[Ppnews] How Cooking for the Taliban Can Get You Life in Gitmo

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Fri Jan 30 11:29:09 EST 2009


January 30 / February 1, 2009

How Cooking for the Taliban Can Get You Life in Gitmo

Blame the Chef


Those of us who prefer justice to arbitrary and 
unaccountable detention without charge or trial 
were delighted when, last week, Barack Obama 
fulfilled a long-stated promise and issued a 
presidential order stating that 
will be closed “as soon as practicable, and no 
later than one year from the date of this order,” 
and establishing an immediate review of the cases 
of the remaining 242 prisoners to work out whether they can be released.

A year is a long time, of course, if you’re 
unfortunate enough to have been imprisoned in 
Guantánamo for 
to seven years with no way of asking why you’re 
being held, but some of us were prepared to give 
the new President the benefit of the doubt, and 
to consider that perhaps he didn’t want to make a 
rash promise that he might find himself unable to 
fulfill, such as pledging to close the wretched place in a matter of months.

Recent events, however, have demonstrated that, 
although President Obama has set in motion a 
policy that addresses the prisoners’ future, 
their long desire to have an opportunity to 
question the basis of their detention is 
currently being addressed not in the White House 
but in the District Courts, following an epic, 
four-year struggle between the Supreme Court and 
Congress to grant them their wish. Since the 
justices of the Supreme Court 
ended this struggle last June, by ruling that 
Congress had acted unconstitutionally when it 
stripped the prisoners of the habeas corpus 
rights that the Supreme Court had granted them in 
June 2004, a raft of previously marooned habeas 
cases has been making its way through the District Courts.

Justice and the habeas reviews

Although frequently becalmed by pleas from the 
Justice Department, whose lawyers have had the 
nerve to claim, after seven years, that they are 
having trouble 
up any evidence, a handful of these cases have 
actually made it to the point where a judge has 
ruled on their merits. The results have been a 
vindication for those who have struggled for 
years to get the prisoners a day in court, and, 
of course, for the prisoners themselves, because 
in 23 of the 27 cases reviewed to date, the 
judges have dismissed the government’s evidence 
for being empty and unsubstantiated -- in one 
it to a nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll, the 
author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland -- and 
have ordered the prisoners to be released.

Sadly, the impact on the prisoners has so far 
failed, for the most part, to match the 
significance of the rulings. In the case that 
drew comparisons with Lewis Carroll -- that of 
Huzaifa Parhat, a Uighur from China’s oppressed 
Xinjiang province -- the government lodged a 
and unprincipled appeal to stop Parhat and his 16 
compatriots from settling in the United States, 
after District Court Judge Ricardo Urbina 
in October that their continued detention in 
Guantánamo was unconstitutional. In November, 
Judge Richard Leon, an appointee of George W. 
the release of five Bosnians of Algerian origin, 
after he concluded that the government had failed 
to establish that, as alleged, they had intended 
to travel to Afghanistan to fight U.S. forces, 
but to date only 
of the men have been repatriated, and the other 
two still languish in Guantánamo, as the Bosnian 
government wrangles over their status. The last 
case is that of 
El-Gharani, a Chadian national and Saudi resident 
who was just 14 years old when he was seized in a 
raid on a mosque in Pakistan. Two weeks ago, Leon 
demolished the government’s supposed evidence 
against El-Gharani, but he too remains stranded, pending a possible appeal.

To be or not to be (an enemy combatant)

In many ways, however, these prisoners are the 
lucky ones. In four other cases, the scales of 
justice have tipped the other way, into an 
alarming arena in which it has become apparent 
that the Supreme Court failed to address whether, 
in cases where the government is judged to have 
produced sufficient evidence to indicate that 
prisoners were “enemy combatants,” it is 
justifiable to continue holding them indefinitely.

The problem, as these other four cases have 
revealed, is that, according to the definition 
accepted by Judge Leon, an ”enemy combatant” does 
not have to be someone who actually engaged in 
terrorism or in combat against the United States, 
but rather someone who was “part of or supporting 
Taliban or al-Qaeda forces, or associated forces 
that are engaged in hostilities against the U.S. 
or its coalition partners,” which “includes any 
person who has committed a belligerent act or has 
directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy armed forces” (emphasis added).

What this means in reality is that Judge Leon 
ruled in November that Belkacem Bensayah, the 
sixth Bosnian Algerian, was an “enemy combatant” 
not because he had been involved in a specific 
al-Qaeda plot, and not because he had raised arms 
against the United States in Afghanistan or 
anywhere else, but because the government 
provided what Leon regarded as “credible and 
reliable evidence,” establishing that he “planned 
to go to Afghanistan to both take up arms against 
US and allied forces and to facilitate the travel 
of unnamed others to Afghanistan and elsewhere,” 
and that he was “link[ed]” to a senior al-Qaeda 
operative (identified elsewhere as the mentally 
troubled training camp facilitator 
Zubaydah, whose specific links to al-Qaeda have been questioned by the FBI).

This may be sufficient evidence to put Bensayah 
on trial, although it is surely not adequate to 
warrant his indefinite detention in Guantánamo, 
but in the cases of the other three men the 
noose-like nature of the “enemy combatant” 
definition was even more pronounced. On December 
30, Judge Leon ruled that 
more prisoners -- the Tunisian Hisham Sliti and 
the Yemeni Muaz al-Alawi -- were also correctly 
detained as “enemy combatants;” in Sliti’s case 
because, despite being a cynical and dissolute 
drug addict, he was associated with individuals 
connected to al-Qaeda, and, in al-Alawi’s case, 
because, although he had traveled to Afghanistan 
before the 9/11 attacks and was not alleged to 
have raised arms against U.S. forces, he “stayed 
at guest houses associated with the Taliban and 
 received military training at two 
separate camps closely associated with al-Qaeda 
and the Taliban and supported Taliban fighting 
forces on two different fronts in the Taliban’s 
war against the Northern Alliance.”

Cooking for the Taliban

This ruling in particular cried out for an 
immediate overhaul of the “enemy combatant” 
definition, but yesterday the absurdity of 
holding prisoners as “enemy combatants” who were 
associated with the Taliban before the 9/11 
attacks but never raised a finger against the 
United States was highlighted even more 
forcefully when Judge Leon ruled, in the case of 
the Yemeni Ghaleb Nasser al-Bihani, that he too was an “enemy combatant.”

Leon based his ruling on the fact that the 
government had established, primarily through 
interrogation, that al-Bihani had worked as a 
cook for the Taliban. Concluding that it was “not 
necessary” for the government to prove that he 
“actually fire[d] a weapon against the U.S. or 
coalition forces in order for him to be 
classified as an enemy combatant,” Leon declared, 
“Simply stated, faithfully serving in an 
al-Qaeda-affiliated fighting unit that is 
directly supporting the Taliban by helping 
prepare the meals of its entire fighting force is 
more than sufficient to meet this Court's 
definition of 'support.’” He added, “After all, 
as Napoleon was fond of pointing out, ‘An army marches on its stomach.’”

Al-Bihani listened to Leon’s ruling in a 
teleconference call from Guantánamo, but was cut 
off before hearing Leon’s line about Napoleon. 
His lawyers, Shereen J. Chalick and Reuben Camper 
Cahn, of the Federal Defenders of San Diego, said 
that they would take a rush transcript of the 
ruling to al-Bihani, adding that he would be 
“disappointed” with the decision, but the 
reality, I can reveal, is that al-Bihani gave up 
on U.S. justice many years ago.

“I am definitely an enemy combatant”

In 2004, at his Combatant Status Review Tribunal 
at Guantánamo -- a 
administrative review that was designed, 
essentially, to confirm that, on capture, he had 
been correctly designated an “enemy combatant” -- 
al-Bihani was acutely aware of Guantánamo’s 
failings, and addressed all the issues raised 
yesterday by Judge Leon. Firstly, he admitted 
that he had traveled to Afghanistan in April or 
May 2001 “to fight the jihad with the Taliban” 
against Ahmed Shah Massoud (the leader of the 
Northern Alliance), and added, “There is nothing 
wrong with that in our religion. Is it acceptable 
for Americans and not for us?”

He then disputed an allegation that he “was an 
associate of the Taliban and/or al-Qaeda,” 
pointing out that he had admitted “many times” 
that he was with the Taliban, but that the 
statement as it stood “suggests that you are 
[not] giving me a choice between Taliban and 
al-Qaeda,” and also denied an allegation that he 
participated in hostilities against the United 
States, explaining, “I went to Afghanistan before 
the Americans. If I wanted to fight the Americans 
I would have gone there after the Americans arrived.”

It was, however, at the conclusion of his hearing 
that he demonstrated what can now be seen as a 
prescient awareness of the inescapable bind in 
which he found himself. With evident sarcasm, he 
stated, “I am definitely an enemy combatant. 
There is no question about that. I am sure that 
you will find me as an enemy combatant. Nobody 
has been found to not be an enemy combatant. 
Everybody has been found to be an enemy 
combatant. I am certain that I will be found to be an enemy combatant.”

If you want a final demonstration of the ongoing 
absurdity of Guantánamo, compare the case of 
Salim Hamdan to that of Ghaleb al-Bihani. Last 
August, Hamdan, a driver for Osama bin Laden, was 
at Guantánamo in the Military Commissions 
conceived by Vice President 
Cheney and his advisers, 
home in November to serve the last few weeks of a 
five-month sentence delivered by a military jury. 
Hamdan is now a free man, whereas al-Bihani, a 
man who never met Osama bin Laden, let alone 
driving him around, has just been told, by a 
judge in a U.S. federal court, that the 
government is entitled to hold him forever 
because he cooked dinner for the Taliban.

If President Obama is genuinely concerned with 
justice, he needs to act fast to tackle this 
squalid state of affairs, which does nothing to 
undo the previous administration’s disdain for 
and mockery of the laws on which the United States was founded.

Andy Worthington is a British historian, and the 
author of 
Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 
Detainees in America's Illegal Prison' (published 
by Pluto Press). Visit his website at: 
He can be reached at: 
<mailto:andy at andyworthington.co.uk>andy at andyworthington.co.uk

Freedom Archives
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

415 863-9977

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://freedomarchives.org/pipermail/ppnews_freedomarchives.org/attachments/20090130/87dc4b9c/attachment.html>

More information about the PPnews mailing list