Are there no depths to which conservatives will not sink in their ardent embrace of the war on terrorism? The latest monstrosity from the right came courtesy of Keep America Safe, a toxic organization headed by Liz Cheney, the daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who recently put out a disgraceful TV ad, “Who Are the Al-Qaeda Seven?” The ad questioned the loyalty and patriotism of nine lawyers in the Justice Department who had represented prisoners at Guantánamo before joining the DoJ.
To be fair, Liz Cheney’s ad has backfired badly, drawing the ire not only of those on the left, but also of heavyweight conservatives, nineteen of whom signed a statement last week denouncing it, declaring, “We consider these attacks both unjust to the individuals in question and destructive of any attempt to build lasting mechanisms for counterterrorism adjudications,” and adding that the attacks on the lawyers “undermine the Justice system more broadly,” by “delegitimizing” any system in which accused terrorists have lawyers, whether that system is federal court trials or military commissions.
Those who signed the statement included former Solicitor General Ken Starr, former Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, former White House lawyer Brad Berenson, John Bellinger, the former legal adviser to the National Security Council and the State Department, and two former detainee policy officials in the Bush administration, Matthew Waxman, and Charles “Cully” Stimson, who, ironically, was himself forced to resign from the DoD in 2007 after starting a similar witch-hunt against corporate law firms whose lawyers represented prisoners at Guantánamo.
Obama’s dwindling band of true believers has taken heart that their man has finally delivered on one of his many promises—the closing of the Guantanamo prison. But the prison is not being closed. It is being moved to Illinois, if the Republicans permit.
In truth, Obama has handed his supporters another defeat. Closing Guantanamo meant ceasing to hold people in violation of our legal principles of habeas corpus and due process and ceasing to torture them in violation of US and international laws.
All Obama would be doing would be moving 100 people, against whom the US government is unable to bring a case, from the prison in Guantanamo to a prison in Thomson, Illinois.
Are the residents of Thomson despondent that the US government has chosen their town as the site on which to continue its blatant violation of US legal principles? No, the residents are happy. It means jobs.
The hapless prisoners had a better chance of obtaining release from Guantanamo. Now the prisoners are up against two US senators, a US representative, a mayor, and a state governor who have a vested interest in the prisoners’ permanent detention in order to protect the new prison jobs in the hamlet devastated by unemployment.
Neither the public nor the media have ever shown any interest in how the detainees came to be incarcerated. Most of the detainees were unprotected people who were captured by Afghan war lords and sold to the Americans as “terrorists” in order to collect a proffered bounty. It was enough for the public and the media that the Defense Secretary at the time, Donald Rumsfeld, declared the Guantanamo detainees to be the “780 most dangerous people on earth.”
This is the full text of an exclusive advance feature by Scott Horton that will appear in the March 2010 Harper’s Magazine. The issue will be available on newsstands the week of February 15.
1. “Asymmetrical Warfare”
When President Barack Obama took office last year, he promised to “restore the standards of due process and the core constitutional values that have made this country great.” Toward that end, the president issued an executive order declaring that the extra-constitutional prison camp at Guantánamo Naval Base “shall be closed as soon as practicable, and no later than one year from the date of this order.” Obama has failed to fulfill his promise. Some prisoners there are being charged with crimes, others released, but the date for closing the camp seems to recede steadily into the future. Furthermore, new evidence now emerging may entangle Obama’s young administration with crimes that occurred during the George W. Bush presidency, evidence that suggests the current administration failed to investigate seriously—and may even have continued—a cover-up of the possible homicides of three prisoners at Guantánamo in 2006.
Late in the evening on June 9 that year, three prisoners at Guantánamo died suddenly and violently. Salah Ahmed Al-Salami, from Yemen, was thirty-seven. Mani Shaman Al-Utaybi, from Saudi Arabia, was thirty. Yasser Talal Al-Zahrani, also from Saudi Arabia, was twenty-two, and had been imprisoned at Guantánamo since he was captured at the age of seventeen. None of the men had been charged with a crime, though all three had been engaged in hunger strikes to protest the conditions of their imprisonment. They were being held in a cell block, known as Alpha Block, reserved for particularly troublesome or high-value prisoners.
As news of the deaths emerged the following day, the camp quickly went into lockdown. The authorities ordered nearly all the reporters at Guantánamo to leave and those en route to turn back. The commander at Guantánamo, Rear Admiral Harry Harris, then declared the deaths “suicides.” In an unusual move, he also used the announcement to attack the dead men. “I believe this was not an act of desperation,” he said, “but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.” Reporters accepted the official account, and even lawyers for the prisoners appeared to believe that they had killed themselves. Only the prisoners’ families in Saudi Arabia and Yemen rejected the notion.
Two years later, the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service, which has primary investigative jurisdiction within the naval base, issued a report supporting the account originally advanced by Harris, now a vice-admiral in command of the Sixth Fleet. The Pentagon declined to make the NCIS report public, and only when pressed with Freedom of Information Act demands did it disclose parts of the report, some 1,700 pages of documents so heavily redacted as to be nearly incomprehensible. The NCIS report was carefully cross-referenced and deciphered by students and faculty at the law school of Seton Hall University in New Jersey, and their findings, released in November 2009, made clear why the Pentagon had been unwilling to make its conclusions public. The official story of the prisoners’ deaths was full of unacknowledged contradictions, and the centerpiece of the report—a reconstruction of the events—was simply unbelievable.
Today, I made my way to a TV studio in central London to hook up with Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez in New York to discuss the recent uproar over the release of Yemeni prisoners from Guantánamo, and the Pentagon’s most recent claims that 1 in 5 released prisoners have engaged in terrorist activities, for Democracy Now! The segment, entitled, “After Years in Guantánamo Prison Without Charge, Future Even More Uncertain For Yemeni Detainees,” is available below, and is featured here on the Democracy Now! website:
Essentially, the Yemeni story involves inflated claims about the failed Christmas bomber’s links with Saudis released from Guantánamo, an almost total aversion to recognizing that the “Saudi recidivists” were released by George W. Bush, despite the advice of the intelligence agencies, a similar aversion to recognizing that, in contrast, Obama has been extremely careful about releasing prisoners from Guantánamo, and a complete disregard for the fact that the cleared Yemenis have now been made a victim of political maneuvering.
On Monday, a federal court ordered the government to turn over a videotape of the brutal interrogation of a Guantanamo detainee to the prisoner’s lawyers.
A federal court judge on Monday revealed that the brutal interrogation of an alleged “war on terror” detainee imprisoned at Guantanamo for more than seven years was videotaped and she ordered the government to turn over the materials to the prisoner’s lawyers.
Mohammed al-Qahtani was someone Bush administration officials had referred to as the “20th hijacker” of the 9/11 attacks. The government claimed the Saudi man intended to take part in 9/11, but he was denied entry into the United States by an immigration official a month before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
As reported previously, specific interrogation methods used against al-Qahtani were approved by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in a December 2002 action memorandum.
The treatment of al-Qahtani was cataloged in an 84-page “torture log” that was leaked in 2006. The “torture log” shows that beginning in November 2002 and continuing well into January 2003, al-Qahtani was subjected to sleep deprivation, interrogated in 20-hour stretches, poked with IVs and left to urinate on himself.
In an interview with The Washington Post last January, Susan Crawford, the retired judge who heads military commissions at Guantanamo, became the highest ranking US official who said the interrogation of al-Qahtani met the legal definition of torture and, as a result, she would not allow a war crimes tribunal against him to proceed because the evidence against him was tainted.
We felt compelled to write to you regarding your recent call for the formation of a “Truth Commission.” According to your press comments, this Commission is supposed to look at the following:
* the politicization of prosecution in the Justice Department
* the wiretapping of U.S. citizens
* the flawed intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq
* the use of torture at Guantanamo and so-called black sites abroad
These are serious allegations of criminal activity by certain members of the Bush Administration. While we applaud your initiative in looking into these matters, we feel this approach is wrong.
As the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, you already have the responsibility and legal authority to investigate matters relating to federal criminal law without having to form a special commission. You are also bound by your oath of office to support and uphold the Constitution by ensuring that those who govern also abide by the rule of law.
Furthermore, a “Truth Commission” will not fix the real problems that our country faces, nor will it guarantee that we will get to the truth. The 9/11 Commission, which you want to model your commission after, is a perfect example of that flawed process.
Note from Editor: Harper’s magazine was my first magazine subscription. They have amazing stories, insights and political essays. Here is an outstanding example of a tradition called the Harper’s Index.
Number of news stories from 1998 to Election Day 2000 containing “George W. Bush” and “aura of inevitability”: 206
Minimum number of Bush appointees who have regulated industries they used to represent as lobbyists: 98
Number of Chevron oil tankers named after Condoleezza Rice, at the time she became foreign policy adviser: 1
Months before September 11, 2001, that Cheney’s Energy Task Force investigated Iraq’s oil resources: 6
Hours after the 9/11 attacks that an Alaska congressman speculated they may have been committed by “eco-terrorists”: 9
Date on which the first contract for a book about September 11 was signed: 9/13/01
Number of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and North African men detained in the U.S. in the eight weeks after 9/11: 1,182
Number of them ever charged with a terrorism-related crime: 0
Number charged with an immigration violation: 762
Days since the federal government first placed the nation under an “elevated terror alert” that the level has been relaxed: 0
Minimum number of calls the FBI received in fall 2001 from Utah residents claiming to have seen Osama bin Laden: 20
Number of box cutters taken from U.S. airline passengers since January 2002: 105,075
Percentage of Americans in 2006 who believed that U.S. Muslims should have to carry special I.D.: 39
Chances an American in 2002 believed the government should regulate comedy routines that make light of terrorism: 2 in 5
Rank of Mom, Dad, and Rudolph Giuliani among those whom 2002 college graduates said they most wished to emulate: 1, 2, 3
Number of members of the rock band Anthrax who said they hoarded Cipro so as to avoid an “ironic death”: 1
Estimated total calories members of Congress burned giving Bush’s 2002 State of the Union standing ovations: 22,000
Percentage of the amendments in the Bill of Rights that are violated by the USA PATRIOT Act, according to the ACLU: 50
Minimum number of laws that Bush signing statements have exempted his administration from following: 1,069
Estimated number of U.S. intelligence reports on Iraq that were based on information from a single defector: 100
Number of times the defector had ever been interviewed by U.S. intelligence agents: 0
Date on which Bush said of Osama bin Laden, “I truly am not that concerned about him”: 3/13/02
Days after the U.S. invaded Iraq that Sony trademarked “Shock & Awe” for video games: 1
Days later that the company gave up the trademark, citing “regrettable bad judgment”: 25
Number of books by Henry Kissinger found in Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz’s mansion: 2
Number by then–New York Times reporter Judith Miller: 1
Factor by which an Iraqi in 2006 was more likely to die than in the last year of the Saddam regime: 3.6
The United States has once again declared war, but this time it is a war on basic human rights.
The Bush administration has been fighting for the power to lock people up indefinitely simply on the nod of the president. The assurance that harsh treatment is reserved only for “terrorists” is meaningless when the process for determining who is a terrorist depends on the sole discretion of the executive. Strong constitutional procedures must be enforced through all three branches of government or basic human rights can not prevail.
Unfortunately, basic human rights deniers scored a disturbing victory on July 18, when a federal appeals court ruled that Ali al-Marri would likely continue his seven and a half year wait without ever having had the chance to defend himself. Now that the designation “enemy combatant,” applies to someone held inside the United States who was denied basic human rights, and that treatment is now unchallenged by US courts, the chilling implication is that the ruling may not only apply to foreign nationals, but to US citizens as well.
Osama bin Laden’s driver knew the target of the fourth hijacked jetliner in the September 11 attacks, a prosecutor said on Tuesday in an attempt to draw a link between Salim Hamdan and the al Qaeda leadership in the first Guantanamo war crimes trial.
Hamdan’s lawyer said in opening statements that the Yemeni, held for nearly seven years before his trial, was just a paid employee of the fugitive al Qaeda leader, a driver in the motor pool who never joined the militant group or plotted attacks on America.
But prosecutor Timothy Stone told the six-member jury of U.S. military officers who will decide Hamdan’s guilt or innocence that Hamdan had inside knowledge of the 2001 attacks on the United States because he overheard a conversation between bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
“If they hadn’t shot down the fourth plane it would’ve hit the dome,” Stone, a Navy officer, said in his opening remarks.