I was delighted to be invited to discuss Guantánamo on Democracy Now! this morning, just an hour after the story first broke that the Obama administration is preparing to bring Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other prisoners to the US mainland to face trials in federal court for their alleged involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
Alleged 9/11 Mastermind and 4 Other Gitmo Prisoners to Stand Trial in NY Federal Court
Attorney General Eric Holder is expected to announce today that five men accused of plotting the September 11, 2001 attacks, including alleged mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, will be tried in a criminal court in New York instead of a military commission. The move marks one of the first major steps by the Obama administration to close the prison at Guantanamo. To assess the future of Guantanamo Bay and the more than 200 men still in detention there, we speak with British journalist and historian Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison. [includes rush transcript]
video and transcript: Alleged 9/11 Mastermind and 4 Other Gitmo Prisoners to Stand Trial in NY Federal Court
As I explained to Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, this is good news to the extent that the whole of the “War on Terror” – with its egregious human rights violations – was supposedly justified as being necessary for the pursuit and capture of those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and although I believe that the government will be able to avoid having to dwell on the fact that Mohammed and his co-defendants were all tortured in secret CIA prisons if the Justice Department is able to produce any evidence whatsoever of their involvement in the attacks, I explained to Amy and Juan that I was deeply disappointed to hear that it is expected that other prisoners – including Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, another CIA prisoner, who, like Mohammed and Abu Zubaydah, was subjected to waterboarding, a form of controlled drowning – will not face a federal court trial, but will, instead, be put forward for trial by Military Commission.
As I have explained at length over the last two and a half years (and as the Commissions’ former prosecutor, Morris Davis, explained in a op-ed for the Wall Street Journal this week), the revival of the discredited Commissions, which struggled in vain to establish their legitimacy over the course of seven years, demonstrates only that the administration lacks the courage to trust the federal courts, and, as a result, is prepared to endorse the existence of a second-tier judicial system to be used in cases where it fears that the evidence will not be strong enough to secure a conviction.
I count myself fortunate to have had this interview scheduled on the day that such an important story broke, but was also glad that there was time to discuss – and show clips from – my new documentary film “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash), which I have been showing in New York, Washington D.C. and the Bay Area over the last week, and which was the initial spur for my appearance on the show.
I was also rather touched that I was able to take part in the last ever show in the firehouse on Lafayette Street, where Democracy Now! has spent so many long and happy years, and I wish Amy, Juan and the rest of the team all the best in their new studio in Chelsea.
About “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo”
“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” is a new documentary film, directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington (and inspired by Andy’s book, The Guantánamo Files). The film tells the story of Guantánamo (and includes sections on extraordinary rendition and secret prisons) with a particular focus on how the Bush administration turned its back on domestic and international laws, how prisoners were rounded up in Afghanistan and Pakistan without adequate screening (and often for bounty payments), and why some of these men may have been in Afghanistan or Pakistan for reasons unconnected with militancy or terrorism (as missionaries or humanitarian aid workers, for example).
The film is based around interviews with former prisoners (Moazzam Begg and, in his first major interview, Omar Deghayes, who was released in December 2007), lawyers for the prisoners (Clive Stafford Smith in the UK and Tom Wilner in the US), and journalist and author Andy Worthington, and also includes appearances from Guantánamo’s former Muslim chaplain James Yee, Shakeel Begg, a London-based Imam, and the British human rights lawyer Gareth Peirce.
Focusing on the stories of three particular prisoners — Shaker Aamer (who is still held), Binyam Mohamed (who was released in February 2009) and Omar Deghayes — “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” provides a powerful rebuke to those who believe that Guantánamo holds “the worst of the worst” and that the Bush administration was justified in responding to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 by holding men neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects with habeas corpus rights, but as “illegal enemy combatants” with no rights whatsoever.
“Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” is a Spectacle Production (74 minutes, 2009).
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 I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.