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2011-01-07

As Activists Plan Protest for 9th Anniv. of Guantánamo, Former Gitmo Commander Subpoenaed in Spain over Prisoner Torture

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Protests are planned at the White House next week to mark the ninth anniversary of the first transfer of foreign prisoners to the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. Meanwhile, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a request Thursday asking a Spanish court to subpoena the former commanding officer at Guantánamo Bay, Major General Geoffrey Miller, over the alleged torture of four Guantánamo prisoners. Last month, CCR also asked another Spanish judge to prosecute six former Bush administration officials who authored the legal memos authorizing the torture of foreign prisoners. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, next week will mark the ninth anniversary of the first transfer of foreign prisoners to the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo Bay. Later this month comes another important milestone: one year since President Obama’s promised deadline to shut the prison down. Shortly after coming into office in January 2009, Obama pledged to close Guantánamo no more than a year later.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: In order to effect the appropriate disposition of individuals currently detained by the Department of Defense at Guantánamo and promptly to close the detention facility at Guantánamo, consistent with the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States and the interest of justice, I hereby order. And we then provide the process whereby Guantánamo will be closed no later than one year from now.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Two years after Obama’s pledge, 173 people are still imprisoned in Guantánamo. The military’s Guantánamo Review Task Force has cleared around 90 for release, but their future remains uncertain. Last month, Congress passed legislation that would effectively bar the transfer of Guantánamo prisoners to the United States for trial. The bill also bans the purchase or construction of any facility inside the U.S. to hold current Guantánamo prisoners.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, reports emerged President Obama is preparing to sign an executive order this year that would establish the government’s right to indefinitely detain prisoners without charge or trial. According to ProPublica, the administration is expected to indefinitely hold at least 48 Guantánamo prisoners. That means more Guantánamo prisoners are now formally facing the prospect of lifelong detention, and fewer are facing charges than the day Obama was elected.

We’re joined here in New York by two guests. Andy Worthington is a London-based journalist, author of the book The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison. He is also co-director of the film Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo.

And we’re joined by Katherine Gallagher, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. On Thursday, CCR filed a request asking a Spanish court to subpoena the former commanding officer at Guantánamo, Major General Geoffrey Miller. The filing comes in a nearly two-year Spanish probe of the alleged torture of four Guantánamo prisoners. Last month, CCR also asked another Spanish judge to prosecute six former Bush administration officials who authored the legal memos authorizing the torture of foreign prisoners. Diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks show that the Obama administration is pressuring the Spanish government to drop an investigation into the officials, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, in 2009.

Well, we welcome you both to Democracy Now! Andy Worthington, let’s begin with you. You’ll be in front of the White House Tuesday on the ninth anniversary of Guantánamo. It isn’t closed. President Obama promised two years ago it would be within a year.

ANDY WORTHINGTON: Yeah, and it’s looking — you know, it’s looking very bad, actually, at the moment. It’s looking like we have the possibility that very few prisoners at all will be released, you know, before the 2012 elections. And what a horrible climb down from the great optimism that we had at the start of Obama’s presidency.

And so, there are the specific issues. The problems with the cleared prisoners, I think, is very, very important, that a task force established by the President of representatives of government departments, of the agencies — careful, sober people examining the cases of the men — said that 90 of them should be released. Now, 58 of these are Yemenis, and it’s been a year now since the President announced a moratorium on releasing any prisoner from Guantánamo to Yemen because of the uproar that came about because Christmas 2009, a Nigerian man tried to blow up a plane, and it was — it came out that he was apparently recruited in Yemen. So Yemen is now this entire terrorist country. Nobody cleared for release from Guantánamo can be released there because of these fears that they will join some terrorist cell. That’s guilt by nationality. It’s collective punishment. However you want to look at it, it’s grossly unfair. And so, that’s a very important aspect.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And then there are some of these prisoners who the government wants to release, but they fear going back to the countries that they’re being sent to. One just released apparently — or sent back to Algeria, Saiid Farhi, in the last few days?

ANDY WORTHINGTON: That’s right, yeah. And, I mean, his case is — you know, that’s a black mark for the government, as well. You know, he was actually appealing against the government’s right to send him back to his home country, that he didn’t want to go back to. A third country could have been found for this man. But the Obama administration has demonstrated that Algeria is a country it wants to send people back to.

But there are other men still waiting in Guantánamo for third countries to be found who will take them. We saw in the WikiLeaks cables some examples of the kind of rather undignified horse trading that had been taking place of trying to persuade other countries to take them. You know, it still remains a problem that, at every level, at the highest levels of government in the United States, everybody who could — the courts, Congress, President Obama — refused to accept cleared prisoners to be brought and live in the U.S. mainland.

AMY GOODMAN: Katie, speaking of these WikiLeaks documents, which of course are U.S. diplomatic cables, what have you learned?

KATHERINE GALLAGHER: What we saw last month, in the case of our Spanish investigation, is that the U.S., which has had — the Obama administration, which has had a policy of really ensuring impunity for Bush administration officials, exported that policy to Spain and did everything it could through diplomatic, political pressure to ensure that the investigations undertaken in Spain would be closed, that no U.S. official from the Bush administration would face justice, investigation, prosecution anywhere, especially in Spain, where there is a viable investigation ongoing.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the Center for Constitutional Rights demanding right now?

KATHERINE GALLAGHER: Right now we’ve asked the Spanish judge, Judge Ruz, who’s overseeing the investigation, to subpoena Geoffrey Miller and to finally have the former commander of Guantánamo explain exactly what was happening in Guantánamo and his role in the torture and abuse of Guantánamo detainees, including Mohammed al-Qahtani.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, and the revelations in the WikiLeaks cables that the chief prosecutor in Spain was actually in direct communication with U.S. officials, and, in essence, trying to fix the system, has been a huge story in Spain, while it got almost no attention here.

KATHERINE GALLAGHER: Yes, and the filings that we did yesterday are front-page news already today in Spain. It’s unfortunate that this isn’t getting covered in the United States. It’s more than unfortunate; it’s deeply disturbing. But there, yes, we may see people lose their jobs over the obstruction of justice.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, this is more than going after General Miller, to trying to get him to talk.

KATHERINE GALLAGHER: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re talking about going after the so-called Bush Six. Explain, and how the Obama — not the Bush administration, but the Obama administration — has responded?

KATHERINE GALLAGHER: Sure. Officially, the Obama administration has said nothing about this case against the so-called Bush Six — six lawyers from the Bush administration who were the authors of the torture memos, the architects behind the scenes of the torture program, giving legal cover for what we saw happen in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib and in Afghanistan. So, publicly, they have not responded to this case. Behind the scenes, we see that there were calls and meetings to diplomats in Spain, to the attorney general, to the prosecutor, ministers of justice, ministers from the Department of Foreign Affairs in Spain, and that U.S. members of Congress, Republicans, were having meetings in Spain under the Bush — under the Obama administration, saying, “Halt this prosecution. It’s not good for bilateral relations.”

AMY GOODMAN: And although a judge has demanded that the Obama administration respond, they have not? They’re just completely ignoring the subpoenas?

KATHERINE GALLAGHER: Yes. Well, there haven’t been subpoenas, but there have been three requests, sent by one judge, saying, “Look, are investigating this, or should I proceed?” And the Obama administration has been silent. So, hopefully, at this point, the judge will say, “I’m moving forward.”

JUAN GONZALEZ: Andy, the implications for the Obama administration that it’s entirely possible that four years after he assumed office that Guantánamo will still be open and holding prisoners?

ANDY WORTHINGTON: Yeah. Well, I mean, that’s very much what it looks like. I mean, you know, I think there’s a big problem with this notion of 48 men who his task force said could be held indefinitely without charge or trial. On the face of it, if you don’t examine it, it’s like, OK, they’re saying they’re dangerous, they don’t have the evidence. What does that mean? One worry is that the evidence that — the supposed evidence that they’ve been relying on is actually not trustworthy. I mean, this is such a fundamental problem with the Guantánamo evidence, is that it’s been tortured out of people.

But it’s also — it’s in conflict with something that’s also been proceeding for all these years, which is the legal cases, the prisoners’ own habeas corpus petitions. And these prisoners have habeas corpus petitions ongoing. Many of them have not had their cases heard by a judge. And yet, there are these 48 designated for indefinite detention, which kind of preempts the legal process.

And also I think we’ll find, if people are able to examine it, that some of these 48 men are the people who have lost their habeas petitions. Now, 19 men have lost their habeas petitions so far. And most of them, when you look at what the judges found out, they were very peripheral foot soldiers in the military conflict that preceded the — took place before the 9/11 attacks, in Afghanistan. These men are not terrorists.

AMY GOODMAN: There will be protests next week in front of the White House on Tuesday?

ANDY WORTHINGTON: Absolutely, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And that’s where you’ll be?

ANDY WORTHINGTON: And there’s a screening of my film, Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo, at Revolution Books in New York tonight.

AMY GOODMAN: Ah, OK, we’ll link to it at democracynow.org. That does it for our show. Thanks very much to Katherine Gallagher, senior staff attorney at CCR, and Andy Worthington, author of The Guantánamo Files.

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