Saturday, February 1, 2014

Guantanamo Biographies

The US prison at Guantanamo raises many complicated questions. What are the allegations against the prisoners held there? What evidence is there for these allegations? Is this evidence reliable? How many of them can be prosecuted for specific crimes? What do the prisoners say about these allegations? Are they telling the truth? Each of these questions can be asked about each of the prisoners who are held at the prison. In many cases the answers to these questions will not be clear.

I have recently undertaken a project to summarize the allegations against prisoners currently held at Guantanamo who were recommended for prosecution by Obama’s interagency task force that concluded in January 2010. These summaries are based largely on US military documents about the prisoners.

One set of documents that I use are the unclassified summaries of administrative procedures that have been set up to determine whether the prisoners should continue to be imprisoned. These include the Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) and Administrative Review Boards (ARBs). The current administrative procedure in place is the Periodic Review Board. The procedures are sometimes referred to as parole-board style hearings. That is an apt comparison, but it must be remembered that these administrative procedures are applied to people who have not been convicted of a crime.

Another group of documents are the Detainee Assessment Briefs, which in my summaries I abbreviate DAB. These were not released voluntarily by the US military. These classified documents were leaked by Chelsea Manning to Wikileaks in 2010.  Wikileaks published them in 2011. I used the copies posted on the website of the New York Times, whose collection is by far the easiest to navigate.

A key question is whether the Detainee Assessment Briefs are accurate. Morris Davis, a former chief prosecutor at Guantanamo, mentioned on Democracy Now that one of the DABs he discussed in Manning’s trial concerned a prisoner assessed to present a high-risk if released but was cleared for release by the Guantanamo task force.  If the DABs or inaccurate or misleading, my summaries will be as well.

Some of the summaries involve prisoners who retracted statements they had previously told US interrogators. It is possible that their retractions were lies, but it is also possible that their initial statements were forced confessions obtained through torture. The DABs dismiss claims of torture by prisoners as lies, despite the fact that torture of Guantanamo prisoners was widespread both before and after they arrived at the prison.

Military Commissions are war crimes trials that were chosen by President Bush in 2001 to try accused terrorists. Obama prosecuted Guantanamo prisoners in both military commissions and federal courts, but Congress later prevented him from prosecuting any more Guantanamo prisoners in federal courts.  

At the time the Guantanamo task force released its results the military commissions at Guantanamo were prosecuting individuals for material support for terrorism and conspiracy. The way the conspiracy charge was used in the military commissions essentially meant the prisoner was accused of being a member of Al Qaeda. Material support for terrorism has been a federal crime since 1996. Cases in the US have produced material support convictions in a wide variety of cases including for attending an Al Qaeda training camp, providing legal advice to terrorist organizations, and donating to Palestinian charities that the government says are connected to Hamas. Therefore I believe the task force recommended for prosecution prisoners against whom they believed they had enough reliable evidence to prove in court a meaningful connection to terrorism. I will be analyzing the allegations against these prisoners.

Post Script: I covered the case against Chelsea Manning on my show Public Occurrences. On February 4 I will be interviewing David Frakt a former defense attorney at Guantanamo. We will be discussing the military commission cases against his former clients as well as the jurisdictional issues involved in prosecuting Guantanamo prisoners. That interview will be posted on the Public Occurrences YouTube channel. 

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