Andy Worthington Discusses Guantánamo With World Can’t Wait

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by Andy Worthington
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
12 Aug. 2009

On Sunday, I was delighted to take part in a conference call arranged by World Can’t Wait, consisting of an interview with Frank Harper, followed by a question and answer session with those listening in. This was a novel set-up for me, but I thought it worked well, and I’m delighted that it’s now available as an MP3 on World Can’t Wait’s website.

As World Can’t Wait explains in an introduction to the recording on its website, “The conversation ranged from the origins of systematic torture at the very beginnings of the US invasion of Afghanistan, to the significance of the continued denial of habeas corpus rights to the prisoners caught in the US dragnet, to the ways in which the Obama administration is continuing, with slight modification, the policies of the Bush Regime towards the Geneva Conventions and the treatment of prisoners snared in its war of terror.”

In a wide-ranging discussion, I was pleased to cover, in particular, some of the reasons why so many people who had no connection to militancy whatsoever ended up in Guantánamo, talking about the lack of screening in the prisons in Afghanistan that were used to process the prisoners, the bounty payments that were widespread, examples of Afghans betrayed by rivals or seized in raids based on dubious intelligence, and examples of the many prisoners who were seized in Pakistan, many miles from the battlefields of Afghanistan, where the bounty payments proved appealing to representatives of the Pakistani government and intelligence services.

I also had the opportunity to talk about how — outside of the specific torture program tailored for the supposed “high-value detainees” subjected to “extraordinary rendition” and detention in secret CIA prisons — the use of torture was implemented at Guantánamo because, in spite of having rounded up prisoners in a distressingly random manner, those overseeing the operation concluded that the reason that the prisoners were not producing “actionable intelligence” was not because they knew nothing, but because they had been trained to resist interrogation by al-Qaeda. As I have explained before, the end result was something akin to the witch-hunts of the seventeenth century.

I also spoke about the fundamental problem with the definitions used in the “War on Terror,” in which the government confused acts of terrorism with acts of war, and decided to detain people neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, not as criminal suspects, to be put forward for trial in federal courts, and after a discussion about Guantánamo’s particularly iconic significance, I also discussed the prisoners’ habeas corpus rights, praising the lawyers and the courts — including, of course, the Supreme Court — and pointing out how complicit the nation’s politicians were in attempting to leave the prisoners in a legal limbo forever. I also discussed the recent habeas corpus cases — and the Justice Department’s unbroken chain of obstruction, from the Bush administration to the Obama administration — which, as I’ve been reporting recently (here and here), has led to an 85 percent success rate in the courts, and repeated humiliation for the government, as, time and again, it has brought feeble and unwinnable cases to court.

I also took the opportunity to talk about the worrying situation at Bagram, in Afghanistan, where the prisoners are still held without any of the legal rights granted to the Guantánamo prisoners, because the Obama administration is resisting any form of outside scrutiny, even though dozens of foreign prisoners were rendered there up to seven years ago, and are, effectively, the same as the prisoners in Guantánamo, as Judge John D. Bates recognized in April. I also discussed my fears that, although the administration has some basis for arguing that Bagram is a wartime detention facility, and that habeas rights should not extend to Afghan prisoners seized in Afghanistan, President Obama has provided us with no proof that the Geneva Conventions have been fully reinstated by the military, and that, as a result, it is legitimate to fear that prisoners held there are still being subjected to a regime in which, although outright torture may well have been outlawed, the focus is still on intelligence-gathering, and not on holding prisoners to keep them off the battlefield until the end of hostilities.

The session concluded with some lively questions, and I was particularly pleased to be able to end up by talking about the recent rumors regarding the appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate the Bush administration’s crimes, and to express my hope that, even if Attorney General Eric Holder decides to restrict his investigation to those who exceeded the rules laid down in the notorious “torture memos” issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, the launch of any investigation whatsoever will point inexorably to those further up the chain of command, and will, eventually lead to the Office of the Vice President, where, as we know but cannot yet prove, every aspect of the torture program required the approval of Dick Cheney or his legal counsel (and later Chief of Staff) David Addington.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009. Visit his website at:


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