Torture, Ineptitude and the Omar Khadr Guantánamo tapes: Andy Worthington on Antiwar Radio

22.7.08

The Guantanamo FilesLast week was a busy week for matters relating to Guantánamo and the “War on Terror,” and after the successes of the last month, in Boumediene v. Bush and Parhat v. Gates, not entirely reassuring. On Tuesday, the Fourth Circuit appellate court ruled, in the case of US resident Ali al-Marri, that the President can, indeed, indefinitely imprison Americans without charge or trial on the US mainland. That, really, should have been enough for the week, but on Wednesday videotapes were released showing 16-year old Omar Khadr crying during interrogations by Canadian agents at Guantánamo in 2003, and far too many viewers demonstrated what a callous world we live in by choosing to side with the administration in disregarding the rights of children in wartime.

To cap a dreadful week, on Friday, District Judge James Robertson, in what I can only regard as an extremely narrow reading of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the prisoners’ rights in Boumediene, closed his brief review of whether or not the trial by Military Commission of Salim Hamdan could go ahead by taking the government’s side, and ensuring that the ridiculous and unjust trial system invented by Dick Cheney and David Addington in November 2001 can go ahead.

My thanks, however, go to Scott Horton of Antiwar Radio, who called me up on Friday to run through this litany of injustices with our usual exasperated indignation. The interview’s available here, and it was a delight, as ever.

On the home front, a busy week began on Sunday July 13, when I joined Tom Porteous, the UK Director of Human Rights Watch, Leanne Macmillan, the Director of Policy & External Affairs for the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture and Richard Watson of the BBC’s Newsnight for a panel discussion following a special preview screening of Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure, a fascinating and claustrophobic documentary about the Abu Ghraib scandal. A full report will follow soon.

On Thursday I hotfooted it to Willesden Green for a lively Q & A session following a screening, arranged by the London Guantánamo Campaign and Brent Stop the War, of Rendition, Hollywood’s take on the horrors of “extraordinary rendition” and torture, and on Friday (after a long working day that began, at 6.50 am, with a discussion of Hamdan’s case on BBC Radio Scotland), I paid a visit to the start of the LGC’s 6 Days for 6 Years Vigil for British resident Binyam Mohamed outside the US embassy. If you get the chance, go along and show your support. I met some excellent people there, some of whom already had their sleeping bags ready for a long cold night watched over by a distant guard and his gun.

A report on the first evening of the vigil is available here, and the event culminates on Thursday July 24 (Binyam’s 30th birthday, six years and three months after he was first seized) with an authorized birthday celebration outside Downing Street.

And finally, on Sunday, I made a trip to Brighton to help persuade an audience at the annual Peace Picnic, just a stone’s throw away from the beach, to write a birthday card to Binyam (cards were provided at a stall run by the Save Omar campaign, now renamed Brighton Against Guantánamo) and a letter to Gordon Brown demanding his return to the UK.

I also raised the topic of Britain’s forgotten resident, Ahmed Belbacha, who lived down the coast in Bournemouth until he took an ill-fated holiday to Pakistan in 2001 and ended up in Guantánamo. Cleared by the US military in February 2007, Ahmed still languishes at Guantánamo, because he is terrified of being repatriated to Algeria, which he fled because he had been threatened by Islamist militants. His lawyers have, to date, successfully persuaded the US courts to block his forcible and illegal return, but the British government has refused to act on his behalf. Technically, Ahmed was not a legal resident at the time of his capture, but his supporters maintain — with some justification, I believe — that the British government should act to rescue an innocent man from an otherwise unending limbo in one of the world’s most notorious prisons.

For light relief, I then chatted to various local musicians about supporting Reprieve’s Pull the Plug on Torture Music initiative, and soaked up a little of the wind-blown sunshine with Jackie Chase, the mobilizer of much of the above, whose boundless energy is always an inspiration.

Andy is the author of The Guantánamo Files: the Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed, and see here for my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009.

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