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What’s a War Crime? Who Decides?

2016 March 6
by Ben Achtenberg

Ex-GITMO Commander Avoids Torture Probe

As reported by The Intercept, the former commander of the U.S. prison and “interrogation” center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, has refused to obey a French court’s subpoena to testify on his roleGnMiller-1 in the detention and torture of two French citizens, Mourad Benchellali and Nizar Sassi. French authorities acquitted both men of terrorism charges in 2009.

U.S. Army General Geoffrey Miller (retired) did not show up for questioning, as had been predicted by Benchellali’s attorney, William Bourdon, who noted that “U.S. civilian and military officials refuse to be held to account by [foreign] judges.” Though he will be requesting an arrest warrant for Miller, the warrant cannot be enforced unless the General enters France. The judge in the case has requested relevant documents regarding the plaintiff’s imprisonment at Guantánamo, but has not received a response from the United States.

In an email to The Intercept an attorney for the non-profit Center for Constitutional Rights said, “Miller’s absence speaks volumes about the Obama administration’s continued unwillingness to confront America’s torture legacy…The administration not only refuses to investigate U.S. officials like Miller for torture, it apparently remains unwilling to cooperate when other countries seek to uphold their international obligations to prosecute torturers.”

With this as a backdrop, here’s
some other recent news from GITMO:

Saudi citizen and BShaker-2ritish resident Shaker Aamer was picked up by bounty hunters and delivered to US forces in December 2001 during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, where he had been working. After his “rendition” to our prison at Guantanamo, Aamer was held without trial, despite repeated demands by the British government and others for his release. Though “approved for transfer” by both the Bush Administration (2007) and Obama’s (2009), Aamer was not freed until October 30th of last year – after more than 13 years without ever being charged. Because of his participation in protests against detention conditions, he had spent much of that time on hunger strikes and in solitary confinement, where he was said to have lost more than 40% of his body weight. At one point in 2011, his lawyer said, “I do not think it is stretching matters to say that he is gradually dying in Guantánamo Bay,” yet the US denied requests for an independent medical examination.

Tariq Ba Odah has not been so fortunate. As recounted in a recent Reuters article, Odah been has imprisoned at Guantánamo for almost 14 years, though he was cleared for release by U.S. military, intelligence, and diplomatic officials five years ago. Despite an agonizing campaign by the Obama administration and the State Department to arrange for his release, every effort by to arrange his transfer to another country has been blocked or delayed by the Pentagon.

Reuters goes into extensive and disturbing detail – on this case and a number of others – regarding the lengths to which the military have gone to frustrate administration efforts, as well as on its motives. “Partly as a result of the Pentagon’s maneuvers, it is increasingly doubtful that Obama will fulfill a pledge he made in the 2008 presidential election to close the detention center…Obama criticized President George W. Bush for having set up the prison for foreigners seized in the ‘War on Terror’ after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S., and then keeping them for years without trial…Today, with little more than a year remaining in his presidency, it still holds 107 detainees.”

“Military officials…continue to make transfers more difficult and protracted than necessary, administration officials said. In particular, they cite General John F. Kelly, in charge of the U.S. Southern Command, which includes Guantánamo. They said that Kelly, whose son was killed fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, opposed the president’s policy of closing Guantánamo, and that he and his command have created obstacles for visiting delegations.”

…and a view from home:

In a recent column, Frida BerrigShaker-1anreflects on an item in her local, Connecticut, newspaper about the return of a local National Guard unit from the Guantánamo Naval Base: “One woman…told the reporter, ‘We have been apart for 10-and-a-half months. It’s been a really long year by myself, and we’re so excited to be back together finally.’ There were balloons, flowers, tears and children in adorable outfits…” Berrigan acknowledges that she has no way of knowing if any of these Guard members “had anything to do with the Muslim men who have been held there in extremis for 14 years.” Yet, she notes, “as the Connecticut guards were preparing to come home, three men were supposed to leave Guantánamo as well. But they were not welcomed home with flowers and balloons. They did not return to their home countries.”

She mentions Shaker Aamer: “At Guantánamo, he was beaten, tortured and almost asphyxiated. He was held in solitary confinement for 360 days at one point during his imprisonment…Aamer met his 13-year-old son Faris for the first time on October 31, 2015. His older children are now young adults. He told the BBC, “I left them when they were little tiny kids, hugging them, carrying them all the time. And now they are grown up…They look at me and they’re just trying to know who is this person?”

“Tariq Mahmoud Ahmed al Sawah was born in Egypt and sent to Bosnia…Abdul Aziz Abdullah Ali al Suadi, a Yemeni, was resettled in Montenegro. They join a growing cadre of displaced former Guantánamo prisoners, trying to make a life for themselves in new and unfamiliar countries after more than a decade of imprisonment, torture and mistreatment…Mohammed Ali Abdullah Bwazir of Yemen was not told where he was going and according to his lawyer, John Chandler, was “frightened” to leave the prison headed to an unknown country, where he had no ties or connections…“Can you imagine being there for 14 years and going to a plane where you could finally leave, and saying, ‘No, take me back to my cell?’”

“Time. We can’t get it back. When it’s gone, it’s gone. The families embracing their returning fathers, sons and husbands after 10 months of separation in Connecticut know it. Shaker Aamer and his children…meeting almost as strangers after 13 years apart know it too….and so do those 91 men who remain at Guantánamo, while their families wait for them.”

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