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News & Analysis

Long live Gitmo, and indefinite detention without trial

Tahir Mahmoud

“These people are the worst of the worst,” bellow some family members. “We cannot let them loose to attack America or Americans again.” Others chime in: “They have better facilities here than they have at home..."

Remember Barack Obama’s bold pronouncement on the day of his inauguration that he would close down Guantanamo Bay (Gitmo, for short) within one year? Far from closing the torture chamber, it is thriving and there appear no prospects of its being shut down any time soon. Instead, the Pentagon arranges regular visits by family members of 9/11 victims to the American gulag established on illegally occupied Cuban territory with an eager media in tow.

“These people are the worst of the worst,” bellow some family members. “We cannot let them loose to attack America or Americans again. Terrorists must not be allowed to roam free.” Others chime in: “They have better facilities here than they have at home.” So why let them go, seems to be the message; they must be enjoying themselves so much at Gitmo that they would be crazy to want to go back home to their mud hovels in Afghanistan, Yemen or wherever they were kidnapped from.

The only problem is that most of the people kidnapped by American troops and bounty hunters from around the world are completely innocent. Let us look at some statistics. Of the more than 700 people that have been processed through Gitmo since early 2002, only 192 remain there today. Of these, according to theUS Justice Department’s task force report of last January, “about 50 must be held indefinitely without trial.”

Why, and what about the rest?

The task force declared these 50 detainees to be “too dangerous” to release but un-prosecutable because their trials could compromise intelligence-gathering or the detainees could challenge evidence obtained through torture such as water-boarding, prolonged sleep deprivation, held in extremely stressful positions or even in extremely hot or cold conditions. Human rights advocates have criticized Obama’s failure to live up to his January 2009 promise to close Gitmo within a year as well as reliance on indefinite detention, a mechanism devised during George Bush’s administration that they deem unconstitutional. “There is no statutory regime in America that allows us to hold people without charge or trial indefinitely,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, after release of the task force report.

The task force recommended that Guantanamo Bay detainees be divided into three main groups: about 35 who should be prosecuted in federal or military courts; at least 110 who can be released, either immediately or eventually; and the nearly 50 who must be detained without trial.

The group of at least 110 detainees cleared for release includes two categories. The task force deemed approximately 80 detainees, including about 30 Yemenis, eligible for immediate repatriation or resettlement in a third country. About 30 other Yemenis were placed in a category of their own, with their release contingent upon dramatically stabilized conditions in their home country, where the government has been waging war on its own people that has now been joined by the Americans and their Saudi puppets, all under the label of fighting a branch of al-Qaeda and/or fighting a civil war. Obama suspended the transfer of Gitmo detainees to Yemen in the wake of the bizarre Christmas Day underwear bomber who allegedly attempted to blow up a United Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. The alleged bomber, Nigerian citizen Farouk Abdulmutallab, boarded a flight in Lagos and changed planes at Amsterdam.

His moves should have raised red flags from the moment he arrived at the airport in Lagos destined for the US. He had bought a ticket with cash; his father Umaru Abdulmutallab, who has links with the American and Israeli intelligence agencies, had already alerted both to his son’s extremist views, and Farouk checked no luggage for his flight. Yet when he arrived at Amsterdam airport, he was whisked through security by the Israeli security company, International Consultants on Targeted Security (ICTS), that handles security for a number of airlines, among them United, Delta and other US-based airlines. Was this a set-up job to justify US attacks in Yemen that had in any case started a week earlier in which more than 100 innocent Yemeni villagers were killed by American bombers? The Christmas Day bomber story is full of holes and cannot stand scrutiny but when the aim is to push a particular policy, facts are not allowed to intrude in the way.

In any case, if Farouk Abdulmutallab’s case was so serious, why has the US not attacked Nigeria instead of Yemen? Besides, what have Gitmo’s Yemeni detainees to do with the Christmas Day bombing plot, real or concocted? Essen-tially, all Yemenis now held at Gitmo have little prospect of being released anytime soon despite there being no evidence against them of any wrongdoing.

Some European officials, who would like to see Guantanamo Bay closed without instituting indefinite detention, are advocating the creation of an internationally funded rehabilitation center for terrorism suspects in Yemen and possibly Afghanistan. They say such a facility would gradually allow the transfer of all detainees from those countries back to their homelands. A majority of the detainees slated for prolonged detention are either Yemeni or Afghan, and European officials think the others could eventually be resettled under close supervision.

The US’s designation of some of the detainees as “the worst of the worst” is based on completely false premises. In fact, there is no basis in law for the US to designate people as such. In the US Congress, there are ten bills pending that are linked to the Gitmo detainees. They range in offensiveness from demanding from the administration more information about detainees before their release can be considered to those that adamantly refuse to countenance any release because as far these congressmen/women are concerned, these people are, in the words of the now discredited former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the “worst of the worst”, hardcore “terrorists” intent on doing damage to the US and its interests (emphasis added).

The case of two detainees exposes the lie about the “worst of the worst” argument. One is Canadian-bornOmar Khadr who was 15 years old at the time of his arrest in Afghanistan in July 2002 and, therefore a child soldier. In recent weeks, American prosecutors have proposed that if he were to plead guilty to lesser charges, they would be prepared to make a deal under which he could serve between three to five years and then be released. His defence team has dismissed the suggestion saying their client is completely innocent and the military tribunal where he is being tried is a travesty of justice. During hearings two months ago, four journalists, among them Michelle Sheppard of the Toronto Star who has covered Omar Khadr’s case with great diligence, were barred from the kangaroo courtroom because they mentioned the name of sergeant Joshua Claus, a notorious torturer. Claus had murdered an innocent Afghan taxi driver by beating him with a club in April 2002. Claus had also interrogated and tortured Omar Khadr more than 38 times. Claus was court-martialled for murder but served merely five months before being released. Khadr continues to languish in the Gitmo torture chamber.

The other case relates to Mohamed Hassan Odaini, a 26-year-old Yemeni arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and detained in Guantanamo ever since. According to court documents, Odaini was sent to Pakistan by his father, a Yemeni government worker, in mid-2001 for religious studies. Odaini eventually enrolled at Salafia University, where he lived in a dormitory. On March 27, 2002, a friend invited him to his home, which was in an off-campus guest house. Odaini decided to spend the night there. At 2 am, Pakistani police raided the house, alleged to have been a haven for al-Qaeda operatives, and arrested Odaini and 12 other men.

For the past eight years, Odaini has maintained that he was a student, had no knowledge of or ties to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, and had no interest in joining terrorist forces. The other arrested men independently and consistently identified Odaini as a student who had come to the house for that one night. The government offered no other credible evidence against Odaini; on separate occasions officials in the Bush and Obama administrations recommended his release. Yet for some inexplicable and inexcusable reasons, Odaini continues to languish behind bars.

The government has “kept a young man from Yemen in detention in Cuba from age eighteen to age twenty-six,” wrote Judge Henry H. Kennedy Jr. in a decision made public on June 10. “They have prevented him from seeing his family and denied him the opportunity to complete his studies and embark on a career. The evidence before the Court shows that holding Odaini in custody at such great cost to him has done nothing to make the United States more secure.” Judge Kennedy, of the US District Court for the District of Columbia, concluded that there is “no evidence that Odaini has any connection to Al Qaeda. …The Court therefore emphatically concludes that Odaini’s motion [for release] must be granted.” American neocons will no doubt denounce Judge Kennedy as an al-Qaeda sympathiser. Fox News and its rightwing pundits will have a field day.

Despite the court order, Odaini may not see freedom anytime soon because of Obama’s freeze on all detainees’ transfer in the wake of the Christmas Day bombing episode.

America’s claims to being a society based on justice, its alleged adherence to the rule of law and all other tall claims that the world hears ad nauseum, are little more than a cruel hoax.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 39, No. 4

Jumada' al-Akhirah 18, 14312010-06-01

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