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Happy 8th Birthday, Gitmo: an interview with watchdog Andy Worthington

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In defense of John Brennan, the former CIA man who is one of Obama's senior counter-terrorism advisors, I have to say that he put up a good fight when he appeared on the TV shows the previous weekend, defending how careful the administration has been in approving releases from Guantánamo, and generally putting on a great performance as a career official who appreciates how Obama has learned from and has rectified mistakes made by Bush, for whom Brennan also worked, of course.

To my mind, Obama should have gone with Brennan -- perhaps sending him out again to tackle some of those spreading hysteria and misinformation -- instead of caving in, because I think Brennan's on his side and knows how to talk tough to the barking lunatics who are usually the only ones raising their voices. But it didn't work out like that, and I'm disappointed, as Obama only loses more ground and more authority when he backs down, instead of taking on his critics in a manner they understand. I actually think that the failure -- or inability -- of senior Democrats to shout down their opponents is one of their major failings.

Elizabeth Ferrari: We've been inundated with information -- or more precisely, with propaganda -- by the supporters of the "War on Terror," and it's very difficult to keep everything straight and clear. As I understand it, there is a group of detainees who had been cleared for release because they were found by a judge to be students in a guesthouse, not combatants in any way. They were going to be released to Yemen. Is it right that all of that has been tabled?

Why were they being released to Yemen and, if you can, can you give the numbers you've assigned to them so we can look them up in your Definitive Prisoner List<http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2010/01/04/guantanamo-the-definitive-prisoner-list-updated-for-2010/>? It looks like these people are being held hostage to a political struggle in the United States. What will it take to get them released?

Andy Worthington: OK, so you're talking about Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed, a student in a guest house in Pakistan, who triumphantly won his habeas corpus petition<http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/05/14/judge-condemns-mosaic-of-guantanamo-intelligence-and-unreliable-witnesses/> last May and was finally released by Obama<http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/10/11/two-more-guantanamo-prisoners-released-to-kuwait-and-belgium/> in October. There were around 15 other men<http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/05/19/guantanamo-a-prison-built-on-lies/> seized in that house -- eight of whom are Yemenis -- but although one was cleared for release by a military review board under the Bush administration (because he was only visiting on the night of the raid and didn't even live there), and although the judge in Ali Ahmed's case -- Judge Gladys Kessler -- stated that she thought it probable that the majority of the others seized in the raid were also students, none of them have won any court cases, because the habeas petitions move so slowly (largely through Justice Department obstruction<http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/08/11/guantanamo-and-the-courts-part-two-obamas-shame/>).

It may well be that they have been cleared for release after the deliberations of Obama's interagency task Force, which has been reviewing all the Guantánamo cases since last January, and has cleared around 40 of the remaining 86 Yemenis for release, but there's no way of finding out, as only the Task Force and the prisoners' lawyers know, and the lawyers are prevented from discussing the Task Force's conclusions publicly.

As a result, I can't give you any specific prisoner numbers to look up in my list, but if you go through all four parts, you'll be able to find the 86 Yemenis who haven't been released, and to either follow links to their stories, or find where they're discussed in my book The Guantánamo Files. Some were also cleared under the Bush administration, but were never released, and a few are amongst the 32 out of 41 prisoners who won their habeas corpus petitions last year, but have also not yet been released.

As for when any of these men will be released, your guess is as good as mine, after Obama's capitulation. I can only repeat what I've said before, which is that someone in the administration needs to find some courage to stick to principles, as pragmatism is a slippery road.

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Elizabeth Ferrari: It has been confirmed recently<http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2010/01/blackwater-201001> that Erik Prince is or was a CIA asset and that Blackwater has been involved in a multinational assassination program -- in Germany, perhaps in Pakistan. To your knowledge, has the CIA used Blackwater operatives at Gitmo or at any of their other prisons, black sites or at Bagram, for example? Blackwater's impunity in daylight is terrible enough. It's very concerning to wonder what they do in secret and if they have been involved with detainees of the United States. Have you found any "fingerprints" to this effect?

Andy Worthington: In a word, no, but only, I'm sure, because I haven't had the time to look. "Contractors" are all over the torture, "extraordinary rendition" and secret prison stories, so I'd be very surprised if Blackwater wasn't involved somewhere along the line. I actually hope to do some more research into the secret prisons this year.

Elizabeth Ferrari: For those of us trying to follow these cases, what would you suggest tracking right now? What are you yourself looking out for?

Andy Worthington: Most of my time is still spent on the Guantánamo story, trying to publicize the horrendous crimes of the Bush administration -- and to highlight the incompetence of senior officials, as much as their cruelty. If readers want a useful avenue to pursue, it would be to look at the cleared prisoners<http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/12/07/116-guantanamo-prisoners-cleared-for-release-171-still-in-limbo/> who can't be repatriated because they face torture in their homelands -- dozens of prisoners from Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Uzbekistan, as well as the last seven Uighurs -- and to look at the work that Nancy Talanian is putting together at No More Guantánamos<http://www.nogitmos.org/>, trying to persuade communities across the States to pass resolutions specifically adopting certain prisoners and asking Congress to overturn its ban on accepting cleared prisoners into the US, following the example of Amherst, Massachusetts<http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2009/1105/massachusetts-town-says-yes-to-guantanamo-detainees>.

Countries in Europe have taken a handful of these men, but they're finding little reason to do so when the US won't take any itself, and my fear is that cleared prisoners will remain in Guantánamo -- or in some other hellhole in the States, if that project ever comes off -- for years, or for the rest of their lives, without concerted action to demand that the US government accepts responsibility for its own mistakes.

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Otherwise, keep educated, spread the word, and keep an eye on the prison at Bagram airbase<http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/09/15/is-bagram-obamas-new-secret-prison/>, which remains as much outside the law as Guantánamo was back in 2004, before the Supreme Court got involved, and lawyers were able to meet with prisoners to begin filing their habeas petitions, and to bring their stories of torture and abuse to the world. That process was derailed by Congress<http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2008/06/13/the-supreme-courts-guantanamo-ruling-what-does-it-mean/> for another four years (although the administration failed to keep the lawyers out), but no lawyer has set foot in Bagram, and, although a District Court judge ruled last March<http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/04/06/justice-extends-to-bagram-guantanamos-dark-mirror/> that foreign prisoners rendered to Bagram and held for up to six years have the same habeas rights as the Guantánamo prisoners, the Obama administration appealed, and the Court of Appeals is currently considering that appeal<http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/01/07/AR2010010703205.html>.

Bagram's also important because it's where the war meets the detention policies, and I think we need to do all we can to bring together anti-war protestors, torture opponents, and opponents of the lawless detention polices of the last nine years, to try and get a new mass movement going at the start of this new decade.

Andy Worthington is a journalist and the author of The Guantánamo Files <http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/the-guantanamo-files/> (Pluto Press), the first book to tell the stories of all the prisoners in Guantánamo. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the new documentary, "Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,"< http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/outside-the-law-stories-from-guantanamo/> and maintains a blog here. <http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/

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Elizabeth Ferrari is a San Francisco author and activist.

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US Courts are rigged. So, the only way "enemy comb... by Steven G. Erickson on Tuesday, Jan 12, 2010 at 9:13:33 PM