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.
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
On Tuesday, Carol Rosenberg reported that the hunger strike at Guantanamo prison camp has become serious enough that the International Committee of the Red Cross has arrived at Guantanamo a week earlier than had previously been planned:
Two delegates from the International Committee of the Red Cross, one of them a physician, are at Guantánamo this week in an accelerated trip moved up from next month to check out the ongoing hunger strike at the war on terror prison.
Red Cross spokesman Simon Schorno said Tuesday morning that the regularly schedule two-week mission was meant to start April 1.
“However, in an effort to better understand current tensions and the ongoing hunger strike, we have decided to start this visit one week earlier,” said Schorno.
The White House said Wednesday it was keeping an eye on the hunger strike at the Pentagon’s war on terror prison at Guantánamo and once again blamed Congress for its inability to close the detention center containing 166 captives.
“The White House and the president’s team is closely monitoring the hunger strikers at Guantánamo Bay,” Joshua Earnest, principal deputy press secretary, told reporters in response to a question.
Rosenberg went on to provide denials from a Guantanamo spokesman about the allegations in the court filing:
Separately, attorneys for a Yemeni captive made an emergency court filing on Tuesday night in Washington, D.C., alleging that guards at Guantánamo’s communal camp had denied two cellblocks bottled water since Sunday. The motion also claimed that the temperature in the prison were lowered to “extremely frigid” levels — claims the prison camps spokesman, Durand, denied.
Bottled water continues to be provided, Durand said, adding that tap water is potable at the prison called Camp 6 built of cement blocks at a site that once housed tent cities for Haitian and Cuba migrants. He added that, if Camp 6 captives feel cold, they can walk into the open-air recreation yards, where the temperatures this time of year reaches the high 80s.
“We are assisting the Department of Defense in preparing a response to these allegations via the Department of Justice,” Durand said, “but they are absolutely false.”
AP’s reporting on the situation carries a more extensive denial from Durand:
The U.S. government has not filed a response to the motion. Navy Capt. Robert Durand, a spokesman for the prison, said prisoners are provided with bottled water and that the tap water is safe to drink.
“It’s potable water. It’s the same water I make my coffee with and that they make lunch with,” Durand said. He also denied that there had been any change to the air conditioning settings inside the prison camps.
Complaints about water quality and access to bottled water during hunger strikes are not new at Guantanamo, as similar claims from prisoners surfaced in 2005. Durand had better hope that he is correct in his claims regarding water quality and water sources, since the ICRC has the expertise to test water quality and has a history of doing so at prisons, so there is an independent entity onsite now that can directly assess the accuracy of his claims. Will ICRC be given access to water samples?
On Monday, I asked the question of whether the cancellation of regular commercial flights to Guantanamo was part of an effort by the military to cut off coverage of the hunger strike there. Yesterday, CNN obtained quotes from Guantanamo defense attorneys where they answer that question in the affirmative. The military also has grudgingly admitted that the strike is growing, but they still claim a much lower number of hunger strikers than the attorneys say are taking part in the strike. Head of Southern Command General John Kelly appears to be the chief military spokesperson spearheading the efforts to minimize the impact of the hunger strike. He has made multiple statements this week, appearing both in a press availability and in Congressional testimony.
From the CNN story, we have this regarding the military’s actions in cancelling flights and the impact this has on dealing with the hunger strike:
Lawyers from the firm Hadsell Stormer Richardson & Renick told CNN they had DoD approval for a meeting with Obaydullah next week but were told that the scheduled flight has been canceled.
“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.”
Providing more evidence that perhaps the best move President Obama can make for world affairs is to quickly appoint a new Secretary of Defense so that Leon Panetta can retire to a soundproof booth, five more polio workers in Pakistan paid with their lives for Panetta’s leak that conclusively tied Dr. Shakil Afridi and a vaccination ruse to the CIA effort to identify and kill Osama bin Laden. The tragic shootings in Pakistan consisted of three separate incidents in Karachi and one in Peshawar.
Dawn summarizes various news services’ reports on the shootings:
Four were killed in three different incidents in the port city of Karachi and the fifth in the northwestern city of Peshawar, on the second day of a nationwide three-day drive against the disease, which is endemic in Pakistan.
All of the victims were Pakistanis working with a UN-backed programme to eradicate polio.
Sagheer Ahmed, the health minister for Sindh province said he had ordered a halt to the anti-polio drive in the city in the wake of the shootings.
These killings come on the heels of previous incidents:
On Monday, police said a gunman killed a volunteer for the World Health Organization’s anti-polio campaign was shot dead on the city outskirts in Gadap Town.
Earlier in July 2012, a local paramedic associated with the polio vaccination was shot dead and a World Health Organisation doctor, Fosten Dido, from Ghana along with his driver were wounded in two separate attacks in the Sohrab Goth area.
WHO, a partner in government efforts to eradicate the disease, suspended vaccination activities in part of Pakistan’s largest city in July after a spate of bloody shootings.
These killings come just under three weeks since it was announced that Dr. Afridi had started a hunger strike at Peshawar Central Jail after the jail retaliated against him for his telephone interview with Fox News. Since the report of the start of the hunger strike, the jail has fired the guard whose phone was used for the interview, but I’ve seen no further reports on the status (or whereabouts) of Afridi. That is striking, since the report on Afridi’s hunger strike appeared within 24 hours of its apparent start. Further, we learn from the New York Times today that US funds for Pakistan’s military have once again begun to flow, despite repeated threats from various members of Congress that these funds would be blocked until Afridi is released from jail. These events also take place in the wake of Panetta’s ham-handed “clarification” last week on the status of Pakistan’s cooperation in anti-terrorism activity.
The Times article tells us that the Pentagon notified Congress of the release of funds to Pakistan on December 7, just a week after the Afridi hunger strike started on November 30. Is Afridi still in Peshawar Central Jail or has he been quietly released and removed from the country as part of the normalization of US-Pakistan relations?
The day before the fateful attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans and gave the Republicans Mitt’s desired “Jimmy Carter moment“, Fox News published an interview purported to be with Dr. Shakil Afridi, who helped the CIA in its quest to locate Osama bin Laden by carrying out a bogus “immunization” program aimed at collecting DNA. At the time, it was entirely unclear whether the interview was genuine. Now, however, there is no doubt that the interview was real. In response to his actions, authorities at Peshawar’s Central Jail have beaten and tortured Afridi and put him into more restrictive solitary confinement with no family or attorney visits allowed. In response, Afridi has started a hunger strike in an apparent attempt to bring attention to his plight and to get back the amenities which were taken away from him.
Reuters gives us the bare bones of the solitary confinement and hunger strike:
The Pakistani doctor who helped the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) hunt down Osama bin Laden started a hunger strike in his jail cell this week to protest against his living conditions, prison officials said on Thursday.
Prison officials in the northwestern city of Peshawar said they are keeping Afridi in solitary confinement and will not allow him to have visitors nor speak to anyone by telephone as punishment for a media interview he gave in September.
“After the interview in which Dr. Shakil Afridi levelled serious allegations against the country’s top spy agency, the prison authorities barred his family members and lawyers from meeting him,” said a prison official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
“In protest, Dr. Shakil has begun a hunger strike for an indefinite period.”
The “prison official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media” appears to have no appreciation of the irony of his making an unauthorized statement to the media describing Afridi’s punishment for making an unauthorized statement to the media.
It appears that Afridi made more telephone calls than just the one in which Fox News interviewed him:
An investigation following the September interview found that Afridi had bribed guards to use their cell phones to speak to journalists, family and friends, making a total of 58 calls, prison officials said. Six prison guards have been suspended.