Archive for January, 2011

Andy Worthington Archived by the British Library’s UK Web Archive

I’m delighted to report that my website Andy Worthington has been chosen by the British Library as part of its UK Web Archive.

As the curators explain:

The UK Web Archive contains websites that publish research, that reflect the diversity of lives, interests and activities throughout the UK, and demonstrate web innovation … There are millions of UK websites. They are constantly changing and even disappearing. Often they contain information that is only available online. Responding to the challenge of a potential “digital black hole”, the UK Web Archive is there to safeguard as many of these websites as practical. Its purpose is to collect, preserve and give permanent access to key UK websites for future generations … The archive is free to view, accessed directly from the Web itself and, since archiving began in 2004, has collected thousands of websites.

I regard this is a great honour, and a recognition of my work, and those interested in accessing the archive of my site (which was archived on January 12, and will be updated at regular intervals) can do so here. The page indexing the site is here, and see here for a BBC article about the UK Web Archive.

Andy Worthington 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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Press Conference on Guantánamo and Poland’s Secret Prison, with Moazzam Begg, Andy Worthington and Lawyer for CIA “Ghost Prisoner,” Warsaw, February 1, 3 pm

Event: Press conference with Moazzam Begg, Andy Worthington and Bartlomiej Jankowski, lawyer for CIA “ghost prisoner” Abu Zubaydah.
Time: Tuesday February 1, 15:00 hrs.
Venue: Kino Muranów, ul. Gen. Andersa 1 (Plac Bankowy, metro “Ratusz”), 00-147, Warszawa.

Last week, it was announced that, from February 1 to 5, 2011, Moazzam Begg, former Guantánamo prisoner and director of the NGO Cageprisoners, and Andy Worthington, investigative journalist and author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, will be visiting Poland for a tour of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo,” which Worthington co-directed with filmmaker Polly Nash. The Polish version of the film, with subtitles, is entitled, “Poza Prawem: Echa z Guantánamo.”

The details of the tour (and of the film) are available here, and this update is to provide information about the press conference in Warsaw on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the key themes of the tour, which, as well as providing important information about Guantánamo (regarding the innocent men held there, and how few prisoners are alleged to have had any connection to terrorist actvities), is also intended to raise awareness of the 31 men who have been cleared for release, but cannot be repatriated because they face a credible risk of torture or other ill-treatment in their home countries.

Crucially, the tour is also intended to create a space for discussions about the secret CIA prison that existed at Stare Kiejkuty, near Szymany, and the ongoing investigation into the complicity of senior Polish officials in establishing this prison, where numerous “high-value detainees” were held and tortured in the Bush administration’s “War on Terror.”

Moazzam Begg and Andy Worthington will be joined for the press conference on Tuesday by Bartlomiej Jankowski, the lawyer for Abu Zubaydah, one of the “high-value detainees” held in the secret CIA prison at Stare Kiejkuty, who was granted “victim” status by the Polish Prosecutor just 10 days ago as part of an ongoing investigation into the prison.

The organizers also hope that Mikołaj Pietrzak, the lawyer for Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, another “high-value detainee” who was granted “victim” status in October last year, and Irmina Pacho of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, which played a major role last summer in exposing flight records demonstrating the movement of prisoners to and from the prison, will also be available to discuss this crucial matter of international significance. The “victim” status granted to al-Nashiri is of particular interest as it was announced last week that the Obama administration is planning to proceed with his trial by Military Commission at Guantánamo.

For further information, or to arrange interviews, please contact Andy Worthington. The contact in Poland is Anna Minkiewicz, the organizer of the tour.

Andy Worthington 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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As Egyptians Call for Mubarak’s Fall, He Appoints America’s Favorite Torturer as Vice President

As the people of Egypt continue to show no willingness to tolerate any longer the 30-year dictatorship of President Hosni Mubarak, no one — least of all the Egyptian people — should be fooled into thinking that Mubarak’s response, appointing intelligence chief Omar Suleiman as his Vice President, constitutes any kind of change.

As Stephen Soldz (psychoanalyst, psychologist and anti-torture activist) reports, in an incisive article for Op-Ed News (cross-posted below), Suleiman played a major role in the Bush administration’s torture program, which not only casts a bleak light on America’s relationship with the Mubarak regime, but also indicates that, for the Egyptian people, devastated by a torture regime that has lasted throughout Mubarak’s reign, Omar Suleiman is the last man that should be being groomed as a possible successor.

The Torture Career of Egypt’s New Vice President: Omar Suleiman and the Rendition to Torture Program
By Stephen Soldz, Op-Ed News, January 29, 2011

In response to the mass protests of recent days, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has appointed his first Vice President in his over 30 years rule, intelligence chief Omar Suleiman. When Suleiman was first announced, Aljazeera commentators were describing him as a “distinguished” and “respected” man. It turns out, however, that he is distinguished for, among other things, his central role in Egyptian torture and in the US rendition to torture program. Further, he is “respected” by US officials for his cooperation with their torture plans, among other initiatives.

Katherine Hawkins, an expert on the US’s rendition to torture program, in an email, has sent some critical texts where Suleiman pops up. Thus, Jane Mayer, in The Dark Side, pointed to Suleiman’s role in the rendition program:

Each rendition was authorized at the very top levels of both governments … The long-serving chief of the Egyptian central intelligence agency, Omar Suleiman, negotiated directly with top Agency officials. [Former US Ambassador to Egypt] Walker described the Egyptian counterpart, Suleiman, as “very bright, very realistic,” adding that he was cognizant that there was a downside to “some of the negative things that the Egyptians engaged in, of torture and so on. But he was not squeamish, by the way” (pp. 113).

Stephen Grey, in Ghost Plane, his investigative work on the rendition program also points to Suleiman as central in the rendition program:

To negotiate these assurances [that the Egyptians wouldn’t “torture” the prisoner delivered for torture] the CIA dealt principally in Egypt through Omar Suleiman, the chief of the Egyptian general intelligence service (EGIS) since 1993. It was he who arranged the meetings with the Egyptian interior ministry … Suleiman, who understood English well, was an urbane and sophisticated man. Others told me that for years Suleiman was America’s chief interlocutor with the Egyptian regime — the main channel to President Hosni Mubarak himself, even on matters far removed from intelligence and security.

Suleiman’s role was also highlighted in a Wikileaks cable:

In the context of the close and sustained cooperation between the USG and GOE on counterterrorism, Post believes that the written GOE assurances regarding the return of three Egyptians detained at Guantanamo (reftel) represent the firm commitment of the GOE to adhere to the requested principles. These assurances were passed directly from Egyptian General Intelligence Service (EGIS) Chief Soliman [sic] through liaison channels — the most effective communication path on this issue. General Soliman’s word is the GOE’s guarantee, and the GOE’s track record of cooperation on CT issues lends further support to this assessment. End summary.

However, Suleiman wasn’t just the go-to bureaucrat for when the Americans wanted to arrange a little torture. This “urbane and sophisticated man” apparently enjoyed a little rough stuff himself.

Shortly after 9/11, Australian citizen Mamdouh Habib was captured by Pakistani security forces and, under US pressure, tortured by Pakistanis. He was then rendered (with an Australian diplomat watching) by CIA operatives to Egypt, a not uncommon practice. In Egypt, Habib merited Suleiman’s personal attention. As related by Richard Neville, based on Habib’s memoir:

Habib was interrogated by the country’s Intelligence Director, General Omar Suleiman … Suleiman took a personal interest in anyone suspected of links with Al-Qaeda. As Habib had visited Afghanistan shortly before 9/11, he was under suspicion. Habib was repeatedly zapped with high-voltage electricity, immersed in water up to his nostrils, beaten, his fingers were broken and he was hung from metal hooks.

That treatment wasn’t enough for Suleiman, so:

To loosen Habib’s tongue, Suleiman ordered a guard to murder a gruesomely shackled Turkistan prisoner in front of Habib — and he did, with a vicious karate kick.

After Suleiman’s men extracted Habib’s confession, he was transferred back to US custody, where he eventually was imprisoned at Guantánamo. His “confession” was then used as evidence in his Guantánamo trial [actually his Combatant Status Review Tribunal, a miltary review board].

The Washington Post‘s intelligence correspondent Jeff Stein reported some additional details regarding Suleiman and his important role in the old Egypt the demonstrators are trying to leave behind:

“Suleiman is seen by some analysts as a possible successor to the president,” the Voice of America said Friday. “He earned international respect for his role as a mediator in Middle East affairs and for curbing Islamic extremism.”

An editorialist at Pakistan’s International News predicted Thursday that “Suleiman will probably scupper his boss’s plans [to install his son], even if the aspiring intelligence guru himself is as young as 75.”

Suleiman graduated from Egypt’s prestigious Military Academy but also received training in the Soviet Union. Under his guidance, Egyptian intelligence has worked hand-in-glove with the CIA’s counterterrorism programs, most notably in the 2003 rendition from Italy of an al-Qaeda suspect known as Abu Omar.

In 2009, Foreign Policy magazine ranked Suleiman as the Middle East’s most powerful intelligence chief, ahead of Mossad chief Meir Dagan.

In an observation that may turn out to be ironic, the magazine wrote, “More than from any other single factor, Suleiman’s influence stems from his unswerving loyalty to Mubarak.”

If Suleiman succeeds Mubarak and retains power, we will likely be treated to plaudits for his distinguished credentials from government officials and US pundits. We should remember that what they really mean is his ability to brutalize and torture. As Stephen Grey puts it:

But in secret, men like Omar Suleiman, the country’s most powerful spy and secret politician, did our work, the sort of work that Western countries have no appetite to do ourselves.

If Suleiman receives praise in the US, it will be because our leaders know that he’s the sort of leader who can be counted on to do what it takes to restore order and ensure that Egypt remains friendly to US interests.

There are some signs, however, that the Obama administration may not accept Suleiman’s appointment. Today they criticized the rearrangement of the chairs in Egypt’s government. If so, that will be a welcome sign that the Obama administration may have some limits beyond which it is hesitant to go in aligning with our most brutal “friends.”

We sure hope that the Egyptian demonstrators reject the farce of Suleiman’s appointment and push on to a complete change of regime. Otherwise the Egyptian torture chamber will undoubtedly return, as a new regime reestablishes “stability” and serves US interests.

Note: For more on Omar Suleiman and the US torture program, see this short commentary at the New Yorker by Jane Mayer. I’ll also be looking at more of this story in an article to be published soon.

Andy Worthington 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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Video: “The Guantánamo Files” — Andy Worthington on Press TV’s “The Autograph”

On the last day of my recent US tour to raise awareness of the plight of the remaining 173 prisoners in Guantánamo on the 9th anniversary of the opening of the prison, I was invited to be the subject of a Press TV show entitled “The Autograph,” described as “a 25-minute weekly interview with academics, authors, politicians and dignitaries encompassing a whole range of different topics from cultural to highly political issues.” The host, Susan Modaress, was engaged and very well informed, and it was excellent to have the opportunity to explain the story of Guantánamo past, present and future in more detail than is usually available to me on broadcast TV.

I could run through the various topics we discussed, but it would make more sense to direct you instead to the videos of the program, available in three parts below, via YouTube. I hope you enjoy the program, and please feel free to make it available to others if you find it enlightening. It remains crucial that people understand the lies that have been told about Guantánamo over the years — that it held “the worst of the worst,” for example, when only a few percent of the 779 men held are alleged to have had any involvement in terrorism, and the rest were either completely innocent men, seized for bounties by America’s Afghan and Pakistani allies, or foot soldiers in the war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, which preceded the 9/11 attacks and, for the most part, had nothing to do with al-Qaeda or international terrorism.

As I have explained in recent articles, Guantánamo Forever?, The Political Prisoners of Guantánamo and Obama’s Collapse: The Return of the Military Commissions, it also remains crucially important that those who understand the extent of these lies and distortions push to keep Guantánamo in the news. Through a combination of politically expedient cowardice on President Obama’s part, and ferocious and cyncial scaremongering on the part of lawmakers who support Guantánamo’s continued existence, the future is bleak for the remaining prisoners. Although 89 of these men have been cleared for release by the President’s own Guantánamo Review Task Force, the majority — 58 Yemenis, whose home country is unfairly regarded as a nation full of terrorists and terrorist sympathizers — are unlikely to be released in the foreseable future, unless action is taken to raise awareness of their plight as political prisoners, and justice also remains elusive for the 33 men proposed for trials, and 48 others designated — shockingly — for indefinite detention without charge or trial.

Andy Worthington 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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Torture and Despair: The Psychic Roots of the Revolution in Tunisia, Egypt and Across the Middle East

The roots of the popular uprising in Tunisia that toppled President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, after 23 years of dictatorship, which has now spread to Egypt like wildfire (click to enlarge photo), and has begun manifesting itself in other countries as well, are, of course, many and varied. Statistically, the cause is a generation of young people — huge in number and largely unemployed — who have known nothing other than dictatorship and whose discontent, in Tunisia, escalated so suddenly, and reached a tipping point so swiftly that it created a mass movement too large for Ben Ali to suppress.

That, clearly, has provided inspiration across the Arab world, on the understandable basis that, if it could happen in Tunisia, it can happen elsewhere as well, but as I have watched this story unfold, and as I watch, with admiration and trepidation, the uprising in Egypt, where the dictator Hosni Mubarak initially appeared unprepared to take the route chosen by Ben Ali, and intended to counter the revolution with violence (but now appears to be on the back foot, promising to form a new government tomorrow, even though that will not placate protestors at all), I have been thinking not about the statistical cause of the uprisings, but about other triggers — actions that are resonant with symbolism, and that are the foundational impulses for revolution.

In Tunisia, this spur, as Brian Whittaker of the Guardian realized on December 28, in an article entitled, “How a man setting fire to himself sparked an uprising in Tunisia,” was the suicide, by self-immolation, of 26-year old Mohamed Bouazizi.

As Whittaker explained:

[On December 19], twenty-six-year-old Mohamed Bouazizi, living in the provincial town of Sidi Bouzid, had a university degree but no work. To earn some money he took to selling fruit and vegetables in the street without a licence. When the authorities stopped him and confiscated his produce, he was so angry that he set himself on fire.

Rioting followed and security forces sealed off the town. On Wednesday, another jobless young man in Sidi Bouzid climbed an electricity pole, shouted “no for misery, no for unemployment”, then touched the wires and electrocuted himself.

On Friday, rioters in Menzel Bouzaiene set fire to police cars, a railway locomotive, the local headquarters of the ruling party and a police station. After being attacked with Molotov cocktails, the police shot back, killing a teenage protester. By Saturday, the protests had reached the capital, Tunis –and a second demonstration took place there yesterday.

Just 17 days later, what had started with the death of Mohamed Bouazizi had led to the flight of Ben Ali, and an example of people power that is now spreading across the Middle East.

Poverty and injustice, then, were at the heart of Tunisia’s uprising, but in Egypt, although the spur has been Tunisia, the movement’s symbolic power comes not from suicidal despair, but from the brutal murder, last June, of Khaled Said, a 28-year old businessman from Alexandria, who was beaten to death by the police in cold blood after they dragged him onto the street from an internet café.

In thinking about how the murder of Khaled Said is the symbolic spur for the uprising in Egypt (see “We are all Khaled Said“), I have realized that, although brutality was widespread in Tunisia too, it is appropriate that the Egyptian people are holding the memory of a victim of the state’s appalling violence as an inspiration, because Mubarak’s brutality — exercised in Egypt’s torture prisons, as well as in casual homicides like that of Khaled Said — is not only an emblem of Egypt over the last 30 years, but also reflects on wider issues that have, indirectly, dominated my life for the last five years since I began researching and writing about Guantánamo and the Bush administration’s “War on Terror”: the hypocrisy of the West (and, in particular, the United States), which funds Mubarak’s repressive regime (to the tune of $1.3 billion a year), and which made Egypt central to the “War on Terror,” its vile torture prisons the first port of call for victims of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program — the same prisons which, ironically, had radicalized al-Qaeda’s second-in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri and countless others in the 1980s.

Torture and state-sanctioned murder, then, is the spur for Egypt’s revolution as much as poverty and oppression, and with this in mind I was humbled to stumble upon an extraordinary article written last June, shortly after the murder of Khaled Said, by the Egyptian author Alaa Al-Aswany, the author of The Yacoubian Building, and a member of the pro-democracy movement Kefaya, which captures perfectly the almost unspeakable cruelty at the heart of Hosni Mubaraks’s Egypt.

An Attempt to Understand the Causes of Cruelty
By Alaa Al-Aswany, June 29, 2010

It was Wednesday, June the 13th, 1906.

Egypt was under British occupation and five British officers went out into the country to shoot pigeons. One of them accidentally started a fire and wounded a peasant woman. The villagers gathered around and chased away the British officers, one of whom died of sunstroke. Lord Cromer, the British governor of Egypt at the time, considered the incident a form of rebellion and decided to punish the Egyptians severely to preserve the prestige of the British Empire and its troops. He ordered 52 Egyptians arrested and after a rapid trial which did not meet the legal norms 32 of them were convicted, four to death by hanging and the others to flogging or imprisonment with hard labour. The sentences were carried out in front of the peasants’ wives and children.

The outrage became known by the name of the village where the incident took place: Denshawai in Menoufia province. Public opinion in Egypt was enraged against the brutal crime committed by the British occupation and too many writers and poets to mention wrote articles and poems condemning the executions at Denshawai, from the nationalist leader Mustafa Kamel , who launched a campaign against the British occupation in the Western press, to Ahmed Shawki, ‘the Prince of Poets’, Hafez Ibrahim, Kassem Amin and many others. In Britain itself British intellectuals and politicians condemned the British response, led by the playwright George Bernard Shaw, who write a famous article entitled ‘A Day of Shame’ for the British Empire’. This widespread campaign led to the dismissal of Lord Cromer and a full amnesty for the villagers imprisoned.

Like all Egyptians I studied the Denshawai incident in primary school and then forgot about it for years. But I thought about it again when I was following the horrible crime which the Egyptian regime recently committed in the city of Alexandria, when two police detectives beat Khaled Said, an unarmed and peaceful young man, until his skull was crushed and he died in front of them. When I saw a picture of Khaled Said with his face mutilated from torture, I found myself making a saddening comparison: in the Denshawai incident four Egyptian peasants were executed and another peasant was shot dead by the British, in other words the death toll was five, but how many victims of torture have there been under the present regime?

According to the statistics of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, in only eight years (between 2000 and 2008), 113 Egyptians died from the effects of torture in police stations and state security premises. After the Denshawai incident the British occupation authorities had 32 Egyptians flogged, but how many Egyptians have been tortured by the Egyptian police? Over the period 2000 to 2008, the number amounts to 275 documented cases of torture, besides of course dozens of cases where the victims refrained from reporting they had been tortured for fear of revenge by the police. This leads us to a strange fact: the number of victims of repression by the Egyptian regime is dozens of times greater than the number of victims in the Denshawai incident. This begs some questions: why is the regime so cruel to Egyptians, and why do Egyptians treat fellow Egyptians worse than the British occupation forces treated Egyptians in their time? To find an answer, we need to compare occupation and despotism, which are similar in many respects.

Despotic rulers, just like an army of occupation, seize and retain power by armed might. Despotic rulers, just like a foreign occupation, have no respect for the people they oppress. The occupiers see them as an inferior race, and the despots see them as ignorant, lazy and unable to behave democratically. In both cases the people, in the eyes of the occupiers and the despots, are creatures of little understanding or competence, and so they have fewer human rights than other people. In fact it is imperative to repress them, and subjugating them is the best way to control them. Respecting their wishes and their humanity would only spoil them and lead to insurrection. Despotism is in essence internal occupation, not by a foreign army but by indigenous people. But there is an important difference: a British officer who tortured and killed Egyptians could claim to himself, falsely, that he was in a state of war and this entitled him to do things which would be banned in peacetime. But an officer who tortures and kills his own compatriots is a special case. How is it that a young Egyptian who has struggled to enter the police academy in order to enforce the law and protect people’s lives and property when he graduates can then turn into a thug who tortures and kills people?

Psychological studies have shown that torturers are not necessarily evil or aggressive by nature, and that outside their work they might be quite ordinary people who have to pass through various psychological steps before they qualify to become torturers. Firstly, they have to work within a political system which permits torture as an acceptable method to punish or extract confessions from detainees. Secondly, they have to find colleagues at work who torture so that they can convince themselves that they are doing it in response to orders from their superiors that they cannot disobey. The third stage in the creation of a torturer is self-justification. The torturer has to be able to convince himself that he is torturing people to protect the country, his religious faith or society, or for the sake of the security and safety of the people. The torturer has to portray his victims as enemies, hired agents or criminals so that his conscience can countenance torturing them. But these steps in the creation of torturers, as laid out in psychology, are not enough, in my opinion, to explain what happened to Khaled Said.

Why was this innocent young man tortured so brutally? If the policemen had decided to kill him, why didn’t they shoot him with a bullet? One bullet would have been enough to kill him. Wouldn’t killing him quickly have been kinder to him and to his mother, who spent 28 years looking after him, bringing him up, watching him with joy as he grew up, went to school and did his military service? Then suddenly, they called her to pick him up and she saw his face mutilated, the flesh torn and his teeth smashed from the brutal torture. The only explanation for this dreadful cruelty is that Egyptian torturers, even after going through all the steps necessary to prepare them, have not fully succeeded in killing off their own consciences. They still understand, deep inside themselves and in spite of everything, that they are committing horrendous crimes and that they are not protecting the nation or the people, as they claim, but rather protecting one person — the ruler. The torturers know that what they are doing to people is against the law, against custom and against their faith and they certainly would not like their wives and children to know that they torture innocent people to death. It is this sense of guilt which makes the Egyptian torturers even more brutal than the soldiers of a foreign occupation. It is as if they cannot bear to be in a state in which it is possible to waver or examine one’s conscience, as if they want to silence their consciences completely, and they do that by committing more acts of torture and repression, going to extremes so that their consciences will wither away and they can feel safe from remorse for ever.

The brutal way that Khaled Said was murdered has found its place in the history of Egypt and the memory of Egyptians for ever. Those truly responsible for the murder of Khaled Said are not the detectives who beat him to death, nor the commissioner who sent them nor the director of security nor even the minister of the interior. The prime responsibility for the murder of Khaled Said and of all the victims of torture lies with the head of state who, if he wanted to prevent Egyptians being tortured, could do so with a single word, in fact with a single wave of his hand.

If Khaled Said had been European, American or Israeli, President Mubarak would have intervened personally to have the killers arrested and severely punished. But it was Khaled Said’s wretched luck to be born Egyptian at a time when Egyptians are slaughtered like stray dogs, with impunity and without any impartial investigation or even a word of apology. The murder of Khaled Said is a turning point by which Egyptians have understood how subjugated and humiliated they have become and how they can never live in freedom and dignity until Egypt rids itself of despotism.

Democracy is the solution.

Andy Worthington 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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Prisoners’ Lawyers David Remes and Sabin Willett Debate Guantánamo with Benjamin Wittes

In the debate about the closure of Guantánamo, I have made my position abundantly clear, in, for example, my recent articles, Guantánamo Forever?, The Political Prisoners of Guantánamo and Obama’s Collapse: The Return of the Military Commissions. Lacking courage, President Obama has allowed a cynical Congress to oppose his plans to bring prisoners to the U.S. mainland to face trial and to interfere with his right to release prisoners, effectively bringing to an end his attempts to close the prison.

Despite his own Guantánamo Review Task Force recommending that 89 of the remaining 173 prisoners should be released, all are still held — either because they are Yemenis, and the President agreed a year ago to issue an unprincipled moratorium preventing their release, or because they are awaiting resettlement in third countries (after every branch of the U.S. government refused to allow resettlement in the U.S.). The Task Force also recommended that 33 men should be put on trial, but with transfers to the mainland blocked Obama has chosen to press ahead with Military Commissions at Guantánamo instead. 48 others are to be held without charge or trial, although it is expected that Obama will soon sign an executive order granting them some sort of review process.

For Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution, who supports new legislation authorizing indefinite detention, and who was part of a panel discussion I organized in Washington D.C. two weeks ago, the President’s failures should encourage him to “embrace Guantánamo” as “a facility that offers a far more attractive model of how long-term counterterrorism detention can proceed than do the other sites the U.S. has used.”

I disagree with Ben, of course, as I believe that the laws of war already offer a model for detaining wartime prisoners — as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions — and that terror suspects should be tried in federal courts, but in the interrests of opening up the debate, I’m cross-posting his article below, as well as responses by two attorneys for prisoners at Guantánamo — David Remes, who represents a number of Yemenis, and Sabin Willett, who represents a number of Uighur prisoners.

Both David and Sabin take exception to Ben’s claims that the detentions of prisoners at Guantánamo “are supervised by the federal courts in probing habeas corpus cases,” noting correctly that the D.C. Circuit Court has intervened to make habeas “a right without a remedy,” as David puts it. Both also lament the government’s inability to release anyone from Guantánamo — the nub of my argument that they have become political prisoners, In addition, Sabin makes the case for reclassifying those identified as soldiers as prisoners of war, noting the cruel absurdity of treating “Taliban privates” worse than Nazi prisoners in World War II, and also draws an apposite analogy with George Orwell’s 1984.

Time for Obama to Embrace Guantánamo
By Benjamin Wittes

It is now two years since Barack Obama promised to close the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay within one year. It is one year since he missed his self-imposed deadline. And as he has no prospect of fulfilling his promise, it is almost certainly one year before he faces his third anniversary failure.

Faced with a recalcitrant Congress, the inability to bring detainees to the United States for trial, and a security situation in Yemen that does not favor the repatriation of large numbers of that country’s nationals, the administration has so far lapsed into paralysis. Obama continues to mouth his commitment to closing Guantánamo but is unwilling to exercise the powers of the presidency to prevent his policy’s frustration. An endless series of leaks and trial balloons promise policy initiatives that do not materialize. And the administration is left mired in the constraints of law, politics, diplomacy and the president’s own rhetoric.

I have a suggestion for the President: Since he is not going to close Guantánamo, he should embrace it.

I don’t say this lightly. I have never before argued against closing Guantánamo, and to be clear, I don’t oppose doing so now. But if Obama is not prepared to do what it takes to effectuate his preference, he should stop pretending and face the fact that the Guantánamo he is stuck with is not that bad. Indeed, it’s something he could talk about very differently from the way he does.

Guantánamo today is not the Guantánamo of the early Bush administration — a site chosen for its lying beyond the reach of the U.S. courts. As I point out in my new book on detention policy, Detention and Denial: The Case for Candor After Guantánamo, it is now a unique detention site for almost the opposite reason. Alone among facilities used by the military to detain enemy forces in the war on terror, detentions at Guantánamo are supervised by the federal courts in probing habeas corpus cases. Detainees there, unlike at any other detention facility, have access to lawyers. Their cases are followed closely by the press, and many hundreds of journalists have been to Guantánamo. What’s more, Obama is reportedly preparing to issue an executive order creating a significant new review process for those detainees who have lost their habeas cases. In other words, while everyone — including Obama — was calling for Guantánamo’s closure, it evolved into a facility that offers a far more attractive model of how long-term counterterrorism detention can proceed than do the other sites the U.S. has used. While it isn’t the system I would build, it is a system of transparency and review. And that is exactly what Obama has said so eloquently that he wants.

Ironically, the big beef against Guantánamo these days is its reputation, and Obama is contributing to that bad reputation whenever he insists that closing the facility remains a priority. Instead of holding up the changes there as the model of what long-term American counterterrorism detention will and should look like, he delegitimizes the one facility that represents what he purports to want — not to mention the one facility for whose preservation Congress has developed a peculiar fetish.

Instead of fecklessly continuing to argue for the closure of Guantánamo, Obama should announce — maybe in his State of the Union address — that since Congress has made closure impossible, he is committing himself to making Guantánamo a symbol not of excess, not of lawlessness and evasion of judicial review, but of detention under the rule of law. Huge strides, he can honestly say, have been made in this direction both in the last administration and in this, and with his promulgation of his executive order creating a review mechanism, he will make further strides. In addition, he should commit himself to expanding Guantánamo by bringing to it and subjecting to its processes all counterterrorism detainees captured in the future or held currently anywhere in the world today whom he means to hold in military detention for a protracted period of time. This will ensure that all detainees whom the United States wishes to hold because of something more than a role in local theater operations receive the benefit of the due process norms that have been established at Guantánamo. In exchange, he should ask Congress to ratify in statute the system that has emerged at Guantánamo and lift the restrictions it has imposed both on transfers and on federal court trials.

I do not know if there is a partner in Congress for this deal. But each part of it is good policy on its own terms, and Obama badly needs to change the conversation about Guantánamo. If he is going to be stuck with it, he might as well make it his own.

David Remes on Embracing Guantánamo

[Wittes’ introduction: Habeas lawyer David Remes sent me yesterday the following comments on my earlier post suggesting that it’s time for President Obama to embrace Guantánamo. I want to draw attention very briefly to two aspects of his note. First, it is a model of moral passion and tough-minded criticism (of my work) that remains civil at all times. Second, there is, at the end of David’s piece, a useful point of common ground with my argument that he is criticizing: A skepticism that Guantánamo is really a problem for national security. For David, rather, Guantánamo presents a moral problem. This point is enormously clarifying — candidly identifying the real stakes for the left in the Guantánamo closure debate. I wish the administration were so forthright].

Ben argues that since President Obama is not going to close Guantánamo, he should stop saying he wants to close it, and should embrace it. Of course, Obama has failed to close Guantánamo, and Congress has hemmed him in. But Obama should close Guantánamo. He should at long last muster the political will to close it. The one thing he should not do is declare his failure a success.

I understand Ben to be saying that Guantánamo is really pretty good, all things considered; that in saying Guantánamo should be closed, Obama is only reinforcing the misperception that Guantánamo is really pretty bad; and that if Obama actually isn’t going to close Guantánamo, he should at least stop reinforcing the misperception that it’s pretty bad, and should explain why it’s pretty good. I disagree.

First, I don’t share Ben’s opinion that Guantánamo’s “not that bad.” I challenge anyone who says that to agree to let himself be imprisoned there — without charges, with no prospect of trial, separated for years if not decades from family, friends, and society, and with no end in sight. I grant that Guantánamo today is “more attractive” than “the other sites the U.S. has used,” but surely that’s to damn it with faint praise. It’s also a false choice. Obama should close Guantánamo and whatever evil cousins still exist.

Ben argues, in favor of Guantánamo, that detentions “are supervised by the federal courts in probing habeas corpus cases.” I don’t know what Ben means by “probing” in this setting. I do know that the D.C. Circuit has been making it ever easier for the government to justify detentions and has barred district court judges from compelling the government to release men found to be unlawfully detained. The D.C. Circuit has made habeas a right without a remedy, a situation the Supreme Court should rectify.

I agree that press attention helped force the government to improve conditions at Guantánamo. But where’s the “transparency” Ben applauds? The government’s allegations against a detainee are secret. The government’s evidence is secret. Court hearings are secret, and court decisions are censored. Government decisions about who has been approved for transfer, or been slated for indefinite detention, are secret. Reporters, human rights groups, and policymakers may not speak with detainees.

As Ben notes, it’s been reported that Obama is preparing an executive order creating a new detention review process. That’s old wine in new bottles. More review means more delay. Bush had his Administrative Review Boards, but when he left office, 59 cleared detainees were still at Guantánamo. Obama had his Guantánamo Review Task Force. Yet 90 detainees it approved for transfer — including some ARB-cleared detainees — remain at Guantánamo.

Like Ben, I’m not moved by Obama’s claim that Guantánamo is a recruiting tool for al-Qaeda, and that keeping the prison jeopardizes, not enhances, our security. Perhaps at the margins this is true, but whatever harm Guantánamo did in this regard, the harm’s largely been done. If anything is inflaming the Arab and Muslim worlds now, I believe, it’s not Guantánamo but Obama’s unmet promise to be different. Obama needs no excuse to close Guantánamo. Guantánamo should be closed because it’s wrong.

Sabin Willett on Embracing Guantánamo

I enjoy your sparring with Brother Remes.

Embrace it? The real question is whether we are a people who must hold a Taliban private until the Greek Kalends in order to feel safe. And are content to debate forever over how to try an alleged war criminal, rather than actually trying him. The Congress says we are that timorous a people. They appear to be right. We’re not our grandfathers, that’s for sure.

And we really aren’t a country committed to an independent judiciary, that’s become magnificently clear. You can have a habeas hearing, but you can’t have a judicial remedy. The Supreme Court issued a brave essay in 2008, but since then has beat a retreat from every engagement that would give its essay force. Quality of evidence, standard of appellate review, remedy. The essay has been filleted by the circuit. Full of sound and fury — but what does it signify? A fellow wins his case against the government and the remedy is for the court to say to the jailer, “please will you do something about it?”

Embrace it. Hmmm. The thing I’ve never understood is, why at least not convert GTMO to a POW camp? A real one? With real, honorable treatment of the enemy, as required by law and the service field manuals? Why the cages, interrogations, etc etc etc? Why arent there gardens, orchestras, newsletters, canteens, jobs — or were the Nazis (who had all those things in camps in Texas and Alabama) less dangerous than Taliban privates?

America is Winston Smith. You remember how Orwell’s 1984 ends.

[S]he loved Guantánamo.

Andy Worthington 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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Compromise on Control Orders Is Inadequate; Failure to Address Problems with Secret Evidence is Worse

On Wednesday, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, informed the House of Commons about the results of the government’s extensive counter-terrorism review,  overseen by Ken Macdonald QC (Lord Macdonald), whose report, and the government’s response, is available here. The review confirms that, on many grounds, the government has, as promised, decided to defend aspects of civil liberties in the UK that had been undermined by the Labour government, including reducing detention without charge from 28 days to 14, restricting open-ended stop and search powers by the police, and withdrawing other legislation that has led to the persecution of photographers.

On two points, however, the government failed to banish the authoritarian demons of the Labour years: control orders and the deportation of foreign terror suspects on the basis of “diplomatic assurances.”

Control orders, introduced as emergency legislation in March 2005, after the House of Lords ruled that the government’s previous manner of dealing with foreign terror suspects in the wake of the 9/11 attacks — imprisoning them without charge or trial — was unlawful, were designed, as the government’s review states, to prevent individuals under suspicion “from engaging in terrorism-related activity by placing a range of restrictions on their activities, including curfews, restrictions on access to associates and communications and, in some cases, relocation.” Since their introduction, they have been applied to 48 men in total, although currently they apply to just eight men — all British nationals, rather than the foreign nationals for whom the system was designed.

A rather less bland description of the circumstances in which those held on control orders are obiged to live can be found in an article I wrote in November:

Typically, they involve forced relocation within the UK (often to almost uninhabitable flats in areas where racism is prevalent), punitive curfews, the vetting of all visitors, a ban on the use of computers and mobile phones, tagging, the obligation to check in regularly (at all times of the day and night) with the security firms monitoring the tags, and random raids by Home Office personnel. For those with families, their wives and children suffer; those who live alone are often horrendously isolated.

After extensive negotiations, involving serious conflict within the coalition government between Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who pledged to abolish control orders, and Prime Minister David Cameron and Theresa May, who had both been given alarmist briefings by the security services, the government reached a compromise, which is an improvement in some ways, but a thorough disappointment in others.

As explained in the government’s review:

The review has concluded that the current control order regime can and should be repealed … There will be an end to the use of forced relocation and lengthy curfews that prevent individuals leading a normal daily life. Under control orders the Government could implement any measure deemed necessary provided it was not struck down by a court. Under this regime, the Government will specify in greater detail the measures that will and will not be available.

Stressing that prosecution — rather then mere containment — is an objective of the new measures, known officially as “terrorism prevention and investigation measures” (TPIMs), the review states that they “will be time limited to two years maximum to emphasise that they are a short term expedient not a long term solution. They may be reimposed after two years only where there is new material to demonstrate that the person concerned poses a continued threat. While that person might reach the end of the two year period with prosecution not having been possible, successful prosecution will always be the objective.”

The government also states that the new measures “will allow greater freedom of communication and association than the control order regime, placing only limited restrictions on communications, including use of the internet, and on the freedom to associate,” that those subject to the conditions “will be free to work and study unless this could facilitate or increase the risk of involvement in terrorism- related activity,” that they will “allow only tightly defined exclusion from particular places and the prevention of travel overseas,” and that they will “allow for an overnight residence requirement with some additional flexibilities e.g. in relation to overnight stays outside the residence, [which] would be verified by an electronic tag.”

Worryingly, however, the new laws — to be introduced in December — will be permanent, meaning that Parliament will no longer be required to renew them annually, as happened with control orders. They also allow the government to place “limited restrictions in certain defined circumstances on financial transactions overseas,” enable the government to “require an individual to report regularly to the police,” and, if the conditions are breached, “without reasonable excuse,” will constitute a criminal offence carrying a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

The government also proposes that “there may be exceptional circumstances where it could be necessary for the Government to seek Parliamentary approval for additional restrictive measures. In the event of a very serious terrorist risk that cannot be managed by any other means more stringent measures may be required. Such measures would include curfews and further restrictions on communications, association and movement. They would only be allowed if the Secretary of State is satisfied on the balance of probabilities (a higher threshold than reasonable belief) that the person is or has been involved in terrorism-related activity.”

Why the new system still relies on the use of secret evidence, fundamentally undermining notions of open justice

While it is clearly possible, by reading between the lines, to conclude that, although the TPIMs are an improvement, they still allow the authorities considerable leeway to indulge in the kind of persecution that has wrecked the mental health of numerous control order detainees (and their families), the main problem is that the revised system still shies away from prosecution, only mentioning it as an objective, and, moreoever, continues to rely on untested secret evidence to justify its assertions that the individuals who are to be subjected to TPIMs are a threat.

The review tries to tiptoe around this problem, claiming that the measures may, for example, apply to people plotting terrorist activity whose plot has been disrupted, but against whom insufficient evidence exists to support a prosecution, but what this actually means is that there is no evidence. It is also disappointing that those who “argued in the consultation process of this review that the use of communications intercept material as evidence in court would remove the need for control orders by making prosecution easier” were brushed aside. On this point, the review states, “The evidence presented to the review does not support this position,” despite the hard work of groups such as JUSTICE (see the PDF here) to establish that the opposite is true.

As a result, the use of secret evidence remains at the heart of the new measures, as it did with control orders, and still includes the special advocates who represent detainees in closed court sessions, but then, like some Kafkaesque nightmare, are prohibited from discussing anything that took place in those sessions with the individuals they are supposed to represent.

On this point, the review indicates, lamely, that “Some enhancements will be made to the operation of the special advocate regime pending fuller consideration in the forthcoming Green Paper on the use of sensitive material in judicial proceedings,” but what this means in reality is that the new system is really nothing more than a refurbished version of the existing regime.

In March 2009, at a meeting on secret evidence in the House of Commons, Dinah Rose QC, who has experience of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, where secret evidence is heard, in three different roles — as instructed by the Home Office, as a representative of some of the detainees held on the basis of secret evidence, and as a special advocate — explained how the use of secret evidence thoroughly undermines any notion that the system is fair and just.

It is “hard to explain just how shocking an experience SIAC is for an advocate used to the basic norms of our legal system,” she said. “It is the first principle of natural justice that a person has a right to know the case against them, so that they can respond to it. We take this principle for granted, from our earliest childhood.” Noting that “this principle simply does not apply in SIAC,” she also explained that, as a result:

[A]lthough SIAC looks and sounds like a court, and the judges and barristers behave with the courtesy and formalities that are used in court, it is in reality nothing of the kind. Often it feels to me like an elaborate charade, in which we are all playing the roles of barrister, solicitor, appellant and judge, but where the basic substance of a court hearing — the testing of evidence to establish where truth lies — is entirely missing.

How the review abandons foreign terror suspects facing deportation, and also held on the basis of secret evidence

In addition, the continued relaince on secret evidence not only impacts on those who will be held under TPIMs, but also on other individuals — almost entirely ignored by the mainstream media — who are imprisoned or held on deportation bail (a system very similar to control orders) pending deportation.

For these men, also held on the basis of secret evidence, the counter-terrorism review was concerned solely with the government’s plans to deport them to regimes where they face the risk of torture or other ill-treatment, and did not touch upon the secret evidence used to assess them as a threat, or the circumstances in which they are held, while the government attempts to deport them.

The planned deportation of these men is a long-winded process that has, to date, involved rulings in the government’s favour, against the Jordanian-born preacher Abu Qatada and two Algerians identfied as Detainee U and Detainee BB in February 2009, and, more generally, against eight men (seven Algerians, including U and BB, and another Jordanian, Hussein al-Samamara) last July. These cases (and others — there are 14 in total) are on appeal in the European Court of Human Rights, which is expected to make a ruling in the case of Abu Qatada, U and BB sometime this year, but in the meantime the men are either imprisoned (as is the case with Abu Qatada and U) or held on deportation bail, a form of house arrest that is effectively interchangeable with the conditions under which conrol order detainees are held.

For the men held on deportation bail, the effects of house arrest are as severe as they are for control order detainees, as can be readily appreciated in this interview with Hussein al-Samamara (and this BBC broadcast), and in this article written recently by Mustapha Taleb (Detainee Y), an Algerian who was tried and cleared in connection with the so-called Ricin Plot, but was then subjected to a control order, and who endures a life of desperate and unacceptable solitude.

However, as noted above, instead of addressing the conditions in which these men are held, and the secret evidence used to justify holding them, the review was concerned solely with the conditions of their enforced repatriation. Instead of questioning the basis of their detention, Lord Macdonald stated instead, “I have no doubt that it is entirely appropriate for the Government to seek lawfully to deport those overseas citizens whose presence in the UK is credibly considered to represent a threat to our national security.”

In addition, he embraced the government’s decision to enter into “arrangements with certain foreign States, with a view to obtaining reliable guarantees relating to the treatment of returned persons.” dismissing concerns expressed by lawyers and human rights groups that these “diplomatic assurances” — with Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya and Ethiopia — are worthless, and are an unacceptable way for the government to  disregard its obligations under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and Article 3.1 of the UN Convention Against Torture, which stipulates that “No State Party shall expel, return (‘refouler’) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.”

Moreover, Lord Macdonald proceeded to recommend that expanding the programme of “diplomatic assurances” was appropriate. Responding to complaints that the programme “gives succour to regimes that torture or, worse, that it actively encourages the practice of abuse and mistreatment,” he stated, “My conclusion on the evidence is that the opposite is more likely to be true. It seems to me that the very process of engaging with other countries on the issue of the appropriate treatment of prisoners, and obtaining guarantees in that regard, is likely to have a positive effect upon the regimes in question,” and added, “The evidence turned up by the Review is strongly supportive of the government’s programme of safe returns, which should be continued and, wherever possible, extended.”

In conclusion, then, although the government has tinkered with control orders, it has failed to accept that there are only two acceptable options for dealing with terrror suspects (prosecution or surveillance), has failed to accept that the UK should join the rest of the world in using itercept evidence in court, has failed to accept that the use of secret evidence (and the special advocate system) is fundamentally unfair, and has also failed to address the fundamental problems faced by foreign terror suspects — their bail conditions, the use of secret evidence, and the feeble “diplomatic assurances” designed to paper over the problems with repatriating them, rather than putting them on trial in the UK.

For Muslim men suspected of “terrorism-related activity,” justice is still elusive.

Andy Worthington 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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on Cageprisoners.

For other articles dealing with Belmarsh, control orders, deportation bail, deportations and extraditions, see Abu Qatada: Law Lords and Government Endorse Torture (February 2009), Ex-Guantánamo prisoner refused entry into UK, held in deportation centre (February 2009), Home Secretary ignores Court decision, kidnaps bailed men and imprisons them in Belmarsh (February 2009), Britain’s insane secret terror evidence (March 2009), Torture taints all our lives (published in the Guardian’s Comment is free), Britain’s Guantánamo: Calling For An End To Secret Evidence, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (1) Detainee Y, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (2) Detainee BB, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (3) Detainee U, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (4) Hussain Al-Samamara, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (5) Detainee Z, Britain’s Guantánamo: Fact or Fiction? (all April 2009), Taking liberties with our justice system and Death in Libya, betrayal in the West (both for the Guardian), Law Lords Condemn UK’s Use of Secret Evidence And Control Orders (June 2009), Miliband Shows Leadership, Reveals Nothing About Torture To Parliamentary Committee (June 2009), Britain’s Torture Troubles: What Tony Blair Knew (June 2009), Seven years of madness: the harrowing tale of Mahmoud Abu Rideh and Britain’s anti-terror laws, Would you be able to cope?: Letters by the children of control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh, Control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh to be allowed to leave the UK (all June 2009), Testing control orders and Dismantle the secret state (for the Guardian), UK government issues travel document to control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh after horrific suicide attempt (July 2009), Secret evidence in the case of the North West 10 “terror suspects” (August 2009), Letting go of control orders (for the Guardian, September 2009), Another Blow To Britain’s Crumbling Control Order Regime (September 2009), UK Judge Approves Use of Secret Evidence in Guantánamo Case (November 2009), Calling Time On The Use Of Secret Evidence In The UK (December 2009), Compensation for control orders is a distraction (for the Guardian, January 2010), Control Orders Take Another Blow: Libyan Cartoonist Freed (Detainee DD) (January 2010), Control Orders: Solicitors’ Evidence before the Joint Committee on Human Rights, February 3, 2010 and Control Orders: Special Advocates’ Evidence before the Joint Committee on Human Rights, February 3, 2010 (both February 2010), Will Parliament Rid Us of the Cruel and Unjust Control Order Regime? (February 2010), Don’t renew control orders, CAMPACC, JUSTICE and the Joint Committee on Human Rights tell MPs (February 2010), Fahad Hashmi and Terrorist Hysteria in US Courts (April 2010), 98 MPs Who Supported Human Rights While Countering Terrorism (May 2010), UK Terror Ruling Provides Urgent Test for New Government (May 2010), An uncivilized society (in the Guardian), New letter to MPs asking them to oppose the use of secret evidence in UK courts, and to support the return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer (May 2010), Torture Complicity Under the Spotlight in Europe (Part One): The UK (July 2010), Fighting Ghosts: An Interview with Husein Al-Samamara (July 2010), Ruling sends message on control orders (for the Guardian, July 2010), UK Judges Endorse Double Standards on Terror Deportations (August 2010), In Memoriam: Faraj Hassan Alsaadi (1980-2010) (August 2010), An interview with Faraj Hassan Alsaadi (from 2007) (August 2010), UK Government Faces Major Rebellion on Control Orders (November 2010), Gareth Peirce Discusses Her New Book, “Dispatches from the Dark Side: On Torture and the Death of Justice” (November 2010), Are Control Orders About To Be Scrapped? (November 2010), Lord Carlile, Discredited Advocate of Control Orders, Presents Flawed Alternative (December 2010), The Ricin Plot, and Why the Government’s Terrorism Review Ignores the Dangers of Secret Evidence (January 2011).

The Ricin Plot, and Why the Government’s Terrorism Review Ignores the Dangers of Secret Evidence

With fortunate timing, an event is taking place tonight at Amnesty International’s Human Rights Action Centre in London, which sheds light on an unjust, but largely unexplored corner of the government’s counter-terrorism policies that was not mentioned in the policy changes announced yesterday by Home Secretary Theresa May.

As I explain in a separate article to be published soon, although the review has led to a decison to rebrand control orders — a form of house arrest, introduced in 2005 and used to hold men without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence — allowing the men in question (currently, eight British nationals) slightly more freedom than previously, the rebranding fails to discuss the fundamental problem with holding men on the basis of secret evidence, and also fails to address what will happen to foreign terror suspects, imprisoned or held on deportation bail in circumstances similar to the control orders, who are also held without charge or trial on the basis of secret evidence.

Tonight’s Amnesty event, “Ricin! the inside story of the plot that never was,” follows the recent publication of a book of the same name, written by Lawrence Archer (the foreman of the jury in the ricin trial of 2004) and journalist Fiona Bawdon, exposing how the trial, which lasted seven months, and led to the acquital of four of the five defendants, revealed that there was no plot, and also, crucially, revealed in detail the dangerous incompetence of the security services and the manipulation of a false “terror plot” for political aims.

Where this ties in with the counter-terrorism review is a bleak tale that deserves to be disseminated as widely as possible. As Amnesty’s introduction to the event states, “Weeks later the freed men were threatened with deportation to Algeria, despite the jury’s not guilty verdicts. To date only one man has been granted the right to remain in the UK. Two of the men were re-arrested in 2005 and held under control order conditions, accused of being threats to national security, largely based on rehashed evidence from the ricin trial. With juries in terrorism cases constantly under threat by successive governments, this trial is a compelling example of the continuing need for a jury.”

One of those men — Mustapha Taleb (also known as Detainee Y) — is still held pending deportation, on the basis of secret evidence, despite having already been acquited by a jury, and he recently wrote poignantly about the painful isolation he endures as a detainee on deportation bail, living alone and subjected to curfews and restrictions that, in his case, and those of others held on deportation bail, were not addressed by the counter-terrorism review, which focused only on the alleged — and bitterly disputed — safety of “diplomatic assurances” intended to guarantee the men’s humane treatment on their return to their home countries.

Speaking tonight are Michael Mansfield QC, who successfully represented Mouloud Sihali in the ricin trial, Jon Snow of Channel 4 News, Julian Hayes, a solicitor who represented Sidali Feddag in the ricin trial, Lawrence Archer, and Diane Abbott MP, who, in 2009, publicly challenged the use of secret evidence, hosting a parliamentary meeting and raising an Early Day Motion in the Commons. The event will be chaired by journalist Peter Oborne.

Below, I’m cross-posting an article written by Lawrence Archer when his book was published last autumn, which provides the necessary context for concluding that, despite the government’s tinkering with control orders, its adherence to the need for secret evidence and its marginalization of those facing deportation on the basis of secret evidence demonstrate that it remains wedded to a system that is fundamentally unacceptable in a country that prides itself on open justice, and that, as is revealed in the case of Mustapha Taleb, has led to some deeply questionable conclusions.

Ricin! The plot that never was
By Lawrence Archer, Ceasefire, October 2010

I knew what the buff envelope was as soon as I spotted it on the doormat; another jury summons. My heart sank. I’d served on a jury in an assault case only two years previously and it had been a brutal experience. The CCTV evidence of a young man being struck on the back of the head with an axe still stayed with me. But this new summons was to the Old Bailey: now that could be interesting. As it turned out, it was life changing.

I was to become the jury foreman in the first terrorism trial in Britain since 9/11. The case became known as the Ricin Trial, since the prosecution alleged that a group of Algerian men were conspiring to manufacture explosives and toxins, including the deadly poison ricin, for terrorist purposes.

The case came to court in September 2004. Five men stood in the dock, while a further four were scheduled to be tried in a follow-on trial, the Court Service considering, probably correctly, that prosecuting nine defendants at once would have both crammed the courtroom and confused any jury. The defendants were a disparate bunch, mostly associated with each other through the Finsbury Park mosque.

Although it has since become inextricably linked with terrorism by the presence of the notorious preacher Abu Hamza, the mosque had previously served a different and rather more peaceful purpose, providing a focal point for the large Algerian community who lived in the neighbourhood. Men would meet, socialise, eat, swap information on jobs and lodgings and even sleep at the mosque, although the latter was an informal arrangement and frowned upon by the mosque trustees.

The five Algerian defendants, Kamel Bourgass, Mouloud Sihali, David Khalef, Mustapha Taleb and Sidali Feddag, were all charged on two counts: Conspiracy to murder and “Conspiracy to cause a public nuisance”, a 19th century piece of legislation that had been resurrected by the CPS for the trial.

Information had come into the British authorities in early January 2003 that a group of Algerian terrorists was going to strike the UK imminently. The news understandably caused huge consternation at Scotland Yard and within a matter of days Anti-Terror Branch officers carried out a raid on a property in Wood Green, North London. The shabby one-bed flat, provided for the 17 year old Sidali Feddag whilst his asylum claim was being processed, was searched thoroughly for poisons and explosives.

Feddag had met Kamel Bourgass at the Finsbury Park mosque some months earlier and had offered him accommodation in the flat when he realised Bourgass was homeless. However, Feddag had asked Bourgass to leave a matter of weeks before the raid when his brother needed somewhere to stay. Bourgass had duly obliged, but crucially left many of his possessions behind. Among these were some suspicious items: rubber gloves, thermometers, bottles of chemicals, a small quantity of castor oil seeds (the principle ingredient for making ricin), a large sum of cash and, most damning of all, a hand-written set of recipes for manufacturing a variety of toxins and explosives, contained in a locked sports bag. The recipes were later identified as being written by Bourgass and his fingerprints covered the other suspicious finds.

Scientists from the government research laboratories at Porton Down carried out generic testing for the presence of proteins on some of the items found at the scene. One item, a mortar and pestle, showed a very weak positive reaction to this on-site testing, but later, highly specific tests for ricin, carried out at the laboratory, proved the initial analysis to be misleading. According to the chief scientist, in his evidence to the Old Bailey, he had declared the tests negative. As far as he was concerned, there was no ricin at Wood Green.

A series of arrests followed, although the main suspect, Kamel Bourgass, was missing. Mustapha Taleb was picked up almost immediately, after his fingerprint was discovered on a photocopy of the poison recipes. David Khalef had been arrested some months earlier in Norfolk, found in possession of a copy of the recipes. Mouloud Sihali had been picked up at the same time as Khalef. He had connections with one of the chief suspects in the alleged conspiracy, having let him stay in his flat for a number of weeks.

Despite Porton Down knowing within 48 hours of the raid that there were no toxins found at the scene, the police had somehow been notified of the exact opposite. The ensuing media reports were unequivocal; there was a “factory of death” in Wood Green and a quantity of ricin had been discovered. Government spokesmen confirmed the find, announcing in a public statement that “a small amount of the material recovered from the Wood Green premises has tested positive for the presence of ricin … The Department (of Health) is now alerting the health service, including primary care, about these developments.” Prime Minister Tony Blair weighed in later the same day, announcing to a meeting of British ambassadors in London, “The arrests which were made show this danger is present and real and with us now. Its potential is huge. ”

The startling headlines almost certainly scared Kamel Bourgass into fleeing London. Within a few days he was holed up in a Manchester flat belonging to a distant acquaintance. When police arrived at the flat several days later, entirely coincidentally and in order to detain another man unconnected with the ricin plot, Bourgass was recognised and promptly arrested.

What happened next was withheld from the ricin trial jury, to avoid prejudicing the evidence. Bourgass broke free from the officers guarding him, snatched a knife from the kitchen and attempted to escape.

In the ensuing chaos he violently stabbed police officer Stephen Oake to death and badly wounded several others before he was finally restrained.

Shockingly, the myth of the ricin find was soon to have an even greater effect. Despite the fact that Porton Down knew there was no ricin at Wood Green in early January 2003, Colin Powell, then US Secretary of State, mentioned its definite discovery several weeks later on February 5th, as part of his presentation to the United Nations Security Council. Arguing the case for the invasion of Iraq, Powell cited the Wood Green “find” as a cause for grave concern and linked it to an “Iraq-linked terrorist network”. British and American forces invaded the country within a matter of weeks.

At the end of the ricin trial, which had lasted seven months, cost an estimated £20 million and caused the jury to deliberate for 17 days, Bourgass was convicted on the lesser, although still serious, charge of Conspiracy to cause a public nuisance. The jury were unable to reach a decision on the Conspiracy to murder charge and were eventually discharged. Bourgass had in fact already been convicted of murder and malicious wounding in a previous Old Bailey trial, kept deliberately secret to avoid any press revelations, and was serving a lengthy jail sentence. The other four defendants, Sihali, Taleb, Khalef and Feddag were found not guilty on all charges.

The second, follow on trial collapsed, as the CPS decided there was little realistic hope of any convictions, as much of the evidence alleged against them was linked to the original defendants. While several of the defendants had entered the UK illegally, they had all served enough time in custody to be released after a few days and were let out on normal immigration bail conditions.

A reporting embargo in place since early 2003 had meant that the press had been unable to publicise the case until the verdicts came in. Now, after the jury had announced its decisions, the media had a field day, declaring Bourgass to be “The Toxic Terrorist” and claiming that he had Al-Qaeda connections. The original intelligence given to the British authorities was revealed to have come from another Algerian man, Mohammed Meguerba, who had been interrogated by the DRS, Algeria’s notoriously brutal secret police, who had a fearsome reputation for using torture during their questioning.

While Bourgass was making all the headlines, the other defendants received scant media coverage. The general opinion seemed to be that they had “got away with it”, despite the jury’s lengthy deliberations and Not Guilty verdicts. Politicians and the police were equally disappointed in the jury decisions: there were even mutterings in some quarters that the jury had “gone rogue”. Home Secretary Charles Clarke announced that he would be keeping “a close eye” on the cleared men, while Met Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair told David Frost on his TV show that the law might have to be amended following the verdicts. “I think we’ll just have to look again, to see if there’s some other legislation around ‘acts preparatory to terrorism’ or something of that nature, that’s what we’ll have to do.”

The jury went back to their day jobs, but the story wasn’t over for the cleared defendants. Within weeks, the government announced its intention to deport them to their native country, despite the fact that Algeria had an appalling record on human rights and the defendants had been tarred with the brush of “terrorist”. When it seemed that there might be legal difficulties with the deportation process, the British government attempted to negotiate Memoranda of Understanding with the more contentious countries, including Libya and Algeria. (Libya signed up. Algeria refused, on the grounds that it didn’t go in for mistreatment of detainees, so there really was no need). A lengthy legal battle ensued to derail the deportations, but far worse was to come for two of the men.

Following the 7th July and failed 21st July 2005 bombings on London Transport targets, and the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes, the British public were understandably jittery, and fear of terrorism was running at fever pitch. New anti-terror legislation was hurriedly put together.

In the early morning of 15th September 2005, coincidentally the same day as Home Secretary Charles Clarke announced plans for 90-day detention of terror suspects, police stormed the properties of Mustapha Taleb and Mouloud Sihali.

Both were detained as “threats to national security”, although neither has ever been charged with any offence or even interviewed by the police. After several months in jail they were both released, subject to strict immigration bail conditions (Control Orders in all but name). Terms of their release included wearing an electronic tag, being curfewed for up to 22 hours a day, limiting their movements to a small geographical area and having their premises searched regularly. Potential visitors had to be vetted and approved by the Home Office.

Sihali eventually had his case heard by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) which rules on foreign deportation matters. In May 2007, SIAC decided that Sihali posed no danger to the British public and lifted his bail conditions, although he remains threatened with deportation to this day and is fighting it through the appeal courts. Mustapha Taleb has not been that fortunate. He was put back in jail for two years, where he was adjudged to be a severe suicide risk by the prison psychiatrist. He currently lives in a provincial town, subjected once again to strict bail conditions and cooped up in a tiny house for 20 hours a day, kept sane by anti-depressant drugs. The British government would like to deport him too, despite the fact that he was granted asylum here in 2000, based on evidence that he had been tortured in Algeria.

David Khalef has been granted leave to remain in the UK and now lives quietly in London. Sidali Feddag is the only one of the cleared defendants with any real sense of achievement after the ricin trial. Impressed by the British jury system, he has gone on to study for a degree in law.

As for me, I was non-political before the case. The ricin trial has changed all that.

Lawrence Archer is a writer and engineer. This is his first book. Fiona Bawdon, who co-wrote the book, is a respected freelance journalist who writes on legal matters.

Ricin! The Inside Story of the Terror Plot that Never Was was released by Pluto Press on 11th October 2010.

Andy Worthington 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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

For other articles dealing with Belmarsh, control orders, deportation bail, deportations and extraditions, see Abu Qatada: Law Lords and Government Endorse Torture (February 2009), Ex-Guantánamo prisoner refused entry into UK, held in deportation centre (February 2009), Home Secretary ignores Court decision, kidnaps bailed men and imprisons them in Belmarsh (February 2009), Britain’s insane secret terror evidence (March 2009), Torture taints all our lives (published in the Guardian’s Comment is free), Britain’s Guantánamo: Calling For An End To Secret Evidence, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (1) Detainee Y, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (2) Detainee BB, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (3) Detainee U, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (4) Hussain Al-Samamara, Five Stories From Britain’s Guantánamo: (5) Detainee Z, Britain’s Guantánamo: Fact or Fiction? (all April 2009), Taking liberties with our justice system and Death in Libya, betrayal in the West (both for the Guardian), Law Lords Condemn UK’s Use of Secret Evidence And Control Orders (June 2009), Miliband Shows Leadership, Reveals Nothing About Torture To Parliamentary Committee (June 2009), Britain’s Torture Troubles: What Tony Blair Knew (June 2009), Seven years of madness: the harrowing tale of Mahmoud Abu Rideh and Britain’s anti-terror laws, Would you be able to cope?: Letters by the children of control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh, Control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh to be allowed to leave the UK (all June 2009), Testing control orders and Dismantle the secret state (for the Guardian), UK government issues travel document to control order detainee Mahmoud Abu Rideh after horrific suicide attempt (July 2009), Secret evidence in the case of the North West 10 “terror suspects” (August 2009), Letting go of control orders (for the Guardian, September 2009), Another Blow To Britain’s Crumbling Control Order Regime (September 2009), UK Judge Approves Use of Secret Evidence in Guantánamo Case (November 2009), Calling Time On The Use Of Secret Evidence In The UK (December 2009), Compensation for control orders is a distraction (for the Guardian, January 2010), Control Orders Take Another Blow: Libyan Cartoonist Freed (Detainee DD) (January 2010), Control Orders: Solicitors’ Evidence before the Joint Committee on Human Rights, February 3, 2010 and Control Orders: Special Advocates’ Evidence before the Joint Committee on Human Rights, February 3, 2010 (both February 2010), Will Parliament Rid Us of the Cruel and Unjust Control Order Regime? (February 2010), Don’t renew control orders, CAMPACC, JUSTICE and the Joint Committee on Human Rights tell MPs (February 2010), Fahad Hashmi and Terrorist Hysteria in US Courts (April 2010), 98 MPs Who Supported Human Rights While Countering Terrorism (May 2010), UK Terror Ruling Provides Urgent Test for New Government (May 2010), An uncivilized society (in the Guardian), New letter to MPs asking them to oppose the use of secret evidence in UK courts, and to support the return from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer (May 2010), Torture Complicity Under the Spotlight in Europe (Part One): The UK (July 2010), Fighting Ghosts: An Interview with Husein Al-Samamara (July 2010), Ruling sends message on control orders (for the Guardian, July 2010), UK Judges Endorse Double Standards on Terror Deportations (August 2010), In Memoriam: Faraj Hassan Alsaadi (1980-2010) (August 2010), An interview with Faraj Hassan Alsaadi (from 2007) (August 2010), UK Government Faces Major Rebellion on Control Orders (November 2010), Gareth Peirce Discusses Her New Book, “Dispatches from the Dark Side: On Torture and the Death of Justice” (November 2010), Are Control Orders About To Be Scrapped? (November 2010), Lord Carlile, Discredited Advocate of Control Orders, Presents Flawed Alternative (December 2010).

First Major Student Protest of 2011 — in London and Manchester on Saturday January 29

Last November and December, three student days of action brought tens of thousands of students, schoolchldren, university staff, trade unionists and mobilized members of the general public onto the streets to demonstrate against the Tory-led coalition government’s horrendous plans to axe all funding for arts, humanities and the social sciences, as I explained in my article, Did You Miss This? 100 Percent Funding Cuts to Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Courses at UK Universities, and to raise fees from the current rate of £3290 a year to a maximum of £9000 a year. I reported on these protests in my articles, 50,000 Students Revolt: A Sign of Much Greater Anger to Come in Neo-Con Britain, Cameron’s Britain: “Kettling” Children for Protesting Against Savage Cuts to University Funding, Government Wins University Tuition Fees Vote, But So What? Remember the Poll Tax!, Heroes and Villains in the Tuition Fees Vote and Video: 15-Year Old Tells UK Government Why It Has Radicalised A Generation.

This cruel and dangerous proposal is driven by a malignant ideology that infects almost all of the coalition’s plans to destroy as much of the British state as possible, privatizing whatever hasn’t yet been privatized, and handing the cost of as much as possible onto the “consumer,” under cover of the economic crisis. Noticeably, the government has failed to tackle those responsible for the crisis — the banking sector and corporate tax evaders — and appears unconcerned that its plans for Britain’s universities could result in numerous departments — and whole institutions — being forced to close.

As is apparent from my discussions with staff and students at a number of universities, government claims that the average fees will be “only” £6000 a year, and that £9000 will be exceptional, are clearly mistaken, as the message I have received is that, even charging £9000 a year, universities will not even be able to offer the servce they currently offer, adding to fears of a widespread collapse throughout the entire university sector.

Despite the scale of the resistance, Parliament passed the government’s proposals for university cuts and huge fee increases before Christmas, and followed up, just last week, by confirming the government’s additional commitment to do away with the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which provided financial support for children from poorer families to stay on at school and to contemplate attending university.

If apathy rules, or anger is turned inwards into despondency and despair, the government will have won, but as the assault on education is just one part of the government’s horrendous assault on everyone except the rich and the super-rich, it is imperative that the struggle continues. Before Christmas, I was delighted to note that, almost by some sort of cultural osmosis, the schoolchildren taking to the streets for the first time, after the psychic cosh of the New Labour years, had not only sprung out of bed with the words “Tory scum” on their lips (and other choice descriptions for the unprincipled Liberal Democrats), but had also become aware of 1990’s Poll Tax Riot, when an unjust law passed by Parliament was reversed through widespread public dissent and non-cooperation.

Activists have also picked up on another slogan, lifted from French demonstrators — “what Parliament does, the streets can undo” — and with that in mind I’m happy to publicize two simultaneous protests on Saturday — one in Manchester, and the other in London.

Details of the Manchester demo, organized by the TUC, in partnership with the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU), “the largest trade union and professional association for academics, lecturers, trainers, researchers and academic-related staff working in further and higher education throughout the UK,” are below:

A Future That Works: A TUC National Rally for Young People
Platts Field Park, Saturday January 29, 2011, 1 pm to 3 pm

The abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance, the increase in university tuition fees, record levels of youth unemployment, and the coalition government’s programme of vicious and unnecessary cuts are hitting Britain’s young people hard. Routes into education and employment are being squeezed as young people are made to pick up the bill for a financial crisis they didn’t create.

“A Future That Works” will highlight the impact of the recession and the coalition government’s cuts programme on young workers and young people in general — and promote the trade union, student movement and partner organisation campaign against the cuts and for the alternatives.

Speakers include TUC Assistant General Secretary Kay Carberry, British Youth Council Chair Liam Preston, GMB National officer Sharon Holden, NUS President Aaron Porter, NUT General Secretary Christine Blower, UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt, Unison Young members representative Graham Smith, FBU General Secretary Matt Wrack and Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey and representatives from ATL, NASUWT and PCS.

The rally will be preceded by a march from central Manchester, organized by the NUS and the UCU, which will assemble at 10.30 at the Manchester Museum (near to Oxford Road junction with Brunswick Street), setting off for Platt Fields Park at 11 am.

And here’s information about the London demo, organized by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and the Education Activist Network, and supported by the UCU, PCS, UNISON HE Committee and London Student Assembly:

Unite for Education, Fight Every Cut
Saturday January 29, 2011, 12 noon, ULU, Malet St, followed by a march on Parliament

After eight months in office the Cameron-Clegg pact faces mass opposition in the streets. Hundreds of thousands of students have protested, walked out of their schools and colleges, or occupied their universities. The vote to treble tuition fees and scrap EMA might have passed through parliament, but the fight for education goes on. The attacks on education and young people are part of a wider assault on workers and the public sector that must be resisted. A record one million under 25s are now unemployed and hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs, as well as pensions and benefits, are under threat. Students have paved the way for a movement which can beat the Con-Dem austerity agenda. We call on workers, parents, pensioners and the unemployed to join us on the 29th to win a future for all.

Speakers at the rally at ULU include: students who have occupied university buildings in protest, Alan Whittaker (UCU President), Michael Chessum (NCAFC), Max Watson (UNISON NEC), Alfie Meadows (Defend the Right to Protest), and speakers from Kings College London, We Support our Teachers and the Tunisia Solidarity Campaign.

At the closing rally outside Parliament, from 2 pm, speakers include: Jody McIntyre (activist and journalist), John McDonnell MP, Barnaby Raine (Westminster School, School Students against the War), Zita Holbourne (PCS, Black Activists Rising Against Cuts), Jim Wolfreys (UCU NEC, Kings College), Kanja Sessay (NUS Black Students Campaign), Alex Kenny (NUT NEC), Mark Bergfeld (NUS NEC, Education Activist Network), and other students who have occupied university buildings.

And finally, here’s a statement from Right To Work:

The Coalition may have forced the vote on tuition fees through but as the slogan on recent demonstrations in France said, “What Parliament does, the streets can undo”. The poll tax in Britain was defeated after politicians had voted for it and Thatcher was bought down in the process.

The TUC-initiated youth rally in Manchester on 29 January and the demonstration in London called by the Education Activist Network and National Campaign Against Cuts and Fees are the next steps in the fight over Fees. These demonstrations in London and Manchester on the 29th must now be taken up as a rallying call for all students, community activists and trade unionists.

The student movement has shaken the government, but students cannot win this fight on their own. This is a fight for each and every person under attack by the Coalition and our resistance seeks to unite them all.

Many trade unionists have in turn shown real solidarity in support of the student mobilisations and university occupations, and in some cases education workers walked out to join their students on the protests. The size and strength of the demonstration on November 10th, organized by NUS and UCU, gives an idea of what is possible when trade unions throw their weight behind the students.

The coalition of trade unions, student organisations and community organisations agreeing to build for the demonstrations in Manchester and London on the 29th January has provided the movement against the governments attacks a real opportunity to demonstrate the determination of students and workers to continue the fight for education for all.

The Coalition may have forced the vote through, but they are also very weak. That is why they have resorted to such heavy handed policing. Now is the time for us to unite for education. The protests that have taken place in the wake of the 10th November have shown the capacity of our movement to turn out in our thousands simultaneously across major cities. The 29th January can be an important stepping stone to ensure that we get a million people on the streets on the TUC‘s demonstration in defence of public services on the 26th March.

Andy Worthington 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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

Ghailani Sentence Shows Federal Courts Work, Reveals Extent of Republican Hysteria

For those of us seeking a grown-up debate about Guantánamo in the two years since President Obama came into office, the most troubling development has been the retrenchment of Republican opposition to the closure of the prison, backed up by alarming support for the pro-Guantánamo position by members of the President’s own party.

Like a dark magic spell capable of banishing all sensible discourse in an instant, the merest mention of the words “Guantánamo” and “terrorism” in the same sentence is sufficient to send lawmakers into paroxyms of hysteria, and nowhere is this more true than when it comes to proposals to put any of the Guantánamo prisoners on trial for their alleged offenses.

Guantánamo’s supporters are so wedded to the Bush administration’s false and damaging nation that, in the “War on Terror,” terrorists are no longer criminals but are “warriors,” that when Attorney General Eric Holder announced in November 2009 that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks would face a federal court trial in New York, they raised a cacophonous roar of opposition, bleating that establishing security at the courthouse would be prohibitively expensive, and warning that the trial would lead to a terrorist attack by al-Qaeda.

Last month, emboldened by their success in persuading Obama to shelve the plans for the 9/11 trial, lawmakers followed up by including a provision in a military spending bill prohibiting the transfer of any Guantánamo prisoner to the US mainland for any reason (and explicitly mentioning Khalid Sheikh Mohammed by name), even though it was clearly unconstitutional to do so.

Conveniently ignored by the fearmongers was the rather more mundane reality that, when Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a former CIA “ghost prisoner,” and the only Guantánamo detainee to be moved to the US to face a federal court trial before Congress decided to impose unconstitutional demands on the President, was put on trial in New York in October, there was no need for wildly expensive security, and no notion that terrorists would swoop from the skies to attack the courtroom.

Instead, the apologists for Guantánamo immediately changed their approach, blasting Judge Lewis Kaplan for obeying US law and refusing to accept information derived through the use of torture — the name of an allegedly important witness who later testified under dubious circumstances, and whose name was only divulged by Ghailani while he was being tortured in a secret CIA prison.

While this was despicable enough, as it indicated that, so long as the words “Guantánamo” and “terrorism” were uttered together, it ought to be acceptable for a District Court judge to ignore the US anti-torture statute, the critics of federal court trials then proceeded to decry the trial’s conclusion — a guilty verdict on one count of conspiracy in connection with the US embassy bombing in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, in August 1998, along with the dismissal of 284 other charges — even though, as we saw yesterday in the sentence handed down by Judge Kaplan, that single conviction has led to a life sentence without parole.

What is particularly depressing about this topsy-turvy “Alice in Wonderland” world, in which success is portrayed as failure, and no one even blinks in dissent, is that the manufactured hysteria when “Guantánamo” and “terrorism” are mentioned together not only disguises the fact that federal courts have a proven track record of successfully prosecuting terrorism cases (and are, in fact, empowered to deliver punitive sentences on the flimsiest of bases), but also disguises a fundamentally bleak truth about Guantánamo.

The bleak truth is that, in a prison with such a notorious and demonstrable history of torture — particularly in connection with Ghailani, KSM and 12 other “high-value detainees,” as well as dozens of other men tortured in secret CIA prisons, or in proxy facilities in other countries — the presumption ought to be that the government’s assertions about these men are fundamentally unreliable, because torture is unreliable as well as illegal, and should not be taken at face value.

Instead, however, the opposite is true, and Ghaliani, for example, was happily judged to be guilty until proven guilty, by those who will, no doubt, still complain that he received a life senternce on just one count of conspiracy, and not on all of the 285 charges he faced.

With Ghailani’s life sentence, it is time for this cynical nonsense to come to an end. Federal court trials for terrorists work, and opponents should now cease whining, let go of their ideologically misplaced obsession with trying “warriors” in military trials at Guantánamo, and allow the administration to proceed with the federal court trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and his alleged co-conspirators.

Nine years and four months after the 9/11 attacks, the relatives of the victims of that dreadful day deserve justice, and not to be made playthings by cynical lawmakers — and their echo chambers in the right-wing media — who will soon realize that their beloved Military Commissions are fraught with problems, and will, if given the chance, shift their focus so that, in the not too distant future, we will be hearing that some people — like KSM and his co-accused — are so dangerous that they cannot even be put on trial at all.

Andy Worthington 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) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in July 2010, details about the new documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, currently on tour in the UK, and available on DVD here), my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

As published exclusively on Cageprisoners.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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