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Blame the Chef

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    How Cooking for the Taliban Can Get You Life in Gitmo Blame the Chef By ANDY WORTHINGTON http://counterpunch.org/worthington01302009.html Those of us who
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 2, 2009
      How Cooking for the Taliban Can Get You Life in Gitmo


      Blame the Chef
      By ANDY WORTHINGTON
      http://counterpunch.org/worthington01302009.html


      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 Guantánamo 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 up 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 decisively 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 rustling 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 case comparing 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
      miserable and unprincipled appeal to stop Parhat and his 16
      compatriots from settling in the United States, after District Court
      Judge Ricardo Urbina ruled in October that their continued detention
      in Guantánamo was unconstitutional. In November, Judge Richard Leon,
      an appointee of George W. Bush, ordered 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 three 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 Mohammed 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 comprehensively 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 Abu 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 two 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 al-Qaeda …
      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
      toothless 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
      tried at Guantánamo in the Military Commissions conceived by Vice
      President Dick Cheney and his advisers, sentenced and sent 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 'The
      Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's
      Illegal Prison' (published by Pluto Press). Visit his website at:
      www.andyworthington.co.uk He can be reached at: andy@...

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