Guantanamo Bay

  • April 16, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    President Obama promised but failed to shutter the Guantánamo Bay military prison and has refused to launch an investigation into the use of torture at the prison and other unknown or “black sites.” But groups like Human Rights Watch and many others, including inmates at the prison, strive to highlight the injustices and atrocities of the prison, rendition and military commissions.

    It’s not an easy endeavor in a nation where polls suggest that many people are not terribly concerned about the rights of people who the American government has labeled terrorist suspects. In a piece for The New York Times op-ed page that garnered notice, Samir Najl al Hasan Moqbel, a prisoner at Guantánamo for more than 10 years, explained his reasons for going on a hunger strike. He’s never been charged with a crime, he has been left to languish in a dark hole, where prison officials brutally force-feed him. “The situation is desperate now,” he writes. “All of the detainees are suffering deeply. At least 40 people are on a hunger strike. People are fainting with exhaustion every day. I have vomited blood.”

    It has been widely documented that military detainees have been tortured at Guantánamo and other unknown or “black” sites overseas, with the knowledge of top administration officials in the administration of George W. Bush. In 2011, Human Rights Watch issued a report documenting evidence that top Bush administration officials, including the president, approved of torture. (Office of Legal Counsel memoranda were eventually made public reveling the lengths attorneys took to justify torture.) The Constitution Project, as reported by The New York Times’ Scott Shane, has released an exhaustive report, more like a book, that adds “considerable detail” to the treatment of military detainees. See the group’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment.

    Another report from Seton Hall School of Law provides more evidence that the Guantánamo military tribunals are a sham.

    In “Spying on Attorneys at Gitmo,” the Seton Hall School of Law’s Center for Policy & Research, details a system of “surveillance and recording” devices in “designated attorney-client meeting rooms at the military prison.”

    Law Professor Mark Denbeaux, director of the law school’s policy and research center, said government surveillance of conversations between attorneys and military detainees greatly undermines the already wobbly legitimacy of the military commissions.

  • March 25, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Peter Jan Honigsberg, professor of law at the University of San Francisco and Director of the Witness to Guantanamo project and author of Our Nation Unhinged, the Human Consequences of the War on Terror

    Damien Corsetti was an interrogator at the Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan in 2002, where, according to The New York Times, he was known as the “King of Torture.”  In 2006, he was prosecuted for alleged abusive treatment he committed while an interrogator, but was acquitted.  Nevertheless, he told our Witness to Guantanamo project that he had mistreated his prisoners.

    When he began working in summer 2002, Corsetti believed in what he was doing.  He thought they were all guilty and, like most Americans, he was angry.  He explained how he had obtained information regarding several alleged plots through his interrogations in time for the U.S. to intervene and prevent the incidents from occurring.  He saved American lives.

    In the months that followed, however, he and other interrogators began to have doubts about their work. They asked a Judge Advocate General, or JAG lawyer, for advice.  The JAG attorney assured them that their actions were legal because the Bush administration had decided not to adhere to the Geneva Conventions. After hearing the JAG assessment, Corsetti felt obligated to follow orders.

    Corsetti told us how he would hood prisoners, tighten the cord at the neck, and then pour water over the hood.  The process wasn’t quite the same as “waterboarding,” but the detainees did experience the sensation of drowning or suffocating.

    He forced prisoners into extremely uncomfortable and awkward “stress positions” for hours.  He noted how the military later renamed the term “stress positions” to “safety positions,” explaining that the safety positions were for the safety of the interrogators and the military personnel on the base, not the detainees.

  • October 4, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Peter Jan Honigsberg a professor of law at the University of San Francisco and Director of the Witness to Guantanamo project. He is also the author of Our Nation Unhinged, the Human Consequences of the War on Terror (University of California Press).

    Adnan Latif, a Yemeni citizen, died at Guantanamo in early September. The military has not revealed how Adnan Latif died, but only that he was found unconscious in his cell.  However, like the detainee described below, Adnan Latif had lost hope, attempting suicide several times at Guantanamo. He was the ninth man to have died in Guantanamo, six reportedly had committed suicide. 

    Adnan Latif had been held in the detention center since early 2002, although he had never been charged with a crime. Both the Bush and Obama administrations recommended his transfer out of Guantanamo. In addition, in 2010 a federal district court granted Adnan Latif’s habeas petition for release. That decision, however, was overturned by the federal court of appeals last year, and the Supreme Court would not hear his further appeal. After Adnan Latif’s death, I decided to write the following piece about another tragic incident at the naval base. 

    A young man barely out of his teens had tried to commit suicide by hanging himself in a Guantanamo prison cell.  Although the prison guards were required to walk by the cells every 5-10 minutes, the guards did not discover him in time. When the guards cut him down and carried him to the clinic, he was brain dead. Prison guards, hospital corpsmen and other military staff who passed by him in the clinic saw the inert young man with his head slumped on his chest and his body shackled to his bed. 

    The military staff nicknamed him “Timmy,” after the disabled character in the animated show “South Park.” He was fed through feeding tubes pushed up through his nostrils and down into his stomach. Ensure and similar liquids were poured into the tubes at mealtimes.

    The Witness to Guantanamo project has interviewed 97 people in 14 countries including former detainees, as well as people who had lived or worked at the naval base or who had worked on Guantanamo issues, such as prison guards, interpreters, chaplains, medical personnel, psychologists, prosecutors, JAG attorneys, habeas attorneys, interrogators, FBI agents, NCIS agents, high-ranking government officials, high-ranking military officials and parents and wives of former detainees. Recently, the project interviewed the hospital corpsman who told us about “Timmy.” We asked him for his thoughts on “Timmy” and why he thought the young detainee had tried to commit suicide. 

  • March 1, 2012
    Cheating Justice
    How Bush And Cheney Attacked The Rule Of Law, Plotted To Avoid Prosecution, And What We Can Do About It
    Cynthia L. Cooper and Elizabeth Holtzman

    By Cynthia L. Cooper, an award-winning journalist and lawyer, and Elizabeth Holtzman, a lawyer, former prosecutor and former member of Congress who served on the House committee that investigated Watergate.

    When President George W. Bush and his team left office, mounds of misdeeds were left to fester. Some of their transgressions in office were so shocking – lying to Congress in order to embroil the nation in war and occupation, illegally wiretapping Americans without warrants, authorizing torture that had been outlawed by U.S. and international law – that he and Vice President Cheney probably should have been impeached and removed from office.

    Instead, they completed their terms and sped away. Even though Bush publicly announced in his 2010 memoir that he had personally authorized waterboarding, a recognized form of torture  -- “Damn right,” he is quoted as saying – hardly a peep was heard about seeking accountability. But how can that be? Key to preserving our democracy is the concept that no person is above the law.

    In order to ignite a national conversation on the topic, we set out to show how and why the president and vice president should be held accountable – especially, how they can be prosecuted. That meant looking at the available evidence, investigating precisely what laws are implicated and determining, as best as possible, whether a prima facie case could be made. We found enough to make a courageous prosecutor sit up and take notice, although the statute of limitations is ticking in some areas. We found clear problems under laws related to the conspiracy to deceive Congress, foreign intelligence surveillance and U.S. anti-torture laws – each of which needs prosecutorial attention.

    Along the way, we found something else disturbing, too: a repeated pattern by which Bush and Cheney took extraordinary efforts to protect themselves from the sting of the law. In Cheating Justice: How Bush and Cheney Attacked the Rule of Law, Plotted to Avoid Prosecution – And What We Can Do About It, we look at both: how the ex-president and vice-president can be held personally accountable, but, also, how they tried to manipulate the system from inside to keep themselves from being held to account.

    Perhaps the most startling example of their extraordinary actions was the gutting of the War Crimes Act of 1996. 

  • January 18, 2012
    Guest Post

    Editor’s Note: This piece first appeared at The Huffington Post on Jan. 11, the ten-year anniversary of the opening of the military prison at Guantánamo Bay.

    By Gary Isaac, Counsel, Mayer Brown LLP, and an Advisory Board member for the American Constitution Society's Chicago Lawyer Chapter. Mr. Isaac is also a contributor to The Guantánamo Lawyers: Inside A Prison Outside The Law.

    Today's an anniversary, but there's no reason to celebrate. Ten years ago the first detainees were brought to Guantanamo Bay. Guantanamo has undermined American values and jeopardized our national security for a decade -- that's long enough. So I've joined a group of retired military officers and habeas attorneys calling for Guantanamo's immediate closure. We've launched and have initiated a petition urging President Obama to honor the commitment he made, on his second day in office, to close the prison.

    Signatories to our Mission Statement include Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Chief of Staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell; Gen. David M. Brahms (Ret.); Rear Adm. Donald J. Guter (Ret.); Rear Adm. John D. Hutson (Ret.); Col. Morris Davis, former chief prosecutor for the Military Commissions at Guantanamo; retired federal Judge John J. Gibbons, who argued the first Guantanamo case in the Supreme Court; along with many other colleagues who've been involved in the Guantanamo litigation.

    Over half the prisoners still at Guantanamo were cleared for release years ago, by an Obama Administration task force made up of the top intelligence and law enforcement officials in the nation. Some were cleared previously by the Bush Administration -- as long ago as 2004. These men are hardly the "worst of the worst" -- they're simply politically inconvenient.