Wednesday, June 25, 2008


Court rules on Guantanamo inmate

Guantanamo's Camp Delta detention compound
The US military base at Guantanamo has housed prisoners since 2002

In the first ruling of its kind, a US court has overturned the designation of an inmate at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp as an "enemy combatant".

The appeal court judges said the Pentagon must either free or transfer Huzaifa Parhat or hold a fresh hearing.

Mr Parhat, a Muslim from China, was captured in Afghanistan in 2001 and then sent to the US Guantanamo base.

The ruling is the latest setback for the Bush administration over its policy on Guantanamo detainees.

Earlier this month, a US Supreme Court ruling gave foreign suspects the right to challenge their detention at Guantanamo in the civilian courts.

Some 270 men are being held at the Guantanamo base in Cuba on suspicion of terrorism or links to al-Qaeda.

More than 190 of them have filed challenges with the US appeals court in Washington seeking to have their classification as enemy combatants overturned.

The case of Huzaifa Parhat, an ethnic Uighur from Xinjiang province in China, was the first to be heard.

The US government argued he was a member of the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement, which it said had links to al-Qaeda.

But Mr Parhat's lawyers said that he considered the Chinese government as his enemy and there was no evidence that he ever fought against US interests.

Uighur activists are seeking autonomy from China, and there are sporadic outbreaks of violence in the province.

Military decision 'invalid'

The ruling, by a three-judge panel at the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was in response to a petition under the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005.

This allows detainees a limited review of their status as "enemy combatants".

"The court directed the government to release or transfer Parhat, or to expeditiously hold a new tribunal," a notice from the court said.

The military's decision that he was an enemy combatant was "invalid", the court ruled.

The court also said that Mr Parhat could petition a federal judge for his immediate release in the light of the Supreme Court's ruling on 12 June.

"It's a tremendous day," P Sabin Willett, a lawyer for Mr Parhat, was quoted as saying by the Los Angeles Times.

"But Huzaifa Parhat is now in his seventh year of imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay, and he doesn't even know about this ruling because he's sitting in solitary confinement and we can't tell him about it."

A Pentagon spokesman said it was reviewing the court's decision and considering the options.

Mr Parhat is one of 17 Uighurs still being held at Guantanamo, even though the US authorities acknowledge that they pose no threat.

Their case has become a diplomatic and legal headache for the US, which has tried to find a country willing to accept the Uighurs at the same time as defending its decision to hold them as enemy combatants.

In 2006, five Uighurs were released from Guantanamo and allowed to seek asylum in Albania after the US said they could not be returned to China as they would face persecution there.

US to carry on military trials at Guantanamo despite ruling

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Hearings for terror suspects before US military tribunals in Guantanamo are going ahead despite a Supreme Court ruling that affirmed detainees have a right to challenge their detention in a civilian court.

Legal experts had described the high court's decision as the death knell of the special tribunals created by President George W. Bush and his Republican allies in Congress to try "war on terror" suspects.

But Justice Department chief Michael Mukasey said the controversial tribunals at the US naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba would continue their work and last week, two preliminary hearings were held as scheduled.

The hearings focused on Omar Khadr, a Canadian, and Mohammed Jawad, an Afghan, both detained in Afghanistan for having allegedly thrown grenades when they were still teenagers.

Jawad, whose trial date was set for October 8, reportedly used his hearing to denounce his treatment, alleging during a two-week period US guards changed his cell every two hours to prevent him from sleeping, a technique dubbed the "frequent flyer-program."

Meanwhile a three-judge panel in federal court on Friday declined to intervene in the Khadr case in an appeal that focused on a procedural dispute.

The decision though does not preclude federal judges from wading directly into the tribunal trials in Guantanamo following the Supreme Court's ruling, which rejected the government's assertion that the detainees lack habeas corpus rights.

The US Court of Appeals for the US capital on Monday ruled that Chinese prisoner Huzaifa Parhat, of the Chinese Muslim Uighur minority, is not an enemy combatant and has the right to seek his release from custody at Guantanamo.

Parhat's release, however, was not expected any time soon since the appeals court said the Pentagon could hold a new tribunal on his status, which observers deemed likely.

Details of the decision were not immediately available because it involved classified information, according to the appeals court statement.

Although no trial has begun in earnest at the Guantanamo naval base, 19 detainees have been charged and "there will be more coming in the not too distant future," said Joe DellaVedova of the office of military commissions.

"The military commissions process continues to move forward, in a fair, open and transparent manner," he said.

Among those already charged are several suspects who allegedly planned the September 11 attacks, as well as Al-Qaeda militants accused of having fired rockets in the vicinity of US troops in Afghanistan or having undergone training in the use of explosives.

The first tribunal trial is scheduled to start on July 21 in a newly set up "portable" courtroom to try Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni who worked as a driver and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden.

The judge in the case, Captain Keith Allred, has scheduled a hearing for July 14 that will likely offer a chance to assess the consequences of the landmark Supreme Court ruling for the tribunals.

The fallout from the high court's ruling is still unclear.

The justices concluded that the naval base in Guantanamo Bay, officially on Cuban territory, can be treated as US territory where rights enshrined in the US Constitution must be respected.

But it remains an open question if inmates enjoy all rights named in the constitution or only certain fundamental rights.

Greetings from Guantanamo Bay ... and the sickest souvenir shop in the world

Mockery: A child's T-shirt proclaiming the camp a tourist spot

The sands are white, the sea laps gently and crowds of bronzed Americans laze in the Caribbean sunshine.

They have a cinema, a golf course and, naturally, a gift shop stocked with mugs, jaunty T-shirts and racks of postcards showing perfect sunsets and bright green iguanas.

Only the barbed wire decoration, a recurring motif, hints at anything wrong.

Welcome to "Taliban Towers" at Guantanamo Bay, the most ghoulishly distasteful tourist destination on the planet.

As these astonishing mementoes show, the US authorities are promoting the world's most notorious prison camp as a cheap hideaway for American sunseekers ? a revelation that has drawn international anger and condemnation.

Just yards from the shelves of specially branded mugs and cuddly toys, nearly 300 "enemy combatants" lie sweltering in a waking nightmare.

It is six years since foreign prisoners, many captured in Afghanistan, were first taken to this US-occupied corner of Cuba. Yet even now, no charges have been brought against them.

While the detainees lie incarcerated, visitors can windsurf, take boat trips and go fishing for grouper, tuna, red snapper and swordfish.

The United States' 1.5million service personnel and Guantanamo's 3,000 construction workers are eligible to visit the "resort", which boasts a McDonald's, KFC and a bowling alley.

They even have a Wal-Mart supermarket.

The vacation comes at a knock-down price: just $42 (£20) per night for a suite of air-conditioned rooms, including a kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedrooms.

But it is the souvenirs that have led to the greatest criticism. One T-shirt from the gift shop is decorated with a guard tower and barbed wire. It reads: "The Taliban Towers at Guantanamo Bay, the Caribbean's Newest 5-star Resort."

Another praises "the proud protectors of freedom". A third displays a garish picture of an iguana and states: "Greetings from paradise GTMO resort and spa fun in the Cuban sun."

A child-sized shirt says: "Someone who loves me got me this T-shirt in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba."

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Exposed: An array of the ghoulish gifts on sale at the Guantanamo Bay 'resort' catering for American sunseekers

There are mugs inscribed with "kisses from Guantanamo" and "Honor Bound To Defend Freedom".

The Guantanamo holiday trade was exposed by Zachary Katznelson, a British-based human rights lawyer and spokesman for Reprieve, the group leading the international campaign against the camp.

"When I see the conditions the prisoners have to cope with and then think of the T-shirt slogans, I am appalled," he said. "To say I am repulsed is an understatement. Unbelievable as it may seem, the US authorities are proud of the 'souvenirs' and what they are doing."

Mr Katznelson represents 28 of the detainees and makes regular visits to the prison.

"The military keeps a tight hold on everything that is available in Guantanamo Bay and someone senior has given their approval for this disgusting nonsense," he said.

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Sick: Souvenirs include mugs inscribed with 'Kisses from Guantanamo Bay'

"Pretending that Guantanamo Bay is essentially a resort in the Caribbean is grossly offensive and the idea of relaxing in the sun while close by many individuals are robbed of their rights, tortured and abused is both repugnant and ridiculous."

His anger is shared by other human rights campaigners. Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said Guantanamo represents a shameful chapter in American history.

Amnesty International said: "These supposedly 'fun' souvenirs are in grotesquely bad taste and the fact that they are on sale at the camp quite frankly beggars belief."

There are currently 280 prisoners sweltering in cages in temperatures of up to 100F (38C). The camp, where 7,000 soldiers are stationed, was established in 2002 following the invasion of Afghanistan.

Guantanamo bay: The U.S. was accused of deliberately pushing detainees to the edge

In 2004, photographs of cowed Guantanamo prisoners in orange jump suits shocked the world.

"The majority are kept in isolation in cells that are no bigger than a toilet," said Katznelson. "There is no sea view. Instead, if they have a window, it looks out on to a bleak corridor. The cells are lined with steel from floor to ceiling, including the toilet, sink and bed base.

"There is a popular misconception that these men have had trials and been found guilty. Nothing is further from the truth. Not one of them has.

"The tortures that the Americans use are wide-ranging and inhuman. One is to blast the cell with freezing cold air. Another is to pretend to take the prisoners to a country like Egypt where prisoners are tortured, even to the extent of taking them on a mock flight, so they can be treated in a barbaric fashion."

Katznelson continued: "Inmates are offered three meals a day, but there are eight prisoners who have been on hunger strike for over a year asking either for a trial or to be set free.

"These men are force-fed twice a day. First they are strapped down with 16 different restrictions, including one that jerks their head back. Then a tube is fed through their nose and down into their stomach.

"The guards don't always use lubrication and regularly use the same tube for several different prisoners without bothering to clean it."

Guantanamo Bay has been rented as a military base from Cuba since 1903 for an unchanged $4,499 a year.

"As it is outside American territory the US Constitution doesn't apply," said Katznelson.

This may soon change as the US Supreme Court is about to reach a verdict on whether the Guantanamo Bay area is de facto American soil.

If so, the US Constitution does apply and the men will have the right to a fair and speedy trial.