Keeping Guantánamo on the Map

Vivek Bhatt, a Student Ambassador with the Global Justice Academy (GJA), has written this blog following a panel event he attended at the Edinburgh Law School. The event, hosted by the GJA, explored the continuing relevance of legal and political issues arising from detention at Guantánamo Bay.

The United States acquired control of Guantánamo Bay in 1903, when it entered into an agreement with Cuba for the perpetual lease of the 45 square mile area.[1] Guantánamo Bay has since been operated as a naval base, and in the 1990s, it was ‘refashioned as a detention camp for those seeking asylum in the United States.’[2] From 1991 to 1996, more than 20,000 Cuban and 36,000 Haitian asylum seekers were interned in Guantánamo Bay.[3] And, in November 2001, merely days after the declaration of a ‘global war’ against terrorism, a US Military Order authorised the indefinite detention and trial of ‘enemy combatants’ at the camp. The US promptly began transferring individuals captured during its international counterterrorist operations to Guantanamo Bay. A total of 770 have been held there through the course of the war on terrorism. Only 8 men have been convicted, with more than 500 released during the Bush administration, 198 released during Obama’s presidency, and 9 killed in custody. 41 remain in detention, with 14 considered high value detainees and 26 designated as ‘forever prisoners,’ individuals whose knowledge of practices at Guantánamo Bay renders them too dangerous to be released.

The legal justifications provided for detention at Guantánamo Bay have been vague, at best. Those transferred to the camp are characterised as ‘enemy combatants’ under the laws of armed conflict, even though many have been captured outside areas of fighting.[4] The camp’s location in Cuba has, furthermore, allowed officials to assert that detainees are not entitled to the protections of the US legal system. According to Harold Koh, Guantánamo Bay is effectively a ‘rights-free zone’ constructed by the US. [5] Its detainees, writes Agamben, ‘[Are] legally unnameable and unclassifiable beings.’[6] After the release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture in 2014, it was finally confirmed that many of these detainees have been subjected to ongoing torture practices as part of their interrogation. The camp has, therefore, come to symbolise the legal and ethical dubiousness of the war on terror, with the ‘visceral image’ of the orange Guantánamo jumpsuit now engrained in public memory and popular culture.[7] Fifteen years on, however, International attention to the legal and political issues arising from detention at Guantánamo Bay is waning. Some, it seems, believe the worst is over, while others may simply have accepted that the goings on at the camp are part of an inevitable, ‘new’ reality of the war on terror.

This was the topic of ‘International Law and Guantánamo Detention Operations: Why it Matters,’ a panel event hosted by the Global Justice Academy and the Edinburgh Law School on 9 February 2017. The event aimed to examine the range of international law and human rights issues relating to detention operations in Guantánamo Bay, and was opened by Kasey McCall-Smith, lecturer in public international law at the Edinburgh Law School. Dr McCall-Smith provided an overview of the breaches of international law at Guantánamo Bay. She began by pointing out that the United States is not solely responsible for these breaches; the international community has facilitated the detention programme at Guantánamo Bay, and has failed to react to the grave violations of human rights that have occurred there. The violations of human rights at Guantánamo Bay begin with rendition flights, which transport terrorists to the camp for interrogation, and have been allowed to land at various airports throughout Europe. Various areas of international law are relevant to rendition, but particularly the prohibition of enforced disappearance. Once at Guantánamo Bay, detainees have been denied their right to visits from a consular official of their national State, protected under Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.[8] As Dr McCall-Smith pointed out, various provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have also been violated in the course of detention and interrogation at Guantánamo Bay. These include the right to non-discrimination,[9] the right to liberty and security of person,[10] the right to be heard before a court,[11] and the right to be treated with respect for the inherent dignity of the person.[12]

Meanwhile, Jacques Hartmann, a senior lecturer in Law at the University of Dundee, spoke of his research into arbitrary detention in non-international armed conflicts. This topic is particularly relevant to Guantánamo Bay, given that most of those taken to the camp are captured as enemy combatants. To Dr Hartmann, the detention of suspected terrorists at Guantánamo Bay is symptomatic of a much larger problem: the lack of treaty provisions that explicitly address detention in non-international armed conflict. The lack of an express provision leads many to infer the authority to detain from the authority to use lethal force. Yet Dr Hartmann warned against such inferential reasoning, reiterating that any detention without legal justification is arbitrary, and is thus prohibited under both international human rights and humanitarian law.

As suggested above, the most widely discussed human rights violation at Guantánamo Bay is the continued use of torture. This was the focus of an address given by Dr Mitch Robinson, an international law specialist at the United States Department of Defense. He characterised Guantánamo Bay as a concentration camp; the only people detained there since November 2001 have been Sunni Muslim men. Dr Robinson spoke of one of his clients, a Saudi national who was accused of financing terrorism, and was in the CIAs’ torture programme for three and a half years. Though reports from early questioning suggested that he ‘does not appear to be a financing mastermind,’ the client was repeatedly deprived of sleep, sodomised and water-boarded, among other things. Robinson proposed a strategy for global human rights litigation relating to Guantánamo Bay. He refers to this strategy as ‘collateral advocacy’ for detainees’ human rights through domestic courts, regional human rights bodies, the UN’s human rights treaty bodies and high commissioner for human rights, international non-governmental organisations, civil society, and the application of legal or diplomatic pressure by other States.

Andrea Birdsall, lecturer in international relations at the University of Edinburgh, pointed out that as the international community has become aware of torture practices in Guantánamo Bay, the US government has moved along a ‘continuum of denials.’ This began with literal denial, a phase in which the Bush administration simply argued that the US Government does not commit acts of torture. This was, however, challenged by the release of the torture memos,[13] which made clear that torture was being used as a government policy. This led to ‘interpretive denial,’ in which it was argued that detainees were not subjected to torture, but to ‘enhanced’ or ‘increased pressure’ phases of interrogation that did not entail the ‘near-death’ experiences that would constitute violations of international or US domestic law. In the final stage, ‘implicatory denial,’ it was admitted that ‘mistakes had been made’ in the interrogation of suspected terrorists, but it was argued that the measures taken were justifiable in times of crisis. To Dr Birdsall, the US government’s treatment of terrorist suspects does not signify the demise of the anti-torture norm. Instead, the discourse surrounding Guantánamo Bay has legitimised the international law prohibition of torture, reinforcing a shared global understanding of the prohibition’s non-derogability.

The panel concluded that the programme of detention and interrogation at Guantánamo Bay warrants continued attention from scholars, lawyers, governments, and international civil society. There are three reasons for this conclusion. Firstly, violations of human rights are ongoing; Article 14 of the Torture Convention, for example, requires States parties to rehabilitate victims of torture, an obligation the US government has not fulfilled in relation to Guantánamo detainees.[14] Secondly, Guantánamo Bay is unlikely to be closed in the foreseeable future, and conditions may in fact worsen in coming years. And, finally, the prominence of human rights violations at the camp presents an opportunity for scholars and practitioners to reflect upon the state of the international rule of law, and to reify the value of the fundamental rights protected within the international legal order.

About the author

Vivek Bhatt is an Edinburgh Global Research Scholar, and is reading for a PhD in Law. He holds an MSc in Political Theory from the London School of Economics and a Master of International Law from the University of Sydney. Vivek’s research interests span public international law, international political theory, and counterterrorism. His current research relates to the engagement of individuals in the international legal system through the course of the war on terror.

[1] Fleur Johns, ‘Guantánamo Bay and the Annihilation of the Exception’ (2005) 16(4) The European Journal of International Law 613, 616.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Mary Ellen O’Connell, ‘The Choice of Law Against Terrorism’ (2010) 4 Journal of National Security Law & Policy 343, 353.

[5] Quoted in Joan Fitspatrick, ‘Spekaing Law to Power: The War Against Terrorism and Human Rights’ (2003) 14 European Journal of International Law 241, 242.

[6] Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception (Kevin Attell trans., University of Chicago Press, 2005) 3.

[7] This phrase was used by Mitch Robinson, a panelist at ‘International Law and Guantánamo Detention Operations: Why it Matters’, hosted by the Global Justice Academy and Edinburgh Law School on 9 February 2017.

[8] Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, signed 24 April 1963, 596 UNTS 261 (entered into force 19 March 1967) art 36.

[9] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, opened for signature 16 December 1966, 999 UNTS 171 (entered into force 23 March 1976) art 2.

[10] Ibid art 9(1).

[11] Ibid art 9(4).

[12] Ibid art 10(1).

[13] See, for example, Philippe Sands, ‘Torture Team: The Responsibility of Lawyers for Abusive Interrogation’ (2008) 9 Melbourne Journal of International Law 365, 366.

[14] Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, opened for signature 10 December 1984, 1465 UNTS 85 (entered into force 26 June 1987) art 14.

Workshop on Dignity: Reporting from an Innovative Initiative Fund Event

 

The Edinburgh Legal Theory Research Group had the pleasure of hosting, with the kind sponsorship of the Global Justice Academy through its Innovative Initiative Fund, the Workshop on Dignity on 6 October 2016. The workshop had three speakers: Ioanna Tourkochoriti (National University of Ireland Galway), Colin Bird (University of Virginia), and Adam Etinson (St. Andrews).

This guest post by co-organisers, Lucas Miotto and Paul Burgess, discusses the presentations and debate that took place.

The workshop was well attended by both staff members and students. An interesting, and beneficial, feature of the audience, was that it reflected the interdisciplinary character of the topic; we had attendees coming from myriad fields, such as politics, human rights, international and constitutional law, as well as legal and moral philosophy. Discussion was very lively and, perhaps due to the diverse character of the audience, presenters received feedback and questions from several different angles.

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Getting to Grips with Guantánamo IV: Person Zero & Camp 7

KMSThis post is by Kasey McCall-Smith: a lecturer in Public International Law and programme director for the LLM in Human Rights at Edinburgh Law School.

This post is the fourth in a series of blogs that chronicle the history and current state of play regarding the US rendition and detention programme in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. They were written during the author’s visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to observe military commission proceedings in the case of USA v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al.  30 May – 3 June 2016, which is the initial phase of her project Getting to Grips with Guantánamo.

In my last post, the use of evidence obtained through torture in the case of US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. (KSM case) was introduced. This post further considers how torture impacts detainees held at Guantánamo and the 9/11 trial. An interesting addition to the already complex pre-trial considerations is the possible appearance of a detainee who has not been seen in public since he was rendered into the custody of the CIA. Abu Zubaydah, a Palestinian, is believed to have been taken into CIA custody in 2002 following his capture in Pakistan. After three years on a CIA ‘black site’, he was delivered to Joint Task Force-Guantánamo (JTF-GTMO) in 2006 where he remains a High Value Detainee (HVD) despite never having been charged with a crime. As characterised by former FBI agent, Ali Soufan, Zubaydah is the ‘original sin’ of the US in its post-9/11 anti-terror campaign.

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Getting to Grips with Guantánamo III: Torture Evidence

KMSThis post is by Kasey McCall-Smith: a lecturer in Public International Law and programme director for the LLM in Human Rights at Edinburgh Law School.

This post is the third in a series of blogs that chronicle the history and current state of play regarding the US rendition and detention programme in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. They were written during the author’s visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to observe military commission proceedings in the case of USA v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al.  30 May – 3 June 2016, which is the initial phase of her project Getting to Grips with Guantánamo.

Right now, on a small island in the Caribbean, what will ultimately be one of the most comprehensive examinations of torture is taking place in the form of a military commission proceeding in the case of US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. (KSM case). A common understanding among the observers that are witnessing KSM is that half are there to see the 9/11 trial and half are there to see the torture trial. In anticipation of what many view as a foregone conclusion, the defence lawyers are diligently representing their clients in order to ensure that if the ultimate penalty, death, is pursued in the sentencing phase of the trial; then the brutality that they suffered at the hands of the CIA is in the trial record. This record will be instrumental to mitigation of the death penalty and speak to the reality that much of the evidence presented may have been extracted or derived through torture, which is prohibited under international law.

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Getting to Grips with Guantánamo II: Military Commissions & Law of War Detention

KMSThis post is by Kasey McCall-Smith: a lecturer in Public International Law and programme director for the LLM in Human Rights at Edinburgh Law School.

This post is the second in a series of blogs that chronicle the history and current state of play regarding the US rendition and detention programme in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. They were written during the author’s visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to observe military commission proceedings in the case of USA v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al.  30 May – 3 June 2016, which is the initial phase of her project Getting to Grips with Guantánamo. Click here to read the first post in the series: ‘Rendition to the Caribbean’.

The military commission proceeding against the 9/11 five in the case of US v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al. (KSM case) is viewed as having parallel purposes, bringing justice to the nation and victims’ families for the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and laying bare the flagrant torture campaign under the US Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) post-9/11 Detention and Interrogation Program (DIP). The KSM case stems from charges filed on 31 May 2011 against the five men charged with conspiracy, murder and destruction of property in violation of the law of war for the conception and facilitation of the 9/11 attacks which resulted in the deaths of close to 3000 people. The subsequent ‘war on terror’ launched by the Bush administration in the aftermath set in motion a ruthless anti-terrorism campaign by the CIA that has been acknowledged by the US government as comprising widespread use of torture in breach of both US domestic law and international law.

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Getting to Grips with Guantánamo I: Rendition to the Caribbean

KMSThis post is by Kasey McCall-Smith: a lecturer in Public International Law and programme director for the LLM in Human Rights at Edinburgh Law School.

This post is the first in a series of blogs that chronicle the history and current state of play regarding the US rendition and detention programme in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. They were written during the author’s visit to Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, to observe military commission proceedings in the case of USA v. Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, et. al.  30 May – 3 June 2016, which is the initial phase of her project Getting to Grips with Guantánamo.

Following the attacks against the US on 9/11, then-President Bush declared open-season on all individuals with any established link to al Qaeda. In furtherance of the Bush declaration, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) commenced what would eventually prove to be the most egregious and calculated rendition and detention campaign in modern, post-WWII history. A campaign defined by blatant breaches of both US and international law. To this day, it serves as a black mark on America’s international image, and the resulting impact of the decisions taken by the Bush Administration in the early days of 2001 continue to resonate today.

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Responding to the moral crisis in northern Nigeria and expecting the unexpected

In this guest blog by Zoe Marks of the Centre of African Studies at the University of Edinburgh, she discusses responses to the kidnapping of nearly three hundred school girls in northern Nigeria, and argues that something can be done. This blog was written on May 6, 2014.

What is a war on terrorism if not the rescue of 276 hostages? Prisoners, forced wives, sex slaves, chattel for market, domestic servants, human trafficking victims – aspiring, diligent, brave young girls.

We are facing an urgent moral crisis and fumbling. More than 20 days have passed since over 300 schoolgirls were corralled onto lorries in the middle of the night, captured by men claiming to be soldiers there to protect them. For three weeks, the Nigerian government has punted, Western governments have stood on the sidelines, and regional allies and the African Union have not even shown up to the pitch. Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan did not call his first strategy meeting until last Saturday (4 May). His military advisory committee was convened only today for the first time (6 May).

When abducted on 14 April, the students were already far from home. They had travelled to Chibok Government Girls Secondary School despite school closures throughout Borno State not to make a political statement, but simply to sit the same high school certificate exams being taken by their peers across West Africa.

Boko Haram

Boko Haram militants. Source: Boko Haram video.

Boko Haram, the al Qaeda-aligned insurgency that has destabilized the region, only claimed responsibility for the kidnapping yesterday (5 May). They released an hour-long video of masked men standing heavily armed and silent while their leader read a lengthy harangue. The girls were nowhere to be seen. He parroted back as threats what the news media has been recycling as fact, raising more questions than answers.

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We kill people to tell people that killing people is wrong?

Harriet Cornell is the Development Officer for the Global Justice Academy. In this guest post, she reports on the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma, and the state of the death penalty in the United States.

Ohio drugs protocol

In 2005, this memo was posted next to the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. Credit: AP File Photo

The state of Oklahoma executed Clayton Lockett at 6pm local time on Tuesday 29 April 2014. Or, according to widespread news reports and a statement from Robert Patton (Director of Oklahoma Department of Corrections), the state attempted to execute Lockett but failed, and he died 43 minutes later from a massive heart attack. Charles Warner was due to follow Lockett to the gurney at 8pm, but has been granted a 14-day stay by Governor Mary Fallin, pending an investigation into what happened in that execution chamber. Continue reading

Justice versus Peace? Syrian Atrocities and International Criminal Justice

Christine Bell, Professor of Constitutional Law and Director of the Global Justice Academy, comments on recent Human Rights developments in Syria.

syria blog

A recent report into torture – interestingly with a connection to Scotland (one of the researches is based in Dundee University) – has provided strong evidence that the Assad regime has been involved in gross human rights violations.  The report was produced by a set of international experts in international criminal law and forensics, requested by Carter-Ruck & Co solicitors, acting for Qatar National State who apparently support the Syrian National Movement (none of this is very clear from the face of the report, which has been linked to from Carter-Ruck’s website, neither is it very clear from the Carter-Ruck press release which does not mention a client).

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