance by the prisoners using “improvised weapons” (a description that was avidly eaten up by the press), Naji’s account of the pain and humiliation of forced feedings changes the focus from violence by the prisoners to violence being visited upon them.
The Times explains that Naji “told this story, through an Arabic interpreter, to his lawyers at the legal charity Reprieve in an unclassified telephone call”. Given previous behavior by the military at Guantanamo, I hope that they do not used their embarrassment over publication of this piece to limit phone calls from prisoners to their attorneys.
Naji explains his situation:
I’ve been on a hunger strike since Feb. 10 and have lost well over 30 pounds. I will not eat until they restore my dignity.
I’ve been detained at Guantánamo for 11 years and three months. I have never been charged with any crime. I have never received a trial.
Naji is 35 years old, so he has been a prisoner at Guantanamo for nearly a third of his life. He has never been charged. He has never been tried. Is it any wonder that he would give up hope and choose to starve himself to death?
Naji’s account of the forced feedings is horrifying:
There are so many of us on hunger strike now that there aren’t enough qualified medical staff members to carry out the force-feedings; nothing is happening at regular intervals. They are feeding people around the clock just to keep up.
During one force-feeding the nurse pushed the tube about 18 inches into my stomach, hurting me more than usual, because she was doing things so hastily. I called the interpreter to ask the doctor if the procedure was being done correctly or not.
It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me. The nurse refused to stop feeding me. As they were finishing, some of the “food” spilled on my clothes. I asked them to change my clothes, but the guard refused to allow me to hold on to this last shred of my dignity.
Most human rights groups object to the practice of forced feedings of hunger striking prisoners. Carol Rosenberg quotes Physicians for Human Rights: Continue reading
In yesterday’s pre-dawn hours, the guard force at Guantanamo entered the Camp 6 communal area and removed the prisoners to individual cells. Here is Carol Rosenberg’s description of the operation (emphasis added):
U.S. forces raided Guantánamo’s showcase prison camp early Saturday, at times battling with detainees, to systematically empty communal cellblocks in an effort to end a three-month-old protest that prisoners said was sparked by mistreatment of the Quran, the military said.
“Some detainees resisted with improvised weapons and, in response, four less-than-lethal rounds were fired,” according to a statement issued by the prison camps at the U.S. Navy base in Cuba. “There were no serious injuries to guards or detainees.”
The pre-dawn operation took place hours after delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross left the remote island prison and during a blackout of news media access to the crisis in the prison camps.
The worst injury involved a rubber pellet piercing a captive’s “flank,” said Army Col. Gregory Julian at the U.S. Southern Command, which has oversight of the prison camps operation. The captives resisted the assault with broom and mop handles as well as plastic water bottles that had been wrapped and modified into clubs, he said.
Note how the military waited until after the ICRC had left Guantanamo (and after the ICRC’s president met with Barack Obama) to make this move while there were also no press present at the compound. I have noted previously how the military’s actions and statements during the hunger strike appear to have been an information operation and this move fits that description exactly.
When the military cancelled commercial flights to Guantanamo, I speculated on whether the new commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo, John Smith, who took over in June of 2012, was responsible for the change in atmosphere there. It appears that the defense attorneys feel that more of the blame for deteriorating conditions should lie with John Bogdan, who is Commander of the Joint Detention Group (alternately described as the warden, he is in charge of the guards). See, for example, this parenthetical statement in an Andy Worthington post describing information he got from Shaker Aamer’s attorney: Continue reading
Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, yesterday completed four days of meetings with US officials in Washington. According to the blog site for the ICRC, Maurer met with President Barack Obama, senior members of Congress and a number of high-ranking government figures, including “Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency John Brennan, Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, and Deputy Attorney General James Cole.”
It is perhaps not surprising that since there is a widespread hunger strike at Guantanamo (and since the ICRC visited Guantanamo earlier this month), detention issues were high on the list of topics for the meetings:
A focus of Mr Maurer’s visit was detention-related matters. “The United States, including its Congress, must urgently find a way to resolve all pending humanitarian, legal and policy issues relating to the detention of persons held at Guantanamo Bay, including those deemed to no longer represent a threat that justifies their continued detention there,” said Mr Maurer.
But Guantanamo was not the only topic. It comes as a welcome development to me that Maurer would widen the scope of discussion with key figures such as Obama, Brennan and Hagel to remind them of their duties under international humanitarian law:
“We enjoy a robust and multi-faceted dialogue with the United States, and my visit was an opportunity to discuss issues and contexts of mutual concern such as Syria and Afghanistan,” said Mr Maurer. “The United States values the mandate, positions and input of the ICRC and I am confident that this interaction will continue to bring concrete results, notably in terms of implementation of and respect for international humanitarian law in current and future battlefields.”
Especially when it comes to Obama and Brennan, it is striking that this statement can be construed as saying that the US needs to implement international humanitarian laws and to respect them. Although not stated outright, it is impossible to come to any other conclusion than to believe that the ICRC now believes that the US does not abide by international humanitarian law. I would think that the US practice of targeted killings, which is viewed by the UN as an issue for international law (and where the UN has called “double tap” drone strikes war crimes) would likely have been a topic for Maurer when talking with Brennan, who has played a key role in ordering drone strikes.
Sadly, I don’t share the ICRC’s optimism regarding our government’s respect for the “mandate, positions and input of the ICRC”. We need look no further than the sad news out of Guantanamo yesterday where it now appears that hundreds of thousands of confidential files and communications belonging to Guantanamo defense lawyers have been provided to the prosecution. In addition, a number of key files seem to have disappeared. From Carol Rosenberg: Continue reading
It has been clear from the start of the current hunger strike at Guantanamo that the military is carrying out its own information operation against a strike that it views as an information operation carried out by the prisoners. Back on March 17, Carol Rosenberg reported that commercial flights to Guantanamo will be terminated as of Friday of this week, and I asked whether the flights were terminated in order to quash coverage of the strike. Just a few days later, attorneys for Guantanamo prisoners made the same accusation to CNN:
“We are very concerned that the commercial flights have ended at a time when it’s critical to have more regular contact with our clients (not less!) in light of the hunger strikes and their potentially perilous health conditions,” Ranjana Natarajan, one of the lawyers representing Obaydullah, wrote to CNN.
Navy officials said lawyers and others who regularly take the commercial flights from Florida to the base may now take a once-a-week military flight from Andrews Air Force Base just outside of Washington.
But Anne Richardson, also with Hadsell Stormer Richardson & Renick, said the flights “are also capable of being canceled, at the last minute, without warning and at DOD’s discretion.”
David Remes, a Washington-based lawyer who represents 15 clients held at the detention facility, said authorities “are canceling these flights because they want to keep the public in the dark about the mayhem in the prison.”
“For the past several months, bad news has been streaming out of the camps,” Remes said. “The authorities are taking one hit after another for the way they’re running the camps, so they’re doing what comes naturally – choking off the flow of information.”
In that same March 17 report from Carol Rosenberg, we have this statement from Pentagon spokesman Todd Breasseale:
“That there is any concrete, mass hunger strike — that is an utter fabrication,” Breasseale said. “Some who claim to be hunger striking are in fact eating handfuls of trail mix, nuts, and other food. They are taking in plenty of calories.”
Reality is beginning to catch up with Breasseale and the military jailers at Guantanamo. As Rosenberg reported yesterday, the military now admits to 39 hunger strikers (making 23% of the 166 prisoners now held):
At Guantánamo, officials counted nearly a fourth of the captives, 39 of the 166 prisoners, as meeting the minimum U.S. military definition of a hunger striker for having lost enough body weight and skipped at least nine meals in a row. Eleven of the captives were being fed nutritional supplements by tubes snaked up their nose and into their stomach. Two were hospitalized for intravenous drips as well as the tube feedings.
Lawyers for the detainees described a much more dire situation, with one of the best known cleared-for-release captives, Shaker Aamer, telling his attorney on Friday that about 130 of the 166 captives were taking part.
Aamer estimated he had lost 32 pounds, according to Stafford Smith, who quoted him as saying, “You can see the bones in my chest.”
“Shaker understands that one detainee is reportedly 85 pounds, another 107 pounds and a third 117 pounds,” said Clive Stafford Smith, who spoke via a monitored telephone line between the camps and Britain, where Stafford Smith is based.
That there is an ongoing battle over whose reports can be believed is quite clear from Jason Leopold’s thorough article posted yesterday, where we learn that the military is following the same script it used during the last major hunger strike by Guantanamo prisoners: Continue reading